Braxton Hicks. For those of you that don’t know, that is the name given to false contractions. And thats what I was having. For almost two weeks before my daughter came in to this world she was playing tricks on me. The problem with taking maternity leave so early is that every tiny niggle is thought to be ‘The Real Thing’. So I’m sat at home watching Jeremy Kyle panicking that I’m going to have to ring Joe at work and call him home. Baring in mind he works the other side of Oxford which would take him an hour and a half to get back, and then another 30 minutes for us to get to Worcester Hospital – all this dependant on traffic.
One thing I learnt whilst pregnant is that your water doesn’t necessarily break first. Its not like in the movies when you hear a gush, look down see a puddle and you’ve got 20 minutes to get to the hospital before the head pops out.
So people kept asking me, how do you know if its real labour? Well, shit, how would I know?! I’ve never had a baby before, apart from Braxton Hicks, I’m pretty clueless to how it actually feels. My plan, each time I had fake contractions, was to go to sleep – I was knackered anyway, so why not? – and they got stronger I’d wake up and know its real.
Sunday 20th March, 6 days before my due date, my Mother-in-Law (to-be!) rang. She asked Joe if we wanted to go round for our customary Sunday Night Roast. “We might not make it Linda, because I’m planning on having a baby today!” I laughed down the phone. I’d been feeling shitty all day. Constantly trying to sleep because I was just so tired, then not being able to. I felt sick, achey, generally pissed off and uncomfortable. But I tried to perk myself up and we went over for dinner. Now by this point I was eating about the same amount as a fussy 3 year old. My stomach organ was so squished I was full after 3 mouthfuls. All through dinner my Braxton Hicks were putting me through my paces. By 9 o’clock I was standing with my hands on my lower back and swaying. Everyone kept checking if I was okay, but at 39 weeks pregnant I had a strong grievance for anyone being ‘overly nice’. Agitated, at 9:30pm I told Joe we had to go home. I just wanted to go to bed.
So we got home and tried to wind down with a bit of Game of Thrones for an hour and then off to bed we went. Joe works funny shifts and had to be up at 3:30am so it was getting late. I led down and did my usual routine of checking the Babycentre forum and researching labour symptoms. Standing, I started pacing around our bedroom and timing my contractions on one of my much loved Pregnancy apps. Hmm. One or two every ten minutes. I’m sure the baby books said there was be an obvious rigid pattern? I checked the hospital website. Call at every 10 minutes. Shit. These are coming every 7.
“Joe, wake up! I need to call the hospital!” We got everything ready in the lounge by the front door, just in case they called us in. They told me on the phone that I was welcome to come in or stay at home if I felt more comfortable. God, no. I was definitely going in. If it wasn’t real they could always send me home again, but I was definitely not leaving anything until the last minute. We put the bags in the car, along with our brand new, pristine Maxi Cosi. Looking back now, that simple moment of putting it in the car will stay in my mind forever. We might be bringing our baby home in that car seat tomorrow, I thought.
We arrived at the birth centre at Worcester Hospital by 12:30am. We were shown into a room and the midwife looked over my notes before coming back to examine me. Now its funny to think but all the way through pregnancy this was the first time I had ever gotten my vagina out. 2cm dilated. Hooray! Its real! This is it! No fake contractions anymore, its happening. The midwife, Beth, told me that the head was right there and my waters were so thin, it wouldn’t be hard to break them. But they don’t, unless theres an issue or you’re overdue, you have to be patient, it will all come naturally. She did a sweep – Stretch and Sweep, where they circle the baby’s head to do something. Basically help it somehow. I was never particularly clear on that one.
Again, I was offered the chance to go home, relax and come back when things started progressing more. Well, I was much happier in the hospital, and no way was I getting back in a car when I felt much better standing. So Joe got the bags out the car and we moved to a smaller sort of labour without birth room, incase someone came in ready to have theirs. We began the famous ‘walk around the hospital’ doing laps of the same area, going up and down stairs and passing about 4 other pregnant women with the same idea. An hours walk, then back to the room to bounce on the ball. Half an hour of that, then back round the hospital, and so it continued. Joe was falling asleep and I was so tired, I did try to lie down, as if sleep was even possible at that point! Midwives generally leave 4 hours before examining you, to reduce the risk of infection. So at 5am, I led down, put the soles of my feet together and let my knees drop. 4cm. YES! It progressing well. I’m in established labour. Well not quite. They like you to be 5cm before you’re allowed in the pool.
I was so against a water birth until about 4 or 5 weeks before when I was in the bath twice a day and found the water so helpful, something just clicked. So they offered me some pain relief. Gas and Air or pethidine were the two options on the menu. I opted for the gas as I remembered that pethidine can make you and the baby sleepy and I thought that so far I was coping with the pain. The first several puffs on the gas are fantastic. You’re supposed to take big deeps breaths and it goes straight to your head! The best way I can describe it is when you’re really drunk that you’re on your way to falling over, your teeth feel numb and everything’s hilarious – just before the point of being ‘too drunk’. Every time I went to the bathroom (every two minutes by this point), Joe would take a puff, so he was definitely enjoying himself.
Suddenly things kicked into gear. Something shifts inside a woman in labour and the noise begins. Every time I watched One Born when I was pregnant I found myself shouting at the women that screamed, shouted or made any noise in labour. “Put your head on your chest, your hands behind your knees and shut up you silly cow!” I’d shout. But by a few hours in, I knew there was no way I could be silent. So as I was saying, this gear change happens and bam! You’re a farm animal. A long pained ‘moo’ escapes on every exhale and all you want to do is be on all fours. The midwives sat in an office just outside in the corridor are trained to listen to this and Beth returns to tell me that the water’s on, I’m getting in the pool!
Round I go to the next room and prepare to get in. Joe gets my bikini top out of the bag so I can preserve some modesty. So trivial really, when only hours later its all tits, vag and arse on full display! I’d been told earlier when I was checked at 4cm that Baby had turned and was back-to-back. Babies are generally born with their back in a curved shape against Mummy’s tummy, so that the softest part of their head is at the softest part of your vagina. Back-to-Back babies are more likely to tear poor Mummy and can take longer coming out. So I had a little cry at that news. The midwives had a handover about 15 minutes after, so goodbye Beth and hello Hayley and student midwife Megan. Megan, only two years younger than me, had been in training for 6 months and my birth was the first water birth she would ever see.
So there I was, bobbing about trying to get comfortable without drowning in this giant jacuzzi without the jets. For some reason it helped when I was on my knees and grabbed my left ankle during a contraction, pulling it out the water and almost to my head. Like some sort of crazed ballet enthusiast. Possibly one of the weirdest things about contractions is in early labour and before the actual ‘Big Push’. You feel the peak of a contraction, it can last a couple of minutes, you’re in such pain and then it switches off, you’re back in the room and having a normal conversation. I expected constant pain.
Some toast came in for Joe and I had a bite but I definitely couldn’t eat anything. I felt a new sensation of pushing in my arse. Yes, sorry Ladies and Gents, it gets way more graphic from here. I remembered from my months of research that when the head is coming down the pelvis its pushing on your anus making you feel like you need to shit. So, there’s no point beating around the bush, I’d better tell them. “I feel like I need to poo” I said. And this bits the kicker.
“Why don’t you try and have a poo between contractions and see if that makes it go away? Sometimes it helps.” Hayley asked me. Right. Okay. So I had to try and shit in this glorified bath, in water while 3 people watched me squat and strain, with one random person who kept popping in for god know’s why and then if I managed to squeeze one out it might end up hitting me as it floats around. Well let’s face it, who could go under that kind of scrutiny? I tried my best but my bowels were having none of it. I failed to mention that during our several walks around the hospital I’d done the biggest poo of my life, calling Joe into the toilet and almost taking prideful pictures to send to my family.
But ‘Poo-gate’ didn’t end there. They were so desperate for this bowel movement that I was thrust out of the pool, waddled naked from the waist down to the bathroom and forced to sit on the loo with what looks like a tiny washing up bowl in it. This is literally to catch the baby if you give birth on the lav. Sat on the toilet, with my new best friends Hayley and Megan at either knee looking up at my arsehole to see what treasures they might find. Gas and Air in my mouth the contractions were coming thick and fast. A few minutes later, they’d given up on their futile quest and I was waddled back into the pool.
I’m not sure at what point it was, but sometime between getting in and having my baby I looked around the room and burst into tears. This is normal. Its called the Transition period where you usually here the classic “This is all your fault, don’t ever touch me again” or “I can’t do this” or in my case just crying. The realisation dawns on you in this moment that there is literally no going back. One way or another, this baby is coming today.
One of the midwives asks if its okay if a female doctor comes in. She’d never seen a natural birth before and only ever performed c-sections, so I obliged and she joined the audience.
Fuck. Here comes the head. Oh god, it stings like hell. I remember my mum called it ‘The Ring of Fire’. Well, keep breathing on that gas. They’re telling me I’m doing so well. I think they’re paid to say that. The head is the worst part, just get that out and a few more pushes and I’ll get to meet her. That’s what they always say on One Born Every Minute. For anyone that hasn’t had a baby it is as everyone says, the worst pain you’ll ever experience. For however long you are pushing, it feels like you’re dying. The head is coming out and my natural instinct is to try and close my legs and stand up. A different midwife behind me keeps pushing my bum back into the water and I’m holding Joe’s jacket instead of his hand for fear of breaking it. Occasionally I open my eyes to see him in front of me and I’ll never forget the look of pure helpless fear on his face. His presence and soft words are such a comfort to me and I wouldn’t be able to do it without him. I’m vaguely aware of my own voice in my head but everything else is just white noise. Someone’s saying my name. I need to listen now. They’re telling me the head is being born, they can see it in their weird spatula mirror they keep putting between my legs. I have to let the head be born slowly so only pant when they say and stop pushing. My body’s taken over and my uterus contracts without warning, 3 uncontrollable pushes and relief. The water turns bloody and I see a shadow underneath me.
“Pick your baby up!” They tell me. I thrust her out of the water and she cries. Why am I not crying? I’m in shock. I’ve done it. All my life this is the moment I’ve been waiting for. I look at Joe for reassurance and he’s sobbing. I joked before that if he didn’t cry he’d be in trouble! She looks so much like me. This little swollen-faced blue/grey creature covered in goo and she looks like me. They take her off me to dry her off and wrap her in a towel and give her to Joe. I notice a sense of urgency in the room that I wasn’t aware of before. Hayley throws herself up to her chin into the water, both arms reaching for something. The cord had snapped, which I’d never heard of before. It was so short that the tension had caused it to snap so my blood was being pumped into the water, the placenta still attached to me. Joe later told me it was like slicing my arm open and just letting it bleed. I didn’t quite realise the severity at the time.
Looking over at Joe holding our newborn baby I felt such love. But there was no magic moment when she was born, no Hallelujah chorus or bright light shining down. Just raw emotion, shock and reality that I’d just had a baby. Five or so minutes after giving birth I was still in the pool. The midwife I didn’t know that kept popping in and out came and stabbed me in the arm with a needle, before she told me that it was to speed up the placenta delivery. I felt something metal on the floor and picked it up to ask the midwives what it was. It was the clamp that was supposed to be attached to my part of the umbilical cord, it had fallen off! Whoops, they popped it back on and helped me out. Each step felt like climbing a mountain and I was told to put my feet flat on the floor so I didn’t trip over. I was wrapped up and laid down on a bed type thing to deliver the placenta. I was shaking, pure adrenaline was pumping through my veins and I was still having mild contractions.
Knees up, feet flat together, let your legs drop. Hayley was getting a good view up my lady bits. She touched me and tugged gently on the cord to help the afterbirth come out. I jumped out of my skin each time she put even a finger on me. “You’re so sensitive” she said. No shit, a tiny human just forced its way out my vagina only minutes before. I had to push a couple of times because the injection hadn’t quite taken and I’ll be honest I didn’t even feel the thing come out. It was huge, I asked to see it because I was curious, it was in a big silver tray thing they use during operations and looked like liver. Apparently, usually the bigger the baby, the bigger the placenta they live off.
Now to assess the damage as Hayley kindly put it! I’d had a second degree tear which was worse than a 1st but not as bad as a 3rd or 4th, so I considered that a win. A 2nd degree is where you tear through skin and muscle. The perineum (between the vagina and anus) is the bit that takes the pressure and I’d heard it described as ‘pulling apart wet tissue paper’. I’d have to wait 45 minutes for a bed from the delivery suite to be made available to come down to the birth centre and because it wasn’t too severe Hayley could stitch me up herself.
While we waited, Baby Girl was given to me for her first feed. I’d opted to breastfeed so my bikini top was removed and I was officially starkers now. They helped me latch her on for the first ever time and she fed straight away. It was beautiful, such a fantastic bonding moment that I’d recommend any new mother to experience even if you decide to only breastfeed once. The female doctor that had been watching my birth came over at this point. She was crying and thanked me for letting her share in my experience. I felt so proud that mine was the first natural birth she’d seen and grateful for the emotion she felt.
I had a real good look at my baby while she fed for about half an hour. I took in all her features, noticed her swollen eyes, tiny lips and masses of hair! Babies are also born with no eyelashes but long finger nails and delight in scratching their own bloody face so they look like they’ve been near Edward Scissorhands in their first ever photos.
She was given back to Joe while I was put on a different bed. It had all sorts of pull out foam parts, so that my arse was suspended in the air, feet in stirrups and back supported on the bed. To add insult to injury, a huge spotlight was shined on my ruined unkempt bush while Hayley and Megan stare deep into the abyss. Joe stays firmly on the other side of the room, god forbid he accidentally sees and collapses into a pile on the floor.
By this point the high of actually giving birth had started to wear off. And by that I mean, that when you have a baby you experience such adrenaline that someone could come along, chop your arm off with a machete and the pain wouldn’t bother you. I was no hyperaware that not only was I getting stitched in my most intimate area but I’d have to be injected several times to numb it. My favourite toy, the gas and air, was handed back to me and I was told to ‘enjoy’ it. Taking several deep breaths to calm me down so that I could actually be injected before they started the procedure. I was as high as a kite. They injected me and I was laughing my head off. The room was a blur, I kept passing out and dreamt that a male doctor came in and was poking me about instead. I woke up and had that familiar drunk feeling. Apparently I was saying things like “We’ve just had a baby, can you believe it?!” etc.
Megan, being a student midwife was absolutely entranced by my vagina and was listening intently to Hayley narrating exactly what she was doing. She poked me and said “That bit is supposed to be over there”. That was it, I was gone. I absolutely fell about the place and decided that that was the funniest thing I’d ever heard. Half way through I noticed that I could see myself in the reflection of the shiny wall behind Megan. So I got to watch it being done, lucky me. Megan did offer to stand in front of the wall, but the truth is I was quite interested. I even got a good look in the spatula mirror when Hayley was done. She showed me different angles which made me feel like I was at the hairdressers, which must have triggered me into saying “Mmm yes, looks lovely, very neat, thank you!”
While I was led there, legs up, knowing my favourite parts would never be the same again, I looked at my daughter in the arms of my best friend and swore I would do it all again.
Darcy Athena, born 21st March 2016, weighing 8lbs 7.5oz at 9:24am. My angel, my perfect girl, worth the wait.