On the 1st July, our perfect little lady entered the world. I absolutely loved reading birth stories when I was pregnant, so I thought that I would share mine here.
(I know that it’s really long, but I really wanted it all written down in detail for myself!)
For the shorter version, from when my labour started, read here.
My due date was the 18th of June, and when that date came and went I hoped (pleaded with God) each night when I went to bed that something may happen soon. I had very regular braxton hicks contractions from a few days before my due date. Braxton hicks are non painful tightenings or contractions of the uterus. Kind of like 'warm ups' for labour, and I had so many in the three weeks before I had her, that I was constantly sure that the birth was imminent.
When I was 4 days overdue (Monday the 22nd June) - the midwife did 'a sweep' to try and get things going naturally and found that I was already 2cm dilated. She was sure things were going to progress soon and I was too! After the sweep I went for an acupuncture session to induce labour (this was my second acupuncture session, the first was on my due date). I went home sure something was going to happen that night and really hoping that the baby would arrive before my Mum and sister arrived on the Thursday! Instead I had my usual Braxton hicks contractions and woke up on the Tuesday morning with my and Pete’s now usual greeting to each other of “Good Morning, still pregnant”.
On the Tuesday afternoon I had reflexology to try and induce the labour and still this didn't kick anything off.
Mum and Tess arrived on the Thursday morning and I decided to try to enjoy a few days with them and (try) to stop obsessing over the labour.
On the Friday my midwife was really surprised when I turned up at my appointment that I hadn't gone into labour yet! She did a second sweep and said I was now close to 3cm dilated. The temperature that day was 30° Celsius. I was hot and FED UP. I was so so gigantic and uncomfortable and absolutely desperate for the baby to arrive. I was convinced that I was carrying a big baby, despite the fact that my midwife kept feeling my belly and assuring me that the baby would weigh around 3,5 kg (7.7 pounds).
I readily agreed when she offered to book me in for an induction on the Tuesday morning.
I really hadn’t wanted to be induced, but because I was already 3cm dilated - I was going to have my waters broken to try and start the labour, and wasn't going to need the artificial hormones to do so.
At Chelsea and Westminster hospital, there are 2 options to choose from with how you want your birth to go. There is the birthing centre - where the rooms are beautifully decorated (it actually looks like a hotel) and there are birthing pools in each room. The unit is solely midwife lead and so you need to be considered low risk to be allowed to go there. It also means that there is no access to having an epidural! There is gas and air available (a mild form of laughing gas like you get at the dentist), but that is all that there is in terms of pain relief.
The alternative is to go to the more clinical and sterile ward- where you can have access to an epidural (if an anesthetist is available).
If you are on the birth unit and experience any complications then you are quickly taken to the labour ward for medical intervention.
Before I fell pregnant I always said I that I wanted to have a caeserian (like almost everyone has in South Africa). My friend Lori said to me "you will see that when you are pregnant your body will tell you that you want to have this baby naturally". I chuckled at the time, but sure enough I went from being determined to convince the NHS to give me an elective C section (which actually would have been highly unlikely anyway) to deciding to go to the birth centre for an all natural drug free birth!
If my waters being broken started labour off, then I was going to be able to go to the birthing unit as planned. However, if I wasn’t in labour by the Tuesday night at midnight, then I wasn’t allowed to go to the birthing unit as I would then have been considered too high risk for being so overdue and would have had to go to the labour ward anyway.
So on the Tuesday morning Pete and I set off for the hospital – convinced that the next time that we returned home, we would be parents. We arrived at the labour ward as planned with a bag each for ourselves, a bag of things for the baby and our snack bag. The snack bag (ok it was a cooler bag) was full of all sorts of healthy and unhealthy treats as we had been warned that the labour, being my first, would be likely to take hours, if not days. I was then examined by a midwife who said I was 3cm dilated and I was hooked up to the monitors for an hour. The midwife then said that the labour ward was busy and asked that we go for a walk. After an hour’s waddle along the road outside we returned to the ward. The sister in charge of the ward then came to talk us, said they were now even busier and asked that we go home and call later in the afternoon to be induced that evening. I wasn’t too happy about this plan, but understandably priority had to be given to the women already in labour. The temperature that day was 30° and I don't think I've ever been hotter in my life. I continued to have Braxton hicks for most of the day and I was the biggest (literally) sweaty emotional mess you have ever seen! After going for a walk to a restaurant for lunch and then watching Wimbledon that afternoon, I called the ward at the designated time to confirm that I could come in that evening.
Again I was informed that they were still really busy and that I would have to return the following morning. And then I sobbed. I was such an emotional, fat and sweaty mess that I was now convinced that I was going to be pregnant forever.
In my mind I now hated the labour ward, I wanted nothing to do with them ever again and decided that no matter what I needed to go into labour that evening so that I could make the cut off of being a maximum of 13 days overdue to be allowed to go to the birth unit.
I sat on the sofa and pulled out my acupuncture needles (I am a Physio and do acupuncture) and acupunctured myself in the points that the acupuncturist had done previously to induce labour. After dinner, Pete, my Mum and my sister came for a walk with me along the river. The frequent Braxton hicks contractions continued.
At 10:30 pm, just before bed, I went to the toilet and my waters broke while I was sitting down. I think I actually squealed in delight and shouted to Pete in the bedroom to go and tell my Mum and my sister!
Now on the topic of waters breaking, I had always (naively) thought that when your waters broke it happened in one big gush and that was that. However this is not the case! They gush and gush and continue to gush. Sometimes with a position change and other times when I was still. Just as I thought that there couldn’t be anymore warm liquid to pour down my legs – there was.
If your waters break before you are in established labour (which unlike the movies lead us to believe, only actually happens in 5% of cases), then you need to go to the hospital so that they can check that the baby hasn’t pooed into the waters. The poo is called meconium, and the risk is that the baby may swallow the meconium.
And so off Pete and I went to the hospital for the second time that day (with the three bags and the snack bag), believing that we were going to return home as Parents. By now my Braxton hicks contractions were feeling a quite painful and I was sure I was in labour. We had decided before hand that we were going to catch a taxi to the hospital (which would be cheaper than the car park there) and we thought it would be less stressful than Pete having to drive us whilst I was in labour. A black taxi in London has to take you if you are in labour, but a regular cab is allowed to refuse to. Prior to experiencing the eternal gushing of the waters, I thought this was pretty silly that they could refuse! So Pete and I caught a black cab (thankfully I had some water proof sheets that I could sit on in the car) and off we went to the hospital.
Upon arriving at the birthing unit, a few hours before the overdue cut off, the midwives checked that there was no meconium in the waters and then to my shock and disgust said we must go home as I wasn’t in active labour. I told them I was having contractions and that I certainly was in labour and asked them to check how dilated I was. The midwife refused to check me saying that now my
waters had broken it was too much of an infection risk. She sent us on our way and said to call and only return when I was having contractions of a minute long each, with a frequency of three in every 10 minutes. She also informed us (as our antenatal teacher had) that dilation has been proven to progress faster at home in your more relaxed environment where your oxytocin levels are higher. (The oxytocin hormone is what makes you dilate).
It was only when the real contractions started later that I realised what real labour was!
And so for the second time that day, Pete, myself and the 3 bags and the snack bag (having been given some more waterproof sheets) caught a taxi home.
At 12:30pm I was standing in the kitchen at home talking to my sister when I had my first really painful contraction. And from that very first contraction, my contractions were a minute long and 40 seconds apart. I had read Juju Sundin’s book Birth Skills upon my friend Taryn’s advice. She details how to deal naturally with the pain that you experience during contractions and labour. And so I began using her methods to deal with the pain which surpassed any levels that I could ever have imagined it would be. For me, the shower was my saviour. As the contraction began I sprayed the hot water over my abdomen and lower back where I also felt the pain. A friend asked me the day after the labour what the contractions felt like, and I described it as: ‘Think of the worst period pain that you could imagine, and then times it by 18 million. Wrap the pain around to your back and then imagine barbed wire wrapped around your insides and yank on the wire at the same time as the period pain x 18 million. For a minute.’ Reading this now it seems ridiculous that it was that painful – it really is amazing how quickly you forget!
Because it was so hot that evening, I was starting to over heat in the shower, so Pete set up the fan for me in the bedroom to try and cool off between contractions. He also had to make a path for me with towels and mats to walk towards the fan though as the waters were still gushing! Most women start with contractions that are a good few minutes apart and then get closer together. Mine however started at a minute long with only 40 seconds between them from the beginning. This obviously also threw out us knowing when to go to the hospital, and as we had already been sent home twice that day, we didn’t want to go in too early! I remember saying to Pete that if the contractions were only a bit further apart and I could rest in between them it would be so much better!
These three hours are now all a bit of a blur to me, but I vomited a few times from the pain Pete fetched the little ladder we had just bought for reaching the tall kitchen cupboards for me to rest on in the shower between contractions. I had hoped the birthing ball would fit in the shower but it didn’t. All this time I was mainly in the shower with the warm water helping me through the contractions as well as breathing and making some animal like type of sound! I have no idea where that sound came from but it really helped to distract me from the pain! At 2:30am Pete called the labour ward and told them I was now in active labour, they asked to speak to me and said it sounded like I was coping well at home and I should stay at home as long as possible.
At 3am I told Pete I didn’t think that I could manage any longer at home and it was time to go to the hospital. I also announced to him (in between contractions, as you can’t talk during them) that I had thought I was someone who could manage a drug free birth, but actually I couldn’t. I told him that I now understood why people choose to have caeserian sections and epidurals, and that anyone who has ever had a natural birth is my hero. I then also started panicking about how I was going to tolerate getting through the contractions on the way to the hospital! And I suddenly understood why women opt for home births! Fortunately one of my patients had convinced me to buy a TENS machine to help with pain in labour. I was unconvinced on whether it would be useful so had left it in the packaging planning to return it to the shop if I didn't use it on the labour.
Well as soon as we decided that we were heading to the hospital Pete ripped open the packaging of the TENS machine and reading the instructions whilst I endured another contraction in the shower.
Pete then tried to call a black cab for us and there were none available! So he had to take a chance on us having a sympathetic uber diver and called an uber. I got dressed between contractions and Pete put the TENS machine on my lower back. Well of course as I was about to walk out the door I had another massive gush of the waters. Now, when I was packing my hospital bag, I had all my outfits planned in my mind, the top I was going to wear in the birthing pool and the night gown and dressing gown I would wear when on the labour ward. I didn’t realise that when you are in labour – your attire is the every least of your worries! The poor taxi driver had a whale of a women, clearly in labour, with wet hair mashed to my forehead from the shower, no bra, a night gown, leggings and slippers pushing the boost function on the TENS machine and groaning as I sat down onto my waterproof sheet on the seat.
Needless to say he got us to the hospital in a record time of 10 minutes! When we walked into the birthing unit, I told the midwives between contractions that if I was only 4 cms dilated out of the required 10, then I wanted to go to the labour ward for an epidural. She assessed me and said I was 6cm dilated. I was pretty devastated to only be 6cms!
She then led us from the assessment room to one of the beautiful birthing suites and offered me gas and air fro the pain. I shook my head and all that I could say was ‘shower shower shower.’ I stripped off my ridiculous outfit (the door to the corridor was open but I really didn’t care) and got into the shower. A lovely doula announced she was filling the birthing pool for me, and Katie (the best midwife in the entire world) came into the bathroom with me. She fetched the birthing ball for me to sit on and offered to bring the gas and air into the shower while Sophie (the best midwifery student in the entire world) was reading my medical notes. After a few minutes in the shower I announced to Kate that whilst I knew I was only 6cm dilated I needed to push. I had read before hand that when you are ready to push your baby out, the urge to push is the most overwhelming feeling in the world. And it really is. Imagine that you have the most serious case of explosive diarrheoa known to man and you happen to already be sitting on the toilet. Now try and resist the urge to push.
I asked Kate to assess me again to check how dilated I now was as I had read about how pushing before you are fully dilated can cause inflammation to the edge of the cervix from the baby’s head bearing down and it can delay labour. Being a women’s health Physio I was also terrified of damaging my pelvic floor in the labour! I knew in my heart that my baby was big and I could feel that the labour was going quickly which are both risk factors for damaging your pelvic floor and being urinary incontinent in the future.
Kate guided me out of the shower, said she wasn’t going to assess me again and that if I felt I needed to push, then we were going to listen to my body and do so. She got me to kneel down on the mat in the main room, and I placed my hands on a bean bag in front of me. And I began to push. Pete was sitting next to me encouraging me, and the midwives had given me the gas and air to inhale. A few minutes after I started pushing, I told Kate that I just needed to go to the toilet quickly, I was adamant that I needed to go for a number two, she and Sophie gently guided me back down as I stood up as they said that being in labour feels like you need the toilet! I think her exact words were 'we do not want you delivering this baby in the toilet!'
After a few minutes of continuing to push I turned and said to the midwives and said ‘what is going on?’ to which Kate replied, ‘that is a good question, we are just waiting for a torch from next door’. She had actually been mouthing to Pete that she thought she could see the baby’s head. There seemed to be a problem getting the required torch as it was currently in use and Pete told me afterwards that she had eventually used her iphone torch! A few minutes later she said ‘I can see the baby’s head, and a mop of black hair.’
At which point I stopped pushing, turned to look at her and said ‘black hair? I thought I was going to have a bald blonde baby!’
From this point on, Kate guided me with exactly how hard to push and for how long to reduce my chances of tearing and pelvic floor damage! She later told me that she has never seen someone so concerned about their pelvic floor in labour and with such control during pushing! I listened to every word she said and as a result only had a small tear!
(If you have read as many birth stories as I have - you may be interested to know that I didn't experience the 'ring of fire'. Also, in hindsight, I wasn't aware of being in transition.)
Kate then told me to lift my hands from the bean bag so I was now kneeling as the baby’s head was out and got me to hold onto the body as she was born. So I actually caught her and bought her into the world! I then sat down and turned around and for a few seconds Pete and I were in such shock and awe we didn’t even look to see if we had had a boy or a girl!
After seeing it was a girl, Pete then cut the umbilical cord and then Katie said that she needed to give me the injection to deliver the placenta. I had hoped for a physiological third stage (where you wait for the placenta to deliver naturally) and delayed cord clamping in my birth plan. However Kate was worried as I had lost quite a bit of blood in the labour and so she wanted the placenta delivered as soon as possible. Well by then Kate was my favourite person in the entire world so if that was what she thought was necessary, then I was all for it too! We did manage to have a few minutes of delayed cord clamping though.
She arrived just over an hour after we got to the hospital, before the birthing pool had time to fill and without us even thinking about the snack bag - let alone eating anything from it!
We then had an hour of skin to skin, and some tea and toast before they came to weigh Poppy. And I was right, she weighed a big 4.42kgs (9.7 pounds)!! She was 56cm long.
The Midwives later said that if I had had an epidural – and had not been able to feel each contraction, it would have slowed my labour down and I wouldn't have been able to be in as much control while pushing. I would in all likelihood have torn terribly – and probably needed an episiotomy and forceps (both which increase pelvic floor damage).
It was the hardest but most amazing thing that I have ever done, and I now have even more respect and admiration for anyone who has had a natural delivery. There is no ways that I could have done it without Pete though - he was so calm and encouraging and incredible throughout the entire experience. THANK YOU Pete.
And to the Kate and Sophie who were with us during the labour - WOW, you were amazing. Thank you for making me feel so safe and for being equally concerned regarding minimising tearing.
We went back home a few hours after she was born.
I am also delighted to report that 7 weeks later I have no continence issues at all!
This post has been so long I’m going to write a different one where I gush about how amazing the NHS was through everything!