Tannice’s Covid-19 Birth Story

‘May you live in Interesting Times’, so the ancient curse goes. This year has been full of twists and turns, and if you’re pregnant, it comes with added anxiety about what that will be like. Will you be able to give birth where you want, with whom you want to support you? Usually I try to give advice that’s applicable on a national scale – but at the moment, with seemingly each NHS Trust making up their own rules as they go along, and those rules changing frequently, it’s impossible to know what the situation is on an individual level. So what I have done is focus on publishing individual experiences as a clue to what may be possible right now, and how other people have approached and experienced birthing in a time of Covid. This is an excerpt of Tannice’s Covid-19 Birth Story, published with permission. You can read the full version here.

Tannice's first child with her third on the day of his birth - a Covid-19 Birth Story
My first child with my third on the day of his birth

Tannice’s Covid-19 Birth Story

“Giving birth at home was something I’d wanted since after my first was born in 2016. Admittedly, when I was pregnant with my first, the idea of giving birth at home never even crossed my mind. As I was a “high risk” pregnancy, due to my high BMI, it was never even presented as an option.

My first labour was augmented with syntocinon – synthetic oxytocin – presumably because stress caused my contractions to slow down. After the shift change of midwives, I started to lose energy and momentum. I was also stressed by being prevented from eating (I had gestational diabetes and had thrown up my dinner from the night before after being a little too liberal with wonderful entonox).

I did all I was told during that labour – from having an epidural as a matter of course (in case my fat body couldn’t give birth naturally and I’d need a caesarean, they said) to readily agreeing to induction because of the gestational diabetes, I simply toed the line entirely.

Unfortunately “doing as you’re told” isn’t always the protective act you’d hope when it comes to labour and birth. It was not as beautiful an experience as I’d hoped. Whilst I narrowly avoided an emergency caesarean, I did beg for an episiotomy as I was so exhausted. I simply wanted it all to be over. Which wasn’t the way I’d imagined I’d feel about my daughter’s birth at all.

By the time I was pregnant with my second, however, the trauma of the first birth lent itself to my husband and I loving the idea of home birth.

Sadly, my second child was breech and I was taken to hospital gravely ill from a pulmonary embolism that kept me in the high dependency unit for about 10 days at 35 weeks’ pregnant. Now I’ve had my third child in a pool, at home, I realise that it would have been far tougher were I struggling to breathe, too. So I don’t regret the caesarean that I had with my middle child.

How safe is a home birth during a pandemic?

The environment for the birth of "baby A"
The environment for the birth of “baby A”

Many home birth services were suspended at the height of the first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic: the main reason being that paramedics were unable to provide category 1 (the highest emergency level) support for those giving birth at home. There were also concerns about sending midwives into a home setting with respect to distancing from other members of the household and the extended amount of time that the requisite two midwives would have to spend potentially exposed to Coronavirus in any asymptomatic but infected household. The viral load on those midwives was a consideration all hospital trusts had to factor in. 

However, there is no question that, when you purely look at the safety of a birthing dyad – mother and baby – it is quite clear that a home birth is safest for them. At a home birth you have just two midwives, the birthing person, the birth partner and any other members of the extended family, who can be asked to distance. This limits potential transmission to any of the family within the home. With Covid-19 restrictions on visiting, antenatal appointments, scans and attendance at birth (usually you must be in established labour – 6cm – before your chosen birth partner can join you) people having babies are struggling for support. 

Midwives do have policies designed to protect themselves and can of course wear as high a level of PPE as they think is prudent, but given they are in someone else’s home, they may feel uncomfortable insisting that, for example, the birth partner wears a mask or that other occupants of the home may not be present. This all serves to make the environment more tense and thereby will affect the birthing family’s experience. It’s essential, then, that the midwives attending feel comfortable doing so. Their hospital trust have a duty of care to them, too, at least under the Health and Safety Act 1974, if not just morally and ethically.

Tannice in her pool - So different from the hospital environment
So different from the hospital environment

What’s it like to have a home birth?

All in all, my home birth was a magical experience. I started having contractions as early as 22nd August but my son was not born until 11 September. We called out the midwives that first night and were close to calling several times again on various evenings until, on 10 September at around 8:30pm, the day after a stretch and sweep, my waters broke.

I was disheartened when the midwives decided that things were not progressing and that they would leave. I got back in my pool and was in a great deal of pain as the contractions continued. They came closer together and were even stronger than before so we called the midwives back a few hours later, after calling my parents to come and take care of our two older children. They were convinced there was a monster in the house after hearing my contraction-induced moaning!

Doubts

I was suddenly worried what would happen if I needed to transfer in for a repeat caesarean. Having previously been convinced it wouldn’t be necessary, I was suddenly struggling with the pain. After so long of having what’s called prodromal labour, I was exhausted from constant contractions and the anxiety around the increase in Covid cases across the country was making me suspect home birth could again be suspended.

That day I’d done an interview with local TV station, KMTV, talking about my fears about this very such problem.

The midwives returned with entonox and boy… was I glad to have it. So glad in fact that I blew through the remaining 1.5 tanks (I’d used half the first time they attended) and we were on. From waters breaking to Ares’ birth at 7:30am, the whole labour was 11 hours. The most primal and intensive experience of my life, his birth put me firmly in control of my environment and my body.

When I’d finally done all the work and he emerged, in my home, all I could shriek was “I did it!” and “I made him and I did it!”

I was truly elated and felt so very healed from the varied trauma of my first two births. I loved my body again and felt so connected to my own being that I felt the anxiety and historical grief melt away.

‘Advocating’ for the birth you want? It shouldn’t even be in our vocabulary

I had to advocate hard to get the birth I wanted. I had done so much research into home birth in preparation to birth my second child that I know everything I needed to about my rights and the NHS’ responsibilities to me under the law.

Of course, we hadn’t factored in the suspension of home births across the UK due to an unprecedented pandemic – but I did know the (small) risks involved when wanting a home birth after caesarean (HBAC). It wasn’t long after my first son was extracted from me that I began reading about HBAC. I carefully scoured the literature for all the factors involved in successful vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC) to inform my decision to birth my last child at home. 

To sum up this weighty defence and advocation of birthing at home, the evidence is persuasive and significant. Historically, women have birthed in their own environment for far longer than they have within hospitals. Whilst I’m not against intervention, it’s hard to really know which interventions were truly necessary.

Birth Trauma Awareness Week

The medical profession will always, of course, err on the side of caution. But survival of mother and baby alone is not the only marker of a good birth. Ares was born during Birth Trauma Awareness week (7-13 September 2020). So many laid bare their traumatic experiences on social media that I felt almost guilty, despite my own history, that I’d had such a wonderful final birth.

We can have better births. We should never underestimate the importance of informed consent, personal choice, bodily autonomy and sovereignty. One shouldn’t need to know the system inside out to be able to get a good birth.

Once I had come down from the elation of my greatest birth of three, I realised something quite sad. I was celebrating not having been traumatised from the final birth I’ll ever have. Not to have been devastated by iatrogenic harm, discompassionate medical staff and a lack of postnatal care. I’d had a good birth. Sad really. It’s not much to ask for.”

Tannice and Baby Ares in the few hours after birth - a Covid-19 Birth Story
Tannice and baby Ares

Thanks Tannice for Sharing Your Covid-19 Birth Story!

And welcome to the world, baby Ares! Don’t forget, this is only an excerpt. You can read the full version of Tannice’s story, including links to articles for reference here.

Are you looking for a supportive community of like-minded people to discuss all things high BMI pregnancy? Pop along to our Facebook Group!

If you’d like to read more Birth Stories, you can find them here.

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!

Birth Story – Twin Home Birth at 42+2

I love a good birth story. And a twin home birth story? Double the fun!

I read this one recently on Chilled Mama, and knew I wanted to share it with you. It’s not a plus-size birth story, but I do think there are some relevant messages about it being the woman who does the allowing, and about how important it is to get the right support. So thank you to Cathy from Chilled Mama, and Laura for sharing this story.

Twin home birth - Caitlyn and Evelyn
Caitlyn and Evelyn

I’ll let Cathy from Chilled Mama take over from here:

Many women are told ‘you’re not allowed to …’. Not allowed to have a home birth with twins. No water birth with twins. Not allowed to have a home birth after 42 weeks.

This birth story comes from Laura, who knows it is women who do the allowing. Supported by AIMS and local consultant midwife, to have a positive home birth previously, finding herself pregnant with twins, she knew she was the one making the decisions about their birth. Her body. Her baby.

Here’s her twin home birth story:

Upon finding out out at the 12 week scan we were expecting twins ( 2 sacs, 2 placentas) I was told ( yes told!) at the time I would be attending the twin clinic at the hospital from now on for all checks etc. This immediately set me on edge. I hate hospitals; many bad experiences including the birth of our first left me traumatised even more. When I fell pregnant with our second I went through AIMS and was put in touch with the consultant midwife, previously known as supervisor of midwives, who came out to the house to talk through everything that happened first time and put me at ease about planning a home birth. Having our little lady at home went perfectly and was so cathartic for me restoring my faith in my ability to birth. 

With twins I knew a home birth would go against the grain so back to this wonder lady I went explaining I didn’t want to have my antenatal checks at the hospital, I wanted to stay with the community team and treat this twin pregnancy as a normal pregnancy until such times as we had evidence to suggest otherwise. This was arranged and we followed the normal schedule of antenatal checks. We had the anomaly scan as normal at 20 weeks showing everything was as it should be so for the time being I declined further scans as babies now just needed to chub up. 

Roll on to November we started to prep for the home birth. We discussed how early we were prepared to stay at home, for the midwives it was 37 weeks, for me I was happy at 36 but I also knew my history was long gestations so I just had to hope we’d make it to 37… we did! Everything in place, pool up, equipment here, team on call, we were all ready to go. That was 19 Dec! 

So we waited and still no babies and carried out the normal antenatal checks at the community clinic once a week, everything always as it should be so no concerns. I was always worried how I’d cope over Christmas and new year with our older two with nursery and play groups etc being off and it was definitely hard with them in the house so much. Hubby was due back to work on 1 Jan so in the absence of babies off he went not wanting to waste his leave. Getting to 40 weeks was quite surprising but again every check showed happy babies and my health remained stable. 

At 40 weeks I did start going down to the hospital to see the consultant midwife and each time we would do a trace of the babies, check BP etc everything always perfect. At 40+3 we did a scan to check fluid levels and placental flow. We also tried a sweep in the hopes of moving them along, generally I would always decline a sweep and have in the past but felt I wanted to try something. We followed this pattern checking on the babies on a Tuesday and Friday each time to check we were safe to wait a few more days. 42 weeks came… and went!!!

At 42+1 (Wednesday) the dream team midwives were coming to the house to check on the babies and discuss next steps… one had a weekend away booked, the other had commitments on the Friday and Saturday so while medically there was no reason to do anything, should the babies not be here by the Thursday night the midwives who would come would not be those I had been working with and trusted which did make me nervous. As it was in the 10 mins before the midwives arrived I thought I had had 2 contractions… one midwife had been awake 36 hours at this stage attending the birth of her grand child so she ran off home to bed. 

Contractions didn’t come to much while seeing to our older two, by 9.30pm they were starting up again so I tried to go to bed and rest. By 11 ish I had to get up, I had a feeling the pool needed started and things organised. At 12 I messaged our doula to say no rush yet but head over, I had the pool filling and the bath so I could get some relief while waiting for the pool. Not long after this I also messaged the consultant midwife feeling terrible that she wouldn’t have had much sleep but knew I couldn’t leave it any longer.

Our doula arrived about 12.30 and just quietly sat with me in the bath as things picked up. After maybe 20 mins I asked her to call the midwife just to make sure the team were on the way, unknown to me they had snuck past the bathroom door and were getting organised. Around 1 I got into the pool at last and got the gas and air going, which felt so much better. That was me in place, I could get my earphones in and my hypnobirthing CD on and go away. 

The sensations had familiarity this time and I could feel as the first baby came through my cervix and felt able to pull back and let it come slowly. Baby crowned relatively easily and again I felt able to hold and breathe while she turned. One final surge and there she was… at 01.35 such an incredibly tiny baby! I don’t think I’ll ever forget or forgive the midwife’s next statement… “Don’t tell me we have undiagnosed triplets!!!” 

One thing was for sure though, this was no overdue baby! Immediately I was so glad I’d stuck to my guns and declined induction, this wee one looked like she needed a few more weeks in the oven. 

As it was we got very little time to dwell as contractions started up again within about 4/5 minutes, seemed like no time at all. I tried to leave baby with her cord and bless them the midwives tried to hold her to me as the contractions were full on straight away but I just couldn’t cope with her there, I was worried I was going to squash or drop her. Quickly we got her cord cut and she went off for cuddles with daddy. 

I could feel the midwife trying to feel for twin 2 position, we knew it had been head down but also that it now had a lot of space to play. As it was the contractions were just coming too fast and I heard her say we’ll just need to be surprised. Again I could feel baby coming down and again tried to hold back and let it come slowly. At 02.10 we had another little lady… who behaved impeccably and stayed head down, born in her caul no one even realised she was out until I sat back and got her out the water. Obviously much bigger than her twin, she was the carbon copy of her older brother and sister, daddy has genes of steel! Again with little time to dwell contractions came back with a vengeance for the placentas.

Again I tried to hold on to baby but these were massive surges that took all my focus and again we had to cut her cord tho I think she got about 5 minutes with it. I always said I wouldn’t want a managed third stage but I did feel after maybe 10/15 mins that I was just so wiped I just wanted it done. Asking the midwife for the injection she was a bit taken back knowing I hate needles but got it sorted quickly and thankfully it was over. I have honestly never felt so depleted I couldn’t even open my eyes.

Soon after the midwife started to get a bit anxious saying she could smell the iron in the room and was concerned over blood loss and wanted me out the pool so I made it out and set up camp on the sofa. At this stage I think I downed two bottles of Lucozade in an attempt to get myself back up. The after pains were also horrific and I was sucking on the gas and air as much as I had done through their births. However after a while I really wanted a bath and the lead midwife started to look like she was hitting a wall she must have been so tired now part of me was keen to show her I was okay to give her the peace of mind to be able to go home. Sadly this is where I’d went a bit haywire….

I got up and made it through to the bathroom but was starting to feel faint so sat down in the toilet seat thinking I’ll be fine in a minute. Sadly I wasn’t, my blood pressure dropped dramatically and I blacked out… the next thing I knew I was aware of a phone call for an ambulance and they were getting me on to the floor to stabilise me.

By the time the paramedics arrived and they exchanged the information needed I was feeling a bit better again, I think lying on the cold floor actually helped me. So much so the midwives were actually saying they didn’t think it was a medical event, more a lack of sleep, not eaten and yes a little more blood loss than ideal but I had stopped actively bleeding so she said if I wanted to stay at home she was happy for me to do so as long as I could make it up to pee as my bladder was really full. However as soon as I tried to get up again I could feel how weak I was and even though I hate hospitals, even I said I think I should go in. So off we went…. two babies, daddy, 3 midwives and our doula.. we were quite the cavalcade!

Thankfully in the end all they really had to do was feed me and give me some stronger pain killers. They checked my iron levels which had dropped 3 points so they said to start taking the iron tablets again but otherwise I’d be fine with time and chance. Again the consultant midwife had made sure I was looked after and had a room to myself and all the midwives on the ward had been asked to leave me alone unless I called to give me a chance to rest. By mid afternoon I felt strong enough to make it home so it wasn’t too bad in the end. It was more of a visit to hospital rather than delivering there which I would have struggled to cope with. 

So that’s how it came to pass that we had our twins delivered at home at 42 weeks and 2 days. I’m forever indebted to the consultant midwife who could not have done more to support me and orchestrate everything to make sure my wishes were carried out right to the last. And all from a supposedly failing NHS…. it just goes to show what patient centred, evidence based care can achieve. 

Laura, Caitlyn and Evelyn

I’m in complete agreement with Cathy here. I love this story because it shows what is possible. You have to ask for it. You may have to talk to the right people. But it is possible. It also shows the value of patient centred evidence based care, as Laura says.

If you have a birth story you’d like to share with the Big Birthas audience, we’d love to hear it! You can contact Big Birtha here.