I knew I wouldn’t cope well in a hospital environment and opted for a freestanding birth centre first time round but I had no plan B when my pregnancy progressed into it’s 42nd week and I was redirected to the labour ward of our local hospital.
The experience was the worst 48 hours of my life as I fell headlong into the cascade of intervention I had been sure (thanks to reading a million books) that I would avoid. It was like trying to resist a juggernaut and in the end, fearful and exhausted, I just submitted to everything, I ceased to be a part of it. After a wonderful and healthy pregnancy, I came out of hospital a physical and emotional wreck.
What went wrong? I underwent counselling and tried to make sense of it again and again and came to the conclusion that it was being in hospital at all. I was frightened from the moment I had to get in the car, let alone attempting to get jiggy under the gaze of unfamiliar faces in a room where metal implements glinted from every corner. A rigid timetable and one ‘failure’ after another led to more invasive procedures, drugs, fear, tension and protocols. Exhausted, I just gave up. Yes I ended up with a baby but only after she left special care on day 10 having been extracted with both ventouse and forceps. I also ended up with PTSD, an episiotomy and the worst start to Motherhood I could have imagined. My Dad said that he’s never seen me look as unhappy as I did on that hospital bed.
Now pregnant again, I had a good cry and told my partner Thomas I would rather birth alone or have an elective c-section rather than put us and our baby through that ever again.
A friend told me about independent midwifery and after my first meeting with Elke, it seeemed I had a lot more crying to do. She was equipped with all of the evidence and facts around ‘waiting’ vs ‘induction’ (which I am sorry to say is more than I can say for my NHS consultants) began to restore my faith in my body and equipped me with the information I needed to feel confident that my instincts around me and a hospital birth, were firmly rooted in biology. There were good reasons I couldn’t labour in hospital.
Elke’s care for me was less about the antenatal appointments and more about her also having the skills to pick up the pieces from my previous experience and reboot my thinking. Every so often I would remind her, “I’m not going to hospital, even if I’m late!” and each time she reassured me that as long as my baby and I were healthy and I was making an informed choice based on evidence, I wouldn’t have to. Even if I did need to transfer, I knew it would be because of a genuine emergency and accompanied by a woman I knew and trusted, and who knew me.
Comparing my previous experience to independent midwifery care seems perverse. This was a different world; appointments in my own home with my Daughter helping out, smiling faces, feeling cherished, Elke getting to know the whole family, peeing in a tube yes, but in my own bathroom at least. I started to believe (as I had once done before) that giving birth can and might be amazing.
And it was. The experience of birthing in my own surroundings with a skilled ‘friend’, my partner and our Daughter sleeping next door wasn’t so much a positive birth experience, it was a positive life experience. It was so calm and straightforward it made everything that had gone before seem like a bad soap opera. It was intense, I doubted myself at times and there was always the fear of hospital lurking in the background but there was also Elke, holding my hand and making me laugh and telling me that everything was working perfectly.
I can’t say it was pain free but it was considerably less painful than the hospital interventions and subsequent episiotomy and it was definitely easier giving birth without my bottom half having been immobilised and whilst strapped to a CTG machine.
I worried about the cost of it and had to work late into pregnancy to save the money but now all I see is the incredible value and skill offered by independent midwives. If having an Elke means going without a holiday the year we’re giving birth then we’ll camp in the back garden.
I am forever thankful for the existence of independent midwives and the birth experiences they are enabling for me and thousands like me.
“I get it now”, Thomas said after our baby was born, “this is how it’s supposed to be”. And it was. Wow.