I found the first 12 weeks of pregnancy terrifying, my previous experience made me completely paranoid and every twinge made me worry. By the time I had my 12 week scan I’d all but convinced myself that my pregnancy was eptopic. I’d fallen through the system and my referral to the hospital took weeks to get through. I’d opted for St Thomas’, despite it not being my closest hospital, as I’d heard good things about the facilities and care.
When I was 11 weeks pregnant I received a call from Gemma, she introduced herself as part of the valley midwife team. As my 12 week scan was due I met Gemma in the hospital an hour before my scan. We talked through some of my family history, how I was feeling, my phobia of needles, and that Gemma was also expecting. She made me feel so at ease about my pregnancy, I wish we’d been in touch sooner. Given my phobia of needles she talked nicely to the nurse who was taking my bloods before my scan and convinced her to take the extra blood tests that she needed too.
Our 12 week scan was amazing, to see our little one sleeping at first then start spinning around was a feeling like no other. Gemma was waiting for us afterwards, we finished off a few forms and then I headed home with my husband, clutching our picture and talking about how lucky we were to have Gemma.
We only met Gemma one other time before she went on maternity leave, my care was then passed on to one of the other midwives in the team, Jess. And she was with us through the rest of our pregnancy.
I relaxed a lot after our first scan, and Jess helped me to be far more practical about my pregnancy. She’s a really caring person, but has so much experience and such a pragmatic approach that I think she’d make even the most scatty mother to be relaxed. I met Jess for most of my appointments and attended the postnatal classes run by the team, of which she led a few. Through the classes I met, and got to know, quite a lot of the rest of the team.
Unfortunately, despite my phobia, I needed regular blood tests as my platelet count was low, Jess worked with me to overcome my fear of needles – another thing I’ll be eternally grateful for.
Around the start of my third trimester Jess talked to me about where I wanted to give birth. This was something I’d not really considered before, assuming that of course the answer was in hospital. But she got me thinking about the possibility of a homebirth. My husband and I attended one of the valley teams talks about homebirth, I read a few books, and looked into hypnobirthing. With her help I decided that I wanted a homebirth – something which shocked a lot of my family and friends. This is a decision I never would have come to had it not been for my relationship with, and absolute trust in, Jess.
On my due date I had my bloods taken again and my platelet count had taken a dip over the 2 weeks since my previous test – prior to this they had been low but fairly stable. They’d reached a level of concern and the following day I received a call to say that the haematologist wanted to see me in a couple of days time. By that point I would have been 4 days overdue and was pretty convinced that if I went in I wouldn’t be coming home until we had a baby in our arms.
Operation get the baby out began in earnest. We went for a long walk, had some pretty uncomfortable sex (not the easiest thing with a 9 month bump), and went for a curry. And at 4.30 the following morning the twinges started – I’d love to say that ‘operation get baby out’ had been successful but would imagine this was coincidence and I would have gone into labour then regardless.
My contractions ramped up fairly slowly over the next 4 hours, we managed to get in an early breakfast before they got too intense. Despite this they weren’t regularly spaced and hovered at around 5 mins. Around mid day I called Jess to let her know that I was having contractions but that it would probably be a while. When we’d spoken about the haematologist we’d been advised that if I went into labour over the weekend that we’d need to go into the hospital – I however was still keen to have a homebirth if we could. So Jess came out and ran some emergency blood tests, and recommended some things I could do to speed things along – my contractions were very intense but still irregular. The tests got sped through and Jess was back to us within a few hours. Although my platelets were still low the hospital were happy that the other clotting agents in my blood would counterbalance it. Jess left us to discuss our options and we decided that we’d go to the hospital after all. Jess decided to check me to make sure we’d have time to get to the hospital and we were all pretty surprised to find I was still only a couple of centimetres dilated. She suggested a bath to either give me a break or to encourage things along. She came out to us again before heading home for some sleep herself, letting us know that Lia (another member of the team we’d both met a few times before) would be on call through the night. By 11 in the evening the contractions were still irregular but I’d started vomiting. We called Lia. She came out but her examination only found me a centimetre further along – with a lot of comforting, support and advise she left me on my side in bed with my husband beside me monitoring the regularity of contractions – we were like this for hours, we didn’t sleep but neither did we talk, we just lay together in the dark holding hands whilst he kept track and I tried to rest.
It must have been about 4 in the morning when my husband finally said he was going to call Lia. Her examination this time found me 6 centimetres – I’ll never forget how relieved I was. From that point Lia stayed with us. I wanted to stay at home for as long as possible, so instead of going into the hospital straight away Lia brought some gas and air in and gave me the most amazing 3 hour back massage.
By the time I was at the stage to push Jess was back with us, but it was also 7.30 on a Monday morning. Having Jess there gave me the confidence I needed to decide I’d rather give birth at home than travel, during rush hour, to the hospital. Having spent time with me and my husband she was also able to support him when, having gone downstairs to inflate the birthing pool he discovered it had a puncture, quickly putting plan B (the bath) in to action.
It took over 2 hours of coaching, reassurance, and my husband feeding me bits of kit Kat before Jacob was safely in my arms. Jess and Lia gave me the time and support I needed to have a natural birth in the environment I felt safest. They were only able to do this because of the relationship that we’d built over my pregnancy.
Jess and Lia stayed in the house for a few hours after the birth. I’d made brownies through my early contractions which they brought up to us with cups of tea before leaving us to have some family time whilst they tidied and completed paperwork – their presence reassuring but in no way intrusive. Before leaving they helped me shower and made sure I was comfortable feeding our new little person. Reassuring that they’d visit regularly over the coming weeks.
And this was a reassurance, early in my pregnancy I’d been identified, due to family history, as being at high risk of post natal depression. I was really worried about it and it’s something Jess and I discussed regularly when we met. When my husband was with us we also talked about potential indications that I might be struggling so that he could help make sure I got the support I needed if I needed it. Knowing that Jess and the rest of the team were there if I needed them, and were checking in regularly, really helped – especially when I received a letter from the council saying that the health visitors were busy and wouldn’t be able to visit for at least a few weeks.
It turns out September is a very busy month for babies, but despite this I got so much support – not always from Jess who was often called to homebirths – but always from a team who knew about me, my pregnancy, my birth and my worries. I struggled in the early days and I’m not sure quite how I would have coped without the support they were able to offer.
I didn’t actually realise how lucky I was until I started talking to other mums. It turns out that this isn’t normal, and not by a long stretch. Others were surprised that I knew the midwives by name. That I always knew who I was going to see. That I had so much confidence in them that I had a homebirth for my first baby. That they continued supporting me and popping in for a cuppa if they were around for weeks after I’d given birth. It turns out that, what seemed so natural and a part of their care, is not normal practice. And this astounds me. I’ll never be able to fully express the difference that this made to me and my family, but for those who haven’t experienced it, there is a better way, a much better way, and everyone deserves the support and care that was extended to me through this amazing team of community midwives.