As my second pregnancy progressed, I found myself increasingly anxious about the birth. In spite of the preparation we'd done for the birth of our first baby - active birthing, yoga, hypnobirthing, relaxation practice, researching the evidence for various decisions I might need to make - it had been traumatic. It was long and ridden with disturbances and interventions, and had felt full of unproductive effort. Afterwards I was exhausted, shell shocked and disappointed. The crux of it was this: I didn't feel like I'd birthed my baby.
Second time round, I really wanted it to be different. We registered with a home birth team, planned for a home birth, sourced a birth pool. At 36 weeks a diagnosis of gestational diabetes was a bit of a wobble, but I was able to control blood sugar levels with diet and exercise, found lots of useful information in an AIMS guide, and agreed an out of guidance home birth plan with the consultant midwife.
The day before our due date our daughter, Imogen, was sent home from nursery unwell, and would need a negative covid test before she could go back to nursery. I let the midwife know; she explained that if I went into labour before we had a negative test result then I would have to go to labour ward. But, as I was anticipating a late arrival (Imogen was two weeks late) and rather expecting to end up having conversions about induction, I didn’t give it a second thought.
On my due date, I was finishing bathing Imogen just before 8pm. It felt like the baby was sitting quite low, so I knelt on the floor to dry Imogen. As I was wobbling her legs from side to side and singing to make her laugh, I heard a muffled pop. I froze, and then felt a warm trickle. My first thought was that I would have to go to labour ward - the one place I sincerely did not want to go have my baby.
I had no other signs of labour at this point - not so much as a twinge - and I tried to tidy the bedroom while my partner, Simon, finished putting Imogen to bed. But every time I bent to pick something up more water would leak, so I went to sit on the toilet. 30 mins later I was experiencing mild cramps. Simon prepared the sofa with sheets and blankets so that I had somewhere to rest, and went to make me something for dinner.
Those scambled eggs never did get eaten! By 9pm the cramps were becoming contractions, and it seemed like something was going to happen sooner rather than later. I called the midwife and asked my mum, who was an hour and half drive away, to set off. We also called friends locally who could come to us quickly if we needed to leave home.
I stood in front of the mirror in the living room, leaning on the mantelpiece and swaying during contractions, and using the rests in between to plait my hair to keep it off my face. I remember that it took me several contractions to finish my plait, and it felt like things were ramping up quickly. In fact, it felt like everything was moving a bit too quickly - I felt a bit panicky and felt myself resisting the contractions - so to help me relax I laid on my side on the sofa. But after just a few more contractions I felt that I needed more space, and wanted to be on the floor. By this time the contractions didn't have much rest between.
Kneeling on the living room floor and leaning on the sofa, I think I moved into 'room two'. I remember saying that it was too much, I couldn't do it, but also that I couldn't move to go to hospital. I was suddenly hot - there were little beads of sweat trickling down my chest. I quite clearly remember Natalie’s voice telling me to stop thinking, to focus on my baby - my baby needed me to be with it. She asked Simon to take the phone out of the room, and I remember regathering myself and thinking, I just need to go with this. there's no way back now...
At this stage the contractions had a power to them that I couldn't have produced if I'd tried. It reminded me of vomiting - involuntary convulsions to which I was an observer. I remember my partner coming into the room after each contraction, still on the phone to Natalie as they discussed a plan. I heard him say 'yes, bulging' then next time 'I can see hair' then 'I can see nose, eyes, mouth'. With one more contraction I felt the rest of our baby slide out. All the physical sensations of labour stopped immediately, and there was a split second of silence before the baby cried out. Simon's slightly shaky voice said 'its a boy - we've got a boy!' and I came off all fours and turned to face our baby, feeling incredulous.
We spent the first hour wrapped in towels on the living room floor, Simon feeding me camomile tea and both of us recovering from the shock of what had just happened. For various reasons (gestational diabetes, rhesus negative status), we went to hospital a couple of hours later for newborn checks. But I will never forget the wonderful peace and stillness of sitting in our living room, just the two of us greeting our little boy, and feeling like this time I really had birthed our baby.