What now for normal birth?

Over the last month in the UK, there has been a lot of news coverage of the Royal College of Midwives’ (RCM) decision to end their campaign for normal birth. It’s been met with a predictably mixed reception – agreement and an outpouring of emphatic support from some and confusion and worry from others. A lot of people, like me, fall somewhere in between.

The Times had it as front page news and then the RCM issued a clarifying statement a couple of days later. Since then, stories of negative birth experiences and sad outcomes have been filtering out, filling the news once again with the most popular view of birth in Western culture – that it’s the most dangerous day of our lives and that medical intervention is a requirement for most.

Full disclosure – I’m a hypnobirthing teacher and I had my baby naturally at home. I know I was extremely lucky to be able to do so. I know this. My heart also goes out to the families who didn’t receive the care they deserved and are still missing their babies who they so rightly had expected to arrive safely in the world. It’s the worst possible outcome to what should be the best day of parents’ lives. I can’t imagine what it is to live with that kind of heartbreak.

As I write this, I also hold in mind all the many, many mothers who didn’t have the kind of birth they had hoped for and still feel the effects of that today. I know full well what it is to live with the small injuries, the changes in how you feel about your body and the shift of emotions you experience – the outright shock of going through such a life changing experience in a way that you don’t feel prepared for at all. I also know how hard those first few months are and that if your early days care with your newborn isn’t as supportive as possible, how that can impact your feelings towards your baby and your new role as a mother for months to come. I understand.

I have to be honest though – I’m worried that natural birth will once again become something that isn’t encouraged and this in turn will have its own negative effect, perhaps exacerbating the problem of women feeling unsupported and steam rollered. That women will stop believing in their ability to deliver their babies and that fear of childbirth will return to previous levels. Being afraid and treating birth as a medical emergency will become normal once again. It seems like a step back in the open and ongoing conversation around finding what’s best for each and every unique case.

I’ll also make clear at this point that hypnobirthing principles hold that women should give birth where and how they feel safest, which means they make all the decisions and can give birth in exactly the way that makes them feel most secure – at home, in hospital, with drugs, without… it all makes no odds. The goal is always a healthy, happy baby and a mum who has felt she was able to do things her way and was empowered in all her choices even if she did have a birth which went off her plan. The emphasis is always on her.

When I hear the stories of births that went wrong, I’m truly shocked. Every midwife I’ve ever met seems so far from the picture built in the media reports and goes above and beyond to support the women they work with. I can also imagine how hard it would be for the mum to not feel informed and like she was able to steer the decisions made too. After all, it’s her body and her baby. She will live with the long term impact of whatever choices are made by her and the team around her.

I also find it pretty tough to swallow when I see Jeremy Hunt jumping in to the fray with a tweet that (whilst it looked like a valid, mainstream opinion) actually makes it seem like he lacks basic understanding of how the system works for most women and that he was commenting on the details of a relatively small unusual set of occurrences.

I have no crystal ball to help me see how this will play out of course. I have a suspicion that the resurfacing of difficult stories will have an impact on pregnant women for a few years to come. Whilst I don’t think we should shun hearing more negative stories (and certainly shouldn’t diminish their impact or tidy them away), we would do better to have a conversation about them to enable the birth professionals in attendance to learn from them and for the mothers to get the support they need.

After all, as Sarah Wickham so succinctly points out, stories really do make a huge difference.

My birth story



Zoe’s first day


I knew right from the start, as soon as I found out I was pregnant, that hypnobirthing was for me. I’ve always been stubborn and at the same time confident in my choices – single minded perhaps. Once I do my research and make my choice, I can be happy in sticking with it, no need to overthink. And so it was with my birth plan.

Throughout my whole pregnancy I’d been fiercely campaigning for a home birth after having been placed in the high risk, obstetrician led care group. This had meant many many extra appointments, which I’m sure some women would have appreciated… but for me, it was me turning up in the obstetricians office, asking for a home birth and being told the decision needed yet another person to sign it off. In the end, I made it all the way up to the consultant midwife’s office. She was amazing to meet – confident, supportive and positive.

There is definitely more than a little truth in the assertion that midwives are specialists and experts in normal birth and that obstetricians are better acquainted with emergencies. It was really obvious from their approach to me. Once she was sure I understood the risks and knew my own mind, everything got signed off and I was transferred to the care of a wonderful home birth team. I was thrilled.

I’d hired my pool, been practicing my mantras, making sure I’d been keeping up yoga, eating dates… then just like that, little girl decided to change her position. After having been head down, she went oblique about a week before my due date. If she didn’t move, there would be no much coveted home birth for me.
Cue panic, tears and frantic attempts at making her move… Bouncing on a ball, walking, swimming – nothing worked.

My due date – Friday 22 July

My due date came and went with no signs. I stopped answering my phone and cried with frustration, feeling like a beached whale. Plus, to add insult to injury, the extra weight the baby was gaining meant I got some last minute stretch marks, despite having been so diligent at looking after my bump and not having had any for the whole 40 weeks.

Wednesday 27 July

Then, once I was 5 days over, I got sick. Not a gentle nausea: A full blown, can’t keep water down, spray-the-room type nausea. I was seen in A&E, given an anti sickness drug, then had to waddle upstairs to talk about having a caesarean to get this apparently non compliant baby out. It turns out the vomiting had done me a favour. Our little love was 3/5 engaged in the right position.

That night I had my show (more of a “what do you think this is? Could it be the show? What do you reckon?”) and spent the next two days feeling a bit weird.

Friday 29 July

I had a visit from my midwives on Friday morning. I was able to tell them that i’d had some weird sensations but that was all I could report. The babies head was now 4/5 which made us all happy. I was wondering if she could now find a way to reverse herself, unable to quite believe in a happy ending. By the Friday night, the cramps had started but they were gentle and easy to ignore. I wasn’t sure if they were Braxton-Hicks or not.

Saturday 30 July

On Saturday I walked as far as my fat feet could take me, occasionally pausing to wince when a cramp came on, still having no clue if these were proper contractions. We went to the park and I tried to eat as much as possible as my stomach was still tender and my body hadn’t quite recovered.

Saturday night was tough. I got no sleep and after having been so sick a few days before, I was at a really energy low point. Still I was now 9 days over, so one way or another the baby would be born by the next weekend. I remember waking at about 7am sitting bold upright in a chair in my living room thinking “I can’t do this much longer. I hope you’re ready to arrive soon, little girl!”

Sunday 31 July

That lunchtime, my midwife came round and I had a sweep which was probably one of the weirdest things I’d experienced to date. I could feel that she could feel the head. So odd! Half an hour later, we were sat in the garden and I heard a loud pop, then felt the warm, damp flow of my waters breaking. Apparently not many women have it happening like that but somehow I ended up with a proper movie style moment. On when the Tena lady pants. I continued to soak through them for the next few hours. The water was a clear and pale pink though – a good sign – and the slow flow meant that the baby’s head must now be in the right place, stopping all the water from gushing out at once.

I don’t really remember the next few hours. I think I tried to nap then gave up. I spent two hours in the bath. I tried to eat then couldn’t. We started timing surges at 6pm and by 11pm, I was back in the bath waiting for our midwife Emily to come over. When she did, she examined me and confirmed I was already 4cm dilated.

Monday 1 August

I got in our birth pool at about midnight and spent the next 4 hours riding the waves of my surges, eating toast when I could and falling asleep on the side when I got a chance. The whole time, little girl was even and steady, her heart rate staying constant. For me though, things were getting a bit more serious. Labour was starting to slow as I grew more tired and I was starting to wonder if I really could pull off this natural birth idea.

I got out of the pool and walked up and down the stairs a few times, pausing to breath and clutch the carpet when I needed to. Once I came downstairs, things were moving again. I was in transition.

How do I know? I started to lose my willpower and thought maybe I would die before the baby arrived. I told Emily I was too tired and couldn’t do any more, that I was stupid for trying a natural birth and I wanted to go to hospital. Turns out, some mothers rage outwardly, perhaps shouting and swearing at their loved ones; others look inward and begin to fret.

Emily knew better than me of course, understanding that this was a sign that the baby was close. I had a little gas and air but by this point, I wasn’t engaging much, more like drifting by myself. I remember the sun coming up, I remember looking out into the garden, I remember smelling the jasmine plant that grows on our garden fence. I just about remember my husband needing to refill the pool as the temperature had dropped too low for the baby to born into it. Then I needed to push.

My pushing was in stages I think. I really, really needed to push, really, really wanted to but couldn’t. I had to wait for the second midwife to arrive (actually I ended up with three in total. Lucky me!) and that seemed like an eternity. They arrived at about 8am I think but by that point, I was running out of energy. The adrenaline of transition had passed. They suggested we move to the bathroom to see if sitting on the toilet and being in a smaller room would help with the downward movement.

It did. Although our little girl wasn’t born on the toilet itself, she was born in our downstairs bathroom at 9.48am, me kneeling on the floor with my husband sat on the toilet in front of me. I don’t remember much of what happened – the relief she’d arrived and was safe and well, the fact she looked perfect already, that she didn’t cry at all, my husband’s amazed face, the instant rush of endorphins and the stopping of contractions. I looked down and she was being held between my legs for me to see so I held her briefly but was too shaky to stay there long. My husband cut the cord.

The midwives cleaned her up and wrapped her up and my husband held her skin to skin whilst I delivered my placenta. It came away easily enough although delivering it did feel really strange. What an amazing thing to look at! I decided to keep my placenta so it ended up in tupperware in the fridge.

The midwives helped me upstairs to the shower then after I was checked out, we all got in to bed. I was able to feed her and then I think we all fell into a deep sleep and the midwives drifted away, promising to come back tomorrow.

Since Zoe was born, I have heard many many birth stories. I wouldn’t say that I took mine for granted – I already knew how lucky I was – but I didn’t anticipate just how profoundly and deeply birth experiences stay mothers. Even now, months later, they are still discussed. Regrets and worries, joys and high points are still shared. I’m still labelled “brave” and people are still surprised that it’s allowed and possible to have your first baby at home but for me, I needed to try my best to do it my way. I don’t have any regrets.