Discovering I was pregnant for a third time in February 2005 at the age of 40 was a huge shock. I was due to be sterilised in April – that is how unplanned the pregnancy was. Although our two boys were still quite young, we had both agreed that our family was complete. However, after the initial shock wore off, my natural maternal instincts kicked in and I began to focus entirely on what would be best for me and my baby.
Our firstborn, Charlie, was delivered by a planned, entirely elective C-section at an NHS hospital. I had a complete change of heart for my second son, Ben, and desperately wanted a natural birth. I was fortunate enough to have an uncomplicated, drug-free, midwife-led water birth at a private hospital. I very much wanted to replicate Ben’s birth, but was disappointed to discover that the hospital’s risk management policy had changed since his arrival and they would no longer permit midwife-led care for any mother who had previously had a C-section.A friend at school who had delivered 2 of her 3 children at home, urged me to contact Jacqui Tomkins, an independent midwife working in our area. She assured me that Jacqui could give me exactly the kind of birth I wanted, but in a home environment rather than a hospital. Nervously I arranged a meeting. Within 20 minutes of Jacqui's arrival I knew I wanted her involved in my pregnancy. She was so experienced, knowledgeable, reassuring and calm. I couldn’t imagine a better birthing partner. Over the next 6 months, Jacqui and Elke, who is equally as wonderful, visited me regularly at home, varying their appointment times so that they became known to my husband, Eric, and our children. I looked forward to each visit enormously. It was fun, informative and exciting – so much more enjoyable than my earlier antenatal care. I was desperately worried about breastfeeding, as my two previous attempts had resulted in breast abscesses requiring surgery. We discussed it at length and I was confident that with their guidance and support I could conquer my demons.
Sophie couldn’t have chosen a more awkward time to put in an appearance. I had naively assumed that I would go into labour early evening, the boys would sleep through it all and by the time they woke up, it would all be over and I could present them with their new sibling. Wishful thinking. Contractions woke me at 5.30am. By 6.30am they were fast and furious. I called my pregnant (8-months) sister to come over so she could deal with the boys when they woke. By 7am we were on the phone to Jacqui who headed straight over. By 9am the house was slightly chaotic. I was bent over the sofa with my TENS machine, dealing with incredibly intense contractions, very aware that Jacqui was not far away. The pool was too hot, so Eric was frantically bucketing out hot water and replacing with cold. My sister was trying to convince the boys that it was perfectly normal to eat your breakfast upstairs with the TV on full volume.
By 9.15am a calm descended. My sister had taken the children to school and I even managed to kiss them goodbye in the short window between contractions. Elke had arrived and she and Eric had managed to get the pool to the correct temperature and I was completely immersed in the warm, comforting water. The shutters were closed, the lights were low and candles were lit. The postman arrived. My mother phoned. My sister returned. The contractions continued.
At 10.30am I told Jacqui that I thought the contractions were reducing in intensity. We changed positions in the pool but they were definitely lessening. I could feel my baby kicking me hard, but still high. He/she was not moving downwards, I knew it. The baby was fine – the reassuringly regular, yet unobtrusive checks showed a perfect heartbeat. Jacqui and Elke explained that they believed the baby had its hand on its head and this was halting the progress down the birth canal.
In order to give the baby more room to manoeuvre, I needed to get out of the pool. We reconvened in the downstairs shower-room. Eric and Jacqui supported me during the contractions and Elke fed me chopped-up grapes and banana in between. Jacqui asked me to try and sit on the toilet for 3 full contractions. She explained that the seated position really opened up the pelvis. I managed 2 contractions. Too painful. When I stood up I immediately felt the difference. The baby had moved considerably. With the next contraction I could literally feel my baby moving downwards.
Energised by this development I concluded that my current position was the most favourable. I was standing on the shower mat in the narrowest part of the room. I had Eric and Jacqui pinned up against the shower door and a rather hot towel rail respectively. Elke was seated behind me (on one of the stools the children stand on to clean their teeth, which made me want to giggle in a slightly hysterical fashion) giving a running commentary. When it was time to bear down, she tells me exactly when to push and when to rest. Elke called that the head was visible. She had to break the sac. An arm (which indeed was firmly lodged on a head) shot forward, closely followed by another.
Sophie Louise Watkins literally dove into the world at 11.58am. Elke stood her gently between my legs and I saw her before Eric and Jacqui. “It’s a girl” I cried “a great big girl!” I couldn’t believe it. I was so sure we were having another boy. Carefully I was seated back on the toilet and Sophie was placed on my lap. She opened her eyes immediately and looked around. We all stared at her. She was a big, beautiful, healthy girl. “Chunky thighs like her mother..” quipped Eric excitedly (rather bravely too, in my opinion).
My sister, listening from the relative safety of the reception room upstairs, rushed down and hugged me and marvelled at her new niece. Cups of tea and marmite on toast magically appeared.
Thirty minutes later, the placenta was delivered safely, the cord was cut and Sophie and I returned to the pool, which had been topped up with hot water. It was simply luxurious. That’s the only word I can use to describe it. I was on such a high. Elke weighed the baby - 9lbs 8oz. Eric won the bet.
Jacqui and Elke visited me regularly at home over the next 4 weeks. They gave me so much assistance and encouragement with the breastfeeding – I couldn’t have done it without them. At the time of writing, Sophie is 14 months old and still feeding beautifully!
There is something very special about having your baby at home. There is something very special about Jacqui and Elke. Combine the two and you have an unforgettable experience. I would recommend it without hesitation. I trusted Jacqui and Elke implicitly and at no time felt worried or concerned for me or my baby. Sophie’s birth was an amazing event. Tough, painful and utterly exhausting, but overwhelmingly wonderful. If I weren’t quite so old, I’d love to do it again……….
A Granny's Perspective
Fiona opted for a home birth, ideally in a pool, and although I was not present at the actual birth, her account was one of a well managed confinement. The team treated Fiona with such kindness and quiet efficiency which culminated in the birth of her third child, a beautiful 9lbs 8oz daughter.
I joined the family on the next day and met Elke and then Jacqui during my stay. I cannot speak highly enough of their after-care. The laid-back, friendly affection shown to the whole family was quite outstanding. Fiona couldn't have had better support. There were no hard and fast rules, everything was very flexible. The advice given was to be followed up only if Fiona was comfortable with it. All the normal medical observations were made, but in such an unobtrusive way that they were barely noticed. I am quite sure that it was the team's attitude that allowed Fiona to have such a speedy recovery to full strength and enabled her to breastfeed so easily without any complications.
Whether it is the methodology behind the scheme or, as I suspect, the very special ladies running it, I only wish all women could have this wonderful service - it allows childbirth to be the natural happening that it is - soothing away any fears, which helps to take the sting out if it!