I've talked about it a LOT, but if you don't know, my first labour with Ollie was not what I wanted.
(If you do know all this, skip a couple of paragraphs!)
Meconium in my waters and a hospital policy that I had to lie flat on my back strapped to monitors, was a bad start. I felt very unprepared emotionally and physically. My midwife was useless and didn't speak to me. I wanted a natural birth and at no stage felt any thing natural at all was going on. I felt completely out of control. My coping mechanism was to stay very quiet. I didn't breathe through contractions, more like held my breath and wished it wasn't happening. Ollies heart rate was constantly unstable. At 7cm they gave me the drip to speed up labour as he was distressed. The pain was significantly stronger but I was managing on gas and air, although they kept pushing me for an epidural.
Me: "I really feel I can cope with this, it's important to me to have a natural birth"
Anaesthetist: "Do you really think you'll cope for another few hours?"
Yes, really. Great vote of confidence.
When I had the epidural I felt a failure because it wasn't what I wanted, what I chose, and I knew I could have kept going. What saddened me was it felt like no one believed in me. This quiet girl who was staunchly trying to crack on with it. The decision to use forceps after 5 minutes of pushing was another blow to my confidence. I felt like I did nothing at all, had nothing to be proud of, and was quite shocked and stunned when they handed me my beautiful Ollie. It felt like I hadn't even given birth, it had all been done for me.
I was convinced this time round that all the fault lay in the fact that I wasn't prepared, so I spent a lot of time thinking about what might happen. I was also convinced that the epidural ruined it all. My husband was prepped that under no circumstances was I to have pain relief.
Well that went out the window...
My waters broke at 7.30am on my due date when I got up to do my morning wee. I was completely elated that something was happening and that the waters weren't green like last time. I was literally buzzing with excitement. We went to the hospital and they said I was 2cm and gave me a sweep. Within minutes of getting home again I was having regular mild contractions. Within a couple of hours they were 4 minutes apart and I was using breathing techniques, my husband counting through them for me. I felt really in control.
Suddenly I had a flurry of contractions 2 minutes apart that I had to moan my way through. We decided to go back to the hospital but on the way the contractions just stopped and when I got to triage they were mild and 4 minutes apart again. They said I was 3cm and should walk around the hospital for a bit as it would probably heat up again quickly. The last thing I wanted to do was walk around and suddenly I had a whopping big contraction, followed by another and another. A lovely midwife excitedly trilled "change of plan!" and guided me across the corridor into the birthing suite complete with dim lights, bubble machines and a large birthing pool. I remember feeling really elated that everything was going the way I had hoped.
She told me I was now in established active labour and things were progressing quickly based on the timings and the way I was reacting. I sat on the birthing ball and started on some gas and air which was brilliant. The contractions were coming quickly and were strong, but I still had this sense of control and power. I wasn't frightened and I didn't want to escape, I was embracing what was happening.
As she started running the pool suddenly the pain shifted and I felt this incredibly forceful surge downwards through my tummy. It felt like something was diving through me and trying to split me open between my legs. Gasping I explained what I was feeling and she told me baby was coming and to follow my instinct to push. It was a bizarre thing though because I couldn't work out if it was an urge to push or something different. It felt like the baby was doing something I couldnt work out. It was pushing down but in the wrong way. I did not, at this stage, have the time to think through what could be happening, that weeks and weeks of worrying that my baby was back to back and in an awkward position was actually having an effect on my labour. I had been repeatedly told by midwives that baby would turn in early labour, but baby had definitely not turned...
As I got into the pool I didn't feel the instant relief I expected. The water wasn't soothing to me and I felt awkward, like one of those enormous inflatable toys you get in holiday swimming pools. Half floating, half sinking, knees slipping on the bottom of the pool, I tried to stay calm and focus on breathing. The midwife and my husband were chanting at me to push and I tried to follow this but when I did push it felt wrong and it felt very very painful. At the same time, the surges downwards were almost an automatic push in themselves, so I felt sort of trapped and unsure. Suddenly I didn't feel like things were going the way they should be. My midwife, on the other hand, was getting gloves on and had a table ready for the baby. She put a finger inside me and said she could feel the head and baby was about to be born. At the stage suddenly the surges took on a new level of intensity and I have to say I was screaming blue murder. I remember not recognising this noise coming out of me. I sounded like an elephant, this sort of manic guttural fog horn noise. I was shouting that I couldn't do it, and I really felt like I was about to die! as the midwife said that I could I could, baby was coming!!
But all of a sudden she stopped, I opened my eyes and saw a lot of blood in the pool.
What happened next was a bit blurry, but involved a lot of people coming in to the room, the midwife telling me that baby was not coming and that I was only 6 cm! She had never examined me and just assumed I was fully dilated because of the pressure I was feeling. She said it was all wrong, and that I MUST stop pushing. Having literally been hanging on for dear life and under the illusion that I was seconds away from delivery, I felt like someone had punctured the inflatable elephant. I have never felt so deflated and exhausted and confused in my life. The pain and the surges and the sort-of-sort-of-not pushing was still ongoing as the team tried to get me out of the pool. I looked down and there was just blood pouring down my legs. They took the gas and air away from me as they put me on a bed and wheeled me to the delivery unit and I felt so completely and utterly terrified and in so much agony I couldn't think straight. My insides were splitting open, the pressure was so intense.
And that's when I had the light bulb moment. Epidural epidural epidural. I grabbed my husband. I had to have an epidural right now. My choice, my decision. No more of this nonsense trying to make up for last time, trying to prove something to myself or whoever. I was frightened and this was unbearable and something was wrong and there was blood everywhere and I literally needed to check out. Needed to escape. There was no way I could face this pain.
I don't know whether I'm just not brave enough, or whether the pain I was feeling in that moment was worse that the pain many other woman feel. I will always wonder how on earth women give birth without pain relief, and of course that is what they've had to do for all time before modern medicine gave us more options. Even now I know so many women who have given birth without even gas and air. Of course that is what is natural- we are designed to do it. We should be able to do it...
What would I have done 100 years ago? Would I have just had to cope? Would I have died?! I literally can't imagine coping with that pain. Maybe the circumstances and the blood made it all worse. Maybe the knowledge that there was the option of the epidural. But I just couldn't do it. I had to have the epidural. As I lay on the bed the doctor were desperately telling me not to push and I had no control over myself. With every surge blood gushed out and I kept pooing myself. It was literally chaos.
After the epidural they were able to properly examine me. Baby appeared to be back to back, twisted at an angle, with his head lodged chin-up rather than chin-down in my pelvis. Rather than feeling the crown of his head through my cervix they could feel the front of his forehead. My contractions were extremely forceful, as strong as they can get, in a bid to turn baby. Every contraction was forcing the wrong part of his head down- not onto my cervix to help it dilate properly, but onto my back passage and spine. Hence the horrendous pressure and the blood and the pooing.
Now all we could do was wait for me to dilate and the contractions to naturally, hopefully, turn the baby. After a few hours they put me on the drip to increase the intensity. It took hours and hours. Consultants visited and the only thing that kept me from a c section was that Harry's heart rate was miraculously steady and calm. I didn't feel pain or the unstoppable pushing urge, but I felt tightening and pressure, so I still felt part of it all. I kept repeatedly being sick and got a temperature, so wasn't feeling particularly well, and I just wanted to get it over with.
At 11pm, 16 hours after my waters broke and about 13 hours after I started having contractions, I was finally 10cm. The baby hadn't moved. They left me another hour, and then at midnight I started pushing. Pushing with an epidural is bizarre because you can't really feel where you are pushing into. But I pushed as hard as I possibly could, every single time. I think this was the point that I suddenly realised I could do something. That I could be a part of this. Id opted for the epidural and the dream of a relaxed water birth was long gone, but now I had the chance to make myself proud.
My pushing was successful in that I managed to turn the baby. The midwife, unless she was just being nice, seemed quite astonished that I was able to do it. The doctors came in and kept congratulating me. I felt like less of a failure, less of a wimp. Suddenly it was 1am, id been pushing for an hour, he was turned, but not with us. The consultant came in and said that if he wasn't out in 10 minutes it would be forceps.
I wasn't having forceps again. I had to do it. We put my legs up in a different position on stirrups and I used the angle to push as hard as I could. The midwife gave me a look and I asked her whether I was going to deliver this baby and she sighed and shook her head. Again, more motivation. I needed to prove her wrong.
I gave it everything I had and suddenly everything changed. Baby was coming. The midwife looked really surprised and delighted. Harry's head was born at 1.34am. It was an amazing moment. I felt myself opening up, felt all the pressure and force, but no pain at all. When his head delivered it was twisted towards my right inner thigh, with his arm up wrapped around his face and then the cord wrapped twice around his neck, binding his arm to his face. No wonder pushing had been hard! Not to mention his 99th percentile enormous head!
At 1.35 I delivered his body and they put him straight on my chest. I have never ever felt more alive than I did in that moment. It was the most beautiful and amazing experience. I felt so fulfilled, so empowered, all those emotions which I had so hoped to feel. And yes I had done it without the pain, so cheating slightly (!), but I had birthed my baby naturally. I had given it everything I had. And he was here.
Welcome to the world my darling Harry.
Thanks for reading xx