Date of birth: Wednesday 10th October 2007
Nick = my husband
Thomas = our three year old son
Susan and Tracey = friends who offered to be my labour support and to babysit Thomas
At 10am on Wednesday morning I had a membrane sweep to try and get things started, as I was already 42 weeks and 5 days pregnant, and I was booked in for an induction at 43 weeks which I was desperate to avoid. The sweep didn’t hurt a bit, it was only mildly uncomfortable, so I was worried that the doc hadn’t been aggressive enough with it and that it wasn’t going to work.
So then I went home and started trying every natural induction method I could think of: I ate at least half a pineapple, I drank raspberry leaf tea, I rubbed aromatherapy oils into my bump (clary sage and lavender essential oils mixed in a base oil), and then I got Nick to drive me to the beach so that I could take a long walk.
I had my first contraction around 6.15pm, just as we were arriving at the beach – at the time I dismissed it as yet another Braxton hicks contraction as I’ve been having loads of them over the last few weeks, including some painful crampy ones a few weeks ago that I though was the start of labour but then they disappeared.
We walked along the pier for about half an hour, and I had maybe two or three more of those ‘Braxton hicks’. The last one actually hurt, although it didn’t feel like the contractions that I had with my first baby, this time my tummy felt perfectly ok but I had this horrible twinge of pain in my back that I thought must have been caused by walking for so long, as I haven’t been doing much walking at all lately.
When we got home a little after 7pm I made myself another cup of raspberry leaf tea, which I never drank, as while I was waiting for it to brew I got hit by this back pain and so I abandoned the tea and tried to get myself into a comfortable position (bent forwards or on all fours) so that I could wiggle my hips and spine around and get rid of the pain – this has always worked well on my Braxton hicks contractions, but this time I wasn’t able to get myself into the right position in time for the next contraction, which had me lying on the kitchen floor in pain.
Once the pain had passed I got up and grabbed my birthing ball, which again has always been very effective at getting rid of the aches and pains of pregnancy.
I bounced around on the birthing ball for the next few pains, but it didn’t make the pain go away like it usually does. Lying down on the sofa didn’t help either.
When Nick had finished settling Thomas to bed, coming up to 7.30pm, I headed upstairs for a hot bath – when the all-fours position and the birthing ball aren’t enough to make me feel better, a hot bath never fails to soothe away all the aches - except this time! I didn’t believe I was in true labour, as I’ve heard that half the time a membrane sweep will cause a bout of painful contractions that then fizzle out without the mum actually going into labour. My plan was to have a nice hot bath to make this ‘false labour’ stop, and then I was going to have an early night and catch up on sleep, so that I’d be refreshed and ready to deal with going into labour the next day (as the sweep can allegedly take 24-48 hours to work).
My back was feeling too stiff and achey for me to lean over the side of the bath to check the temperature of the water, so I told Nick I wasn’t feeling well and I lay on the bed while he ran me a bath. He ran the bath as he usually does (complete with lots of bubbles, which was nice, I hadn’t expected to labour in bubble bath!) but it didn’t feel hot enough, so I added a load more hot water, which I’m sure must have made the bath insanely hot as I usually have to add plenty of cold water to make it comfortable, but it felt nice. Nick left me to have my bath in peace, popping in every now and then to check if I was ok and if I needed anything. He brought me a drink of water with a straw, and a cold washcloth for my face, when requested.
Lying down on my back made me feel a bit better, as my back was then completely submersed in hot water. I knew that the back pain was caused by the baby being posterior, and that if only I could get onto all fours and flip the baby back to being anterior then my back would feel fine. But even though the contractions seemed to be pretty far apart when I was lying down, every time I tried to turn over onto all fours I got hit by this non-stop pain in my back and hips that made it physically impossible for me to turn over. So after a few attempts I gave up, and instead filled the bath as deep as it would go, so that I could at least sit up.
If only I had got a birthing pool! The one scenario I had NOT prepared for was having a baby who remained posterior. During pregnancy I have always been easily able to put the baby into the perfect LOA position, I’ve been practising, but by the time I realised I was in real labour with a posterior baby it was too late for me to do anything about it.
I started having to breathe deeply through contractions, they were lasting for 10-20 breaths at first, then I think they increased to 20-30 breaths. They seemed to be coming in a pattern of one big contraction followed by a few little ones. I remembered what someone had told me about ‘good pain’ and ‘bad pain’ in labour, and about how the bad kind of pain is caused by fear, but the ‘good’ kind is caused by your body opening up to let the baby out, and how I should not fight against it or be afraid of it. So as I breathed my way through each contraction, I visualised the outward breath gently blowing my cervix open to let the baby out, and I told myself that I really wanted these contractions to happen.
At around 9pm Nick came in and saw me breathing through a contraction and told me that this was real labour. I started timing the contractions to check. They were coming regularly every 3-4 minutes, definitely labour, so around ¼ past 9 I got Nick to ring Susan to let her know that things were happening, so that she’d be ready to come round in the morning and get Thomas up while I finished labouring and giving birth.
While Nick was on the phone my waters broke – I heard the pop and it felt just like bursting a balloon between my legs… which I guess it was, really. I called to Nick that my waters had broken, and when he got off the phone he told me that Susan was going to come round tonight after her husband got home from work, and I think that’s when he came in and stayed with me for the rest of labour.
The contractions became too long and too intense for me to simply breathe my way through them, so I got Nick to press on my back and to squeeze my hips, which was an amazingly effective form of pain relief – when he was applying intense pressure I was able to remain completely silent and breathe normally. In between contractions we were talking and laughing together. I began to vocalise my way through some of the contractions – saying “Ow, ow, it hurts!” and giving myself positive affirmations out loud “I only have to cope with one contraction at a time, I am coping with this one!”. I had noticed that the pain wasn’t getting any worse, so I felt confident that if I could cope with this contraction then I would be able to cope with the next one too. None of the relaxation exercises I’d practised were of any use at all, but it didn’t matter because I seemed to instinctively know what to do.
Susan had suggested that he give me some clary sage essential oil to help me cope with the pain, so he put a few drops of neat clary sage oil on a tissue for me to inhale. This helped, it was better than the entonox that I’d had for Thomas’ birth, the clary sage made me feel relaxed but without any of the nasty side effects of entonox (dizziness, nausea, dry mouth). Unfortunately I kept getting distracted by the pain and forgot to actually use the clary sage oil except when Nick was reminding me to do it.
Somehow I lost the ability to laugh in between contractions, I stopped being able to answer simple questions, and when I started getting double-peaked contractions the shouts of “I am coping” turned into screams of pain and cries of “I can’t do this any more!”. Nick correctly recognised that I had hit transition, around 10.30pm, and tried to reassure me of this and of the fact that it wouldn’t be much longer now, but I didn’t believe him because although I felt nauseous I hadn’t actually thrown up, and I thought that everyone threw up when they reached transition so I must not be there yet. I could see that Nick was getting tired from having to put so much pressure on my back, and I felt like the pair of us needed some more support, so I got him to ring Susan again.
I thought the labour still had quite a way to go, and I didn’t think I’d be able to cope with this level of pain for several more hours, so around 10.50pm I told Nick to phone the midwife and tell her that I’d changed my mind about not having drugs and I wanted her to bring me some diamorphine. It must have been the pain talking, because I already knew that midwives don’t carry diamorphine, and that they already had a copy of my birth plan that specifically states “Do not bring any drugs to my house” (I’d had a personal meeting with the Supervisor of Midwives and told her that her midwives were not to bring any drugs to my house, not even entonox).
Nick phoned the midwife… and the contractions suddenly eased up! I got a bit confused because it felt like I wasn’t in labour any more, and I nearly asked him to phone them back and tell them that it was a false alarm. But then I thought why bother, they can check my dilation when they get here and then they’ll probably go away and leave me in peace for a few hours. Looking back, I think this must have been the end of the first stage, and my body was taking a little break before the second stage.
Nick kept trying to persuade me to get out of the bath – he knew that the baby was coming even though I didn’t. I let the bathwater out as it kept going cold, and I got Nick to aim the shower head at my back for a few contractions, but I was still in a lot of pain and getting tired – thankfully the contractions had now spread out enough to allow me time to get out of the bath and into bed.
While I was in bed Nick put pressure on my back for one contraction, then with the next contraction I yelled at him to get out of the room, because I couldn’t stand anyone touching me. Weird. I think this is when he went downstairs and unlocked the front door so that he wouldn’t have to leave me again to let Susan and the midwives in when they arrived. I writhed and bounced my way through a few contractions, then I had one so painful that I couldn’t stay in bed any more, I stood up suddenly but that didn’t help, and I ended up crouching/kneeling down on the floor in between my bed and the cot, holding onto the cot bars for support. While I was in the bath Nick had covered the bedroom carpet with a shower curtain and a layer of old towels, so I didn’t have to worry about making a mess of the carpet.
The contractions were coming right on top of each other with hardly a break in between them, so Nick was having to press against my back almost constantly by the time Susan arrived – good job he’d already unlocked the front door as I wasn’t about to let him leave the room and leave me to cope with a contraction without any counter-pressure.
Susan had brought Tracey with her – Tracey was my back-up babysitter in case I couldn’t get hold of Susan, but it was good to have both of them there. Susan checked on Thomas (who apparently slept through the whole thing) and kept looking out for the midwives, and Tracey rubbed my back and stroked my hair and told me I was doing really well – this was exactly what I needed, it made me feel very safe and loved.
Suddenly I regretted leaving the bathroom, because I felt like I desperately needed to poo but I couldn’t get up and move to the bathroom. I was trying really hard not push, because I didn’t want to poo on my bedroom floor. But the feeling of constipation was getting worse until I was in so much pain that I stopped caring if I pooed on the floor, I just had to push. Pushing hurt, I could feel all these lumpy bits – I realised afterwards that this wasn’t a giant poo, it was the baby’s face or shoulders corkscrewing round, because after remaining posterior for the entire first stage she actually came out anterior. I tried to stop pushing because it hurt so much, but despite me yelling “I don’t want to push!” my body just took over and pushed anyway, which was an amazing sensation, this must have been the ‘foetal ejection reflex’ that I’d heard of but not experienced before.
I also felt like I needed to pee – which I did need, and ended up peeing on the towel I was sitting on as the baby made her way past my bladder. Not something I wanted to happen, but it was reassuring that I was still able to empty my bladder and wouldn’t have to be cathetered like last time.
I felt the baby trying to come out through my back, it felt like my spine was being ripped apart, so I lay down on my back, I thought the pressure of my back against the floor might help as the pressure of Nick’s hands wasn’t enough any more.
I continued pushing on my back, and the baby’s head was already visible by the time the midwives arrived at around 11.40pm. The midwife arrived during a contraction, so when she asked if she could listen in to the baby’s heart I just screamed at her.
Not phased by my screaming, she did some perineal massage to help stretch me out around the baby’s head - it felt like she was pushing the baby back in each time I had managed to push it out a bit, but I have read about this sensation in other people’s birth stories so I knew that she wasn’t really pushing the baby back in, it was just the baby naturally going back in a bit in between each contraction. I pushed really hard to try and get the baby to come all the way out instead of going back in again, but I couldn’t get her out while I was on my back, so I told the midwife that I needed to change position, and she helped me to turn over onto all fours.
I felt the ‘ring of fire’ almost immediately, which I found very reassuring as I had heard of this and it meant that I knew what was happening and things were making sense again. I was expecting this sensation to be painful, but it wasn’t, it just felt a bit burny, so I asked for a cold washcloth – Nick rubbed a cold washcloth on my face, as I had been asking him to do throughout labour, and I this time I protested but I wasn’t coherent enough to explain that I wanted it to soothe away the ring of fire.
The ring of fire didn’t last long, one push and the baby’s head was born, and then everyone yelled “push!” – it crossed my mind that maybe they thought the shoulders were stuck or something, so I gave a hard push straight away without waiting for another contraction, and the baby fell straight out onto the floor at around 11.45pm – fortunately the carpet and towels provided a soft landing for her. She was already pink and breathing as she hit the floor.
I heard a voice say “girl” and I looked down and was shocked to see that I had indeed given birth to a baby girl – the first daughter born into Nick’s side of the family for over 100 years!
I reached down and picked her up – I guess that means technically I delivered my own baby, yay! – and I was helped to turn over into a comfortable position propped up on a load of pillows so that I could breastfeed. It was hard to get her positioned properly because she was so slippery, so the midwife helped me to get her latched on.
After the cord stopped pulsating, the midwife asked if it was ok to cut the cord now, but I explained that I wanted to leave the cord intact until after the placenta was delivered. I breastfed Abigail on and off for a few hours – I had to keep unlatching her to give myself a break from the afterpains. People kept covering me in towels to keep me warm, because I was shivering, but I didn’t feel cold, just shivery.
The third stage contractions felt as bad as labour – the midwife was encouraging me to try and push the placenta out with each contraction, but I was in too much pain to do anything other than yell. So Nick squeezed my hand and Tracey breathed with me, which helped me to calm down and cope with the pain and then I had a go at pushing. Nick brought me a couple of paracetamols, as there didn’t seem to any point in me continuing to endure the pain now that the baby was out.
Despite the breastfeeding and the pushing, the placenta didn’t seem to be coming out, so around 1.45pm I agreed to have the cord cut, so that I could put the baby down and move into a better position for getting the placenta out. The midwife clamped the cord and Nick cut it. I remember reading about people using dental floss to tie off their baby’s cords, and wondering what sort of industrial strength floss they must be using, because when Nick cut Thomas’ cord it was a fat, solid, purpley-grey thing that was difficult to cut through. But Abigail’s cord was thin and limp and white, there was no doubt that she’d finished getting all of her cord-blood from it.
I tried a few pushes while kneeling, leaning forward onto a pile of pillows, but that didn’t seem to be working either, so the midwives and Nick helped me to walk to the bathroom, where I sat on the toilet to try and push the placenta out. I got Nick to put pressure on my back with each contraction, and that made it easier to push as I had something to push against. Finally the placenta came out at around 2am, the midwife got me to lift up off the toilet seat so that she could catch it, and I felt everything else empty out into the toilet (blood clots? poo? who knows).
As soon as the placenta was out, all the pain and nausea disappeared and suddenly I felt normal again. This was a nice surprise, as after Thomas’ birth I’d spent weeks feeling as if I’d been run over by a bus. I much preferred having a physiological third stage, because it got it all over with in a few hours, as opposed to the weeks of pain and heavy bleeding that I had after having an actively managed third stage last time.
The placenta was fascinating to look at, I was surprised to find that I wasn’t totally grossed out by the sight of it. The placenta was perfect, absolutely no signs of ageing despite being nearly 43 weeks – I’m pretty sure that if I hadn’t had that membrane sweep to get things going, the placenta could probably have supported the baby for at least another few weeks. And it’s not a case of my dates being wrong, Abigail was definitely overdue as she had only a small patch of vernix left on the top of her head, the rest of her skin was all dry and wrinkly and she had long nails.
When Abigail was weighed it became apparent why she had stayed in for so long – she was only 7lb 2 ½ oz. If she’d been born on her ‘due date’ she would have been even smaller and found life more difficult. I am so glad I refused to have her induced at 42 weeks, it would have done more harm than good.
The midwife checked my perineum, and was I surprised and pleased to hear that despite all the scar tissue from my previous tear and episiotomy, and despite having a larger baby this time, I hadn’t torn at all. I had a ‘slight graze’ and that was it, I didn’t need a single stitch.
Nick ran me a bath (no bubbles this time, as I thought they might make the graze sting) as Abigail had covered me in meconium while she was feeding. I felt too weak to walk to the bathroom, but once I’d had a nutrigrain bar and a glass of apple juice I felt better, then I had a nice bath and got myself cleaned up and into brand new pyjamas – so much nicer than a hospital gown.
The midwives had cleaned up all the mess (and there was a LOT of mess to clean up) and I had a nice clean bed to get into. Next morning we brought Thomas into our room and told him that the baby had come out of mummy’s tummy in the night – he was very happy to meet his little sister.
I know that I’ve mentioned pain a lot, and that when I read about the pain in other people’s birth stories it scared me. But having experienced both a medicated (entonox, diamorphine, and an epidural) hospital birth and an unmedicated homebirth, if I ever got pregnant again I would definitely choose to give birth without pain meds. Yes natural birth is more painful, but it was also a much more positive experience for me. After Abigail was born I was so excited and kept saying “I did it, I did it!” – it was so empowering to find out that I really am capable of giving birth naturally, and that I can trust my body to do what it is supposed to do. This experience has really helped me to heal, emotionally, from Thomas’ birth.
Sadly we didn’t get any photos of the labour and birth as I hadn’t arranged for an extra person to come and take photos, and Nick wasn’t able to do it as I needed both of his hands on me the whole time. But he did take a few photos of me nursing the baby within minutes of the birth (see icon) and he took several more photos of us the next morning. Once I figure out how to post pictures I’ll attempt to post them here in a separate picture post.