Harlan's birth story

The proper place to begin my birth story is by saying how much I hated being pregnant. We were fortunate enough to conceive pretty much immediately, but before I had time to get excited about the prospect I was sick. Every day. I was nauseated. All day. I travel for work and I puked my way around Norway, the Channel Islands and the USA. My partner repulsed me, food disgusted me, I couldn’t socialise, I looked awful. I had two threatened miscarriages, SPD, anaemia (and a GP who nearly stopped me from going on holiday!). People told me the scans would be really exciting, that they’d make everything real, but to me they just felt clinical, I felt no connection to the images on the screen. To top it all I had anterior placenta placement so I barely even felt my baby kick for the longest time. What had I done?

I didn’t transfer to One to One for my antenatal care until around 29 weeks. I didn’t know much about the service but I knew people who rated it highly. I was curious but I’d been too poorly to make any decisions about what I wanted earlier in my pregnancy. There was nothing wrong with the care I’d received up until that point, but I’d been very disconnected from it and it often felt perfunctory. Additionally, I’d tested positive for strep B at my initial booking in appointment and though my community midwife had told me it was my right to have a home birth, it was clear she thought this a terrible idea and that I should be having IV antibiotics in labour, regardless of any further risk analysis.

From my very first conversation with my One to One midwife, Charlie, things changed for me. Charlie asked me all the same questions as I’d originally been asked when booking in with my community midwife, but she actually listened to my answers and engaged with me. The first time she came out to see me I cried my eyes out, I was just so relieved to talk to someone who wanted to help me feel better. As soon as I felt I was being treated as a person in my own right I was able to expend the emotional energy required to see my baby as a person in their own right too. When other healthcare professionals asked me how the pregnancy was going, and I told them, they’d say, “but apart from that?” whereas Charlie empathised and offered real solutions, encouraging me to demand different anti sickness meds, making me feel like my welfare was genuinely important, and not just so she could tick a box. Together Charlie, my partner Matthew, and I explored the options available to us in relation to the positive strep B status, looking at the research, its limitations and the identifiable risk factors, aside from the mere presence of the bacteria. Charlie helped us to see that there were genuinely other options than a hospital birth and IV antibiotics. Matthew and I were grateful to be treated like intelligent people who could weigh up scientific evidence ourselves. We still thought we’d go for a hospital birth if I was found to be strep B positive at 37 weeks, but we were all crossing our fingers for a home birth.

As 37 weeks approached we attended the One to One hypnobirthing course. While some of it was a little out there for us (the guided meditation and positive affirmations didn’t sit well with my cultivated cynicism), there were other elements that really resonated with both of us. I began to totally trust that my body knew how to birth this baby. I was confident that I could breathe and push as I needed to, that it would be intuitive, if I was allowed to let nature take charge and use my own hormones. As time went by I developed SPD and wasn’t able to get around much, and though I was still sick I was feeling so much more positive. As my trust in Charlie and the One to One model of care increased I was hoping more and more for a home birth.

At 37 weeks, the strep B test came back positive again. We were gutted, but opted to have the baby at the Midwife Led Unit at The Liverpool Women’s Hospital. We knew that the risks of forgoing the antibiotics were statistically small, and their efficacy questionable, but there was still a lot of fear (instilled by our culture’s medicalisation of childbirth) to overcome. A few days later I met Leticia (who also works alongside One to One in a doula/wellbeing capacity with Down to Earth) at a BAMBIS meeting. We got chatting about home birthing and strep B, and through the course of that conversation I realised how deeply unhappy I was about the prospect of a hospital birth. Leticia tipped the scale. I wanted to have my baby at home. Later that day I spoke to Matthew and was so relieved when he agreed with my analysis of the situation. We realised that we wanted Charlie to be there, that we completely trusted her, that I wanted to have control over my environment, and for my body to have control over the whole process.

Charlie happily wrote us a new care plan: unless additional risk factors arose (such as active infection or prolonged rupture of membranes) I was having this baby at home. We opted for an alternative to IV antibiotics, a prescription for Hibiclens, which proved surprisingly difficult to obtain. I waddled between pharmacies at 40 weeks+, remarkably confident that I was having a 41 week+ baby and that everything would be ok. We compiled an epic playlist (notably including the theme from The Last of the Mohicans), stocked up on LED tea lights and Lucozade, I began expressing colostrum into syringes, just in case (and for something to do!), drinking raspberry leaf tea and eating the requisite number of dates per day.

Amidst well meaning messages from friends and family (“Anything yet? When are you getting induced?”), labour started at 2am, at 41 weeks +3. I felt totally calm, we were ready. The surges started at 8 minutes apart, and were regular, going to 6, 5, 4… I sensed I wasn’t going to need that clarysage oil I’d bought. At about 8am we got up, lit candles, put the music on, dimmed the lights, I ate a bowl of porridge. I vividly remember kneeling on the rug my mam made nearly thirty years ago, face in the seat of an armchair, listening to Indian classical music and thinking, I’ve so got this. By 11am the surges were 3 in 10 minutes, I know this because, despite asking him not to, Matthew kept relaying stats to me like a motivational personal trainer! “I can’t dig deep and go any faster just by trying harder you know!?” The tens machine I’d been using since the early stages was no longer doing much, neither were the counter pressure and massage techniques. I called Charlie, “err, can you come please, it hurts a bit now?” About an hour later she arrived, completely calm and relaxed. I hadn’t realised labour could be so tolerable between contractions: we chatted, cracked jokes, but then things inevitably heated up…

Pretty much the whole time I was in labour I felt like the baby was going to come out of my bum. As a result of this it got to the point where the only place my brain wanted me to be was on the loo! My waters finally went all over the bathroom floor. “They’re clear!” I quipped to Charlie who was unobtrusively hanging out in the living room, just as the tens machine skidded across the floor into the puddle of amniotic fluid.

“Matthew, SWEETHEART. Please tell Charlie I would like some gas and air. NOW!” It’s true what they say, gas and air is great! A couple of puffs later and between them, with the assistance of some extra kettles, they’d just about got sufficient water in the birthing pool. “When’s transition?” I whimpered. “Pretty sure that was it,” reassured Charlie as the bin men clattered up and down the alley outside the bathroom window. I laughed. Excellent, I’ve definitely got this then, I thought. The transition phase wasn’t scary, just intense and very animal. I imagine the bin men would agree.

The relief as I lowered myself into the birthing pool was incredible, the pressure lessened and I felt my whole body relax. I have no recollection of pushing (I certainly wasn’t told to), just my body spontaneously squeezing. I could feel the baby’s head. Matthew was hoping to get in the pool too but I knew it was time and I needed a bit of personal space.

”He’s here.” I announced chirpily shortly afterwards, 1:51pm, as I lifted him out of the water onto my chest: blue eyes open, quiet but alert. I felt incredible, and weirdly proud of the thickness of his umbilical cord. Fittingly he had the most perfect little blonde mohawk!

By this time Lara, Charlie’s buddy, had also arrived. They helped me out of the pool, wobbly legged. There was a little more blood in the water than they ideally wanted to see so it was time to get that placenta out. Placentas are pretty cool, I definitely recommend having a look. I didn’t eat it. They made me a ham sandwich and got me a glass of Coke instead. I was sick. I had a shower. I did have a second degree tear but I really wouldn’t have known: there was no pain. My uterine muscles ached but even looking at my baby physically eased that discomfort. Oxytocin is amazing stuff. I felt high! Charlie and Lara called Becky to do my stitches. Again, it didn’t hurt. I giggled throughout the procedure, sitting on a shower curtain on my couch while our baby, by this time named Harlan, snuggled skin to skin with his dad right next to me. A few minutes later he latched on and has fed like a champ ever since. I had next to no discomfort in the following days (Becky is an artist!). And that high! It lasted for days. Mam’s rug didn’t even stain.

We have the most happy, chilled out, contented baby, and I’m sure that the perfect home birth experience, made possible by the care we received, has influenced the way Harlan experiences the world as the way we will approach parenthood. We are so grateful and feel so privileged to have had Charlie as our midwife, the service will certainly miss her now that she’s moved on. Thank you so much Charlie, Lara and Becky (and Leticia - you were not officially looking after us but were also serendipitously pivotal). Thank you to everyone else who helped us with Harlan (seven weeks old now and 12.5 lbs already!). I may have had something in my eye just after our final discharge appointment with Charlie…

P.S. For those worried about it, I didn’t poo in the pool, but I did pee on my birthing ball. Que sera sera.