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
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.
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.
Many midwife-led units have docking stations for iPods. Create playlists of music you love. My songs really helped to calm me.