I read a lot of birth stories during my pregnancy, something that I’d been avoiding until then. They always feel deeply personal and I didn’t think that I’d want to publish my own experience, even though reading the experiences of others really helped and encouraged me. But I figured no one really reads this blog anyway, so I might as well!
This isn’t a negative story although things didn’t quite go according to plan, so if you are reading this whilst pregnant and can’t handle that right now, or just don’t want TMI (although seriously don’t read birth stories if that’s the case) feel free to just scroll through to the cute newborn pics.
Months before my due date we attended a Hypnobirthing course, where we learned about the natural physiological process of labour and birthing. I’m definitely not someone who wants to experience the pain of labour for the sake of it, and am very much grateful for modern medicine, but there’s a lot of evidence that suggests the less intervention in a (normal, healthy) birth the better. You never know how well things are going to go when you’re in labour, but this seemed like a logical option for me personally. We practiced listening to the tracks and doing light touch massage in the months leading up to the big day, and whether it helped or not when the time came it did make me feel calm and in control in the lead up.
The morning of my due date I felt some discomfort, but at that point everything is uncomfortable and I’d already been having Braxton Hicks “practice surges” so I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Apparently something like 4% of babies are born on their estimated due date, and I was betting on this one arriving a day or two late. But just in case, when I went out with my parents I asked my mum to drive, because “I might be a little bit in labour”. The rest of the day I lounged at home, reading books and listening to the hypnobirthing tracks, feeling the contractions getting stronger (though still relatively gentle).
By the afternoon I was pretty sure it was the real thing, and messaged Jeff to say he’d probably have to skip his after-work event. By 3pm I could feel some leaking, though not enough to be sure (pelvic floor muscles are not at their best at this point). At 5pm my waters broke in dramatic movie fashion, though thankfully at home in my bathroom. At this point it was very clearly game time, so I took a shower and packed the last few things into my hospital bag.
Around this point I remembered something about calling the hospital if your waters break (which I had only recently learned didn’t happen for everyone at the start of labour), and they said to come right in, as there’s a risk of infection. Still feeling pretty good, we decided to eat dinner at home first, so by the time we arrived it was around 7pm. There must have been something in the air that night, because we had to wait what felt like forever for a birthing suite to free up, and by that point the contractions had ramped right up. I’d put in my birth plan (which Jeff printed out 5 copies of and laminated) that I didn’t want to know how dilated I was, but in the moment I did because I was sure it must be close to fully dilated. Nope – only 4cm! I was disappointed because it was already getting very very painful and it looked like a long road ahead.
I had read a lot about the soothing qualities of water during labour, and whilst my hospital didn’t have the facilities for a water birth, they did have a bath available to sit in. This sounded like a great idea until I was in there, sliding around the bath during each contraction, getting more nauseated by the second from the warm humid air of the room. After throwing up I abandoned the idea entirely and felt glad that I hadn’t changed hospitals to have a water birth – it definitely was not for me.
Back in the room and in dry clothes, I felt much better except for the fact that the contractions were getting much much stronger. Light touch massage was not cutting it, so Jeff was standing behind me pushing pressure points at the base of my spine with each surge (he later told me it was quite painful for his fingers, but thankfully didn’t mention it at the time). Some time passed – I don’t know how much. Midwife shifts changed; my new one said she was pretty sure my baby would arrive on her shift. I don’t know if hypnobirthing affirmations were still playing – I didn’t really care at that point. The “bubble of comfort” was completely forgotten. At some point I decided it was time to push, although I wasn’t completely sure and maybe I should have waited until I was. But the new midwife checked and I was fully dilated (with just a slight cervical lip that could be pushed out of the way and so should be fine), so we started the business of pushing.
I like evidence-based approaches and there is evidence to suggest that lying on your back is not the best way to give birth to a baby, so I was determined to not do that. I pushed whilst standing up, leaning over the bed. I pushed whilst on all fours on the bed. I pushed whilst lying down on my side, when I’d gotten so tired from standing through most of my time in the hospital. I tried at first the “breath the baby out”, until the midwife gently suggested that it wasn’t working. There was a lot of blood, but apparently this is normal. A foetal monitor was used intermittently to check on the baby – his heart rate raced each time he was squeezed in a contraction, but went back to normal in between. I pushed for what felt like forever but must have been two to three hours, because that’s how long they let you push for before intervention is required.
My obstetrician had been waiting to be needed, and at this point got me to lie on my back to check how things were going. “What – she’s not even fully dilated!”, is really not what you want to hear after you’ve been pushing for hours without any drugs. Apparently the cervical lip had not in fact been pushed out of the way with the pushing, but thickened and… undilated? I don’t know. It certainly seemed to cause tension between the OB and midwife though, which was really not helping my fragile state of zen. Thankfully a decision was swiftly made – I’d need to be taken to theatre, where they’d try to get the baby out with a vacuum and fall back to a cesarean if necessary. I asked if I’d only need the spinal tap if they needed to the the cesarean, and my OB, aware of my high hypnobirthing hopes, gently told me that although I had wanted a drug-free birth, there wouldn’t be time to do it before switching to surgery so it had to be done first. I just nodded, too tired to explain that I was relieved that the pain wasn’t going to last that much longer and I’d happily do whatever was needed to get my baby out alive and well.
Except at that point it was the middle of the night and a surgical team had to be called in last minute, which meant a lot waiting in a cold, brightly lit corridor for everyone to arrive. Finally with everyone assembled, I sat on the operating table trying not to move during contractions as the anaesthetist put a needle in my back. The relief was almost instant, although the tiredness remained. I laid down and the midwife and OB took my legs. There must have been a vacuum but I don’t remember seeing it. I had already torn and didn’t need to be cut; I remember cringing at the word “tearing” in birth stories, but didn’t even realise it had happened at the time. They had to tell me when I was having a contraction, I could no longer tell. Pushing felt remote and vague, I couldn’t wasn’t sure if I was doing it or just holding my breath. But apparently it worked, because on the final last-chance-or-cesarean push he came out, at 2:27am the day after his due date, 7.5 hours after my water broke.
My birth plan had requested (assuming a completely unassisted birth) that my baby be put straight onto my chest (to hopefully feed) and the cord be left until it stopped pulsing. Things didn’t quite work out that way, so after telling me he was a boy the cord was cut and my baby was whisked over to the paediatrician to be given oxygen whilst the midwife assured me that he was fine, and had just swallowed a lot of fluid. I think it was only a few minutes before Jeff could bring him back to me, calm and with bright open eyes, already looking around him. It felt surreal, probably because of the drugs and the exhaustion. I had a son.
Whilst things didn’t really go as I’d written in my birth preferences in the end, I really do think that hypnobirthing prepared me to approach the whole thing with calmness and trust, and had circumstances been a little different might have worked. As much as I researched things like the delayed cord clamping and the effects of epidurals, it didn’t really matter afterwards. I’d done my best to give him the best entry into life that I could, and that was enough.
I refused to make such an important decision on close to no sleep, so it took a couple of days to name him: Felix Spencer Watts.
Here’s about a million newborn photos.