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I gave birth in a midwife-led unit: Shea's story

One M&B reader shares her experience of midwife-led care, which she says was the next best thing to a home birth.

Shea Hollis, 31, a primary teacher, lives in Catford, London, with husband Danny, 32, and daughter Olive, two

When I visited the midwife-led unit attached to my local hospital, it felt like the next best thing to having a home birth. Double beds, modern furniture and dimmed lighting gave it a lovely cosy feel. 

But my due date came and went and I lost hope of a natural delivery. When I was 13 days overdue, I went to the traditional hospital ward with Danny to be induced. To our horror, the midwife said they were over-booked and the ward was full. I was squeezed into a ward alongside mums and their newborns, and was booked for induction the following morning.

“I couldn’t ignore the fact that something was happening – naturally”

After Danny left, I struggled to get comfortable because of a dull ache in my lower back. At 4am, a stabbing pain in my sides woke me. It kept repeating until I couldn’t ignore the fact that something was happening – naturally. 

A midwife confirmed I was in labour. I phoned Danny, who arrived at 6am, followed by my mum at 8am. Every few minutes I had a sharp contraction, but I could cope with the pain. By 10am the pains were more intense and regular. I was 4cm dilated and I was moved to the delivery suite. The clinical atmosphere was a world away from the midwife-led unit.

Then, frustratingly, the pain tailed off. At midday, the midwife suggested I walk around to kick-start contractions. She came back to tell me there was room for me on the midwife-led unit. I couldn’t believe my luck.

“Dimmed lights and a Jacuzzi-like birthing pool made the room feel like a hotel”

Once there, I sank onto a bean bag. Dimmed lights and a Jacuzzi-like birthing pool made the room feel like a hotel. Danny put my music on the iPod dock. The midwife kept popping in to check on me, but I felt happy in my own space with just Danny for support. 

By 4pm I was 7cm dilated and started on gas and air. As I lowered myself into the birth pool, sipping juice through a straw, I joked: ‘I’m in Barbados!’ A feeling of bliss washed over me. By 9pm I was fully dilated and began to bear down. I repeatedly felt like my baby’s head was about to come out but somehow it always popped back in. After an hour I felt demoralised. I stood up to get out of the water and suddenly, an enormous contraction hit me.

‘I can see meconium [baby’s first faeces],’ the midwife said calmly, before sounding the alarm. ‘Your baby’s distressed so we need to speed things up,’ she added. She sat me on a birthing stool and I pushed with all my strength. A team of 10 staff rushed in. 

There was no time to panic. Thankfully, within a few minutes I felt the head emerge. The midwife urged me to stop pushing. ‘I can’t!’ I shouted as I felt massive pressure before the body slid out. Relief and joy overwhelmed me as I held Olive. 

After a couple of seconds she was whisked away to be checked. Those few seconds before I heard her cry were the longest of my life. Finally learning she was healthy was the best feeling in the world.

I needed stitches but my recovery was straightforward and, amazingly, we managed a full five hours sleep as Olive slept beside us. 

I credit my midwife-led unit experience with how calm and content I felt taking Olive home the next day.

Three things I’d tell my friends

  1. Focus on the end goal of delivering your baby. The calm atmosphere of a midwife-led unit makes you feel relaxed but remind yourself you’re there to do a job.
  2. If your partner is allowed to stay the night, take advantage by getting him to change the first nappy, dress and settle the baby. He’ll feel useful and involved. 
  3. Many midwife-led units have docking stations for iPods. Create playlists of music you love. My songs really helped to calm me.
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