Some years ago, I spent time photographing the children of a family in London whilst studying for my masters degree. I lived with the family on and off for a number of months so as to document the nature of their life. Claire, the mum of the family worked as a breastfeeding counsellor and home birthing consultant. Each month she held an evening at home to talk to expectant mothers about home birthing. On one of these occasions I was around and she invited me along.
At that time, only a couple of my friends had children and they’d both had them in hospital. I really had no idea that home birthing was an option, unless you were ‘caught out’, I thought hospital was the only option for giving birth. I didn’t even consider at the time that birth was a non-medical matter or that how women had been giving birth for thousands of years without medical intervention, or globally how women have their children nowadays.
My pregnancy was healthy, despite having many ‘life stressors’ at this delicate time. It was one of those weird times of being given as much as one can handle, and could be considered why Monty is such a strong little boy now. The NHS provided considerable support in the form of the Mother and Infant Mental Health Team, with a Psychiatrist and Community Psychiatric Nurse, along with an obstetrician and usual Midwifery Team. All throughout my pregnancy I presented as low risk (despite my psychiatrist believing otherwise) I didn’t want to take medication, as I felt there wasn’t sufficient evidence regarding potential damage to the fetus, as well as all the usual side effect stuff that I battle with anyway.
There was a last minute wobble when, a day past my due date, I reported to my midwife there was possibly a change in the babies movements, though I couldn’t be sure as at that late stage of pregnancy, it’s quite tricky to know what’s going on. I was pretty restless and probably mildly apprehensive. To be on the safe side, I was asked to go to hospital for a heart monitor check for baby and I. Despite all results being good and my responses positive towards my health, I was switched from low to high risk, purely because of my diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I was a bit miffed but undeterred from the notion of having a home birth. Thankfully one of my birthing partners was with me, Heidi, she’s a paediatric nurse as well as a long standing, reassuring friend. She was probably more outraged than me. We had a look around the hospital’s maternity areas and I wasn’t inspired. It was definitely a feeling of needs must if things didn’t work out at home.
It was so strange, the night before things started properly happening, a day or so later, I had a strong feeling that this baby (I’d not found out the babies gender) was coming along the next day. I had such a sense of urgency, urgency to make the most of my last night on my own in my home! Though I also wrote the baby a letter, describing my feelings at that particular moment, the expectations and the emotions surrounding their imminent arrival . It’s pretty special and I’d encourage anyone in the position to, to do the same before giving birth; it’s such a unique, exquisite time, or at least I thought so. Saying that, this was a pretty individual experience especially as Monty’s father and I had separated a time before, so I had the end of my pregnancy to focus on this experience entirely for me and the baby.
My other birthing partner, Laura, another long standing friend (the three of us had been to primary and secondary school together as well as being Brownies and Guides) was the first person I called the following morning, after I had a show. Okay, I’m not going to be too graphic here. I was like ‘So is this happening?’ she was swift in her response to join me at home, bringing supplies including flowers. I was quite insistent that the place looked pretty. The hours that followed saw an increase in contractions, though they tailed off. This went on for days. Five days. Apparently this is common for first time mothers. The body naturally preparing for active labour, though I’d never heard that before and was quite bewildered.
Those days were quite fun and unique. Us girls had such a giggle inflating the birthing pool, camping out, chatting. Eating. Lots. Of. Pineapple. It was like our old days at Guide camp, other times it was like we were getting ready for, or recovering from, a night out on the tiles; it was incredibly strong, powerful and such a special female energy. I’d had acupuncture, reflexology, numerous walks and baths. I’d meditated and listened to a playlist I’d made for labour (most of those songs were oddly the same as those featured on a ‘Moon’ inspired People’s Playlist on Lauren Laverne’s show on BBC6 Music days after Monty arrived, and we were mentioned after I messaged the show, so exciting!).
My midwife Sandra, visited the night before Monty was eventually born and warned me that this start, stop could go on for some time longer (“what?!!”) though after an examination she said that may be enough to push things along a little. She also said it was a full moon, so a birth could be likely. That being said, she was worried I’d be too tired to push the baby out. To me that meant hospital and I wasn’t ready for that, yet. Somehow I was mostly fixed on being at home, we’d created a nest and it was wonderful. So I took a low dose of bipolar medication in order to sleep a bit, feeling on balance this seemed wise…
Sleep was impossible. Hours after that examination, there was a definite change in intensity and Laura did an amazing job of reminding me of my hypnobirthing preparation, whilst I flapped about a bit. With my eyes rolling around in my head as I couldn’t focus from the effects of the Quetiapine. My midwife Sandra arrived, then Heidi and then another midwife, Sam. The girls filled the birthing pool, the midwives nattered whilst I spent a lot of time in the loo. After a time, I got into the pool, which was amazing. Why I had not ordered an extra lining and elected to put this up outside for mocktails under the stars was frankly short sighted. Contractions got closer together and sometime around then my waters broke, in the water. It was all pretty tidy. I didn’t have any pain relief. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a pride thing, it was my usual traffic light system approach to things. I almost went for the gas and air, but because I felt nauseous, and I’d been told gas and air can make you feel sick, I decided against it.
So there was a point where I thought, and people had only recently warned me about this, I needed, you know, a number two. Not comfortable with being in water, surrounded even by the closest of friends and absolute experts in childbirth did that seem cool with me. Heidi bless her, was armed with a sieve, in true Girl Guide style of being prepared, I couldn’t do it. After safely getting out of the pool, my midwife examined me in the bedroom and said that I was fully dilated and ready to push, no other signs evident, thankfully. It was then that my eyes could regain clarity; emotionally too, I really truly focussed on being in the present moment. I knew that this was only ever going to be this moment. It was incredible. The candles that I’d detected earlier I could see flickering around the room, the sunlight was streaming in. The wrens I’d been feeding for months sung in amongst the Dawn Chorus.
I watched all four women calmly present in the room gently watching me. It was serene, tranquil even and I felt full of pride and gratitude, that this was really going quite well. I remember cracking a joke or two by this point. After only half an hour and almost delivering him myself, Monty was born, with barely a yelp, the biggest eyes and total alertness. I held him to my chest, gently greeted him whilst we all had these amazing few moments. Both Laura and Heidi cut the umbilicol cord and therein lies our unique bond as friends and their role in Monty’s tender life. I appreciate how fortunate this experience was and how it was made all the better for being able to be at home, with incredible support and comfortability; to me it was the best gift I could give to Monty, was the sense of calm as he entered the world.