During the early stages of my pregnancy, as I read other people’s birth stories they all seemed somewhat self-indulgent; but as my own due date approached, I became ever more fascinated by these intimate accounts of labour and delivery, and so I am now adding my own to the mix. I hope it may offer reassurance or insight for other expectant mummies.
We’d planned for as natural a birth as possible: water, massage, yoga ball bouncing, essential oils. We had engaged a private midwife via UK Birth Centres and created a birth plan to reflect our hopes for a natural birth. We’d followed hypno-birthing classes via The Calm Birth School and we were both feeling quite confident and excited as our due date approached.
Unfortunately, I then caught a virus and the stinking head cold then went onto my chest. I felt ill and exhausted and scared that I’d go into labour feeling really under the weather. We made it to a week overdue. I was feeling really frustrated and we were booked in for a sweep. I couldn’t relax enough to have it done. The midwife suggested we go home and try one of the old-fashioned induction methods! Which we did.
At 8.30pm I started having aches in my lower abdomen, along with backache. I’d had an upset stomach for 48 hours and thought it might be a sign of imminent labour, but I wasn’t sure what a contraction would feel like. I moved myself into our spare room to let the husband sleep.
I set up soft lighting and an audio book (Jeeves and Wooster) and started to time the sensations in my stomach using a contractions app. At that stage they were coming about every 10 minutes and lasting around 30 seconds. I tried to relax my body and doze in between the feelings. By 2.30am I was pretty uncomfortable and the pain meant I started being sick and a slight sense of panic washed over me. I called for Ben who came to help me and he started gathering the last few items to take to the hospital.
By 3.30am, the sensations were coming every 4.5 minutes and lasting 50 seconds. Ben called triage and they said to come to the hospital. It took me a long time to get dressed and make it to the car, and we finally got to the hospital around 6am. I had to get into a wheelchair as walking was hard work and we got straight up to the delivery ward with the help of a nurse in the lift. “She’s having this baby soon!” she said. Little did any of us know!
I was put onto a bed in a small delivery room and started to breathe in the gas and air. After a while someone came to check on me and declared I was only half a centimetre dilated and should go home until “properly” in labour – as though I wasn’t labouring hard enough already! My heart sank. I knew I’d really struggle to get back to the car let alone fight the pain at home.
I lay there for about an hour and another midwife came to check on me. She said she’d try to find a bed in triage and left me to my entenox stupor. The husband sat on the end of my bed, possibly talking to me… I’ve no idea. I felt a huge contraction wash over me and then the sensation of liquid pulsing out. I tried to talk, to tell someone what was happening but I couldn’t speak. I heard the waters hitting the floor and after what seemed like 10 minutes (but was probably only a matter of seconds) I heard Ben say “wow that’s incredible!”.
So, with waters ruptured labour was officially underway and the day began! Looking back I have no recollection of it being daytime… The first gas canister was sucked dry and another brought. I was hooked up to various monitors and the hours slipped by slowly. Pethidine offered no relief and soon a young anaesthetist was called upon to administer an epidural. I remember it taking a while to get it in and I was asked woozily to sit up as it had proved impossible to insert the needle with me lying on my side. Soon a cool sensation ran down my spine and I finally felt relief. This was around 10.30am.
Hours went by, and unfortunately the epidural drip got accidentally disconnected from the inflow tap on my shoulder and slightly trapped in my back and soon I was back in a very uncomfortable state (I perhaps ought to note for my wider readership that I have generously employed the art of British understatement here).
The epidural was repositioned and topped up and eventually the pain was back under control. My blood tests were showing some white cell irregularities so I was hooked up to an IV antibiotic. I had monitors strapped to my stomach; they were hooked up to a machine that gave a constant paper read-out like some sort of seismograph tracking the contractions and the baby’s heart rate. The straps that held the monitor pads in place were so itchy; and this turned into a real focus for me. The epidural wore off again at some point over the following hours (returning me to a state of profound discomfort) and a new anaesthetist came to lavishly to me up in order to wrestle back control of the pain situation.
I was examined and had reached 8cm… another four hours passed I was checked again. I was still at 8cm. Seeing my utter exhaustion and desperation for relief, the husband and private midwife talked to the doctors about a caesarean. If you’d asked me during pregnancy if I’d have wanted a c-section I’d have put it low down on my interventions list, but at this stage I was desperate, screaming “help me!!” at the doctor.
Within minutes, Ben was in scrubs and the anaesthetist’s assistant – Stu – had come in to speak to me. He was big, tattooed, gravel-voiced and absolutely lovely. He was calm and positive, and as I shook with nerves he told me how soon it would be until I saw my baby. I was wheeled a matter of 10 metres into the operating theatre.
A whole host of personnel had gathered under the bright lights of the theatre. Who knew that so many staff were on hand in the middle of the night, all just waiting to don their scrubs and masks and busy themselves with the surgical delivery of a recalcitrant infant.
I was terribly nervous and demanded that Ben cover my eyes; he put whale music on headphones in one ear and talked to me in the other. He was absolutely marvellous and got me through my nerves. The anaesthetist carefully checked that I was fully numb in all the right areas and then it was time to get on with the job of transferring my baby from womb to world.
Apparently it was three minutes from the first incision to pulling the baby out. We heard him cry, my heart melted and I too started to cry. I made Ben stay with me as the doctor started to stitch me up and then he went over to baby and cut off the excess cord. Various tests were done on him and then Ben brought him to my head and I got to see him for the first time. Overwhelmed, I just stared at him. I was unable to reach to cuddle him, but was happy just to gaze at him in love and wonder.
Ben helped with weighing him and then took him to Recovery where he took off his scrubs and held baby to his chest. I think it took about 45 minutes to stitch me up and then I was wheeled to Recovery to rejoin my family. Luther was passed to me for skin-on-skin; he immediately latched onto my breast and started to feed. The exhaustion and relief hit me and I lay back as though in an ecstatic trance.
We stayed in Recovery for several hours whilst my antibiotic drip drained through me. I remember having a cup of tea and to be honest very little else apart from various blood tests and checks. Ben slept a little on the floor beside my bed.
We were then wheeled to the post-natal ward and settled in a bed by the window looking out at Brighton beach by night. There had been concern over my kidney function and the amount of blood I’d lost but this seemed to settle and eventually the canula, catheter and all other tubes and wires were removed. Once feeling returned to my legs, I was determined to shower and Ben helped me to the bathroom (and dealt with the first bountifully decorated nappy whilst I performed my own ablutions).
We were moved to a private room, which was wonderful as we could open up our suitcases and make Ben up a nest on the floor. I didn’t sleep much that night but it was lovely to hold baby and feel peaceful in a quiet room. I got up at one point and looked at my small but perfect family both sleeping soundly and silently cried with happiness.
The 30 hours of labour followed by the whole caesarean process were certainly not easy for either me or Ben, but our baby is gorgeous and healthy and all we wished for. The staff at the Royal Sussex County Hospital were simply wonderful; they were all so kind and patient and I am tremendously grateful for their care, which allowed what otherwise might have been a profoundly traumatic experience to pass with as little lasting upset as possible.
The doctor discharged me from medical care the following day and suggested we may be able to go home the day after. Fantastic! We’d been told I’d need to stay in for four nights. Then later that day the midwife discharged us altogether and we were free to go home – after only one night in hospital following Luther’s birth!
We got home at around 10pm Monday night and it was so lovely!
We are now a week and a day post-surgery/birth and both baby and I are doing well. I’ll write in detail in another post about the caesarean and how recovery goes. It’s sore and obviously an invasive surgery and something into which I’d done absolutely no research. It was a shock to take my dressing off a few days ago and see the length of my incision.
Luther is thriving. He only lost 1% of his body weight in his first 5 days, which is fantastic for a purely breast-fed baby. He’s relaxed and unfussy, and is filling our days with joy.
One final note: though the above account may appear relatively lucid, in reality it is largely pieced together from Ben and my collective recollections, with the aid of a handful of notes that Ben made throughout the process. The whole period of labour passed in a blur of exhaustion and discomfort. The checks and interventions were so many and various that it was hard to keep any sort of track. It was a surreal and utterly unique experience, fully justified by the magnificent outcome.