Ivana's story

Everyone told us the chances are our baby will come later than the due date, so I was counting on having at least two, if not five weeks of good rest and eating biscuits at home. But our little Sophia decided to make an appearance at 37 weeks + 2 days, just narrowly qualifying for the home birth we were planning.
My waters broke on Friday at 2am but there were no contractions. The midwife made it sound like if the baby wasn't delivered within 24hrs, they'd take me to hospital because of the increased chance of infection, which felt like pressure. I later learned they just wanted me  to be in active labour within 24hrs, not actually deliver. It's worth remembering that. 
Anyway, to help things progress naturally, I scheduled an appointment with an amazing acupuncturist called Louisa from South Ealing. This woman is an angel, she was so positive and reassuring, she actually got us excited and put me in a much better state of mind to stop worrying about this "deadline". I also drank a strong raspberry leaf tea, ate some pineapple and a bunch of dates, watched some comedy and cuddled with hubby to get the oxytocin flowing. I hadn't been doing perineal massages, but did one that afternoon to help me keep supple for later, and went for a nap. And contractions started around 5pm!
They were quite mild, like period cramps, but I did the up-breathing (that I learned in a hypnobirthing course) to get me into the habit for when things get more intense. I went to bed early and was woken up by stronger contractions around 10.30pm. I found they were much more intense when lying down so I sat upright on the edge of the bed and rocked back and forth which helped. Always either rocking or swaying, I also laboured on the toilet, on the exercise ball, and holding the towel rail, while rubbing my forehead on the soft towel. My husband also rubbed a few acupressure points which really helped.
Then contractions gradually grew closer together and the midwife examined me around 3.30am. Interestingly, while my contractions did get more intense, they never got quite regular - in spacing or duration. I think this made the midwife think that things were still going to take a while, so we made sure she took us seriously when we called her back around 5am.

That's when I felt an "expelling" urge. It was like a gag reflex but down there. At this stage I started down-breathing. I never forcibly pushed, I just went with the contractions, breathed and followed my body. I went on all fours and the exercise ball was my best friend till the end. I hugged it and rocked and swayed. During the contractions my husband squeezed my hips to help open the pelvis.
Throughout this stage I was very inwardly focused and didn't talk much, although I was fully aware of what was happening around me. There were a couple of points when I said to my husband I don't think I can do this much longer, but he was always by my side, encouraging and reassuring me of the great progress I was making. If he hadn't been the type to get involved like that, I definitely would have had a doula. The support is invaluable.

It also helped to have a bunch of things lined up to perk me up - sips of water, something nutritious to keep energy up (when I really couldn't face eating, my husband just gave me some coconut oil to re-energise), Bach flower remedy, lavender or citrus essential oils... This way, it felt like there was always something to keep me going.
I left the gas and air till the end. One note on that - my midwife told me to bite on the mouthpiece and breathe normally, but a friend warned me just two days earlier not to bite but just hold it gently between my teeth, and keep the jaw loose so the pelvis can be open. She had a terrible experience with her first birth when she bit hard and got all tensed up, which made labour longer and more difficult.
Then I finally started pushing the baby out, breathing, grunting and sinking into the sensations as much as possible. It took just nine minutes.She was born on Saturday at 6.42am. She was actually out in one contraction - one breath the head came out, next breath the body. And with no tear.
When the baby was out, it turned out that the cord was very short, so  I wasn't able to pick her up and put on my chest. The midwives said they'd need to cut the cord early which we wanted to avoid, so while I was still on all fours I asked them to help me get on my side, turn on my back and prop me up with cushions so that I could take my baby onto my belly until the cord stopped pulsating. Having both skin-to-skin and delayed cord clamping was really important to us, and I feel that being at home and having midwives on my turf made me more confident to ask for alternative solutions in line with our birth plan, rather than just accepting their first suggestion.

All in all, it was a relatively short labour for a first birth, and I feel that yoga classes, the KG hypnobirthing course, and getting into a relaxed state of mind in a comfortable environment were invaluable in preparing me (and hubby) for such a smooth birth.