By Nadia Sole
The birth of my third child started suddenly and unexpectedly at a very inconvenient time! Gavin and I were already parents to two children – Henry had just turned three and Ben was not quite one year old. I’d been a little bit concerned I might end up going into labour during the day when I was on my own with my two little boys, perhaps not normally an issue but my first labour had been very quick from start to finish, and the second faster. After reading a bit about it and talking it over with my midwife, I felt quite assured that I’d give birth in the night because my mind and body would be most relaxed then. Biologically it seemed to make sense.
So it was a complete surprise for labour to start with a boom right after walking in from Playcentre at midday with my two little ones in tow. Feeling those familiar contractions I dropped our bags in the kitchen and went straight into denial. “No, no, no, no, no,” I thought, “I’m not ready.” It was also too early, I was only just over 34 weeks. Both Henry and Ben had been born at home, both a few weeks early but inside the 36 week mark. I’d had a niggling all through my pregnancy that this baby would be too early for a home birth and would have to be born in hospital, although I’d never voiced that or planned for a hospital birth.
I fervently hoped it was a false labour. I called my midwife and said I might be in labour and she said she would head right over, but even by the time I got off the phone things progressed and I called her straight back. I told her I was going to put the kids in the car and drive straight to hospital. Obviously far more level-headed than I was at the time, she said to stay put while she called an ambulance. I then called Gavin and told him to come home – fortunately he happened to be a few minutes away at our local doctor’s surgery, rather than half an hour or so away at his work. Ironically he was having his vasectomy appointment, so of course he was very happy to come straight home! Lastly I called my sister, one of my most important support people at my other two births.
Contractions came in intense waves as I looked at my boys, tired from a morning at Playcentre and ready to go down for a nap or relax with a book. I quickly popped Ben into his high chair and gave him a cracker – he sensed my panic and started crying. Trying to placate him but not picking him up (which didn’t work at all), I grabbed a backpack and started stuffing things into it – snacks, a nappy, a change of clothes – all for Henry and Ben (I couldn’t think of anything that I might need!) I also remembered to pack earmuffs for Henry. He had been home when Ben was born but was only two so hadn’t really noticed, he’d just been playing in his room with a family friend. However, this birth I thought he’d be more aware so I’d shown him what noises I might make and talked about how things would go – he’d said, “You too loud Mummy, I gonna need earmuffs!” I’d picked him up some just yesterday.
I rocked through the contractions, and raced around doing stuff in between. I got each of the children out to the car and buckled them in. The ambulance pulled up and then Gavin. I climbed in the back of the ambulance and refused the offer of a seat, just holding on to the overhead handle and rocking through the contractions. There was only a trainee ambulance driver and one paramedic, and they were concerned they’d have to deliver a baby so on went the lights and siren. I said I wasn’t yet pushing, we did have a bit of time.
At hospital I was taken straight up to a room somewhere and some nurses started asking questions for their forms as I climbed onto the bed on my hands and knees. I felt a bit awkward and uncomfortable, there was no-one with me I knew and I wasn’t sure of the procedure at all. I was briefly disappointed when a nurse told me I wouldn’t be able to use a birthing pool, but didn’t dwell on it. Gavin arrived with the boys and I started giving him curt instructions! “Put the back of the pram down so Ben can have a nap.” “Give Henry his lunch box and sit him on that chair.” I felt like I needed to know the boys were taken care of so I could focus on myself.
At last my midwife arrived, I burst into tears when I saw her, I just felt so relieved. She had been my midwife for both Henry and Ben, and I knew she would guide me for this one. She gave me a hug and we had a brief chat about how I was doing. My sister arrived and we all laughed when Henry said in a disappointed voice “Awww, where are my cousins?
The contractions were very intense and for some odd reason they were centred in one area on my left buttock! They didn’t spread across my lower back at all and it was extremely uncomfortable. Unlike at home where I’d used hot towels for very effective pain relief, they didn’t have any heated items available for labour in hospital (for safety reasons I was told). My sister climbed up on the bed behind me and provided counter-pressure and this was the best we could manage, which was actually quite adequate. The room filled up with a team from the neonatal intensive care unit, waiting for the baby to come out so they could ‘work on him’ as required. It was a bit unnerving.
My enduring image of this time is actually quite a comical one – Ben sitting in his pram happily eating his lunch, having woken from a short nap; Henry standing calmly at the end of the bed with his earmuffs on eating a carrot, alongside my midwife who was monitoring things and answering his questions; me on my hands and knees on the bed with my sister providing counter-pressure and Gavin giving me quiet encouragement. I really love that image. Later one of the neonatal paediatricians asked my midwife, “What was that woman doing up on the bed?” My midwife said, “Err … she was giving birth.” “No, not her, the other one! What was she doing on the bed?” Of course, she was referring to my sister. “That’s how we home birthers do it in hospital,” laughed my midwife.
Our son was born at 1:50pm, just an hour and a half after labour had started at home. After just a whisper of a touch, he was quickly taken to a table to be checked. I felt he would be fine, in fact it never occurred to me he might not be. It took several minutes for them to stabilise his breathing and then he was put in an incubator and taken to NICU. My sister went with him.
A little bit later Gavin and I went up to NICU. Our baby was a sea of tubes and machines, we couldn’t even see him clearly. We named him Matthew, which was just one of a few names we had thought of but we felt he needed a name as soon as possible. Over the next few days either myself or Gavin or my sister sat with Matty for about 20 out of each 24 hours. He was having unexplained seizures, but the odd thing was that he never had any of these seizures when someone was sitting with him. If I (or my sister or Gavin) popped out to get something to eat or drink, we’d return 15 minutes later and the frantic nurse would report that he’d just had six seizures in a row. They never happened when we were there, not a single one.
We were told Matty would probably be in NICU for about four or five weeks. It was 24 hours before I could hold him, laying his tubes carefully across my arms. I gave him skin-to-skin contact immediately. I held him every chance I could and took an active role in his care. Ben turned one, nine days after Matty was born. After 12 days in NICU Matty was cleared as fit and healthy, and we took him home. I felt we had some catching up to do, to make up for the start in life Matty had been given, and over the next six weeks he was held by someone who loved him for 24 hours a day everyday.
Matty has had no lingering health problems or concerns, and has responded like any ‘normal’ baby in reaching his milestones. His birth wasn’t what I expected, but it was still a good experience. I am pleased that I remember it as fondly as I recall my two homebirths.