When we met Marijn and Viv we realised we were asking them to do something a little out of the ordinary - following 5 cycles of IVF I had spent the first five months of our long-for pregnancy in fear. Finally having got pregnant I was terrified that my body would now let me and the baby down. I had no faith in it anymore, nor really in myself as a mother, in my ability to provide a safe place for our baby to grow or a safe passage into the world for our child. So my husband and I made the decision to have our baby in a hospital environment. Full of fear and anxiety, if felt to be the only ‘safe’ place. However I also had a yearning to be surrounded by people who knew me well and knew our situation. We felt the NHS just weren’t in a position to always be able to provide that kind of care. Viv and Marijn looked after us all throughout the remainder of the pregnancy and Marijn was with us all the way through my labour and delivery, and only left our side when we were all settled together as a family.
So this is how we ended up enlisting the help of independent midwives, but had our baby in a hospital, as we had planned it. I know our story is unusual – we had independent midwives, yet chose to have our baby in hospital – but Viv and Marijn were 100% supportive of and about our decision. My only regret is that legally neither Viv nor Marijn were able to be our actual midwives at the birth in the hospital, but Marijn was allowed to be our doula…and she was that, and so, so much more.
Eight days overdue I thought my waters may have broken, but it wasn’t how I’d imagined it, so I ignored it (looking back it may have been a hind leak). By the evening this had happened twice more and I was getting period-like pains. We rang Viv. She said it could be my waters breaking, but wait and see and in the meantime get some rest and keep them posted. Vinnie and I went to bed. He slept…I didn’t! Not a wink, too excited! At 1am something felt more dramatic, I was certain things were on their way now. We rang the hospital, they said to come in. It was already known that I would need antibiotics during labour, so the hospital staff were concerned that if my waters had broken I needed to get started on the antibiotics. By 2am I was in hospital, hooked up to a monitor. Yes, I was having contractions. No, they couldn’t tell if my waters had actually broken, but to be safe they needed to start the IV antibiotics. Vinnie spoke to Marijn, she would join us later on. By 6am I was having contractions I could feel! No very bad, but enough to stop me doing anything else. But they were very erratic, sometimes every 2 minutes, then not another for 10 minutes. The doctors came to see me, they said I wasn’t in real labour and that I’d probably need to be induced (due to the fact my waters had broken, but I wasn’t in labour). I was upset by this as it very much felt like labour to me! They said they’d come back to see me again at about 8:30am, so a midwife on the ward suggested I go for a walk to get things going. We live about 10 minutes walk from the hospital, and I suddenly became obsessed with going home. Even though I still had a cannual in my arm from the IV, I made Vinnie walk us home…and it was bliss! (I should point out that Vinnie is a doctor, so it wasn’t so frivolous!). And now I fully understand the joy of homebirths. As soon as I was home I felt myself relax, I had a shower in my own bathroom, Vinnie slept a bit, I ate some toast. And as a direct result, I believe, the contractions started to pick up and increase. At about 8:15am we walked back to hospital. Of course the world was awake now, so we made for quite a funny sight, me stopping every few minutes to have a contraction! Back at the hospital Marijn had arrived and was an immediate source of encouragement and reassurance. Whilst the hospital doctors continued to talk of inducement and lack of active labour, Marijn was brilliant. She helped me with positions – I never once lay on my back during labour, thank goodness! I couldn’t have coped if I had because all my pain was in my back. I was naturally breathing through the contractions, but if I ever started to tense up or breathe too quickly Marijn was a calm, guiding voice, gently reminding me to breathe slower, for longer. Things are a little hazy for me from that point on. The baby started to show signs of distress, we were very upset and worried, but again Marijn was a calm, demystifying presence. Sadly it meant I was now put on a monitor for the remainder of the labour, something I hadn’t wanted, but it didn’t interfere too much, although it was clear I was never going to get into the birthing pool as I had hoped. All talk of inducement seemed to move onto talk of c-sections. This was even worse, I so wanted to give birth, and in the moment – with my extraordinary husband and trusted midwife by my sides I at last felt able to do it. I was moved to the labour ward and given gas and air (fabulous stuff!). I stopped talking much, but whenever I did voice something I could hear Vinnie and Marijn ‘translating’ it to the hospital staff. Things seemed to be progressing quite quickly. I was moving around so much they couldn’t get a good reading from the monitor so they attached it to the baby’s head. Sounds awful, but it didn’t affect the labour or my being able to move (I do hate to think of my little girl with a monitor on her head though). I was aware that I was making a lot of noise! I felt very sorry for anyone not yet in full labour who could hear me, but it was involuntary and my way of labouring. With each contraction Vinnie and Marijn were AMAZING! One on each side, they literally held me up. I could not have done it without them. And I cannot praise them enough. I felt completely supported, safe and looked after. They gave me strength.
Then suddenly everything felt different – for the first time I felt overwhelmed. It was only 5 or 6 contractions that really knocked me but they were mighty. Then I suddenly felt my baby’s head very, very low down. I told them “I can feel her, I need to push”. The hospital midwife didn’t think I was that close though. She told me I had hours to go and that I mustn’t push. And then I heard Marijn’s wonderful words “If you need to push, just push”...there was no way I could have stopped pushing at that point, but I will never forget her saying it to me, what a relief to have someone there who knew and believed me! The hospital midwife had really scared me though, the pain was intense and I thought if there are really hours to go I can’t cope for much longer, so I asked for an epidural. Vinnie and Marijn knew I hadn’t wanted one, so I heard Vinnie asking the midwife to please check how dilated I was. She checked, and of course we were at 10cm and it was time to push. I no longer wanted the epidural now!
The pushing was of course hard work, I had my eyes closed the whole time (Vinnie said he thought I was sleeping, I wish!). I was exhausted but I have no memory of pain at this time. After about an hour and a half, I finally heard those words ‘the head is out’! Unfortunately the baby’s shoulder was a bit stuck and I was told by the hospital midwife that I needed an episiotomy. I think had I been at home with Viv and Marijn there may have been a way to avoid this, but the hospital staff thought I was too exhausted by now and that the baby needed to be delivered very quickly. I agreed to the episiotomy, it happened very quickly and the baby was delivered (I remember Marijn did the incredible push on my stomach just as the baby was coming out, it worked well!) and at last our beautiful baby girl was lying on my chest. I don't really remember her crying - my memories are just of a tiny, warm, beautiful person, content, and looking at me and Vinnie. Vinnie and I were talking to her and holding her. She was here at last. And within about 20 minutes of being born she was breastfeeding – all thanks to Marijn’s help.
When I look back on the birth now (18 months ago) I feel so pleased. I began my pregnancy thinking I’d never be able to deliver a baby. And it’s true that there were elements of the birth that were not ideal - during labour there was talk of inducement and c-sections. Was our baby in distress? I was monitored constantly, never got into a birthing pool and had to have an episiotomy. I was in a bright hospital room, with staff who despite being nice didn’t fully listen to me. But still, I had given birth safely and ‘naturally’. That was more than I could ever have hoped for. And I know it was because I felt safe and looked after. Vinnie and Marijn were amazing. It’s true I was lucky (active labour was listed in my notes as only 8 and half hours…no enough for me, I still think I got off lightly) and there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ birth. But I delivered our baby safely. I know it’s been done a few times before, but I felt – and still feel to this day - pretty special!
We came home as soon as possible the following morning (I think they let us out early as they knew we had Viv and Marijn). Viv and Marijn were there that first day and for many times following, whenever we needed them, for the following 6 weeks. They gave me confidence in breastfeeding (which is still going strong now. Though I think we might stop quite soon!) and answered all our worries - I can only thank them again for the endless talks about green poo!
Our story is a bit unusual, but we ended up with a very normal, happy outcome. The very best we could have hoped for.