The magical home birth of Arlo Bear - my Christmas Baby!
Thursday 11th December 2014
The morning started like any other; me still pregnant and James (my partner) off to work. However minutes after saying his goodbyes and leaving to catch the bus, he returns having decided it might be best to work from home. (Did he is experience some sort of premonition?!).
I wasn’t overly happy with this decision because I was certain nothing was going to happen and I didn’t want him distracting me from season two of Orange is the New Black, which I intended to work my way through uninterrupted.
However by 11am I was thinking perhaps he was right to stay because I found myself standing at the fridge with water running down my legs. At first I was unsure whether my waters had gone or if I had actually just wet myself! I put a pad in and waited.
Once I was convinced my waters had gone, I felt excited that there was now a deadline – I knew for sure I would either go into labour spontaneously within the next 48 hours or be induced (due to risk of infection). But I also felt the pressure of this deadline and worried that our happy home birth might not happen…
So in order to take my mind off things I decided the best thing I could do would be to write my Christmas cards… so that’s what I did.
It was about 1pm when I finished writing all my cards, and messaging friends and family for their addresses. This year (since I’m transitioning from young-mum-of-one to woman-with-two-kids), I have done the unprecedented and invested in an actual, physical, address book, so decide now is the perfect time to copy all the addresses I have into it. This leaves me feeling very organised and happy with myself (does this last-minute life admin count as nesting?!).
Because I’m not having any surges and time is of the essence (as my waters have broken), I get to work on my nipple stimulation with an electric breast pump in an attempt to bring some on (upping the ante on the simple nipple twiddling). I am now listening to my hypnobirthing affirmations, having decided the BBC’s ‘The Missing’, albeit totally gripping, is just a tad too tense and possibly having a detrimental effect on my uterus.
At about 2pm I call my midwife as I have not felt the baby move much all day and she had said to keep an eye on baby’s movements. I tell her that I don’t need her to come out because I’m not having regular surges but says she will pop by anyway to have a listen to baby… (Reflecting now, I clearly remember making this call. I would never in a million years have believed you had you told me I would be holding my baby in my arms in just a few short hours!!).
Whilst waiting for my midwife to arrive I am having some gentle surges but not take-your-breath-away ones. They are however coming of their own accord since I have stopped pumping. I’m not convinced it’s the real deal though and feel I need a professional (i.e. my midwife) to tell me whether this is it or not.
We do crack open the birth bag at this point though, figuring we might as well make use of our nice things because whether or not this is it right now, since my waters have gone, I am going to be in labour in the next 24 hours or so. We light our special Diptyque Pomander scented candle that we chose for our birth (recommend doing this by the way!), pull down the blackout blinds in our bedroom and I start bouncing on my birth ball, whilst applying some make-up (obvs want to look good just in case it is happening!).
At this point I’m welcoming each surge and when there’s a bit of a gap between one ending and the next one starting, I actually worry that it’s all died off and this isn’t it at all. So each time one comes I’m like YAY, GO BODY! I am doing my up breathing through each one but they aren’t in any way painful.
My midwife arrives at 2.30pm and has a listen to baby. All seems well. Around 3pm she says she’s going to make a move but to call her back when I need her. She tells me she thinks it will be soon. I ask how soon??!! She says she thinks that it will be tonight. I realise the baby might actually arrive ON his/her due day (which is tomorrow) – how amazing would that be!
Around the same - 3pm - James says it’s time for him to go and do the school pick-up. My midwife kindly offers to wait with me until he returns. At this point I’m thinking my son will come home, we will have dinner together later on and he will go to bed at his normal time. Then hopefully (fingers crossed) my labour will kick off in the night. My midwife advises me to have a bath once she has left and to try and get some sleep to conserve my energy for later.
By the time James is back at 3.30pm, less than half an hour later, EVERYTHING has changed. I’m not having a bath or a sleep – it’s time to inflate the birth pool – and quick! My midwife has decided she is staying now and it’s not long until she is calling the second midwife.
At one point the surges were irregular and painless, then very quickly they ramped up both in frequency and intensity and I was not welcoming them so much any more.
I say hello to my little (soon to be big) boy when he gets back from school but am not able to say much else. I quickly feel like I need him out of the house because I need to focus all my energy and attention on breathing through each surge, so James calls my friend to collect him.
At 4pm I ask my midwife to examine me. She warns me that it will not tell me how long my labour is going to be, but I need to know something is happening. The surges are coming quickly and I’m finding it intense. My midwife has a poke around and tells me I am approximately 5cm dilated. I assume this means I have a loooong way to go (little do I know).
At 4.10pm my friend arrives and I say goodbye to my son. James is busy inflating and filling the pool and over the next half an hour or so I feel quite alone as I deal with each surge standing at the kitchen table, gripping on to the edge. I just want the pool to be ready so I can get in, believing it will feel amazing.
The surges are really intense and between each one I give myself an internal pep talk, reminding myself that I want a home birth, that I can do this, that I am in control etc. Then the surge hits and for the 60 odd seconds it lasts there’s a battle of wills going on inside my own head. I’m thinking negative things like I can’t cope, I can’t do this, I need pain relief and calculating the time it takes to get to hospital. On the outside though I’m completely silent and simply breathing in and out.
This internal battle goes back and forth like this for a while whilst I stand bent over the table, rocking backwards and forwards, channeling all my energy into my breathing. I’m not really aware of what is going on around me and am not making conversation with anyone. At this point I really have gone within myself. I do notice that a resuscitation area has been set up on the kitchen table (standard practice) but try to put it out of my mind.
After a while I move into the living room, kneel on the sofa and hold James’ hand and tell him I need him to stay close to me now. I don’t care about the pool anymore, I just want him to help me. He crouches down next to me, holds my hand, applies pressure to my back, as I rock backward and forwards over the arm of the sofa, breathing in and out with all the strength I can muster. The surges now are relentless and totally consuming me with their power and I am just using every ounce of my strength and focus to stay on top of them and not get swept under.
A visualisation I was taught in pregnancy yoga really helped me at this point: I rocked forward on all fours as I breathed in through my nose and then rocked back onto my heels as I exhaled through my mouth, visualising a long golden thread extending from my mouth into the distance. To keep myself breathing out for a long time and not hyperventilating/losing control, I imagined that each long out breath was pushing this golden thread further and further towards the horizon.
At 5pm the pool is finally ready for action. (I only know this from reading my notes because by this point I was not aware of time). The long-awaited, much-anticipated, pool of dreams. I step in and in my memory step straight out, but apparently I was in there for a few minutes. I don’t like it and in any case I feel I need to go to the loo for a number two.
My lovely midwife tries to convince me it is my baby but I am having none of it. How could it be the baby, I think, when I still have so many hours to go?!
I hate the idea of poo’ing in the pool and think I know when I need the toilet. Turns out I don’t. As I sit on the toilet with nothing happening, James and my midwife stand outside the bathroom door telling me not to push too hard because I don’t want to give birth on the loo!
I am aware I have only been in labour for a very short while (2 hours max) so cannot believe the baby is almost ready to make his/her entrance. I ask my midwife to check that it really is the baby but at this point I can’t lie down on my back or even sit down(!). I’m in denial. She kindly obliges and examines me standing up. She tells me I am fully dilated and the baby’s head is just centimetres from its exit! I have gone from 5cm to fully dilated in under 1 hour!!! This might go some way to explaining why it has been so intense.
Only after being examined and being told me I am good to go, do I believe that my baby is ready to be born and give into the urge to push. And boy did I need to push.
At 5.15pm I start pushing, on all fours, on the sofa, completely naked (and not caring in the slightest), in front of the Christmas tree. This baby is not going to be a water baby after all! As my body pushes powerfully I bite down hard on a pillow and roar like a lioness. At one point I shout out “It’s not going to fit” but am reassured that he or she will. And, “It can’t stay there” when the baby’s head crowns just as the surge ends, leaving me momentarily at full stretch (probably the most painful moment).
But after just four minutes of what feels like a surprisingly hard, brick-like object, descending down a tunnel that is far too small to accommodate it, at 5.19pm, my gorgeous, perfectly formed, beautiful, baby boy flies (literally flies) into this world and is caught (just) by Natalie, our midwife. James who has been crouched by my head, whispering encouraging and lovely things into my ear, calls “It’s a boy!”, tears flowing, as our baby flies out, little arms up by his head and legs open like a froglet, revealing what we’ve waited 40 weeks to know. He is then passed immediately through my legs and I bring him up to my chest, bloody and beautiful. James captures the moment on camera and it is without a doubt my favourite photo.
I am so happy. There are no words. I birthed our beautiful baby just as I dreamt (albeit not in the pool), at home, in front of the Christmas tree, with no pain relief necessary. This couldn’t have been more different to my previous experience.
With my first I was almost two weeks overdue, my labour was induced and it lasted 2 long days. I was attached to a drip, pumped full of artificial hormones, strapped to a monitor and endured a number of invasive procedures. I couldn’t sleep and wasn’t allowed to eat. It was a very stressful experience. I ended up having an epidural so felt nothing and my son was finally born with the help of forceps in theatre, narrowly avoiding a c-section, under bright lights, surrounded by people I had never met. Arlo, on the other hand, arrived the day before he was ‘due’, into a completely calm environment, in the comfort of our home and my labour lasted just 2 hours and 19 minutes.
It was however the most intense 2 hours and 19 minutes of my life. The surges came on hard and fast. I breathed for my life and could do little else but focus on that. The pushing was the least comfortable part yet, ironically, the part for which I am most grateful to have experienced. To feel his head descend was so real and unlike anything else and I am so glad I got to fully feel and experience this part of giving birth. I have never felt more in the present in my whole life. It wasn’t calm or sensual, there wasn’t any incense or oms, (it progressed far too quickly for anything much!), there was no water baby but it was incredible and intense, powerful and primal. My birth experience was, put quite simply, amazing.
Something I learnt in labour was that hypnobirthing and all our practice didn’t make labour pain-free, but it helped me to feel in control and awesomely powerful and it gave James a real purpose. Also, although I talk about feeling pain, at no point did I ask for pain relief - not even gas and air which I knew my midwife had in her car for me. So it was never unmanageable. And I would do it all again in a heartbeat, in fact, I wish I could!
Doing a hypnobirthing course meant we were prepared and ready, excited even, for labour to begin! At no point was I scared or afraid: I knew deep down I was capable and I trusted my body and baby knew what to do. When it came to pushing I made these loud, primal, roaring/grunting noises. Although I had imagined quietly breathing my baby down as I’d seen in hypnobirthing videos, my body just took over and I could do nothing else but push. It was instinctive. It was powerful. And I went with it.
Had I not done the hypnobirthing course I don’t think I would have gone with it. I would have been nervous of the pain. I would have doubted my ability to do it. I would have been worried about the baby. Instead I embraced it, I pushed, I roared like a lion, and then my baby arrived and immediately all the hard work was done and pure elation flowed. I had just experienced the most incredible moment of my life.
And despite transferring to hospital afterwards because of blood loss and needing some stitches, nothing could dampen the joy and happiness from this incredible day.
In the week or so that followed the birth of Arlo we existed in this beautiful love bubble it was just gorgeous. Time lost any meaning. We did everything slowly and gently. It was like we had just opted out of real life with all its routine and demands. It helped that it was the Christmas holidays so my eldest was off school. We slept when we wanted, we ate when we felt hungry (even if it was 4am) and we just allowed our home to fill with all of this love.
I miss those precious early days so much. I tried so hard to cherish every single moment, knowing how fast it all goes. Lots has happened over the past four years and Arlo has grown and changed so much but I will never forget how I felt that day; I will carry the knowledge of my strength and power forever and I will treasure my memories of that magical Christmas for the rest for the life.
Siobhan Miller is the founder of The Positive Birth Company, mum of three boys and author of ‘Hypnobirthing: Practical Ways to Make Your Birth Better’. She is committed to empowering women around the world - and their birth partners - to create positive birth experiences, however their babies are born. She is also on a mission to make hypnobirthing more accessible for everyone because she believes EVERY woman deserves access to the tools and knowledge for the best birth possible.
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