HOME BIRTH: Alice's Birth Story


When the snow started on Wednesday night, I knew Alice would be with us soon.

It sounds daft, I know, but I was born in the middle of a bad winter, Matilda came home amid huge cotton wool snowflakes (in late April) and I've said all along that this baby would arrive with the first proper snow of the season. So I sat up until midnight, watching the snow fall, and then I went to bed excited, certain (finally certain) that labour would hit me in the wee small hours.

Which it did.

It was a little after 4am when the first contraction woke me. It rolled around my stomach and - just like last time - I wondered briefly if it was something I had eaten. I lay there for twenty minutes, waiting for a second one. And then I knew it was real.

From that point onwards, the contractions came every five or six minutes. They were short and manageable, and I lay in bed, smiling in the dark, full of this secret. I got up at 6:30, had a bloody show in the bathroom, then sat in the living room, watching the snow falling outside.

At 7:00, Steve got out of the shower and I told him it was snowing. Then I told him I was in labour. He was bouncing around with excitement; he put on his "lucky T-shirt" - the one he was wearing when Matilda was born. Unlike last time, I knew this was the real thing and I knew he definitely needed to stay at home with me. Still, in the lulls between contractions, it felt so unreal that I wondered if it was all in my head.

At 7:30, Matilda appeared (an hour later than usual). We didn't tell her the baby was on the way but we did beckon her over to look out the window. "Snow...!" she whispered, in wonder.

The weather made for an easy morning. Steve and Matilda headed out into the garden to build a snowman and a snowcake, to throw snowballs at the wall and to generally mess around in the white stuff. The toddlers from downstairs joined them. I stayed indoors, reading and writing and rocking through contractions on my yoga ball.

A little after 10, I called the community midwives to let them know I was in labour and to chat about what to do next. The two on call midwives were in clinics at the time, but another midwife spoke to me and said she'd sort everything out at their end. She advised me to call back when I was getting three or four contractions in ten minutes, and to take some paracetamol in the meantime - I'm pretty sure paracetamol for labour is more or less a placebo, but I took some anyway, just so I could tell her I had.

By 13:00 nothing had changed, other than Steve and Matilda had come indoors, soaked through and shivering, and we had all warmed up with hot chocolate and toast. The midwife I had spoken to earlier called to see how I was getting on; she advised me to go for a nap and then to start walking up and down stairs to see if I could speed things along. She warned that, if the police advised against driving in the bad weather, the midwives wouldn't be able to come out to me overnight - I would need to go to the hospital.

Steve and Matilda headed out to the shops to buy the coconut mallow biscuits I was suddenly craving, and I went back to bed. For an hour I lay there, dozing between contractions - they continued to be spaced five minutes apart but were becoming so intense that I was having to curl and uncurl my toes (turns out "toe curling" is a real level of pain) as I breathed through them. To my surprise - as I've never managed the visualisation part of hypnobirthing - I found picturing the baby's head pushing down into my cervix really useful at this point; I kept repeating "down down down" to myself and thinking about how the pressure was helping me dilate.

Eating toast

I got up at 14:30 and - BAM! - the moment I climbed out of bed things intensified. I rushed to the bathroom, cleared my system (downwards, not up), and suddenly the contractions were lasting two minutes each, with barely a minute between them.

I started bouncing on the yoga ball (no way was I going to manage stairs at that point!) while Matilda watched some inane nursery rhyme show Steve had found on Netflix. When, after half an hour, things were still just as intense, Steve called a neighbour to take Matilda for the rest of the day, and I called the midwives. The first on call midwife said she would pop straight over.

In fact, both midwives arrived within a couple of minutes of each other, at around 15:30. "You look very in the zone," the first told me, as she came up the stairs and spotted me on my ball.

I had had a couple of flashes of "Why did I think it was a good idea to get pregnant again?! I can't do this!" but I was able to shut those down almost instantly. Generally, when people talk about hypnobirthing mantras, they're lovely pinnable statements about beauty and light and trust and fate; my internal voice is more forthright and tells me something along the lines of, "There's no going back now, so you can either fight against your body or you can get the baby out calmly - you choose."

I chose calm.

The midwives checked my blood pressure and the baby's heartbeat, then asked if I wanted an internal examination - I didn't much fancy the discomfort but I was really keen to know how far I had progressed, so I agreed. It ended up taking almost an hour for me to get through to the bedroom, onto the bed and into a position which didn't make me feel like throwing up (head on Steve's lap; feet resting on the bed frame), but when the midwife told me I was already 9cm dilated, the elation I felt made up for the discomfort. I was so, so close! However, my waters hadn't broken, which the midwife explained meant my body was trying to shove a water balloon through my cervix - not an easy or a comfortable task!

The midwives got to work setting up the gas and air and unpacking the rest of the kit at this point, while I sat on the edge of the bed, rocking and breathing through contractions. As with last time, I found it easiest to get through contractions if I counted my great big out breaths - the majority of my contractions lasted ten breaths each, although some were as long as forty.

The next couple of hours were a blur of contractions. I had a couple of puffs of gas and air, but I found that taking big in breaths when I really wanted to breathe the surge out broke my concentration - I did the rest of labour without pain relief, counting my breaths and clutching Steve's hand. Occasionally I would turn my head to smile at him, but mostly I had my eyes tightly closed so I could focus on what my body needed to do.

At various points, I was sitting on the edge of the bed, kneeling on the floor with my head on the mattress, and standing with my head on Steve's chest. Each time I changed position it was at the midwife's suggestion - I knew she was right every time, but it was always a bit of a thought, having to actually move!

There were a handful of contractions so intense that I found myself making a long "hoooooooooooo" noise through them - I think I sounded like a grieving owl; Steve thinks a ghost. There were also a couple when I found myself starting to cry out, realised I was letting myself lose my sense of calm, and consciously forced myself to start counting my way through them again. Mostly, though, they felt manageable. I don't know how to explain the pain - because there's no denying they were painful; I wouldn't want to go through labour more than a handful of times in my life and, towards the end, I did tell the midwives, "I just want a fifteen minute break!" - but at no point did it make me feel scared or out of control. I was very aware that this was my body's way of doing something enormous, momentous, completely out of the ordinary and that all this hard work was natural.

Throughout the labour, the first midwife did regular checks of the baby's heartbeat and less frequent checks of my pulse. I had been a little worried that this would feel invasive or disrupt my flow, but I barely noticed at the time.

At 19:00, the midwife strongly urged me to go the bathroom and try to pee. It was several hours since I had last been to the toilet and she said the position and downwards movement often helped things along. I was absolutely certain I didn't need to pee (and I was right) but I trusted her advice, so I made my way to the bathroom very slowly.

The moment I sat on the toilet, my waters exploded out of me - Steve was standing next to me and jumped in surprise, the bang and splash were so loud! The midwife's tone became urgent at this point - "DO NOT PUSH!" - as our bathroom is too small for anyone to have caught the baby, if I had delivered her right there.

Steve and the midwife hurried me back to the bedroom where I squatted beside the bed and started pushing. Not having felt the ultimate delivery with Matilda, this bit was new to me and I wasn't sure how much pain to expect - it did sting but not nearly as much as I had expected; I did have to cry out during the pushes, but from effort rather than actual pain.

On the first push, the top of her head was visible; on the second push, her head was out. I was told that if I turned my own head I'd see everything in the mirror behind me, but I couldn't move. The baby, meanwhile, was trying to wriggle inside me and that caused me to cry out in pain! On the third push, at 19:31, she was out!

She was tangled up in her cord, so the midwives quickly spun her free, then passed her through my legs for me to hold. I leaned back against the mirror and cradled her to me, stunned to be suddenly holding her - too stunned to think beyond that.

Steve and Alice

The midwives waited until the cord had turned white, then clamped it and asked if Steve wanted to cut it. Much to both my surprise and his own, he agreed.

I then had the injection to help the placenta come out - I felt that labour was quite enough pushing and I felt no great attachment to the placenta, so I had no qualms about this. After only a couple of minutes, it slipped out of me with a huge splat (hurrah for incontinence pads!); the midwives cleared it away, commenting on how healthy it looked for eleven days post dates - definitely the strangest compliment I've ever had!

The first midwife then helped me onto the bed, gave Alice her vitamin K injection, and then checked me over. I had some grazing and one tear so neat and superficial that they said it didn't need stitched unless I wanted it to be - I declined; I wanted to sink into my baby bubble and forget about medical stuff for a while.

At some point during all this, somebody rubbed Alice clean and wrapped her in a towel. I've no idea which midwife it was or when it happened!

While the midwives tidied up, Steve called our neighbour who brought Matilda home - she dropped her off at the front door, but didn't come in.

Less than half an hour after Alice was born, the two sisters met for the first time. Matilda whispered "my baby sister...!", took off her outdoor things and climbed into bed beside us. Steve got in, too. The midwives took themselves off to a different room to do paperwork and eat biscuits while the four of us curled up together, marvelling at this change to our family.

An hour later, Matilda fell into her own bed without complaint or bedtime story, Alice fell asleep, and the midwives left. I didn't know how to thank them enough.

Matilda and Alice meet

In our quiet house, I had a shower and then Steve and I sat on the sofa with Alice, me eating jammy toast (rhubarb and ginger jam, homemade by a friend of our neighbour) and drinking very sweet tea (it took three days for sugar in my tea to start tasting wrong). At 22:30, we gathered ourselves together enough to call our mums and message the rest of my family.

We couldn't quite bring ourselves to lay Alice down in her crib that night. We took it in turns to sleep and to sit up in bed, cuddling her.

I'm all for every woman having the birth which suits her best - use all the pain relief and accept all the assistance which works for you - and I have no doubt that this was the best birth for me. I feel so fortunate to have been able to give birth to Alice at home, drug free, and to have been cuddled up with my family around me so soon after she arrived.

For me, it wasn't so much about being able to control my surroundings - on the day, I didn't care whether the lights were bright or the house smelt of lavender - but about being familiar with them. It helped that I didn't have to assess the height of the bed before climbing onto it; I didn't have to look for handholds on my way to the toilet because I knew exactly where everything was; I didn't have to wonder whether this item or that item was available because I know exactly what this flat contains.

There were moments when I knew that, if I was in hospital, I would have found it harder to cope - I would have been wondering whether there was something the midwives could do to make things more comfortable (different pain relief? pop the waters?) - and I found it empowering (as much as I hate that word) to accept the whole process as it happened. I found it really interesting that I was happier without gas and air as, in hospital, I know I would have started using it earlier and I'm not sure if it would have occurred to me to stop.

But, most of all, I got the moments after the birth that I wanted. I got to climb into my own bed with people I love. I didn't have to wave goodbye to Steve, an hour after giving birth, and I didn't have anybody urging me to put the baby down and get some sleep. Nobody wheeled my child away to the neonatal ward. Nobody scrutinised our bonding. I could eat and drink and chat and doze however and whenever I wanted. I didn't have to think about packing up my things and dealing with a car seat - in fact, it was days before I left the house - and I didn't have to talk to or listen to anybody outwith my immediate family.

We started life as a family of four, curled up together, cosy in our own home, and, nine days later, everything still feels perfect.

More About Home Birth: Why I wanted one and the timeline for preparing.

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