My pregnancy was not what I expected, my labour followed suit and my birth plan went out the window!
You hear of all the usual morning sickness and cravings etc but for me, apart from feeling very tired I had no other symptoms. I think that’s why I found it so hard to believe there was actually my tiny human cooking in there. That and the fact that I was diagnosed with Stage 4 endometriosis the previous year which led to us being told it was very unlikely that I would conceive without intervention (which fortunately wasn’t the case). I spent the entirety of my pregnancy waiting to believe that I was actually pregnant, despite feeling his little kicks and turns along the way. So then I presumed it will probably feel real once I’m in labour right?
I was due on 27th February (a Thursday) and was very ready for this baby to make an arrival by this point. I did all the usual things to make baby come and at 1am on 28th February I started to have contractions. For me, these were really ok and felt like mild period pains at this point. I was very restless though as I knew I needed my energy so was trying to make myself get some rest next to my partner, Michael, who was snoring away, waking every so often to check I was ok. I kept telling him to sleep as I know I would need him later but then felt annoyed he could so easily slip back into sleep whilst I was checking off everything that needed to be done before the imminent arrival (such as set the cat up with some food for a day or so just incase!).
Over the 9 months, Michael and I had discussed having my sister, Fi, there during labour as a support for me, as well as having a drug free water birth at home. Basically I wanted as minimal intervention as possible to give birth at home surrounded by my partner and sister (and cat). I am a qualified doula so knew the merits of having another person, besides the partner, at the labour as a support for both mum and partner. However, Michael wasn’t keen initially as he felt that his role may feel ‘less’ if she was there but we came to a compromise that I could have her there if I gave birth at the hospital.
Anyway, my contractions were getting closer together and I downloaded an app called “contraction Timer & Counter 9m” which was now telling me in big red letters that I needed to go to the hospital now. I had also had a moment on the toilet where I wasn’t sure if my waters had broken as there was something unfamiliar in the toilet (a pinky fluid if I remember correctly) but as it was now in the toilet bowl I really wasn’t sure as I had never experienced labour before. So I called the ward and explained that my app was shouting at me to come in and about the toilet and we were told to come in. So at 6am, we set off for the hospital thinking that we’d be home a few hours later having given birth in the pool and we’d be in our happy newborn bubble. We waited until 7am to call Fi to tell her I was in labour as we wanted to get an understanding of how far along I was and also she has 2 young children so needed to organise childcare. A very excited Fi said she would be there after lunch once her husband could slip away from work.
I was examined by a midwife once on the ward, only to be told that the waters hadn’t broken and I was 1cm dilated. Shit. I could have sworn I would be about 8cm by now and the baby would be flying out at any point. Looking back, I feel quite sorry for the midwife who performed this check as my uterus was so far back she basically had to put her whole hand up there and she was met with quite a few expletives from me. No one tells you that being examined can actually be pretty painful if your uterus hasn’t come down (or whatever the correct lingo is). Anyway, I consented to a membrane sweep in the hope of my waters breaking naturally and/or contractions becoming more regular. Back off home we went (by the way, contracting whilst in the car is pretty brutal, especially if you hit a speed bump!).
I then laboured at home for roughly 20,000 years, or that’s what it felt like. Fi arrived around 2pm and found me hidden under a blanket at the bottom of our bed on the floor. I was trying out my best moves that I’d learnt in antenatal classes and as a doula to get into the best positions for the baby to come out. Contractions were getting pretty intense by this point and my whole body was starting to shake with every one. Michael and Fi quickly decorated the house with the LED candles I’d bought, as well as set up the diffuser with lavender oil and dimmed the lights as much as possible. Fi came armed with a bag of energy rich foods but Michael had already been feeding me dried fruit from our snack bag and making me have sips of water so I wasn’t feeling too hungry. However, as the hours passed, every mouthful or sip of water was violently rejected by my body 5 minutes later. My app was going into overdrive shouting at me to go to hospital, however we’d now been sent home a further time as I still wasn’t progressing and remained at 1cm. How was that even possible if my contractions were 3 in 10 minutes lasting 40seconds- 1 min, like we’ve all been taught is the sign you are progressing very well? But alas, I remained at 1cm, contracting continually until 29th February. Much of that time at home is a bit of a blur now but I do remember lying on the sofa contacting so badly that my whole body was shaking whilst vomiting water and whilst I vomited a massive snot ball flew out the other end (my mucus plug). Thank god Michael loves me is all I can say about that.
I now refer back to my family WhatsApp group chat to fill in the blanks on what happens next. At some point I was given some pethidine. Now this is something I was adamant I didn’t want as it crosses the placenta to the baby, but I was so exhausted and the contractions were still extremely painful, like out of this world, (plus I still couldn’t keep anything down) so I needed some rest. Gas and air just wasn’t cutting it anymore and to be honest I don’t think it ever really helped the pain but did help me to focus my breathing for a short period. At this time I was 3cm but Michael writes on the chat that my cervix was finally beginning to soften and my uterus was becoming more posterior so things were starting to progress (only took around 30 hours!). At 10.30am my sister informed the family that I had just had a second dose of pethidine so I really must have been struggling.
Now up to this point I had pretty much kept my eye mask on the whole time to try to help myself focus and block out lights and noise so I had no idea who was talking to me. I think I took my mask off around now because I remember seeing my lovely Midwife’s, Emma’s, face and feeling a tonne better putting a face to that calming voice that had been around me. She knew I wanted to have a water birth so suggested she put on the water to try to help with the pain. Oh by the way, the baby was now back to back which I think would explain the amount of pain I was in and the pool can also help with moving a baby’s position.
Michael had gone for a rest as him and Fi were taking it in turns to get short naps in the car. Whilst he was resting, Emma demonstrated to Fi some massage techniques in the water that can help relieve pain and left us to it. Fi asked me if I wanted any music on, so on came some reggae and I started to feel much better. In comes Emma with some little pots of honey for me to eat for energy and I slowly made my way through 2 pots with the help of Michael, who had now returned, and Fi literally spooning it into my mouth whilst I rocked on all fours in the bath. We laugh about it now, as I don’t actually remember it at the time, but apparently I wasn’t alone in the pool. All I can say is that I must have been relaxed and we’ll just leave it at that.
As I elegantly hitched one leg over the side of the pool to get out, aided by Michael, my waters finally broke. I wrapped myself in the towel whilst Michael went to get Emma and I could hear them chatting outside the door. Emma was so happy for me that the waters had broken and I remember feeling super proud of myself. However she informed me that my waters were brown which meant the baby had done a poo inside me and I would need to go upstairs to the consultant led ward for closer monitoring.
Throughout the months of discussions about the birth, I had also been adamant I wanted to stay on the Alexandra Birthing Unit at Watford General Hospital and definitely not go up to the ward upstairs. But now that the baby had done a poo inside me and forced my hand as such, I made the decision I wanted an epidural. I had had about 1 hours sleep in 2 days and I didn’t know how I was ever going to push this baby out. In these discussions, I’d also said to Michael that if I request an epidural then to know I didn’t actually mean it and try to talk me out of it. So off he goes, telling me I’m doing so well and I’m nearly there and I can do it (he must have practised his speech, it was wonderful) whilst I’m going “no no no I definitely want an epidural”. It was probably like a comedy sketch to an outsider but I knew I wanted it and I was now making that very clear. In the end, he could see that I was serious and breathed a sigh of relief as he wanted me to have one all along.
So Emma then went off to let the anaesthetist, who from this point forwards will be known as my best friend, know that I wanted an epidural. I had a cannula inserted to replace the fluids I had lost and was hooked up to machines that were monitoring my blood pressure and mine and my baby’s heart rates (apparently if a baby poos inside you then this can be a sign they are distressed) so close monitoring was needed. The wait for the epidural was long. 2.5 hours long in fact and it felt like torture knowing I will be out of pain at any point but not knowing when this point would be. Just before 5pm on Saturday 29th February, I received the epidural and my sister informs the family that I “nearly made out with the old man” aka my best friend. The relief was instant, however perhaps not for my dad who swiftly replied “what old man?”. I think he must have thought I’d been driven to insanity and wanted to go round snogging random men but Fi reassured him “the man who gave her the drugs”. Phew on all accounts. I then felt a bit more normal, which is surprising considering I’m dosed up to my eyeballs on drugs but I remembering hearing football hooligans shouting outside and making some jokes about where I’d rather be at that moment (it was actually a funny joke, I know it doesn’t sound it). Then I managed to rest a little, in fact I think we all did, and waited for my body to do what it was made to. Except it didn’t. 5 hours later I was examined and was only 6cm dilated and my morale was really beginning to waver. I remember strongly cursing Michael for getting me into this predicament in the first place.
Shortly after the examination, a consultant came in to look at the miles of paper that had been gently reeling out of the monitor over the past few hours (I believe this showed the baby’s heart rate and my contraction strengths and durations on a chart) to discuss our options and floated the word c-section around. As there wasn’t any change in the dilation (which they believe was because the baby was back to back and face upwards) and the contractions weren’t regular enough, they thought the best thing might be to perform a c-section but they would leave it until the next examination at 2am to make that call. I desperately didn’t want a c-section and my hopes of ever pushing this baby out, drugs or no drugs, was quickly disappearing. Michael and I discussed our options and feelings but it went without saying that if a c-section was what needed to be done for the safety of the baby and I, then it would be done. It wasn’t what I wanted or had planned for, in fact it was as far the other end of the spectrum you could get, but as you quickly learn as a parent, you’d do absolutely anything to protect your child and keep them from danger. However I had 2am in my head, and also knew Emma would be going off shift soon, so I wanted to try everything I could to move the baby along without more intervention so that we could all meet this little human causing so much drama. So I frequently changed my position, relaxed and willed this baby to move along with every ounce of me. Sadly, I learnt that actually Emma was going off shift then and I found this really hard. She was another constant for me throughout the hardest few days in my life and I didn’t want her to leave. That calming, reassuring voice that I think is actually etched in my brain now, was leaving and I didn’t want her to go. I wanted her to be there when this baby came out and I wanted to give her a hug afterwards. Emma left and I had a little cry but set a mental reminder in my head to come back and see her once this was all over. It’s amazing that a stranger only a few hours before can mean so much to you, and will do forever more.
I was then introduced to 2 other midwives. One a student, who was fabulous, and another senior midwife who she was learning from. As is with life, there are some people you instantly love and those that you don’t. I know Emma left big shoes to fill which didn’t help but I didn’t connect with this senior midwife nearly as much as I did with Emma. She wasn’t particularly empathetic or supportive (I think the phrase “it’s not called labour for nothing” was thrown in there somewhere) and I found myself getting quite annoyed at her. However, as fate would have it, she started to feel unwell and went off shift, leaving the lovely student midwife to look after me. In fact, she didn’t just look after me, she didn’t leave my side and was reading the machine constantly to check the baby was ok. She was really thrown in at the deep end so I hope she was recognised for being so utterly brilliant. There were other midwives around, of course, who kept coming in and doing something called ‘fresh eyes’ where a different midwife comes in regularly to check to see if they can see anything different to the others, but she was another much needed constant.
At 12am, Michael and I were told I would need a c-section following a visit from a doctor. We were told that someone else would come in to speak to us shortly but after a very long wait of about an hour, Michael went out to find someone to ask what what happened and then a midwife came in to explain that there was another lady who needed a c section and they were weighing up which one was more of an emergency. It turns out it was her so our wait continued. During our wait, a lady came in with a consent form for me to “read and fill in”. Have you ever tried reading something when you’re off your head on pain relief? I still remember the tiny letters blurring into one and saying to Michael there was no way I could read it. So he read it to me and I remember it all sounded pretty terrifying. Paralysis, haemorrhage and clots were amongst many other scary words he read out to me but we were reassured that these risks were extremely minimal so I signed the document and Michael gave me a loving cuddle.
At around 2.30am we were taken into theatre and it was all very surreal. Michael was sitting to my right and the anaesthetist, not my best friend, but a close second, was standing to my left. The room was bright (of course, it needed to be. I’d be concerned if they were doing major surgery on me in the dark) and there was music playing. There were a lot of people in the room with us but everyone was so friendly and kind. I remember asking the anaesthetist for his name after about 5 minutes as I thought to myself that I really liked him and would give him a good review, like he was some sort of hotel on trip advisor or something, but I’ve subsequently forgotten it unfortunately. Nevertheless, he was a young guy who was trying to distract me by asking me lots of questions. I remember Michael saying how anxious he felt and my newest best friend was agreeing with him that he’d be a wreck if it was his girlfriend on the table. Good job it was me on there then for both parties sake.
We told them we didn’t know the gender and wanted Michael to be the one to tell me and I requested to see my placenta, as you do. There was lots of pulling and pushing and tugging but it was all hidden behind the sheet they had placed vertically in front of us. The surgeon accidentally cut one of the other drs fingers whilst operating so she had to rush off to stop her bleeding. I started to feel some weird sensations so the anethetist swiftly topped me up with more drugs and away it went. It was such a surreal time as I could see my surgeon literally kneeling with her legs either side of me, wrestling with my organs to get my baby out yet couldn’t really feel anything. She, and the feminist in me loves that she was a she as most people would presume the surgeon would be male (well I did anyway) did comment that the baby was further down then they thought which is why it was taking quite a long time.
But then, at 3.18am on Sunday 1st March, our beautiful baby boy was born. Michael didn’t get a chance to reveal the gender to me because as he was lifted up over the sheet we saw his giant, swollen red balls just before he did a wee right onto my face. An entrance like no other and one no one in that room would forget in a hurry. The surgeon told us the cord had been wrapped around his neck so that was why I wasn’t progressing , the poor little thing. And then, just like that, the hours of pain and exhaustion were forgotten as we were gifted the most perfect little person we could ever imagine. It sounds cliché but it’s true. I’d do it all again for him.