Giving birth at home: your stories

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Anyone who's watched One Born Every Minute will know that hospital labour can be an intense, drama-filled experience - but what of those mums who give birth at home?

This week, government health advisers issued new advice to encourage more women to give birth at home, because the rate of intervention is lower. Officials at NICE believe that home births present a better option for women and their babies than hospital labour wards.

Just 2% of the 800,000 births a year in the UK take place at home, with many parents weighing up the risk of complications versus the need for a calm, natural home environment.

So what's it really like for those few women who choose not to make the hospital dash?

Stylist speaks to six mothers with very different experiences of home birth, from an unplanned bathroom sprint to the woman traumatised by a previous hospital labour and the seven-year-old who watched her sister being born in her parent's bedroom.

Come take a look at their stories...

"I watched my sister being born at home aged seven"

Georgina Dawson, 25, is an online merchandiser from Southampton. Eighteen years ago, she watched her younger sister being born at home

Georgie with her sister Hattie

"I didn't give birth at home. In fact, I've never given birth so I'm far from an expert on the subject.

But I did witness my mum give birth to my little sister at home, in her own bed, in the bedroom my parents still sleep in today.

Some people might think that allowing your seven-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son to be in the room with you while you're giving birth is a bit strange. Most people thought it was strange at the time.

But I thought it was magical. I felt part of a huge family event. My little brother was also born at home (in the same room, 21 months before) but I was at school. I missed it. I came home from school to find him in a cot in the corner of the room. I had no idea how he'd got there.

Hattie was different. She was born in the middle of the night.

I wasn't scared. It was one of the best nights of my life

It was one of the best nights of my life. I was one of the first people to see my sister, the first to give her a kiss.

I wasn't scared - my Mum was so comfortable and relaxed. We watched Uncle Buck together, Mum pacing the room before labour officially started and we moved upstairs. She sat, mid-labour, chatting to my drunken uncle (celebrating his 40th birthday miles away) on the phone. I remember her laughing as he ordered her to get the baby out before midnight so they would share a birthday.

My older brother was disgusted. He ran in and out of the room, he kept his hands glued to his eyes, he made vomiting noises.

Then Hattie was there! She was out. Mum and dad had a cuddle with her, then the bedroom door was closed while the midwives looked after my mum, and we all stood outside on the landing with a tiny baby girl. I finally had a little sister - and I had seen her be born!

We must haven fallen asleep pretty quickly after that because the next thing I remember is my over-excited dad shaking me awake to show me that Hattie had filled her first nappy. The second of many of my sister's life milestones that I would witness.

Hattie will be 18 this year. It's 18 years since I saw her enter the world. It's just nuts. Home birth is great. I hope to have my own babies at home."


"Mine was an unplanned home birth - it was terrifying"

Esther with Zoe and Lucy

Esther Harris, 37, is a books PR from Portsmouth. She has two daughters, Zoe and Lucy

"I had an unplanned home birth last year with my second daughter. I started having contractions while watching Peep Show and eating my lunch. I was trying to be hardcore and put a brave face on it - big mistake. I was thinking, 'these are quite painful but don't make a fuss because there is a lot worse to come…'

Apparently not. I got up to go to the loo, felt a bit strange and suddenly got an urge to push. I screamed at my husband to call an ambulance and he did - while trying to get his fully clothed and flailing wife from the bathroom to the bedroom at the same time.

I suddenly knew the baby was coming and there was no time to get to hospital. It was terrifying. Emergency services talked my husband through everything, from putting towels on the bed to getting me comfortable and so on. My husband let the paramedics in, who arrived saying, "We hear you need a lift to the hospital…"

They took one look at me, grabbed my hand and said 'Push her out!'

But then they took one look at me, grabbed my hand and said "Push her out!"

And I did.

Baby Lucy arrived safely and happily. We all sat around stunned and happy until the midwives arrived half an hour later, all fine and cleaned up.

The good thing about giving birth at home was having everything around you. My husband walked down to the chippy later and all the neighbours congratulated him and wanted the gossip. The bad thing was we needed a new mattress (!) and I had no midwives to fuss over me. I just had to get on with it."


"My first attempt was hell but it worked the second time"

Emma with Lola and (inset) Eve and Lola

Emma Brech, 41, is a bilingual parent support manager and women's counsellor from Lewisham. She has two daughters, Eve and Lola

"My overriding memory of my first daughter's birth is a hell-bent journey towards Guy's Hospital at eight in the morning, sirens wailing and contractions increasing with every speed bump.

"Don't worry love!" yelled the ambulance man over the wailing - "Blue-lighting it down the Old Kent Road in peak rush hour - that's the way to have a baby!"

And he was right. After 40 hours of unremitting, intense labour at home - you know the drill - walking up and down stairs, leaning over my husband's shoulder, hanging off his neck, roaring in his ear, commanding my lovely midwife to "fetch more gas and air - whatever it costs!" - one short joyride in an ambulance and Eve was born within minutes.

This was my first attempt at home birth. I'd dreamed about it for months, lounging on my bed with my books on natural birth that promised a wonderfully fulfilling experience, a rite of passage into womanhood, so intensely powerful as to be practically orgasmic. Orgasmic? I roared, brayed, whined and cried through that labour, so shocked by the intense pain that radiated every part of my body, unable to believe that I just couldn't cope. It didn't help, of course, that Eve was lying transverse, with her back to mine - so no let up, no "ebb and flow" of pain, just solid, unremitting agony.

But, as the old adage says, as soon as I had her in my arms, it was all forgotten. With her eyes wide open and looking straight into mine, Eve was safely with me and I felt as if there was a profound recognition of something shared and overcome - and the most powerful feeling of love I'd ever experienced.

I was surrounded by a group of calm, wise and loving people

Fast forward four years (and it took four years to contemplate another go), I went about things very differently. I still had my belief in a natural home birth, but this time I had my feet on the ground. I enrolled in a pregnancy yoga class - the very best decision I made.

Here, I learned how to connect in with my body, breathe into pain rather than seizing up and recoiling, visualize my body softening, making room for my baby to be born. Next I rented a birthing pool - and had many hours of pre-natal fun rolling around in what felt like a giant paddling pool. Finally, alongside my husband and trusted midwife, I asked my friend Sarah to be my doulah - and what a difference that made! Here was someone who knew me well, as a homeopath as well as a friend, who could add levity or empathy as needed, who could take turns massaging, tea-making, holding and chatting with calm good cheer.

So this time, I focused, breathed, listened to my body and rode through every wave of pain. Orgasmic? No, I don't think I could ever get there. But somehow it all made perfect sense. Yes it hurt like hell, at times overwhelmingly so. But being at home meant no urgency, no anxiety, no stress - just a profound rite of passage surrounded by a group of calm, wise and loving people.

Lola was born in six hours rather than 40 and let me know pretty quickly that she wanted feeding and cuddling close (some things don't change!). And I ended up with champagne and cake in the bath at 3.30am in the morning - now that's what I call wild!"


"I had my first baby aged 40 at home"

Laura with baby Zsa Zsa

Laura Scott, 40, lives in Peckham and works as a children's law barrister at FOURTEEN. She gave birth to her first child, Zsa Zsa, last year

"I had my first baby at the age of 40 at home last October. I was apprehensive when I first thought about a home birth and had lots of worries about the what-ifs, but we live close to the hospital (King's College) and I was able to discuss every eventuality with the midwife and know what the contingency plans were.

My partner was very supportive about having the baby at home, even though I'm sure he had his worries too.

We had fantastic support with our choice from the midwives as well as very good, consistent, ante-natal care.

I was encouraged to learn hypno-birthing relaxation techniques, which proved to be invaluable. It's about keeping a very positive attitude towards your body and your baby's abilities to birth gently and safely and we both (all three of us?) listened to the tapes for several months before the birth, mainly to help us sleep!

I had the room really dimly lit and it was very calm and quiet

My labour lasted 12 hours from start to finish, with just three and a half hours of that considered established labour.

The best thing was not having to move from my own environment into a medicalised one - I was able to have the room really dimly lit, there weren't people coming in and out all the time and it was very calm and quiet.

Because I was so confident in my midwives, my partner didn't need to be with me all of the time - he was there for the crucial bit at the end - and I think this also helped me to stay very relaxed.

I spent most of the time in a birth pool and that is where our little girl was born.

It was an amazing experience and we feel very lucky to have been able to follow our birth plan."


"I chose home birth after a horrific hospital experience"

Hannah Flint, 33, is a producer from Shepherd's Bush. She has three girls - Evie, Lola and Margot

"It was my horrific experience with hospital birth with my first that led me to home birth with number two and three. I had planned a natural birth first time round but had to be induced in hospital, and it all went royally tits up with every intervention under the sun, culminating in Evie finally being born with breathing difficulties and having to spend a week in an Intensive Care Unit.

So when I found out I was pregnant with my second Lola I started to research home birth. I just felt so much more comfortable with the natural way of approaching birth (that our bodies are made to do this, that it isn't an inherently dangerous thing to do, that by their very nature hospitals interfere with the process).

My first daughter was massive (9lb 5) and so when it came round to inquiring about a home birth for Lola, I was met with an outright "no" by my midwife and consultant team. I spoke to a lady at another hospital who is known as the home birth champion in West London, and she advised me that it was my right to change my consultant. So I did, and was told as long as I didn't go significantly overdue I could plan to go ahead with a home birth.

I was four days pre-due date when my waters burst at 6.15pm in the kitchen, as I was feeding my daughter Evie. I was flung into some pretty substantial contractions, very regular and was hardly able to stand. My husband Ed ran me a bath, grabbed the laptop and got the hypno-birthing relaxation track cued. I was glued to the spot for about five minutes, trying desperately not to let Evie see anything was wrong. I managed to squeeze her some ketchup in between two strong contractions and then slowly crawled to the bath.

It was just the three of us, all tucked up at home in bed

It WAS painful, but in an intense way, not in the same panicky "holy-shit-how-am-i-going-to-do-this" way as my previous labour had been. As I got into the lovely hot water, my contractions were really full-on and very frequent and the reality that things were going to happen very quickly started to hit me.

The midwife (Graham) was called immediately and my mum arrived slightly later and they both joined me in the bathroom. Half an hour later, I was out of the bath and on the spare bed alone with just Graham.

To my utter joy Graham told me I could start pushing and shouted for Ed (who was downstairs inflating the birthing pool) to join me. Both were fantastic, and there was a huge burst of adrenalin over the realisation it was going to be over very soon. Two contractions and Lola had crowned.

I was really scared I was pushing too hard (I had planned to be upright and not pushing at all to avoid the tearing down the substantial scarring of last time) but could do nothing about it. One more and her head was out and she was already crying (which was extremely strange) and one final push before she was lying on my chest at 7.24pm in all her absolute perfection.

The next couple of hours are a blur. I don't remember any of the aftercare (placenta and stitches etc.) and my mum made us some supper, which we ate in bed. Then it was just the three of us, all tucked up, at home in bed. And it was so unbelievably lovely to be there."


"The idea of giving birth in hospital gave me panic attacks"

Jessica Read, 33, is a proofreader from Oxfordshire. She gave birth to her first child, her son Charlie, at home in 2007

"I had decided I wanted a home birth after suffering panic attacks during my second trimester at the thought of being stuck in the hospital on my back on a bed, with no control over what was happening to me or my baby. I began to research home birth and the more I read about it, the calmer I felt.

Charlie arrived two days early. I started getting regular crampy feelings just after three in the morning. After dozing for as long as I could, I woke my boyfriend at 5.30pm and we called delivery suite for a community midwife, I put on my TENS machine [a method of pain relief] and my boyfriend started putting up my birthing pool.

The midwife arrived just before 7am and examined me. At about 11am, I was at six centimetres dilated, so I got in the pool. It was sheer bliss! My contractions felt more like vague twinges after that and I felt so relaxed. I would lie back against the side in-between contractions and chat, then move forward on to my knees to hold boyfriend's hand and do breathing during a contraction. It worked brilliantly, especially with keeping my breathing calm and regular. I did this for about an hour before having gas and air.

I was panicked at the idea of being stuck in the hospital with no control over anything

Charlie's head took a long time to come out. I was feeling OK and not getting tired, but the midwives didn't want me to start tiring out. They suggested getting out of the pool which I was happy to try. They helped me out and on the next contraction the head was almost out. It was out properly at the next contraction, then body the next - within five minutes of getting out of the pool.

It was a 13-hour labour from the start of regular contractions and Charlie was my first baby. He was a little bit floppy and had some oxygen but his heartbeat was going great guns throughout the whole thing, even when he was having some help to breathe.

I was showered, with my hair washed and in my nightie in bed drinking some fruit juice within four hours of the birth. I couldn't help looking at the clock and thinking that if we'd been in hospital, my boyfriend would have been sent home around that time.

I found the people on website Homebirth UK incredibly supportive. I couldn't have been so well-prepared and so calm and in tune with myself throughout the whole thing if it hadn't have been for the information, advice, and support I gained from the site and its email group.

One of the best things about my home birth was having the community midwife that I had seen throughout my pregnancy there throughout my labour and the birth. This was a real comfort to my boyfriend too!

Home birth is not for everyone, whether that be simply because of their personal choice or because medical considerations for mum and/or baby prevent it from being an option. I was lucky to have had a good pregnancy and the backing of my midwife and the hospital consultant to go ahead with the home birth.

One thing I can say from my experience is that I felt like my birth was something that I did and I controlled. I’m not so sure I would have felt the same had I not been at home and therefore feeling more comfortable and at ease. That being said, we were only a five minute ambulance ride to a large regional hospital so I knew that we could get there quickly if we needed to; if I had lived somewhere more rural and isolated I wouldn’t have chosen a home birth."


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