As soon as I found out I was pregnant I started to read others birth stories. I suppose it gave me understanding and a great insight into what may happen to me when the time came. I really was clueless, as I think most of us are and I found it reassuring to read the stories of all these women and I was fascinated by how different everyone’s experience was. As I got closer to my due date I felt quite comfortable with the prospect of birth, I wasn’t terrified of it as I always thought I would be and of course, in many ways, I was very much looking forward to it. I felt armed with positive vibes and a belief that what would be would be and that would be alright.
However, as I went past my due date I started to search for and read stories, every day looking for a similarity or a sign that would make me feel certain that today would be the day and that soon I’d meet my baby.
Every woman has a different story and every one is so different. I think it’s really important to emphasise that. I believe that reading others experiences helped me and so I hope that reading mine will do the same. I’ll be honest as best my memory serves me and whilst I’m sure I should avoid using words such a ‘pain’ I’ll just go ahead and describe all the sensations as accurately as I can. I’m a great believer in protecting and encouraging expectant mothers, flooding them with positivity but there has to be a balance of realism, in my opinion.
I was due on August 8th and I couldn’t wait. I really can’t say I loved being pregnant and as it neared the end I felt I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I felt bad for not relishing every moment and as the days dragged on and over ‘D-Day’ I became desperate. Every day I was trying a different ‘trick’ that I’d been told or found online on some stupid forum. It’s amazing what desperation will have you do and believe! On day 40+3 I ate 2 pineapples, a mango, a curry, bounced on my ball for hours, did yoga, walked the dogs, inhaled and applied clary sage and had sex. I felt nothing other than very sick. Of course. Useless. However, I woke the next morning with an acceptance that there is no due date and that, within reason, my baby would come when she was ready and that my body knew what it was doing. I was still analysing every twinge and wondering if it was a tightening, lightening, Braxton Hicks, a contraction, wind, full blown labour.
It was Tuesday night, eight days ‘over’ when I started to feel some different sensations. It wasn’t pain as such and I didn’t know what it was, I only knew it felt different. I was home alone, Adam was working and about a four-hour journey away. I sat on the sofa and went with it, deciding to see if this was going anywhere or getting any worse. After two hours these sensations started to feel like they were coming with some uniformity. They were consistently achy. At this point, I called Adam and said that perhaps he’d like to come home after this job which he did and arrived around 11pm. By this time I’d had a bath and was trying to settle myself still not really knowing if this was it or if it would simply pass. I fell asleep around midnight and woke again at 3am in considerably more discomfort than the previous evening. I went to the loo in great expectation of the mysterious and elusive mucus plug…nothing. I woke Adam and had another bath as the pains were ramping up. It was like strong period pains but more in my back and within the hour they were stronger and we decided to start timing them. By 6 am these pains were every 3-4 minutes and lasting at least 45 seconds. This is what we’re told to look out for and when we are told to go to the hospital. So we called and they invited us in.
We’d opted for a mother-centric birthing centre attached to our local hospital and I had hoped for a water birth. That was as detailed as my birth plan was, choosing to have faith in my body rather than try to stick to a plan which, knowing myself, could stress me out if something deviated. We hadn’t done a visit to the birth centre as we could have done as again I preferred to not know and to take it all as it came rather than spend the weeks pre-labour with an image in my mind as to how it would be. We had however, made a dummy run and checked out where everything was.
The journey is about 30 minutes by car and by the time we got there I was struggling to walk. The midwife asked me to rate my pain on a scale of 1-10. I said 10 given that it was the most pain I had ever experienced, how was I to rate it any less? She examined me and I was 1cm dilated. 1cm!!! This was not labour, this was pre-labour and that terrified me. It hadn’t even started yet. I had no tolerance for pain. Oh shit. We were to go home and wait it out. So off we went.
I tried really hard to calm myself as the realisation hit that I just didn’t know what was going to happen, how it was going to feel started to scare me. It had occurred to me that in reality, my rating of 10 should have been 1 and that gave me some insight as to what 10 might really feel like.
My midwife was scheduled for a visit to perform my second sweep at 1pm so we decided to wait it out until then and take action from there. So we were home and focused on getting through the next 7 or so hours until she arrived and told us that we could go back to the hospital. I was so fearful of making another wasted trip as I’d found the journey very uncomfortable and stressful. I had another bath and the pains were just as regular, consistently every four minutes maximum and lasting for 45-60 seconds. Adam set to work trying to get me to eat which I simply couldn’t face so he made me fruit, oat and honey smoothies which I’m so glad I got down me when I could. He’d brought my yoga mat and birthing ball up to the bedroom as I found being seated or on my back intensely uncomfortable. I needed to be on my knees, rocking and moving. I was on countdown until Elizabeth my lovely midwife arrived. She asked me some questions. Waters broken? No. Scale of pain? I just didn’t know how to answer. She examined me and I was…..1cm! Noooooo! How can this be? She could feel the baby’s head and the bag of waters. She performed a very ‘assertive’ sweep which was not comfortable but at this stage it was all pretty sore so no matter. We asked how to know when to go to the birth centre as the timings etc were all we really had to go on. She advised to wait, ‘wait as long as you possibly can as you will get sent home if you are under 4cm’. Given that I thought I was in full blown labour at 4am that morning none of this advice really meant anything to me. With nothing to compare anything to, how on earth do I know how far down the line we are?
As soon as the door closed behind her it really started. The next few hours are still very vivid to me. Adam had pulled the blinds, lit candles and incense. We were figuring out which positions helped, how to breathe and how he could help me, which he did greatly. The pain was intense now and I had become very vocal which I found both helped and alarmed me but I couldn’t help it. Every contraction was more intense than the last and so I was always ready to make the call and head to the hospital but after every contraction, Adam would say ‘Just wait a few more minutes’ ‘Breathe’ and ‘You’re doing great’ and so the next 3 or 4 hours passed. At some point I’d lost my plug, the ‘bloody show’ and all those days of wondering ‘is this it?’ were suddenly laughable. When it goes, you know!
It was around 4 o’clock I think when Adam declared we were leaving. It was Wednesday and we were approaching rush hour which could make the journey over an hour. We loaded into the car for the second time. We have a small car and so the baby seat has to be installed behind the passenger seat otherwise there’s no room for our legs when driving. This makes the passenger seat very upright and close to the windscreen so there is no space at all. I couldn’t move and felt fixed at a right-angle which was at this stage excruciating. It was a very warm afternoon and I was sweltering so we made the journey with me screaming out of the open window. Towards the end, Adam really put his foot down and we must have been a real sight!
We made our way into the birth centre, I was really struggling to walk and couldn’t stand unaided when a contraction hit. I was 6 cm! Thank The Lord!! We were getting there!
Everything seemed to be in fast motion from here on in. I was in another room facing a huge jacuzzi looking bath before I knew it. I remember the two midwives asking me what I’d like to wear in the pool at which point I just stripped off and got in before the next contraction arrived. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I’d be wearing anything! Almost as soon as I got in the water, my waters broke. It was at this stage Adam decided he’d not be getting in with me!
I felt relief at being at this point, the journey done and such incredible excitement at the prospect of meeting my little girl but the fear was also strong. Knowing what I know now, I’d now rate the pain at a 7. What happened next is less vivid, more of a blur. The only thing that felt vivid was the sensations coursing through by body. That is all there was. I could hear Adam in the background and I knew the midwives were there but I was entirely inside myself, suddenly there was no outside, no water, no birth centre, no light or dark or positions or breathing. It was just a fire in my back, my stomach and my vagina and it grew in intensity as each contraction hit and then crackled in the background in between letting me know it was still there and would come back with force and move my baby further down my body. I had no idea where she was, how far along we were. Whether she was still in my tummy or whether she was right down in my birth canal and that scared me as I just knew I needed her out. I could hear my own roaring, so much so that the midwives were trying to stop me so I didn’t damage my throat but it was the only way I could bear the contractions. It was at this point that I asked for the gas and air. I’m not sure why I didn’t have it sooner. Perhaps they were waiting for me to ask for it, I don’t know. The gas and air helped me to breathe slowly and concentrate on breathing through the contractions. How much it helped with the pain is hard to say as, again, I have nothing it compare it to but it gave another focus and that was a good thing.
I reached the point when I cried out for an epidural. Midwives say there is a stage in every woman’s labour when they claim they cannot continue, they want to go home or just not have the baby anymore. They said I could have the epidural but I would need to get out of the water. They said I should wait for the next contraction and then we could do that. I think they knew how close I was as I then immediately needed to push, it was so overwhelming. A totally primal urge that washed over my body. I remember it so clearly and it makes me feel breathless just thinking about it now. Unlike all the other words that had been spoken I heard clear as a bell ‘Don’t push! Breathe, breathe, breathe.’ I remember that I didn’t know why I shouldn’t push, I’ve not ready WHY I shouldn’t push, I thought and as such, I thought that pushing would hurt my baby. It is astounding what power the mind has over the body and nothing has made me realise this with such clarity as in that moment when I thought that pushing would hurt my little girl. I didn’t push. I sucked on that gas and air and I breathed and roared through it. Her head was out. I remember Adams face as clearly as looking at a photograph. ‘Her head’s out!’ he said and I thought ‘Shut Up!’ That meant shoulders were next. I remember asking Adam to hold my leg, as if to pull my legs apart which for obvious reasons felt like the right thing to do and realising then that he’d been holding my head above water all this time. One final contraction and I felt her leaving my body. I felt her length in my birth canal tearing down through me and then the midwife telling me to pick her up out of the water. There she was! Underwater! I scooped her up and just remember balling my eyes out and looking at the midwives and saying ‘thank you, thank you’. The relief was incredible. She looked to be ok. I asked if she was ok, more than once! Her little face hit the air and she screamed and she had me at that very second. There she was. Wow. But she has dark hair! I guess the gas and air did work because for a split second I thought she was the wrong baby as I always thought my baby would look like me, with blonde hair! Back to reality and she was mine. We’d made it. Two hours after arriving at the birth centre and Ruby Jean was here, and we were all okay. Adam looked at me with a bit of ‘see, I told you it’d be alright’ mixed with a lot of ‘Oh my God, look at her!’.
I hadn’t even considered what might happen afterwards. It didn’t even occur to me to think about it but if you’re interested then here it is.
Adam was asked if he wanted to cut the cord, which he did. Whilst watching this happen I noticed I didn’t have a bump and how amazing that instantly felt! Ruby was handed to Adam who had removed his t-shirt for some skin to skin while I was helped out of the bath to the bed. Everything was covered in a lot of paper and those pads that as far as I was aware were for toilet training puppies. I had an injection to speed along the delivery of the placenta which was, in comparison a doddle. I wasn’t prepared in any way for the amount of blood. Hence the paper and pads. The pool looked, as Adam said, like the scene of a shark attack and it kept on coming for some time following delivery. I couldn’t feel it and it wasn’t painful, more of a gentle burn but it was a little disconcerting.
This after bit took just a few minutes, all the while Adam was holding Ruby in a chair next to me and I was on the bed staring at Adam and Ruby wanting so much to hold her. My head was clearing a little and I felt quite shocked, quite scared but I just wanted to hold her. Adam put her on my chest and the midwife helped me to show her my breast and she started to feed immediately. I hadn’t really wanted to breastfeed, until that moment.
Once they had checked us all over and saw that Ruby was feeding well they left the three of us to absorb what had just happened. It was the most precious time and we were lucky to have the peace and space to enjoy each other. With the exception of the two midwives popping in and out to check we were alright it was just us for the next 4 hours.
I was examined and learnt that the real reason I wasn’t to push when that urge took over was to avoid tearing myself, not as I had thought to avoid hurting my baby. By some miracle, I’d managed to avoid the need for stitches and had come out the other end of labour relatively unscathed. No tearing, no stitches, no undue blood loss and no drugs. This was in no way due to planning, preparation or intention. I would have been first in line for an epidural and always assumed that I would have one but for one reason or another, it just didn’t happen that way.
We asked if we could go home. The midwife looked a little surprised and asked if we were sure. We were. It felt right and we felt ready. Ruby Jean had arrived with us at 6.27pm and we were home with a take-away pizza at midnight that same night.
It wasn’t plain sailing, but we did it. I still think about Adam guiding me through those pre-labour hours one minute at a time and that’s how I’m approaching these bewildering and exhilarating hours postpartum. Just one at a time. If Ruby and I got through that ok, we’ll do this standing on our heads.