Alison was determined to have a VBAC (Vaginal Birth after Caesarean) and discovered the newly opened Lotus Alongside Midwifery Led Unit at the LGI could offer the right care and support she needed.
Before I tell you my most recent birth story, that of my now 8 week old son Charlie, I want to tell you about the birth of his big brother Sam. You’ll understand why when you hear it.
Before I was even pregnant with Sam I knew I wanted a home birth. Several of my friends had had them and my sister had also unexpectedly given birth at home without complication. I was positive it was the best place for me to give birth. At my NCT class I was the only person even considering it and I could tell some of the other mums thought I was mad but I was undeterred. I bought a load of towels from the charity shop and some cheap shower curtains and we hired a birthing pool. We even did a trial run to see how long it would take to fill up and I had a lovely soak in it in my cossie! Then at 38 weeks Sam turned breech. I remember sitting watching my stomach rippling one Sunday night and wondering what on earth was going on. At my antenatal appointment the next day the midwife was feeling my tummy and thought she could feel a head where a bum should be so she sent me for a scan and they confirmed it. We spent the next couple of weeks trying everything we could to get him to turn including an extremely painful ECV (external Cephalic Version), Moxibustion and even a few evenings spent lying upside down on an iron board propped up against the sofa! Suffice to say none of this worked and we decided a home breech birth was too risky. I abandon my home birth plans.
It was recommended that I elect for a c-section as soon as Sam turned breech but I was determined to birth him vaginally, even if it was going to have to be in the hospital. I did lots of research on breech births and was sure all the months I’d spent studying hypnobirthing would soon pay off. I covered the house with positive birth affirmations and focused on having a calm, natural breech birth. As my due date approached, one by one the other mums in my NCT group had their babies until I was the only one left. Five days passed my due date I noticed a thick, dark discharge when I went to the loo. I was excited, this must be the mucus plug, things were starting to happen. The discharge continued for the next few days but apart from a very mild cramp here and there, nothing else happened. Five days later, on the 18th of May, I went for a stretch and sweep with the consultant. I mentioned the discharge before she examined me. She had a look and asked me to get dressed. As I sat down she asked what colour the discharge had been, I said dark green. She replied ‘that’s not mucus, it’s meconium’. As soon as she said it I knew what it meant; my waters had been broken for at least 5 days. They ran some tests and confirmed there was no sign of infection, but with no amniotic fluid left around the baby, him still being breech and with no sign of me going in to labour any time soon, a section was really my only option. The operation itself was really calm, the surgical team were amazing and we were thrilled to have our baby boy. I wasn’t until after it was all over that I realised how upset I was to have missed out on the birth I’d wanted. It was months before I was able to talk about it all without crying and it’s taken me a long time to get over.
When I got pregnant this time round I had already made my peace with the fact that I wouldn’t be able to have a home birth. There was some toing and froing during the pregnancy about whether or not this was the case, with some medical staff saying there was no reason I couldn’t and others saying I really shouldn’t. In the end I decided to move to the home birth team for the last few weeks of my antenatal care with a view to them coming out to me once I went into labour and then accompanying me in to hospital so that I could be in surgery in minutes if my section scar ruptured during labour. Again my due date came and went and I began to panic that it was all going to happen again. Maybe I just wasn’t capable of going in to labour. Maybe I was just destined never to experience child birth.
At my 40 week appointment with the consultant and the head of the homebirth team we agreed it was best to avoid an induction and to just see how things went. As long as my waters didn’t break there was no reason I couldn’t go the full 2 weeks passed my due date before we even had to think about a section. This was a relief but I was still constantly anxious about what was going to happen. Then on the Wednesday night 10 days passed my due date, I was sitting at the kitchen table chatting to my sister and I felt my waters go. It was only a trickle at first but by the time Laura from the home birth team arrived accompanied by a student midwife a couple of hours later I was having regular contractions…it was actually happening!
The contractions stopped as soon as the midwives arrived, they stayed for an hour or so, did their checks and left about 2.30am saying they would let the ward know I might be coming in later that day. As I was closing the door to them the contractions started up again and from then on they were every 10 minutes lasting around 30 seconds each. By this time my husband, Si, had gone to bed so I spent the night in the spare room bouncing on my birthing ball, watching Orange is the New Black and timing my contractions. Around 4am the contractions dropped off so I called the home birth team, spoke to Sophie and let her know it might be a while yet. I then tried to get some sleep but woke up not much later as things started picking up again and when Sam woke up around 6.30am they were pretty much 3 every 10 minutes. Si was keen to keep Sam at home with us for as long as possible (I think because I was still quite quiet at that point he didn’t realise how far along things were) but I insisted he let my sister come and get him straight after the school run. They left around 9.30 and by 10 I was moaning through every contraction and very glad that Sam was out of the house!
Si called the home birth team around 10.30am and Sophie arrived at about 11. I tried having a bath but immediately felt too cramped and had to get out. Back in the spare room I was moving around as much as possible and kneeling by the bed for each contraction. The hardest part at this stage was that the contractions were all in my lower back and the tops of my legs so my legs were getting really tired and kneeling up was getting more & more difficult as all my weight was going through them. As we knew I wasn’t going to have the baby at home, we needed to find out if I was in established labour so Sophie could call the ambulance but there wasn’t enough time between contractions for me to climb onto the bed so she could examine me. Eventually we made a bed of duvets on the floor so I could more easily rest between contractions and Sophie could examine me. I was 5cm dilated, Sophie called the ambulance. The thought of the journey into hospital was terrifying but Sophie explained the gas and air they would be able to give me would help with the pain. Luckily we were travelling in the middle of the day too so hopefully traffic wouldn’t be too bad.
I won’t pretend the journey was pleasant, in fact it was probably the worst part of the whole experience, but it was over relatively quickly and the gas and air did help a lot. Once in the hospital we went straight to the new Lotus birthing suite. Aside from the transfer, there had been no mention of the fact this was a VBAC and as everything was progressing nicely there was no need for us to be on the delivery suite. We were lucky enough to be in the Myleene Klass room with its gigantic pool and lovely, calm lighting. I wanted to get in the pool as soon as possible but due to the size of it and a slight mishap with the plug(!) it was a little while before I was able to. I laboured on all fours on the floor for a bit and shortly before I got in, I remember saying ‘something feels different’. The contractions seemed to change and I actually felt the baby moving himself down the birth canal. it was the weirdest feeling and it made me realise just how much of a team effort birth is, he was birthing himself as much as I was giving birth to him. In the pool the water made me much more comfortable and it was amazing to have so much depth and width to stretch out in. There was no way I’d have had that much room in a birthing pool at home, the transfer was worth it just for that! Sophie monitored the baby’s heart beat with a waterproof doppler every 15 minutes without me having to change positions. Back at the house she had asked if I would want continual monitoring on arrival at the hospital as we had originally discussed but the idea of wearing those straps & having my movement restricted was awful and I instantly refused. After months of worrying about all the risks associated with VBACs I barely thought about it during the labour, I was so completely focused on what was happening I didn’t even consider what could go wrong. Once I was in the pool I got on all fours with my chin resting against the edge and carried on using the gas and air on every breath. In between contractions I turned around and floated on my back to rest.
Si had decided to bring his swimming trunks with him at the last minute and I’m so glad he did. Once I started pushing he got into the pool and when I was freaked out by the feeling of the baby going back in every time I stopped pushing, he was able to reassure me that every push was bringing him out a little further. I’ve never really known what the term ‘primal scream’ meant…I do now! I found a level of screaming I didn’t know I had in that final stage. I know some women are able to ‘breath’ their babies out but I needed that visceral cry for sure. Although it seemed like much longer at the time, I was only pushing for about 40 minutes and at 2.40pm on the 16th of May, Si caught our son in his arms and lifted him out of the water. He and Sophie helped me turn around without getting tangled in the cord and I held Charlie in my arms for the first time. I was completely unaware of the second midwife who’d joined us when I’d started pushing and as soon as the birth was over the atmosphere was really calm & relaxed. Sophie and Si helped me climb out of the pool with Charlie and I fed him in the chair while we waited for the cord to empty. I had some minor tearing which the midwives were able to stitch without me having to move and we then had an hour or so just the three of us when we were both able to shower and have lots of cuddles with our new baby before we moved onto the ward. It turned out I’d lost a little more blood during the birth than Sophie and the team were comfortable with so we stayed overnight to make sure everything was ok. This means if I had given birth at home I would have had to transfer straight after anyway so I’m glad we were in hospital in the end.
We don’t plan to have any more children and there is part of me that will always be sad that I never did get to give birth at home, but with the help of the fantastic home birth team and the amazing facilities in the new midwife led unit, I was still able to have the beautiful, natural, intervention-free birth I so badly wanted.