Blood, sweat, tears and a baby

Reliving my birth story

Six weeks ago my beautiful baby was born.

Though I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day, I’ve been meaning to write about it so I can remember every detail. With the first week being still traumatised, shell shocked and then the rest still being a blur as I tried to figure out how to keep another human alive, it’s only now that I feel the dust has settled (and I’m not completely exhausted) and I can take some time to go back through it all.

By 40 weeks I felt ‘ready’ for labour. I was doing everything I could to bring it on and in my naivety, I was even looking forward to the pain.

It started around 6am on Tuesday 25th September (40 weeks and two days) when my waters broke. I felt a ‘pop’ whilst lying in be, so waddled like a penguin to the toilet. G still asleep, I shouted out to him. Trying not to let my heart race, I felt excited. This is finally it — we’re having a baby. Bring it on, I thought

We went to the hospital to be checked out. With two other women in the waiting room way ahead of me in the process, it was a glimpse of what was to come. I felt like a ticking time bomb on a speeding train to the pain they were experiencing.

They confirmed my waters had broke (no shit!) and that we had to go home to wait it out — if contractions hadn’t kicked in by 24 hours, I was to be induced. Well I certainly didn’t want that. My hope was to have a natural birth if possible, and knowing that induction could lead to a more painful, faster birth (hello epidural) I really wanted things to get going. So for the rest of the day, I bounced on my exercise ball, breathed in clary sage oil and cracked open a jigsaw, accompanied by mild period pain type cramps. Looking back on it, it was pretty perfect — no horrid surprises of labour coming on in an instant whilst our away from G. Instead I eased into the contractions throughout the day and by the time Great British Bake Off was on, I knew there would be no need for an induced labour.

From what started as period pains, quickly escalated to pain like I’ve never experienced. It’s true what they say — nothing can quite describe the contractions and nothing really can prepare you. Having run two marathons and cycled solo over the alps, I can safely say that neither activity comes close.

I was in survival mode. Trying to just focus on my breathing as each one came, timing them to see when we could go in to hospital. At about 10pm my energy was already wavering so I lay down in bed, trying to get rest between contractions. The next couple of hours are blurry. G lay next to me (after going to the shop for a guiness and ice cream, no I didn’t fancy either, thanks). As each contraction came I would sit up, and try just to think of my breathing. After slowly rubbing my back, G fell asleep and I remember rushing to the loo to violently be sick in between contractions. Lying, shivering in bed, I realised the time had come. I was having three contractions within ten minutes and they were around the minute mark. I woke G —time to call the hospital. We’ve got to go in.

He called them and they wanted to speak to me, I guess it’s to understand how far I am gone. Whilst on the phone, a contraction came and obviously I couldn’t carry on with the conversation. Hearing the midwife talk me through (breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth) did help though. I can remember being a irritated having to try and convince them I was definitely ready — the midwife implied that it was only because I was being sick and shivering that I should come in…

The Uber journey was surreal. It was the dead of night and I saw a fox stare up at me from an estate. Walking through the hospital felt like forever, stopping for each contraction.

I then had the worst hour (or more) of my life. Waiting in triage in a curtained cubicle feeling like I had been taken to ‘The Upside Down’ in Stranger Things. Still being sick, I didn’t understand why we couldn’t go straight to the birth centre. They had checked and I was 5cm dilated by the time we arrived at hospital. I felt like I had been beaten up and was left out in the street to rot and die, except every few minutes I would be beaten up some more and dragged along the street. Trying to get anyone’s attention, I screamed out in pain as the contractions hit — only making the pain worse (as soon as you screamed, you gave in and the contraction won. The only way to deal with it was try and ignore it and think about the breathing).

When eventually we were taken to a room in the birth centre, things started to get easier. I collapsed onto a bean bag and got on to the gas and air — at first it made me feel sick but was told to persevere. It soon showed its benefits, though the pain was certainly still there, you’re forced to focus on your breathing (I kept choking on it from the pain) which helps.

Another 20 minutes and then in came our midwife, Naa, who I had spoken to on the phone the previous morning and that night. I got starkers, not giving a shit about any dignity and dragged myself to the birthing pool.

The birthing pool changed everything. As soon I was in the warm water I started to feel in control. I was slowly getting on top on my contractions. Together with the gas and air and the brilliant help of Naa, I was managing the labour and willing my baby to come.

After not long, Naa said “let’s try the next one without the gas and air”. Mortified, I asked why and she calmly replied “well you want to be able to feel the pushing”. Jesus, it was happening. I was close.

When they say ‘push’ you think you’ll know what to do. Well the simplest thing they could say (again losing all dignity and having no shame) is push like you’re doing a huge almighty poo. That is all. There’s no distinction in feeling and you just push and push with all your might, as the baby SLOWLY makes its way down the birth canal.

Naa was holding a mirror below to keep an eye on progress (which G was watching too) and measured the baby’s heart rate after each contraction. I remember hearing it and feeling like we were doing this as a team. My baby pushing down and me helping — I so wanted to meet them. In between each contraction it weirdly felt serene. The lights were dimmed and Naa would check the measurements, and I would get my breath back and what energy I had for the next push.

The head kept teasing us, trying to come out but failing at each contraction. I held my breath and pushed with everything I could during them and still nothing. After about an hour, Naa said that we’d have to try some positions out of the pool if I couldn’t get the head out. Having heard the story of an NCT friend who just the night before in the same hospital (and with the same midwife it turned out) who had to leave the pool and end up with a ventouse delivery, I was determined to have the baby there and then. I gave one last almighty push, thinking all the way about our baby, and there its head came appeared below me.

It wasn’t then ‘easy’ as they say, and it felt like the baby was dangling from me for a while (a bizarre feeling as a squatted in the pool) as I kept on pushing — feeling like my body was ripping in two.

Then finally, FINALLY I felt the full body slide out. It was the best feeling and the hugest relief. Naa held the baby and after a brief second, we heard the most beautiful delicate cry and it was passed to me.

I can’t remember exactly what happened next, but we realised no one had checked the sex. It’s a girl I cried! G next to me then started to cry. I don’t know what I was thinking. Dazed. Exhausted. Disbelief. Relief. A wreck.

I then had to somehow get out of the slippery pool, baby still attached to me via the umbilical cord. I noticed it had turned bright red.

I lay on the bed and tried to deliver the placenta naturally, to no avail. They injected me with something and Naa pulled it out. Along with almost a litre of blood. The room was a war zone.

Because of the blood loss, I had to have an IV which was an ordeal in itself with different doctors poking me trying to fix it. It took five attempts in different veins by three different people. Still holding baby, I remember feeling completely out of it.

G then took the baby as I was stitched up (I had a second degree tear). On the gas and air again, I remember not being able to thank Naa enough for the miracle that had just ensued. What an amazing job midwifes do. I have so much respect for them and will be forever grateful.

We had to stay in the hospital until the evening, when my brother picked us up to drive us home. With my parents both there (my mum pouring champagne down my throat) I felt jubilated, exhausted, completely dazed.

When everyone left, we put baby (still unnamed) in her crib and looked down at her. She was perfect. The most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Completely exhausted though, it wasn’t until the next day I was filled with so much love I didn’t know my heart was capable.

Six weeks on (and I want to write something separately about how I’ve found it), I’m now looking back at my birth and am so, so grateful for how it went. I didn’t have a ‘birth plan’ — I had some loose notes and just ‘water birth’ jotted down by my midwife. I knew anything could happen so went it to it completely open minded. I was never actually even offered pain killers, but I am glad I was able to do it without. Of course it’s not for everyone and for some their dream birth is with them, but for me, I feel like I achieved something special with my baby and I’m really lucky to have had the opportunity.

I brought her into this world, held her after her first breath, gave her food as she latched on to my breast within an hour of being born. The experience was incredibly empowering and though at the time I swore I never wanted to do it again, I’m now eager to — knowing the reward it comes with.