Wonderful Testimonial for the Home Birth Scheme

I recently gave birth for the first time and opted to have a homebirth in Crosshaven Co. Cork, using the services of self-employed community midwife Mary Cronin. I cannot speak highly enough of the support that myself and my partner received during the pregnancy, labour and birth of our daughter, and for the first couple of weeks after delivery.


5 years ago a friend of mine from school had a homebirth on CUMH’s Domino scheme and was hugely positive about her experience. I thought it sounded great but knew that you had to live within a 5 mile radius of the hospital to participate in this scheme. When I discovered I was pregnant, I didn’t think it was an option for me to have a homebirth. It was never mentioned to me by my GP or when I had my 12-week scan in CUMH. The assumption was that I would be having my baby in hospital regardless of the circumstances.


I then read Tracy Donegan’s ‘The Irish Better Birth Book’, which has a chapter dedicated to homebirth, and found out about self-employed community midwives. I did a bit more research online, liked what I read, and from there found Mary’s contact details.


My partner Pepi was initially nervous about having a homebirth and I wanted to find out more before committing to it. We arranged to meet Mary at her home office as a next step. It was immediately obvious how knowledgeable and experienced she was, having worked in this area for over 20 years, and her warm and practical manner put as at ease. During this first meeting, both my partner and I were convinced that a homebirth was for us. We signed up before leaving Mary’s house after answering her initial screening questions. We understood that if any risks were identified during the pregnancy or labour we would be going to hospital and found out that the likelihood of this was high on a first baby.


To further assess the level of risk involved in my pregnancy, we met with Dr. Louise Kenny in CUMH and another couple of midwives who were helping her with the homebirth clinic. The reception we got in the hospital that day seemed markedly different from our experience at our 12-week scan. It was considerably more personal and less chaotic and rushed. Our questions were welcomed and there was time to answer them in a language that we could easily understand. We were thrilled to be deemed low risk and given the go ahead to proceed with the homebirth option. If at this stage or any other point of the pregnancy or labour a risk was identified, we would both have gone willingly to the hospital. There is no doubt it’s the best place for the baby and mother to be if there is a medical complication.


As our appointments with Mary continued, we became more and more comfortable in our choice. While my pregnancy went smoothly, Mary was able to provide useful tips on how to deal with any issues that did come up, whether it was to drink some nettle tea to help with swollen ankles, use a birthing ball to ease back pain, or do some exercises from the Spinning Babies website to encourage the baby to get into the optimal position for birth. She was a real fountain of knowledge.


With our due date drawing nearer, the focus started to turn towards the labour. Mary talked (and acted!) us through what to expect at the different stages of labour and how to deal with each one. As a first-time mother, it was great to get this walkthrough so that I wasn’t too shocked by anything when the time came. It also gave Pepi a great deal of confidence. He was clear on what he could do to support me throughout and knew the point at which he needed to ensure Mary was there to help too.


We wanted to eliminate or minimise interventions during the labour, unless they were necessary for medical reasons, and Mary was on the same page. We didn’t need to write out a birth plan to follow or wonder if we’d be able to convince the person delivering our baby to respect our wishes. We had developed a good relationship with Mary before the baby came and knew exactly where we stood.

My waters broke at 1am on 3 July just after leaving a friend’s wedding. It was 11 days before our due date. When we rang Mary, she wasn’t long after delivering another baby. She reiterated some of the advice she’d given us before and reminded us that first babies typically take their time arriving. We followed her guidance on how to deal with contractions and breathe through them. I felt calm and focused for the most part, trusting my instincts and knowing that everything would be fine.


By 7am the contractions were getting much more intense and were only about 4 minutes apart. I was finding it difficult to concentrate on anything much except dealing with them and staying relaxed to encourage my body to open up as I knew it needed to. Almost unbeknown to myself, I was no longer talking to Pepi. He knew this was a cue and that it was time to call Mary with an update. She asked some questions to better understand what was happening and advised him to begin filling the birthing pool as it didn’t sound like it would be a long labour after all.


When Mary got to the house she gently examined me and assured me that things were progressing well. I really doubt that things would have happened so fast if I’d been in an unfamiliar and clinical hospital setting with a midwife I’d never met before. Even when I visit people in hospital, I find myself tensing up – I’m no expert, but surely that’s the very last thing you want to do when you’re in labour?

I was sitting on the toilet in our ensuite for most of my contractions at this stage, simply because it felt right. Mary didn’t question this, interfere in any way, or suggest I do anything differently. She set up station in our living room, which we had already agreed would probably be the best place for the baby to be born. Behind the scenes, I heard afterwards, she was offering useful tips to Pepi who was going between the ensuite and living room. He was a fantastic support to me and so much more involved in every step of the labour than he could have been at the hospital.


When the birthing pool was ready, I moved there and found relief in the water. The contractions didn’t feel as intense. Although I was fully dilated or close to it, things seemed to slow down. I panicked at this point, expecting to feel an urge to push but I didn’t. Mary told me I’d know what to do when the time was right. My body probably needed to take a break before moving on to deliver the baby but I couldn’t see that at the time. Pepi on Mary’s advice encouraged me to drink water, snack on some dried fruit, and take some Arnica pills. I didn’t take any other medication and it didn’t even enter my head until very close to the birth.


After some time had passed without any further developments, Mary suggested I get out of the birthing pool to see if things would start progressing again. She had a birthing stool that she thought might work well. I sat on it for a couple of contractions but still nothing changed. Mary suggested I go back to the toilet and consider the fact that pushing the baby out was similar to a bowel movement. That seemed to make things worse as I couldn’t imagine being in my living room and consciously pushing in that way in front of Pepi and two midwives (by this time the second midwife, Deirdre O’Leary Vos, had arrived but was staying very much in the background). After a little while in the bathroom, drinking some honey in hot water, and still no change, Mary suggested we try the side-lying release from Spinning Babies on our bed. We were familiar with this exercise having done it regularly during the last few weeks of the pregnancy. I stayed in this position for 3 really strong contractions on both sides, with Mary and Pepi supporting my weight, and this made a big difference.


We went back to the living room and I felt ready to let go and allow things to move to the next stage so we could finally meet our baby. I sat on the birthing stool with Pepi on a chair directly behind me for support. Mary guided me through the next contractions encouraging me to breathe down and push. It was really intense and I found myself unconsciously making strange noises – just as Mary had done during her acting session the previous week! I wasn’t sure how long I could deal with this level of intensity and didn’t know if I was making any progress until Mary got me to feel the baby’s head just inside me and I knew there wasn’t long left. There was actually only 9 minutes from the time I sat down in the birthing stool to when our daughter was born (at 1.14pm) but I had no sense of time. It was such an incredible rush when she came out. Pepi and I were in tears and completely overwhelmed. Deirdre kindly captured the moment on camera for us, which was a priceless gift.


Without us asking, Mary put Tilly-Maebh straight into my arms to hold skin-to-skin. I was amazed that she was actually here and so perfect. Tilly-Maebh started to feed before long without much coaxing. Again without us asking, Mary waited for the cord to stop pulsing and then got Pepi to cut it. Afterwards he held her skin to skin.


I’d been so focused on delivering the baby that I hadn’t given any thought to the placenta. Mary encouraged me to push it out in the same way I’d done with Tilly-Maebh. I found that really difficult without any strong contractions or urge to do so and it wasn’t budging. Mary gave me an injection to help but initially it didn’t seem to make a difference. We took a break long enough for us to get down to our bedroom. On Mary’s suggestion, I again went to sit on the toilet and tried to push the placenta out that way. Both she and Deirdre tried to help me deliver it there and eventually it came. I didn’t realise it until afterwards, but we were only a few minutes away from having to go to hospital as there’s a time limit on how long the midwives can keep trying to deliver the placenta at home. The protocols that are in place really help to ensure the homebirth experience is safe from start to finish. Knowing that safety net is always there in the background with an ambulance on call if it’s needed brings great peace of mind.


Deirdre asked what we wanted to do with the placenta and got it ready for us to freeze as we wanted to use it as fertiliser for planting a tree in our garden. Mary and Pepi helped me onto our bed and cleaned me up while Deirdre weighed Tilly-Maebh – a healthy 7 pounds 14. I needed stitches and it wasn’t clear to start with whether they could be done at home or not. Thankfully the tear wasn’t too bad so Mary did the stitches there and then with support from Deirdre. Once that was finished, I was left alone in my own bed with Tilly-Maebh while the others set about cleaning up and preparing food. Before too long, Pepi was with us and the midwives headed off after their absolute Trojan effort. Although exhausted, I was on cloud nine and couldn’t imagine being any happier.


Mary continued to visit regularly for the first couple of weeks to check on us and answer our questions, going above and beyond anything we might have expected – even bringing us homemade scones. Her help with breastfeeding in particular was invaluable. She helped me to get into a good routine with Tilly-Maebh from early on, feeding every 3 hours for 10 minutes on both sides. When the time was right, she encouraged me to start expressing some milk so that Pepi could also help with feeding. Over 3 months later, Tilly-Maebh is thriving on an exclusive diet of breast milk, which I feel is giving her the best possible start in life. I’ve no doubt that the extremely low rate of breastfeeding in Ireland is caused by the lack of support new mothers get both in hospital where well-intentioned staff are rushed off their feet and when they get home and are largely left to their own devices. The power of a positive encouraging voice cannot be overestimated.


The continuity of care that self-employed community midwives provide from early pregnancy right through to after the baby is born is truly superb, especially for new parents who can be overwhelmed by what they read in books and on the Internet and the often conflicting advice received from well-intentioned family and friends.  


Tilly-Maebh struggled with her belly and digestion initially and Mary offered us ideas on how best to deal with that, including cranial osteopathy, which was a big help. From early on Mary suspected that Tilly-Maebh had a posterior tongue tie. It turned out that she did and while Mary was on holiday, her colleague Ellmarie Coleman (acting as back-up) told us she agreed with Mary. Ellmarie referred us to Dr. Rachel Quigley in Blackrock who diagnosed and sorted out the tongue tie. It was really impressive to see how Mary and the other self-employed community midwives work together to provide end-to-end support for people who have signed up for a homebirth, and how they link in with the appropriate people in CUMH and other medical professionals like Rachel. During my pregnancy we also met Caroline Corcoran who had recently started working as a midwife in Middleton, as well as Siobhan Sweeny who supported on the administrative end. In the weeks following Tilly-Maebh’s birth we met Niamh a midwifery student based in Dublin who was interested in homebirth and was shadowing Mary. Everybody we met who was in any way linked with the homebirth programme came across as caring and capable. From the outside looking in, this programme seems to run like a well-oiled machine.


I’m hugely grateful to have had the choice to sign up for a homebirth. It’s a choice I would make again and recommend to others without hesitation. I am completely in awe of the amazing and highly skilled midwives who deliver this service. I urge you to continue offering this choice to women, and indeed to invest in making them aware of this option and to position it as a real alternative to hospital birth for low-risk pregnancies. I appreciate it is not a choice that all women would make but I am certain that more women would avail of it if they knew about it, heard feedback from others who had first-hand experience of it, and had a suitably qualified midwife in their area (since I understand there are many parts of the country that are not adequately serviced). Not only would the mother, her partner, and her baby potentially benefit, it would take some of the pressure off the overcrowded maternity wards at CUMH and other hospitals, which appear to be bursting at the seams. It would also free up in-house medical staff to focus on pregnancies and labours where there are real medical concerns. Other countries like the Netherlands and the UK have taken this approach and really normalised homebirth. It would be wonderful to see Ireland following suit.


If there is anything I can do in future to help you promote homebirth, I would be very open to doing so. Thank you for taking the time to read my feedback. I apologise that it is much lengthier than I intended but there are so many positives to highlight – and I am only one of the lucky recipients of this care.


Best wishes,

Patrice Fanning