It was about five months into my pregnancy that I first became aware that there was such a thing as an independent midwife. I had been going through the usual nhs processes but also trying to check out approaches that suited us as a couple. I felt a bit disheartened by having been identified as ‘high risk’ by the NHS processes because of being over-40, despite my consistently low to normal blood pressure, not being overweight and in excellent health. I felt that I was being treated as part of a statistical group rather than an individual, and because of this being guided towards high levels of intervention in my pregnancy and birth.

So I was keen to explore any options that would give me more sense of control and choice, and where I would be supported in looking on pregnancy and birth as a wonderful, positive experience rather than shown thing frightening where things were likely to be dangerous and go wrong. This was particularly the case as I was more and more drawn towards having a home birth, but felt this wouldn’t be supported in the NHS as an ‘elderly primigravida’ (!)

I came across the concept of independent midwifery by chance but once I has read up on it, I knew that it was something that attracted me strongly. And when I found Meg and Liz’s web sites, their philosophy really appealed – the language that they use was all about celebrating birth and supporting women to make choices. I got in touch straightaway. It was so wonderful for Stuart and I to meet them both – we were completely won over by their positive, friendly but very professional and knowledgeable approach. We came away from the initial meeting and both said: ‘let’s go for it!’ And we have never regretted making that decision, quite the opposite. We both feel it is one of the best choices that we have ever made.

Pre-natal care

It’s no exaggeration to say that from that point on, we all enjoyed the pregnancy much more than we had done. For me in particular, it was a really marked change. With Meg’s positive support, encouragement and genuine pleasure in the pregnancy, I felt increasingly pleased and excited about being pregnant, rather than rather anxious and concerned, as I had been. Every stage of the pregnancy became something to wonder at and enjoy, rather than focusing on ‘what might be going wrong?’ Meeting Meg every week and getting to know her in my own home, in a very relaxed but still highly professional situation, meant that I felt supported and encouraged. Not only were we able to get to know each other, and build up a relationship of trust which was so important for the birthing process, but I found Meg to be a wonderful source of advice. Whatever my question, concern or worry, she had up to date research that she would call upon, to help inform my decision-making. She looked after me extremely well, for example advising me on my diet in a really detailed way, recommending a gentler alternative to iron tablets (Spatone), to recommending alternative therapists, to helping me to negotiate the NHS antenatal system, and planning the birthing room – the list could go on and on! Having Meg come to the house each week made a really big difference to how I felt about the pregnancy and birth.

She also got to know our daughter in a professional but also loving way, there was definitely a relationship developing between the baby and Meg, long before she was born! Again, this increased my levels of trust and comfort on many levels. Overall, I really enjoyed my pregnancy and went through the second half of it feeling quite blissful, and much of this was due to having such wonderful caring from Meg.

The birth

Three days before the due date, I woke at 3am with what I guessed to be contractions. As inexperienced first-time parents, we weren’t sure how soon to ring Meg but were reassured that she expected a call at any time – so we managed to wait only until 5am before calling her! Unknown to us at the time, this was to be the start of a rather epic three day birthing process, a demanding but rich experience for us all – and which, most importantly, ended very happily and well for all involved.

Meg came to see us soon after we had called her and was able to reassure us that the birth wasn’t imminent, the contractions were regular but not that frequent. From that point onwards, we got into a rhythm of working with the contractions, as they sped up and slowed down over the next three days! It felt like Meg was always there, often in the background, giving us space, or gently coming to check on the baby’s well-being and my well-being. I can clearly picture her on the first night, sitting reading in our kitchen, nodding occasionally but watching over me and Erin all night long. It gave me a great sense of safety to have her careful, watchful presence there.

Things did not progress as we all hoped and it became clear that the baby’s head wasn’t in quite the right position. Meg arranged for a wonderful acupuncturist, Bel, to come and help us out – she phoned at 5am on the second day and Bel was with us within an hour, and was successful in getting the baby to change position, and also to strengthen the contractions. Liz also joined us to provide advice and support, and lots of wonderful encouragement to me. With her advice on how to work with the contractions, support and hugs, she helped me feel that I could cope with what was now a pretty exhausting and painful process.

It was an amazing experience for me to be held within a circle of such professional but also loving care from such experienced and warm women, it is something that I will never forget.

The third day dawned without much change, and we all discussed plans again, and Meg suggested that perhaps she should examine me, and we could then make an informed decision about what to do next. We were probably all disappointed to find out that I was only 3cm dilated and that it seemed the baby had moved back into a position where her head wasn’t pushing straight on to the cervix, and that the cervix was swelling up. During the examination, my waters broke (an amazing wave of liquid!!!) and that helped Stuart and I to make the decision that we had been considering. We decided to go to the John Radcliffe hospital.

Liz and Meg both supported us to make that decision, informing us throughout, but with no pressure in either direction. They helped us to feel that it was our decision and, most importantly, that despite the difficulties, we were still in control. I think this really helped me to continue to feel really positive about the whole experience.

Once we had decided to go to hospital, we wanted to move and it was going to be difficult to get an ambulance as quickly as we would like, so we drove there – Meg sitting in the back of the car with me, holding me in a lovely hug and helping me to work through the contractions. Making that journey wasn’t an experience that I would like to repeat in a hurry, but Meg got me through it.

Meg had phoned ahead and spoken with people who she knew who were working in the delivery suite that day, so the process from that point on was incredibly quick and seamless. I had expected to have to sit and wait in various places, moaning and groaning!, but instead we went straight into our own room in the delivery suite, I was quickly hooked up to gas and air, and a midwife was with us within a few minutes. It was just amazing! We had both been really apprehensive about any contact with hospital during birth, but instead we arrived to a calm and pleasant space, with low lighting and lots of useful props (bean bags etc) to help us through. We even had the choice of aromatherapy oils to help us keep calm. Within what seemed a short time, I had seen the anaesthetist and was connected to an epidural. It’s impossible to describe what a relief it was, after nearly three days of strong contractions. In one way, it was the complete opposite of what we had planned for our birth; but at another level, I wanted to accept what we were going through as part of the whole process and to be glad that these options were available to us; with the support of my husband and Meg, I was able to do this and be glad that we were all ok and in good hands.

Meg had introduced herself to the lovely midwife in the delivery suite, and was able to work really well with her and the others who came on shift during the next twelve hours or so. Meg might have considered that her job was now done for now, but instead she stayed with us for the whole process, talking quietly to Stuart and I at times, discussing progress and options with the hospital staff, encouraging Stuart to get rest, and occasionally having a doze in the corner of the room! It was so wonderful to have her there with us, advising and caring, and watching over us all, like a professional midwife, friend and mother, rolled into one.

After some more hours – it all started to blur even more for me at this point – the midwives did another assessment of our progress and consulted with the doctors who were on duty, and we started to discuss other options. We were given the option to either carry on labour for some more hours (up to the 24 hour limit since my waters had broken) or to opt for a caesarean section. The surgeon was so kind and supportive, informed us of the options but didn’t put any pressure on us; he very wisely said: ‘whatever decision you make, it will be the right one. The mother always knows best’. We all discussed the options and decided that there was little to be gained from carrying on for more hours, given the baby’s problematic position, and that it was the right time to choose a caesarean. Meg was involved in helping us to make this decision, once again advising and supporting but not trying to pressure us to any one course of action.
Things then moved very quickly and supported by a wonderful team in the operating theatre, Erin was born, happy, healthy and alert, at 521am, on our fourth day of labour. We were quickly moved to the observation ward where, after a short time, Meg joined me and Erin. Such a wonderful moment to share with her, it was very special.

Post birth

We had to spend five days in hospital after the birth, partly for me to recover but mostly because Erin was being given intravenous antibiotics, to protect her against any risk of infection that she might have picked up from me prior to the birth. We were all very happy to be together at last as a family, and I was completely elated – but also exhausted, and finding it challenging at times to navigate through the unfamiliar hospital processes.

Meg visited every day, sometimes more than once, and provided unflagging support and advice, phoning and texting at other times, researching topics for us and advising on decisions that we had to make. She was absolutely wonderful throughout, making us feel so much more confident and supported than we would have done otherwise. It was like having a very knowledgable and trustworthy expert who was also a friend, on hand and available to advise, at any time. One example of this was to advise us on dealing with the tongue tie that Erin was born with, which was badly affecting her ability to latch on and breast feed. Meg recommended a midwife who would remove the tongue tie for us, if we wished – and we were able to arrange this to happen when Erin was only a week old, rather than waiting some months for a NHS referral to come through. This meant that Erin was able to recover really quickly and start again with her breast feeding, without having got into bad habits, and with Meg’s help, she was quickly feeding very enthusiastically!

Once we were home, Meg visited or phoned every day, if we wanted her to (which we did at first). She helped so much, she really helped us to get through a very stressful and demanding period, when I would otherwise have felt quite nervous and unsupported. She looked after my health as well as Erin’s, and was able to reassure me about so many topics. I really looked forward to her visits; gradually, they became more like a visit from an experienced friend and less focused on our health issues, which was lovely.

Overall, we had an extremely positive experience with working with independent midwives, I would recommend this approach to anyone. I believe that it gave us a far more positive experience than we would otherwise have had, during the pregnancy, birth and postnatally. The most important factor for me was to feel really positive about the whole, new process, and look forward to Erin’s birth with joy and excitement, rather than focusing upon all the possible problems – none of which occurred! I’m convinced that Meg’s support made a big contribution to this.