ROMANY BALDWIN lies back, closes her eyes, breaths deeply and smiles as water laps over her.
It might sound like she is on a tropical beach, but Romany is actually in the bath, moments away from giving birth to her first child.
But rather than writhing in agony, the mum-to-be is happy and relaxed, even sitting up now and then to dip a chocolate biscuit into her cup of tea.
Romany has not had any pain relief or an epidural and she isn’t undergoing a C-section – instead, she is one of the lucky one per cent of women who experience pain-free births.
A study published last week by Cambridge University, found around one in 100 women carry a gene that raises their pain threshold, allowing them to give birth without an anaesthetic.
The rare gene variant, named KCNG4, has been found to change the way pain is processed by the nervous system and acts as a “natural epidural” for the mother in labour.
Romany, 33 - who lives in Bristol, with labourer husband James, also 33, and their two-year-old daughter Aida – says: “For me having a bikini wax is painful, but not labour. Stubbing a toe hurts more.
“It was a euphoric experience. I’d do it every day if I could.”
Romany fell pregnant in November 2017 and found the next nine months a breeze.
She says: “I’d always wanted to be a mum but I was nervous. Friends said how tough pregnancy was.
“But I was pleasantly surprised to find the experience enjoyable. I had no morning sickness, was rarely in discomfort and glowed throughout.
“I kept up my yoga and walked regularly. But as my due date crept closer, I did get anxious.”
She added: “All we are told is that labour is awful. TV shows like One Born Every Minute and depictions of labour in films always have the woman screaming in pain. The loud noises and bright lights terrified me. The image of hospitals made me opt for a home birth.”
The estate agent chose a water birth. At 7pm on June 28, her waters broke.
“I didn’t freak out because it wasn’t at all painful,” says Romany.
“I lay on my bed for a few hours waiting for contractions, but none came so I made myself cups of tea, watched TV and even did some housework.
“At 11.30pm I called the midwives and when they arrived they were shocked at how calm I was and thought the waters breaking was a false alarm.
“But when they checked me they found I was already dilated.
“They asked me if I was OK with the contractions but I was sure I hadn’t had any. I’d just had my stomach tightening a bit.
“We ran warm water in the bath and I remember thinking how blissful the water felt.
“I even asked my husband to pass my tea and I dunked a biscuit. The midwives sat chatting because I was doing fine by myself. When they asked for a pain assessment on a scale of 1-10 at 2am I said zero.
“They looked stunned. As the tightening muscles got closer together the midwives told me I’d soon need to push.
“Soon I felt my body telling me to get on all fours in the water. I had urges to squeeze.
“I felt a high I cannot explain as her head crowned and I was laughing as I gave a big squeeze.
“Within seconds she was out and a midwife scooped her up and put Aida on my chest.
“It was a moment of ecstasy. Everyone looked so surprised that there had been no screaming.
“Aida was born at 2.39am and I said to my husband, ‘I want to do it again!’
“I’d never heard of pain-free births but I had one. My experience was so life-changing I became an antenatal teacher.
“I’m not trying right now, but when I fall pregnant again I know I’ll be counting down the days until I go into labour.”
‘Chatting as head crowned’
RACHEL Fitz-Desorgher, a retired specialist midwife, baby and parenting expert and author of Your Baby Skin To Skin, says: “For any pregnant mum-to-be the idea of a pain-free labour sounds like a dream come true.
“But a pain-free labour rarely means a sensation-free labour, as birth simply cannot happen without monumental hormonal surges and contractions.
“Good breathing and relaxation, being in a quiet home environment and good support from a partner or a midwife can help some women have more comfortable experiences, but very, very few have it pain-free.
“There are, however, a few women who don’t experience these hormonal changes and contractions as painful.
“In my many years as a midwife, I have been with a few mums who have experienced relaxing, drug-free, births, and have been able to chat and smile in between contractions and who look back on their experience as remarkably pain-free.
“I remember one mum chatting to me about her last shopping trip during one home birth, just as the head was crowning.
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“I was thinking, ‘You’ve got a baby’s head half way out – and here you are telling me about your new Jimmy Choos. It is remarkable to see.
“But their bodies are still working super-hard, tanked up on a cocktail of hormones and doing the full nine centimetres before pushing 3kg of baby out.
“It just doesn’t hurt them.”
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