Like so many women, I always dreamt of having a peaceful water birth, welcoming my baby earthside in this bubble of serenity. But after a traumatic first birth experience with my son and a series of events that led to us moving homes at 38 weeks pregnant, I really wasn’t sure I was in the frame of mind to embrace a ‘natural’ birth with my daughter Lilah.
However, my top priority was to feel empowered in my choices this time around. So, I read far and wide, listened to every podcast under the sun and enveloped myself in a cocoon of positive birth stories.
The night of Lilah’s due date, I remember going to bed feeling quite disheartened that she had not given even an inkling of her impending arrival. My son was born exactly on his due date so it never crossed my mind that my daughter could possibly come later.
She did. But not by much.
10/01/2020, 6:30 AM
The morning after my due date I woke up early with contractions. I immediately felt that rush of excitement and nerves and wonderful certainty that I would soon meet my daughter. Still, I expected things to progress very slowly. My first labour was 14 hours and I felt confident I knew exactly what lay ahead. And that this would undoubtedly be quite slow. I called my sister to make the 1.5-hour drive to us in West London to watch my son, so my partner Mathew and I were ready to head to the hospital. The morning was very ordinary - I wore one of my favourite dresses, pottered around the house and tended to my son. With contractions coming in regularly but very manageable, I breathed through them, feeling them ebb and flow like waves, exactly the way I had prepared for.
Mathew had arranged for his car to be picked up on exactly this day so I remember the car salesman being at the front door joking: “You’re not giving birth yet, are you?” as I breathed through another contraction with what must have been a pretty pained look on my face. “No, no we still have hours to go”, I laughed and continued tending to my son as contractions got stronger. It was all still very calm and I felt in control and at peace.
My waters broke. Suddenly, things got more intense. I rushed to the bathroom to change, thought about taking a warm shower to help ease the pain but contractions were increasing in intensity and frequency so quickly now I didn’t even manage to finish that thought. I could hear my sister had arrived and shouted for Mathew to get a cab NOW. An epidural crossed my mind, thinking I couldn’t possibly endure another 8-10 hours of this pain, no matter how much I had prepared to breathe through it. I knelt on all fours in the bathroom and felt disorientated by this sudden intense pain, thinking back to everything I had read and telling myself surely, I still had plenty of time to go before I should feel this way. Another intense contraction gripped me so hard I threw up.
At this point I knew. I shouted for Mathew to call an ambulance. He later told me he thought I was being over dramatic as he felt we still had hours to go. But he opened the lock of our tiny bathroom, kneeled in front of me as I gripped his shoulders and dialled 999. A sudden state of panic started to set in as I realised that we would be delivering this baby alone. I was almost in a trance. A panicked trance. I never thought I would be very vocal during birth as I’m generally more the quiet type, but Mathew might beg to differ that labour definitely confirmed otherwise. I screamed with each contraction. Maybe out of panic, maybe out of instinct, maybe both. Looking back it was almost that primal image of birth most people probably have when picturing it.
I hardly remember what the 999 operator was saying but there was a blur of turning around on my back to deliver baby when Mathew noticed the head coming out and I remember feeling quite annoyed, wanting to stay on all fours where I felt comfortable. The thing I do remember distinctly is there was no need to actually push. At this point, I felt contractions completely take over my body and everything happened so naturally.
Lilah was born, caught in her father’s arms. He laid her straight on my chest. The 999 operator was still instructing him as we rubbed her dry with towels, waiting for her to take her first breath. It took a few moments until we heard that first precious cry. Mathew was just about to go and find a shoelace to tie the cord when paramedics arrived. And I laid on our bathroom floor, still wearing the same dress I had worn all morning, covered in blood and vernix in complete disbelief that I had just delivered our baby at home – accidentally. And completely unassisted.
From then on, things are a bit of a blur. We were waiting for the placenta to be delivered but it never did, so the decision was made to go to the hospital. Thankfully I was able to deliver the placenta there and just needed some stitches – ouch! A few hours later, we were already back at home, curled up on the sofa with my sister recounting the crazy experience with some Domino’s pizza, going “I can’t believe this happened!”
Writing this, almost two years later, I still can’t quite believe it. Out of all the lessons that giving birth has taught me, including that it never goes to plan (!), the biggest would probably be to trust my body. Although it definitely wasn’t the calm birth experience I had prepared for, my unassisted (accidental) home birth was the most empowering, redemptive experience that really changed the way I view birth and my own capabilities.