This an account of my very happy and positive birth centre experience.
To say that I was scared about the birth of my second baby was like saying that having a newborn is tiring, in other words, a massive understatement! My first birth had left me traumatised (you can read about it here) and I was desperately worried that the same thing would happen again this time round, but coupled with an intense terror of having the same experience in hospital.
I think that the only reason I even found myself pregnant in the first place was because we moved away from the area that my daughter was born in, if it had been a case of having to go to that same hospital again, I genuinely believe she would have been an only child.
First time around, I had wanted a waterbirth. I had read all the books, I knew about picturing waves and breathing the baby out and had read a wonderful book by the fabulous Ina May Gaskin but everything had gone wrong for me from the minute I’d set foot in the car to go to the hospital. I wish I’d done it differently, although maybe, with my daughter having been back to back, the exact same thing would have happened if I’d gone for a home birth and it could all have ended disastrously……although I don’t really believe that!
This time, I was stronger. I knew more about birth, I’d done it for a start! The first time I had believed wholeheartedly that the midwives are the Gods of the maternity ward and that I must listen to them and comply even if my body was telling me different. Not this time! I was prepared to stand my ground.
I was determined to do it my way and take help where needed, but I was in charge! Really I wanted a home birth, but there were a few factors that stood in our way. We were renting at the time and the house wasn’t very big, I didn’t think I’d be able to squeeze a pool in and I also didn’t fancy all the clearing up after! We also had one child already, and I didn’t want her to witness it if it all went wrong. I also didn’t want to be distracted worrying about her and her needs while I was trying to focus on me. The last one was that my husband wasn’t keen. He had been left incredibly shaken up after our daughter’s birth and was very scared that something similar would happen again and I wouldn’t make it to hospital on time and he’d lose us both.
Luckily for us, our local hospital has the Cheltenham Aveta Birth Centre. I’d heard wonderful things about birth centres in general and decided that this was probably a very good middle ground. It would mean we were out of the house, we had medical care on hand and would be transferred faster in the event of a problem as there were ambulances on site. My husband was still unsure though. The ambulance would have to take us to another town, would there be enough time? So we went to look round and a chat.
From the second I walked through those doors, I knew it was where I wanted to have my baby. It was beautiful; light and airy with lots of lovely little touches, rocking chairs, sofas, colour changing lights, kettles and mugs in each room for making tea (that was the clincher! 😉 ) and the midwives were exactly how I’d hoped them to be. Friendly and relaxed, they put us totally at our ease, reassuring my husband, about transfer times, telling us our midwife wouldn’t leave us if we had to go in and turning my absolute fear into something bordering on excitement about the impending arrival. I felt safe there.
When I started getting contractions one afternoon, I didn’t believe it. I’d done it before, knew the signs of labour, and yet I was doubtful. I yet again thought it was trapped wind! My Mum had to make a 3 and a half hour journey to come and look after my daughter and I didn’t want her to speed over for what was essentially air! I also knew that I couldn’t leave it too late as I didn’t want her to have to drive late at night. In the end, my husband told me I was being ridiculous and trapped wind wouldn’t be bothering me the same amount of time apart for several hours and so we phoned her. She arrived at around 10pm, had a cup of tea and went to bed to give us some privacy.
We phoned up the birth centre and they asked us which room I’d liked the look of when I’d been to look round, I was very surprised, they were actually offering me a choice of room, I was in control of things from the very start. Luckily the one I’d liked was free and they told me they would pop my name on the chart and would see me by morning.
That night I laboured quietly, too uncomfortable to lie down and so spending a lot of time sitting backwards on the loo seat with my head on the vanity unit trying to doze. Not very comfortable! Annoyingly, by 5.30am not much had changed. I wanted to be out of the house before my daughter woke and saw me struggling but when I had gone in ‘too early’ the first time I had been made to feel really silly and a nuisance. I phoned up and explained the situation, giving too much info, ‘my daughter will wake up, I don’t want to rush hour traffic to see me walking to you’ etc. As it turned out, I didn’t need to give any reasoning, of course I could come in, they were looking forward to seeing me, my room was ready and they’d been expecting me sooner.
I instantly relaxed and we happily got our things together and walked in. It was only 10 minutes away, but took us longer, what with me having to stop and breathe through contractions every few minutes. Luckily it was a tree lined avenue and they were spaced apart very handily for leaning against! We were also early enough to miss a row of traffic watching me huffing and puffing, a bit relief!
When we arrived, I was made to feel so welcome. There was no admonishment for being early, I was shown to my beautiful room and we all had a nice chat, the midwife introduced herself and explained that she would do my booking in but that she was almost finished on her shift and another midwife would be taking over. She filled in my paperwork and then introduced me to the midwife who would stay with me until the birth, Jean.
The first thing I did was ask Jean if she wanted to check how far along I was, with my hospital experience, I’d been checked many times and told how I was doing. ‘Ooh no, she said, I’ll just listen to the noises you make and go by that.’ I was amazed, and thrilled. This was how it was supposed to be. We all just chatted while I used the rocking chair back to lean on. It felt as if this was the most normal thing in the world, I was giving birth and everyone was cool with it, I wasn’t a patient, I wasn’t ‘performing to targets’, I was a woman, having a baby, like millions upon millions before me.
And the most important thing? My husband was included, wholeheartedly, he was as important a part of the process as I was and they let him know that. Hungry? Get some food, we’ll be here with her. Need a cup of tea? Make one, help yourself. Not sure what to do? Just ask. And so he relaxed, and he laughed, and joked, chatted and rubbed my back. In supporting him, they supported me, putting us both completely at ease.
When I was ready, the pool was filled and I spent several hours in there doing my thing. And Jean sat unobtrusively in the corner, making notes, just being there but not getting involved too much, occasionally topping up the hot water, checking we had everything we needed, fully aware of everything but staying out of it as much as possible. This was about my husband and I, we were the ones having the baby and because I was making all the right noises, she could hang back and just be present should she be needed. At times I even forgot she was there, but her reassuring presence was there for both of us should we call upon it.
Because I felt so relaxed, and so comfortable, I was more able to follow the advice in the books, I wasn’t self conscious. I howled I think, a lot, and there was some banshee yelling at one point! I’m pretty sure it was at this point that I was regretting choosing somewhere that was drug free, (aside from gas and air), although the essential oils did actually prove me wrong and offer some relief.
After a while Jean, who was just listening to me and drawing on her years of experience, realised I had been pushing for longer then I should, she asked my permission to check dilation, told me I could absolutely refuse, but because I trusted her, I was more then happy to allow it, it was on my terms.
She suggested I stand up, and then it went very very quickly, she was topping up the hot water when I told her the baby was coming now, she thought I was exaggerating as he had been up high minutes before but I was insistent so she just about had time to hit the button to call another midwife, got me to get back down in the water and mere seconds later, my boy arrived. He was born ‘en caul’, there had been so little interference in the birth that my waters hadn’t broken. After everyone had had an amazed look at him, (it’s apparently very rare and means he will be lucky, and a sailor!), Jean very gently freed him and placed him straight onto my chest, where he started feeding straight away, something that I’d missed completely first time round. We revelled in the experience for a short while. (Although I have to say, it’s not like the films, birth is messy and a bit gross so I didn’t want to stay in that water for too long!!!) Then there was the placenta. Something I’d also missed first time round, I’m actually quite grateful about that as it turns out, I was slightly freaked out by it if I’m honest! 😀
Out of the pool and after a little repair work (it was all so quick I needed some stitches.) it was skin to skin for as long as I wanted, and I was helped to clean up, made a cuppa and that heaven sent obligatory post baby toast arrived. As there were no visiting hour rules, my Mum could come as soon as I was ready and so brother met sister within hours of him taking his first breath. Not that she was particularly impressed! 🙂
He was born in the morning but because he was struggling to feed, they kept us in that night too, moving us to a different room, helping me to express into a syringe to feed him. Best thing? The whole time my husband could stay with us. He had been booted out into the night the first time. No sleep, shocked by what he had witnessed, leaving a wife recovering from a spinal and a baby he had almost lost to drive the 45 minutes home to be alone with just his thoughts. Even our dog was at my parents’! Not so this time. He went home to shower and change and put our daughter to bed and returned with fish and chips. Possibly the best thing I’ve ever eaten. Barr the toast of course.
This is the birth that healed me, my positive birth centre experience. It sounds dramatic but those ladies that cared for me that day, (and after when I got severe mastitis and was too weak to make it home from the out of hours and they looked after us until the antibiotics worked their magic. Turns out he needed a tongue tie snipping, which they also did there.), handed me back my power. They showed me that with the right support, birth can be the most normal, natural thing on the planet. That it can be relaxed, funny, beautiful. The exposed and raw trauma that I had been carrying with me was gone. I felt mighty, and powerful, and that I had nailed this birth thing. I wasn’t a failure as a woman. I didn’t ‘get labour wrong’. And I will be forever grateful to them for that.
I have had the absolute pleasure to stay in touch with lots of them and the birth centre will always hold a very special place in my heart. There, labour is a wonderful, exciting, beautiful and utterly normal thing. You know that they see births every single day, but you also know that each and every one is special too. I sound like a total hippy going on about empowering and healing but honestly, there is something wonderful about that place and I can’t recommend a birth centre highly enough. There will be no more babies for me, but if there were, I would choose a birth centre every time and I hope that things keep progressing so that this wonderful normalising attitude spreads and there will no more stories of barbaric births in hospitals like my first. For me, the positive birth centre experience took something that left me terrified and ashamed and made me whole again.