54 hours awake
36 hours of hard contractions
3 hours of pushing
2.8 litres of blood lost
1 healthy baby boy.
No medication 🙂
It’s taken me a long time to get around to writing this.
It’s taken me a long time to develop a healthy perspective on the whole “ordeal” 🙂
So here it is, in all it’s gory glory.
A little bit of backstory
During my first pregnancy, I knew I wanted to give birth naturally, and with no intervention. I read every book I could on natural childbirth, including classic works by Ina May Gaskin and Grantly Dick-Read, along with as much information as I could find online about natural delivery. I watched countless videos of home births, hospital births, and anything that had close up shots of babies popping out of people’s hoohaas.
Coming from a small family with no exposure to babies pretty much ever, I had to learn everything I could from third party sources.
By month 9, I had it totally down. Breathing, hypnobirthing, a calm mental state, rushes (not contractions), crowning, back-up labour positions for oddly descending babies, home birth booked, birth pool at the ready, midwives all in agreement and on standby. I had a textbook pregnancy and I felt like I had absorbed every piece of information I needed to give birth.
Except the experience of actually giving birth.
40 weeks to the day, 5:30am. I felt water run down my legs in bed. I put on a pad and went back to sleep.
I’d had no contractions, but I called the midwife when I woke.
She did a speculum exam at around 10am and said she couldn’t confirm my waters had gone. She went away. At 4:30pm I had a couple of mild contractions and another small leak. I knew it was amniotic fluid and it was clear, so I didn’t bother calling it in. Looking back (and with experience of birth no.2), I know I had what’s known as a hindwaters leak.
I started taking my temperature every 4 hours and monitoring the baby moving throughout the day.
If your waters break, medical professionals like labour to follow swiftly (our local midwife team set a limit of 48 hours) because of the risk of infection. I had read a lot about this and knew that leaking fluid would be replaced, so as long as I monitored my temperature and the baby’s movements, my risk would be low for up to 4 days (NICE guidelines for expectant management).
In the long run, it was actually a good thing that the midwife couldn’t confirm anything, because two days later (recommended induction time!), I still hadn’t gone into labour.
40 weeks + 2 days
The second night after my waters started leaking was fitful. From 2:30am I had pretty much been awake worrying, willing contractions to start. At 4am I cried and cried in bed, convinced my body didn’t know how to go into labour. The previous day I’d lost a fair amount of amniotic fluid and I was starting to worry about everything. The baby, my home birth, induction, possible caesarian…
From my diary at 5am:
“48 hours now since the first leak, 18 hours since the first proper gush. Not sure how much longer to leave it before calling the midwife. I’m scared of making the wrong decision for me, the baby, or both of us.”
That day I pretty much stopped leaking amniotic fluid. My temperature was still low and the baby was still moving around, so we drove to a coffee house for something to do.
There were still no contractions, but I remember the feeling of heaviness with the baby’s head pushing down into my pelvis, the difficulty of getting in and out of the car. I actually felt like the baby might just drop out (oh how naïve!!), and was relieved when we got home.
At 8pm, finally, contractions started. And how.
The first night
Because of my leaking waters, we never set up the birth pool. I was so worried about the risk of infection. So instead we put a film on and I sat astride a dining chair turned backwards from the TV.
Right from the start, from 8pm, my contractions were HARD. There was no easing into them, or slowly building up. They were like a terrible muscle-tearing cramp from the very first one.
Concentrating on the film was impossible. Looking back, I should have sent DH to bed for some sleep, but we didn’t think having a baby would take days rather than hours, so we both stayed up all night (never do this).
I couldn’t lay down anyway – the only position I could be in was upright and bent forward, anything else was just unbearable.
40 weeks + 3 days
On Sunday morning, my contractions were still agonising and still around 10 minutes apart each time. I called the midwife. Surely the baby would be arriving soon?
The thing is, when I called her on the phone, my contractions stopped. And when she finally turned up at 3pm, they went away completely. I think I had one mild contraction during her visit. She deemed I was in ‘very early labour’ and went away.
I could have cried.
Actually, I think I did cry.
The rest of Sunday afternoon passed in a blur of 10 minute intervals of feeling exhausted and then a hellfire contraction that left me paralysed.
At around 8pm I called the midwife team again. WHAT THE HELL DO I DO? I wanted to know. The thought of another night of no sleep and the awful pain was terrifying.
They told me to take some paracetamol, have a warm bath, lie down and try to get some sleep.
Ha ha ha ha hah!!
So I did as I was told.
The second night
I laid in bed, on my left side, paracetamol taken, and started to drift off to wonderful sleep.
Only to be woken by a wrenching, tearing, splitting sensation inside that I swear could have killed me. How could my own body inflict such pain? I got up (lying down was just a bad, bad idea I finally decided) and went to the bathroom.
I was bleeding.
It was about 9pm. We called the hospital and begged to come in.
Bye bye home birth
When we got to the hospital (contractions in the car – quite possibly one of the most awful sensations ever known to man), the midwife examined me, and told me I was ONE CENTIMETRE DILATED.
A consultant was called in, she counted on her fingers as she spoke, …artificial rupture of the membranes, set up a drip with a hormone to help your contractions, monitor and evaluate if no progress…
I whimpered something to the midwife about my home birth and she said, as if it was obvious to everyone but me,
“You’re not going home until this baby is out!”
I cried and cried. The baby’s heart rate started showing decelerations.
I was losing control.
My amazing husband stepped in and asked if we could have a few minutes alone.
I don’t even remember what we talked about, but being alone with him fixed everything. I calmed down. We could do this together. It was all going to be OK. The baby settled and the heartbeat returned to normal.
I agreed to artificial rupture of the membranes (ARM), to attempt to speed things up, but asked to hold off on anything else. No medication. No drip.
The midwife got her crochet hook, but when she got in there (so to speak), she confirmed what I already knew. Your waters are already broken.
Then she swept her finger around my cervix, stretching it, easing it open a fraction. It wasn’t comfortable, I didn’t ask her to do it, and she never said anything about it, but afterwards the contractions were easier. The tearing, splitting sensation had stopped. I was back in control. Exhausted, fed up, but right then and there I decided I was going to WILL my cervix open with every ounce of mental strength I had.
An hour later they checked me and I was 5 centimetres dilated. They congratulated me like a school girl. Well done!
Five wasn’t a number I really wanted to hear – everyone knows that 10 is the only number that matters. For another two hours I concentrated, barely spoke, breathed through the pain and willed my cervix to open.
I got stuck for a while at 6cm and again they started talking about a hormone drip.
I begged no and said I could do it, that I would try harder.
And that’s when I worked out how to give birth – under the imminent threat of a hormone drip, which I knew would make my contractions too much for me to bear, which would mean epidural, delay, a slippery slope to an outcome I desperately wanted to avoid.
For every contraction after that, I let my entire body go completely and utterly limp during a contraction. I embraced the pain with total relaxation and allowed it to take over my whole body.
I thought I was going to die during every single one.
I know they were strong because even the midwife was commenting on how big they were while she was reading the print-out from the monitoring belt I had around my waist. Yup – continuous monitoring and I was still standing up 🙂
DH got into the rhythm of reading the graph too… Ooo here comes one. Oh that’s a biggie!
Ready to Push
This is the only part of my birth that I wish I’d had the strength to do differently. At around 3:30am I wanted to push. I really wanted to push.
But the midwife examined me and said I had a lip of cervix still over the head. That I mustn’t push. No matter what.
There is a massive debate over whether or not pushing moves the lip, or causes swelling. And I was in no fit state to make any more decisions. So I held off. Don’t ask me how. I fought my own body, I resisted my own urges because I believed it was the right thing to do. I didn’t push (or at least, I barely pushed), with gritted teeth and this endless supply of willpower that I had tapped into.
Just over an hour later, they told me to push and my strength was all gone. My contractions were running out of power.
I truly believe if I’d listened to my body and pushed when I felt like pushing, my son would have been born sooner. Maybe nothing else would have been different afterwards, but I WAS ready (with my second birth I remembered this, and I was so relieved when I finally felt it!).
A long journey
I was so tired, the pushing stage lasted 3 hours. 3 long hours.
By this point I’d been awake for just over 50 hours and I actually don’t know how I found the reserves to do it.
A consultant came to see me and started talking about a drip again, but I was struggling to understand him, so I refused. DH told me later he wanted to re-hydrate me, not give me any medicines. I was really out of it and remember very little.
I finally gave birth lying on my left side, with my right leg held in the air by the midwife.
They cut the cord immediately, even though I said No, no, no!
They were terrified for the baby I think. But after a quick check of his breathing, they handed me my son. DS1 just opened his big eyes and looked at me and I felt such love, and awe and incredulity that this was my child. I knew all was right with the world.
I fucking did it! I said with a tired grin.
Me and placentas. We don’t have a good relationship.
As soon as DS1 came out, my contractions stopped dead. I think my body was just completely and utterly spent and incapable of doing anything.
Consequently the placenta did not make an appearance.
They tried massage and cord pulling and then I agreed to the funny injection thing to contract the uterus. I felt wobbly and weak so I handed DS1 to DH, afraid I would drop him.
And then I passed out.
I woke up and saw bright light, white light everywhere. And there in the middle of it all was an angel.
How are you feeling?
How am I feeling? I could barely understand the question. Who was this pretty woman?
Slowly the room came back into focus. She kept looking at me with such concern.
And then I was back. People everywhere. Nurses on both sides trying to get needles into my arms. I was feeling weak and shaky and so cold. Cramps started in my legs, unbearable pain again. I cried out and the nurses with the needles apologised. It’s not you! I yelled I’ve got cramp!
They started weighing sheets, and trays, trying to determine how much blood I had lost.
They couldn’t get a blood pressure reading.
My whole body was shaking and I was so cold.
Eventually they explained they needed to take me to theatre to get the placenta out.
A consultant explained that if they couldn’t stop the bleeding they would have to perform a hysterectomy. I signed a consent form with a weird squiggle and looked at him with desperation.
Please don’t give me a hysterectomy.
He nodded and took away the form.
I don’t remember being wheeled to theatre but suddenly I was fighting to get a mask off my face. The doctor asked me what was wrong and I told him I couldn’t breathe.
It’s oxygen he said, you need to breath it in before we give you the anaesthetic.
I grabbed the mask and took great gulping breaths, feeding my body and brain with beautiful, life-giving oxygen, desperate to make it through this journey.
Please don’t let me die.
It was the last thing I said before counting backwards from 10.
Yup – I thought I was in some kind of TV drama, obviously 😉
I came round, there were sleeping bodies on trolleys everywhere (this might have been in my imagination actually). I saw DH.
Where’s the baby??
He pointed to a cot.
Did they give me a hysterectomy??!
He looked up at a doctor who had come to see me. My heart seemed frozen.
DH shook his head. No.
I went back to sleep.
From there it was all about recovery. I’d had a blood transfusion in theatre and they fixed up my second degree tear perfectly. I had my son, my husband, and my life.
It wasn’t the birth I imagined. But it was a good birth, with a good outcome.
At first it left me traumatised, depressed, frightened. With time it has become a source of strength for me. A fight I am proud to have lived through.
Every year on my son’s birthday I tell myself the same thing.
Be grateful for each day.
And I am.