Debbie Matthews was planning to give birth at home. But she wasn’t planning to be the only one there when she did it. A week before her due date, Matthews, who lives about an hour outside London, dropped her older daughter off at day care and went about her day. A few hours later, she’d be delivering her own daughter, without a care provider, or even her husband home to help. Here’s how she tells it:
“From my first call to the hospital to her arrival, just 35 minutes elapsed. No time to marshal midwives or for my husband to get home – I gave birth entirely alone, unmedicated and relying only on instinct… on the bathroom floor.”
You can read the rest of her amazing story after the jump. But before you start worrying about whether this might happen to you, there are some things you should know about Debbie Matthews’ experience.
First: this was not her first baby. If you’re pregnant for the first time, the chances of your baby’s birth happening this quickly are even lower than they are generally, which is really, really low. Second: Matthews acknowledges that she was probably in early labor for quite a while without even noticing it, and continued to ignore her pains as they escalated—thinking that she had a long wait before anything important happened. While there may be good reason to wait before going in for a hospital birth so you can labor freely at home during the early stages, I’m not sure what the value is of holding off communicating with your midwives if you’re having a home birth. It seems like Debbie Matthews may have been in a bit of denial, or trying to avoid bothering anyone prematurely. Apparently, she was also getting over a bad stomach bug and may not have been entirely on the ball when it came to interpreting her body’s cues.
Here’s Matthews on her birth experience. You can read the full story at The Independent, including her husband’s take, which is, in some ways, even better.
I spent the morning relaxing – a leisurely breakfast on the sofa in front of One Born Every Minute (which my husband refuses to watch, on the grounds that it’s bad enough seeing your own partner go through it) and then an hour-long wallow in a nice hot bath. I felt… normal. Finally up and dressed, I went about some chores.
At that point I began to feel some very irregular light pains. By 1pm I was considering the possibility that I would be in established labour at some point later that day – but currently there was no need to stop what I was doing, except to vaguely glance at the clock to reassure myself that the pains were irregular and far apart. As it was lunchtime in the working world, I called my husband. When he told me he was heading home early, I mentioned the slight discomfort I was experiencing. Then I resumed my pottering about the house.
An hour later I was on the verge of letting our childminder know that she might need to keep our daughter overnight because the pains weren’t going away. With my first labour my waters broke in the middle of the night and I’d known without a doubt the baby was on its way.
Mindful of all the stories from other mothers I knew who had been in “early” labour for days on end, contracting irregularly, I thought it would be hours yet. I was wrong. My waters broke at 2pm. I grabbed the phone and my medical notes en route to the bathroom and called my husband, getting his voicemail. Then I dialled the pager number for the community midwife team, only to be told that the code written in large letters on the front of the notes was invalid. Frustrated, I called the delivery suite at the hospital. Between conversations I had a contraction that was much stronger than anything beforehand, but it was over quickly. I gave my details, telling the receptionist that I was alone. She told me a midwife would call me back. I felt reassured. All the sheets, towels and waterproofing – B&Q value shower curtains – required for a successful home birth were in the spare room, along with a packed bag just in case we needed to transfer to hospital. I got up from the toilet, intending to move everything down to the living room, where we had planned to have the birth… and was poleaxed by pain.
I sat on the edge of the bath to ride out the next contraction, which was strong, intense and breathtaking – unlike anything I’d experienced before. As soon as the pain subsided, another contraction swept in to take its place, leaving me gripping the rim of the bath, unable to move. I began to worry. I had the uncomfortable thought that even if the midwife turned up now, she wouldn’t be able to get in unless I made it downstairs and unlocked the front door. But I couldn’t move, there was blood everywhere, I didn’t have any trousers or underwear on – and our front door is made of clear glass.
The phone rang in the middle of another huge contraction. The midwife! I answered, gritting my teeth, ready to beg her to come NOW… but it was my husband, calling to tell me he was 20 minutes away, waiting for a connecting train. He asked if I was OK, and I sobbed that I was not OK and getting a bit scared now. I quickly got off the phone as another contraction rushed in and I couldn’t talk through the pain. That was 2.15pm, only a quarter of an hour since my waters had broken.
I began shaking and sweating heavily. In hindsight, I guess this was transition, where the cervix is fully dilated and you are ready to push. I ripped off my clothes to try to cool down, then grabbed a dressing gown from the bathroom door so I could make another attempt to head downstairs. But then I had the most overwhelming “urge to push”. It was an action that overtook me completely – the pressure in my pelvis was unbearable unless I bore down. With my first daughter I had arrived at hospital fully dilated, but it took two hours of teeth-gritting effort to push her out. I had never experienced this intense, primal force and it blindsided me.
I began to panic. I remember staring at the front of my medical notes where heavy black type said: “Having a baby is not an emergency for most women, and does not require an ambulance.” I was pretty sure by now that this was an emergency. But my whole focus was on trying to hold back the tide. Desperately trying to recall anything I knew about slowing labour, I dropped to my knees, put my bottom in the air and tried to pant.
But I was helpless to stop my body from pushing. Feeling enormous pressure now, I put one hand between my legs and was pretty sure that I could feel the baby’s head. Then I knew I was going to have to finish this alone – there was no chance anyone would be here in time. I threw the bath mat on the tiles and decided that if this was really happening, there was no way on earth that the baby was getting stuck – I needed to get it out as quickly as possible. In only a few pushes, my baby was born.
Delivering Lois is a bit of a blur. Most people want to know if I caught her or dropped her on the floor – exactly how did it happen? I’m a bit stuck for an answer. I suppose I must have caught her, putting my hands behind me from my low squat on all fours, but I can’t really remember. In those moments I was preoccupied with whether the umbilical cord was around her neck. But she immediately cried loudly, and as I gathered her sticky wet body to me I could tell she was healthy. I grabbed the phone and shakily dialled 999. As I was giving my details I heard my husband’s key in the lock downstairs. The paramedics followed swiftly – one ambulance for me, one for the baby; in the end, neither used – and the midwife finally arrived from another home birth round the corner from our house, full of apologies for missing it all. After a long wait to deliver the placenta, and a lot of stitching up, everyone left us with our healthy new baby girl.
Both Debbie Matthews and her husband say they feel incredibly lucky that there were no complications, that their older daughter was out of the house, and that things ended as well as they did. You can read more about their experience here.