I love third-time mum Léonie Cormack-Cook’s home birth story – totally inspiring and such a fun read
They say that your third baby’s birth can be a bit of a ‘wildcard’, and won’t be as quick as your second birth – and this was true for me. I was hoping that this home birth wouldn’t be harder or longer than the home birth of my second son, Arthur. His birth was very quick – he was born 5 hours after my very first surge; the midwives estimated 3 hours ‘active labour’.
Xanthe’s home birth couldn’t have been more different – and yet, both births were very straightforward home births and water births with no tearing and just a little gas and air near the end.
So – my daughter Xanthe’s birth was longer than my first son Sammy’s birth, 10 years ago. 10 years exactly, because Xanthe stole Sammy’s thunder and arrived on his tenth birthday! But despite the longer labour and the fact that I was exhausted before labour even started, the day was absolutely fantastic and her birth was more memorable and, weird as it sounds, more enjoyable than the other two. Truth be told, I feel quite sad that I won’t be doing it ever again (but not sad enough to have any more children – three is enough!).
The exhaustion was thanks to the ‘false labour’ surges that I had the previous night – mild to moderate surges every 20-30 minutes that stole my sleep. I also kept visiting my kitchen, and ate a record number of carbs during the night. But my surges halted at 6am, and Phil went to work. Then the following night, the ‘real’ thing started at around midnight. “Brilliant!”, I thought, She’ll be here by breakfast time!”.
But – she wasn’t. Which was just as well, because it was really special seeing Sammy open his 10th birthday cards and gifts over breakfast while I breathed through my surges, which were getting stronger, but were still only about 10 minutes apart. That is something I’ll never forget. Sammy and Arthur were completely unphased by seeing me in labour! Phil drove Sammy to school and dropped Arthur to my parents’ house.
Phil had gotten up around 5am to inflate the birthing pool and put plastic sheets and towels on the sofa. I’d spent the night listening to hypno tracks on and off and drifting in and out of sleep between surges. We called the birth centre at around 6am just to give them the ‘heads up’ for my home birth.
At around 9.30am I decided my labour must surely be established enough to get in the birthing pool. Phil lit some candles and we put on our silliest favourite comedy boxset, Green Wing. It seemed almost funny to be lighting candles and watching telly – these are the kind of things you talk about, and I hadn’t really had the head space/time to think of doing such things during my last home birth. Between surges I kept eating- I was starving! Again, eating is something I’d read you should do in early labour but hadn’t been able to think of doing previously.
When our midwife Lydia arrived I felt a flush of disbelief when she examined me and explained that I was only 4-5cm dilated! A whole week before I’d been 2-3cm already when I had a stretch and sweep. But I decided straight away to not let this news dishearten me – besides, it was very clear to me now that this labour was chugging along at a much more relaxed pace than my previous one – I was totally lucid, whereas I was completely inside my own little bubble and unable to move or really talk during Arthur’s birth. Lydia was also really encouraging and explained that my remaining cervix was fully ‘effaced’ and paper thin, and that if I got up on my feet and walked around the added pressure would get things moving.
She was right. Every time I got to my feet, surges came in much more thick and fast. Phil was brilliant, semi supporting me to stand. I often stood in front of him, facing away from him, leaning my head back on his chest (he’s tall!) while he supported the weight of my bump with his hands. I felt really supported by him through my whole labour, like we were doing it ‘together’ and Deborah’s short hypnobirthing course definitely helped so much with this.
But as I mentioned, I was already exhausted. And I’d been on crutches and in a wheelchair with severe pelvic pain for much of my pregnancy, so I couldn’t stay on my feet for long. Lydia was wonderful, and emphasised that there was no rush, and got me to lay down for half an hour, just to rest. Sure enough, my surges backed off. This baby obviously needed some gravity to guide her in the right direction! Funnily enough, although I had feared birth taking a long time, I felt very positive and relaxed. During this longer, less intense home birth, I thought a lot about the journey that my little girl and I were on together, at the end of which we would get to meet each other, and how amazing an incentive was that to keep going in great spirits! The best part, in retrospect, was that Phil was very much on the journey with us. Whereas in my previous labour, I was journeying in a little lonely bubble, and didn’t even really think of my baby.
Another two midwives arrived at some point! You might have thought three midwives (one was a student) would feel a bit much, but they were a lovely team and didn’t crowd us.
I got back in the pool at some point. I had spent some time on all fours leaning against the sofa, and was starting to feel some pressure around my coccyx, so felt truly confident by now that labour WAS in full swing. I had read somewhere the ’mooing’ could help with this part of labour – so I started making a weird deep groaning sound, which amazingly seemed to engage some muscles that eased the discomfort I was feeling around my lower back. Magic mooing! I think it was at around 4.30pm that the midwives wanted me to get out of the pool and examine me. I didn’t really want to get out, and I knew I was heading towards being fully dilated because of the sensations (this part of the labour now reminded me more of Arthur’s, and this and the fact that they were fussing over the exact water temperature and getting out all their gear for when the baby arrived made me excited because I knew I would meet my baby really soon!). I know I could have told them I didn’t want to be examined and I think the main reason they wanted me to get out and do all the other things like take my pulse, temperature, etc. etc. was to give the student midwife some experience in NHS box-ticking. But I decided it would be good to get out and get vertical for a few more minutes in any case.
I was 9cm dilated with just a tiny bit of cervix left. Before I got out for them to check me, I had a really funny sense of stepping outside of myself, while at the same time going within myself totally – there was a few minutes total break from surges, and I briefly had mild nausea and asked for a sick bowl (I wasn’t actually sick though) – both signs of passing out of the transition, just before the ‘pushing’ phase, I thought, like I was an outside observer who knew just what was going on. Also, just before this, it was the one time in the whole labour that I got annoyed, and stated I’d had enough of being in labour now, and that I didn’t want to do it any more! Even as I said it, I knew it was such a typical thing to say just at that point in labour.
When the surges restarted I asked for some gas and air, and enjoyed getting well and truly high on it, feeling like I was totally floating through the surges, even though some of them were ‘double’ ones by now. Soon enough I could feel the urge to bear down and I decided I had better stop taking this gas otherwise I’d be far too stoned! I seem to remember it being rather hard work but not taking long before my waters broke with a big sort of inaudible ‘pop’, rather like a balloon bursting. I felt really confident and so excited at how soon she was going to be born! I just kept focusing on how close we were. After her head was born, it felt like there was quite a wait until the next surge – which was very weird, because I could feel her twisting around changing position! Next surge – out she came! I reached down and fished her out of the water and lifted her up onto my chest, which was so wonderful. I felt completely engaged with what was going on, and so connected to her right away.
After a few minutes of cuddling and talking to her in the pool, Phil cut the cord, and I climbed out, then sat down on the sofa to try to feed her right away. I was especially keen to do this, as I had found the delivery of the placenta a bit stressful at my last birth, as I was made to feel like I was on a timer, and that getting the placenta out was the priority, rather than me having time getting to know my baby. But this time the midwives were great, I was able to relax and she tried to feed. I’m sure all the visualising I did about delivering the placenta quickly and safely really helped, as that is exactly what happened. Incidentally, I just realised I’ve hardly mentioned the elements of hypnobirthing I used through my birth – it almost slipped my mind because it came so naturally, all the practice I’d done meant that the techniques had become instinctual.
Throughout my labour I kept using the breathing techniques, and if I was finding a surge overwhelming I kept thinking “My body knows what to do, just let go and relax” – I kind of gave responsibility away from myself to my body, which really helped me relax. But most importantly, I think all the positive affirmations I had practised meant I didn’t feel overwhelmed by anything, just calm and positive.
Two hours later, I had both my little boys back home, just in time to light candles on Sammy’s birthday cake, and for us all to sing “Happy Birthday” to Sammy and his new baby sister Xanthe Hazel .