Warning: Some readers may find the photos in this article graphic.
A midwife has shared a selection of intimate and poignant photographs to inform, educate and inspire others about how different births can be.
Becky Reed, from Peckham in London, said she found photographs of birth invaluable as visual aids in preparing women and their families for labour.
She has collated stories from women who have had water births to those whose babies have been born breech, in her new book ‘Birth In Focus’.
One of the stories Reed shared is that of Ayeshea - a woman who defied the odds to have a second child and had a heart-shaped placenta when she gave birth.
Ayeshea and her partner, Nick, already have a daughter named India, who was 12 years old at the time.
“Ayeshea had asked for photos of the birth so I gave my camera to India and asked her to start taking pictures,” Reed wrote.
“She was beside herself. No fear or anxiety, just an incredibly momentous event.
“Saxon was born slowly, gently and calmly.
“He latched on beautifully for his first breastfeed and everyone loved the heart-shaped placenta.”
Ayeshea’s daughter India found the whole experience fascinating.
“I came home to people preparing the living room for my mum,” she said. “Becky gave me the camera to document everything; I was taking selfies before it was cool.
“I was posing in front of my mum - she wasn’t too happy about that.
“I was so excited. I learned so much about childbirth, our anatomy and it somewhat matured me.”
This is Ayeshea’s story:
After being told for years that I could not have any more children, and after the successful removal of multiple fibroids, I discovered that I was expecting my second child on Valentine’s day 2008.
I visited my doctor and had the great news confirmed. My partner and I were happy and so was our 12-year-old daughter, who had been desperately asking for a sibling for years. The doctor said that I was free to choose which hospital I wanted to give birth in.
I informed him that my partner and I had been talking about home birth, as we both wanted our daughter to play an active role in the birth, which we didn’t feel she would have at a hospital birth.
He frowned somewhat and stated that because of my ‘history’, that didn’t seem like a ‘good idea’.
Let me explain a little about my history. After my first child was born I developed a womb infection, which resulted in me developing endometriosis. However, my endometriosis was also in my chest, and this caused my lung to collapse every time I had a period. I also had endometrial tumours on my lung.
Eventually I had an operation to repair my diaphragm and remove the tumours, and I also underwent a procedure to ‘glue’ my lung to my chest cavity. So I suspect that from my doctor’s point of view I was a high-risk patient.
In the meantime, I had no objection to having my scans and examinations carried out at a hospital of my choosing, but I again made it clear that I wanted a home birth.
My second meeting with the practice midwife was interesting to say the least. She was a pleasant woman, but before I had a chance to tell her what my feelings were she looked at my notes, then up at me, and said: ‘The doctor tells me that you are thinking of having a home birth. Let me tell you now, that is completely out of the question. You have to think about the safety of the baby, so let’s forget all about that’.
I was very surprised by her response, especially as she hadn’t actually spoken to me yet. I replied: ‘Well, I’m a grown woman and I think my child’s place of birth is my decision to make...don’t you?’
She wasn’t very happy with that answer and very abruptly said: ‘Well... if that is what you are determined to do, then I can’t really help you with that. I don’t do that.'
I assured her that it was no problem and that she was not obliged to be my midwife. To which she responded: ‘You won’t find anyone who will do that, not with your history’.
So, here I was, without a midwife assigned to me. I was in good health, so I was sure that things would work out.
One day, I got home and my partner told me that he had been having a chat with our neighbour Becky, who happened to be a midwife. He suggested that I speak to her.
I was expecting her to say the same as the practice midwife, but her response was music to my ears. She listened to my thoughts and reasons for why I wanted a home birth, and said that she would happily be my midwife.
So off I went back to my GP, asking to be referred to Becky’s practice (Albany midwives).
After the usual scans and blood tests, I was given a clean bill of health and so just got on with preparing myself for our new arrival.
The night my waters broke, I had a strange feeling that my son was going to arrive early. I was in pain and the contractions were becoming intense. I couldn’t sleep, so my partner rang Becky.
She came, looked at me, examined me, and asked me how I was feeling. I was so tired, I just wanted the pain to go. Becky determined that it was still too soon, so told me to try and rest and said to call her if there was any change. She was, after all, only next door.
There was no way I could sleep, but I think eventually I must have grabbed a few hours. The next thing that I remember was being woken in the small hours by severe pains... labour pains. I don’t think the pain can be described to anyone who hasn’t lived it.
The pains went on until the morning. I felt like I needed to open my bowels and pass water, all at the same time. My partner had called Becky and she said that she’d be right over... music to my ears.
In the meantime I felt the sudden urge to open my bowels, so I got up and went straight to the bathroom and sat on the toilet. The next thing I knew, I was pushing, but it wasn’t my bowels that were opening. Once I started to push, I couldn’t stop.
My partner told me to stop pushing and get up from the toilet.
He guided me into the living room and it was at this point that Becky arrived. My partner told her that he could see the baby’s head.
He also told her that the baby was nearly born in the toilet, as that was where I started pushing. Luckily, Becky was totally relaxed and in charge. That put me at ease too, but I still wanted the pain to go away, so we could see the little terror that was causing all this fuss.
I don’t remember much after that, other than flashes of our daughter rubbing my back and hand, and taking lots of pictures.
I had to find a good position to give birth in, so I knelt down on the floor, with my arms on the sofa. No good, I just wanted the baby out... now! As soon as Becky said I could start pushing again, I did. It felt like I was pushing forever, but at last, the pain stopped and the baby was out.
A new baby boy. It was over, and I just wanted to lie down and look at our newest family member.
Our daughter was ecstatic and so was her dad. I couldn’t believe I’d done it, he was perfect. Looking at our daughter, with a smile as wide as she could make it, warmed my heart.
Being at home was the best place for our daughter to truly be a part of the birth of the brother she had waited so long for. I was now calm and relaxed and I was glad I could just lay on my own comfy sofa, watching Becky check our son over... tranquillity.
The house was quiet and full of warmth. I decided then that if we were to have any more children, they would be home births and Becky would be my midwife (if she didn’t mind that is). When Becky showed us our son’s heart-shaped placenta I knew it was meant to be and it was perfect.
‘Birth in Focus’ by Becky Reed is published by Pinter & Martin for £19.99.