The Birth

I was sure I was going to give birth a bit earlier than my due date. This is because I had a lot of Braxton Hicks (practice contractions), and some mild real contractions. Every so often, in the evening, I would throw up or have a massive tummy clearout from the other end. And every time I would think “whelp, here it comes!”

Nothing doing.

I wanted a homebirth and they don’t recommend that after 42 weeks. In fact, just before 42 weeks, they recommend an induction. This is because births after 42 weeks have poorer outcomes and inductions don’t always work straight away.

We weighed it all up and decided to wait to see if she would come by herself before the magic cutoff date. Nope.

So, on 42+0 we went back to our home-away-from-home, Skejby Hospital. Once you get to a certain point, they want to see you every day and do an hour or so of fetal monitoring but you’re not exactly an emergency so there is a lot of waiting around if you get bumped by women in genuine need of the midwives/facilities available. We had spent a lot of time in the waiting room downstairs and read all the Scientific Americans cover to cover.

They gave me pills with a hormone called prostaglandins in them and sent me on home. Finally the contractions started to get regular and settle into a pattern around dinner time. Finally it was happening. And I thought, yeah these are painful but women are crazy for going on about the agony of childbirth if this is it. Maybe it’s all the hypnobirthing I had been doing. Or because my labour started essentially a month ago, maybe the pain was all spread out over the weeks.

We called the midwife when the contractions got to the magic 3-5 minutes apart. She told us to keep taking the pills and call in 2 hours. We did and she had (we found out later), called in sick after talking to us, and we spent about 45 minutes trying to figure out what to do next with the on-call midwife who obviously didn’t know anything about me or my notes.

The contractions were regular and frequent. The on-call midwife said it was up to us whether we wanted to come in but we would probably be sent back. I did not feel safe in case I was one of those who barely feel childbirth and I ended up having an unassisted birth. We went in and my contractions dried the fuck up. When they came, they were painful but they were no longer regular. And my cervix was closed up and I almost cried with frustration. My cervix had surgery on it a few years ago, and several midwives had said that the chances were nothing would happen with dilation for ages and then POP all at once. I was so sick of bringing it up to new midwives, so I did not say anything.

We went home and I got really angry. If I wasn’t allowed in when my contractions were 3 mins apart, lasting 1 minute, then did they want an unintended unassisted? PEOPLE OF THE WORLD!?

We tried to get some sleep, as recommended but with contractions of a minute every few minutes only one of us was successful at that. I was dozing between contractions and I felt a little pop. Went to the bathroom fully expecting my waters to have gone but instead it was my bloody show/mucus plug thing.

Then shit got real. The contractions went up a serious number of notches. The pain was excruciating and it was mostly in my thighs. None of the birth prep exercises I had done allowed for thigh pain and I was completely lost.

Two hours from being sent home, we were on our way back to Skejby. We left the bags in the car because I assumed I was going to be sent home again.

Get examined. 100% effaced but not even 1cm dilated. But the midwife said (and I’ll love her forever for this) “you’re obviously in active labour, so I’m not going to send you home”

Four hours later, I was at 10cm. I had tried a bath, gas and air, kneeling up, the birthing ball and an epidural. None of it did much. The epidural took the edge off, I guess but I was also in transition once it was placed and maybe I was always going to have a quiet, spacey time.

When the pushing phase started, I thought it would be a matter of a couple of hours, if that. In the event, it was almost the same length as the “opening” stage. She wasn’t in the right position so they were getting me to labour down and pant instead of push, only I hadn’t bloody realised that was their plan and was sort of pushing at the same time as panting. Not consciously but I wasn’t holding back either. We tried all sorts of positions but my pelvis and thighs were so sore, I ended up on my back.

I also “needed” a catheter which was incredibly painful and had to be abandoned. This suggests to me that the epidural did not bloody work at all. I went to the loo but the fetal heart rate went scary with all the pushing so they got me out of there.

These signs of fetal distress on the monitor meant we had to test the baby’s blood pH every 20 minutes. This meant, every 20 minutes a team of a doctor, a senior midwife and a SOSU would show up to take the measurements and I’d have to get on my back to help. It’s all a bit of a blur 5 months on. I do remember the SOSU trying to help by moving my leg into a stirrup and I screamed in pain (I had SPD, which is where your pelvis takes the relaxin hormone a little too seriously and basically detaches from itself).

They really wanted the catheter in. I think they thought a full bladder was the only thing between me and getting the baby out? I only consented if the midwife went and got some local anaesthetic. She seemed surprised that this was even a thing but went and got something from some cupboard. She remarked to the student that it was only a couple of drops after all that (thankfully, I didn’t hear this, and heard about it afterwards from my husband)

My “birth wishes” had that I was not interested in ventouse or forceps and if docs were worried about either of us, just get us into theatre and c-section me. The doctor was talking to me about that just before the very last contraction. Did I really mean it? She wouldn’t use forceps, she wouldn’t need to cut anything and it’d be as invasive as these 20 minute checks had been (annoying but not painful). So, I said I changed my mind. This conversation was apparently enough for me to get the baby out without use of forceps or ventouse.

The next contraction came and as was usual I greeted it with “oh no, not NOW” because as was usual someone was doing something to my vagina at the time. The midwife told me it was PERFECT timing and just to go for it. I did scream at the crowning and was duly told not to “waste energy” which was a damned cheek considering that I tore actual muscle. But then the pain/ring of fire subsided because oxygen was cut off to the perineum, isn’t evolution great?

Last contraction and I got her out. They put her on my chest and she weed all over me. “Oh, nice to meet you TOO” I said. She also had pooped inside me and was coughing a bit, so they got my husband to cut the cord and whisked her away for a check.

The midwife checked in with me to see if I was ok. “Oh yes, I’ve had her inside me for nine and a half months, time for someone else to have a go, frankly” The SOSU said “See, no pain now!” And I noticed that it was all gone “Oh my, even the pelvis pain. The second she came out!”

The paediatrician came to check over the baby and then brought her over to me to nurse. She was fine but she might feel a bit sick because she swallowed some of the meconium that was in the amniotic fluid. The paediatrician was the only medical health professional that spoke to me in English.

There wasn’t exactly a rush of love, I felt a bit confused and dazed for all that. But I did feel something, a big whoosh of something. But also a bit blank, like “insert emotion here” I asked if I needed to push to get the placenta out but I didn’t need to, it just plopped out. I asked to see it and they said they would as soon as they knew it was all out. They showed it to me later while I was nursing my baby and I replied “ew, gross, lovely, thanks”. I called my mum who asked who the baby looked like. The baby looked like a chimp/alien crossbreed experiment but I could hardly say that so I replied “she looks like a white person, I guess” which made the midwife laugh.

They told me that I had tore around my urethra (I had NO idea this was possible), and the muscles of my perineum. “Will it heal by itself?” I asked hopefully. Nope, stitches times.

And I felt great. They wheeled me down to the mother and baby unit because the patient hotel was full. I was full of adrenaline and barely slept at all. I felt great about the birth, they had kept me in high spirits and I felt listened to and respected. It wasn’t until a few days later that disappointment crept in. My baby’s birth was exactly like the births on One Born Every Minute that I hated. I was coached to push. I had to HOLD MY BREATH to push. There had been a cascade of interventions. I had been on my back for fuck’s sake. And there was guilt. The baby was very sleepy for the first few days and I felt like I did that to her. All the breastfeeding books that I turned to for help with latching on were very much anti-epidural. I felt like I had done something awful to my infant daughter in trying to get through a medical induction. She had been in distress. There had been meconium in the water. And I had so wanted a homebirth and I felt like all the people who had told me how dangerous homebirths are would be smug as fuck that I’d been in hospital and taken all the meds.

Five months on and I don’t give a fuck anymore. It was eight hours of my life almost half a year ago. My baby is fine. More than fine, she is in the rudest of health. I did what I had to do and everyone got out alive. My vagina has definitely seen better days but it too is on the mend. Maybe I could have done things differently and had the same outcome or a different outcome or a worse or a better one. But I didn’t. I did what I needed to and we all got through it. Maybe I would have enjoyed a homebirth more but I don’t think we were remotely prepared for all the mess! We had got all the waterproof sheets and towels, sure, but jesus. Humans didn’t get the idea of a ‘blood sacrifice’ from the depths of our imaginations. I remember asking the SOSU “is there usually this much blood?” and she said “Oh yes, don’t worry, it’s all yours though, not hers”

The memories are fading and I cannot remember what the pain was like anymore. I could for ages but it’s receding like the tide. The first pics of the baby in the delivery room don’t make me feel sad or regretful anymore. I feel proud and nostalgic for the experience. I guess that’s how people manage to have more than one baby.