This is what a home birth really feels like - two mums get honest
Since reports that the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, is planning to give birth to her third baby at home next Spring, the UK has seen a 44 per cent surge in enquiries about home birth. But how does a home birth compare to a hospital birth? What if things take a turn for the worse? How can the dads help? And where on earth do you find one of those gigantic, adult-sized birthing pools to inflate in your front room? Argos?
A third of women now claim they would prefer to give birth at home rather than in a hospital, according to the survey by the country’s largest home birth provider, Private Midwives. So we asked two women who’ve experienced both home birth and hospital birth to tell us what you need to know.
We spoke to 29-year-old Lilly Miller who gave birth to her second child at home – a daughter, Andreya, now 3 – following a traumatic hospital birth with her first child, a son Oscar, now 5.
‘The first thing that crosses your mind when you decide on having a home birth is: what if something goes wrong? When I had my son, Oscar, I’d been determined to avoid medical intervention, I read all the books and practised hypnobirthing. But in the end, my dreams of a home birth were scuppered when my 32-hour labour was followed by violent sickness and diarrhoea. When the midwife realised I had stopped progressing and eventually broke my waters, she found meconium in the water, so I ended up giving birth in hospital, hurriedly, on my back, in exactly the way I hoped I wouldn’t have to.
It was the best place for us at the time, but I was scarred, both emotionally and physically – I needed stitches for a vaginal tear, and for six months after Oscar was born, I fell into postnatal depression. I was so disappointed that my birth hadn’t gone to plan that I couldn’t talk about it for the first year. Fast-forward two years and, pregnant with my second child, I was determined to have the home birth that I’d felt robbed of the first time around.
I was 18 days overdue and the hospital were putting pressure on me to be induced. The medical system is hellbent on sticking to due dates, which can be sketchy at the best of times (who even remembers the exact date of their last period, anyway?) so I argued with them to allow me to hold out, and it paid off.
‘With a home birth, you don’t have the security of being surrounded by medical experts’
I started to get niggles but I went to bed and woke up at 2am with soaking wet sheets after my waters had broken. Contractions came along quickly after that and ramped up in frequency and intensity. My number one tip for a home birth? Get a doula. I paid around £800 for my doula to support me through my home birth, after I met her through a hypnobirthing course. I knew I could trust her, which meant I could switch off and she could make key, informed decisions for me.
With a home birth, you aren’t surrounded by medical experts and equipment, which can be scary if something goes wrong. I was reassured by having emergency procedures on hand when we were in hospital. But at home, you get a one-to-one with a midwife, which is invaluable and unlikely to be something you’d have the luxury of in a busy maternity ward. As I laid in bed working through the painful early contractions, my husband Dan started filling up the birthing pool, which was roughly the size of a dining room table. We bought it online after a quick Google search and had it inflated in advance so we were prepared. We laid out a tarpaulin with towels on top and I got into the pool with my relaxation music playing and some scented candles. It sounds all very hippy-ish because it was. But being in my familiar surroundings helped me to relax as the contractions intensified.
I had been in labour for five hours when I hit my maximum pain threshold of ten, and I thought, ‘I can’t do this anymore’ because if it was anything like my first birth, I still had another day and night of excruciating contractions to go. But the brilliant thing about a home birth, is that you aren’t subjected to the hourly cervical examination that you get on labour wards so you have no idea how dilated you are. With my first birth, I found my spirit crushed when I was told that, after four hours in labour, I was still only 6cm dilated (you’re supposed to dilate by at least 1cm per hour).
‘Instead of feeling exhausted, I felt elated’
Within seven hours of my contractions starting, I felt an intense pressure and my body went into a violent spasm in the pool that forced my baby out and she was born into my arms in a cloudy whoosh under the water. I certainly didn’t do any straining or pushing like you see on One Born Every Minute. My body seemed to do the hard work for me, it was involuntary and incredibly quick. The midwife was still trying to get her gloves on!
Afterwards, I passed the placenta relatively quickly. I didn’t tear this time around because there had been no unnecessary force or intervention (the first time around I lost a lot of blood and had to have stitches). Instead of feeling exhausted, I felt elated, strong and buzzing. All those endorphins that had been blocked by drugs in my first birth, were now flowing and I was on top of the world. I honestly felt like superwoman.
Friends have asked me if I would have been disappointed had I not been able to have a home birth this time around and I’m sure there would have been some ‘what ifs’. For me, a home birth empowered me to make my own choices about my body, whereas old-school NCT classes focus on what can go wrong and medical intervention. I just want women to know that hospitals are not the only option. I was even allowed to have the post-birth checks and my baby’s heel prick test done at home so I didn’t step foot in a hospital afterwards. The midwife just scooped up the soiled towels and took them away with her as contaminated waste. Just over an hour after my daughter was born, I was laying in my own bed feeding her, wearing clean clothes and drinking tea from my own mug. In hospital, my husband would have been sent home until the next day but after doing a quick tidy-up of the living room, he climbed into bed with us and all three of us slept.
‘Our birthing pool had a puncture!’
Tara Rivero, 45, from East London has four children. She had two home births and two hospital births.
‘When my first child was born nine years ago, I had a hospital birth. I had got to 10 cm dilated at home and was fine, then I got to hospital and everything just completely stopped progressing – I’m sure it’s because I felt more stressed. But it was our first baby and my husband was keen that we went to hospital because we didn’t know what to expect. After being in hospital for four hours it ended up being a ventouse-assisted delivery; my son, Eamon, was born at 4am, then because it was outside of visiting hours, my husband was sent home. I was on my own and overwhelmed by motherhood.
Two years later, when pregnant again, I decided to go for a home birth. We wanted it to be more relaxing and calmer than my first delivery but none of my scans had picked up on the fact that the baby was huge – more than 10 pounds.
It was December, and snowing very heavily, and it was touch-and-go whether the midwives would get to us on time – always a concern with a home birth and a lesson not to make the call too late. My husband and I were living in a two-bed flat at the time and had bought a birthing pool on eBay, which we hadn’t road-tested first. Big mistake. It turned out it had a slow puncture and my poor husband spent the 16 hours that I was in labour boiling kettles to continuously re-fill the pool and keep it inflated with a hand-pump.
‘I got the home birth I wanted but I went into instant shock’
The midwives managed to get to us in time but I was in labour for so long that they had to do a shift-change halfway through. There are two midwives present when you deliver at home, and the ones who were taking over had bought a student with them so at one point there were five midwives in our tiny living room. Quite a squeeze!
My second son, Diarmiud, wasn’t delivered until 8 o’clock that evening. His head was so big he couldn’t get into the right position so he went spine-to-spine, which is really painful. Whenever I got in the pool because of the contractions, the contractions stopped and the midwives kept telling me to walk around but there were people everywhere and I didn’t feel like walking or eating and in the end I just looked at my husband and said ‘I can’t do it any more, take me to the hospital now’.
We persevered and eventually, I gave birth in the pool but my baby was grey and not breathing, which was terrifying. I panicked and the midwife told me to blow on his face so I did and he let out a cry. I’ve never felt more relief in my life. I handed the baby to my husband and I went into instant shock, freezing cold and shaking. I wish somebody had told me at the time but most babies look like this – it’s only in hospital that they whip them away, clean them up and they arrive looking pink and perfect. Being born under the water is why he didn’t breathe on his own initially but this was all normal too. My advice is to ask lots of questions beforehand so that there are no surprises.
Lessons I’ve learnt? Never buy a second hand pool from eBay! For my fourth birth – also a home birth – I hired a birthing pool instead. I went in to labour at midnight so all the other children were asleep and she was born in the bath at 9am in the end. She was 8lb and I had two amazing midwives with me. The best part was that my husband could stay with me the whole time and we weren’t restricted to hospital visiting hours. But my experiences have taught me that no two births are the same so try to keep an open mind.’