Sue Ollerhead, 36, is from The Wirral and mum to George, 17 months. She didn't want a homebirth, but the medicalised environment of a hospital birth didn't appeal either. The solution? A midwife-led birthing unit...
What made you choose a midwife-led unit to have your baby?
I wanted to have a water birth, but knew from the start I didn't want to give birth at home. I felt more comfortable knowing medical help was on hand if I needed it, but at the same time I was keen not to labour in an overly-medicalised environment, as I felt that the more relaxed I was, the better my birth would be.
How did you find out about the midwife-led unit?
My local hospital is Arrowe Park in the Wirral. I assumed I would be having my baby there, but when I got talking to my midwife early in my pregnancy, she told me that there was a midwife-led unit (MLU) within the hospital building, just on a different floor to the maternity ward. We had a tour of the unit and the refurbishments and the relaxed atmosphere appealed to me along with each of the rooms being ensuite and private. The rooms were more like hotel rooms than hospital rooms - very homely with a TV and music. The other thing that appealed to me was that in the MLU you are encouraged to let labour happen at your own pace, giving you as much control as possible.
What happened when you went into labour?
I was due on the Saturday, and woke up on the Thursday with back pain. I had my routine appointment with my midwife at the doctor's surgery that day anyway so I just tried to ignore it until then. By lunchtime, the pains in my back had become strong, but they were irregular. My midwife examined me and told me that although things were probably getting started, I just needed to wait, and to get back in touch if anything changed.
What did you do then?
The weather was hot and I was uncomfortable. By the evening I felt very restless so walked along the promenade. By this point I was having to lean on the railings when the pain hit me, so I called the MLU who advised me to come in.
What happened when you got there?
When I arrived it all felt very chilled out. There is a reception area where you 'check in' and wait to be assessed. It was very quiet with dim lighting, so although my contractions were painful at this point, the relaxed atmosphere helped me to remain calm. When I was examined I was found to be 4cm dilated, and was moved to a room with the pool. By this time it was around 1am. I spent a few hours labouring with gas and air before I got into the pool, which needed to be prepared. I was happy with this as I wanted to continue using the TENS machine I had taken in, bounce on the birthing ball and get used to the gas and air.
How did you manage the pain?
I felt all of my labour pains in my back, nothing at the front, the pain was like two hands entering my lower back and then twisting – hard! Then, after getting out of the water around 5am to be examined again, I was disheartened to find I had only gone up to 6cm dilation. I was tired and not managing, so I said I needed more painkillers. The midwife said if I was to have a pethidine injection, I wouldn't be able to get back into the pool for another two hours. I was willing to do that just to get some relief.
What happened then?
Once I had the pethidine, I could still feel the contractions but felt a little more relaxed and as though I could manage the pain. It also allowed me to have small naps to try and regain some energy. Around this time the night shift midwife, who had been looking after me since I arrived, went home and I was anxious as I had got to know her. But the daytime midwife was just as lovely! She cheered me up with tales of her eight children - to this day I'm not sure if she was telling me she had that many to make me feel better...
When did you get back in the pool?
After a couple of hours. Then, a few hours after that, I was finally ready to push. I was exhausted, and the midwife tried to coach and encourage me but the baby wasn't coming out as quickly as she would have liked. She went on her break and when she returned, so did my resolve – I did not want to have any intervention so I shifted onto all fours and pushed as hard as I could. Sure enough, my baby shot out across the pool. George weighed 6lb, 6oz and was born at 2.25pm on Friday afternoon.
How did you feel when you saw George?
He greeted me by doing a wee! It was quite an entrance. All I could feel was sheer elation and exhaustion.
Were you glad you chose a midwife-led unit?
I really liked the environment and relaxed atmosphere of the MLU but as I needed some minor surgery straight after the birth it was great to have medical help nearby. Then, that night, George's breathing became noisy and he did not really want to feed. Within seconds of pulling the cord, there was a midwife on hand, followed by a paediatrician. The Special Care Unit was so close by that he was receiving fantastic treatment in no time. He had a course of antibiotics, and we were in hospital for a week in the end. The private room and lovely care were both a godsend, and we went home happy and healthy the following Saturday. I'd recommend a MLU to any mum-to-be.
" How to find a midwife-led unit:"
Ask your midwife about local midwife led units in your area. They will be able to tell you what is available. Contrary to popular belief, midwife led units are available on the NHS, depending on your area.
Remember you can change your mind. If you're booked into a midwife led unit and decide you would rather give birth in hospital, talk to your midwife.
You will probably only be offered a unit if your pregnancy is low risk, as midwife led units don't have access to highly-skilled hospital staff in the event of complications.