Where to start. Having written my first birth story, I really couldn’t imagine having a second birth story to tell. I was so intrigued as to how it might be similar and yet how it was likely to be worlds apart. Some people say that gearing up for subsequent births is harder because your blissfully naive self has left the building and been replaced with a sharper awareness of the intensity your body will face. Weirdly I didn’t feel that. Thankfully I had what I would consider a positive birth with Maggie so in many ways that had taken a lot of the terrifying mystery away and helped me see that my body was at the very least capable of doing it.
All that being said, I did get the fear about a month before due date. I was confident I could do it but it was a feeling of ‘do I really have to do it again?’ The biggest part I was concerned about was the pushing stage as that was the hardest and most complicated part of labour with Maggie. It was an incredibly tough and physical workout, essentially needing to have some pretty forceful coaching through it. I was told there was nothing wrong with my pushing but I was simply too tight and wouldn’t tear along with contractions that were too far apart. After 2 hours they performed an episiotomy and Maggie flew out, literally. I didn’t love the idea of repeating that again and wasn’t sure I was capable of pushing a baby out on my own.
We’d decided on a home birth almost from the start of my pregnancy for a variety of reasons. In my labour with Maggie I progressed incredibly quickly for a first time labour, dilating to 8cm in just 6 hours. This was the part that I did at home and then as soon as I went to the birth centre my contractions went from being consistently on top of each other to much further apart and whilst I still progressed it was much, much slower as they never really got closer together. It took me another 6 hours from arriving in the birth centre to giving birth. It was still a fairly quick first time labour all round but when all the midwives had been telling me I should give birth within a couple of hours of arriving with the way I’d been progressing at home, 4 more hours on top of that feels like a lot. As my contractions weren’t as close together as they would have liked, I was asked to get out of the birthing pool to push which I really wasn’t happy about. They thought it might be relaxing me too much. I couldn’t help but think things would have continued to progress so much quicker if I’d stayed at home. Even though the birth centre was really lovely, it was still an alien environment for me, making me feel less comfortable and calm than in my own space.
I spoke to a fair few people who had home births and every single story was so positive, even those who’d ended up being transferred to hospital. I obviously looked up the stats and transfer rates for home births were surprisingly low, particularly for second or subsequent babies and intervention was so much less common in home births. I’m all for taking the natural option in life so it seemed like a no brainer plus we’re literally a 5 minute ambulance ride away from our hospital if something went wrong. It was something I didn’t feel confident enough to do first time around but definitely was with a bit of knowledge and experience second time.
My final reason was that the idea of recovering in my own space, in our own bed and with our own food seemed all too appealing. The birth centre was a massive privilege to experience and the fact your partner can stay there with you in an actual bed is amazing, but it’s still not home and you still have midwives popping their heads in, what feels like every five minutes. I know homebirth isn’t for everyone. I know many people that feel way more relaxed in a more medical environment, where they know they’re being closely supervised and even a birth centre feels too hands off for them but that really isn’t the case with me, made all the more clear with birth number two.
I was totally convinced that I was going to go into labour early! I knew what it felt like to be in those final weeks and this time I very much felt that way from 36 weeks, in fact there were points even in that week when I thought it might happen. I was incredibly uncomfortable, getting braxton hicks so regularly it was a bit of a joke and I had quite strong cramping that felt very similar to my final week in my pregnancy with Maggie. Yet the weeks still went by until we reached 39 + 1. From about lunchtime I wondered if I was close. The cramping felt stronger, still not like contractions as it didn’t seem to go away but around 4pm I had my ‘show’. I knew that didn’t necessarily mean labour was imminent but last time it happened 8cm into labour so it seemed very possible things would get started soon.
By the evening I felt even more uncomfortable but it still hadn’t turned into contractions. I did Maggie’s bath and bedtime as usual and we had our church community group over, a standard Tuesday night. At the end of our meal I wondered if the cramps had started coming in very subtle waves, could this really be it? As we all migrated to the sofas to start the bible study, I took the opportunity of quiet, stillness to monitor if there was some kind of rhythm to the cramping. Without telling anyone, I counted 5 in half an hour and announced, ‘I think I might be in labour.’ Their faces were priceless, with expressions of panic as if I was going to drop any second. Nick was searching for his to do list and asked if he should call his Mum to pick up Maggie, which I begrudgingly agreed to. I just didn’t want a fuss if I was potentially wrong or a really long way off. I didn’t experience these very mild contractions with my first labour as it was pretty much ‘boom!’ and then ‘hello intensity’. I was still able to laugh and joke and said we should carry on with the study, a phase I’d only heard about before that moment.
I phoned the midwife to let her know and she said it sounded like I was in the really early stages and that I should just take it easy, have a bath and if the contractions slowed down or faded I should get some sleep and to phone her when they got much closer together. She asked me how I felt about gas and air and I joked that I was very pro, having missed out on it first time around. I pretty much had FOMO. Then I was left loosely putting together a playlist while the guys from our group helped Nick inflate the birthing pool. The whole thing seemed like a total comedy moment to me, particularly as it was one of the guys second week with us…what a baptism of fire!
With the pool blown up and Granny on her way, we reconvened to finish the study but barely a moment later I felt a huge thud / pop and suddenly the scenario seemed all too familiar. That’s exactly how my labour had begun last time and the next contraction was about ten times more intense than any that had come before. I later learned from the midwives that this sensation was actually in both cases my water breaking on the back side of the sack which means you don’t get the dramatic film-like gushing experience but it still ramps everything up all the same. Just like that I knew I need to get off the sofa and start moving and very quickly I was leaning over the bed swaying and stomping my way through contractions. Then my body decided it was time for a natural enema and just like the last time I completely emptied my bowels in preparation which I’m genuinely very thankful for…much less mess in the pool…am I right?! Apologies for the TMI.
I started running a bath and said it was time we prayed for baby’s impending arrival and then people quickly left. As soon as I started timing the contractions the app was telling me to go to hospital, once again very familiar to my previous experience. I shouted to Nick that he needed to tell the midwife, with which she was speedily on her way. She lived an hour away, out in East London you see.
I took up residence in the bath for what would be nearly my entire labour, little did I know and Nick set about filling the pool which also incidentally took nearly my entire labour. I was using my feet to pad against the end of the bath each time I got a contraction and would use my breathing techniques but I was genuinely shocked at how quickly they were coming and just how intense they were after such a short period of time. These seemed even crazier than last time! There was no time to think about the atmosphere in the bathroom or putting music on as Nick was busy setting things up and seeing Maggie off and I was pretty much unable to move so most of my labouring was done in silence, alone, with a very clinical bathroom spotlight shining in my eyes. Dreamy!
Somehow I continued to time my contractions and I could see them getting longer and closer together at an alarming rate. I was recognising phases from the last time but we seemed to be powering through like the whole experience was on fast forward. Suddenly I had two contractions back to back and felt a horrible nausea and I knew I was in transition. What on earth?! From then I had the horrible really low, bearing down pain that I possibly found the hardest to deal with first time around. I let out a horrible groan that I recognised and that’s when I thought ‘oh yeah and this is why I never want to do this again’. I started struggling to breathe through each contraction. I could tell my whole body was stiffening up and my shoulders were tensing. I was dreading each contraction rather than reminding myself it was good pain and each one was progress. I knew being tense wasn’t going to help me with the pain so, at that point I tried visualisation along with my breathing to get me through. I was trying really hard to picture me holding my baby in my arms at the end but it didn’t really work because I had no idea what he would look like. Instead I thought of my ‘happy place’ which in that moment was thinking back to that afternoon when I’d been cuddling and giggling with Maggie on the sofa. It was Maggie’s sweet face that got me through that final stage.
Nick came in and asked if he should light our candle for Zion, our lost baby to which I couldn’t respond more than a nod and then I think he realised I was near the end. He swiftly started filling up buckets from the bathroom sink to aid the hose, running backwards and forwards manically. I had a contraction in the bath that kind of felt like I needed to push, when Nick announced the pool was ready and he’d need to transfer me in between the next contraction. I honestly didn’t know how that would work but somehow, putting all my weight on him we did it.
I had a moment to take in how lovely the room was. Nick had lit candles everywhere and there was a lovely smelling vapour diffuser wafting around the space. The pool felt amazing as I got in and made me realise how the bath had lost all its temperature. It wasn’t long before my next contraction when I told Nick I needed to push. He was on the phone to the midwife who said I would just need to breathe through it. She’d also told Nick she was still 16 minutes away but he didn’t tell me as not to freak me out. A wise choice. I kept on saying ‘where is she?’ to which Nick reassured me she was literally about to arrive. Next contraction I tried to breathe through but it was a ridiculous notion which had me spluttering and spitting everywhere because all my body wanted to do was hold my breath and push. It was then that I realised the midwife wasn’t going to get there in time and I had a moment of fear as I was pretty sure the burning sensation I was feeling was the baby’s head crowning. I hadn’t managed to get to this stage on my own last time so it was all new but without even being told my body natural started panting in between the contraction to hold the baby there.
Next contraction I was actively trying to hold the baby in (which sounds hilarious but I genuinely thought I could) but my body did all the pushing for me and it was the weirdest feeling. When that one passed I announced that something had come out. Nick jumped up to move around the other edge of the pool and shouted, ‘oh my goodness, that’s a head’. He says the visual memory of his slimy head, eyes closed, just hanging out under the water is engraved in his mind forever. Better you than me Nick. The midwife was on speaker phone at this point and told us we were having the baby without her. What?! Nick raced into the bedroom, threw on his swim shorts and jumped into the pool just as another contraction came and the rest of him came out in one fell swoop. Nick caught him and held him under the water in shock asking the midwife what he should do. She stayed on the phone as he brought him above the surface, transferred me to the inflatable seat, wrapped Lars in a towel and gave him a rub to make him cry, placing him on me for warmth. As soon as the midwife heard him scream she knew he was ok and said she’d be with us shortly. There we were, Nick pacing backwards and forwards and me clutching a baby sat on an inflatable pool in our living room that only an hour and a half earlier was full of people. It’s safe to say we were both in a bit of shock. Neither of us cried this time around, despite weeping like babies at Maggie’s birth. I’m just not sure we could believe what had actually happened! Nick had essentially just delivered our baby and miraculously nothing had gone wrong. After two hours of pushing in my first labour that ended in a cut, I only had 3 contractions worth of pushing in this labour. It was a lot to process!
I remember looking at Lars and first wondering how was he so big that he’d even managed to enter the world with arm rolls. I asked Nick if he’d checked he was definitely a boy which makes me laugh thinking back. Secondly I was just so excited that I was no longer pregnant! He was out and the nausea, pelvic pain, sciatica and jabbing bladder daggers were over! Some people talk about a feeling of emptiness when their babies are finally out and a sort of grieving process that they can no longer feel their movements close inside. Call me unromantic but both times I’ve felt nothing but relief.
The midwife arrived about 10 minutes after Lars entered the world and showered us with praise for Nick ‘the midwife’ and I, supposedly ‘SuperMum’ which seems silly as we literally hadn’t done anything. My body took over and did the entire thing for me down to the pushing and Nick had just managed to catch the baby that was being jet propelled out of me. We had no choice in the matter and if I was totally amazed at God’s design for the female body first time around then second time I was even more in awe. People say your body knows what to do, I finally knew what that meant.
The midwife was so friendly and told me she would help me deliver the placenta and by this stage I eagerly asked for the injection to get it out quicker. I could tell I must have torn or grazed because I was finding it hard to even sit on the inflatable seat without pain and then with my womb still contracting slightly and the umbilical cord tugging at my insides, I was soooo ready to be free and lying down somewhere. Nick cut the umbilical cord whilst Lars had skin to skin on my chest and then we waited for my placenta to make an appearance which was so much less traumatic than with Maggie. Last time my contractions had completely stopped at that point so they had to quite brutally push my tummy and massage my placenta out but this time around she just gently tugged at the umbilical cord which was weird but fine. Suddenly the pool’s water that had been really clear post birth was a sea of blood and I felt like I was sat in a horror scene. My placenta was transferred to all the right containers and put in the fridge ready to be collected for encapsulation and I felt a sense of relief.
At this point the other midwife arrived who actually lived locally but had been held up getting the gas and air from the hospital, the irony of which was that there was no time for me to use it in the end. After Lars had aced all his checks and we were told he was in fact a whopping 9lb 5, I was transferred to the sofa to be examined. They told me I had a small tear and little graze so I’d need some stitches and the main midwife asked if I fancied a bit of gas and air while they gave me the local anaesthetic injections just so I could finally have a try for fun. I took them up on the offer but hilariously the other midwife couldn’t find the right part that went with it in order to get it to work! So I still haven’t tried gas and air folks! Maybe one day eh?
So there I was lying on my sofa in candle light, laughing and chatting about the whole experience, munching on a pack of haribo, whilst they stitched me up. It was so nice to be in my own home and to know that we were headed for our own bed that evening. I remember feeling so shaky and unable to walk when I was helped up after my stitches with Maggie. They told me they’d help me have a shower and it seemed like a total impossibility but this time it felt really quite normal to stand up and go to the toilet. I guess that’s what 2 hours of pushing vs 10 minutes will do eh?
Even though Lars was born at 11.10pm, by the time the midwives had done all the checks for me and baby, stitched me up, helped me start breastfeeding and waited for me to prove I could do a wee twice, it was about 3.30am when they left. Nick was emptying the pool until 4am, which was surprisingly easy and obviously not the kind of job you want to leave until the morning (like leaving a house party clear up until the morning x 100 on the yuck scale). I lay on the sofa and stared at Lars next to me who had an intense stare even then. I studied his full head of hair and chunky body and he felt so alien. After having one baby, you can’t really imagine having a whole different human in the mix and he looked so different to Maggie in nearly every way at first that I couldn’t really believe he was ours.
We slipped into bed around 4.30am, with Lars in the bed nest beside me, sleeping soundly and there we stayed until 8.30am. 4 hours sleep but that’s about 4 hours more than on my first night with Maggie. We were up before Lars and went into the living room for tea and it kind of felt like a dream with the birthing pool all packed away and me feeling relatively normal. We went through the series of events over and over and worked out the whole thing was about 3 hours in total and I was probably only in established labour for 2 of those hours. They say second babies can come surprisingly quickly but we hadn’t been prepared for that! Recovery was so different with Lars in the best possible way. After Maggie I felt like I’d been hit by a bus and my stitches were so painful when I reached day 5 and they started to tighten and heal. My pelvic floor had felt incredibly precarious whenever I moved for the first two weeks post birth, kind of like my entire womb would fall out but this time I honestly felt normal and I could barely feel my stitches. The only part of my body that really hurt for the first few days were my coccyx and my arm and shoulder, the parts of my body I had been pushing on in the bath with each contraction. I was amazed at the difference!
So there you have it, my very positive second birth story, successfully at home with just paracetamol and water as pain relief. It showed me the power of being in an environment you feel relaxed in and just how amazing our bodies really are. The whole thing felt pretty animalistic doing it on our own with no interventions, not even an examination but I guess in our modern age with so many technologies and medical know-how, it’s easy to forget that this sort of thing is possible. I feel really privileged to have experienced such a natural birth with the amazing peace of mind that medical help was so easily accessible if I had needed it. We are praising God for our second baby to make it out of the womb and are constantly seeing how his abrupt arrival matches his character in so many ways.
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