Our labour and birth story starts almost as soon as my 40+4 post ended. I recall feeling very uncomfortable and we decided to go to bed about 11pm, spending some time, of all things, buying a vacuum cleaner on line. This was the last of the major purchases that we needed to make; perhaps Pip realised this and knew that she could safely arrive now that her parents had finally fully organised themselves.
I started to get what I assumed were more practice contractions pretty soon after we settled down to sleep, but by 1am they were pretty painful and seemed to be quite close together. I woke up Marto and he started timing them. I made myself a cup of tea and brought the birthing ball into the bedroom, using it to bounce through the contractions.
At that point, we both thought that they were more of the practice contractions and that Marto would be heading to work in the morning and we would both be meeting the consultant at 4.40pm at the hospital. However, something made me consult my book and after reading out loud that we should call the hospital if contractions were less than 5 minutes apart, we thought perhaps we should start taking them a bit more seriously. At that point my contractions were every 3 minutes and lasting for 30 seconds.
We decided that Marto should call the birth centre and the midwife there said we could either come straight in, or we could wait a bit longer at home. Back in Somerset, I recall the midwife telling me to have a bath, as this would either progress the contractions, or stop them, so we opted to stay put and I got in the bath. It was slightly surreal running a bath at about 2.30am. All the way through the last weeks of pregnancy I had known that the last thing we would do before heading to the birth centre, if that was how it happened, was to have a bath. And there I was, in the bath, in the middle of the night, with Marto sitting on the birth ball beside me, timing. Whilst I was in the bath, my contractions started getting closer together, coming every two minutes.
We telephoned the birth centre again and it was decided that we should come in. Marto called a taxi from the bathroom and I lay there in the warm water, hearing the delight of the taxi operators voice when Marto told her the labour ward was the destination. Far from declining to transport a woman in labour, she sounded positively pleased that we had chosen to use her company and asked whether it was a boy or a girl and wished us well.
The taxi was coming in 20 minutes and so I quickly, or as quickly as I could, got dressed, pausing through each contraction. They were still on the deeply uncomfortable side rather than out and out painful, but enough that I had to pause and lean on the sofa for each one. The bags were packed with a list on top of the additional items we needed to get such as pillows, a towel for the taxi seat and phone chargers. In hindsight, I wish we had packed some actual food for Marto to eat, as he didn’t end up managing to eat anything for 12 hours. We put out some food for the cat for the day, laughing together as we realised as we were leaving that she had eaten everything we put out before we had even got out of the house.
It all seemed so surreal, climbing the steps up to the road, to the taxi, laying out my towel and attempting to sit down comfortably, with Marto carrying all the bags, with contractions coming every two minutes. The taxi driver was very sweet but wasn’t quite sure where the labour ward and birth centre was and we couldn’t remember. We found it easily though and there were 2 ladies at the desk to welcome us and take my notes. Cheryl, the midwife on duty at the birth centre, came out to help us to our room. Which was a huge hotel like room with a double bed, enormous birth pool, ball, mats, beanbags and an ensuite bathroom with a shower. Kind of like a cross between a school gym and a travel lodge.
The first thing that she did was monitor the baby, followed by an internal examination. I had been wary of internal exams but it really didn’t hurt at all, rather felt a bit like she was massaging the pain. At that point I was 2cm dilated but given my contractions were increasing in intensity, I was admitted and told that my next check would be at 9am. I should buzz if my waters broke. It was about 4.30am.
I don’t recall much of the the next few hours. The midwife ran a bath for me in the birthing tub and I sat in there for a bit. Marto and I danced together through some of the contractions and I sat on the ball, bouncing. The midwife reappeared at one point with tea and toast and wrapped the beanbag in a sheet, placing it on the bed for me to lay or lean against. Marto told me stories and we reminisced about our relationship, our favourite memories and events like the weekend we got engaged. Every contraction, Marto would hold me, soothe me and help me focus through it. As they got more painful, I rocked and counted through each one, with him holding a hotwaterbottle in a pillow case against my back. I wrote in my notebook until it got too painful to write. The last entry was at 7.10am. It said that I was exhausted but my body wouldn’t let me lie down and rest.
At 8am the midwives changed shifts and I have only the barest of memories of them talking to me, asking me about a student, monitoring me and the baby. I remember them examining me at 9am and me being 7cm dilated and crying, telling them and Marto that we could ring my mum now, because it really wasn’t more false labour. He rang my mum and his mum, like we had promised, so they could think of us whilst the baby was coming.
At some point after that I was offered gas and air, which really helped with the contractions although it did make me slightly more woozy. All I could focus on was Marto, who continued with his role of soothing and encouraging and feeding me sips of water, lucozade or iced tea, holding the gas and air nozzle for me. And all the time the midwives were monitoring the baby, listening to my tummy and taking my blood pressure, which had raised a bit.
By 10am, although my waters still hadn’t broken, I was allowed to get into the birthing pool. At times it felt amazing and really helped. I found myself getting into poses I didn’t know i could do, wide apart like a frog. The midwife thought I must have been doing lots of yoga as they were all yoga poses but really it was just my body deciding what was best. Suddenly, I remember having huge urges to push and the pain intensifying. On one of those pushes, my waters broke with a bang, shooting little bits of membranes into the pool where they remained in suspension. I don’t recall when I got out but suddenly I was too cold and needed the loo and so I got out, not to get back in.
By this point I was fully dilated. I was told that after an hour, I would be able to push and that baby Pip would be there by lunchtime. And yet, that wasn’t what happened at all. I did spend hours pushing, 3 hours 43 minutes in total. Pushing and pushing, on the birthing stool, then standing between contractions and squatting through them. I pushed out huge amounts of blood and fluid and yet the baby just wouldn’t move. It couldn’t feel it move at all, with any of the contractions and was shaking with exhaustion. By about 2pm, we had to make a decision. Carry on, or move upstairs for some pain relief and assistance.
I hung on the outside of the birthing pool, exhausted, crying, thinking how proud of myself I was for getting that far on only gas and air, and how much of a failure I would feel to give up at that stage. Then I thought of our birthplan, or lack of plan, because we hadn’t known what would happen and how we had decided we would do what was best for the baby, not for me necessarily, and it was so silly to keep on with something that clearly wasn’t working just so I could say I’d done it on my own.