Warning – I haven’t included anything too gory, but if you’re very sensitive or squeamish, you may want to skip this post, and any birth stories you come across!
It’s been nearly two months since Isla was born, and I finally feel more or less ready to share our birth story! I won’t be going into much gory detail, don’t worry, but I loved reading other people’s experiences (especially the positive ones!), so I thought it would only be fair to share!
On the 16th of October, I went to an old colleague’s house to meet with the office for dinner. My due date was just over a week away, and because the dinner had been rescheduled quite a few times, we had all been joking that I would probably go into labour on that very day.
About an hour into pre-dinner snacks and catching up, I felt a trickle. Without going into too much detail, I went into the bathroom a few times, trying to figure out whether this was actually happening. After about half an hour, I called Jake and told him he needed to come and pick me up. At this stage, I was assuming that I would be lying down at home for a while to see whether more water was leaking, and that we would go to hospital later that night. By the time we got home, however, it had become clear that the leaking was definitely amniotic fluid, and that there was quite a lot of it. I called the hospital, as I still wasn’t having any contractions to speak of, and they asked me to come into the assessment unit.
We grabbed our bags and drove, still convinced that we would be coming back home to wait for labour to commence properly.
Upon arriving at the hospital, I got out of the car and was immediately completely soaked. Contractions had become a little stronger during the car journey, especially because there were so many speed bumps, but still nothing worse than Braxton Hicks contractions. In the waiting room, they continued to increase to the point where I could not longer sit comfortably, and I soaked through several more maternity pads. But still, I wasn’t at a point where I would have said “I’m definitely in labour”. By the time we saw a midwife, however, it was pretty clear that things were moving. While the contractions weren’t that strong yet, they were coming every three minutes and lasting around 30 seconds to a minute. The assessing midwife confirmed that the baby was indeed likely to be on the way.
We were transferred to a room on the MLU. At first, I was handling things relatively well, with our lovely midwife popping in every so often. As Isla was positioned back-to-back (despite the amount of exercise I had been doing, which is supposed to encourage a good position… burpees at 37 weeks, anyone?), I knew the labour would be a bit of a tough one, but I wasn’t quite prepared for what the next hours would bring. Because my waters had broken before I had gone into established labour(read: 4cm dilated), the midwife was reluctant to let me into the pool or conduct an exam, as this would be a risk for infection. While this isn’t usually a problem, it does mean that, if labour slows down, you can’t go back home to wait for it to pick back up again, so they try to hold out for as long as possible. By this time, my contractions were about 60 to 90 seconds in duration, and coming every two minutes. I barely got chance to breathe between them because the pain just would not let up, even between contractions. We were told this was likely to be because of the back-to-back positioning, which sometimes causes contractions to double up, making it really hard for mums to rest in between.
We decided that it was time for an initial exam, which resulted in the disappointing news of one to two centimetres. I clenched my teeth and laboured on, trying to deal with the increasing pain as well as I could. I did a little bit of reading in my 30-second rest breaks and we tried to play some Phase 10, but we didn’t get very far!
Around this time, I started to lose it a bit. I could only really handle bending over my birthing ball, and even that was starting to be impossible. Every time I needed a wee I could barely stand the pain of contracting in an upright sitting position, but didn’t have any other option as the contractions were coming so hard and fast. I was screaming and sobbing like I’ve never sobbed in my life. I cried because I was in so much pain, I cried because they had said that contractions start every 20 minutes apart or so and slowly increase until the time of birth, and I felt cheated because I spent hours dealing with the two- to three-minute intervals and still wasn’t any closer to having my baby and I felt lied to. I cried because I was tired, I cried because I was embarrassed at how much I was screaming (and I mean screaming, not the loud, low-pitched moaning you hear on TV all the time) but couldn’t control it anymore, I cried because stupid fucking One Born Every Minute were in hospital and hassling midwives to ask women who were already in labour whether they wanted to be on the show.
After around three hours of this, I was examined again. By that time, I was around four to five centimetres and was allowed gas and air. I couldn’t go in the pool just then as it was still in use, but I was told that it would be cleaned out soon and I would be able to have my water birth as planned. I continued labouring, with the gas and air helping me along. Apparently the whole thing started to be more bearable for Jake at this point, as I was gagged by the gas and air mouthpiece and my screams weren’t quite as audible anymore. The pain quickly returned to unmanageable levels, however, and our midwife carefully started preparing us for the fact that diamorphine could become inevitable, despite us having said we definitely wanted to avoid it.
I continued on, alternating between screaming into my mouthpiece and sobbing into my birthing ball, while Jake rubbed my back, stroked my head, fed me sips of coke and tried his damndest to keep me calm. When I started feeling the urge to push, Jake called the midwife back in, who examined me and said I was still only around seven centimetres and needed to stop pushing. Anyone who has ever had a baby knows that that is the equivalent of telling a fish to stop swimming.
With that, the most nightmarish stage of our labour began, and I have to confess that my memory of it is patchy. They made me lie on my back to discourage the pushing, which made the contraction pain even worse than I had thought possible. I found myself waking up several times, and at the time thought I must have been falling asleep between contractions from the exhaustion. Looking back now, I think it’s more likely that I briefly lost consciousness from the pain a few times. I think this went unnoticed as everyone was busy monitoring the baby, or else our midwife didn’t mention it to us again afterwards – I’m not sure. Isla was an absolute trooper through the whole thing. While I was losing my mind, she maintained a perfect and steady heart rate and was trying her hardest to turn into the right position. When I was examined again and it turned out we were still nowhere near 10 centimetres, but that Isla’s head was beginning to swell from my failure to stop pushing, the midwife pulled the emergency brake: we could either have diamorphine straight away, or try the birthing pool and have diamorphine if that didn’t have an immediate effect. She didn’t sound hopeful, but with my last shreds of sanity, I managed to gasp ‘pool’, and off we went in a wheelchair. At this point, I had reached the absolute end of my capacities and, in my gas and air-addled brain, didn’t think I could take any more.
I could. The second Jake and the midwife helped my climb into the pool and I sat in the warm water, everything turned around. My back eased up a little. The contractions, while still intense, started spacing out more and giving me time to catch my breath between them. This allowed me to get back some control over my breathing in general, and my foggy head cleared up a bit. I finally remembered that the parent education midwife running the antenatal classes had said that panting made pushing impossible, a technique often used to help women stop pushing when the baby crowns to avoid tearing, so I started panting on the out breath during contractions. I calmed down. They dimmed the lights. I calmed down more and drank a boatload of water. At around 6AM, I had another examination. We were told that we had reached the magic 10 centimetres, that the baby had turned and I was finally given the all clear to push. I was so relieved I think I actually laughed.
I ended up pushing for quite a while – I think it was around 90 (thankfully uneventful) minutes. I put this down to lack of energy as it had now been around 12 hours since my waters broke. By this time, people had started waking up and sending Jake frantic texts for lack of updates – surely she must be born by now? Had something gone wrong? Fortunately for me, he was too busy helping me drink industrial quantities of water and stroking my hair, so unfortunately for them, they didn’t get a response for a few hours. Whoops.
Because things were progressing slowly, our midwife wasn’t quite sure whether she would get to see the baby before the end of her shift, but around half an hour before she was due to leave, the second midwife smiled and confirmed that she could see the head – with lots and lots of hair! Jake says this was the most emotional part for him, and despite the pain (which was SO MUCH LESS than during the earlier stages of labour), I just remember feeling calm and excited to see my little girl. It took a fair few contractions to get her head out, but the rest of the birth was completely uncomplicated with absolute minimal damage and I finally got to hold her. I had a bit of a panic, as she wasn’t crying at all, but apparently not all of them actually cry. She just kind of coughed and spluttered a bit and then started breathing, and got a shining 9/10 for her first APGAR score. Even today she isn’t much of a crier, so that must have just been her calm personality! She clearly takes after her dad there.
At that stage, I had the misfortune of breaking down. The tiredness, the trauma and the 12 hours of 3-minute contraction intervals finally got the better of me. To get me out of the pool as quickly as possible, the midwives cut the cord and gave Isla to Jake for a cuddle, who was rather pleased because he got to keep her for a good hour or so while I was being looked after. I finally calmed back down and we spent a quiet first few hours as a family.
I’ll stop there, as the rest of our hospital stay wasn’t very exciting and this is now close to 2000 words long, but I might pick back up here to talk about the first few days with a new baby in a later post. For now, all I can say is that an incredibly traumatic labour (I’m not exaggerating, we were later told that they expected things to go quite badly and that an emergency C-Section is common in these situations) ended very, very well. If there was one thing I could change, I would have insisted on the pool at an earlier stage, as it seemed to be the key piece to turning the whole thing around.
If you’ve read all the way to here, congratulations. This was undergraduate essay-length. Thank you for reading, and thank you for letting me tell you my story. Writing it all down has been really therapeutic and has helped me work through the whole experience, which I’ve been struggling with.
I’m looking forward to sharing many more baby and parenting experiences with you!