Sarah’s Homebirth Story

Many people who wouldn’t normally choose home birth are considering their options right now, due to covid-19 restrictions on birthing options. I’m a huge fan of birthing at home, having had my second baby in my lounge, but I appreciate it’s not for everyone! Hearing about other people’s experiences can be helpful to give you a feel of what it could be like. Of course, everyone’s experience is as unique as they are, but it’s so lovely when we hear positive stories in the Big Birthas Facebook group, and so I asked for permission to share this one with you. This is Sarah’s homebirth story.

Homebirth story - welcome Gabriel Leonard (pictured in a rainbow babygro)
Gabriel Leonard

Welcome to the world, Gabriel Leonard!

Just wanted to announce the arrival of our gorgeous 4th baby, Gabriel Leonard, born in a pool at home on Wednesday 15th July at 07.48am, surrounded by peace, quiet and love.

I am very much a larger lady with my bmi probably in the very high 40s (I refused to be weighed), I had gestational diabetes (GDM) for which I was on 2 500mg modified release metformin tablets. I also have a medical history of gall stones, diverticulitis, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). None of those things affect me and have just been found on scans over time rather than because of emergencies. I am otherwise fit and well and still perfectly mobile (something they like to presume is fat = immobile 🙄).

This birth was slightly different from my other 3. He was my latest to arrive (38+2, 39+1, 37+6) at 39 weeks and 2 days. To be perfectly honest I was losing faith in having a natural birth. When you have GDM the word induction gets thrown around a lot regardless of how well mum and baby are getting along 🙄.

The other things that made this birth different were the fact that in my other 3 births my waters had gone first, and then my contractions started a few hours later. With this baby I started off having some slightly uncomfortable cramp. That cramp then started coming and going and increasing in intensity. I called my homebirth team and they said someone would be with me within an hour.

Early stages

Husband set about getting the pool up and my mum (who lives with us) did a great job of herding the other wild animals (ie my other 3 😂). By the time the midwife arrived I was so uncomfortable but managing to own it by breathing through (seriously ladies, get hypnobirthing!). The midwife just sat there quietly letting me do my thing, not interfering or asking me to do anything at all.

I did start to have a little wobble, being unused to my labour starting before waters breaking, I thought I was probably only 3cm and thinking “Jesus, how do I make it through the rest!?” I asked for a vaginal examination as I needed to know in my own mind what I was dealing with. The midwife was fantastic and waited until in between contractions to assess me. I was 6cm!! Knowing this really helped give me the push to continue.

Time for gas and air…

The second midwife arrived with the good stuff (gas and air) and the pool was ready at last (which meant the husband got to live on for another day!). That amazing feeling when you get into that water is indescribable. Things felt like they really ramped up. Within a few moments of being in the pool my waters went which was such a strange sensation! Probably 5-10 mins later I could feel baby start to come.

I reached down and could feel his head (something I’d never done before). In the next 2 contractions his head was out and then in the next his full body. I lifted him out of the water and onto my chest. I don’t think I have ever felt more proud of myself in that moment.

The midwife asked for the pool to be topped up with hot water and occasionally wet the towel covering baby to keep him warm. The midwives said what an amazing and calm birth it was, I didn’t make a sound other than the grunty breath noise whilst my baby came out. (My husband said our toddler makes more noise whilst having a poo 😂😂). Placenta came away nice and easily.

Baby fed like an absolute pro. My husband eventually cut the cord and the midwife helped us tie our cord tie.

Reflections

It was the blissful birth I’ve needed. Baby was absolutely perfect and weighed in at 8lb 7oz.

I just wanted to say the homebirth team were sensational and never once did I hear “no”, “but”, “maybe”. From first visit they believed in me and my baby.

I also had a private midwife to do my antenatal and postnatal observations. She came a few hours after Gabriel arrived. She was so full of joy and happiness for us that we got the birth we needed. After doing the first set of bloods on baby (in GDM, blood sugars are done on newborns to ensure there isn’t hypoglycemia), she did a few other checks on us both, had some celebratory chocolate (it had been soooooo long without chocolate!) and left us to it.

My mum set about emptying the pool whilst the hubby child herded. I just sat there in my own living room in utter bliss eating toast and feeding my baby.

I did his second set of bloods which were also absolutely fine so no further bloods needed.

Still on a massive euphoric high.

So ladies listen to YOUR BODY, YOUR BABY. Do not accept no for an answer. There are still people in the profession that see beyond your weight and believe in you as a woman and as a mother. It’s taken me 4 babies to find that very special team of women.

Sarah pictured with newborn and toddler - homebirth story
Huge congratulations to Sarah!

Would you like to share your homebirth story? Or hospital birth story? Or wherever it happened to take place story?

We love hearing about births. Even if it didn’t go exactly as you hoped, or if all your plans went completely out the window! Huge congratulations to Sarah, and thanks so much for sharing your very special homebirth story. It just goes to show that GDM and other health conditions need not be a bar to homebirthing, if it’s what you would like.

Welcome to the world, Gabriel!

H&M Plus-Size Maternity

Preface: this was written before the covid-19 situation reared its head. (I try to release something every 3 weeks, and like to have articles scheduled for release several weeks/months in advance!) but then I kept ‘bumping’ it because it seemed frivolous and there were other things to tell you. I’m still really happy to report that there’s now a H&M plus-size maternity range. Maternity? Plus-size? In a high street store!?

It still seems a bit frivolous for the current climate, but the high street is opening up again, and if you need clothes, you need clothes! Goodness knows, my children seem to have grown out of all theirs! So anyway, here’s the article. If you’re looking for maternity wear right now, it might be useful!

***

I’ve complained before several times about the lack of plus-size maternity options. I even wrote an article on how to work within ‘standard’ clothing ranges for a fashionable maternity wardrobe if you’re bigger.

I recently saw an advert that H&M had started offering maternity clothes – but I wasn’t expecting much, to be honest. The last high street range I saw was only offering a handful of plus-sized options and they were super bland. Searching online today, I discovered 205 items sized 2XL in the H&M plus-size maternity range! And not just plain leggings and a shirt! Woohoo!

Now, before I get too excited, I’m looking forward to hearing feedback on the cut, fit, quality etc. but for now, I’m just happy that another large retailer has decided we’re a group they want to cater for. Representation matters! With fashion, more options and more choice can only be a good thing.

We now just need them to hire models who are a bit more representative of the range of sizes of their customers, but this is a good start!

Birth Confidence Summit

Do you have an urge to listen to BigBirthas.co.uk founder Amber Marshall talk about high BMI birth for 50 minutes? Surely you’re keen to marvel at how much I waggle my hands around when I talk (because it’s a LOT)!? Well, I’m pleased to tell you your wait is over! I recently took part in a free online Birth Confidence Summit, organised by Birth Confidence Mentor and founder of BirthEssence.co.uk Charlotte Kanyi.

Screenshot of Amber Marshall - founder of BigBirthas talking to Charlotte Kanyi of BirthEssence at the Birth Confidence Summit
Amber Marshall – founder of BigBirthas – talking to Charlotte Kanyi of BirthEssence

Charlotte has interviewed 27 ‘experts’ (her title, not mine) over Skype about many different aspects of birth. Talk titles include Healing from a traumatic birth, Exploring Induction Choices, Dropping the Nice Girl Conditioning – Make Birth Better (which links with) Visibility, Birth and freeing yourself from the Good Girl Archetype, Hypnobirthing for Confidence and more.

It’s a great idea and you can access all the talks for the bargain price of free!

I talk about why I set up the site, research, the difference between absolute and relative risk, looking positively at pregnancy vs the self-fulfilling prophecy, the media, blaming and scapegoating, and a bit about my two pregnancies and births and how I felt about them.

TL:DR?

In my interview I discuss how our bodies are designed for making and birthing babies. That we’re no longer in the minority and therefore shouldn’t be treated as ‘exceptional’ or ‘problematic’, in fact, we should have the same options as anyone else! Yes, carers should monitor the risks and act accordingly, but until something negative arises (and odds are it won’t) we should stay positive! Do your research and don’t expect your doctor to know everything about your personal circumstances and what is best for you. You decide, and you can use the BRAIN acronym to help you ask the right questions.

The Birth Confidence Summit Speakers

It’s a formidable line-up! There are some great speakers here:

Charlotte Kanyi, Confidence Mentor at BirthEssence

Natalie Meddings, Author, doula and birth yoga teacher

Debs Neiger, Independent midwife at Yorkshire Storks

Rebecca Schiller, Writer, Doula and Co Founder of BirthRights Charity

Alexia Leachman, Therapeutic Coach and Host of the award winning Fear Free ChildBirth Podcast

Kemi Johnson, Independent midwife,  KG Hypnobirthing Teacher and Positive Birth Movement Facilitator

Liz Stanford, Owner of the Calm Birth School of hypnobirthing

Clare Ford, Birth Coach and Master Reiki Healer at Beautiful Souls

Mandy Rees,   Pregnancy and Postnatal Yoga Teacher

Mars Lord, Award winning Doula, Doula Trainer at Abuela Doulas and Birth Activist

Phoebe Pallotti, Practicing Midwife and Associate Professor of Midwifery

Dr. Amali Lokugamage, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist and Author

Samantha Nolan-Smith, Writer, Feminist and Founder and CEO of The School of Visibility

Simone Surgeoner, Mother of four and Journey Practitioner

Jo Bolden, Mother of one and Co founder and professional dancer at One Dance Epic

Emma Svanberg, Clinical Psychologist specialising in pregnancy birth and parenting

Dr. Rebecca Moore, Clinical Psychotherapist in Birth Trauma

Naraya Naserian, Mother of two and Journey Practitioner

Zoe Challenor, Professional Singer and Co Founder of B’Opera and Mother of Two

Lorna Phillip, ​Doula and Mizan Therapist at Birmingham Doula

Jennie Harrison, Energy Healer, Mindset Coach and Birth Trauma Specialist

Joy Horner, Independent Midwife, and facilitator of Positive Birth Movement Group

Kati Edwards, KG Hypnobirthing instructor and Doula at Birth You in Love

Nicola Goodall, Author, Founder of Red Tent Doulas and director of Wysewoman Workshops

Maddie McMahon, Breast Feeding Counsellor, Doula and Doula Trainer at Developing Doulas

Rachel Elizabeth, Mother of four and Doula at Creative Birth

Take a look and big thanks to Charlotte for organising and facilitating!

Fat Vaginas

I’m sorry. There’s no point beating around the bush. This happened yesterday, and now fat vaginas are on the agenda:

Milli Hill, author of Give Birth Like A Feminist, spoke on BBC Radio Scotland for a discussion about induction rates. With her was Dr Marco Gaudoin, brought in for the ‘expert’ perspective. However, it turns out that Dr Gaudoin’s expertise is in fertility, not obstetrics or gynaecology… which may explain why he said this:

‘With obesity you’ve got increased fat tissue in the birth canal, which makes the birth canal that much narrower, which makes it harder for the baby to squeeze through the birth canal. So you are more likely to end up with what is called an “obstructed labour”‘

Dr Marco Gaudoin, speaking on BBC Radio Scotland 12th November 2019

What’s worse was that this happened at the end of the interview! Milli had no opportunity to challenge the doctor on his statement, or ask for evidence.

Fat Vaginas – Fact or Myth?

It’s no surprise that Milli had never heard this before, because there is NO EVIDENCE for Dr Gaudolin’s words whatsoever. They echo a theory suggested in a research paper back in 1997, and no-one has provided any evidence for it since.

It’s just more fat shaming.

Fat Vaginas: a display of inside-out purses looking remarkably like a selection of vaginas.
Vaginas come in a plethora of different shapes and sizes… image courtesy of The Vagina Museum

Ugh. Makes me want to beat some people over the head repeatedly with a copy of Give Birth Like A Feminist. Shame it didn’t come out in hardback.

You’d really hope that a qualified doctor would stick to established, evidence-based information. Sadly (too often, in my experience) when some doctors feel under pressure, they dredge some half-truth they heard somewhere from the back of their mind and present it as fact, rather than admit they don’t know.

It’s why I recommend anyone embarking on a high BMI pregnancy journey do their research and ensure they’re informed.

I have spoken to countless midwives (who have extensive experience of actual vaginas giving birth) and most agree that with the right support, there is no reason why a high BMI pregnancy shouldn’t proceed as with any other. Indeed, most of them do.

What Happened Next?

On Twitter, plenty came forward to challenge the “expert’s” ill-informed and misogynistic statements.

Then to my surprise, for once, the print media responded positively to the story! This may be thanks to Milli Hill knowing the right people to approach, but it was a refreshing change! The resulting article was comprehensive and well written.

Screenshot of Grazia online article on fat vagina comments.

Then other media outlets picked up on the story, including the Sun, who got an actual expert in obstetrics and gynaecology to comment!

Dr Virginia Beckett, consultant obstetrician and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists clarified that having an “obstructed labour” has nothing to do with “fat vaginas”. Which we knew, but it is nice that someone well qualified to address the issue has done so.

Screenshot of the Sun online article about fat vaginas

Next Up to fight our corner was the Daily Mail!?

Yes, really! Asking lots of people with much more experience and expertise… and me. So, yeah. That happened. I was tempted to be indecent and suggest that if our vaginas are so ‘restricted’, how lucky must our husbands and partners be? But I behaved myself. And contrary to my expectations, the journalist didn’t twist or change what I wrote at all, bar removing a paragraph that had already been covered by a previous interviewee. You can read what I wrote here:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-7680527/Doctor-claims-obese-women-fatter-vaginas-likely-experience-obstructed-births.html

Jaw on floor.

The article came with the usual stock headless belly image, naturally! But as soon as I realised and offered an actual picture to replace it, it was quickly swapped.

Of course, the article goes on to report the bloody relative risk stats rather than the true percentages, as always. So there’s still a way to go, but feeling strangely positive at how this story has turned out, for once!

As I have said before and seem to need to keep saying; having a higher BMI while pregnant is associated with a slightly increased risk of some less desirable outcomes. But there is also evidence that the precautionary way high BMI labours are managed may contribute to this.

There is no evidence that fatter people have fatter vaginas. There is no evidence that having a fat vagina (if such a thing exists) is a cause of birth obstruction.

If you want to read more about how micromanaging our births can cause a spiral of negativity and interventions – see article I wrote on The Impact of Negativity on Labour and Birth.