When I was pregnant, I read pretty much every birth story going. I poured over the details, hoping to gleam nuggets of information that would help me when I (eventually) went in to labour myself. Now I’m out the other side, it seems only right to add my story in to the mix, despite it taking me almost a month to write down.
Disclaimer – by it’s nature, this post will be WAAY WAAY TMI. Those of a sensitive nature, you’re probably best off closing this browser tab and going to make a cup of tea or something. You have been warned.
This post is also LOOONG. If you’re not in it for the long haul, then here’s a quick summary, Cluedo style (only with less murders): I had a baby. A giant boy-shaped baby, in the birth pool, with the gas and air.
Here’s the long version:
Baby R was due to make an appearance on 22 Feb
. A day, which like many days after
it, came and went without so much of a twinge. I spent each day trying to distract myself with dull tasks, seeing friends and family and going for some epic walks. What started off as a leisurely stroll around the park at 38 weeks turned in to jogging backwards up a hill and lunge-walking half mile stretches by the time I hit 41 weeks. Friends would message me on a daily basis to see if there were ‘any signs?’ and I quickly ran out of witty ways to reply.
The thing that annoyed me most about the whole ‘any signs?’ malarky is that I genuinely didn’t know whether I was having any signs or not. I’d had a show a few days before, I was 1.5cm dilated and 80% effaced and I had plenty of braxton hicks, sometimes I could even time them. But was this the start of labour? How would I know when it was labour? Everyone I spoke to had said ‘you just know’. At the time, I wanted to slap them and tell them that this nugget of info was ‘SO not f**king helpful’, but with hindsight, they were bloody right. I hate it when that happens.
So, my body had done a pretty awesome job at growing this baby without much involvement from me, and I trusted it to do what it was made to do, but the further past my due date I got, the more my midwife started talking about the dreaded word: Induction. I really really didn’t want to be induced. Being induced meant no home birth, no water birth, artificially induced contractions which come thick and fast, which quickly snowballed in my head to a scenario which included episiotomies, epidurals, forceps, an emergency c-section, or probably all of the above. But, I couldn’t stay pregnant forever, so I was booked in to be monitored on Wednesday 6 March (at 40+12), and based on the results, we would know whether we would be given a little more time to see if I went in to labour naturally, or whether I would have to stay and be induced.
On Monday 4 March, I woke up at 5am and knew that something was different. I wouldn’t say that they hurt, but they were far more pressured than they had been previously. And they could be timed – every 3 minutes, lasting 90 seconds. Around 9am, we gave our community midwife a call to let her know that SOMETHING at least was happening. Around midday, one of the team arrived and did some checks, watched me for a while and gave me an exam – I was 2cm dilated and 90% effaced. She left telling us to give them a call when things had progressed.
In preparation for labour, we learnt a lot about oxytocin and adrenaline and the impact it has. I thought it was really interesting, and a lot of it made sense to me, about being comfortable and not being watched, but I didn’t think it would have a huge impact on me. I was totally wrong. My labour all but ground to a halt as soon as the midwife arrived, and only picked up again once she’d left and we were on our own again.
By 11pm, contractions were still 3 minutes apart, lasting 90 seconds, but hadn’t got any stronger. We headed to bed to try to get some sleep. I woke up at 2am and went downstairs. By this point, I was beginning to doubt myself – should I try and sleep, or should I be jumping up and down on my yoga ball to keep things moving? Was this really the start of imminent labour, or was I still looking at an induction? I ate a yoghurt (which would turn out to be the last thing I ate for 24 hours – if I’d have known this, I might have tried to eat something more substantial) and called the out of hours midwife team for advice. They told me that the body sometimes stalled labour to allow you to get some rest, and that I should go back to bed, which I dutifully did. Miraculously, I was able to grab a couple more hours sleep, which I’m sure came in handy for the sleepless night that followed.
By 6am on Tuesday morning, things had changed again, and the contractions were still not something I would describe as pain, but were definitely more intense. I needed to be on hands and knees, bent forwards BEFORE the contraction hit, as once the contraction was at it’s peak, I wasn’t able to move my legs at all. Around 9am, we called the midwife team, and a midwife was with us by 10:30am. Once again, my contractions slowed significantly as soon as the midwife arrived (very annoying), but she quickly made us both feel very at ease. The midwife, Jackie, was no-nonsense and old school and reminded me a lot of Sister Evangelina from ‘Call the Midwife’, but she was also refreshingly ‘hands off’. She knew how my labour was progressing by listening to me and was happy to potter in the background whilst my contractions built back up.
Around 11:30am whilst Neil set the pool up, she told me that I was 5cm dilated.
She could also feel something else which she wasn’t happy about – what she thought might be a vessel on the placenta or something like that. She explained that we needed to get this checked out by the hospital, but that if we were given the all clear, we would be able to come straight back home and carry on as planned. An ambulance was called and things were thrown in bags just in case we had to stay. At around 12pm, I waddled in to the ambulance with the midwife and Neil followed behind in the car.
Once we arrived at the hospital, we were shown to a room in the labour ward. Someone wearing green came in and put a cannula in my hand. I didn’t want it, and didn’t need it, but it was standard procedure, so that they would be able to respond quickly should they need to. Leaning on the bed with your weight resting on your hands when you have a cannula in your vein sucks. A lot. Then, someone else wearing green came in and introduced herself as Dr M, a consultant. Jackie didn’t hear what she said, so asked her to repeat herself, to which Dr. M curtly announced that she had already introduced herself to me, the patient, so wasn’t going to do it again. It was at that point I decided I probably didn’t like this Dr M lady a whole lot – a hunch that proved to be bang on the money.
A few other green people came in the room, and a portable ultrasound was wheeled in. Although lots of people have private scans throughout their pregnancies, we’d only had the 12 and 20 week scans, and I remember feeling very strange – the previous two scans we’d had were proper ‘miracle of life’ moments where you see your unborn child. This felt very different, I wasn’t able to see the screen, I didn’t WANT to see the screen.
They couldn’t see anything on the scan, so Dr M told me that she was going to give me a ‘gentle’ examination to make sure everything was OK. Now, I’ve had a sweep at 1.5cm dilated, which wasn’t what I would call comfortable. I’ve also had an exam at 5cm dilated, which by comparison, I could barely even feel. Based on the excruciating pain that I was in during the ‘gentle’ exam by Dr M, I can only assume she must have had her entire hand inside my blummin’ uterus to feel around the head/placenta/whatever they thought was in the way. I’m not afraid to say that I wailed and sobbed at this point, and I think someone might have had to scrape me off the ceiling. This was the most painful part of the entire labour – which was made all the worse by the fact that I was completely unprepared for it. Don’t get me wrong, she didn’t do what she did to be mean, there were medical reasons for it, and the health and safety of me and the baby were her principal concern, I’m sure. However, describing something as ‘gentle’ when she really meant ‘way more painful than anything you’ve ever experienced in your life’ doesn’t generally go down well in my books. If she’d have told me that it was going to hurt, but that she would be as quick as she could, or even given me some bloody gas and air, I might have been better physically and mentally prepared.
During the exam, she also accidentally ruptured my membranes (although given how thorough the exam was, it was a wonder they lasted that long in my opinion), which went against our requests in the birth plan – not that I assume she had read it – and subsequently ramped my contractions up another notch. The only saving grace was that my waters were clear, which meant a water birth could still be on the cards, even if our chances of getting home and filling the pool up on time were now approximately slim to none.
Jackie, our midwife, asked Dr M how dilated I was at this point, so she could avoid giving me another examination, and Dr M told her very dismissively that she had no idea, and that she had been concentrating on other things. If I had the energy or the ability to structure coherent sentences by that point, I would have told Dr M that given that she’d had HER ENTIRE FREAKING HAND ALL UP IN MY GRILL, that I was probably fairly dilated by now. As I had neither, I manager an eye-roll and went back to concentrating on breathing through my contractions. I do love a good eye-roll.
Once Dr M had finished her examination and the green people slowly filtered out of the room, we were left on our own and I begged for the pointless cannula to be taken out. At this point, we were technically free to leave the hospital and transfer back home, but the thought of labouring in the ambulance, and waiting for the pool to be filled at home was a less than thrilling prospect given the half an hour we’d just had, the fact that my waters had now gone, and I was now contracting like a goodun (technical term). Neil suggested staying at the hospital and using the birth pool there, I begged Jackie and the student midwife to stay with us for the birth (and even though it probably goes against a whole lot of NHS guidelines, Jackie agreed – something I’m eternally grateful to her for) and the pool was filled up.
After a few minutes, we were told the pool was ready, and I did a hilarious walk down the corridor of the labour ward with a sheet draped around me, stopping every few yards to sway through a contraction. I must have looked a complete state to the bewildered visitors at the reception desk, but at that stage, I honestly didn’t give a toss.
I got in to the pool, which was a massive relief, and started using gas and air. I’m now convinced that the reason they give it out so freely is that it’s most effective if you’re quiet and NOT mooing like a cow. I quickly worked out that I couldn’t breathe in and moan at the same time, probably much to the relief of the midwife station just outside the door. It also gives you a mouth as dry as the Sahara desert, and between each and every contraction, I necked a glass of ice water. I’d also heard that the old Entenox can make some people a bit sweary. I love a good F-bomb at the best of times, so assumed I would naturally fall in to this foul-mouthed category, but it seemed to have the opposite effect. When I wasn’t frantically huffing on the mouthpiece or gulping water like my life depended on it, I was telling Neil just how much I loved him. Like, really really loved him. Eww, gross.
I found the comfiest position to be on my side, with my head on a rubber ring, holding Neil’s hand, and in easy reach of a glass of water and the gas mouthpiece. I remember having a sore hand from where my fingers had been bent back on the bottom of the pool – when each contraction hit, I ended up trying to lift myself out of the pool with my hands and feet. FYI, this didn’t make the blindest bit of difference, but still, made me feel better. Looking back, I still don’t remember the contractions being painful. I remember them taking over my whole body from my scalp to my toes, but the feeling I experienced wasn’t pain. I’ve since asked Neil whether I said to him that I was in pain at the time, and apparently I didn’t. It was pressure. All-encompassing, uncontrollable pressure. Whether this had anything to do with the relaxation and hypnotherapy CD that suggested contractions feeling like pressure, a wave or a tightening that I dutifully did every day* (*twice a month), I have no idea.
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Every woman is terrified they’re going to poo themselves in labour, right? Until you get there and you realise you quite literally don’t give a shit (‘SCUSE THE PUN) because you’ve got bigger fish to fry. Well, I’m here to tell you that I did some tiny poos in the bath. I don’t remember doing it, but at one point, I spotted them and asked Neil all surprised ‘Oh, did I do that?’ – like it could have feasibly been anyone else. To his credit, Neil did tell me that it was actually him that had done it. Still, I think if you’re going to poo in front of your husband for the first time, then doing it moments before birthing his first born child is a pretty good time to do it.
I probably have one too many episodes of ‘One Born Every Minute’ to blame for this, but I had an image in my head of how labour went. You went to the hospital when your contractions were 5 minutes apart, lasting for a minute, a midwife monitored you until you got to 10cm dilated, then you pushed for a couple of hours and did the whole chin to chest thing and the grunting, and eventually a baby popped out. Whereas my experience of labour so far was 36 hours of contractions 3 minutes apart lasting a minute and a half, one examination putting me at 5cm and an unexpected trip to the labour ward. Once I was in the pool, I was mercifully left to my own devices. The only checks Jackie was doing was using the doppler, taking my temperature and checking my pulse every 15 minutes. I only know how long I had been in the pool (45 mins) by the fact that I’d only had 3 checks whilst I was in there.
Shortly after the third check, I had a contraction which was different to the others. At the end of the contraction, I made a real grunting noise and I felt a tonne more pressure pushing down on my belly. The student midwife told me not to push, as Jackie had just stepped out of the room for her lunch. Midwives have lunch breaks, who knew?I told her I couldn’t control it at all, and she went to get Jackie back in the room. Jackie took a quick look and told me the head was right there ready to be born. She told me to feel the head, which I did, and it was nothing like I expected, it was pointy with a ridge down the middle. I told her it couldn’t possibly be the head because it was so pointy, but with the next contraction, the head was out – thus proving my theory wrong, shortly followed at 1:57pm (less than 2 hours after we arrived at the hospital) by the body. I didn’t push – it was like my body did it with little input from me. I think that’s what Ina May Gaskin calls ‘letting your monkey do it’.
Then we had the moment that I’ve seen a million times on maternity programmes – the bit where the purpe-ish squished baby is placed on the mother’s chest for the first time. The bit that I cry at without fail. But…I didn’t cry. In fact, I was a bit surprised to have a baby put on my chest in the first place. I had been concentrating so hard on getting through each contraction, that I had almost forgotten why I was doing it. But I looked down on this calm baby boy that didn’t cry, with it’s big alert eyes and wispy blonde hair and instantly fell in love, and wondered how on earth he could have possibly been in my tummy seconds before.
We had a few minutes together and then he was passed to Neil to have some skin-to-skin with whilst I got out of the pool and delivered the placenta. Jackie told me to stand up and get out of the pool so I could push out the placenta – I think I just looked at her gone out. I was meant to use my LEGS? I was meant to be able to WALK? Did you not just SEE what came out of me?!
…Apparently this rationale doesn’t get you out of the task at hand, so I dutifully stood up and attempted to get out of the pool. It was at that point I assessed the situation around me and realised how glad I was to be in a pool with a plug at the bottom, and not to be in an inflatable pool that needed to be emptied by the bucketload. I’ve seen water birth videos where the water is perfectly clear like a hot tub with a beautiful baby floating to the surface. What I saw before me was more like a murder scene. A murder scene with added poop.
Walking about with an umbilical cord hanging out of you is a pretty gross experience, so before getting out of the pool, I gave a little test push to see what happened. It was at that point, what I can only describe as THE ENTIRE WORLD splashed in to the pool below. This was the first and only point I swore throughout the entire labour. I bent down in to the water, scooped up the placenta, and as I passed it to the midwife, asked her ‘WHAT THE F**K IS THAT?!’ – to which she replied ‘Blimey! That’s a big one!’. apparently big baby = big placenta. Gross.
As my work was officially done, I got out of the pool and on to the bed. We named him William, had our first feed and some skin-to-skin and took guesses at his weight. I guessed 9lb 6oz, Neil guessed 9lbs 10oz. Jackie looked at us both and laughed. 10lb 8oz. TEN POUNDS EIGHT OUNCES OF PURE CHUNKY BABY.
So, after doing what I set out to do (have a baby with as few drugs and interventions as possible), I then ended up getting another cannula in my hand, a spinal block and being taken to theatre to be stitched back together – thanks to Billy’s enormousness and speed of arrival. As luck would have it, if we had been at home, we would have had to be transferred in to hospital after the birth, which I imagine would have been a whole lot more stressful than waddling to the ambulance at 5cm dilated. Before going to theatre, I was assessed by the consultant, Dr. M (who gave me the excruciating exam earlier), and was told ‘that’s what you get when you attempt a home birth’ – a comment she later came to apologise for after coming to look for me in the maternity ward because she felt guilty. See – what did I say? Cowbag.
I wasn’t able to sit up for them to put the spinal in when I was taken to theatre, so it had to be put in with me lying down. I’m assuming it was a combination of the shock, the drugs I’d been given and the spinal affecting my blood pressure, but I did some excellent heaves into those little cardboard bowls and tried to persuade anyone that would listen that I thought it would be an excellent idea to give me a couple of units of blood. Apparently, these aren’t available on request, which is a real pity. The surgery itself was fine – it was like I didn’t exist from the waist down, so it really didn’t matter what they were doing to me. I was more concerned with my face, which was the itchiest its ever been (a side effect of one of the drugs, apparently) and I spent the whole time giving it a good scratch. Once I was done, I was taken to recovery, had two glasses of the best lemon squash ever and was taken back to my room where I suddenly remembered I had a husband I was madly in love with, and a baby I’d just given birth to AND my mum had bought me some prawn cocktail sandwiches. I had a little (a big) cry.
After several sarnies and a big cuddle with Billy, Neil and my parents, me and Billy were taken to the maternity ward for the night – despite repeatedly asking if I could go home. Apparently they don’t let you home if you have a catheter in and can’t feel your legs? Who knew. So me and Baby Billy settled in for his first night in existence together, and Neil went home to deflate the abandoned birth pool and have a much deserved beer.
Now the important bit! Photos:
A couple of hours old
On the maternity ward, showcasing his chub to the best of his ability
The men in my life – Neil and Billy