A Father’s Telling of an Illinois Home Birth

Chris & Elisa Marchand, Peoria, Illinois, 2013


This is reposted with permission from Chris Marchand’s blog PostConsumer Reports.

These thoughts, which have since been revised, were written after the birth of our second child Micah Joseph with some additions after the birth of our third child Isaac Mathieu, born on July 14, 2013. (Note: words related to birth and sex and human anatomy are used which might make some uncomfortable. The author assumes his readers understand such things and acknowledge their part in life.)

The Birth Story: Section I: Behold All Things Are New
Never have I felt more powerless. And never have I felt of less use.

We just had a baby. Or my wife Elisa did, in our home, without medication, completely naturally, in the water, and I got to be there and see the whole thing.

We have been on a tremendous journey. My wife has been down to the depths of despair in her womanhood. She’s been questioning God and not understanding why so much bad stuff happens to her. Why couldn’t we have had Elliot (our first born) naturally? Why was she forced into a c-section? Why did I get cancer?–I’m sure there are other whys. Even in the last few weeks she has done a lot of questioning. She had a lot of pre-labor like she had with Elliot, which essentially messes with you emotionally, mentally, and physically all at the same time. So she would start having contractions but they would not go anywhere and would eventually fizzle out. Then she would have to go to work the next day, like everything was normal. She began to give up hope, thinking that her body would never go into labor, and I know all along she was thinking about the worst case scenario of having to go to the hospital and have another c-section, again having her dreams shattered. She was really starting to believe that she was not able to give birth, as if her body was not even capable of it.

It’s amazing how our scales adjust to our own circumstances–our own subjective experiences–and not to the experience of others. We have a friend who we just heard went through her second miscarriage. She’s gotten pregnant twice and miscarried twice. Is her despair deeper than Elisa’s or did they both endure the same amount of despair but adjusted to their individual experiences? Is their grief quantifiable? Because I’m thinking, as paranoid as Elisa was about going into birth, still we got pregnant each time on basically the first try (actually, with the second pregnancy we were not even trying) and she carried the babies for nine months with basically no health problems. Thus her lot was pretty good. So where does that put our baby-less friend? Surely her lot is worse than my wife’s. Even so, despite having two miscarriages, she has not carried two babies to full term and had all the plans she made for the first baby dashed upon the rocks of medical intervention. Pain and despair are hard to measure compared to the volume of a liquid or the profits and losses of a company.

But anyway, Elisa had no idea what was going on with her body until she woke me up at 5 a.m. on Wednesday morning and told me she thought she was in labor; that if this was not labor she does not know what is. I only half believed her. There had been so many false starts, I did not know what to believe. If this was not the real thing, I certainly was not happy being woken up at 5 a.m., especially when Goober (i.e., Son #1) needs as much sleep as he can get and risks being woken up with us rambling about the house. But I did get up (after she came back 25 minutes later to remind me it was go-time) and I held Elliot for an hour while we waited for her mom to come get him.

Elisa stood at the sink or sat on the toilet and took each contraction as they came. I knew she could do it. I knew she was strong. And four hours later (9:22 a.m.) we had a new life in our lives–Micah Joseph Marchand, a boy, 7 lbs. 8 ou. 20.5 inches tall.

But the facts will never convey what this day actually meant. This was a victory. This was redemption. Vindication. This was a making new of all things. This was the day my wife got back her womanhood. She overcame. She rode the tidal wave of each of those contractions all on her own strength until that baby came. She endured until the end and showed people that this can be done and that it can be safe; that hospitals are not necessary and “safer”, and that a woman can do this on her own without all the drugs and gadgets that modern medicine can offer her (bing!). This was a new day for Elisa and it was a new day for us as a family.

After she finally got me out of bed Elisa called her doula and then her midwife. While we waited I got the pool ready, turned on the music, and lit some candles (I’m very important!). Malory (our doula, or female slave/servant) got there in about an hour, but we had to wait significantly longer for our midwife to arrive (for very practical reasons). Our midwife’s assistant got there much sooner and started taking down notes of what Elisa was going through and gently but forcefully telling her not to push too hard too soon; that we needed to wait until the midwife got here.

All of this was happening in our home. Elisa woke up in the middle of the night with contractions in our home. She laid on the couch and paced around the living room until 5 in our home. She sat on the toilet seat and threw up in our home. She got into the pool in which she was to labor for the next 3 or so hours in our home. She brought our son into this world in our home. No crazy car rides to the hospital. No hysterical running trying to find everything we needed for our hospital stay. No worrying about parking and making sure our doctor was going to be there. No getting an IV put in. No making sure we had a room. No water breaking in the car, ruining the seat. No nurses constantly in and out. No machines beeping. No stale hospital recycled air. No heart rate monitor with its perpetual printout making us constantly worried about baby’s condition. No weird people we have never met hovering around us asking us the same questions over and over again, poking, prodding. We were at home and we were safe. We were in the hands of professionals, but it was in our own home.

There was a time when the midwife (after she had arrived) looked at her assistant and made a circle with her forefinger and thumb, about the size of a quarter. She had been putting a small circular mirror underneath Elisa–who was kneeling in the 2.5-3 foot deep kiddie pool–during each contraction. I did not know what this circular signal meant. Surely her cervix was more dilated than that? On the next contraction our midwife said, “I”m seeing a little bit of black,” and I looked down at the mirror on the bottom of the pool and saw black too. This was my baby’s head. We were that close. I did not realize this was going to happen so quickly. Now I knew that three weeks of pre-labor and of not knowing what her body was doing meant for a relatively quick real-labor. Her body was rehearsing hard for the actual performance.

This was exactly what happened with Son #1 (Elliot Christopher), but that time she was denied the experience of letting her body go through actual labor. Our midwife thought he was getting too big and that we should induce. Now we know if we had only waited, her body would have eventually kick-started into gear and Elliot–although 1.5 pounds bigger and likely resulting in significantly more tearing–would have come out the old fashioned way.

The Birth Story: Section II: A Man’s Role

Little by little Micah descended down, the opening in my wife’s vagina getting bigger, more and more black hair showing through. It was in these moments that I began to feel very very useless, as if I had hardly any role to play in this event at all. Backing up a few hours to when our doula Malory arrived, I was so relieved. Not only was she an experienced doula/birth assistant, but she was also a woman who had given birth to two children of her own. Emphasis on the woman. Having given birth before was important, but in my mind it was even more important that she was a woman, and I, being not a woman, had infinitely less connection with Elisa, and was thus infinitely less useful, simply for my non-woman-ness. Malory immediately seemed to know what to do, which, admittedly was not much, but her not much was so much more than my not much, because she was in tune with Elisa and could read what she was going through.

Sometimes Malory would look at me as if to say, “I’m here to do whatever you need me to do, but I don’t want to overstep your bounds as the father/husband/labor coach.” I wish I could have non-verbally insinuated with bulging eyes, “Look, I have no idea what to do. I’m afraid that if I touch my wife or say the wrong thing to her that she will literally jump out of that pool and pin me to the ground. On the other hand, if I do nothing I’m afraid that either she won’t have the courage to go through with this or afterwards she will say that I failed her somehow during the birth. So, I really feel conflicted here. Why don’t you just take over and do everything, and I’ll just sit here quietly for moral support.” I am not that good at verbal communication though, especially when I am scared and in a situation I have never been in before.

As her labor progressed I would interject words of encouragement at certain points, but the words felt forced, as if it were my sole duty to encourage this baby into being born, but encouraging someone when you are in your own state of panic is not usually effective. Afterwards, Elisa told me she was glad I did not talk very much; that she knew if I tried to say too much I would only trip over my words, get nervous, and thus make things more stressful for her. She said that it helped her the most knowing that I was sitting there next to her, being silently supportive, being her rock. She did not like it when I would get up to refurbish the pool with hot water–this would stress her out considerably and make her feel unsupported in the void, as if my silent inanimate presence in the room with her was invisibly giving her strength. I was her Aaron and Joshua holding up her arms on the mountain while the Israelites fought, except that I was not touching or holding her; my very presence was all that was required. I was relieved that she had said this, knowing that I had actually fulfilled my duties as her husband by essentially sitting there and doing nothing. (Actually, there was a few times during the birth that our midwife told Elisa the cervix or birth canal or whatever was like a flower that needed to relax and just come open so the baby could come out. I could never have used imagery like this and actually be sincere with Elisa. And I know Elisa would never have taken something like that seriously if it was coming out of my mouth. But when the midwife said it, it made sense and I think it truly helped her in those moments.)

So, as the ratio of men to women in the room became 4 to 1 (Elisa, doula, midwife, assistant, and me) I soon began to feel like an outsider, as if I was a guest that was merely allowed to be there and not as a key member of the group. I began to grow keenly aware of a somewhat clichéd phenomenon known as women’s intuition. Let me just say that the women’s intuition in the room was palpable. I felt like I was sitting in on a sacred moment that women have been sharing with each other for centuries, a transcendent female moment where I was fortunate to even be allowed in the room. I felt truly useless, and I mean that in the most positive way possible. This is the way things should be. Women should help other women bring babies into the world. Not middle-age men in white lab coats. I felt like there was nothing I could do, I could only be there and observe. It was these women–including my wife–who were going to bring this baby into the world. I was of no practical use and that was a good thing. There was a part of me that wanted to shirk responsibility, to not get too involved so I don’t mess things up so I’m not held responsible if things go wrong. But the rest of me knew something greater–that I really should not get involved–that it was not my place anyway.

But see, this is not how it should have happened. I was a certified birth coach and I had the laminated card in my wallet to prove it. If a woman went in to labor on an airplane and someone shouted “Is anyone on the plane a birth coach?” I could have with confidence and resolve stepped up and delivered that baby. I had been through Bradley Method labor training, I had gone through numerous mock-labor reenactments, I had read numerous times the stages of labor and birth, and I had the script ready in my head of all the things I needed to say to Elisa during and in-between each of her contractions. But none of this mattered during actual labor when the women stepped into the room and I became a wet-nosed novice; my clinical head-knowledge of little use amid centuries of instinct and tradition and connection between women. I have seen videos where other fathers played a much more pivotal role in the birth of their children, talking to and touching and being present with their wives to a far greater level than myself. I would have done this as well if it were what my wife needed and what she wanted, but that role simply was not required of me; she was fine on her own and with her women.

The minutes went by and Elisa’s contractions began to get more spaced out. In fact, right before our midwife made the circle signal with her forefinger and thumb is when I noticed that Elisa was not having as many contractions. Less contractions however, meant more pushing and more of an urgency to get the baby out–at least as far as Elisa was concerned. A few times she panted, “I don’t think I can do this much longer,” and other times she asked simply “How much longer do I have to do this?” It was at one of these kicking against the goads moments, when we could see about 3-4 inches of baby’s head reflected in the mirror, that our midwife said, “It’s minutes not hours until you see baby. Minutes, not hours.” Later, Elisa admitted this helped her through the final stretch.

Months before the birth we knew we had selected the right people to be a part of this event. Elisa knew before me, after one of the first meetings we had with our midwife. I knew later, after meeting our midwife’s assistant and finding out she would be attending the birth. I began to feel like these were people we could be comfortable with; that we were safe in their hands. These are intangible feelings. How can one know how the situation will actually happen the day of? Elisa had many misgivings about her midwife leading up to Elliot’s (# 1’s) birth. We should have known as soon as she suggested we induce the birth that she was bad news, that she was leading us down a path we should not go. But we felt helpless and were scared and did not know what to do except follow her (there was one other eleventh hour option we could have went with, but decided not to). Elisa’s first pregnancy certainly did not culminate with an epidural laden, c-section nightmare after 34 hours of labor, to be followed by a burst open incision, breast feeding troubles, weeks of thrush, a colicky, sleepless baby, and postpartum depression just because she was induced, but I know we could have avoided a lot of it if our midwife had lead us down another path. The present people however, with us for birth #2 were different; we knew somehow they would lead us home safely. The same could very much be said for our doula–a woman who is intrinsically laid back but actively sensitive to the needs of others.

This sense of security culminated for me right after our midwife arrived that morning and she very quietly told Elisa, “God will give you strength to get through this.” A statement such as this already has the potential to be painfully clichéd; a sentimental nothing whispered to appease but not really help the suffering; a platitude that is the stuff of $2.50 greeting cards. But in the right hands it can be a statement of power, a life giving statement that sees someone through to the very end of a very great achievement. I began to cry and to know that I was in the midst of greatness. A great event and a great group of women. This woman (our midwife) was going to help Elisa become whole again. God had brought her into our lives for this purpose.

But still, Elisa had to do the pushing on her own. “You’re going to have to give me more than that,” the midwife said after the baby had crowned, his head was out, and he was still stuck in Elisa at the shoulders. At this point Elisa very desperately wanted this to be over–in fact I think she thought it was over. So in a state of utter fatigue and yet complete ferocity she gave one last push, emanating a huge guttural growl. It was all she had left. She was mad! She wanted this baby out and out it plopped into the water. Our midwife was right there and caught him. Since Elisa was on her knees and had essentially hiked our new baby through her legs like a football, we had to help her flip over so she could sit down and hold him since the umbilical cord was still attaching her to baby. Once flipped over she quickly grabbed him and they put towels on him to keep him warm. It all happened so quickly that we still did not know what sex he was. Elisa just held him and cried–transformed. I cried too. I could describe it as beautiful but it’s not enough so I’ll just leave it at that.

The Birth Story: Section III: And so the woman bleeds between her legs

There is another story to tell about birth, one that under-girds, precedes and lingers on after the narrative of the birth day. It is the story of what drives us together and compels towards the journey of bringing a human life into the world.

Every month when she is of age the woman has pain and bleeds, until she does not, all so she can prepare for the biggest pain and the biggest bleeding of her life. But the pain and the bleeding is not the end. When a couple has sex for the first time they share a confused kind of pleasure and the woman (if it is her first time) bleeds this time too and usually has pain, despite the pleasure. They have sex to experience the pleasure but within the act itself they cannot escape the pain, for the pleasure within sex is also not the end. And so it is with giving birth. There is much pain and much bleeding and oddly enough–when the woman is fully present within and without herself during birth–much pleasure. A complete full mixture. They are completely intertwined. Endorphins and hormones rush in to replace the pain and an inimitable desire to connect with her child washes away the anxious chaos of the previous moments. The ensuing days will be filled with more bleeding, a lingering fatigue, and lots of aching, but every time she looks at her new child the joy rushes back in. The surprising pleasure of giving birth gives the mother strength to endure the coming seasons of motherhood which will again supply her with many pains as her children age, again all mingled with many pleasures.

We were young once, my wife and I. Drawn together through insatiable attraction. Desire and curiosity, social convention and design. I think it can be said with some evident truth, that anyone who has birthed a baby out of her body is no longer young despite age or outward signs of maturity. The man is different for he has to endure many trials of fatherhood before his young-ness is refined away, but the the mother herself sheds her girlhood right there in the hurried moments when she bears down and through her own body passes a new life into being. A few years have passed since our first child was born so now I, along with my wife, are no longer young; the weight of our adulthood is firmly resting upon us, despite the fact that there is much more to come and that we still look very young to a significant portion of the population.

It began in a state of self-centered innocence, in the simplicity of wanting to be together, to know each other. And so the woman let the man in, knowing, yet not fully realizing that the man’s burst of pleasure in all likelihood will lead to her drawn out pain. After we lose ourselves in the ecstasy of sex comes the unforeseen responsibility of becoming parents. We cannot escape this despite the conveniences of our interventions; it is our lot.

And so I stood there in my own home, now at the birth of my third child (Isaac Mathieu) behind my wife holding back my two older children who wanted to get a closer look and be next to mommy, stood there as she half-squatted over a liquid absorbent medical pad while a thick stream a blood streaked down her leg. Stood there knowing I had done this to her because I had wanted something from her all those months ago, something that only she could give, but also knowing that she wanted this too, that she embraced the pain and embraced the bleeding, embraced the new life ahead. This was her life and her life was our life together. She knew the consequences, understood the cost, and knew what she would have to endure. And this was more than acceptable to her, the pain was more preferable than not going through with it at all. She bled for me, for our baby, for herself, and for our family. And out of the blood came new life.

If we could but realize this truism, if only they were the first and primary lessons we learned when starting school. That everything worthwhile in life will bring you difficulty, that the most important things and most pleasurable things are the same things that will bring us the most pain. Surely there is a way to make such a lesson palatable to children. How odd that the most pertinent truism for maturing humanity is the one that is least talked about. Surely we idolize our pleasure too much, neglecting how God has put us in bodies that are capable of knowing pain just as much as pleasure. We are so caught up in experiencing the next pleasure that we live in denial of our true natures, causing us to resent God when made to face our default state: embodied creatures who must endure pain in order to know pleasure.

I am proud to be the father of my children, but even more so I think I am proud to be the husband of this strong woman, my wife, who in her strength, with prolonged determined courage gave our children life. And so may it be for all our children and for all our mothers who in love embrace the pain and pleasure that comes with the journey of motherhood.

Thank you for sharing your Birth Story.

4 Births Document a Changing NHS (1954-67)

Anon, Gloucester, 1954-67


I was born in 1931 and married in 1954. I am the fourth of five children, and we all grew up in Sheffield during the war, so things were never easy for any of us, what with bombing raids and evacuation and rationing! I left school when I was eighteen, after Higher School Certificate, and then trained in Liverpool to be a physiotherapist.

After I qualified, I applied for a job in Gloucester, as there was a good train service between there and Sheffield, where my parents still lived. Happily, I was accepted and worked in a general hospital, in every department in turn, including maternity. I shared a flat with a friend and we enjoyed being independent, going to parties and dances, just having a good time. Two years later I married an architect.

My husband and I rented a rural cottage in which there was no electricity, so we had Calor gas for cooking, refrigeration, ironing and some lighting – otherwise oil lamps. There was no mains water, but we had a pump over the sink, that we had to operate by hand. This brought up the water into a tank, so we could flush the loo and have a bath. Of course that meant a lot of pumping! There was a pond in the garden with ducks on it. Romantic maybe, but very basic, but then practically no-one lived in centrally heated homes in those days, and many had outside loos. As our loo was inside, that was luxury indeed!

FIRST BORN

Anyway, I became pregnant, no problem in getting pregnant in our family. The GP confirmed it when I started the morning sickness. Unfortunately that turned into morning, noon and night sickness! Hyperemesis gravidarum. I became so dehydrated that I had to be admitted to hospital to be put on a drip. That started as a rectal drip, and was followed by a drip in my arm. I had also lost a lot of weight. I felt there was little sympathy for me from the nursing staff, but I did improve and was able to return to work. One odd side effect was that I could not bear to drink tea! And I so loved my cup of tea normally.

It was normal to have your first baby in hospital so I was referred to the consultant obstetrician, when about five months. The baby was due in early January. He examined my tummy and then asked if I was sure of my dates. He then arranged for me to have my tummy X-rayed. Yes, really, X rays of the baby!! Two X-rays were taken, front to back and side to side and then I was told that I was having twins and shown the X-rays. Two little knobs for heads and two strings of beads that were the vertebral columns! That was a surprise! However was I going to manage two babies in our primitive cottage? No scans in those days! I just about managed to keep working till I was almost six months pregnant and then we had to start thinking about our future with two babies. In those days if you were pregnant it was assumed that you had finished working and had to resign. No Maternity Pay or the job kept open, and no Family Allowance for the first baby.

My sister and I shared maternity clothes and carry cots, so we just had to buy one and I could borrow hers. She had just had her first baby, a boy. I seemed to spend the next three months sewing baby clothes, knitting matinee jackets, buying dozens of terry towelling and muslin nappies, cot bedding etc. etc. We managed to get a second hand twin pram. I had to rest more and more, but it was all going to be worth while as we were getting two for the price of one! The babies were due early in January, but I was told to prepare for them to be premature. That seemed unlikely as I just got bigger and bigger. It was very cold that December, and for the first time ever we would not be enjoying a family Christmas with my family in Yorkshire. Those babies were not in a hurry to leave their cosy home to enter the cold world. Despite all the resting my ankles swelled up so that getting shoes on was very difficult. The bed was put up on bricks at the foot to elevate my legs at night. The local Midwife was also the Health Visitor, so she too was keeping an eye on me. She was the best nurse I have ever met. More about her later. I saw the consultant just before Christmas and he decided that I should be admitted just after Christmas for induction, and certainly for more bed rest and salt free diet!

So my husband and I had a chicken for Christmas dinner, went to watch the hunt on Boxing Day and I went into hospital on 27 December. I looked enormous and weighed in at 12 stone. I was told I had toxaemia – now called pre-eclampsia. As a former staff member I was given a room to myself.

It was imperative that the birth was induced. I was getting quite excited that soon I would see my babies. They had been very active inside me for months and I felt I knew them. Would I have a couple of footballers or ballet dancers, or perhaps one of each?

To induce the birth I was given a cup of castor oil with orange juice to flavour it. Apart from opening my bowels in a big way, nothing else happened. Continue the bed rest and salt free diet. The only doctor I saw was a junior doctor doing his six months experience on a maternity ward. On New Year’s Eve he decided to ‘break the waters’ so I was taken down to the theatre and he poked around for ages before saying he was not able to do it. It was very unpleasant, but in a way I was happy that I might not have one baby in 1955 and one in 1956! Castor oil again! Diarrhoea again. Still no babies.

Wednesday was the day the consultant did his rounds – the only day! On January 4, he came to see me and told me he would do the induction himself. Back to the theatre that same afternoon. He very quickly broke the waters of the first baby, and soon after that I went into labour. I was taken to a different room for this first stage and left there on my own. I had read all the books and practised all the relaxation exercises, so when it became very painful, I thought something was wrong. Occasionally a midwife popped in to see if I was O.K. and I was assured that all was well. At that time husbands or other family members were excluded. In any case, no-one could take time off work just because their wife was having a baby, either for the birth or other visits.

It was not too long before I was taken into the room where I was to give birth. I was absolutely thrilled that soon I would meet my much wanted babies. As far as I remember there were two midwives and the same junior doctor. I had taken off my glasses – I am very short sighted – and they had put them on the nearby locker. Unfortunately, someone knocked them off the locker and broke the lens, which was, of course, made of glass, so my vision was very limited.

At 10.15p.m. my first son was born, cried lustily and was immediately removed to be weighed and washed. I vaguely saw him before I went into labour again. The placenta came next. Just twenty minutes later his brother was born. As my glasses had been broken I could only dimly see that they were doing things to him and it was very quiet – no cry from the baby. Everything was a blur in every way. After a time, someone came to say that they were sorry but I was only going to have one baby. The first boy weighed 7 lbs 7 oz and his brother was just over 7 lbs. The second placenta came away and then there was the stitching up to be done. The same junior doctor had my legs put up in stirrups and proceeded to do the necessary stitching without a local anaesthetic! No wonder I was so shocked that my leg came out of the stirrup and hit him on the head. Serve him right!

I did not hold my healthy baby till much later and the second I never held at all. This has haunted me all my life. I had felt him move, I had seen him on x-ray, I had grown to love him and he was taken away when I had scarcely seen him. His name was Peter, after my grandfather.

I was wheeled back to my room. The soiled sheets (after the induction) had not been changed, but I was past caring. It was very late, and I was exhausted, physically and emotionally. I was alone. Some one phoned my husband and he was asked to come and see the consultant the next day.

Apart from when I was in the delivery room no-one expressed their sympathy. Perhaps none of the other nurses even knew that my baby had died as they handed over his brother for his feed. The babies were kept in a nursery. I had no problem breast-feeding him. My tummy had reduced considerably and I now weighed 9 stone, a reduction of 3 stone overnight! That was one stone under my normal healthy weight. With over 14 lbs of baby, the end of my sternum had been pushed forward and had to be pushed back by the doctor.

In those days the stay in hospital was two weeks, ten days of which were totally in bed. The nurses swabbed us down below twice a day. The baby was produced for feeds and then removed. One day my son was given to me for feeding with the binder round his tummy all bloody. By now I was sure he too would die, but whatever the cause it healed up fine. No-one mentioned the twin brother or seemed to be aware of how unhappy I was. The care was all about the physical side of things and was very good.

Meanwhile what was happening to Peter. Someone spoke to my husband (not me) and explained that a post mortem had to done to find out how a healthy full-term baby did not survive the delivery. He was also asked what his wishes were for disposal of the baby. Disposal was the word used! When he asked what was the usual procedure, he was told that an undertaker could put him in a grave somewhere when there was an interment, but we would not be able to choose where or when. He was also told he had to register the birth and still birth.

We discussed this together and decided that our son should be buried properly in our village churchyard in a proper coffin. It was all so difficult. Being happy that our other son was alive and well made it emotionally challenging. The Rector of our parish was leaving the village on the Saturday, so did not visit me. There was no service to the maternity ward from the hospital chaplaincy, and it did not seem that the midwives were trained in the necessary counselling. They had enough to do dealing with delivering babies and looking after the mums’ physical needs. It was decided that Peter should be buried on the Saturday, so my husband, with the undertaker and the Rector took the tiny coffin and Peter was duly buried in the churchyard, in the place where other babies had been buried in the past. There were no other mourners present.

The result of the post mortem was that there had been a tentorial tear. This was bleeding on the brain due to damage during the process of being born. This was probably because the second baby was pushed rapidly from higher in the abdomen to the birth canal and the soft bones of the skull were compressed rapidly causing the haemorrhage. Had the bleed been less severe he might have survived with brain damage – either cerebral palsy and/or learning difficulties.

The thought of one baby being fit and well and his twin being handicapped was certainly food for thought. I assume midwives are aware of this possibility and take measures to ensure that a second birth is not precipitate. My over-riding thought was that I would never again give birth in that hospital. The midwife I remember who showed kindness, was the one who realised I was producing enough milk for two. Even after I had expressed milk to be given to a premature baby, I could scarcely get my arms to my side. She arranged for me to have a few of the pills given to suppress milk production. So then there was milk for one and that was fine by me and my son.

The emotional challenge was profound. We needed to grieve over the death of Peter but at the same time rejoice over the survival his healthy brother. It still causes me problems.

Our first born son grew to be six foot three. He lives in London and has a very good job. Whenever we meet I see the shadow of his twin brother beside him. He too is very aware that he is a twin.

One other point. All multiple births were in hospital. That week there were three other sets of twins born. Two of the others had only one who survived and one stillborn. The mother who had healthy twins did not want them, did not see them, and had put them up for adoption. It was so sad. Had this happened in 2013, it is likely there would have been an inquiry. It just seemed to me that it was acceptable then.

SECOND BIRTH

We moved into the house we had built nearby when our son was about six months old. Now we had electricity and running water. When he was about fifteen months old I was pregnant again. More morning sickness, but not quite as bad. We went back to stay with my parents, my toddler and I. My mother ensured I was fed and my father entertained his grandson, or was it the other way round. Hyperemesis is accompanied by low blood pressure so that I could fall over if I stayed upright for very long. And I had the same dislike for tea. How stupid!!

As soon as I was fit enough we returned to Gloucester to the house we had built. The Health Visitor who had looked after me at home after the first baby, was also the Midwife for our village and surrounding area – Nurse Salisbury. She would deliver my second child – at home this time. It was she who took my blood pressure and did all the other ante-natal things including giving me iron injections into my rear – the most painful injections I have ever had. Apart from the pain, my bottom became brown from the iron! At that time the Community Services were managed from the Shire Hall. District Nurses were allocated a house. They were very much part of the community.

After those few weeks of sickness, I was very well. By seven months I felt I could play hockey for England! Not that I was any good at hockey! My firstborn was a very energetic boy, could climb up everything and open windows, even climb out of them and go off on an adventure, across the field or along the path by the road! Good thing we lived in a bungalow! We had bolts put at the top of all outside doors. He had been born in early January and his sibling would be born at Christmas, nearly two years later. The midwife (Nurse Salisbury) gave us a Delivery Pack of the things needed for the delivery. Around the corner a neighbour was also due to have her baby at about the same time. At about 6.0 a.m. on Boxing Day I was aware that I was going into labour so my husband duly rang up the midwife. However there was no response. I was putting the milk bottles out and I realised that there was a light on in my neighbour’s house – the one who was also having a Christmas baby. There are no street lights in our village so it seemed to me that it was possible that our midwife was busy there. My husband phoned their number and discovered that we had guessed correctly. Fortunately, that baby had been safely delivered and the Midwife was just finishing things off. Soon she arrived at our house but apologised that she did not have a clean apron to put on. There was no question that she would stay and deliver our baby, despite the fact she had been out much of the night. It was a very cold frosty night and morning.

Number one son was taken to another neighbour’s house until the birth was over. All was going well until it was realised that the rather large baby (for me) was somewhat stuck! He was not presenting with the narrow part of the head but the widest part. Nurse Salisbury phoned the GP to suggest I was taken to the hospital for emergency admission. His reply was that as it was Boxing Day morning everyone who was not drunk would have a hang over and that he would come out to our house right away, which he did. His surgery was three miles away, but there was no traffic at that time of the morning on Boxing Day. As the forceps were being boiled up in the kitchen, son number two eventually made his way into the world, somewhat battered, as was I, but he had avoided the forceps! He weighed in at 8lbs 12oz.

My uterus had had enough and was unwilling to push out the placenta. It seemed to me that the doctor and the midwife were jumping up and down on my tummy very hard to persuade it to come out. Success at last. Stitches again, but this time there was a local anaesthetic. It is a good thing that bed rest was still the order of the day because I could not have walked to our toilet. In fact I could not wee at all, so a catheter was used to make me comfortable.

Both the baby and I were somewhat exhausted, but at least we were alive and cared for by an excellent team, in whom we had confidence. And now we had two sons. The aftercare and Health Visiting were still by Nurse Salisbury.

In those golden days Social Services provided Home Helps who would come and stay in our home to look after existing children, and generally run the home for two weeks – a Resident Home Help. My mother up in Sheffield had a full time job and in those days husbands could not take time off work, so this service was invaluable. We had to pay a modest contribution to the County Council who provided the service, but it was much appreciated.

THIRD BIRTH

Two years later, I was pregnant again. There was the inevitable morning sickness for about ten weeks. The family rallied round again. Because the previous babies were large for my pelvis, nearer the time the baby was due, I was sent to see a consultant who agreed that there should be an induction, and that I should go to the hospital, have the waters broken and still have the baby at home. I had no intention of having the baby in that maternity ward! So about two weeks before the due date, on a Wednesday afternoon, my husband dropped me off at the maternity unit, the waters were broken with no problem, and I sat on a towel all the way home. We put the boys to bed and it was then time to call Nurse Salisbury.

At about 10.0pm our daughter was born and I could hear my husband on the phone to my parents with the exciting news that we had a girl! My sister had two boys and this was the first girl for the family. Actually my sister had had a third boy, but he died shortly after birth. She lived in the Midlands. Her baby was born with a severe heart problem probably caused because she had been exposed to German Measles (Rubella).

Nurse Salisbury pointed out that it was premature to ring the wider family as the placenta had not yet been delivered. Meanwhile as my uterus had gone on strike again, she had to ask the GP to come out and gave me the magic injection that enables the placenta to be delivered. I can’t remember the name [an oxytocic drug]. I was told that this had to be given by a doctor as there is always a risk of haemorrhage.

Again he did the stitching. At that time most GPs enjoyed being involved with the delivering of babies. Nurse Salisbury later told me that it was a good thing that the baby was delivered early as this was a face presentation, and again a fairly big baby – 8lbs. For both home births my husband assisted the midwife whenever she requested help.

Again I had a Resident Home Help. I was spared the iron injections but the baby was considered to be anaemic so she had to have iron drops by mouth. No brown bottom for me but now the nappies were brown! I had a job protecting the baby from the loving attention of her big brothers. One day I had put water in the bath (the big one, as that could not be knocked over) and the two year old helpfully brought the baby from her carry-cot for her bath carrying her by her feet!! It’s a miracle she survived the loving care of her brothers.

You can see how we liked Home Delivery in those days. Our own GP, our own midwife, all the comforts of being at home and someone to do the chores. Having a baby in the house with two energetic big brothers was exhausting, memorable and a wonderful thing. Six months later the eldest started at the village school and that is another story!

FOURTH BIRTH

In 1967 when the children were aged eleven, nine and seven, and all attending the village school I was pregnant again. Again morning sickness and very low blood pressure, but again that passed with time.

The NHS had moved on. Home births were no longer the norm. I was over thirty five and so an Elderly Multigravida!! Nurse Salisbury had moved away. There was a new Maternity Hospital. Reluctantly I agreed to have the baby there. I had to go to the clinic at the hospital for check ups, which was not easy with a restricted rural bus service. It seems the Hospital had no access to the records held by the Shire Hall, so I had to explain what had happened on previous occasions. The consultant saw me and decided that the baby was not particularly big so induction was not needed. Unfortunately, iron injections were!!

Near the time of delivery I got bronchitis and coughed so much I had a haematoma over my tummy as it was so stretched. Antibiotics sorted that out. The Thursday of the week the baby was due was Local Election Day, so the children were having a day off school as the Polling Station was in the school. In the early afternoon, the second son had been down to the village shop on his bike, had fallen off and broken a front tooth. Then I realised I was in the early stages of labour, so rang up my husband to come home urgently.

He bundled everybody into the car and took me down to the Polling Station to vote. He then dropped me off at the maternity hospital and took son number two to the dentist. He then had to give them all their tea. I did not waste time in labour. I was alone until the delivery stage was reached, though a face looked in on me every now and then. Our third son was born at about 7.00 p.m. And I was immediately given the injection to ensure the placenta came away. This son weighed just 8lbs. One doctor and several nurses saw me when I arrived, and then there was a change of shift and different staff appeared. I was given a room to myself, which was nice and prepared for a good rest, which I felt I needed. I was then told that as an experienced Mum I was expected to look after the baby myself! And I was told to have a bath each day. That rest did not last long. I cannot remember how long the hospital stay was expected to last, but there were problems at home. Two of my children had tonsillitis, so I was not allowed to go home. Apparently Staphylococcus (cause of tonsillitis) is a danger to someone who has just had a baby. My eldest son was allowed to visit with his father. I was up and about, but not expected to get dressed. I was set to work taking round the teas and other little jobs. Very boring and frustrating.

At last it was considered safe for me to go home and I looked forward to presenting the baby to his siblings. Our daughter was vaguely interested, but my second son, a football fanatic looked at his little brother asleep in the pram, and commented, in disgust, that he was not much use for playing football. I’m not sure what he was expecting!

So there we have it. Eleven years between the first and the last, and how things had changed. I felt that being in a maternity hospital was just like being on a conveyor belt as you were passed along the line from person to person. It was impersonal and mechanical.

I have watched with interest the TV programmes based in Maternity Hospitals. All those probes and connections to machines. The staff seem to be extremely pressured except when they are having a well-earned cup of coffee in the nursing station. I am always surprised that the TV births recording stops when the baby is born! No messy afterbirths or stitching up these days apparently. No painful breasts. I am delighted that nowadays the mother is given the baby to hold immediately after it is born. No matter that the baby is messy.

IMPROVEMENTS BETWEEN 1956 AND TODAY

  1. More involvement of relatives in the delivery. The person in labour can have someone to talk to and encourage her. Midwives are freed up for the more skilled tasks. This has also meant a social change. Employers are expected to allow their staff off work to be present at the birth of their babies. Men are beginning to be fathers in the real sense. (There are exceptions!)
  2. Safer on the whole. Problems can be foreseen and understood.
  3. Doctors qualified in Obstetrics available all the time. At least I hope that is the case.
  4. Involvement of the Hospital Chaplaincy when needed.
  5. A bereavement room in some hospitals, I am not sure how that would work with a parents who have one live and one dead baby.

NOT SO GOOD

  1. There is the loss of the personal touch and continuity of care both at clinics and on the ward, but maybe that does not matter if the Mums are sent home in twenty four hours.
  2. Controversially, extremely premature babies are being kept alive, with high potential for permanent handicaps, which can destroy their parents and families.

Thank you for sharing your Birth Story.

“Fathers Were Not Allowed at Delivery in Those Days”

Doreen Aston, Gloucester, 1971-79


My first child, a son, was born in the consultancy unit at Gloucester Royal Hospital on 10th August, 1971. It was found I had a cyst at the neck of my cervix and as a precaution I went to a specialist wing for delivery. On 9th August my waters broke and I went into hospital. Labour didn’t progress until early next morning. I was then taken to delivery suite at about 6pm and put on a drip. This speeded up labour, also making me sick.

I went to theatre where my son was delivered. They then dealt with the cyst which did not interfere with normal delivery. I was stitched up after some time. All I wanted was a cup of something to drink but they were too busy cleaning up and I had to wait until much later, My son was born at 11pm. I was taken up to the ward after my husband had arrived to see his son. We had a short time with him before they took him off to the nursery.

***

I had a daughter born also in Gloucester Maternity Wing. She was born 19th August, 1979. We had been watching horror movies until later. I had a few twinges on going to bed about 1am. A couple of hours later on going to the bathroom my waters broke. We drove to hospital and on admission I had a bath to help labour along (no joy). They put me on a drip which didn’t work very well as it wasn’t in the vein properly. Labour then progressed rapidly and within 13 hours I had given birth to a perfect baby girl.

The midwife who delivered her it was her first unassisted delivery and all went well. Dad arrived 5 minutes after birth (as fathers were not allowed at delivery or [vaginal] examinations in those days). To the ward and sleep.

Thank you Doreen for sharing your Birth Stories.

Keep Calm & Push

Gill Williams, Surrey, 1986


My younger daughter was born at home on the 23 November, 1986. I hadn’t booked a home birth and certainly didn’t want one. I wanted a clinical, sterile, safe environment, filled with lots of doctors and nurses on stand-by in case anything went wrong (not normally pessimistic but had a rather harrowing forceps delivery with the first).

I had been having very very mild twinges during the morning, which as my baby wasn’t due for another 4 weeks, I put down as Braxton Hicks. However, as we were going to friends for lunch that day I thought I would just ring my midwife to check before we set off down the motorway. She was just advising me to take a warm bath when I suddenly experienced a very bad pain (aka contraction) and dropped the phone. “I’m on my way now” came the reassuring voice and true to her word she arrived approximately 3 minutes later (well okay, she did live just over the road).

“Okay, then” she said calmly “Lets get you upstairs” – easier said than done as by now contractions were coming thick and fast and I couldn’t move. She used all of her 4’10” to hoist me up the stairs and into bed. She examined me and asked my husband to call our doctor and tell him to come as soon as possible. She told me that the baby was on its way and did I want to watch (damn the fashion for mirrored wardrobes). I told her I did not and wanted to go to hospital. She laughed as she slid open the wardrobe doors away from my line of sight.

A few minutes later my daughter made her entrance into the world. My midwife called down to my husband, who was on the phone trying to get the doctor, to let him know what was happening. He rushed upstairs. “Is the doctor coming” she said to him. “No” said my husband “I was speaking to his wife but as the baby’s arrived I told her not to worry, we didn’t need him”. Mmm.

Our doctor arrived a little while later looking slightly harassed. He said he had he had had to treat his wife for shock before setting out to look for the midwife’s car as he had no idea which mother to be had gone into labour. He had fortunately spotted the car outside our house. Lucky she brought it as living just across the road she could have so easily walked but thankfully her equipment was in it.

Anyway all’s well that ends well and we had a beautiful, healthy, baby girl and a very grateful mother and father.

Thank you Gill for sharing your Birth Story.

A Traumatic Birth Experience Shared

Libby, Reading, 2010


Here it goes: have you got a cup of tea?!

I went in at 14 days overdue to be induced. Pre-induction tests showed decelarations [slowing] in my baby’s heart rate about which the midwife was concerned and she asked the on-call doctor/consultant if to do a caesarean section. The doctor said no, as although it was a slow rise in her heart rate there was progression.

I finally got induced at 2am and went to the ward without Dave, my partner, due to visiting hours. Contractions started irregularly but often that day, but I was having a slow progressing labour. The consultant came round and said to my midwife, “She’s going to end up going 17 days over at this rate and that cant happen”.

Anyway the day wore on and the Propess [medical pessary that softens the cervix and causes uterine contraction] fell out (lovely). The plan again by another doctor was to place another Propess to try and get me further along. This happened and more traces were done which showed more decels. This time a doctor was consulted again by my midwife about them, but me and my midwife’s concerns were dismissed. The next morning a doctor came round to do ward visit. He hadn’t looked at my notes and midwife said what she had to say; he dismissed me, he didn’t look at me, didn’t acknowledge me, just said “Carry on with the induction”.

I raised my concerns with him about my baby’s decels and he turned to me in quite an aggressive manner. He shouted that everything was fine and I should carry on. I said what the consultant the previous day had said about being 17 days overdue and he shouted something about that fact it did not matter. I then said about a caesarean section, at which point he got my notes and my baby’s heart rate trace papers, and one by one threw each paper at me shouting “Healthy baby, healthy baby, healthy baby”. He threw the rest down and tried walking away. My partner then stepped in and the doctor’s manner changed in an instant. It was as if he had no respect for me as I was a woman. When a man said something he was full of manners.

Anyway this day wore on and her decels were worsening: more traces, no sleep since the night before I came in to hospital (the first night I wasn’t on ward till 4:30 and I couldn’t sleep with worry, the 2nd night a woman in labour nearby was very noisy and the 3rd night my contractions were awful), more worry. Dave had to stay 4 hours after visiting stopped to hold the monitor on as her heart rate was worrying, and they were trying to get me to the delivery ward but they were full.

I should have been on delivery suite 12 hours before I actually was but they had no space for me. This meant I had a choice of paracetamol, a warm bath or a pain relief injection for my contractions, whereas if I’d have been on delivery suite I’d has been able to have everything for pain relief.

Dave was sent home at 2am. At the 6am rounds they checked her heart rate again and this time it was scary. So I was bundled to delivery after a quick phone call to Dave to tell him to get his backside to delivery as I was told it would probably be a caesarean section.

I got to delivery and the consultant said “Carry on”, while in the room with the consultant I also had 3 midwives  present: 1 leaving her shift, and 2 new on shift. The one who was leaving said after the consultant said “Carry on”, whilst shaking her head, to the new midwives “Let me know how this turns out as I think I can already guess”, and then stormed out the room. The other midwife later asked me to get a second opinion, I did but he [the other doctor] agreed.

By this point I’d had on epidural put in, which failed as it wasn’t put together right and the second attempt didn’t work on my left side. Towards the end of my labour I was pushing and her heart rate was terrifying. I was dozing between each contraction as I’d been in labour around 51 hours at this point and been pushing for 1 and a half.

I then woke up to find a doctor roughly and aggressively examining me without my consent to do so, as I was asleep. I believe the awful, hideous term going round now is ‘birth rape’. It’s a vile term and could be named something better, but it’s what the new name is. I was then told she was facing the wrong way and my ONLY option was forceps – the one thing I really didn’t want. I think they’re inhumane, brutal and barbaric. I asked for a section and was turned down again for it. I had been asking all day as had my midwives. I was rushed to theatre as they thought they’d need to do a section if the forceps failed.

Willow was born at 7:20pm on the Tuesday, my 17th day overdue and after 52 hours plus of labour. She was born blue/grey and not breathing. She was rushed to the resuscitaire initially, and then resuscitated again at 8 minutes old. She was shown briefly to us before she was taken to the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU). Whilst most mums have their baby to hold, I didn’t even know if my baby was alive. It was horrific. The lead consultant then had the audacity to walk in and say “All went well then, congratulations”. I think going back to that moment now I think if I could have I’d have hit him there and then.

I was then put in my own room to recover as I was a bit poorly too. I asked so many times, over and over, if someone – anyone – could call up SCBU and ask how she was and NO ONE did. Not one person. Five hours later a lady from SCBU came down to see me and ask what formula she could give my daughter as she was screaming for food. My reaction was “She’s alive?” and yes she was. Dave went to go see her then, as I wasn’t allowed I was still poorly. I was alone in a room without my baby, being deprived of my first cuddle, first feed, getting her dressed, everything. Because they refused to listen and i was bullied into forceps she was bruised all across her face. I was left with an episiotomy which healed ‘too well’ and needed corrective surgery a year on. Woman are the hosts to babies, it doesn’t matter what happens to our bodies.

It gets worse. I finally got reunited with my 6lb 11oz daughter at around 2:30/3am and we spent around half an hour together as a family before Dave was told to go home and Willow and myself were taken to the ward. I’d had little 2 minute dozes between contractions by this point since the Saturday. This was now 3/4am on the Wednesday. I repeatedly tried to get help breast-feeding, of which there was none. The day wore on no help, no aftercare, nothing; my catheter leaked and no one cleared it up. There was blood on the floor from another woman which had not been cleaned up. It was a dirty horrible ward with few staff who did nothing to help.

The Wednesday night, was just awful. I was so emotionally physically drained. Dave had to go, and I called for more help breast feeding as she wasn’t latching. A midwife at 1:30am came along, put her on my boob and walked away. Within a minute she had unlatched, and wouldn’t go back on so I used my little finger for her to suck to sooth her (dummies were NOT to be used on ward a midwife had shouted at me earlier that day). The same midwife came back and she wasn’t impressed; Willow’s head and face was bruised, yet she grabbed her head, pushed her face into my boob, squeezed my boob and hurt me, slapped my hand out the way every time I tried to use my finger to sooth Willow, as she was never going to latch as she was in hysterics. The midwife then shouted at me, “You’re failing at this, you formula feed, what formula you feed your baby?, you’re no good you fail”. I cried “SMA” [formula brand] to her as she walked away and she came back with the formula – that was the end of my breast feeding. I texted Dave saying what an awful mother I was, that I was no good for her.

I’d had NO sleep for 70 something hours apart from a few 2 minute dozes. Next day I was home at 8:30PM. Throughout  my labour I was mainly left alone. There was no support or care, no help as to managing my contractions etc. It doesn’t stop there.

A ‘Birth Reflections’ group meeting with my consultant revealed that Willow’s medical notes were wrong, so to this day we cannot guarantee what happened in SCBU to her, if she was given drugs or not we don’t know. A friend of mine also worked in SCBU and she appears to have breached my patient confidentially and I am awaiting an NMC [Nursing & Midwifery Council] hearing about this.

Another quite HUGE thing was when transferring me from the theatre table to the bed, when using the PAT slide, someone wasn’t holding me and from the waist up I was about 2 inches away from slamming my head on the floor. I’d just had a forceps rotational delivery, an episiotomy, 2 epidurals and a spinal and they dropped me. They had to grab and hoist me up, probably hurting their backs in the process as I’m not a little woman! I had fingerprint bruising on my arms and side from where they’d grabbed and pulled me.

I never tried to breastfeed again and didn’t even try with my son. I’ve got back pain and nerve damage, and am terrified of hospitals. I had to have the Fenton’s procedure [operation to remove scar tissue and widen the vaginal opening] to repair the scar. I’ve been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.

Due to staff shortages the ward was filthy, I was left in blood soaked sheets and our requests for them to be changed were ignored twice; my partner ended up taking the sheets from the cupboard and changing them himself. We had no support with our newborn even when we asked, we were repeatedly told by one midwife that they were too short staffed to stay in the room with me meaning I was left alone when I should have been having regular observations [blood pressure etc].

No one even told me I had had an episiotomy or how to care for it, which I find is the reason for me needing the Fenton’s procedure. There was blood all across the floor in the bathroom which stayed there until the next day. My daughter had massive bruises on her head from the forceps. The aftercare was non-existent and I was dismissed by a Health Visitor with “How dare you think about it, she’s alive get over it”.

Thank you Libby for sharing your Birth Story.

If you have been affected by this story, see our Resources section for help.

“Never Take Away the Wife’s Gas & Air!” – Our 1st Father’s Story

Steve, Worcester, 1995

This is our 1st ever Father’s Birth Story!


As the father, this will be short and to the point. Our first was born February 10th 1995 and I can remember every detail.

“I think my waters have broken” said Eve.

“How do you know” I replied.

“Just look on the floor”…..

Stating the blindingly obvious is a trademark of Eve’s and missing the obvious is a definite “man-thing”. From the onset of labour until delivery took nearly 24 hours and certainly wasn’t pain-free but I did learn a huge lesson.

“Shouldn’t you only breathe in the gas and air during a contraction?” I stupidly asked Eve.

“Arghhhhh” she replied.

I then attempted to take the gas and air mouthpiece away. Big mistake! No wonder our second child didn’t arrive for another three years. I reckon the Gas & Air bill for that day would of been enough to lift a few dozen Hot Air Balloons!

All in all, I found the experience of childbirth educational but certainly didn’t want to attend the second. The father/partner is expected to be there for the birth which I found difficult, is this a 20th Century imposition?

BUT being a father is the best thing that has ever happened to me and I would not change it for the world.

Thanks Steve for sharing your Birth Story.

Four Birth Stories: 1945-1962

Frances, Staffordshire, 1945-1962

This birth story comes from an amazing 91 year old lady – my Nan. She wrote this to me in a letter and I’ve typed it up here.


I have jotted down a few details about the birth of my children. I do hope you can understand them, gosh how times have changed, I don’t think mums would be kept in bed for 10 days now. There was no pain relief except chloroform in my days, & no National Health. We had to pay for the midwife & extra if a doctor was needed, lucky that your Dad was the only one I had to pay doctor’s fees for.

1st baby. July 19th 1945 – Home birth

12 hours in labour unable to bring baby myself. Midwife in attendance had the doctor out who gave me chloroform and delivered baby boy with forceps. I had lots of stitches, baby’s head was cut & bleeding from forceps. Baby weighed 7 1/4 lbs. Was given enema while in labour. In bed 10 days.

2nd baby. April 14th 1951 – Nursing home birth

About 14 hours labour. Easier birth. Was given warm bath & water enema. Baby girl weighed 5 lbs (Jaundice). I was in bed 10 days. Normal birth, doctor & midwife in attendance. Doctor delivered baby.

3rd baby. February 7th 1956 – Home birth

12 hours labour. Midwife in attendance sent for doctor. Given enema. Doctor came and delivered baby girl 6 lbs. In bed 10 days. No pain relief given.

4th baby. October 9th 1962 – Home birth

Long labour. Doctor came, had difficulty delivering baby girl 5 1/2 lbs. Bed rest 7 days. No pain relief given.

Thank you Frances for sharing your Birth Story.

Fathers’ Experiences of Birth Trauma

I’d like to share an interesting article from the Independent newspaper about one father’s traumatic experience of his partner’s birth of their baby daughter. I think fathers aren’t often considered when it comes to birth stories and birth trauma, so this is definitely worth sharing and discussing.

If any fathers wanted to share their birth story of being a partner here, they would be more than welcome.

Thanks,

Emma

Changing Times for Three 1980s Births

Helen, North East England, 1980-84


My stories are spread over 3 children, and I must say the experience improved over the time [1980-84]. Maybe I felt more in control, or just that I knew what to expect, and that I could cope?

It was the small changes that I felt also made a big difference. The pretty gowns instead of hospital scrubs – I was not ill, just having a baby! The low, soft lighting – it was a normal, happy process not a hospital intervention. The nurses on hand to help with feeding when my baby wanted to feed, not to some ward timetable. I was consulted about what kind of a birth I wanted and where.

These changes all occurred over a period of just 4 years, and not that long ago! The date? 1980-84. It was a much gentler experience for me and therefore for my last baby, and we both benefited from the change. On line story gathering like this can only help to continue this improvement to maternity services.

Thank you Helen for sharing your Birth Story.

Surprise DIY Home Birth!

Ruth Clark, Colchester, 1997


The players:

Me – Ruth
Adam – my husband
Ben – the star player
Eddy – our 2 year old son
Sue – my midwife
Julie – my other midwife
Maggie – supporter for Ruth and Adam
Kerry – supporter for Eddy
Daniel – supporter for Eddy and also my brother

My first birth experience hadn’t been as I had hoped. [See Ruth's first Birth Story here]. Due to a premature footling breech [foot first baby], my plans for a homebirth had been well and truly scuppered. So this time round I was twice as determined to have my baby at home. I was delighted when I discovered the baby was cephalic [head first] (a perfect LOA [Left Occiput Anterior position]) and ecstatic once we got past that magical 37 weeks. In fact I was really excited about going into labour, no worries about anything, this was going to be good and everything that my last labour wasn’t. My NHS midwives were supportive and we got on really well.

I was woken on 14 January at 5am by Eddy, who was crying. As I went in to see him I noticed a slight discomfort in my lower abdomen that was coming and going, I put this down to wind. After dealing with Eddy I went back to bed and listened to him singing and talking to himself until he went back to sleep at 6.15am. All this time I was aware of the abdominal discomfort, only slight but enough to keep me awake (I am a light sleeper).

At 6.30am I decided that I needed to open my bowels. I thought I would feel better after this but I didn’t, if anything I felt slightly worse. I wondered if, as this was 6 days before my due date, these were contractions and decided that if they were they must be Braxton Hicks [practise contractions].

At 7am I got up and fed the cats (all 7 of them). The contractions were now coming about every 10 minutes and were getting stronger and longer but were easily bearable, I just breathed through them. I now also noticed a lower back pain but still did not think that I was in labour. At 7.15am I needed the toilet again, this time it was much looser and I noticed a show. I wondered if this was the real thing as there were now four signs but I was not convinced.

At 7.30am I thought that maybe I should wake Adam. I told him I thought that I might be in labour; he said ok and did I need him and then he went back to sleep. I decided I’d better phone the other people who were due to come over. Kerry had just got home from working a night shift and she had taken a sleeping tablet and was about to go to bed; she was not going to miss this for the world and set out to walk across town to our house. Daniel was on his way to work so I couldn’t get hold of him. Maggie did not answer her phone (it was broken), so I rang her partner’s mobile; he was half way across the country but managed to get a message to Maggie via relatives who live nearby. I got hold of Daniel at 7.55am, I told him there was no rush as he wanted to go elsewhere on the way.

By 8am Adam was getting out of bed. I met him naked at the top of the stairs, through bleary eyes he told me he needed to go to the toilet; I told him in no uncertain terms ‘I need to go first’. And once again I opened my bowels. My contractions were now very close together.

At 8.05am, still sitting on the toilet, I had the first really intense contraction. It was very different to the previous ones, which had all been really low down and opening out type contractions. This one was from the top of my uterus, a really strong pushing contraction. My first thought was that this shouldn’t be happening yet, I couldn’t possibly be at this part of my labour as I hadn’t had the painful bit yet. However my body was pushing and there was nothing I could do that was going to stop it.

I then decided that I needed to do my hair (which is down to my waist), so I unplaited it and asked Adam for my hairbrush. I also decided that I needed my TENS machine [pain relief device] on; it was far too late for this but it seemed the right thing to do at the time.

After two or three more contractions I put my hand down between my legs and could feel something sticking out! I lifted myself off the toilet seat and asked Adam what it was, it was the amniotic membranes bulging out and was about the size of a grapefruit. At this point I decided that I needed a midwife rather urgently. She was the one person that I had omitted to phone when I made my calls earlier so she didn’t ever know I was in labour.

Adam went downstairs and called the labour hotline, he asked to speak to Sue, the person on the other end told him that she was a community midwife and he would have to call their office. He came back up to me moaning about this and how useless they were; ‘did you tell them that I am in labour?’, ‘oh, no’. He went back downstairs and tried again.

At 8.25am Sue phoned back. She heard me shout out at the next contraction and suggested to Adam that he should be upstairs with me. I then shouted down that I could feel the baby’s head. Sue said that she would phone back in two minutes once Adam had put the phone on the extension upstairs.

I instinctively kept my hand on the baby’s head from when I first felt it. The next contraction came and the head moved out a bit and then back in again. Adam bought the phone upstairs and began to spread a groundsheet on the floor so that I could get off the toilet. As he finished doing this I had another contraction. With this one my waters broke, out came the baby’s head followed by his body. As I delivered my baby I lifted myself off the toilet seat, bought him up between my legs and cradled our second son in my arms as I sat back down again. Adam looked round and folded the groundsheet back up again. Then the phone rang, it was Maggie, Adam asked her the time, so we now knew our new son had been born at 8.30am.

Almost immediately the phone rang again, it was Sue expecting to talk Adam through the birth, he just said ‘listen’, she heard the cries and asked if we were ok. She also asked if we wanted to call an ambulance or just wait until she got there. As we were fine we said we would wait and she said that she would get there as soon as possible. I offered baby my breast but he nuzzled at my nipple for a bit and then went to sleep.

At 8.35am Eddy appeared in the bathroom doorway, he looked at me sitting on the toilet and said “Baby” and then came to join us. Adam got a big towel to wrap around baby and me to keep us warm and then decided that he’d better get some clothes on before everyone arrived (he’d had no time to dress up to this point and I had been wearing his bathrobe). I then asked Adam to take some photos while the cord was still intact. Kerry arrived first and took some photos of all four of us, she then looked after Eddy.

At 9am Julie arrived. She had got dressed in the dark in a hurry and was wearing pink socks with her dark blue uniform and she had also been stopped by the police for speeding on her way to me (they let her go as soon as she explained the situation). As the cord had stopped pulsating, I was happy for her to clamp it and Adam cut it. Baby was then wrapped in another towel and Adam had his first cuddle while Julie helped me off the toilet and onto the floor. Adam then put baby on the floor so that I could lean against him while the placenta was born. While I was waiting for the placenta I noticed my window cleaner cleaning the bathroom window! At 9.10 I had a contraction and felt the placenta move down. Two minutes later I had another smaller one with which the placenta was born. Julie examined me and told me that I had sustained a small tear, which I decided not to have stitched. I stayed sitting on the floor while baby was checked and weighed, he was 7lb 12oz.

By this time Daniel, Maggie and Sue had arrived; Sue was later than she had hoped because she had skidded on ice and put her car into a ditch. At some point another midwife arrived but I have no idea who she was and she left once Sue got there. Maggie ran a bath for me and made drinks for everyone. Adam stood on our back doorstep to have a cigarette and shook a bit (poor chap still hadn’t been to the toilet). I took baby into the bath with me where he had his first breast feed for about 20 minutes. Eddy kept coming up to check on us and look at his new brother.

I was then dispatched to my bed ever though I felt full of energy and not the least bit tired. I wanted to tell the whole world what a wonderful experience I’d just had; it was a total contrast to Eddy’s birth. I was far too energetic and high to sleep, so Adam bought me the phone so that I could call all our friends and family to tell them the news.

It really was the most wonderful and empowering experience of my whole life. I thoroughly enjoyed my labour and birth and I wasn’t the least bit worried or frightened about birthing my baby without a midwife in attendance. It was so natural and instinctive. All we needed now was a name for our son. One helpful friend suggested Lou! And Eddy offered Mr McGreggor (he’s a big Peter Rabbit fan). Our baby was three days old when we decided to call Ben.

Thank you Ruth for sharing your Birth Story.