In the meantime, I'd like to introduce Sarah's story. In fact, this is two birth stories in one; firstly, of her traumatic second birth in hospital, in which she felt completely violated, and 'birth raped'. The website Birth Trauma Truths defines birth rape in this way:
"A vulnerable woman, who is powerless to leave the situation, is at times held down against her will, has strangers looking & touching at private parts of her body, perhaps without appropriate measures being taken to acknowledge her ownership of her body or to preserve her comfort levels. Perhaps she has fingers or instruments inserted without her consent, and sometimes against her consent, invading and crossing decent boundaries. She is fearful of what is happening to her and perhaps for the wellbeing of her baby, and receives no reassurance that either she or her child are ok. That is a violation, no matter how you look at it...Even IF this treatment is given with no malice and the intent of attempting to assist her with birthing her child, there is NEVER a reason to forgo common decencies that will enable her to maintain a role in the birth, some autonomy over her body, to be involved in the decision-making, to be informed about what they want to do BEFORE they do it."
Out of this experience came the decision to 'freebirth'. Regardless of whether or not you agree with Sarah's choice, this story is gripping, touching and moving, and it also adds more to the debate about modern obstetrics.
If I tell people that my third child was a planned freebirth, I normally get one of two reactions. Either, “wow”, with every connotation that word may imply, or an incredulous look followed by a stern lecture on how dangerous it is and how I put both myself and my baby at risk. As you may imagine I don’t always tell my birth story as I don’t enjoy being lectured - if I did perhaps I wouldn’t have dropped out of college! But, I have been asked to share my (free) birth story and I have agreed to do so. Not because I think that every woman should have an unassisted birth, but because I want people to know that birth doesn’t have to be medically managed. So many of us give over control of our birthing to others. Birth can be instinctual, if we just allow ourselves to believe in ourselves and our bodies. We need to reclaim our own internal power.
My freebirth story really begins with the birth of my second son. Despite all the horror stories of tortuous labours and emergency life-saving procedures that I heard whilst I was pregnant for the first time, my first son was born easily. He was born at our local midwife-led maternity unit, where 9.5 hours after going into labour and 40 minutes after arriving, he was born into my husband’s waiting hands. I imagined my next baby would be the same, with the improvement of being born at home instead.
I booked a homebirth when I was pregnant for the second time, but towards the end I had a few high blood pressure readings, and despite an otherwise normal and healthy pregnancy my homebirth was refused. I was told that I must deliver instead at the high-risk labour ward. I was devastated. When I did go into labour, it progressed swiftly at home and we set off to the hospital with contractions that were barely a minute and a half apart. Then the fear set in. By the time we arrived my contractions had slowed to less than 5 minutes apart. My body had begun to shut down. Then followed some of the worst moments of my life. My birth plan was disregarded. I was made to feel like a freak for refusing pain relief. I was refused the right to go to the toilets down the corridor and I was finally birth-raped by the midwife and told that my baby was stuck. Humiliated and in tears I signed the consent form allowing them to give me an epidural and the right to perform an emergency c-section if my baby could not be pulled out of me. Then, in the theatre, surrounded by strangers standing by ready to cut me open, my legs in stirrups, my lower body shielded from me by a sheet, my poor baby was pulled out of me with a ventouse and then forceps. I was given my son, but he didn’t feel like mine. I hadn’t felt him come into this world, Neither me or my husband had seen him being born. I felt that my body had failed me and my baby. I blamed my husband, for not standing up for me. I blamed my baby and I blamed myself. Unsurprisingly it took me a long time before I felt any kind of bond with my baby. I would put him to my breast and wonder how on earth something so small could have given me so much pain. I had failed and people telling me “the only thing that matters is that you have a healthy baby” or “at least you were in hospital - the best place to be” only made things worse. It did matter.
Both my husband and I wanted another baby, but I also knew that I could never put myself through such an ordeal again.
My community midwife (who wasn’t at my birth) lent me a book called “The Drinks are on Me” by Veronika Sophia Robinson as she knew I was going to be tandem-feeding. At the end of this book was a small section about giving birth, and about how as mammals, humans are designed to give birth like mammals. In private essentially and that fear makes the womb shut down so that you don’t give birth in conditions that pose a threat to the baby. Reading it, it made such perfect sense and I realised that this was what had happened to me. This was the first time that I had ever come across freebirth or unassisted birth, giving birth without a midwife or medical professional present. Tentatively, I approached my husband and said that should we be blessed with another child this was what I wanted to do. His initial doubts passed quickly - he knew how much my second birth had traumatised me. I think he also felt guilty. So, long before our third son was even conceived, we had already decided how he would enter this world.
10 months later I became pregnant with Daniel. I did see a midwife for antenatal care, and I booked myself for a homebirth, with no intention of actually calling for a midwife when the time came. I told Phil that his job was to find out how to deal with any common problems that may occur at birth. I didn’t personally look into any of this, as for me the whole key was to focus on the confidence I had in my body to birth well. After all, that’s what our bodies are designed to do. Thinking of lots of ‘what-if’ scenarios would have put seeds of doubt in my mind. This is also the reason that we only confided our intentions to freebirth to just 2 of our closest friends. I mentally prepared myself for giving birth throughout my pregnancy.
Two days before my due date, at 4.30 in the morning my contractions began. Strangely enough the night before I had dreamt that I had given birth. I’d had Braxton Hicks contractions on and off throughout the day so I wanted to be sure that I was actually in labour before waking Phil up and ringing our friends to come and get our sons. I stayed in bed, trying to rest whilst my contractions got stronger and faster. I repeated to myself that I could do this. My body knew how to give birth. I tried to relax as much as possible. After an hour, I was convinced I was actually in labour and went to wake Phil and get him to ring our friends. We had decided not to have our children at home whilst I gave birth., as I wanted Phil to be able to focus on me if I needed him, and our children were only 3.5 years and 19 months old at the time. Whilst Phil sorted out things for the children and waited for our friends to arrive, I ran a bath and sank into it. It was still dark outside, the bath was warm and I closed my eyes and visualised my body getting ready to birth our baby. I breathed deeply, and tried to relax as much as possible through the contractions. I stayed in the bath for what felt like a long time, although I have no idea how long as I didn‘t want to look at a clock. The contractions were incredibly strong, and felt very close together. At times, it was more painful than I hoped it would be, but it wasn't unbearable at all. I tried to visualise my cervix opening and this made them easier to deal with. I laboured unobserved and in silence just as I had envisaged.
At some point I decided that I needed the toilet, so I got out, half dried and sat on the loo. Not long after there was a sudden gush - my waters had gone, then I was all shaky and shivery. I was probably in transition. Phil came in to see if I was OK, took one look at me and then was intent on moving me to the bedroom as quickly as possible. Apparently someone at work had been telling him about a woman who gave birth in the toilet! I definitely needed to push by then, so went in to my bedroom, and knelt on the floor leaning over my bed. I just closed my eyes and went with what my body was telling me to do. I know some people say you don’t need to push and that your body does it for you, but I definitely needed to push. There was one small moment when I thought that it seemed to be taking a long time and I thought “what if my baby is stuck”, but I pushed the thought from my mind. Not long after, I could feel the head starting to crown and reached down and felt my baby‘s soft head. I told Phil who was rubbing my back that the head was coming (I think this was pretty much the first time I had spoken to him!), and he looked and he could see him. I will never forget the sound of his voice when he told me he could see our baby’s head. It’s so hard to describe, but the excitement, love and awe in his voice was amazing. I pushed again, and his head emerged and then all of him followed in a gush. Phil caught him and lay him on the towels on the floor. Our son, Daniel, had been born into the light of a new day, in the very room in which he was conceived. We gazed at him in awe. He was perfect. His birth had been perfect. I had done it all by myself. The euphoria that came with it was amazing. Daniel didn't cry straight away, but then started to. Phil picked him up, and passed him to me and I held him straight to my breast. It was absolutely perfect. For those who like to know these things he was born at 7.33 am, 3 hours after my contractions began, weighing 8lb 2oz.
It seems rather cliché, but while I gazed adoringly at our son, stroking his silky hair, marvelling at his tiny hands, Phil went to ring the midwife and told them that our baby had just been born, but that we hadn't had time to ring before. They wanted to send an ambulance out but Phil told them we were both fine and just wanted a midwife to come out. All of our local midwives were on call so they had to send one from another area. It meant that we got about an hour and a half of just the three of us. The cord was cut and the placenta was finally delivered nearly 2 hours after Daniel was born. Although freebirth is legal in the UK, we didn’t want to deal with any issues that might have arisen from our decision to freebirth, so we said it was unplanned. If the midwives were suspicious, they didn’t say anything.
My freebirth has been classed many things by different people - most commonly ‘lucky’. I don’t see it this way. For me, it was perfect, blissful, empowering and most importantly healing. If I may, I’d like to finish with a quote from a book that helped me so much in my journey towards freebirth written by a woman whom I have never met, but who inspires me so much. I would recommend this book to every woman, regardless of where she chooses to give birth.
“Every woman is different, and on a unique journey. Let’s celebrate women who birth from their soul and bring their babies here gently…. But, please, let us never, ever forget the women who, for whatever reason, didn’t get to experience ecstasy in birth. Sometimes, they will not want to hear our beautiful birth stories, for they are simply too painful for their wounded bodies and minds. Never doubt that by healing our own births, we’re helping to heal ALL births, and to break free of cultural conditioning and messages which scream out that birth is dangerous and deadly.” (from the foreword of “The Birthkeepers” by Veronika Sophia Robinson)