I have been very blessed to have met a wonderful man, whose father is married to a very dear friend of Liz’s. Pat and Geoff had always spoken about this force of nature, this “Birth Mother” who is passionate about natural, non-medicalised birth and who is the most wonderful woman, as well as a highly skilled and compassionate midwife. In October 2012 we found out that I was expecting a baby, and having dipped a toe in the local midwifery service through our GP’s surgery, we made a call to Geoff to ask him to put us in touch with Liz. And so began a journey that we will both cherish for the rest of our lives.
As a first time mother, and someone who has grown up in Africa, it hadn’t ever occurred to me to consider a home birth in the UK until we met Liz. The way in which she explained a woman’s inherent ability to birth her baby in the most natural – and of course, primal – way, made it the only and most obvious choice for us. Naturally, as she explains herself, some mothers and some babies need extra help, and had we been in that situation, she would have guided and supported us in whatever scenario presented itself to us. Having very recently retired from international rowing, and having my Olympic dream taken away from me, Liz was very understanding of the special set of emotional circumstances surrounding our pregnancy. The baby was a very wanted surprise, coming a few weeks after my rowing career ended…a very different Summer 2012 activity to the one I’d focussed on for over ten years, and our very own alternative gold medal!
When our “due date” finally came around, it was very clear that we were not going to be having our baby. I’d had a lot of quite hefty Braxton Hicks for a few weeks and I thought that our baby was coming early. However days rolled into one week, ten days…then almost two weeks “overdue”. Richard and I were very certain that we did not want an induction, nor were we interested in any other form of intervention in general. On the Wednesday, Liz suggested very gently that we did an internal examination, as I had had a couple of acupuncture sessions to help nudge things along and for some reason Baby was hanging on (head down and fully engaged, but seemed to be clinging onto my ribcage with its little feet – so much so that we started calling it the Bat Child). My cervix was favourable and 1 – 2cm dilated already, and so whilst “in there”, Liz did a membrane sweep with my agreement. A couple of hours later I had a bloody show and not much more other than some more Braxton Hicks for the rest of that day. We went to bed and slept well, waking up the next morning refreshed and happy.
Richard worked from home that day as I knew deep in myself that things were starting. We wandered into the town for a cup of tea and a few supplies, and sitting in Starbucks, I started to experience some lovely contractions. At this point the sense of humour test came out: Richard said a naughty word mid-contraction and if I laughed, then we were still good! On the way home, I started to need a few stops to get through contractions, but it was still nothing worth shouting about. Once back at the house I decided to bake a “Groaning Cake”, during which the contractions really started kicking in…I had to pause mid-mix and stir to get through each one, and after a while the sense of humour test didn’t work, in spite of an upgrade to the naughty word! It was time to call Liz.
She arrived in her calm and lovely way, and made an assessment of the situation. I had moved upstairs by this point and was moving and swaying, wiggling my hips and employing some of the yoga and breathing I had been doing during pregnancy. It’s all a bit of a blur after this. The contractions were coming thick and fast now and I began to need a bit of gas and air. At one point I remember asking for an epidural and Liz very calmly explained what the time involved and implications of getting ourselves to the hospital, with no guarantee that an anaesthetist would be immediately available. I think I said something along the lines of “Sod that, I’ll crack on then”. We tried me in the bath for a while, which helped a little, given that I had become very fed up with the TENS machine. After a while I got fed up with the bath too, and I was starting to push, which felt better but I didn’t feel that it was doing anything worthwhile. Having moved to the birth stool and spent time there, I became very tired and I was starting to feel cold. I moved to our bed and went on all fours, with Richard massaging my sacrum and generally being wonderful. I lay on my left side for some rest, when my waters broke. More all fours and systematic use of gas and air alongside Richard’s massage before trying the birth stool again…I believe Lizzie did an internal examination while I was on the bed and things hadn’t progressed as far as she would have liked. I remember her saying something about an anterior “lip” on my cervix and that she could try to “be the baby’s head” and move things into the right position. This hurt like hell! I thought that I was screaming the house down, but apparently I just yelped loudly a few times, with a couple of swear words thrown in for good measure. Richard says that at one point I was moving him (he was sitting behind me), the birth stool and Meg, the assisting midwife whilst trying to deal with the pain and pushing.
Liz suggested I went for a wee break, and Richard came with me. It felt much better sitting on the loo, and for some reason I felt better. If my memory serves me correctly, I was able to open my legs wider and move my hips more effectively, whilst wrapping my arms around poor Richard. Having gone through a few more contractions, we moved to the bed with Richard sitting behind me. Liz had called the wonderful acupuncturist, Carys, earlier that evening to help as Meg was tied up, and then said for her to go home as Meg had then arrived a little later. However I was in a fair amount of pain and apparently Carys was called back, and told “Not to spare the horses”.
Having moved to the bed again, a few minutes later Liz said that everything was progressing nicely, and she put a mirror down there for me to have a look at what I was doing. Having the visual aid in front of me made a huge difference, and having my husband’s loving arms around me made me feel safe. I saw the baby’s hair and couldn’t work out what I was seeing other than that – it all looked so odd and unfamiliar down there. Minutes later I pushed the baby’s head out, Carys having arrived just in time to see it crowning. Then a little while later the shoulders and body emerged, and one final go later and the little legs came out in a slithery “gush”. Our son was born at 10.32pm on our bed, in a fairly conventional “hospital” position, going to show that even the simplest of birth plans – and ideas of birth stools and “natural positions” – can go out of the window!! We w
aited for the cord to stop pulsating which Richard then cut. Whilst the baby was being checked over, we tried to get me to push the placenta out. No amount of coughing shifted it, so I stood up to move to the birth stool – I didn’t even get to sit down before it merely dropped out!
I have never felt anything so amazing in all my life as giving birth, surrounded by love and a huge support that I feel privileged to have had the chance to choose over the “norm”. I can’t wait to experience birth again for bot myself and my husband, and I will have a home birth again without any question. Liz, Meg, Carys and the three of us worked so well together to end up with a healthy and very bonny, not to mention long and skinny little man of 7lbs 2ozs. The rest of the evening was spent drinking tea and eating Groaning (aka Lemon Drizzle) Cake! I had a bath, whilst breastfeeding for the first time and this set the tone for the next two weeks…a blur of delicious babymoon with a loving husband and a beautiful baby boy to lap up and adore!
It is clear to me now that without the calm efficiency and sense of what a woman needs, my outcome and birth would have been very different had we chosen a hospital birth. I shudder to think of episiotomy, managed third stage and potentially more invasive interventions – thank goodness for Liz, and what a tragic loss to woman and babyhood that next autumn the short-sightedness of a few will ruin choice and safety for those women who have had the privilege of being exposed to, and experienced the blessing of Independent Midwifery.