I had already been experiencing pre-labour contractions for three weeks before my labour started. They had been strong and regular, seven minutes apart, for literally days at a time. Then they’d stop… and then start up again. By the time my due date came I was emotionally and physically exhausted, and thoroughly pissed off.
The day began with the same achy pains I’d been having for weeks. I spent the day sitting on our front steps in the sun trying to relax. By this point I was so used to the contractions that I breathed through them without even having to think about it. But by 5pm I really was having to think about it. Not wanting to get our hopes up, we carried on as normal, with me stopping every seven minutes to breathe and lean against things. We cooked a giant pan of pasta together, watched TV, ate.
The pains weren’t stopping. We settled down in the “homebirth room” that had been ready for weeks. I had a pool, birth ball, cushions on the floor, but all I wanted to do was walk. I must have walked up and down our hallway a thousand times, stamping my feet harder and harder with each contraction. The pain didn’t take me by surprise, but the intensity of them — the hugeness and unfamiliarity of the feeling of each one — did. Just as each got to the point where it was too much, and I could feel my control sliding away, it eased off and I felt like myself again.
By midnight I was sure it was the real thing. We called my mum to tell her things were starting, and the midwife. At 2am the midwife arrived, but proclaimed me to be only 2cm, and suggested I try to sleep. Thinking we were in for the long haul, I sent my husband to bed and continued my pacing on the landing, quietly breathing through each contraction, imagining I was on a beach letting the waves wash over me. What felt like minutes was in fact hours.
I woke him at 7am –the contractions were different now. With each one it felt as if my body was trying to turn itself inside out. We called the midwife again, but as the contractions were still seven minutes apart and she was reluctant to come out again as she said I hadn’t progressed. My husband describes me at this point as “mental.” I was shaking uncontrollably, crying, and moaning through each pain while trying to crawl off the bed. It was transition, 20 minutes later I felt the urge to push.
I won’t go into the calls to the midwife, the arguments about whether she was coming, the two hours I spent trying not to push, not knowing what was going on while we tried to find out if someone was on their way out to us — in the end we ended up in the car, driving ourselves to hospital. This bit was far from blissful.
At hospital I was examined, with my midwife looking very sceptical when I said I needed to push as my contractions were still seven minutes apart. Her scepticism vanished when she examined me and found I was fully dilated. I had thought I was still in early labour, “not coping” and that this was only the beginning of the pain — my husband and I laughed with delight. I wasn’t “not coping,” I wasn’t in for hours and hours more pain, I’d done it!
My midwife, knowing I had wanted a homebirth and I think quite impressed by the fact that I had turned up fully dilated, told me I could push and just left me to it, sitting down with a cup of tea in the corner. I pushed in every possible position, trying to avoid the dreaded “on my back stuck on a bed” position. I had new-found energy, and couldn’t wait to meet our daughter. We were laughing and joking and chatting between contractions — the atmosphere was wonderful, excited, expectant. My husband was cheering me on, a reassuring voice in my ear telling me I could do it.
But in the end I couldn’t. I pushed for three hours, then another hour with feet in stirrups. She was almost there, just not moving. It felt like pushing against a brick wall. I was so exhausted I had no energy for jokes, or talking, or to even open my eyes. But I still felt safe, supported.
The midwives suggested that she might need some help, no panic, but that my contractions were simply doing nothing. And I was relieved — I’d had enough. They got her out with a ventouse and episiotomy in the end, which was practically painless, and with a final push Eleanor Lily was delivered onto my chest, screaming and pink at 1.52pm. Looking at the pictures she looks like every newborn baby — scrunched up and not so cute, but to me she was beautiful. And I look tired and sweaty and exactly like I’ve just had a baby, but the look of joy on my face is beautiful too.
I refuse to call my birth a “homebirth gone wrong” or a “failed homebirth.” The way it went was the way it was meant to be from the start, I just didn’t know it. Yes, I read homebirth stories with a twinge of sadness for the birth I wanted. But I did not fail, and I still had the birth I wanted in the ways that matter. The things that I had felt I needed in my birth — a sense of control, of choice over what happened to me, of privacy and not spending hours labouring in an unfamiliar place — these were still true of my birth.
I was lucid, drug -ree, and interventions were decided upon by me and my husband. I felt in control, and powerful, and like I was the only person who mattered at that moment. I was in awe of my body, of myself. It was the best experience of my life, from start to finish. In theatre for stitches a few hours later, the anaesthetist was reading through my notes and commented that I had had a rough time — I laughed and told him that I had loved it, and I’d do it again tomorrow.
I think he thought I was joking.