The Duchess of Cambridge is considering a home birth for her third baby, so the tabloids say. A good opportunity, I decided, to write a few anecdotes from my own, planned home birth experience back in 2014.
I gave birth to my first baby in hospital in January 2013. I was fortunate to have an uncomplicated pregnancy and a straightforward birth; I was sent home fewer than 12 hours after Emi came into the world, not quite sure how to look after a newborn but pleased to be back in a familiar, cosy environment. When I had my booking-in appointment during the first trimester of my second pregnancy, the midwife mentioned a home birth as something I may wish to consider. It was not really on my radar before that, as a possibility. I knew people did it, but I didn't know it was something that someone like me could do. I am from a medical family. Summer holidays were often spent playing for hours and hours at my parents' GP surgery. It is safe to say that I find a clinical setting very comfortable, and reassuring.
On the one hand I found the idea of a home birth really attractive. My saddest memory of my first birth experience is of my husband leaving us, at approximately 4am, having been given a friendly but firm order by our midwife to go home, get some sleep and return in the morning with breakfast. "You'll be of much more use to Elizabeth and Emilia this way" she said. And she was right, of course, but as I lay in a tiny cubicle on the maternity ward with Emi swaddled in her hospital crib beside me, I felt too wired to sleep and incredibly lonely. On the other hand, the idea of a home birth worried me a little. I was concerned about something going wrong and about the time that would be lost, in an emergency, by having to transfer to hospital. My husband and I discussed it a lot. We lived a maximum of 10 minutes by car from the hospital, and so could transfer quickly if needed. My first delivery had been straightforward; this pregnancy had been free of complications so far. We decided, in the second trimester, to plan for a home birth, much to the surprise of many of our friends and much of our family.
The midwives visited our home when I was around 37 weeks pregnant, had a look at the area where I planned to labour and give birth - which was essentially our bijou living room - and left a couple of bags of kit in the garage, ready for the birth. I was told to contact the community team when my labour began.I went into labour at about 530pm on 5 December 2014, two days before my due date. I was in Currys at the time buying a cover for my new phone and had decided to have it fitted for a small additional sum. The shop assistant was very slow and kept wondering off mid-task. "I am sorry" I said in my politest voice "but do you think you could be a little quicker as I seem to be having a baby." Having returned home speedily, we put Emi to bed for the night. In her eyes all was normal, save for the TENS machine, strapped around me, cranked to the highest setting, and some under-the-breath swearing with each contraction.
The midwives came to our house at around 730pm. There were 3 in total: 2 qualified midwives and Gemma, a student midwife who had been following me since my second trimester as part of a continuity project for her midwifery training. They set up station at the dining room table, paperwork and equipment spread out. They checked how dilated I was while I reclined on our familiar, towel-covered sofa. We had already put our Christmas tree up, because I like to maximise the festive period, so this formed a slightly-pretty-slighty-chintzy backdrop for my labour. While I had not got the hang of gas and air during my labour with Emi, this time I nailed it. As the labour went on, for each inhalation, I felt like a drunk student in a night club with everyone else in the room speaking over a tannoy system. My labour was straightforward and quick, and Seb was born in a water pool at around 10pm.
It was, on reflection, a little surreal, being off my face on gas and air, in labour, in front of a Christmas tree, in the sitting room, with my toddler asleep upstairs. However, I actually found the process very calm and it was somehow reassuring to be in our own home with all of our usual things around me. But the best bit of the whole experience? The best bit was being able to climb into my own bed after the midwives left: Seb on one side of me in his Moses basket and Adam on the other.
So on the basis of my experience, here are five practical tips I would share with Kate or anyone else planning to have a baby at home.
Cover the floor of the area in which you plan to labour and give birth in plastic sheets. Though it may make you feel like you're on the set of Dexter, it will protect the royal carpets and make cleaning up after the birth a lot easier.
Do not be alarmed if the midwife uses a wooden instrument that appears to be from the olden days to listen to your baby's heart. Having googled it, I believe that it is called a Pinard Stethoscope. For me, it added to the Call The Midwife charm, once I recovered from the initial surprise.
Hire a birthing pool if you think you may find being in the water comforting during labour or would like a water birth. Be aware, though, that they take an extremely long time to fill and need a very large amount of water. They also need to be a specific temperature for a water birth. Much longer and much larger and much more specific than we realised. Through my gas and air blur, I remember the sight of my husband frantically boiling the kettle as well as 4 large pots of water on the stove in an attempt tp bring the water temperature up, because our hot water tank had emptied entirely of hot water.
If you are hoping for a water birth, have a small, handheld mirror ready. The midwives will need this to check on your baby's progress through the birth canal. My husband rushed around the house desperately trying to find something suitable, before snapping the mirror part from my powder compact and presenting the small, dusty thing to the midwives hopefully asking, "Will this do?"
Look after your team of carers during the labour. We ordered pizzas for our midwives from Deliveroo, which unfortunately arrived precisely as Seb was emerging from my vagina, much the the driver's surprise and embarrassment. Time your take away much better than we did ours.
Traumatising the Deliveroo driver aside, would I do it again if we were to have a third baby? We live further from the hospital now and I am older, so I would need to speak to my midwives and evaluate the risks. If I were considered low risk, then I absolutely would have another home birth, without hesitation.
The current NICE guidelines on place of birth can be accessed here.