Birth Stories: How my baby arrived exactly the way she wanted to!


When I was 8 months pregnant, my husband and I decided we wanted a home birth. We had a wonderful midwife who made a brilliant case for it and lead me to realize that I had a say in my delivery. In fact, as I first set to write down my birth preferences, it dawned on me that my child’s birth could really be whatever I wanted it to be.

I come from France, where tradition has it that pregnancy must be treated as an illness, and birthing as an emergency situation involving hospital, obstetricians and the almighty epidural as a standard procedure. I had never been comfortable with the idea of an injection strong enough to numb me from the waist down, and hospitals in general freak me out. The thought of giving birth at home, within reach of the kettle and the chocolate cupboard, in a big pool of hot water, sounded so good it made me chuckle and feel terribly terribly naughty – a bit like skipping school and nipping to the fun fair instead. Yet my super midwife was absolutely supportive of this whole cheeky plan and encouraged us to get prepared for it, which we did with increasing excitement.

Suddenly child birth was no longer a necessary evil to get over and done with, in the quickest, least painful way – it became an event in its own right, a unique moment to look forward to and hopefully enjoy while it lasts.

But when we moved house, we had to meet a new team of midwives. I was 36 weeks by then, we had just started our Hypnobirthing course and I was more relaxed than ever about home birth, and indeed birth in general. Unfortunately the same could not be said of our new midwife. When I mentioned our project to her, she turned bright red in the neck, started looking very nervous and went into graphic detail of how a birth can go wrong and why a first-time mum should go straight to delivery unit as we don’t know “whether her body can do it”!!!

At that stage I looked like a balloon and it already felt like it bloody well could. But she terrified me nonetheless. Thank god for the Hypnobirthing course, which proved invaluable in confirming what I suspected, that giving birth is a normal function of the body, and like any other function will be performed easily, given a chance.

The poor nervous midwife did apologize later on for sounding so alarmist, and tried her best to sound more positive, but there were more hurdles to come. In spite of knowing that a first pregnancy tends to last longer and that in France they count 41 weeks not 40, as my due date approached, I became increasingly anxious to go into labour. I knew as the date drew nearer, and eventually went past without anything happening, that safety-minded NHS midwives and obstetricians would start staring at my belly and threaten me of induction, reminding me that I could stay pregnant only at my own risk, and telling me about the 200% increased chance of a still birth if I went even a minute past 42 weeks. The more sympathetic ones would venture a little encouraging comment – “hopefully labour will start before next Thursday” – but I am a slow girl in everything I do, and I was dragged out of my mother womb at EDD+17 days, so I could feel deep down that Arielle, like her mum, would only make her way out when she saw it fit and not be rushed out.

And I was determined not to let anyone try to shake her into action. Even so, the increasing pressure I felt to deliver, quickly became unbearable. I would wake up at night crying, grappling with unhelpful thoughts, thinking I would never go into labour, that I would fail, that it must be something inherited as my own mum never experienced labour neither for me nor for my little sister, and generally working myself up to a state of sheer panic.

The worst was that apart from these bouts of anxiety, I was feeling great. I was very fit, trained Capoeira until 9 months (my French doctor had threatened me with premature birth if I kept on training; although by then I had definitely proved her wrong, I still nurtured the hope that cartwheels might act as a trigger. As it turns out, they don’t), and had it not been for the due date, I would have been quite content to keep my baby in for many weeks to come.

Two days before week 42 I had to go to the hospital and meet an obstetrician, allegedly to discuss my options and book in for monitoring sessions. And there again it was Hypnobirthing that saved me from insanity! Our trainer had warned us about the pressure we would be likely to face from the NHS if we reached that stage. What we experienced was a text book illustration of it all. The obstetrician was a big stern man with a huge moustache and a Russian accent so strong we could barely understand a word. As soon as he read out my EDD, the good doctor declared I should be booked for induction on Thursday morning, and started browsing his diary for a free slot. AH!!!

With my patience running thin, I tried to get him to be more precise about all the risks he was threatening me with. All he had to say was that there isn’t much information on how risky it is to go over 42 weeks, since most women don’t risk it precisely. A bit of a chicken and egg situation. He added that this was the speech he was meant to hold, and that he personally didn’t really have an opinion on the whole business, that some Asian women could be pregnant for 45 weeks, but that whatever I decided would be at my own risk. Risk risk risk risk risk. And always one-sided, no one ever seemed to mention the risks incurred by the induction, the failure rate, the increased risk of complications, and so on.

To add insult to injury, I accepted an internal examination. I nurtured the wild hope that they would gasp and start and declare I was 8cm dilated and the head was coming out. That is how much faith I already had in my soft, pain-free labour! But classically, my insides did not show the slightest sign of labour, and I came out of my interview totally despondent. Both Paul and I were even half-persuaded to accept the induction, if that was the safest route for our baby. Fortunately, our doula wasn’t just queen of positive thinking. She was also very well-informed in a scientific way and unshakeably supportive of our homebirth plan. It didn’t take her long to put us both back on our feet and anyway, there still was every chance that Arielle would feel ready anytime soon and spare us the painful decision at hand.

And so she did!

On Wednesday morning, I woke up feeling very regular surges, every half hour. Neither intense nor painful, but steady, and I wasn’t expecting much pain any way. By the early hours of Thursday, I felt absolutely confident that labour had started. My tummy was getting hard every ten minutes or so, and it felt time to call our doula, inflate the pool and give the midwives notice. When they asked me on the phone, quite out of the blue, if I wanted an aspirine, I ticked another Hypnobirthing box and chuckled to myself. After weeks of dreaming of the big blue pool, the soft colourful lighting and the perfume diffuser in our living room, after yearning for my labour to start for so many weeks, I felt so elated by my surges that I could have flown away like a balloon.

Luckily, the midwife who visited us at 7am soon checked my enthusiasm. She declared that I must be in latent labour. Then, sensing that Paul and Kornelia would prove bigger than she could chew, she had her chief midwife call me directly to talk me into coming to the monitoring session anyway, and possibly getting induced. But Paul snatched the phone away from me and out-reasoned her with his usual logic: what was the use of monitoring me there, when there was a midwife monitoring me here? Why run the risk of stalling labour by dragging me out of home, especially as my OCD was known to give me an irrational fear of hospitals?

At her wit’s end, the visiting midwife left and promised to come back later with her chief. When they did, my doula and husband took them to the dining room and shut the door, leaving me in peace on the couch, next to my big empty pool. Although they tried very hard to shield me from negative comments, I couldn’t help hearing big words murmured in loud whispers – High-Risk Zone, mumble mumble mumble Ambulance, mumble mumble mumble Obstetrical Emergency. To which Paul and Kornelia, steady as rocks, smiled gently and declared themselves surprised at the power of the big hand on the clock – before midnight, safe zone; after midnight, high risk. As the first midwife headed out, leaving her chief behind with us, I knew I was in safe hands.

She had been right, it was only latent labour and as they call them, “unproductive contractions”. But my labour had started alright, and by 10am, time had taken a different shape altogether. It could have been morning or night, any day of the year. It was the first day of my labour. My house suddenly seemed to turn into a holiday camp – lovely midwives (for all their insistence to get me in hospital, they were lovely, all of them) asking permission to listen to my baby’s heart, Paul finding the worst jokes he and the internet could come up with (“make her laugh”, the midwife had said!), Kornelia feeding us smoked salmon and Philadelphia bagels, and me, bouncing on a yoga ball, strolling around the house in pyjamas and in my beautiful limited edition giant rainbow platform shoes, which had arrived by post the same morning as a good omen, feeling like the Queen of Egypt amongst a crowd of adoring subjects and delicious-looking cakes.

The first day passed like a dream, punctuated with mild but steady surges. Yet by the evening, the nagging thought of ‘unproductive contractions’ and the still-present threat of an induction (but to induce what, since labour had started?) cast a shade on my enthusiasm. By midnight, I would be entering the infamous ‘High-Risk Zone’, what if nothing more happened by then? I woke up with unusual punctuality at midnight sharp, could not sense any contraction at all and nearly gave up hope.

And then suddenly, at 1am, my oh-so-awaited ‘productive contractions’ started! A show, a few cramps, a familiar feeling of period pains… At once, the whole house (that is, Paul, Kornelia and my big pool) was buzzing, heating water, massaging my back, making tea, calling the midwives (I was for some reason very keen on calling the midwives. I wanted to show them that yes, “my body could do it”!) Friday morning was spent mostly in the pool. Hot water felt wonderful, turning the cramps in my lower back into a mere tingle. And I cherished every single contraction I got for the increasing certitude it brought, that I was in “proper”, active labour.

Around noon however, the surges became less frequent. I didn’t really mind, as it allowed me to rest a bit and get a nap. But when I woke up, my husband and doula had been negotiating with the midwife and allowed her to offer me an internal examination. I accepted, provided that she would not tell me what she found out.

I knew it would make me feel despondent if I heard I was only 2cm dilated after all the good work I’d been doing. Good job we’d discussed it, because as it turned out (although Paul only told me days later) I was only 2cm dilated. But more importantly, the examination allowed the midwife to detect that my nosy little girl was presenting her forehead first. This must have been the reason why my labour had nearly stalled.

But fear not! Nobody let me feel that this was at all worrying. Instead, Kornelia suggested I perform a funny little exercise to help the baby move to an easier position: kneeling on the edge of the couch, with my forearms on the floor, I had to wait for a contraction and breathe through, keeping the ninja posture. Ideally, keeping it up through 3 contractions, but at the time this would have implied to stay there for an hour, which I really didn’t fancy! After a few trials, a few cakes and a few more really lousy jokes from Paul (“Make her laugh, make her laugh!”) I managed to sustain the position a bit longer, and to breathe through a pretty intense contraction.

The result was very quick, labour started stronger than ever. Kornelia had gone out to give Paul and me some quiet private time, so I asked Paul to call her back and reheat the pool. This time I knew it was the final countdown! And actually, my labour had already lasted so long that it felt very familiar and I felt absolutely in control of the situation.

I hardly needed anyone to guide me; I knew that I was going through labour exactly at the pace that was right for the baby and me. The Hypnobirthing breathing techniques were a wonderful way of going through each surge calmly and happily. As these became increasingly intense, Kornelia reminded me that each of them was “one down” until my baby arrived. This way, each surge I breathed through felt like a small achievement and left me feeling very much like a boxer between two rounds – Paul wiping my forehead, spoon-feeding me raspberries (a rather luxury boxer, clearly) while Kornelia offered me water and held a dressing gown out for me whenever I wanted to climb out of the pool and sit on the yoga ball.

Exhausting as it was, it was all such fun! I felt a bit like the most important person in the world, and I loved it! When the new midwives arrived, I became slightly nervous. I thought I was being tested again, and half-expected them to declare at any time that I wasn’t labouring fast enough and should be taken to hospital. This fear never stopped nagging me, right until Arielle showed her little head, and really was the only little blemish on the perfect face of my birth! But both Cathy and Siobhan were absolutely wonderful. More than words can say, in fact. When they realized that their presence around me made me nervous and slowed my contractions down, they retreated to the kitchen and let me do my thing. At times, one of them would slip into the room to check the baby’s heart rate and my own blood pressure, nod approvingly and disappear back into the kitchen. Throughout the whole labour, Arielle’s heart rate never changed a bit. The breathing kept my own heart rate so calm that hers seemed absolutely unaffected by the tremendous effort she was performing.

Although I had long lost any sense of time, I was becoming a bit fed up with my ‘opening’ contractions, when I finally experienced the signs of the second stage of labour. I saw my hands shake uncontrollably and suddenly felt a whole new type of surges, both very intense and strangely painless, a bit like an irrepressible need to vomit, but downwards. At first I felt incredibly excited, expecting my little girl to come out in the next 15 minutes. Unfortunately, I am slow. Really, you’d think I would have known it by then. After only a few of these new surges, I felt my patience running very thin. The old ghost of the scared midwife’s horror stories came back to nag me. As Cathy and Siobhan joined us around the pool, I could see Siobhan prepare her instruments for Arielle’s arrival, and yet all I could think about was that at any time now, one of them would declare this was all taking too long, and I should be taken to hospital.

But my team of guardian angels, all four of them by then, never let me down, and gently encouraged me to go on. Eventually I calmed down, and went with the flow instead of resisting my surges. Suddenly, my water broke. A few surges later, Paul cried that he could see the baby’s head. This is when the best moment of all happened: I pushed a little bit (so much for the gentle breathing, but needs must) and every one could see the top of a little head. One of the Scared Midwife’s most graphic tales popped in my head, and I thought, don’t let the shoulders get stuck, push the shoulders out. I could have breathed out forever. I breathed out so hard and – there she was! She sprung out like a little fish in the red water, a ball of black hair, a chubby little body and a short purple cord wrapped around her shoulder like a handbag: Arielle was born stylish. I picked her up, brought her to my chest and stared at my daughter as she opened one eye to stare back. She didn’t even cry, just stared and relaxed on my chest.

The midwives helped me out of the pool and onto the couch. I kept Arielle in my arms and Siobhan helped me guide her towards the breast. After an hour or so, we agreed to cut the cord. Paul was not keen on doing it, so I took the scissors and cut it myself. To me, this is the epitome of my perfect birth: I was the one who picked her up as she swam out; I was the one who cut the cord. I felt, from A to Z, in command of my little girl’s birth.


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