I caught a baby!
As a doula – a birth companion – it states very clearly in my contract that I will not, and in fact it would be illegal for me to act as a midwife. My job is to provide emotional and physical support during labour, and to leave the clinical aspects of the birth to the medically qualified ones.
Natalie made contact to ask whether I would be able to be present at her baby’s home birth.
Just shy of a week overdue, I got a message to tell me she thought things were kicking off. I had had an ongoing worry that the baby in the back to back position, which can slow down and complicate a labour – but clearly we were now ready for the off.
The next call came around 4.30am, from Chris, telling me that Natalie was having contractions every three minutes and she’d like me there. I still had in the back of my mind that this was a first baby, and potentially poor positioning, so I didn’t rush.
When I got there – around five thirty, I expected a birthing boudoir – I was really surprised when Chris opened the door and Natalie called out cheerfully, ‘Up here!’ I went into their bedroom to find all the lights on, and Natalie sitting on the bed, making eye contact, and acting normal. The labouring woman in her appeared to have left the building. ‘It’s all stopped,’ she complained, ‘we’re down to every fifteen minutes.’
We had a chat, and I watched her have a contraction or two. They didn’t seem that intense, or long, and I yawned with frustration at being out of bed three hours early for nothing! ‘I’m really frustrated,’ Natalie complained, ‘I don’t know what’s happened.’ Neither did I, really – although I knew that interruptions to the atmosphere when in labour could play havoc with its progress. Natalie was also worried that there was no food in the house, and they were down to a single roll of toilet paper.
I took this as an opportunity to leave Natalie and Chris to their own devices to do whatever they could to get lovey-dovey, to get labour started, while I went to the 24 hour supermarket, with their shopping list.
Again I didn’t rush and I drifted back by about 6.30, wondering what I would be met with.
And hey presto, I got the scene I had anticipated an hour and a half earlier. Now the lights were down, Natalie was on all fours, moaning gently to herself. To my eye – experienced but untrained – she was now looking like she was in established labour.
‘How are you feeling?’ I asked gently, to which the response was ‘I think we should call the midwives.’ Chris got straight on the phone to the local delivery suite and painstakingly explained to a receptionist that yes, this was a planned home birth, yes, this was a first baby, yes the doula was already there, and yes, we’d like the midwife to come. And repeated Natalie’s name again.
Less than ten minutes later Natalie felt like she needed the loo – so the three of us trooped off to the bathroom and she sat. In the next contraction her waters went and instantly her behaviour changed. ‘Did that one feel a bit pushy?’ I asked. She nodded.
‘Chris, get back on the phone and tell labour ward her waters have broken and she’s pushing,’ I ordered.
I had a rush of adrenalin as it occurred to me that I was the most experienced person here and it might fall to me to catch the baby. I could feel my heart beating as I silently urged the midwives to hurry up and get here – not only would this be a massive responsibility for me, I had no kit – no plastic sheeting, no sterile gloves – and in fact technically it would be illegal for me to act as a midwife. But what else could I do? I wasn’t going to leave this couple on their own now.
‘OK, Natalie, I’d like you to move back to the bedroom. I don’t want to be fishing your baby out of the loo,’ I requested. She slowly made it back to her double bed, which I spread with the shower curtain and a pile of towels, and resumed her all-fours position.
I could see all the signs that the baby was on its way down – signs that I’d seen before, but not that close up – usually as a doula I’m at the ‘head end’, hugging the woman, mopping her brow and reminding her to breathe. This time I was in the midwife’s position as I saw first a tiny slither of the baby’s head, and with each push, a little more. I went off to wash my hands thoroughly, mimicking the ‘scrubbing in’ I’d seen in hospital documentaries.
I imagined I heard a knocking downstairs. I ran down and opened the door – but there was no-one there. I rushed back upstairs to see more and more of the baby’s head emerging.
Then suddenly the whole of the baby’s head was out. She did me the good service of making chewing motions, which told me she was alive. (We had had no way of checking the baby’s heartbeat through the labour, although Natalie had reported she’d felt the baby move regularly, which had reassured me when I first got there.)
A final push, and I guided this tiny newborn down onto the bed in between her mother’s legs, and she cried. Natalie then sat back and picked up her baby, who was already pinking up. We wrapped the pair of them up warm, checked the time (8.03am) and laughed in incredulity that the midwives still weren’t there – an hour and a half after our first call, and an hour after we had called back!
About fifteen minutes after Eloise was born, a midwife appeared. Fortunately she was able to do all the clinical bits and pieces including delivering the placenta, checking whether Natalie needed stitches, while I went downstairs and made tea and toast for everyone, although I felt like I wanted something a whole lot stronger!
There was no follow-up to my dalliance with midwifery – once the midwives were assured that we hadn’t planned it this way, I think it was accepted that sometimes labours are difficult to read, and we were all delighted that it all went so well.