Wow, it’s been a whirlwind of a fortnight! Everyone says that you can’t imagine what life is like with a newborn, and while that’s definitely true, there has also been a lot that’s been much like I imagined or not as bad as people say, so don’t let those scaremongerers worry you!
Anyway, 2 weeks on and I’m finally finding the time to sit down and start writing my birth story – it may take me a few days to put it together though! It’s taken until now as we had a few days in hospital then we’ve had so many visitors – everyone loves Emmy so much! It takes big events in your life like weddings and births to realise just how many people you have round you.
So let’s start at the very beginning – it’s a very good place to start! As you’ll know if you’ve followed my pregnancy journey, we took a couple of hypnobirthing courses during my pregnancy – one in “real life”, one online. You can read my post all about hypnobirthing prior to birth here. I’ll also stick in an image of my birth preferences below (with personal info removed) so you can see what we had decided we wanted from an “ideal birth” for us. As you can see, I called it “preferences” rather than a “plan” as I knew that not everything would go to plan – and, of course, it didn’t! But that’s not to say it wasn’t positive. In fact, I’d still call my birth a positive one even though it was missing a lot of the elements I’d envisioned and even though there were interventions at the last stage – as we were taught, hypnobirthing can be compatible with all forms of birth, and it really was.
So, the very beginning!
At 5.30am on my due date – 28th February 2019 – my waters broke as I was fast asleep in bed. I’d had an inkling this might happen, and I was terrified of ruining our mattress that I absolutely love. So as soon as I felt that rush of water, I leapt out of bed and ran to the bathroom, or at least as fast as my pregnant body would carry me! I imagine it was a fairly spectacular water breaking moment, but it was too dark to see! I shouted through to Ben: “My waters have broken!” and he called back: “Wow, well done!” I climbed back into bed with a large maternity pad in place and instructed Ben to try to get another few hours sleep, and I would too – we knew it would be a long day ahead!
I didn’t go back to sleep, laying there waiting for contractions to start. By 7.30am, I was starting to feel occasional, very mild cramping sensations in my lower stomach. They felt very similar to mild IBS cramps which are nothing unusual for me. Ben called into work and they let him take the day to work at home rather than begin his paternity leave since there wasn’t a whole lot going on yet. I started timing contractions throughout the morning and found they were pretty irregular at 5 to 10 minutes apart and less than a minute long but definitely happening.
I wanted to labour at home as long as possible and had the rule of 3 minutes apart, 1 minute long, in my head before going to hospital, but due to my waters breaking already, we thought it best to ring the labour ward at York Hospital at around 10.30am and check what we needed to do. They asked us to come in to check it really was my waters that had gone – considering that they were still continuing to leak out of me with each tiny contraction, I was pretty certain, but it’s procedure!
We got to the hospital, apparently went to the wrong door (even though we went to the one the video on the hospital website directed us to!) then got sat in the corridor outside triage for a good half an hour – lucky I wasn’t further along! We were finally invited into a curtained off section of the labour triage where they took away some of my soaked maternity pads to check and a urine sample – sure enough, it was my waters. But it took nearly 2 hours for them to report back to us with this as there was another poor woman absolutely screaming in the bed opposite…this was completely terrifying! My thought was, if that’s labour, I don’t want to do it any more! She sounded like she was literally about to give birth any second. As it turned out though, as we could hear her describing her symptoms to the midwives, it sounded like she actually had gallstones or something similar and they told her eventually she wasn’t in labour, it was something else – she had pains in totally different places. Phew! (Although not for her!) That was why it took us 2 hours in triage, as all the midwives were occupied trying to help this poor lady.
Anyway, since I was only mildly contracting, we were allowed to go home to let this continue, but with instructions to come back for an induction the next morning if I hadn’t gone any further due to SROM – spontaneous rupture of membranes – essentially waters breaking before contractions start isn’t really as much as a thing as you see in the media! I wasn’t at all keen on being induced though, so we crossed fingers that I would continue through the afternoon and be back later that day.
And that’s what happened! At home, we watched some of our favourite Youtubers, I cut Ben’s hair (oh yes, while contracting! He was terrified, I was proud – I didn’t want him to meet our new arrival with scruffy hair!), and I had a bath where I listened to my hypnobirthing teacher’s Yoga Nidra for Pregnancy track to keep me calm and relaxed and read my book. Ben also fed me ham, egg and chips as I laid in the bath – we knew we needed some tea but I didn’t want to get out for it! As it approached 7pm, my contractions were getting closer together and more intense, so we decided to phone the hospital – they spoke to me and said to stay at home a bit longer if I could manage, but to phone back and let them know as soon as we were ready to come in. I bounced on the birth ball while continuing with contractions until around 9pm when I told Ben that I thought it was time to go in.
This car journey was significantly less comfortable than the earlier one, but we played tracks from my “Birth Upbeat” playlist and sung along to them where we could. I had a playlist of hypnobirthing tracks and visualisations ready too, but I decided fun music was in order for the car!
When we arrived at hospital, we were shown into a delivery room where a midwife watched me through a few contractions to gauge how far along she thought I was. She then explained that she didn’t think I was far enough along but she could do a cervical check if I wanted. I’d planned on minimal monitoring through labour, but I was interested to get a gauge on what stage I was at here, so I agreed to the check. At this point, I was happily breathing through contractions that still felt like cramps but with some tightenings.
And here is my proudest moment: the midwife did the check (which was not at all bad! I’ve heard they can be very uncomfortable, but for me, it was fine!) and looked at me strangely. She asked: “Do you have a high pain threshold?” My response was a smug: “Well, I like to think so” while Ben laughed in the corner. She then explained that I was 3cm along, nearing 4cm, and she was very very surprised based on how well I was reacting to the contractions. She also explained that she thought I was about to go very quickly.
Based on where we live – about half an hour from the hospital, she said she was reluctant to send us back home, but normally I believe they admit people to the labour ward at 4 to 5cm, when you’re in established labour. Luckily they had a room we could use, so we headed off there at around 10.30pm where I was able to continue breathing through my contractions with a birth ball and a normal bath in a private bathroom if I so wanted it. At this point, I accepted some paracetamol from a midwife to take the edge off the next bit and continued to work through contractions while Ben and I chatted and watched more of our favourite Youtubers. Every so often, the midwife would pop in to watch me through some contractions to gauge how I was reacting again with lots of “Well dones!” and “You’re doing so well”. Every time she said she thought I wasn’t quite ready to move through to labour again yet, but Ben eventually told her I wasn’t quite showing how intense they were – this was all thanks to the hypnobirthing and breathing through contractions keeping me calm. But over time, I started to make more noise with the contractions – I heard someone out in the corridor at one point and worried that I might scare them, even though they were hardly loud shouts, more like moans!
At around midnight, I told Ben something had changed. I started to feel a bit chilly and shaky, and the contractions went up a notch. We called the midwife in and I asked her to check me again. Result – 6cm! She said she’d pop out and give the labour ward a ring to see if they could take me now, and returned to let me know they could be ready for me in 5 minutes. They asked if I wanted to walk or if I needed a wheelchair, and I immediately knew I couldn’t walk – it felt like things were accelerating quickly! A wheelchair was brought, and I was given a couple of puffs on gas and air before we headed down the corridor – my first bit of pain relief aside from paracetamol.
As I said, it felt like things were really accelerating here! We were taken into the delivery room, and I vaguely noted through my contractions and hazy gas and air state (it was my first time on gas and air – those couple of puffs had me totally out of it!) that we had a room with a birth pool – win! I was wheeled over to the bed where I hopped straight on, weirdly, as I’d wanted to stay active as much as possible, but apparently that’s what my brain wanted to do.
At this point, the midwife in the delivery room introduced herself and said she’d be back any minute but she had a lady across the corridor who looked like she was about to start pushing and give birth, so she was needed there. I began to ride the next contraction and with my eyes shut, I thought she’d already left the room. And that’s when things really changed!
I shouted to Ben: “Quick!! Get the midwife back!! She’s coming! It burns!”
It turns out the midwife was still there, literally on the other side of the room – whoops! She came over and asked if I wanted her to check me – I really appreciated the midwives being so courteous and sticking to my birth plan with things like this – they always asked my permission before doing anything. I agreed to the check because I was so certain she was on her way that very moment…and it turns out I was 10cm!
Again, I shocked the midwives! It had taken me all of the 5 minutes being wheeled from the room I was labouring in to the delivery suite to go from 6cm to 10cm – the first midwife was right about me going quickly! So not long after midnight – I noted the time on the clock on the wall because I was hoping she’d come on due date, but it was just too late! – I started to push. There wasn’t even 30 seconds to consider filling the birth pool!
Here is where things went a little awry. All the sensations were in my back and bottom – TMI (as is a lot of this story!), but it’s the truth! I barely felt anything across my abdomen. We now know that this was because she was back to back, meaning it was a whole lot harder to get her out!
I pushed for over 4 hours, on every single contraction – phew, that was hard work. I can’t say it was easy! We tried many different positions including laying on the bed (which the midwives said was the more successful one, but which I found more difficult), draped over the back of the bed (which killed my arm muscles the next day!), laying on my side with one leg in the air, all fours on the bed, and squatting beside the bed. Several times I asked Ben and the midwives: “It’s going to be the next push, right? Can you see her?” Apparently they could, and once I was told to feel her head which was right there – that was a totally surreal experience! During this time, a catheter was inserted to drain my bladder in case this was blocking her way, but it didn’t make any difference. I wasn’t at all keen on this part!
Also during this time, I decided I needed a hair bobble, but we hadn’t had chance to bring our bags in as they thought I’d have more time between 6cm and 10cm – whoops! The midwives told Ben he had enough time to run out and grab them, so he did so. Ben also managed to pour water on my shoulder from my cup at some point and this seemingly bothered me more than the contractions!
But being back to back, it was more difficult to push her out that last bit – apparently she was crowning with every push but going back up. Eventually the midwives decided to call in the doctor as they thought we might need an intervention in the form of forceps or ventouse. They explained this to me and Ben fully and we agreed to let a doctor see me.
So while the midwives were so wonderful, the doctor was…not. He walked in, barely introduced himself and said: “I’m going to examine you now” then shoved his hand inside me – not even waiting for a contraction to end before doing so, which the midwives had done. Ben said it looked like he was examining a cow, and it certainly felt like it too! I had barely felt the midwives’ checks, but this felt like he was just rummaging around in there, and honestly, I was scared he was going to crush the baby’s face! At this point, our hypnobirthing took over and I remembered I was in control of this situation. I shouted: “Stop, stop!!” at him. He did, but he wasn’t pleased about it! Ben then said to him something along the lines of: “Look, you’ve just barged in here and changed everything, please can you calm down a bit?”
Anyway, he’d felt enough to know that the baby was definitely back to back, and that an intervention was necessary. Unfortunately, he didn’t explain that well at all to us. He simply said: “Okay, we can cut you here or take you to surgery, what do you want?”. It wasn’t just me in the midst of 4 hours of pushing that didn’t understand this – Ben was thrown too. We both thought he meant he could do a C section there and then or take me through to surgery, so we were totally thrown!
Luckily, the amazing midwives were stood right there so we turned to them and asked them to explain better what was happening. I keep gushing about the midwives, but honestly, I couldn’t have done it without them – they were fantastic. Smart Cells ran a campaign all about thanking your midwives for the job they do lately, and I totally understand this now. They explained that the situation required an episiotomy with the forceps or ventouse, so he could either do that in the delivery room with local anaesthetic injections or he could take me to surgery where I would have a spinal block before carrying out the delivery.
While interventions like this weren’t something I wanted (who does?!), I did completely understand that they might be necessary and had prepared for the possibility, so we put the hypnobirthing BRAIN acronym into practice.
B – what are the benefits of this?
R – what are the risks?
A – are there any alternatives?
I – what is my instinct?
N – what happens if we do nothing?
We’d already researched benefits and risks of these interventions, and we knew in this situation, it was needed. The midwives explained that I was starting to tire, and, even though baby wasn’t in distress yet (I’d allowed them to put the heart monitors around my abdomen just before this so they could check her heart), she might begin to get distressed soon. As such, we knew there weren’t many alternative options. Ben asked the “what happens if we wait and do nothing?” question – I was very pleased he thought to do so! They explained that, due to the factors they’d already explained, the “do nothing” choice wouldn’t really help at this stage, but that we had around 15 minutes while the doctor prepared the local anaesthetic and his equipment, and we could use that time to continue trying. This gave both me and Ben a second wind, and I pushed as hard as I possibly could while Ben encouraged me on and on with every contraction.
But it wasn’t to be – she was well and truly wedged in there! So the doctor had to catheterise me before starting, and I really didn’t like this part – in fact, I think this was potentially the most painful part of the whole experience! I think I’m just particularly sensitive about my bladder and urethra – whether that’s physically or just mentally – due to all my previous cystitis and bladder issues. He then grabbed his local anaesthetic injections and went to town with them – again, this wasn’t fun, mostly because he didn’t wait between contractions again and just ploughed ahead!
And here’s another one of my proud moments where my hypnobirthing confidence came into play – I again shouted at him to stop and said: “I understand you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, but can you please be a bit more gentle about it?!”. I’d totally forgotten I said this until Ben reminded me a few days later – that was very assertive for me!
Seconds later, the episiotomy happened, and possibly due to the local anaesthetic, this wasn’t even a thing that registered to me. Then the doctor got up in my face (or at least it felt like it) and what felt like very aggressively said to me: “I need you to listen to every single word I say and do exactly what I say.” This sounded very serious and pretty scary, so I nodded and agreed…then he said NOTHING as he attached the ventouse to the baby’s head! Except “Pant!”, which neither Ben nor I could understand. It was only thanks to the midwives stood by my side that we knew what to do! They told me that the next push was going to be far more intense than all the rest, so I asked them to tell me, honestly, if it was going to be worse but if it would get her here, and they answered, again honestly, that it would be worse but she would be here. Again, hypnobirthing came into play – I didn’t mind that it would be “worse”, I just wanted to know so I was prepared.
Then suddenly I felt enormous pressure as the doctor pulled on the ventouse, and her head was out – her head!! The midwives were massively encouraging, telling me to look and see that she was almost here – but I just said: “Okay, now the rest!!” The next contraction and her body followed, and she came shouting into the world at 4.55am as they plopped her on my chest – just as I wanted! All I could do was stare and say: “Hi! Hello! Hi baby! Hi!”
Annoyingly, the doctor went immediately to clamp the cord, even though I’d specified delayed cord clamping on my birth preferences, and even though it’s pretty standard procedure. Ben asked him to stop because we wanted delayed, and he paused for a brief moment to roll his eyes before clamping it, which was really quite frustrating.
The placenta followed easily with a simple but fairly gentle push on my abdomen. They showed it to Ben who bluntly said: “I don’t want to eat that”, and even in my shocked state of brand new baby on my chest, I managed to laugh.
I was stitched up, and it was mentioned that I had a tear as well. The stitches also weren’t all that fun, but I had a brand new baby on my chest so I wasn’t too fussed. Interestingly, I later couldn’t figure out where this tear was, but the home visiting midwife explained that it was most likely at the end of the episiotomy. We then managed to have that “golden hour” that’s recommended with Emilia Jane – as we decided in the minutes after birth (more on choosing her name another day!) – for 70 minutes.
After this I was encouraged to get up and go for a wee – at which point I became surprisingly modest after being totally stripped off during birth, and when Ben came to check on me, I flapped my arms and waved him away, telling him he couldn’t see me like this! Then a new midwife came in, wrapped Emmy up for us, and told me to jump in the bath. Ben thinks this bit was hilarious as I just laid in the birth pool totally zonked out while our tiny baby slept across the room from us.
Once I was out of the bath – and the midwife had to come and tell me to get out because I’d been there for ages, whoops! – we were wheeled down to the post natal ward and left alone.
And I guess, after over 3500 words (#sorrynotsorry), I should save the rest of this for another day! While this covers the whole labour and birth part, I feel like the story continues – we spent another 3 days in hospital after this due to some minor complications including jaundice for Emmy, anaemia for me, and feeding issues for both of us. So expect the rest another time!