Written by Polly
In 2015 in England and Wales, 2.3% of women giving birth did so at home. In 1960 this statistic was 33.2% (ONS).
But when I fell pregnant with my first daughter, in my mind, there was no option other than having a home birth.
I like to think of myself as pretty unsqueamish — I don’t mind the sight of blood and catch spiders for my husband — but put me on a hospital ward and I come over all funny and faint.
With the knowledge of it being a safe thing to do, why would I want to give birth somewhere that makes me feel like that — when I could be in the comfort of my own home?
My mother even gave birth to my younger two brothers at home, with my father actually delivering the second, so it all felt very natural to me.
WHY HOME BIRTH
You don’t have to be a particular type of person to have a home birth though.
It is not about making a statement, or proving a point. It isn’t about taking a stance, or comparing yourself with other women who make different choices.
It is about what you, as an individual, feel is the most appropriate scenario for you all as a family.
My husband and I are lucky to live in Brighton, an area that actually has the highest home birth rate in the country. Brighton and Sussex University Hospital NHS Trust reported 9% of women who live within the its area gave birth at home in 2015. The hospital has a whole team of dedicated and experienced midwives designated to home births — and the high rates show how effective this is.
Lots of people still assume that you can’t have a home birth with your first child, but this is not true.
As long as you haven’t had any problems throughout your pregnancy and are not considered to be high risk, then why not.
That’s how I felt. I wasn’t ill, so why did I need to be in hospital?
Most maternity units in this country are also working at maximum capacity and sometimes even have to close their doors to woman in labour. With my local hospital also having a Special Care Baby Unit, it seemed even more important to not be taking up a bed that could really be needed.
Plus there’s this: home births are proven to reduce the chance of intervention and medicalisation.
This is mainly to do with the fact that midwives will support and help the natural bodily processes of labour at home, but in a hospital setting, any slight deviation from the ‘norm’ (ie. prolonged first stage) is more likely to be dealt with using medical model interventions.
I was determined not to have any pain relief or unnecessary interventions for both my births. One intervention can often lead to another and another. The home birth midwives do carry gas and air (Entonox), but you can ask them to leave it in the car if you’d prefer not to use it. They can always get it if you change your mind — and if you do need stitches afterwards, use the gas and air!
In the build up to our first home birth we did a lot of prep. Just as I prepared for labour itself with pregnancy yoga, active birthing classes, hypnobirthing CDs and antenatal classes, we attended an NHS ‘My Homebirth Matters’ group run by our midwife to learn all about home births.
All of this helped to cement in our minds that we were doing the right thing.
And while I was still pretty terrified of labour and birth, I was no more scared than friends who were planning hospital births.
So, here are a few things you should buy in preparation:
- Maternity pads – get loads, you’ll use them
- old sheets, 3
- old towels, 5
- cheap shower curtains, 2
- nice candles or room spray
- straws – great to help keep you hydrated while in labour (very important)
- coconut water – hydrate!
- comfy pants – you will need to put a maternity pad on when your waters go, so a big pair of pants helps
- snacks for the midwives – they might be there for a while. Get nice ones because hopefully they wont be there for long and then you can eat them yourselves.
- an anglepoise lamp
- a small hand mirror
- a jug (mainly for washing your stitches)
One of the next big discussions for us was whether to get a pool or not. We decided that we didn’t really have enough space. We also didn’t want my husband running about with a pump and hose when I really needed him with me. Instead we planned to use the shower and bath if we needed to.
Because there is still a chance that you might end up in hospital though, pack a hospital bag full of stuff for yourself and the baby. It is also handy to have something warm to cover you in as you may be transferred in the night. Make sure you have a car seat sorted and some arrangements for getting home if you are transferred in. And DON’T forget your notes.
So, time to get your home ready.
MAKE A NEST
Making yourself feel comfortable and safe is so important. Birth is such a primitive act. Think about cats and dogs hiding when they do it. And we’re exactly the same.
But because we were living in a very small 2 bed house when we had our first daughter, we didn’t have that many options. You can make do with what you have though.
We decided to keep away from our bedroom, so there was one room that was clean and cosy for us to retreat to with our newborn. It also helped stop me lying on my back, which can get the baby in a bad position and exacerbate intense contractions.
We turned the nursery into our birth nest, with a futon on the floor covered with a shower curtain and an old sheet. We had low lighting and some relaxing music. We also had lots of cushions and my birthing ball in there.
In the build up to giving birth I spent a lot of time in this room practising my breathing and relaxation. We also had a few baby clothes hanging in this room. Because when you’re in labour, it is a nice thing to focus on and remind you what this is all for.
When I was actually in labour we moved around the house quite a bit. We started in the nursery, but after a few trips downstairs to the toilet we stayed down in the living room.
We got to the point when I was really struggling with the pain — we now know I was in transition — and my husband noticed this and took me back upstairs to the nest. Turns out this change of scene was exactly what was needed and it helped me to relax much more.
We were in constant contact with the maternity ward at the hospital. We knew what time the midwives changed shift, so we called before this so that my name could go on the board and they could make sure there was a midwife in the area.
We called back a couple of times just to let them know how things were progressing and to let them know we were OK without anyone there. When my contractions were 5 minutes apart lasting more than a minute we called them back and asked for the midwife to come round.
The first midwife arrived 45 minutes before our daughter arrived and the second midwife nearly missed the whole thing!
While you are in active labour, a midwife will stay with you at home even if this lasts for hours. They then call in a second midwife for the birth. In this sense you can get more support than in a hospital, because a hospital midwife is often looking after a number of labouring woman at the same time.
But something else that people worry about with home births is the mess. Yes it does get a bit messy, but not to horror film standards. The midwives cleared everything away for us, we threw away the old towels and sheets, and had visitors over that very same day. It’s important you do have a lot of things that can just be thrown away afterwards.
And then a few years later, we did it all again.
We also had our second daughter at home, this time in a different house. But I actually found the preparation much harder the second time.
For starters I had a toddler running around, so I didn’t have so many opportunities to relax in my nest as before. We were also in a new house that had required a lot of work — even though we had got the house looking lovely before the baby arrived, it still didn’t feel like home. It surprised me how much this effected my ability to relax.
Our second daughter was 11 days late. BUT we did have a lovely, if different, home birth. And this time the midwives arrived only 30 minutes before the birth. They read our birth plan and judged the situation perfectly. They could tell I had done it before and was in control (mostly!!) so they took a back seat, offered help and advice when needed, but were pretty much hands off.
STATE OF MIND
Embrace the unexpected. This is something you will have to get used to as a parent, so best to start early.
Go into the whole experience with an open mind. Because if for any reason you do have to go into the hospital, then you haven’t failed — it is because you need that extra help.
I actually had to go into the hospital for stitches both times. Midwives can often do stitches at home, but mine required a doctor and a smaller needle than the midwives carry with them. Some people seem sad that this is how our lovely home births ended, but we didn’t ever feel like that, it was just what was required at that point.
Birth isn’t about the success or failure of your experience. It’s about what feels right for you, embracing and preparing for the experience, and allowing your body every chance to do what it is designed to do.
I really hope this helps anyone considering a home birth — comment below if you have any questions at all!
By Polly / Follow @WhatPollyMade
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