Autumn 2015. 10 weeks after birth.
The absolute low point was soiling myself on the way back from a trip to town. I’d had a lovely time. Felt fit, well. It was a fine day. I decided to make the most of it and walk home. The urge started. It couldn’t be suppressed. The Thai nail bar claimed they didn’t have a toilet I could use. I didn’t have the courage to go and ask the funeral director. No cafes in that string of shops. As I entered the dark subway my bowels clearly felt they’d been granted some privacy.
I’ve never been more grateful for a pack of WaterWipes than I was in that Wetherspoons accessible toilet that was just that little bit too far away, moments before. I walked home with a muslin tucked in the back waistband of my jeggings, hoping no one was kind enough to pull it out in case I hadn’t noticed it was there…
Summer 2017 – Spring 2018
Labour and birth don’t cross your mind when you’re furiously refreshing the Natural Cycles app, desperately trying to conceive your second child; especially when your efforts have been interrupted by two chemical pregnancies.
When both lines appeared again in May 2018 right before a fortnight’s family holiday, the possibility of it all working out seemed so far off. As we scoured every local pharmacy to cash in a progesterone pessary prescription to help sustain the pregnancy it was looking even less positive when we could only obtain a one week supply before our flight departed.
Holiday was a perfect distraction. On May 22nd we had an early scan, heard that heart beat, ticked the box and kept our heads down until mid June when we opted to have the NIFTY screening test which came with another 10 week scan. As I sat in the hospital grounds on a bright sunny day just ahead of our 12 week NHS scan I got a call with our (all clear) NIFTY test results and confirmation we were having another little girl.
Everything seemed to have fallen into place. We decided to start telling family and friends and, most importantly, the soon to be big sister.
As I became more connected to and less apprehensive about my pregnancy I noticed conversations with my midwife, my husband and friends became a lot more about me and less about my baby. Not necessarily fears about the birth itself but life following.
Three hours of prolonged pushing that ended in a forceps delivery, a missed physio referral (should have been given as standard. It wasn’t) and just far too long terrified of frequenting a Wetherspoons in the middle of the day again, hung heavy. It was months and months before I had the confidence to have a bikini wax, sex or trip to the gym. All things I loved (yes, even the wax) that I felt had been stripped (ha! At least I can laugh now…) away from me.
I made early noises to my midwife about an elective c section and felt absolutely no shame in doing so. It was a way for me to guarantee control, a clearer pathway to recovery (albeit a difficult one) and allow us a plan. The appeal of knowing exactly when I would go into hospital was also a huge comfort. With no family on our doorstep my primary concern had always been “what the heck will happen to Ffion when I’m gone?”. So many darling friends offered support and I know I could have called on each and every single one of them but… The thought of potentially not knowing when I’d go into labour was heightening other anxieties and I remember sobbing half way through a Beyoncé and Jay-Z concert as my mind wandered to the time it came to saying good bye to Ffion to go to hospital, then raced ahead much too quickly to gut wrenching thoughts about dying in childbirth, how and who the hell would tell her and just how Dada would cope. All ridiculous of course, but I couldn’t quash those thoughts.
My midwife booked me in for a birth choices appointment and I met the incredible Abigail Holmes at our local hospital. Abi was armed with a ton of great stats, bucketfuls of empathy but didn’t once attempt to take the decision around an elective section out of my hands. The appointment ended with an agreed plan and what felt like a reassuring halfway house – an attempted vaginal delivery but a planned(ish) section after 30 minutes of pushing should things get a bit hairy.
A second birth choices appointment followed (because my notes hadn’t been available at the first) and it was even more reassuring to understand the timeline of events during my first labour. The detail was astounding, the specifics around my swearing at my husband and the midwife embarrassing and the reasons for my first daughter having not turned her head to make her way down the birth canal just unfortunately being one of those things. I was ready. I could do this.
Once the plan was set I booked myself into the truly brilliant physio, Jilly Bond. Aside from being ridiculously knowledgeable she’s not afraid to give your pelvic floor capabilities a score out of five (yes, I got a four!) and arm you with lots of suggestions for post birth support and recovery ahead of the 6 week check. I left my appointments with Jilly feeling like every push would be possible and wouldn’t set me back for the life I wanted to live after having my baby. She left me excited for the future, assured me it was very much ok to keep up the exercise I was doing and of course I could probably just squat my baby out! I wasn’t buying that bit…
In between the midwife and hospital appointments I attended Daisy Birthing classes with the wonderful Laura Livingstone.
I was the least pregnant at the classes for quite a long time and went through three and a bit terms in total. I started just as the sweltering summer took hold at 14 weeks pregnant, such was my determination to do something for myself and prepare for birth and my own emotional and physical recovery once I was holding my baby in my arms. It took me quite a while to get into the swing of those classes. The first sessions I attended were a Sunday teatime and leaving your family on a weekend sucks at the best of times, least of all when they’re sun drenched and laughter filled on account of the most incredible summer. I grumbled to myself at sitting on the floor cross legged (not something that comes naturally to me) and willed a lot of the class to hurry up a bit! Sometimes I skipped relaxation because I was hungry and my mind wandered a fair amount during the informative part of the class. But I kept going. I kept going for the opening, completely and utterly invaluable first 15, sometimes 30, minutes of the class. A weekly check in, a how are you doing. Because pregnancy tends to treat me pretty kindly (absolutely horrendous haemorrhoids on Christmas Day aside) my contributions weren’t necessarily about pregnancy gripes but a chance to talk about where we were at as a family, how the new arrival would impact each of us and often a chance to further reflect on my first delivery. I felt increasingly more confident each week and started to let myself soak up the sessions that bit more. Every term repeats itself but I never got bored and genuinely felt I took something new away each week. As groups changed I often shared the same information about myself during introductions and weekly updates. It served as a perfect reminder to myself of all I hoped to achieve during pregnancy and birth and clearly I was starting to believe in it.
Our birth story is a classic case of ‘be careful what you wish for’. I have a friend who also unexpectedly gave birth in her bathroom. I’ve often thought of this friend and been pretty envious of what she achieved and often flippantly said throughout this, my final pregnancy, something along the lines of ‘to be honest I’d be delighted if it happened in the bathroom. Drop Ffion at nursery, pick her up at the end of the day. Job done…’
We celebrated my New Year’s Day due date wandering along the front in Mumbles. Bitter cold with no coat that would do up, eyes like piss holes in the snow after the insomnia had stepped up a gear. It was absolutely a day to celebrate. I knew I wouldn’t be a due date birther and I wasn’t in any particular hurry. I was looking forward to not being pregnant anymore but I wasn’t scared of an overdue baby and cherished every moment with my tribe before things were set to really change. We hit our 10,000 steps, ate steamy bowls of carbonara and got ice cream on the way home.
All that said, I was becoming increasingly desperate to give birth on my terms, with all the support I felt I needed in place. I wanted Ffion to be well looked after and I didn’t really want a sister in board meetings in central London during rush hour. So I opted for the sweep.
Thursday, January 3rd 2019
“She’s got LOADS of hair. That’ll do it, I’m sure…” I mean, you never really know what to believe when it comes to an encouraging midwife but sure enough textbook cramping, a show and the feeling it was all about to kick off any minute, happened. We got take out sarnies from a local deli, watched telly and bounced enthusiastically on the birthing ball for the rest of the day.
Friday, January 4th 2019
More cramps. Sis booked a hotel less than two miles away for the night. We were set.
Saturday, January 5th 2019
We all sat around my kitchen table eating the brunch I had prepared for everyone. I was still very pregnant…
Sunday, January 6th 2019
The midwife had mentioned during an examination on the day of the sweep that she thought the baby was back to back. “Expect quite a lot of back pain in labour.”
JACKPOT! It had been another day of 10,000 steps but as the walk with friends came to an end I was starting to limp as my back jarred. This was DEFINITELY it. We’d promised ourselves another ice cream, figured we had time on our side to enjoy it and I double scooped for a final energy boost.
Monday, January 7th 2019
And then everyone went back to work.
Back to school traffic buzzed outside the front of our house as I contemplated what to do with my day. A lazy morning. A sorting office errand. A call to the midwife to set my elective section booking in motion and waiting for her to confirm a second sweep. I lined up full time nursery for Ffion for the entire month of January to support the planned section recovery and I suddenly breathed a sigh of relief that clearly the certainty of that booking date for a c section was what I needed most. Such was my commitment to now going ahead with the C Section I couldn’t even be bothered to get in the car to battle school pick up traffic when the midwife suggested a sweep at her surgery at 3:30pm. I took advantage of a special offer at the local beautician and got a foot massage instead. That evening I went to my usual yoga class, told everyone about the C Section plans and really made the most of my final session.
Tuesday, January 8th 2019
‘Please, for goodness sake, not again…’ was what I first thought to myself just after 1am when some really irritating period pain set in. I was becoming sick of these ridiculous false starts and quite frankly just wanted a decent night’s sleep. As it kept niggling I cut my losses and took two Paracetamol before a little visitor frequented our bed at 4:40am. I was glad of the distraction as this pain was getting increasingly more annoying as was my desperation to go to the toilet without any joy. With Andy in the spare room (such had been my tossing and turning and his snoring of the past few nights) I thought I best give him the heads up on what was happening. I mean, are you even married with kids if you’re not communicating between rooms via What’s App…?
I’ve given him the heads up with further instruction that present opening and party poppers need to be stripped right back. You see, January 8th is my birthday and the not so secret surprise of what was bought on the Sunday had been talked about for days. There was a lot of excitement about presents, balloons and whatever else the little love wanted to give me. I had to go through with it but as I leaned over the bed on all fours I thought we best put some sort of plan in place for the remainder of our morning.
I put in the distress call to our usual babysitter and close family friend. Thankfully she’s one of life’s rare people who doesn’t keep her phone on silent, can always be relied upon to respond at ridiculous o’clock and works at Ffion’s nursery. She was all booked to collect Ffion from us at 7:15am and kindly take her to nursery with us.
What’s App update to my birthing partner sent. “Are you feeling up to this?” he kindly replied… Sure, sure, I’m thinking through gritted teeth. We’re already talking at cross-purposes!
And so they went about blowing up balloons and dressing our front room for some very early celebrations.
Just before 6:00am
I remember being able to gratefully focus on the cover of Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming’ but had to flit in and out of the rest of it all. The pain was ramping up and then some but I could just about get through a card and a casual Instagram Story post in between what were now clearly contractions.
Around 6:30am, I think.
That was it. I had to excuse myself to the bath. Like history repeating itself it was the place in my first labour I felt safest and most able to cope. I don’t recall running the bath or even getting in it but I did manage to chuck in some bath toy mood lighting and text a photo to Sis in our family What’s App group. During my first labour I found the pain, even in the very early stages, completely paralysing so I used the water as a bit of a comfort blanket. Pulling it over me, lying stock still. This time was so, so different. With every contraction I’m crouching, squatting, on all fours, in the bath, out of the bath, leaning over the bath. At one point I felt an almighty swoosh. Could this have been my back to back baby turning? Was that the start of everything really progressing? I’ll honestly never know.
So the up and down continues and I start hatching plans in my mind. First and foremost I’m stood in the water thinking ‘There are no prizes. All my friends that have had one tell me as such. I am asking for the epidural as soon as we get to hospital. No awards for bravery. This really hurts now.’ The next plan is what we’ll do once Ffion is out the door. We’ll get ourselves ready and head to the hospital. There’s probably a long way to go but I don’t fancy getting stuck in rush hour traffic any later in the morning and we can always walk the corridors once they tell me I’m just 2cm dilated.
I can hear them downstairs by the coat stand. ‘Just goooooo’ I’m wimpering under my breath, such is the laughter, giddy excitement and decades it’s taking for Ffion to put her coat on. She’s clearly not remotely bothered by the bizarre arrangement and relishing the complete novelty of it all.
Finally… “Byeeeeeeee” I bellow, in a cheery tone I somehow managed to find from deep within me so as to protect her from thinking anything at all was wrong with Mama.
As I climb out of the bath, I end up on all fours for the next contraction, bent over the bath. ‘Don’t bloody push’ I’m thinking. Last time there was so much pushing. Too much pushing too early but this one I just couldn’t control. ‘Oh God’, I’m thinking as I feel a stretch and a sting. It can’t feel like this already, there is still such a long road ahead. The 3.5 hours of prolonged pushing of my first labour flashes back to haunt me and I’m desperately longing for it to stop. I want the go ahead from a midwife before I start pushing. I want to know everything is ok for me to do so and that it isn’t all too soon.
I start getting dressed into my underwear, staggering from the bathroom to the banister in the hallway and then, I’m still not sure why, back to the bathroom to pull on my pants. ‘Sh*t, I’m so swollen already’ as my hand brushes my nethers and I pull on my pants. Check again, to assess the collateral damage… ‘F*CK, it’s the head!’.
“Roomy, call an ambulance”
“Call. A. Fucking. Ambulance.”
Thankfully I hear no more from him other than “Can I get an ambulance?” and he starts to make his way upstairs. As he does… SPLASH DOWN! Right through my underwear it’s a Hollywood style waters breaking episode and almighty pools of all sorts of detritus flood our bathroom floor. With my back to the door the first he sees, he’s since told me, is a football stuffed into my pants.
Emergency services operator now on speakerphone, Andy relays all that he can see and is advised to put his hand on my vagina to tell the operator what he can feel. All the while I’m surprisingly not terrified, I’m comforted we have help on the line and more help on the way and was expecting Andy to be guided through whatever was necessary before the paramedics arrived. We could do this. Down come my pants (for the vaginal examination!) at the same time as a baby. I am completely flooded with the most exhilarating, debilitating shock, wonder, utter disbelief, but never fear. I could see that little human that crash landed onto our bath mat (thank goodness during the bathroom renovation we opted for rubber nor ceramic tiles – ironically to stop our child / any future children slipping on them) was pink and wholesome and whilst there was a split second before the cry I didn’t once think she would be anything other than alright. 7:26am the operator told us. 11 minutes after our eldest daughter was out the door.
Amongst what felt like metres and metres of mangled cord (I’ve since Googled to confirm it would have been 60 cm at most) we scooped her up between us. For the fleetingest of fleeting seconds I was contemplating a third baby. I felt beyond lucky to be alive, more proud of myself than I have been in 36 years (to the day!) and well and truly invincible. I looked up at my husband, the man I’d met nearly ten years previously, taken for a bit of a ride, used to recover from a messy three year long distance relationship; the rebound I fell in love with. Here he was, against all odds, sticking two fingers up to previous PTSD struggles to deliver our baby in the bathroom. I was beyond proud of all he’d done so calmy, so assertively. I have never felt love like I did in the moment I held our baby and looked up to catch his eye for the first time since all the drama had begun.
Andy went off for towels and then continued following the operator’s instructions to find a shoe lace to stop the cord pulsing. Wrapped up, eyes open, our second daughter looked at us both as the door knocked and the paramedic arrived. From this point the paramedic took over but only needed to bring his kindness and cheeriness and demand for more clean, warm towels. As my heart sank remembering the need to birth the placenta I made enquiries about whether I could have the injection. Alas, a paramedic doesn’t carry Syntocinon and I’d need to do it solo. The bathroom was now brightly lit, I suddenly felt exposed and vulnerable. I stood up a little… SPLAT… Just like a jelly fish, the placenta now joined the rest of the war scene that was our bathroom floor. The euphoria hit new levels. I wanted to give the universe the heftiest of high fives.
I wondered if I’d be able to walk, what the rules were around life after birth when it’s happened unintentionally in your own home. I sent Andy to go and open my hospital bag and sat glugging Lucozade on our toilet with the lid down. The practicalities of leaving the bathroom needed a fair bit of consideration, starting with a shower. I asked the paramedic if it was ok to take one, again, such was my concern around how one should behave having just given birth at home! It made me think how much in hospital, especially given my first highly medicalised birth, you’re guided through the ‘process’ and served a fair few instructions in those first few hours.
Holding the baby, he passed me my pyjamas, I dried myself off, pulled on some trusty Tena pants and climbed into bed. My own bed. Within probably an hour of having delivered our baby. By this point two wonderful midwives arrived and helped with feeding, completed paperwork, chatted to us and then gently prepared me for an examination. I won’t lie, I was terrified. When both a baby and a placenta have pretty much dropped clean out of your vagina just an hour before I wasn’t holding out much hope for the verdict. “A bit of a graze, but not something that will need a stitch.” What?! I again felt I owed the universe everything.
I didn’t move from bed for the rest of the day until early evening when I pulled on leggings and a t shirt to welcome Ffion home from nursery. Another idyllic moment as a sleeping new baby lay in her crib and my biggest, best girl bounded into my arms to take a look. She was proud, excited, beaming. I couldn’t have asked for more. But there was more. There was cake, candles and singing. There were no tears, just deep joy. Eternal gratitude. Happy Birthday to me and my baby girl.