As I lay my hand on my blooming belly I grinned at myself in the mirror and pressed the photo button on my phone. I was ready for my aqua natal class and really hoped it would be the last one before I met our baby daughter. It was Friday 7th June 2013 and although for the most part I was loving being pregnant, my cankles were becoming epic and I was getting impatient as I’d finished work a couple of weeks earlier, plus my due date was just 5 days away.
Well, it turns out that was my last pregnant selfie before Rose’s arrival and indeed my last swim, but things didn’t go quite as I had hoped…
… On Monday 10th June (my little sister’s birthday, aka 2 days to due date), I was heading out for a (hot!) curry with a friend. She came to our house after work and I lazily suggested I drive to the local curry house. In my condition she said it was excusable so we jumped (well, I sort of slid my massive belly sideways under the steering wheel) into my car and set off. I felt fine. No twinges at all. Not. A. Sausage. I pulled the key from the ignition and stepped slowly out into the car park. And then… GUSH. My waters broke.
As my friend surveyed my soaking wet jeans we decided to give the curry a miss, mostly due to my lack of dry clothing, and I sat on my car mat to drive home.
I still felt absolutely fine (well, rather damp) and as I got changed I called the hospital as I had been advised to, just to let them know. They asked me to make my way in for a check-up, even though I assured them my waters were clear (if they are discoloured it can be a sign of meconium – baby poo – and then there is a risk of infection), so I phoned Daddy-to-be Tom and explained what had happened. I told him there was no rush, he was at his Mum’s house which was close by, so I would see him soon. I put the phone down and clicked the kettle on as his car skidded on to the drive approximately 43 seconds later – I think he expected to find me biting on a leather strap with the baby crowning or something – but other than a brewing excitement (and cuppa) and general annoyance at missing out on a good curry, nothing much was going on.
We got to the labour ward at about 8pm, and they checked me over and agreed the waters were fine. I was hooked up to a machine for a routine ‘trace’ (where they monitor the baby’s heartbeat and movements) and they thought they could detect a heart murmur, so they wanted me to stay in for observations. It was midnight before I finally went up to the (extremely loud) maternity ward and I hardly got a wink of sleep before they woke me again at 3am for more monitoring. With being anxious about this heart murmur, hearing newborn baby cries and feeling so excited, I was absolutely shattered when Tom returned at about 8 o’clock on the Tuesday morning (11th June, 1 day to DD).
We spent a pretty boring few hours trying to grab the attention of passing staff, I had some blood tests carried out (no idea what for, or even what the results were) and I was told I would be induced the next day if I didn’t go into labour myself, as without my waters our baby could be at risk of developing an infection in the womb. It was scary, wonderful and crazy to think we would be meeting our daughter within the next couple of days.
Around tea time a midwife came to see us and explained that, as nothing at all was going on contraction-wise (they kept up the monitoring for this heart murmur), they might as well try and start an induction sooner than planned. It all felt very definite and upon reflection I wasn’t really given much choice about anything at all. So at 6pm the midwife returned and administered a gel to my cervix, giving me a ‘stretch and sweep’ at the same time. I’ll never forget her face – it’s not every day you have someone rummaging around down there up to their elbows (well, it isn’t for me anyway… no judgment… what you get up to in your own time is none of my business…) She told me it wasn’t likely to be effective and they would most likely start me on a drip at 7am the next day, so Tom should come back at 6 ish in the morning.
At 8pm Tom went home, frustratingly nothing was happening and I decided one of us might as well get some decent rest. Just as I struggled into my clean pyjamas and readjusted my TV screen over my bed a message flashed up saying I would have to use my headphones after 9pm. I got them out of my bag as I wanted to watch New Girl before I attempted some sleep, and plugged them in to the bottom of the TV. I was bouncing on a gym ball in my little cubicle to try and encourage labour at the point the sound went off the TV and as I reached for my headphones I was hit by a wave of pain so overwhelming that I couldn’t move. When it passed I struggled over to the bed and hit the call button on my buzzer and, after what felt like three hundred years, a midwife came to see me. I told her I was in labour and she very kindly offered me some paracetamol as she felt my stomach for the onset of the next contraction. I politely informed her I hadn’t got “a f*cking headache” and she scuttled off to fetch me some tablets anyway.
I sat on the gym ball and cried as another spell of agonising contractions hit. I couldn’t believe how intense the pain was. 9.30pm to 2am was a hazy combination of them asking me if they should phone Tom (I kept saying “No he needs some sleep” apparently), me begging for pain relief and a pain which radiated through me like nothing I could have imagined, despite the trillions of books I’d read and how ready I felt. I’m pretty sure they took me down to Labour Ward in a wheelchair, unless I bounced the gym ball down the corridor like it was a space hopper, and it was there that I was finally given some decent drugs.
I had two pethidine injections throughout my ‘prolonged second stage’ and it allowed me a few seconds of dozing in between each contraction but I was still really struggling. I pleaded for something better and when the anaesthetist arrived with her magical epidural I could have snogged her. They gave me the gas and air to keep me still while the needle went into my back and I wished I’d tried that first – it took the edge of my pain nicely. The whole night was a bit of a blur really, I suppose due to tiredness, the medication and adrenaline. The epidural kicked in and at 6am Tom was ushered in to find I was 8cm dilated and as high as a kite – not exactly what he was expecting!!
I started feeling a dull urge to push, and so began a complete battle of not really knowing when my contractions were happening (thanks to the epidural), pushing ineffectively and being told I was progressing well when I wasn’t (whoever told the midwife it was a good idea to lie unconvincingly to a labouring woman was a moron) and feeling utterly exhausted. Then, out of nowhere, about five more medical staff appeared, the lights suddenly got brighter and I heard mumblings of ‘which room will we use?’ and ‘the heart rate keeps dropping’ and I lay there feeling helpless and scared that a c-section was imminent because something was wrong with our baby. It was like me and Tom were invisible.
They managed to attach a clip to the top of our baby’s head which gave them a better heart-rate reading, and calmness returned to the room – but not to me. I was getting nowhere. They wanted me to push for another 30 minutes but I was developing a sharp ache in my ribcage when I pushed so I told them I needed help. A doctor came in and suggested they assist the birth with an episiotomy and forceps. Despite being adamant throughout my entire pregnancy that I did NOT want an episiotomy (who in their right mind would want their perineum sliced open?!) I was at the point where I would have quite happily let them saw off my bum cheeks if it meant getting our baby out safely, so I agreed, and with a few more pushes and a couple of tugs with the biggest salad tongs I’ve ever seen (causing me a third degree tear), Rose Audrey arrived, right on time, 12th June 2013 – her due date, at 11.50am, weighing in at a squidgily gorgeous 8lb 6oz.
Tom couldn’t cut the cord as she had mucus which they had to clear, but other than that she was perfect – the heart murmur had disappeared, she was all warm and purpley coloured and incredible – and ours. The main thing was that she had arrived, but for a long time after I would reflect on her birth and feel like a failure. My birth plan had totally gone out of the window, I had felt helpless and scared at several points of the 16 hour labour, I had done a terrible job of delivering our baby girl and it was all my fault for not coping better with the pain – or so I told myself.
I now know that the gel they induced me with is no longer in use because of the severe pain it brings on, meaning there is generally no time to build up a natural response, thus increasing the likelihood of an epidural. I also know now that induced labour is much more likely to result in assisted delivery, as an epidural can make it very hard to know when to push. Add to that the lack of amniotic fluid with my waters breaking early and anyone equipped with this knowledge could probably have predicted exactly how Rose’s birth would pan out.
Thankfully having a second baby gave me a second attempt at labour and things were MUCH better, during and after. Willow’s birth story will follow soon. In the meantime, I hope Rose’s story helps people to understand that labour and birth may not always go according to plan, and most importantly it is NOT your fault if things go off course – as long as your baby arrived safely, you did your job – and should be very proud of yourself.