Mama’s Guide To Gentle Birth

I’m a mother to two little girls. I’ve had two home water births, and attended the birth of one baby at home, and paced the halls of the hospital outside the theatre of a c-section like an expectant father. That is my hands on experience with childbirth. I am not trained as a midwife, not a registered Doula. I am just a mother. I do not get paid to make decisions over someone else’s birth or child. No, I’m just a mother, who has to live with the consequences of every decision I make for the birth of my babies, and for the rest of their lives. And that is a powerful motivator. I can’t think of a stronger reason to be confident in my decisions for the birthing and the raising of my babies.

So is this a disclaimer? No. It’s a challenge. It’s me saying don’t just take anyone’s word for anything. Do your own research, make your own decisions. Where, how, with whom and when you birth your babies may be the biggest life changing decision you’ll ever make.

So why should you listen to me? Well, you shouldn’t. My wish for you is that as you read more and learn more, you’ll find questions you didn’t know you needed to ask, and then you’ll find the answers that work for you in your situation.

A midwife once told me that the most beautiful births she’d attended were those of mothers who were informed about birth. Take responsibility for the birth of your child. No one else in the whole world will be as affected by that day as you will, whether you’re immediately aware of it or not.

My Story

We conceived Ameli in December 2008 and I knew I was pregnant before the first test showed a positive result. I tested, because I suspected. I just didn’t feel well. At 5 weeks pregnant, after a scan for spotting, I was sent home to miscarry in peace. For 18 weeks, I spotted, waiting to lose my child, and debilitated by a horrible condition: Hyperemesis Gravidarum. I threw up 20 times a day, and lost a ton of weight. My whole life was turned upside down by this sickness. I visited my doctor a number of times, and each time he told me ‘pregnant women get sick’ and ‘deal with it’.

It was my sincere doubt that this could be ‘normal’ that led me to investigating pregnancy and child birth. A colleague asked me if I was planning a home birth, and it was the first time I’d even heard that was possible. I began investigating Hyperemesis Gravidarum, and during the hours of not wanting to move for sickness, I began reading, reading, reading. I read about homebirth, about freebirth, and about waterbirth, and knew it was what I wanted.

I had an amazing, inspiring, incredible, peaceful, beautiful home water birth on the 4th of October 2009. I had my first real contraction a full 48 hours before my daughter was born into my waiting hands, but it was the most transformative experience of my life. Not just having the baby, but how I had the baby change everything about me. It gave me a faith, belief and confidence in myself and my ability, and a passionate admiration for she that is woman.

Two and a half years later, after another horrendous pregnancy, much worse than the first, I gave birth to Aviya, my second little girl. Her birth was very different. It was fast, powerful, when I think of it, I think of a thunderstorm crashing waves onto the shore. She was ‘late’ by the medical profession’s definition, arriving in a hurry at 42 weeks and 5 days.

Both of these births have led me to a deeper understanding of myself, yes, but of women in general, and of the gift of womanhood. If the information I share with you today – none of which you couldn’t have found for yourself, had you been looking – can take you just one step in the direction of experiencing the power of bringing life into the world in a way that empowers you, whatever your method, place or time of giving birth, then I will be happy.

Giving birth is not just about having a healthy, happy baby. Ask a mother who had a traumatic experience, or a painful experience, or endured humiliation, or felt vulnerable or even neglected, ignored or abused, and ask a mother who has suffered depression, shock or grief over her birth experience, and she will not tell you that nothing else matters. Yes, her beautiful baby will be the highlight, and the prize, but if that can be achieved through beauty and power, then all the better. And like with anything else in life, your chances of success are hugely increased by preparation.

As an athlete prepares for a race, so you need to prepare yourself mentally for giving birth. I’m Not Trying For A Homebirth, I’m Having One is about just that. While I was planning for a homebirth and wrote it so, you can apply the principles to any birth plan.

In any business proposal, you have to write a plan. There’s no difference in birth plans. Writing a Birthplan: The Where, The Who And The Documentation. A birth plan doesn’t guarantee you a specific list of demands, but it gives you something to focus on and to work through those things you didn’t know you needed to know. Here’s some advice on How To Write A Birth Plan And Why You Should.

A birthplan will help you think about things such as Pushing During Childbirth – Should it be Spontaneous or Directed, and whether your Newborn Needs Additional Vitamin K or not.

Having a baby may be the most natural thing in the world, but we’re not the natural people we once were. We don’t do much manual labour anymore, so our babies move into the ‘wrong’ position for birth, we don’t have the physical stamina we used to, so birth takes more out of us. It may be something we’ve done for generations, but we’ve not done it the way we do it nowadays for very long, so don’t miss out on Preparing for a natural childbirth.

The first thing people think of when they think of birth is pain. This is so unfortunate and is a gift handed down to us by generally male interference in the birth process, and media. Birth does not have to equate pain. And where there is pain, there are also Pain Relief Methods In Childbirth.

People also have a mental image of a woman lying on her back in bed. I’ve had two sitting up in a pool births, and when I think of birth, I still think of the Hollywood version of sweaty screaming with your legs in the air. But that’s not real life. There are many different Positions For Labour And Childbirth and becoming familiar with them will make a huge difference to your labour particularly, but also the birth – work with gravity, rather than against it.

Where you give birth is really important. If you go to a hospital with a very high surgical birth rate, you are very unlikely to find the support that you need for a vaginal birth. If you want a homebirth, you sometimes have to fight for it. This is important stuff. You don’t buy a camera off the cheapest bloke on the internet. You don’t buy high value items off an eBay seller with no feedback rating. Why have a baby with no research into the ‘seller’? Natural homebirth vs. Natural hospital birth

If you’re having a homebirth, here’s list of Things To Prepare For A Homebirth and a Laobur Plan or Checklist for your homebirth.

Who you have with you is equally important. I strongly recommend a Doula, if you are able as she is there to look after you, not your baby. The word ‘doula’ means ‘servant girl’. While a trained Doula is amazing, a friend who has been there and if possible has had the kind of birth you want to have is perfectly sufficient. Just as you wouldn’t take financial advice from a bankrupt friend, don’t take birth advice from someone whose ideals are different to yours, especially not at the time you are most vulnerable! The Doula Path

What Does The Birth Partner DO At A Birth? Well, that differs from person to person, but here are some thoughts. One of the things they or your Doula could do is help administer Herbs for use in Childbirth so that, with any luck, you can minimise your need for chemical drugs.

Fear is a big problem in birth, because your Adrenaline ‘over rides’ your feel good hormones, causing labour to stall and problems to arise. For me, I Had A Perfect Birth – Now I’m Scared Of Trying Again is about how I had a perfect birth the first time round, and I was really scared of it all going wrong the second time. Some women fear how having something ‘the size of a watermelon coming out something so small’ will affect their sex lives later. Here’s an honest look at Natural Childbirth: Changes In Sex Life.

Concern over how an older sibling may react can impact on not only the birth, but when you go into labour too. Stress can prevent the body from letting go for long enough to go into labour. Here’s a list of Books To Prepare Children For Childbirth, Homebirth Or Waterbirth. There’s also a list of Great Youtube Birth Videos For Children and Activity Pack Ideas For Older Siblings At A Birth

But, what if it’s too late, and it’s all gone wrong? Rebirthing: (For Emotional Healing And Breastfeeding Reintroduction) might be what you need to recreate the birth bond between mother and baby.

No two births are ever the same, and one of the biggest surprises babout birth and children is how different and unpredictable both can be, but even if nothing goes to plan, planning for the birth that suits you can only ever stand you in good stead.


Things To Prepare For A Homebirth

My lovely midwife gave me a list of things we needed to get ready for our homebirth, and – no surprises here – but I lost it! I’ve been trawling the web looking for the definitive guide on things you need to prepare for a homebirth but ‘definitive’ is so subjective.

I absolutely love how puts it – “All you really need for a homebirth is a pregnant woman and a home, but sometimes a few other things are handy”.  Isn’t that just my philosophy for birth and parenting?

So what are those ‘handy’ things that you can have ready and waiting for labour? (Ideally in a box or bag so that there’s no running around searching for stuff on the day!)

For the birth:

  • Birth Plan. If you end up with a midwife you’ve not seen before, she’ll need to know your birth plan, so have a copy in your birth box
  • A plastic liner for outside the pool, should you have to climb out to give birth
  • A plastic liner for the sofa/bed for delivering the placenta
  • A towel to cover the plastic – for comfort and to not slide off
  • Towels, sheets or bed wetting sheets to absorb liquid (this is where a waterbirth is so much less fuss)
  • Garbage bags for double bagging trash (although the midwives will probably have human waste bags that go back with them to be incinerated)
  • A tub for the placenta, if you’re saving it, and space in the fridge/freezer
  • Food and snacks
  • Reminder chart for positions in labour and birth
  • Flashlight/torch with batteries
  • Playlist ready and spare batteries
  • If using a birth pool, make sure to do a trial run and to keep all the ‘bits’ together.
    • Hose
    • Pump
    • Sieve
    • Liner
    • Towels for if you are getting in and out of the pool
  • Many women vomit during labour. Have a sick bucket in reach, just in case. No one wants to be cleaning up puke during labour. Also useful for disposal of other body wastes!
  • Hot compress or flannel for perineum if you are birthing outside of water
  • Hand mirror – to see crowning, but also if so midwives can see what’s going on without disturbing your position
  • Ambience enhancers – music, candles, aromatherapy oils. I honestly cannot remember if we lit the candles during my daughter’s birth or not?! I know I needed a fan on me during transition, so am very glad we had one in the house or I might not have been able to stay in the water, despite it being the ‘right’ temperature. The music was wonderful and I sang along to it – quietly- during transition and remember the exact song my daughter was born to.

For the mother-to-be:

  • Your birthing outfit, should you wish to have one
  • Hot water bottle, if that helps you with period pains
  • Maternity Pads
  • Something clean and comfortable to wear after the birth
  • Squeeze bottle filled with a sitz bath solution for after birth urination
  • Postpartum tea (Alfalfa, Penny Royal and Shepherd’s Purse)
  • Sitz bath solution – comfrey, garlic, sea salt, sage, calandula, camomile
  • Old underwear – I have no idea why. Everyone always says this, but I just used my normal underwear last time! Anyone who knows, do share!

For the baby:

  • A receiving blanket – something soft and preferably natural. You don’t want to wipe vernix off the baby, so just have a blanket ready to cover baby, while keeping them skin to skin.
  • A second blanket – especially if you’re having a waterbirth, the first can get wet and will probably have a bit of ‘goo’ on it.
  • Soft sleeper outfit for baby – make sure there are no labels or seams that will be scratchy on the new and very sensitive skin.

If you are packing an ‘in case’ bagwhich I choose not to do – you can put the essentials you need in it:

  • Clean clothes
  • Clean underwear
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Maternity pads
  • Pyjamas
  • Phone charger
  • Cash
  • Baby clothes and receiving blanket
  • Newborn nappies
  • Snacks and drinks
  • Camera, charger and spare memory card

 If you are having older children at the birth:

  • New Baby’s gift for older sibling, if using
  • Activities to keep young children busy during labour
  • If you’ve used any home birth books to prepare your child for the occasion, have them handy so they can be reminded of the pictures and what you’ve discussed.

Print this checklist

Is there anything I’ve left out or forgotten? What did you use or need that’s not on this list?

More posts in this series:

I’m Not Trying For A Homebirth, I’m Having One

Have you ever run a marathon? How about a 10k run- fun runs, as they’re sometimes called, although I can’t imagine why?!  I’ve run a few 10k runs (about 6 miles) in my lifetime, and have the medals somewhere to prove it.

For some I’ve trained, I’ve been healthy, I’ve been in the right frame of mind. For those the race was easy enough, and I’ve made good time. I’ve not really enjoyed it, but did enjoy the feeling of achievement afterwards.Read more: I’m Not Trying For A Homebirth, I’m Having One

The Doula Path (Part 2)

Yesterday we heard about her first birth experience and how it led her to reading, researching and finding out more about natural childbirth. Please welcome Noble Savage again as we look at the concluding part of the journey that led to her decision to become a doula.

I knew as soon as I became pregnant with my second child that I wanted a doula at the birth and that I’d also like to become a doula myself. I asked a dear friend who was similarly self-informed and self-taught to be my second support person. She was fantastic, always checking in with me and asking how I was feeling throughout the pregnancy and how I was preparing myself physically and mentally. We talked through various scenarios and what things I might like her to do and what my wishes would be in those situations.

Read more: The Doula Path (Part 2)

The Doula Path

I’m really excited today to introduce you to Noble Savage. She is a woman I really admire for her viewpoints and passion. Noble Savage is starting out as a doula, and I was thrilled when she agreed to share with you what it was that led her to that decision.

I hope you’ll find her story as inspiring as I do.

I didn’t know what a doula was until my daughter was already several months old. I was researching slings online and stumbled across a parenting site where women were discussing home birth. I watched a few of the slide shows of these women’s births and found myself absolutely riveted. More than one had me in tears, of both joy (because they looked so lovely and peaceful) and of sadness (that I hadn’t had that kind of experience). They talked of birth pools and doulas and of feeling calm and powerful. I was envious, and curious too. What difference could a doula have made to my own birth?

Read more: The Doula Path

Preparing for a natural childbirth

Pregnancy is a time of such huge change. Your emotions change, your body, your home. It all changes. And just as an athlete practices for an event, a dancer for a show, or a politician for a debate, so a woman needs to prepare for becoming a mother. She needs to prepare not only her mind, her heart and her soul, but her body too.

Read more: Preparing for a natural childbirth

Natural homebirth vs. Natural hospital birth

Continuing on from the first post on natural childbirth: Natural Childbirth in Layman’s Terms, I’m going to talk now about the difference between a natural birth at home and a natural birth in hospital. Why is there a difference and what difference can it make to your birth experience?

Read more: Natural homebirth vs. Natural hospital birth

Top 10 Mommy Moments of 2009

Since I’ve only been a mom for 3 months (almost), I don’t have a list that’ll knock anyone’s socks off with humour and witty sayings, but the moments I treasure are spread from a few days after my baby’s conception to now. Here’s a list of my top ten mothering moments of 2009:
Read more: Top 10 Mommy Moments of 2009

Homebirth – A man’s perspective

When our daughter was born, I asked my husband if he would write his version of the experience, so that I could know what it was like for him, and one day she could too. In our search for a homebirth, we became aware of the fact that there are endless stories by mothers, but so few by fathers, and we thought that perhaps having a man’s perspective would help a father somewhere. So, go make a cup of tea, sit in a comfy spot, and take the time to read his story…

It’s taken me quite a while to finally get my version of the birth story down and it still amazes me how clear the details are. I suppose the birth of your first child is always going to be a big deal, but our own experience is something I’m unlikely to ever forget.

We first started talking about the possibility of a home birth quite early in Luschka’s pregnancy. We discussed it together and decided it together, but in all of that I don’t think either of us really considered the impact it would have on me, the father.

When it comes to couples discussing the issues surrounding a home birth, the focus is quite rightly on mum to be. After all, she’s the one who is actually having the baby, and her needs should always come first. Childbirth is a physically intimate experience, and impacts on each woman differently, so there’s no right answer that fits every couple.

But in the end, whether it’s in a hospital or at home, the end result for mum – hopefully – is the same. For dad, though, the difference between a hospital birth and a home birth is massive. One ends with back-slaps and cigars, the other with water pumps and sieves.

And while the cigar-puffing version is easier, and looks pretty good every time it gets rolled out by fluffy TV dramas, playing a direct part in the birth of my daughter is an experience that will live with me forever – one that I’d never ever change.

Of course, that’s the end of the story. The beginning, as is often the case, was far less poetic.

Early start
The day of my daughter’s birth started in surreal fashion with Luschka suffering in silence on her yoga ball in the bathroom at 3am. The downside of having most of your family around for the big day is that there’s precious few places you can actually go at that time of the morning that don’t have sleeping people in.

So there she was, feeling the first contractions of labour sat on a big blue ball in our little bathroom, all on her own. The first I knew of this, of course, was a few hours later when she returned to the bedroom – presumably someone was up and she’d been bumped out of the bathroom too! Anyway, I was glad for the extra couple of hours – we hadn’t slept too well for the rest of the night anyway, and it would be an even rougher day.

I think Luschka and I both knew that this was the day. Two days earlier – her birthday – she’d spent the whole day lying still to keep the day just her birthday in years to come (we’d discover just what a mistake this was in due course!). Now it was Saturday, everyone was here who needed to be, everything was set up and it was showtime.

I remember feeling quite confident about our chances of an uncomplicated, short labour. In what I guess was a typically male way, I somehow reasoned that being knowledgeable about the birth process and feeling prepared and in control could directly affect the length of your labour, like some sort of time credit system. I now know different: it takes as long as it needs to take, and you can prepare as much as you like, but you can’t prepare for that.

The only other birth I’ve had any serious involvement in is that of my niece Catherine. I remember my sister Nichola telling she had been in very difficult labour for something like 18 hours for Catherine’s birth, and with misguided male logic I thought to myself “18 hours? Ours won’t take that long, we’re PREPARED!”.

I also remember wondering just exactly what it is you do during such a long labour. The answer is – you live life in the gaps between contractions. Seconds turn into minutes, minutes into hours, you measure and monitor it all, and the hours tick by. In between, you just try to focus on something else.

The little things
As a man, your job in its most simple form amounts to just two words: be there. Everything else is window-dressing. You can’t take the pain away, you can’t suffer in her place, but you can be there, doing everything possible to make it just a bit easier for her. That was one of the biggest reasons why a home birth was a no-brainer for me: childbirth is not a medical process, it’s a natural one and unless there are complications there’s little or no need for medical professionals at all. What a mother needs most in bringing your child into the world is support, and unless something is very wrong you are the person most able to provide it.

So anyway, there we were, nine o’clock on Saturday morning, with the rest of the household in various stages of waking up. Luschka had been up for hours, but now that I was properly awake she came back to bed and suffered through her contractions there – by now they were six or seven minutes apart. For an hour or two I read to her just to pass the time, pausing when the contractions took over. I read from PJ O’Rourke’s Holidays in Hell – a bizarre choice for the circumstances (anyone who has read it will understand!) but one that seemed perfect for being a complete distraction. When you’ve done all you can to prepare, you’ve just got to let time do its thing.

With that in mind, Luschka’s mother Colleen – a practising midwife in Australia – gave her a mild short-term sleeping tablet, reasoning that if the contractions were strong enough they’d stop her from sleeping even with the tablet, but if not she could do with some more sleep to prepare for when that changed. In the end she only got an hour or two’s rest, but it made a big difference. I lay beside her on the bed reading.

By lunchtime, with Luschka now eight hours into established labour, we discussed things and decided we should probably give the midwife a call to let her know how things were progressing. Her waters still hadn’t broken, but to my mind she’d been in labour long enough that I could do with knowing if it was time to fill up the birth pool, for example. I think we were all hoping for some kind of sign of just how long we were still looking at.

But there’s no real way of answering that question, and Zainab our midwife said as much. After speaking to Luschka, though, it seemed we still had some way to go as she said she’d come round, but only in a few hours.

The waiting game
So that was the afternoon set out for all of us. Of course, out of Luschka, me, her parents and her sister and boyfriend, only one of us was in any actual pain, but nobody else was exactly having fun. Being told to just sit around and basically just put up with a loved one’s suffering, knowing full well there is nothing you can do, is not easy.

With Zainab now only expected in the late afternoon, we repeated the sleeping tablet trick, with every likelihood now that labour would last deep into the evening. I think that bought us another hour or two.

By this point Luschka had been in established labour for 14 hours, and her waters still hadn’t broken. The kitchen had been cleared of everything that didn’t have to be there, we were all basically just waiting, somehow thinking that Zainab’s arrival would kick everything into gear – maybe because nothing we were doing seemed to be having any effect.

In truth, we were partly right as Luschka’s waters broke while Zainab was examining her. While this was happening, the Filling the poolrest of us were in the kitchen, filling up the birth pool. Now things were finally happening. More importantly, I was actually doing something useful. A good 45 minutes later, the pool was full, the floor hadn’t collapsed on top of our downstairs neighbours, and Zainab had finished examining Luschka. She seemed happy with her progress, and even though she had only dilated 3.5cm, she said it was OK to get into the pool (normally you’re supposed to wait until 6cm).

Zainab then left us for a couple of hours. There was another home birth going on in the area, and she felt that one was closer to delivery than Luschka, plus she was confident that even though Colleen was technically not allowed to perform midwife duties, her knowledge and experience meant it was safe to leave us for the time being.

Action stations
Lending SupportSo there we were: Luschka in the pool, me outside, crouching or sitting just behind her, and her mother in the room. Contractions were coming thick and fast now, and even in the water were incredibly painful. For each and every contraction I was there beside her, talking her through them and holding her hand.

You don’t think there’s all that much to do in that situation until you’re in it, and realise that you have to be permanently ready for anything at any time, all dictated around the steady rhythm of contractions. Luschka wanted me by her side when she was in the most pain, and that was what I did, regardless of anything else. I remember making a cup of tea for her and coffee for me. I gave her the tea, but had to boil the kettle five more times before I could get round to pouring my coffee while the water was still hot. It took another 15 minutes for me to get the milk in, and I took about five seconds to drink it in one long gulp!

But as the evening wore on, we both felt we were getting there. The contractions were getting steadily stronger and closer together, and we were talking about whether our baby would arrive on the 3rd or after midnight on the 4th – we felt it was that close.

Zainab finally returned around 11pm. She’d stayed as long as she could at the other birth, but progress had been slower than expected so she’d left a colleague there and returned to us. By this point Luschka was using the gas and air bottle to ease the pain, which had taken forever to set up as we’d had to try and figure the whole thing out without Zainab there.

For the next couple of hours, we simply endured. The pain got worse, the first gas and air bottle was emptied and a second attached, everyone else aside from Zainab, Colleen and me had gone to bed to try and get a little sleep. My optimistic lunchtime predictions of it all being wrapped up by the early evening had been long forgotten.

But something was wrong. It was hurting too much, and taking too long, for things to be going normally. After a lot of back and forth, we finally agreed that Zainab needed to give Luschka another examination. That would mean getting out of the pool, which would dramatically increase the effect of the contractions.

We moved to our bed and Zainab performed the examination, with me stationed at Luschka’s head, where I’d been most of the night.

Reality check
The news was devastating. Luschka was now 4cm dilated. She needed to reach 10cm to deliver the baby, and in six hours, after all that pain, she’d moved along just half a centimetre, and was still less than halfway there. The baby had turned, and was now back to back (facing forwards), which was the most difficult and painful way to deliver, and one very few first-time mothers were able to endure naturally. The most likely reason for the baby turning? The fact that Luschka had spent a whole day trying to dodge labour two days ago on her birthday. If only she’d known!

Luschka has said many times that she was so grateful for my strength throughout the entire birth experience, but at this point I truly lost all hope. She had suffered so much and worked so hard, and I had given every bit of strength and energy I had to help her, and we were nowhere. We were both exhausted, it was after 2am, and we hadn’t even got to the worst of it.

Zainab then told us that if the baby’s head hadn’t engaged with dilation at 7cm within a couple of hours, she’d have to make the call to move Luschka to the hospital. This was completely understandable and correct from a professional point of view, but could also have been a calculated move too. Luschka had made no secret of how seriously she wanted to avoid a hospital birth, especially after getting so close, and I fully supported her.

It was a sign of how low we both were that we actually talked about it, but I don’t think either of us could believe it had come to that. We asked if we could have a bit of time to ourselves, and lay there on the bed together. After a few minutes of shellshocked, semi-comatose silence, I managed to raise a scrap of defiance. If we have to go into hospital, if that’s how it has to be, fine, but let’s leave nothing on the table while we still have a chance. My plan was simply to try somehow just to sleep for half an hour – even between contractions – then to play every single card we still had. Walk up and down to try and stimulate Luschka’s system, drink tea, coffee, in the pool, out the pool – one last effort to avoid all that effort and emotional investment we’d made being in vain. It was the last resort of the desperate, and by this point we were both desperate.

But I was wrong, and I think my approach would almost certainly have failed. Colleen came into the room and pointed out that considering when her waters had broken, Luschka was actually completely on target, and everything was normal.

She said it over and over – things are the way they should be, this is completely normal, everything is fine – it was a simple message, but it was absolutely the right one and at that moment she was being the perfect mix of mother and midwife – being both supportive and sensible.

I have no doubt that this exact moment was when we won the battle. Don’t get me wrong: the next hour was probably the toughest of my entire life, but that was exactly what we both needed to hear. We weren’t backed into the corner any more, we didn’t need to take drastic measures, we just needed to find our strength and continue doing what we needed to do.

The darkest hour
I’m not exaggerating when I say the next hour was tough. Luschka had been in labour for so long she was starting to push involuntarily when the contractions were coming. But because she wasn’t fully dilated yet this was very dangerous. She was now lying on her side, still on the bed, without the water to at least reduce the pain a little.

For an entire hour, she would be reduced to sobbing through excruciating contractions, tugging frantically on the gas and air, and all but passing out from exhaustion in between. I was lying by her head, with my mouth just centimetres from her ear, talking to her, saying whatever I could to try and help. I also had to tell her, sometimes forcefully, over and over and over not to push, even though she couldn’t help it and even though I knew that. I felt like a bully, but I had no choice – I just had to do this. However bad it was for me, it was worse for her.

That was what we went through each and every contraction, over and over and over. Luschka had now been in established labour for 24 hours, 44 hours since the first contraction and I had been awake for 20.

I can’t really put into words what we were feeling by this time – by this point your feelings are more instincts than emotions. All I knew is that we just had to keep on doing this – time didn’t really matter, and it was someone else’s job to decide whether it was working or not.

Luckily, it was working. Just one hour later, Luschka was almost completely dilated, and our home birth was very much back on. I was vaguely aware that someone else was working to empty the birth pool and fill it again with fresh water for the final push to the finish line, and I joined in to help. The timing wasn’t quite perfect, though – there were a few minutes of absolute agony for Luschka standing hunched over next to the pool while I had the tap blasting cold water into the pool at maximum power to get the temperature right, but fortunately that didn’t last too long.

Second time lucky
To me, changing the water made a massive symbolic difference. It was almost like we were saying “let’s do it the way we should have done it the first time”, and I think everyone picked up on that. She still wasn’t completely dilated when she got in the pool, so for a time I had to continue ordering her not to push by whatever means necessary. But one of my favourite moments came after Zainab confirmed she was fully dilated and I was able to say “right, remember what I’ve been saying to you over and over and over about not pushing? Scrap that advice – finally you can do what you’ve been trying to do for hours now – PUSH!”

It’s widely accepted that a kind of calm serenity settles on the mother just before delivery (if she’s not screaming too frantically, which Luschka wasn’t), but I think it was something we all felt. We had music playing, the fan gently cooling us down and the low murmer of the midwives voices between ‘golden thread’ breathing. I knew that sometime in the next hour or so, I’d be holding my own baby. When you have that thought in your mind, what is tiredness? I’d spent so much time and effort making sure Luschka was drinking water I hadn’t drunk anything besides that rushed cup of coffee for about eight hours. And I didn’t really care.

The delivery itself was over in a blur. As at every other point, I was stationed at Luschka’s head. Despite being intimately involved throughout, I wasn’t too concerned with the more biological side of childbirth – I was happy to stick in my spot, and willing to wait until our baby was fully delivered to lay eyes on her.

And so with the clock approaching 5am, our little Ameli was born into the world safely and naturally (despite the brief panic of the cord being wrapped around her neck). My wife was able to catch her own baby and raise her to her chest, and at no point did she so much as whimper. I’m not saying people’s concerns about homebirths aren’t important, but for anyone doubting the merits of a successful homebirth, I invite you to read that sentence again and then answer this question: is there a more perfect way for a child to begin its life?

A father’s reward

My Reward

My Reward

My own reward came minutes later when – after being lifted off mother’s chest and wrapped in a towel to prevent her getting cold – Ameli was handed to me, and the cry that was forming in her throat died as she looked into my eyes with complete acceptance. At that moment all the tiredness in the world meant nothing.

So mesmerised were we by how small and perfect our baby was that only then did one of us think to check whether it was a boy or girl!

As I mentioned at the very start, there’s a certain school of thought that pictures childbirth as a mother and doctor thing. Most of the time the dad’s there at the hospital bed, but is just one person of many, and it’s common for men to feel left out and powerless in hospital births. I was a central part of my child’s birth, and why not – after all, isn’t that little person 50% made out of me?

Looking back, I have very little doubt that nothing in my entire life will ever match those 24 hours. I am proud of the central part I played and proud of the husband and father I now am. It was a magical experience that has changed my relationship with every single person involved – and of course started a wonderful relationship with someone altogether new.

For the record – reading this I don’t remember any of it being majorly painful, apart from the hour on the bed. I’m amazed and surprised about all the pain references in his memory!

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Birth story in pictures

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