Birth stories aren’t for everyone. Don’t read it if it’s not for you. I won’t be in the least bit offended. I’ve not held back on the details as blog posts like this helped me exponentially throughout pregnancy and I wanted to give a bit of that back. Grab yourself a cuppa – and perhaps some contraception ;-)
It started with a sweep
Don’t all good birth stories start with a sweep? Especially when your first to be born mischief maker is well and truly over due? We were leaving for our sweep appointment on Saturday 5th when the phone rang. My midwife was off sick (again!), all her appointments were being rearranged and I’d be seen at home instead ‘at some point’ that day. I felt deflated, thrown off guard, left out in the cold. I had high hopes for the sweep after so many friends had shared success stories that brought on labour. My assigned midwife this pregnancy has been a flake at the best of times but this had me mad and feeling let down.
Tempers were a bit fraught after my sweep that did eventually happen later that day but thankfully a walk, a good lunch and a read of the paper saw us make friends again. I felt a bit like a ticking time bomb as walking became more of a challenge and I wondered if I’d go to bed that night and wake in a puddle. Not so.
Sunday. More walking. More eating. The lady serving us at the pub for lunch had recently found out she was pregnant. I waxed lyrical about my own pregnancy offering up advice when she asked but hid how terrified I was about the thought of an impending induction at nine days overdue and what felt like a possible fall at the final full term hurdle.
Sunday evening. We were watching the last episode in the latest series of The Good Wife when it wasn’t long before I had to stop the episode every ten minutes to dash to the bathroom. I hadn’t even had the suggested curry. And it was from there things started to get spicy…
We headed down to the hospital (which is literally down the road) around 1am where I knew I’d be sent home for not being sufficiently dilated but I just wanted the confidence to crack on at home so to speak. It all felt so new, so insanely alien and quite frankly bonkers.
I spent the whole time at home alternating between a bath and the shower when it got cold. Re-run the bath. Repeat. Dry land left me feeling so vulnerable, the water provided so much comfort; security beyond just a bit of relief from the pain.
It was 4am when we were back at the hospital, confirmed as being at the appropriate stage of labour and I was busy feeling like a woman possessed in a side room whilst the birthing centre was being prepared. It felt so long. I was so desperate to get back in the water.
When we did move (very slowly!) down the corridor so much comfort again was provided by the birthing pool. I was devastated to find the gas and air did nothing for me. With hindsight I probably didn’t give it a chance but it had me dehydrated, gagging a bit and certainly didn’t leave me feeling any kind of relief. The water thankfully offered that.
Whilst it was only a temperature check in my ear and a roll of the Doppler across my middle to check baby’s heart beat, as labour progressed these checks started to drive me insane. They felt disruptive, intrusive, almost painful when I just needed the opportunity to be able to shut off. Most of my labour was spent ‘on my own’. My eyes were closed, I didn’t want to partake in the midwives’ polite and encouraging chatter and Andy sat beside me in silence. This was so difficult for him.
When we wrote our birth plan together Andy knew exactly what I’d need from him in labour. I just needed to know he was there but any form of cheery encouragement was out of the question. But I think when it came to the actual event Andy felt self conscious around the midwives that he wasn’t doing as was expected of him as a birthing partner / cheer leader. I hardly spoke to him and the only communication was the loud, uncontrollable primal grunts that came with each contraction and subsequent push.
Time stood so still yet occasionally I’d glance at the clock on the wall to see we were now very much out of the small hours and into morning, the room’s skylight revealing the only natural bit of murky light.
Pushing it to the limit
Pushing wasn’t anywhere near as scary as I thought it might be and I actually thought provided a bit of relief / conclusion to the end of a contraction before the onset of another. I needed to get out of the pool when we realised the baby wasn’t progressing downwards in a way we’d like him or her to and also there were concerns my contractions were slowing. I’ll never forget that walk. From the birthing pool to the bed. We’d done a hospital tour and seen the birthing centre set up before. Yet the walk I was now completing felt like one of so many millions of miles and not just half a dozen steps.
Contractions are so paralysing, all consuming yet the (increasingly smaller!) gap between one and the next is a desperate snatch at rest bite, a quick opportunity to confirm you’re doing “ok” (why are we so British in feeling obligated to say that!?), have a sip of Gatorade and carry on.
Out of the pool it was easier to identify things weren’t panning out as they should be and there was no sign of that all important head. A simple pointing to the right and not down rapidly changed the fate of the final delivery.
What followed is now all such a huge blur. Somehow I was off the bed, into a wheelchair, dressed in a nightie, dressing gown desperately draped over my shoulders moving through corridors full of the day’s workers. ID badges, lanyards, most clutching coffees from the Starbucks in the hospital concourse that we too had been to just the Friday before, following the consultant appointment about the induction that never needed worrying about. But now, my head is hung so low, my contractions continuing, my eyes screwed up. Lifts. More corridors, totally unrecognisable yet identical territory.
We’re soon in a theatre side room and I’m coping far less well now. Resigned to an assisted delivery I felt any further effort was fruitless, lacking in reward. I wanted this done with; physical and emotional damage limited as much as possible and a babe in arms.
But my contractions continued as theatre was scrubbed down from the emergency that had gone before me. It was like a conveyor belt approach to the circle of life. Still contracting, the medical team are coming in, in what felt like a relentless stream, to make introductions, request my signature on paperwork and generally drive me to destruction. We needed to get on with this.
I’m asked (with help) to change out of my nightie into a gown. I beg instead that the midwife cuts the Primark special from me instead. I’m done. There’s nothing more I can give aside from £3 worth of cotton and polyester to save me from myself.
Being wheeled into theatre was a pretty incredible turnaround. We were on the top floor of the hospital, sun blazed through the many windows, the radio was delivering the midday headlines. It felt like a wonderful second beginning of a beautiful end. The spinal block was administered in between contractions, as I’m hauled along the operating table and asked to bring my feet up onto a stool. The stool. “Lift your feet up a little, sit up.” How? I had nothing more to give.
As the spinal took effect even the atheist in me was thinking “Sweet, sweet Jesus, what relief.” And then “why on earth didn’t I get an epidural?”, but then so quickly “I’m so glad I didn’t. I wouldn’t change all we did together to get this far.”
Legs in stirrups the surgeon filled me with such confidence. She was officious, extremely well presented with a strong Eastern European accent. She seemed to be taking it all in her stride, confident our baby would be out in no time with hopefully no need for further assistance beyond the forceps.
Two pushes, a chink of metal and cries. At last, cries. “It’s a Ffion!” Andy said. For a split second moment it was just him, me, tears rolling down our cheeks and then onto my chest she came. I felt so many millions of things. None of which I will ever be able to suitably gather together and write down. They will stay mine, forever. It wasn’t just about our baby, but the insane amount of love I felt for my husband at that point was overwhelming. Pulled up on a stool beside me, he’d been there from the absolute beginning. All the discussions we had around starting a family, a few bumps in the road pre-conception, the “precautionary pregnancy test”, the first trimester nausea, the early scans, the first kicks, the long, long walks in a desperate attempt to coax our little lady into the world. I don’t care what people say about women doing the hard work in child birth. Physically, for sure, but don’t ever underestimate the sheer intensity of emotion for the birth partner – especially if it’s his or her first time of experiencing this.
If anyone had listed out how I’d find myself just after 12.16pm on Monday September 7th; stitched, catheterised and with no movement in my legs I don’t think our baby would ever have arrived and I’d have been committed to keeping her in there forever. There’s something about childbirth that has you dig so deep as a woman. You plough on, new babe in arms, sipping luke warm sweet tea and buttery white toast cut into triangles, staring at one of the most incredible things that has even been handed to you. Nothing else seems to matter. My husband seemed to look at me with an insane respect that’s never been so intense before. I declined his offer of picking me up a coffee the morning after the birth when he visited hospital but taking three sips of his creamy latte I’d regretted my choice. Reader, he offered me the coffee (unheard of since we first met in 2009) and would have served me up the world on a silver tray given half a chance.
I spent two nights in hospital and the slow snail’s pace speed of my recovery took me a bit by surprise. After an active and very healthy pregnancy, only making it 50 yards to the corner of our street, shuffling, linked through and clutching my husband’s arm on day four caught me off guard.
But much like my husband reaching personal bests in F1 pit stop style nappy changes, every day is progress. I genuinely would do it all again in a heart beat and every challenging cry that we convert into a serene settled baby feels like an epic win. There’s been plenty of mini victories round here this first fortnight and long may every struggle be accompanied by calming inhalations of our newborn’s sweet smelling floppy head.
The list of thanks would be as long this post were I to call out everyone individually but from the What’s App/Twitter/Facebook support in the dark, trying hours to that team of theatre staff, every single midwife that told me I’d made a cute one, family, NCT friends, yoga teachers. I’m so very, very grateful.
A soon to be married dear friend sent me a gorgeous card that included the words “Tell me it was a breeze.”
It was a breeze. You too should give it a go…