After having experienced a stillbirth followed by an unplanned home birth 16 months later, a year and a half of trying to conceive our third baby, six months of IVF and a failed transfer, I knew there was space in our home and our hearts for another baby and trusted that this was a story I would one day be able to write – even though it sometimes seemed like the odds were against us! In the end it was a natural conception and undisturbed pregnancy, and I knew I wanted to have my baby at home, in an unassisted water birth.
I’m sharing my story below – in detail! – to give an insight to other women who are deciding whether this is the right choice for them.
In the early hours of 26th April, at 40 weeks and five days, Raphael initiated his birth and I knew it was imminent, after several days of increasing tightenings and losing parts of my cervical plug. From 1.30am I started feeling the familiar cramps in my stomach and lower back and I slept through these until 6am, noting that they were between five and 20 minutes apart. At 7.30am, when Dickie and Cece awoke, they became less regular so at 10am we got up and made some final preparations: finishing my birth altar (see my blog on how to prepare your own altar here) and filling the birth pool in our bedroom.
It was a gloriously sunny day. We kept Cece off nursery so she could be with us for the birth and we all had brunch together in the garden. I was experiencing surges, but I felt I could control the process and knew that until I lay down again they may not start getting intense again.
After that I had a bath and went back to bed – and sure enough, things ramped up. By 3.30pm I was having to breathe through each contraction. It was time to get in the pool! I felt calm and relieved that things seemed underway but also slightly apprehensive at what was to come.
I had planned to have Cece in the room with us throughout the birth but, being four years old, she wanted to splash about in the pool with me! I realised that I needed complete peace and quiet, so she got the rare treat of an afternoon watching movies.
We had called Laura Swann, my doula, when I got in the pool and when she arrived, I told her I was feeling some fear around dropping into my body and completely allowing the surges to take over. Dickie got in the pool with me, so he could perform the hip squeeze that had helped with pain relief during Cece’s birth, and that helped me find a deeper focus.
However, when I checked my cervix for the first time, I was disheartened that it felt normal with no discernible opening. Worried, I asked Laura if she thought the contractions were doing anything and she said they most certainly were – and on the next surge, my vocalisations changed from a deep moan to a more open aahhh noise, and she advised me to stick with that sound.
For the next three hours I mostly stayed on all fours or hanging over the side of the pool while Dickie and Laura poured water down my back with her beautiful shell, kept me hydrated with coconut water and the chicken stock I had prepared and gave gentle words of reassurance and encouragement. I checked my cervix after every surge and, happily, finally felt the amniotic sac starting to descend with every surge. The nature sounds playing in the background helped to relax me in between surges and I drew strength and comfort from glancing at my birth altar.
Laura kept the pool warm, adding more hot water when needed, and the feeling of the water combined with rising up on to my knees would always initiate another surge. At times, I almost felt that I could stave them off if I didn’t move. Being able to change position as and when needed is so intuitive and necessary to keep things progressing. I can’t imagine being told to stay in one position – god forbid on my back, or hooked up to any drips or monitors that may have inhibited this.
The surges that were coming now, in what was to be the final hour, were incredibly powerful. But I wasn’t sure if the sac was moving down any more and I could feel a small bit of cervix still covering the opening, which I knew needed to efface. After feeling a little nervous at how long this may continue for, I knew I had to totally surrender to these last surges, allowing them to take over my body and open completely for the head to make its descent. I relaxed completely and as my body bore down the sound I was making changed to an ooh and my whole body shuddered.
MY BABY AND BODY KNOW WHAT TO DO
I didn’t want to know the time but noticing the fading light in the bathroom in between surges, I knew it was close to sunset. Earlier, Laura had made Cece some supper and she now left to go and check on her. On the next surge, I felt the sac burst out into the water and I felt the head starting to peek through. With Cece I had delivered her head in three surges, but this felt bigger (well, it was!) and there was no let-up.
In hindsight I felt like I had hyperventilated the head out in a minute but in reality, watching the video back, my breathing was still controlled – but much sharper now the pain had changed to the famous ‘ring of fire’ stinging sensation. Over the course of four minutes I allowed my vagina to slowly expand around the head, and intuitively lifted my right leg up to create more room as well as fluttering my lips to ensure everything stayed as open as possible (the jaw and pelvis are intrinsically linked with any tension being replicated). Once the head had fully emerged, I lay back on Dickie to see if I could catch my baby from the front but I had to return to my trusty safe place of all-fours to deliver the shoulders.
Dickie could now see our little baby’s face stargazing up through the water and said afterwards that he was feeling slightly concerned about him drowning – even though he knew there was no chance of this as babies are aquatic until they feel air on their face and take their first breath, and are getting their oxygen from the placenta. This is the reason it’s so important to delay cord clamping until all the blood has returned to the baby and it’s not only stopped pulsing but turned to white.
One of the baby’s shoulders felt slightly caught, potentially because of the sac being there too, which we later realised emerged with one of the shoulders as it was attached very high up near the placenta. I lifted one leg up then the other to see what would work, and when he finally arrived his shoulders shot out, driven by the fetal ejection reflex. (Another fun fact: our babies will birth even if we’re in a coma – it really is all about getting out of our own way and allowing the body to do its job!)
Dickie held our baby gently up on the surface of the water and I reached down and scooped him to my chest. I sighed and threw my head back in relief and Dickie gave a little yelp of joy.. we had done it! Baby started crying straight away and after a quick cuddle I realised the cord was around one of my legs – I passed him to Dickie to pass back to me in between my legs and it was now I could see he was a boy, as my intuition had known all along. A beautiful healthy boy, still covered in the amazing vernix that coats a baby’s skin and a lovely dark pink colour. I held him tightly and kissed his head while I breathed through the initial shakiness, revelling in the enormous power of birth and allowing his body to self regulate to my body temperature and heartbeat. I was slightly concerned he was a little congested and wondered if I should suction his nose with my mouth but after rubbing his back he was breathing normally and gazing up at me with clear blue eyes, just as Cece had. Dickie was in awe and Rudy came to look at the new arrival, having laid next to us on the bed throughout.
Having heard my breathing and noises change, Laura came back into the room to meet him. My healing angel was finally here with us.
THE GOLDEN HOUR
About 20 minutes after he was born, Cece came up to meet baby and had all the important questions – Will Mummy still have a big tummy? Where are baby’s pyjamas? – and after a quick peek and a stroke of his leg, was happy to go to bed.
I wanted to stay in the pool for a bit as felt very sore immediately after and Laura was on hand with some homeopathic arnica. Baby happily started to feed and I debriefed Laura on the final part of the birth as she hadn’t been there, while she fed me some postpartum tea, some well deserved chocolate biscuits and cramp bark tincture for the after pains (which happen when the uterus contracts back to size after birth and can be very painful, especially when baby feeds).
We discussed moving getting out of the pool when I was ready and when Dickie returned they helped me get comfortable in bed. As we waited for the placenta to be delivered, Laura distributed some motherwort to us both, long used to calm any anxiety in birth and can also help prevent blood loss. At around two hours after the birth, I needed a wee so we all decamped to the loo and while Dickie held the baby I very gently tugged on the cord to see if the placenta would come. It took a couple of minutes but it finally emerged and fell into the waiting bowl, the final separation of baby and me.
Instead of the traditional cutting and clamping of the cord, which felt quite medicalised, we decided on a more gentle cord burning ceremony – something I had only recently learned of but seemed a perfect ending to a gentle birth. Laura tied the cord with the same red thread we had “woven the web” with at my blessing and laid her burning box on my lap. We then set about burning through the cord using beeswax taper candles which took around 25 minutes and all sang happy birthday once it had separated.
Laura had offered to make a smoothie and tincture but Dickie has always felt strongly that the placenta has a soul and after having Cece’s encapsulated, this time we wanted to keep it intact to bury at a later date. She took a “tree of life” print of the placenta onto some watercolour paper that we could gold leaf as a piece of art to keep forever (see below) and then popped it in the freezer.
She left us all tucked up in bed together with a heat pad on my tummy and back to ease the pains, in wonder at our new addition and at fulfilling our dream of an amazing undisturbed home birth!
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