This is mostly about my wife. I have used the name Sarah. It’s not her real name. It is also about our daughter, Jane. That’s not real either. The story and the times and all other details
are correct. I wrote it just over a week after the birth. A good few years ago now. It’s personal, but I think it fits in this
Sarah was 11 days beyond her expected delivery date, and getting ready to hit the next person who asked why the baby hadn't come yet. Even my work contacts were phoning up to ask whether it was a boy or a girl.
At last, however, it started while we were drinking a cup of coffee in bed on Sunday morning: the first contraction was much stronger than the strongest Braxton Hicks to date. Five minutes later she had another. And another. I knew it was finally happening, and called the midwife. Sarah still was not convinced until she went to the loo, and passed a bloody motion. The midwife--Val--wanted to speak to Sarah (who was still on the loo). Our sense of
decorum vanished at that point, and I am not sure we have recovered it yet.
Val said we should see how things developed over the next couple of hours. Because it was a first birth, we all thought there would be plenty of time to get things ready: fill the birthing pool, clear away the washing up from last night's barbecue: that kind of thing.
So we both had showers, and I attached the TENS machine to Sarah's back. It helped with the contractions, which had quickly built up to the point where she could not take any food or drink.
About an hour later, it was obvious that things were going a lot faster than anyone expected. The contractions were coming so hard and fast that Sarah barely had time to recover from one before the next had started. I started filling the birthing pool--during a 'dry run' we had timed it to about 2 hours.
I tried to call Val again just before 10, but pressed the wrong memory button, and ended up speaking to my mother. I didn't want to worry her, so tried to have a mundane chat about things while Sarah was crawling up the wall in the corner, desperate for some support. Eventually I got through to Val who said she would be across as soon as possible.
Sarah, meanwhile, was on all fours in the bedroom breathing hard, just about coping, and insisting that I shouldn't touch her. I offered what support I could, staying with her and asking her to think about the cervix opening up to let the baby out.
Meanwhile, I was trying to make sure the pool was filling up with hot water, as Sarah was going to need it as soon as it was ready. Sarah kept on insisting that I should time the contractions, so that Val would know just how frequent they were. I felt it was pretty obvious that labour was well established, and there were better things to do, but I timed them anyway, just to keep Sarah slightly less desperate.
Val arrived at about 11.00. I saw her car arrive, but knew there was another contraction on the way, so left the door on the latch and called down to Val where we were. She came straight up. By now there were just a few seconds respite between each contraction and Sarah was crying out for some kind of pain relief.
Val checked the pool while a strong contraction passed; then I was able to go downstairs and start doing a few chores while Val assessed the situation. By 11:30 she was able to do an internal, and we were all surprised--and very relieved--to learn that Sarah was fully dilated.
Val phoned the local hospital to say that Sarah was in labour, and may or may not come in quite soon.
By about 12:00 the pool was virtually ready. We had hired a birthing pool, because Sarah had found water-based ante-natal classes so relaxing, and we had read that warm, deep water is one of the best forms of pain relief available to labouring women. We had no fixed views on actually giving birth in the water.
It was all we could do to get Sarah downstairs: by now it was clear that there was no way we were going to get her to hospital, so we prepared for a home birth--one of Val's specialities.
Val took the TENS machine off, and Sarah got into the water. She stopped asking for any other pain relief immediately. Whether that was the water, or the fact that the first stage had ended, we can't tell. Whatever the reason, it made all our lives easier.
In Val's notes, she says Sarah, "continues to cope amazingly well--very self-contained, moaning during contractions."
Val notes the baby is fine at this point as well.
We had been seeing Val and her partner, Caroline (Yes, that’s the Caroline Flint), throughout the ante-natal period. Caroline operates an independent midwifery practice in the area, and run the UK’s first private birthing centre in Tooting. The continuity of care ensured that Val knew both Sarah and me, and that Sarah had grown to like and trust Val to care for her during this most intimate and intense experience.
By now, Sarah allowed me to touch her, and I was able to mop her neck and brow with ice-cubes wrapped in a flannel, and feed her the odd teaspoon of honey to keep up her strength.
By 2 o'clock, Sarah had been pushing hard for two hours, and felt as if nothing was happening.
Caroline had arrived by now--Val thought the baby would be out by about 1 o'clock. Val ruptured the membranes, hoping this would speed things up a bit, but, unfortunately, the baby seemed to come down a little at the start of each contraction, but no further, even though Sarah was pushing hard for a minute or so each time.
So we tried using gravity to help a bit: Sarah stood up in the pool and leaned on me with one leg on the edge of the pool.
It helped, but not enough, so Sarah got out of the pool and I supported Sarah in a squatting position--thanks to another Val, our Active Birth teacher for that one--while Sarah pushed. That helped a lot more. Both Caroline and Val could see the head just about crowning, and Sarah and I could touch the head when we felt for it.
Sarah was now feeling very tired after about 3 hours of pushing. Val thought the uterus was not helping enough, so gave her some homeopathic pills–caulophyllum--to increase the strength of the contractions. I can't say if it helped, but she had about 3 doses of it.
The second stage had been very long because the baby was not coming down straight: her head was at a bit of an angle. Now, however, it was clear--to Val at least--that Sarah's perineum had started to hold up progress, so she massaged the area with almond oil, and applied hot compresses to make it stretch more easily.
Sarah was now very tired indeed, and finding it hard to push any more. The word episiotomy was mentioned, and Sarah was ready for anything. Val and I suggested she try another two contractions, and then we would think about a cut (Val never thought that would be necessary, but would have obeyed Sarah had she asked for it).
Out she popped. All in one contraction, at 15:14.
After the birth
We were all a little astonished. She was purple and smeared with blood, but as we watched, she started crying and turned pink before our eyes. I noticed that she was a little girl, but she seemed to lie there for an age, while I kept thinking and saying, "I want to pick her up!"
Val took some photographs of little Jane, lying on the floor, then picked her up and handed her to Sarah for a cuddle.
I can't remember much about the next few minutes: I had a little cry; Jane had a little feed. The cord stopped pulsating, and Val clamped it. I cut it--it took four attempts with surgical scissors--and we enjoyed ourselves.
Meanwhile, Val was preparing for the third stage, and asked Sarah to sit on a bedpan. About half an hour after Jane was born, Val asked Sarah to give a few more pushes to expel the placenta. Sarah was still very tired, but could manage a few more pushes, and out it came. Some blood spilled on the floor, but it was all well-protected with pads and waterproofs. Then Val made sure the placenta was all there, showed Sarah and me (though I was too busy
cuddling Jane to take any notice, and Sarah couldn't see much without her glasses) the two sides, as well as the membranes.
After another few minutes Sarah and Jane got into the bath for a clean up: Val checked and weighed Jane (7 lb 0 oz) and we went downstairs for a rest and a bite to eat.
We are now converts to home births. Jane got Apgar scale scores of 9 and 10. Sarah was over 35, and it was her first pregnancy. Because the second stage went on for so long, a hospital birth would almost certainly have involved an episiotomy and forceps. As it was, with massage and hot compresses, Sarah got away with a small second degree tear, which has now virtually healed, ten days after the birth. And Jane? she is so contented and happy, I cannot think of a nicer way into this world.