I had been working as a midwife for nearly ten years when we decided that the time was right for us to have our own baby. I knew from the start that, if all was well, I would plan to give birth at home with the support of my community midwifery colleagues. I was lucky enough to have a really enjoyable pregnancy, and I stayed active.
My experience as a midwife and Hypnobirthing teacher led me to have complete confidence in my body, the process of normal physiological labour and the midwives who would be supporting me. I knew how important the environment was, and I knew that for me, being in hospital would instantly have a negative impact on my mindset and how relaxed I felt. There is also a huge amount of evidence to show that home birth is very safe, and the chance of intervention is much lower for those giving birth at home (The Birth Place Study, 2011). I did feel quite a lot of pressure because of my job, but I was incredibly excited to have my own birth experience after years of supporting so many women as a midwife.
I had been having strong but painless Braxton Hicks ('practice contractions') for about two weeks. On the morning of Wednesday 2nd March, I woke up and noticed that I was having what I assumed to be Braxton Hicks tightenings – I had never had them during the day (only in the evening), so I thought my body might be gearing up towards labour in the next few days. I decided to use up the leftover pancake batter from the day before (Pancake Day!), and my mum cooked me 5 (yes, 5!) lemon and sugar pancakes for breakfast. I went out for the day for tea, cake and shopping, stopping off for dinner from M&S on the way home at about 4.30pm.
The journey home from M&S was interesting – it was at this point I realised I probably was in early labour as suddenly I was having to breathe through the tightenings. We got home at 5pm, and by 5.30pm, my partner Scott had called the midwives without me knowing – and it's a good job he did! My midwife arrived at 5.45pm, and I suddenly felt like I was losing control. I had an examination just after 6pm and I was 9cm dilated; we moved downstairs shortly after. It had been transformed into such a beautiful relaxing space, with the pool in the middle of the room and tealights and candles dotted around. We had my music playlist playing, which Scott had put together in pregnancy. One of my strongest memories was being in the pool just before Flora was born and Ben Howard's song 'Keep Your Head Up' playing – I sang the lyrics to myself "keep your head up, keep your heart strong", and it really helped me to refocus and find the last bit of determination.
"It has made me even more in awe of both women and midwives, and I am forever grateful that I have been lucky enough to experience pregnancy and birth."
I got into the pool at 6.50pm, and it was the most instant amazing relief. The pressure was overwhelming at this point, and my waters broke shortly after this at around 7pm – I felt a small amount of relief for about 10 seconds before realising that this release meant her head moved down very quickly, and then the pressure was indescribable. I can't explain the urge to push – it was just there, and my body knew what to do.
Flora's head and body were born in quick succession, and she entered the world at 7.21pm. I caught her myself and lifted her out of the water and onto my chest. At this moment, I felt so proud and in awe of my body – I couldn't believe that I had done it! I was shocked by Flora's amazing head of hair as we thought she would be blonde or bald!
The next couple of hours were spent on the sofa having skin-to-skin and breastfeeding Flora; she initially latched and fed well after birth. The midwives cleared up and emptied the pool, and the room was almost back to normal in no time – and contrary to popular belief, home birth is not messy! That first shower after birth was just amazing - I stood in the shower in total disbelief at what had happened and thanked my body for all that it had done. I felt so lucky to have had such an amazing home birth experience and that everything had gone exactly as I had hoped for throughout my pregnancy. From start to finish, my labour was about three hours, which is fantastic, but also quite a shock for both mind and body – but overall, I wouldn't change it for the world.
People have asked how it feels being on the other side as a midwife and Hypnobirthing teacher – it has made me even more in awe of both women and midwives, and I am forever grateful that I have been lucky enough to experience pregnancy and birth. People asked me regularly if I was scared about birth – and the truth is, I wasn't - I had faith that it would be okay. I know that not everyone feels this way, and I am lucky to have witnessed hundreds of births (many of them being home births) in my career as a midwife. My own birth experience has made me love midwifery and birth more than I already did, and as I sit writing this now at 12 weeks postpartum, I cannot describe the wonder of the female body and what it can achieve.
The first 12 weeks after birth are known as the 'fourth trimester', and for me, this was the trimester I found the hardest. The first few weeks of Flora's life have felt like a whirlwind of sleep deprivation, uncertainty and adapting to a new role and life, and it has been challenging. We have had a few breastfeeding difficulties, which was challenging for me as a midwife as I put myself under a lot of pressure to get everything' right.' It took a good few weeks to find our new normal, and I can now say that I am enjoying motherhood and Flora so much. But I also feel sadness at how quickly the fourth trimester has gone and that the newborn stage has whizzed by in a blur of uncertainty, sleep deprivation and breastfeeding struggles. I didn't enjoy and cherish it as much as I should have, but I want to normalise the fact that I think lots of new mums feel the same.
Although I had a lot of experience as a midwife, becoming a mum is something that nothing can prepare you for; it can be so hard, but it is genuinely the best thing in the world. I wouldn't say that I will be a better midwife as a result of having my own baby, but perhaps a different one.