The government plan to give mums-to-be a £3,000 NHS budget to choose where/ how to give birth. Following news of poor care in England’s maternity units the scheme aims to give pregnant women more control and choice over the birth they have – including home births, water-births, hypnobirth and other alternative therapies.
Many pregnant women feel powerless or unsure of their options, often agreeing to medical interference in a last minute panic. Having choice is so important and empowering.
I’ve been thinking about a home birth since that wonderful, blue line appeared eight months ago. I had a fantastic birth with my first daughter, I was lucky and I’m very grateful. It didn’t start smoothly though and as a first-time mum I was underprepared. My birthing plan fell apart and I didn’t know my options. I planned for a midwife-led birth at Solihull hospital, I loved the idea of a relaxed water birth in a home-from-home environment. I was nine days overdue, the baby was plotting big and they wouldn’t take me. My heart sank when I was told to go to Heartlands hospital in Birmingham city centre. I felt anxious and unhappy there (for many reasons manly arguing staff and bad vibes, even my husband couldn’t pretend it seemed OK). I checked myself out, went home and starting frantically googling my options, already in early labour. At 3am we jumped into our car, drove up the motorway in the wrong direction, to a hospital we had no idea how to find. An hour later we finally arrived, 6cm dilated and contractions in full swing. Our baby daughter was born three hours later. Despite not having a relaxed water birth everything ran smoothly and I got to go home the same day, which was the most important thing to me. We ate pizza on our lounge floor as a family and I slept in my own bed. A dream come true.
So this time round, am I brave enough to have a home birth? I’ve spoken to five mums (including three local Midland’s mummies) about their inspirational home births, getting their tips and advice.
Shelley Harris from Solihull is mum to daughters Orla, four and 18-month-old Lara. She opted for a home birth with her second pregnancy after husband Chris missed the first birth driving to hospital.
Shelley says: “My home birth was absolutely perfect. I felt totally relaxed and in control. The midwives were wonderful. They never interfered or told me what I should be doing and made it clear from the start they’d follow my lead. Even when my contractions slowed right down, after getting into the pool, they put no pressure on me to come out in order to speed them back up. They just let nature take it’s course and didn’t keep doing internal checks to see how I was progressing.”
Did you have any concerns? “My biggest worry was being sent to hospital afterwards to have stitches, I was told some community midwives didn’t like to do it – luckily for me that wasn’t the case. My midwife’s skills were top notch, I did not feel a thing. I feel incredibly lucky to have had the experience and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anybody considering it.”
Mum-of-three Hayley Jamison-Maybury from Great Barr, Birmingham had such a good experience with her first labour in City Hospital she chose home births for her next two. The 32-year-old designer is mum to Samuel, six, Christina, three and 10-week-old Jake.
Hayley says: “All three of my births have been wonderful, the support we got during the first experience definitely helped us make the decision for home births. It just felt right. Our main reason for home birthing was to all meet the new baby together as a family. During my third homebirth my daughter Chrissy cuddled me and rubbed my back in early labour and my son Sammy helped Daddy cut the cord and tidy up afterwards. When things calmed down he crept over, gave me a cuddle and said, “Well done mum”. It’s in those magical moments you realise being at home with your family has not only a huge effect on how relaxed and comfortable you are but means an awful lot to everyone else too.”
Advice for other mums: “I think we have to trust our bodies to do what they are made to do, which sadly procedure and protocols often make us doubt. The care you get at a home birth is constant; the midwives observe you throughout rather than popping in and out whilst juggling more than one birth. Also do a test run filling up the birthing pool, so you know exactly how long it takes!”
Did you have any concerns: “I wasn’t any more worried at home than I was in hospital. My husband James was very pro home births and many friends shared positive experiences with me. I felt really safe. Having to leave the house in the early stages of labour to sit in a bumpy car going through contractions and worrying about traffic to get to hospital is so much more scary than staying at home!”
Jane Ford from Sutton Coldfield is mum to Jamie, three and five-month-old Lana. The 35-year-old breastfeeding peer supporter chose a home birth after experiencing a stressful first labour in hospital. Jane says: “My first hospital birth was very stressful, I was induced, left in a room feeling the midwives were too busy to check on me, ending in a forceps birth in theatre with a spinal block. At three days old my son was readmitted to hospital with jaundice, 13% weight loss and showing signs of infection. The thought of going through similar again terrified me. I had to really argue for a homebirth though, other than community midwives, NHS staff were very negative about the idea.”
Would you recommend a homebirth? “Yes, definitely. I was so much more relaxed to the point I didn’t believe I was in labour until an hour before my daughter was born! I started getting cramps at 8am but went about my day as normal, far less intense than when I was induced and left to worry in a hospital bed. At 2pm my boss suggested I leave work early, I went to Wickes and chose tiles, picked my son up, cooked tea, cleared up and put him to bed at 8pm. I started timing my contractions, which weren’t that painful and phoned the midwife at 9pm. Everything happened very quickly, I could feel my daughter’s head coming. My daughter was born at 9:30pm, the midwife walked through the door, put her gloves on and caught the baby.”
Best bits: “As soon as my daughter was born, everything was calm and felt so normal. I sat on my settee and fed her while my mum made everyone tea. An hour later I had a shower and got into my own bed with my daughter right beside me. The next morning we introduced baby Lana to her brother, he wasn’t disrupted from his routine at all. I felt amazing after a good nights rest, very different to the disrupted sleep I’d had in hospital.”
Worst bits: “Probably just the worry leading up to the birth, wondering if I was doing the right thing. So many people seemed shocked that I was planning a home birth, telling me about things that could go wrong.”
Advice for other mums: “Go for it. You can change your mind at any point and transfer to a hospital. You’ve lost nothing. Ignore negative comments from other people, especially about the mess afterwards. It really wasn’t messy and everything was neatly cleared up by our midwife.”
Laura Green from Southampton had a home birth two years ago with first baby Ted. She planned a second home birth with 4-month old daughter Cora but was induced at 39 weeks in hospital due to concerns over her tiny placenta (at 350g it weighed half the average).
Laura says: “I feel very lucky, Ted’s arrival was calm and relaxed, we baked flapjacks, made soup and took selfies in the early stages. I practiced hypnobirthing techniques throughout and fully credit it for allowing me to manage the pain myself up until the final hour. We watched the Friends box set and delivered the little guy in the birthing pool, in our kitchen with the assistance of gas and air (oh my…how amazing is that stuff?!). I had a midwife and two students present.”
Best bits: “Within 90 minutes of Ted’s arrival, my parents were cuddling him as we ate fish finger sandwiches and drank cups of tea on the sofa. Three hours later we were all tucked up in our own bed.”
Advice for other mums: “If it’s want you want trust your instincts and go for it. I would definitely have a home birth again, without hesitation. I never worried about being at home and felt so cared for with the one-on-one attention I received from the midwife. Getting into your own bath and own bed after giving birth is the most amazing feeling. I also recommend looking into hypnobirthing, it doesn’t stop pain but enabled me to control my reaction to twists and turns my labour took.”
Adele Jarrett-Kerr from Bristol is mum to daughters Talitha, four and Ophelia, two. She had a home birth with her second daughter and is planning another with her third baby due July 2016.
Adele says: “My home birth was calm, empowering and beautiful. I believe every mother should have the choice to birth where she feels safest. For me, as long as everything looks straightforward, that means having a home delivery. I was entirely at ease with my surroundings, choosing to get in the shower or wander from room to room. I felt in control of the experience, I didn’t need to ask anyone’s permission for anything I wanted to do. I used hypnobirthing to manage the labour and a doula to liaise with the midwives. I got in the birth pool when I felt it was all too much. A real highlight was delivering my baby myself, I lifted her out of the water.”
Worst bits: “I had to transfer to hospital afterwards because of concerns over my tear but that didn’t make me wish I’d given birth there. Clearing up the mess is tricky, be well prepared with towels. We neglected to fully protect one of our sofas and paid the price! It was a little stressful not knowing when the midwives would arrive, I’d call them earlier next time.”
Advice to other mums: “If you have any concerns find a home birth supportive group to chat to, there are lots online with homebirth mothers, midwives and doulas. Consider hypnobirthing to manage the labour/ any fears you have. Pack a hospital bag just in case. Birth is unpredictable. Make sure your house is fully waterproofed!”