My Home Birth experience
By Louisa Aldridge
Our focus this month is on home birth and Louisa Aldridge, one of our wonderful teachers has sent to us the stories of her births. Grab a cuppa and settle down to read a beautiful tale of trust, strength and new life.
My first baby was born in a hospital birth centre, and at the time I considered myself extremely lucky to have what was, compared with most births I was hearing about, a straightforward experience. Nevertheless, it was a painful and intense 24 hours which mostly felt anything but straightforward.
Having been ‘overdue’, I had consented to several sweeps in an effort to get things moving, and my reluctant baby eventually obliged; the only problem being that one of his hands was up next to his ear rather than on his chest. This meant that his already large body became wider than it needed to be.
The pushing stage alone took 3 and a half hours. It was only thanks to the luck of having an experienced and confident midwife that I was trusted to get on with the pushing stage without interference, and later that day we left the hospital with our chubby baby nestled in my arms and my head held high, feeling like I’d scaled a mountain.
A deeper understanding
During my second pregnancy I was studying to become a YogaBirth teacher and began to gain a much deeper understanding of my body and the way that birth unfolds in different contexts and environments. I immersed myself in the research.
Home birth was already on my radar, and I knew that it was a safe option for women who have uncomplicated pregnancies. I spoke with one of YogaBirth’s founders, Yvonne Moore, and she gave me the confidence I needed to explore my choices. I knew, for example, that had I been with a less experienced midwife during my first birth I would very likely have ended up with an episiotomy and ventouse, as rarely are you ‘allowed’ to push for longer than 2 hours in a hospital setting.
I also learned that all those sweeps which had (eventually) made my contractions start had got things going before my baby was ready, which might have explained his awkward position. On top of this, the sweeps and induction chats had put me in a frame of mind of obsessing about going into labour, and I felt that this focus on potential problems rather than my evidently healthy body contributed to the intensity of the experience.
And the frequent small disturbances in the birth room had made it difficult to enjoy a sense of peace in the lulls between contractions. Instead, I was watching the rather large clock on the wall, and counting the minutes until the next one.
Antenatal appointments at home
I soon learned that the home birth midwifery model was refreshingly different. The antenatal appointments took place at home, and my amazing midwife Kemi Johnson gave me all the time I needed to ask questions.
I came to understand my birth preparation as having three components: brain-learning, body-learning and birth stories.
For the brain-learning, Kemi was a walking encyclopaedia of stats, studies and Cochrane reviews, and I drank it all in. This type of top-down learning went a long way towards answering the ‘what if’s, and I became confident that there was a plan for every eventuality.
For the body-learning I had my yoga, and I found a renewed trust in the practice.
I gathered birth stories with enthusiasm: from books, videos, documentaries, and chats with other women who’d had home births. These stories fed my daydreams and occupied much of the space that had previously been given over to worrying.
One snowy morning my labour started, and the preparation paid off by doing what good preparation does and quietly receding into the background. I found that I was so calm about the fact that I was in labour that it didn’t occur to me to change my plans for the day. I told my husband to go to work. I’d arranged to go to a playgroup with my toddler to meet a friend, so off we went.
Every now and then I would lean against a pillar in the church and breathe through a contraction before going back to our chat. Then we got the bus back to my friend’s flat where our toddlers watched a film while I paced around her bedroom, hips swaying.
I didn’t want to move from that cosy room into the cold air, but my friend (soon to be my baby’s godmother) heroically coaxed me into her car and drove us all back to mine. The snowmen we passed along the way seemed to be sparkling with a sharpness I hadn’t noticed earlier in the day. The light was extraordinarily beautiful.
Filling the birth pool
My midwives arrived and busied themselves filling the pool in our kitchen while I leaned on the bed, feeling the waves build. My husband came home and my mum arrived to be with our toddler.
At one point I felt backache and worried that this baby was in a funny position like my first had been, but Kemi took one look at my lower back and smiled, telling me that my sacrum had moved because the baby was very low. It was all so respectful and positive.
There was no need for any vaginal examinations, and at no point did anyone tell me what to do. Regular checks on the baby’s heartbeat were done with minimal disturbance. They had complete faith that, if given the necessary time and quiet, and surrounded by their loving support, I would listen to my body and move in ways that would help my baby to be born.
The pool was filled, and stepping into it felt like merging with the warm water. I started making ‘pushy’ noises. I leaned back against my husband, my leg gave an involuntary shudder as I felt my baby rotating, and before long I could feel him actually kicking up towards the top of my womb. I remember thinking “wow, this baby really wants to be born!”
There was nothing to do but surrender to the process. He swam into the pool and I scooped him up. It had all been so easy. The pain had been totally manageable, and my toddler didn’t even pause from his play. The power I felt in that moment settled somewhere deep within me.
Another home birth
Three years later I was pregnant again, and this time there was no doubt – it would be a home birth. Again I went ‘overdue’, again I fielded endless questions from well-meaning people about when I would be induced, but I had the quiet confidence of knowing that home was my place of safety, and that my choices were evidenced-based and sensible.
For the last two weeks of my pregnancy I had been feeling around my belly, acquainting myself with my baby’s position. One day I felt a little hand, fingers splayed, right down low next to the head. My midwife Annabel Bryant checked it out. Sure enough, this baby had its hand covering its ear just like its big brother had.
I was determined not to repeat the pain of my first birth so I tried gently pushing the hand towards my baby’s chest to get that arm in a better position. It worked, but by morning the hand had crept back up to the ear. This happened night after night – I would nudge the tiny hand away from the head, but overnight it would find its way back to the same position. Until one night when I went to bed, ready for the familiar ritual of moving the baby’s hand – and found that it had moved already! That was the night I went into labour.
A peaceful labour
Things progressed rapidly as I walked from room to room in the early morning light. The only sounds were the birds waking up and the waves of my breath, and at some point my logical brain had to take over to make me call the midwife. I was so content being the only person awake, and the only person in the world who knew I was in labour, that I was reluctant to break the spell even by speaking. Part of me wanted to do this entirely by myself.
Annabel arrived quietly, woke my husband, and together they filled the pool. I couldn’t wait to get in and watched the level rise centimetre by centimetre until finally it was deep enough. The relief of the warm water was, once again, truly wonderful. Our two boys woke up and came downstairs, curious but relaxed. They watched, fascinated, as their little sister swam to the surface of the water in the half-light, a torch illuminating her path. She was squashy and pink, my biggest baby yet (4.2kg) and a delight. Afterwards we rolled into bed and stayed there for a long time.
In recent years I’ve noticed an increase in the number of women in my YogaBirth classes who are considering a home birth. Often they come to the idea via a friend or sister who had her baby at home – and in turn her experience opens up the idea to another friend, and so on. In this way the ripples spread. For many other pregnant women, either through choice or as a result of health complications, a hospital birth is preferable. Both options can lead to empowering, positive births.
For me, home was the right choice and I’m so grateful to the inspiring women I’ve met along the way who made it possible. They taught me a different way to think that challenged the sometimes-limiting ways we understand our female bodies within a medicalised context. Through birth, I surrendered to the most powerful thing my body has ever done and it left me stronger.
Louisa offers both Pregnancy and Postnatal classes. She teaches in West London and online.