How to give birth to your second child while taking care of your first one? A mama explains why a home birth was a good option for her to keep the whole family together.

When we arrived in Amsterdam, I was 5 months pregnant. I had heard home births were common here and, while I liked the idea, my initial preference was to give birth in the hospital. Things did not go as planned with my daughter’s birth, so I figured a hospital birth would be safer.

However, my biggest concern for the birth was leaving my little girl Penny. She would be 18 months by the due date of her little brother. If we had been back in Scotland, we would have had a close friend come round when required until a grandparent could be bussed in. Here in Amsterdam we had no one close by. We had friends living in Den Bosch at the time who agreed to come if we needed them, which was great, but I was all too aware that the timing could be all wrong – I could not realistically expect them to leave work in the middle of the day.

I started worrying about the birth of my son becoming a traumatic event for my daughter should I have to leave her for any length of time; particularly given that I would have to leave her with people she barely knew. She had not even been left alone with her Dad for more than a couple of hours, or even put to bed by him since we moved here, let alone anyone else. I would never want her to associate her brother’s arrival with me not being there for her.

It became clear that one way to avoid leaving her was to have a home birth after all. This way, I would know her Dad could be with her and she could see me whenever she wanted to. It would be a bonus, of course, if our friends were able to come to help, but in the event that we were on our own, I made it clear to my husband that if I had to go to the hospital I would go on my own. It was more important that he stayed with Penny.

So the little guy’s due date arrived and that evening – Saturday – what I believed to be contractions started, and continued through the night, 5 minutes apart. They were never too painful but enough to stop me from sleeping. The next morning, I rang the midwife and when she came to check me the contractions had pretty much stopped. It was disappointing, of course, especially having had no sleep, and I did feel pretty stupid. Then on Monday night the contractions started again. This time they were more painful but still they never seemed to increase in frequency. They kept me up all night but by 5 a.m. the next day had stopped again. I was exhausted by this point and pretty fed up, assuming it was all for nothing.

I had a routine midwife appointment that morning and cycled there with my daughter as usual. She checked me out and told me the good news that actually it was not all for nothing this time, I was 3 cm dilated already. By this point I was already in tears explaining how tired I was. The midwife told me she could break my waters any time if I wanted to get things moving faster, or I could wait another night and hope I got some sleep. I wanted to get it over with as soon as possible but, thinking of Penny, I agreed with the midwife that she would come at 7.30 that evening once Penny was in bed. That way we could get it done – hopefully – while she was asleep.

I cycled home, relieved to have an end in sight, called my husband who then called our friends. They planned to get away from work early to get to us by 7pm to be there if needed. It sounded like things were going to work out fine in the end. There was always the chance I may end up in the hospital but at least someone would be there and if Penny woke up my husband could go to her.

However, once home the contractions started again, getting stronger and stronger. I remember giving my daughter her lunch while bent double, trying to appear like nothing was wrong! I rang my husband and suggested he come home as soon as possible: I was going to have trouble getting through the afternoon on my own.

He arrived home at about 2.30 p.m. and the midwife came to see us around 3 p.m. My contractions were quite debilitating by that point. The midwife offered to stay with me if I wanted but I said ‘No, I hadn’t had a chance to get myself together yet for this’. I needed some time on my own to find some calm and get my head around this birth, so she left us to it.

I headed upstairs, put on a CD, piled the cushions high on the bed and did indeed find myself some kind of calm to carry me through the contractions. Meanwhile, my husband entertained my daughter downstairs. I have to say, given he was with me all through the birth of my daughter, it was quite odd to be up there on my own. Anyway, the contractions got much, much, harder to bear and I began feeling sick and was really struggling. It was about 5.30 p.m. and I felt like I could not wait until 7.30 p.m… I would be no use anyway getting Penny to bed!

I asked my husband to ring the midwife to come immediately. I could barely speak to her on the phone but she got the message. She arrived at 6.10 p.m. and broke my waters at 6.20 p.m. Then she gave me the bad news: There was meconium in the waters and I would have to go to the hospital. She began ringing an ambulance and the hospital and I, well I, was falling apart. The strength I had found just shattered and I lay there feeling all the pain and so upset about going to hospital. I desperately did not want to go: I could barely imagine even getting down the stairs to the ambulance in the first place, and I did not want to leave Penny.

But then the midwife told me the baby was on his way; he may well come sooner than the ambulance. He didn’t quite, but when the ambulance came, the paramedics were asked to wait.

Now, I just had to get that strength again and push. A second midwife had arrived as they were due to change shifts, the kraamverzorgster had not yet arrived but there were two-ambulance crew in the house, too. Downstairs, of course, were my husband and Penny. My husband was running up as often as he could to keep track of things. The midwife sent for him to be with me for the final pushes, while the ambulance driver entertained Penny downstairs with surgical gloves blown up as balloons! And we made it! It did not take long: 6.44 p.m. he arrived, my little boy. I was so very happy and so, so, relieved. It was just amazing to meet him. ‘His name is Joe’ I said proudly.

When the baby and I were cleaned up and settled, my daughter came up to meet him. It was so wonderful to be all together in our own home.

Once Penny was ready for bed, I even managed to hobble through, read her a story and tuck her in as usual. So after all my worrying for my little girl it was a pretty ordinary day except Daddy came home early; lots of people turned up at the house; and a baby turned up upstairs. It all worked out pretty well in the end!

I am very grateful to the wonderful midwives who got me through and were so supportive not only at the birth but in my pregnancy; the ambulance crew for babysitting; and to our friends – although they arrived 15 minutes after Joe, the very fact they were willing to drop everything to come help us means so much.

Photo credit: Liv

Liv Tomkins