Yesterday I gave you the first part of my account of Matilda’s home birth. We got up to the point where Jo’s waters had broken and we knew labour was imminent. Today’s it’s time to read about the the actual birth itself. There is such little information about dads and home births that I really hope these two posts inspire other dads (and mums of course) into possibly thinking about having a home birth too…
At 9.30, I sensed that Jo’s labour was progressing quicker than she felt (or was admitting to!). I called the midwife and took what can best be described as an executive decision. No the contractions were not yet unbearable, yes Jo could still talk, no these were not signs of active labour – BUT I asked her to make her way to our house immediately, not least because she lives an hour away.
Archie and I pumped up the pool together and, once I had managed to bribe him to jump out of it (easier said than done), managed somehow to fill it up, in spite of the hose connector leaking more from the tap than it was actually sending into the pool.
Of course, one of the keys to a successful labour is a calm and relaxed environment. Hard as he tried, Archie was not conducive to this. He set himself up, in the lounge, with his “Sword and the Stone” DVD. “Mummy can watch it too”. Er no! Back-up was called and he agreed to go out to lunch with his grandparents. In the fantasy scenario, he would have been there to welcome his brother or sister. In the reality, he was in the way and Jo’s contractions were slowing down to a standstill the longer he stayed.
In a revolving front door operation, Archie left and Jane, our midwife, arrived. Once again, I think the home-birth worked in our favour here. Archie left with an image of his mum relatively content and in her own familiar surrounds. I suspect this was much less traumatic than it would have been had myself and Jo had to rush off out suddenly to the maternity ward.
It soon became clear that having a home-birth was going to be a dramatically different experience to the hospital birth Jo had with Archie. For starters, I was going to be much less involved. Surprising? Yes, but logical. Jo needed all the support in the world to help her through last time at the hospital. This time, she was at home, surrounded by familiarity and with her own midwife. I am not for a moment saying I felt left out. On the contrary. I just felt very mellow.
Home comforts are important for the dad too. Having my own toilet was an unexpected bonus. Having my laptop was another! There was a period of about 20 minutes where Jo just wanted to be alone with Jane upstairs. Had this been in hospital, I would have been kicking my heels in a corridor. Instead, I was in my revert-to position, on my laptop, chatting away on twitter! Oh, and not forgetting the fact that being at home meant that I had more than enough time to choose my birth t-shirt. After all, birth photos stay with us for many years to come – it’s important to have the right one!
Back to more serious affairs. At 12.05, Jane sensed Jo was getting close and invited her downstairs to the pool. I was “on” now. Jane chose to adopt a very non-interventional approach. This worked really well for both me and Jo. We knew she was there, closely supervising and supporting but, at no time, yelling “push” at Jo. With Jo in the pool and the babies heartbeat taken, Jane was confident the labour was going to progress completely normally.
Jo was in total control. By about 12.20 she had disappeared off into an almost parallel space. Focused, intense, almost other-worldly. Some of her songs were certainly not from this planet. All I remember at this point was feeling very serene, very at one with the process. I was also in awe of Jo’s bravery. She seemed to be controlling the pain. She wasn’t panicking. She was following Jane’s gentle prompts. I sensed the baby was close.
Matilda’s head crowned about 10 minutes later. All I could see was the top of her head but noticed a huge amount of hair – in complete contrast to when Archie was born. I told myself off for hoping this meant we were having a baby girl.
What struck me at this moment was how different this birth was becoming, compared to the movies or soap operas. Jo’s body was doing all its clever work. There was no need to push or scream. Natural gravity from kneeling in the pool and the powerful contractions were gently easing the babies head out.
And then… literally, time stood still. Matilda’s head was now fully exposed. I have never encountered a more surreal moment in my life. How best to describe it? With difficulty. Through the refraction of the water, I didn’t immediately realise I was looking at her face. Of course, at this stage, the baby is not yet alive. Mouth tightly closed, eyes clasped, she thinks she is still in the womb. Then, suddenly the thunder bolt in my heart, I realised I was looking at the face of my baby. She looked beautiful, peaceful and, more than anything, ethereal. Have you seen the 4D scans you can have of foetuses? Her face looked exactly like one of those. So near and yet so far. Seemingly alive and yet, in real terms, not at all. It is an experience I can barely quantify. All I do remember is that she was extremely beautiful, suspended in time between being an unborn foetus and a living baby.
That image is imprinted in my eyes for ever. And I fell instantly in love.
Matilda was a girl in a hurry from this point. Perhaps coloured by time, my memory is that the rest of her body was out in a matter of seconds. She sunk, gracefully, to the bottom of the pool and Jo was able to take her and cradle her, still in the water.
In the brief moment when Jo took Matilda and laid her on her chest, I excitedly proclaimed that we had a little boy. Don’t ask! Keen not to interrupt the maternal bonding process, Jane didn’t pick up Matilda to check. She believed me. Jo believed Jane. Yes, we had a little boy.
Jo sat in the pool for twenty minutes with our baby. We couldn’t quite get the name right. Did he look like a Finlay? Or a Frankie? Neither really – no surprise really when you consider he was actually a Matilda. In the end we settled for Finlay and set about announcing the good news, including phoning Archie to tell him he had a little brother.
Even when Jo and Matilda got out of the pool, we were still convinced we had a little boy. It was only an hour later, when Jane took the baby out of the towell that she called out, “Nick, it’s not a boy. You’ve got a little girl!”. I thought it was a big joke. Jo was in the shower and nearly fainted, literally. Suddenly the “not quite” face of Finlay became the very obvious face of Matilda Lily Rachel.
I felt so thrilled to have a little girl. So did Jo. I also felt terrible to have deprived Jo of that initial moment of ecstasy when she would have found out that she had had a girl just after giving birth. It’s not that she was in any way disappointed to have a boy. I just know that she missed out on an intense moment due to my inability to distinguish an umbilical chord from a, well, you get the picture!
Within minutes, Jo was snuggled up in her own bed, with her little girl, drinking a home-made cup of tea and eating some home-made toast. Then, after making sure we were all in good shape, Jane left. If there was one moment which summed up why I loved the home-birth experience so much, it was that one. Instead of me having to leave the hospital, leaving behind my wife and my baby, we were staying put. We were home.
I soon went off to pick up Archie. It was so lovely to be able to introduce him to his sister (yes, I explained what happened to Finlay) in the comfort of his own environment. His mummy was relaxed and extremely content. This was very important to him.
All that remained was the extremely unglamorous tidy-up operation. Jane had sadly forgotten her electronic pump and there was 200 litres of pool to empty in our lounge. I didn’t fancy the syphoning technique so opted for the good old-fashioned bucket. It took me over 40 backbreaking minutes to empty that pool. And you know what? In spite of my initial concerns about the safety of home-births, I was the only one to get injured. How? When emptying the pool, I tripped head-over-heels on our now treacherously slippery and wet decking in the garden. A grazed kneed and seriously hurt pride were my only battle scars of an amazing day.
So, am I a convert? Well, yes, I am. Having a home-birth was one of those experiences which seemed laced with concerns and complexities and yet, once I had experienced it, it suddenly seemed like the most obvious, natural and comfortable thing in the world.
We owe a huge debt to our highly-skilled midwife Jane and, more than anything, my debt is to Jo – for having the courage, creativity and foresight to think differently and take me on this most wonderful of journeys.