I tend to get a bit ranty on the subject of birth stories, as so many people seem to love sharing their own horror tales, or those of others. I don’t see this as being at all helpful to women who are pregnant for the first time, who are anxious enough as it is, who don’t need to hear flippant comments and gory details about labour. While pregnant, I much preferred to read about wonderful positive birth stories in books such as Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. I know that not all labours go as planned, however I found it immensely empowering to read about women who gave birth surrounded by love and calmness.
I tried to approach my labour with an open mind, aware that I might not get the room with the pool, or that things might go awry. I found no solace in dwelling on scary scenarios, instead choosing to focus on tales of positivity. I was frightened about labour and these stories gave me strength. Today I’d like to share my own birth story, which is a very positive one. I realise I am lucky to have had a smooth, relatively easy labour, but hopefully my story will give other first-time mothers strength too.
Throughout my pregnancy I had been worried about the labour – not knowing what to expect, and whether I could even do it at all! But whenever I was in work, I would look around and think “All of these people were born!” Such an obvious, trite statement, but thinking of all the millions of women who had given birth before me made me feel like I could do it too.
My bump was always low and on the small side – so much so that I had bump envy most of the way through! In the last few weeks before Kitty was born, my midwife told me multiple times that I was “all baby”, and she was sure I wouldn’t go full term. From around week 34 the baby’s head was engaged – and boy could I feel it! Sure enough, Kitty arrived 11 days early, putting me at 38 weeks +3 days. On the Thursday evening before I went into labour, I experienced three hours of regular contractions, which weren’t painful and disappeared when I went to sleep. I realise now that my body was gearing up for labour. We had a really busy weekend, going to a gig, seeing friends and going out for tea, and really I think that helped to speed things up – for at 3.30am on the Sunday morning, I woke up to pains in my lower back and abdomen. I lay still for a little while, letting the idea that I was in labour sink in. Then I got up and woke Jim, unable to keep the news to myself.
For the next few hours the contractions very slowly got stronger, and we dithered around, knowing there was no way we would go back to sleep. I had a shower, ate some cereal, got our hospital bags together and dressed in comfortable clothes. As the contractions got more uncomfortable, I sat and rolled around on a birthing ball, until at 9am I demanded that we go to the hospital.
We live very close to our local hospital, and decided to walk there with our pram, so I could lean on it every now and then. A normally five-minute journey on foot ended up taking about half an hour! But moving around really helped to ease the increasing pain of my contractions. I was well aware that I would probably be sent home again, and sure enough, upon examination I was only 2cm dilated – which was better than I had expected! I was using breathing techniques which I’d learned at my local Daisy Birthing class (so helpful, I would definitely recommend!). Because of this the midwife kept telling me that she was impressed at how calm I was, which in turn made me feel stronger and more calm.
I was given a low dose of cocodamol for the pain, which I threw up. It turns out food was not my friend that day, as this happened every time I tried to eat something – the most I managed was an ice lolly! I knew this wasn’t going to aid my strength during labour, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. We headed home, and I began to use the TENS machine I had borrowed from a friend. I found the relief wonderful, but the contractions got pretty intense as the morning went on. I lay on the sofa and we timed the contractions while listening to the radio. Jim and I had both been worried about knowing when would be the “right time” to return to the hospital, but at around 2pm I was really struggling to cope. This time we drove there!
Upon arrival, I was examined again, all the while praying “Please don’t send me home again!” Fortunately I was 4cm dilated, and even better, the pool room in the midwifery-led unit had recently been vacated! I felt very lucky that I would have the room I had wanted. So the TENs machine came off and at around 4pm I got in the pool, which was very soothing and allowed me to experiment with various positions. Our midwives changed shifts, and I hoped our new one would be as good as the lady who had just left. She was brilliant. It was just me, Jim and our new midwife, Zara, and for the most part she left us to it, now and then coming over to check how we were doing and calmly chat to us.
By this point I was using gas and air, which, rather than dulling the pain only seemed to make me groggy and dry-mouthed, but it did help me to concentrate on my breathing. Zara kept saying how calm I was, but as the afternoon wore on I felt my control slipping. The contractions were getting really intense and a couple of times I dropped the F-bomb, and one time I simply shouted out “Help!” I can’t really say that the contractions were painful, to me they just felt incredibly intense and just as everyone told me – like I needed to do a really big poo!
The whole time Jim sat by my side, passing me cold water to sip and the gas and air when I needed it. He was great, and so supportive, as was Zara. At one point, when I asked her whether I should resist pushing, she said that she wouldn’t be examining me. She told me to trust my body and if I felt like I needed to push, I should do it. This moment came at around 7pm, and I’m not going to lie – it was scary. Really pretty scary! But also quite exciting, as I knew our baby would soon be with us.
At this point a second midwife arrived, and I started to push. This process seemed quite drawn out, and with every push Zara would say “The baby’s head will be out on the next push!” and each time it wasn’t, for which I kept apologising! Eventually, though, the head began to crown, with immense stinging that floored me. This for me was the hardest part, but I knew I had to endure it only briefly. I had really wanted to avoid giving birth on my back, going against gravity etc. But the midwives needed to see what was going on! They also asked if I wanted to see the baby’s head with a mirror (no thanks), and then to touch it (NO THANKS!). Once the baby’s head was out the body felt so easy in comparison, and our little girl was born at 7.17pm, on Sunday 8th March (International Women’s Day!), weighing 7 pounds 5½ oz. In all I was pushing for 27 minutes, and on record my labour was 5 and a half hours.
And then she was on my chest, her pink body scrunched up and covered in vernix. We put a hat on her and she cried softly, and Jim and I gazed at her with tears in our eyes. The midwives asked us what her name was, and without hesitation we looked at each other and said “Kitty”. Once Jim had cut the cord, he had a wonderful hour of skin-to-skin cuddling with her, while I pushed out the placenta. This was not what I had expected! It took almost an hour to get rid of that bad boy, and I felt so exhausted from lack of food and of course the labour. Five minutes before I was to be given the injection to help the placenta along, I did it, and felt the most immense relief. Kitty was placed on my chest and began to greedily breastfeed right away, which was amazing. I had done it!
I had such a textbook labour that we were told we could go home that same evening, if we wanted. The thought of me and Kitty being in the hospital without Jim made me feel quite sad, so we decided to go home. Living so close to the hospital reassured me, knowing the labour ward was only next door if we needed anything. Our parents came to the hospital and helped us take Kitty home. It was surreal walking through our front door with her at midnight, and we sat and ate cereal and stared at her. Needless to say, that night I got zero sleep, starting at every snuffle and sigh, constantly astonished at the little person we had made.
So I hope that my positive birth story can bring strength and hope to other first-time mothers. Yes, bad things can happen in labour, but sometimes it all goes smoothly. I felt like I had been beaten up for the first few days after Kitty’s birth, but I also felt incredible – superhuman, in fact! Like all mothers, who are superhuman however their little people came into the world. High five, mamas.