Disclaimer: Just a quick note to remind you that child birth is quite a graphic, gory thing so if you are squeamish and don’t like hearing about blood, poo, vomit, stitches etc., you should probably pass on this post. Also my labour went on for twenty eight and a half hours from the time of my first contraction so prepare yourself for a long post.
If you have been following my pregnancy posts thus far or you keep up with me on social media, I’m sure you will have seen how utterly fed up I was of being pregnant and how absolutely ready I was to have this baby. I honestly felt like the day would never come. I was scared of labour and the unknown it would bring (I am very much a planner and like to be in control and know what is going on) but at the same time, I was so eager to meet my baby and be on the other side of it.
On April 25th, at forty one weeks and two days pregnant, I woke at 5am with a pain in my back. It was sort of like a period cramp, something I had been experiencing quite frequently towards the end of my pregnancy so not something that sent me into a panic. I lay in bed, still semi-asleep, until the cramp tore across my stomach too. It was the type of pain you might experience before a particularly bad bout of diarrhea so I hopped out of bed and ran into the toilet. Nothing happened. I went back to bed. Fifteen minutes later, I woke again with the same pain, tried the toilet and when nothing happened that time, adjourned to bed once more. This time I couldn’t get back to sleep and as I lay there, I realised that these pains were starting gently, elevating and then dying back down. Exactly what I was told contractions were like. Once I experienced a few more and was certain about what was happening, I downloaded a Contraction Counter app on my phone. I lay in bed and clicked the ‘lightning’ button every time a contraction started and the ‘stop’ button when it ended.
They weren’t pleasant, really similar to a bad period pain but totally bearable. I could then review their frequency on the app. They were all over the place: a nine minute gap, thirteen minutes, six minutes, eight minutes, always lasting for about one minute each. I knew that the pains weren’t bad enough for me to go rushing into the hospital and I knew that they tell you to wait until the contractions are five minutes apart to go in so instead I lay there counting, in disbelief that the day had finally arrived.
At half seven, I woke my husband, B, who had been sleeping obliviously beside me and let him know I was having contractions. He panicked a bit and asked if we were hopping straight into the car, but I told him that it was too early. I felt remarkably calm and in control at the time. I shaved my arm pits, packed a few last minute bits into my hospital bags and showed him the app and how my contractions had been coming.
By eight o’clock, they were coming far more frequently – four minutes, three minutes, five minutes, two minutes! I knew that they were supposed to get closer together but they were still pretty sporadic. I also knew that the pain wasn’t intense enough for me to be anywhere close to popping out a baby. I did start to worry about how close together they were though. We live about a thirty minute drive from the hospital – more in traffic – and I had a fear of getting there to find out it was too late for pain relief and the baby was half way out! B was edgy too. He kept suggesting we make a move towards the hospital. I told him we should wait until 10am, once the rush hour traffic was over, unless anything drastic happened before then.
Ten arrived and a lot of my contractions seemed to be only four minutes apart but the pain was still the same and not much worse. I knew it was still early to head in but I was getting anxious, particularly about how there was as little as two minutes between some. We were surprisingly calm in the car. We played music and laughed at which songs made the baby kick and which didn’t. We took photos for our memory albums. We were definitely both more excited than nervous. I knew deep down that I was way too relaxed to be almost having a baby. The contractions became more frequent in the car – all four or five minutes apart – but not strong enough to worry me too much.
We got to the hospital, had a chat at the Admissions desk and were brought up to the Labour Ward. We were greeted by a midwife and a student midwife who brought us into a private room and started running some tests. Everything looked good and healthy for both me and baby but after an internal exam, they confirmed I wasn’t in active labour. My cervix had started to soften and had thinned to 1cm (a stage I had never heard of before, I had only heard of it dilating) but they informed me that it had to flatten completely and then start to open (dilate) before I was in active labour. They gave me the option of waiting in the Pre-Labour Ward or going home. I was nervous about leaving the hospital in case things started to speed up but when they told me it could be hours or even days before my labour became ‘active’, B and I both decided it would be better if we left.
It was a complete anti-climax and I was happy that I hadn’t told too many family and friends that I was going in. I got home, had a nap, got some lunch and continued to count my contractions. I eventually gave up counting because I knew that I would realise if they were getting stronger and could start timing them again when that happened.
I had bought an exercise ball only two nights previously when I spotted it in Lidl. I hadn’t thought I needed one but I was overdue and would try anything to get the baby out. B insisted I spent some time on the ball to try to speed up my labour. As I bounced, my contractions were a lot stronger. I actually couldn’t spend too much time on the ball at all because it really hurt. I would bounce for a while, take a break for a while and then bounce again. The baby felt low so there was quite a lot of pressure down below when I sat on the ball. It got to a point that it was too uncomfortable for me to sit on the ball at all.
By eight pm, my contractions had definitely gotten stronger. The midwives had told me that I would know to come into the hospital once they were painful enough that I couldn’t talk through them; that I had to stop and breathe until they passed. While I wasn’t exactly at that point, we still had the drive to the hospital to think about it, they were about five minutes apart and they were starting to hurt. We decided to head back in.
The drive to the hospital was a little more tense this time. I could still talk through the contractions but it was more difficult as I tried to focus on my breathing. It was a little bit of deja vu as I went to Admissions, was brought up to a Labour Room and went through all of the same tests again. Unfortunately I was told once again that the labour was not yet active. They told me that I had made a lot of progress since my visit that morning but didn’t elaborate. I was also told that they weren’t really comfortable sending me home again and so it would be for the best to send me to the Pre-Labour Ward for a few hours. Because I was already nine days overdue, they told me to walk up and down the stairs of the hospital as much as possible to speed up the labour and that if in a few hours there wasn’t much happening that they could break my waters. Seeing as I had spent around sixteen hours with contractions at this stage, I would have agreed to almost anything to get the baby out.
B and I headed for the Pre-Labour ward where I was given a stool to sit on. It had a weird cut-out in it that I was informed would help gravity pull the baby downwards. I was told to sit on it as much a possible. I did as I was told and took several walks up and down the stairs. At first, it was boring enough; I counted my contractions, I rang my mam to update her but the contractions were getting stronger and more painful. I would have to stop walking and lean against something until one passed. I had to really utilise that focused, over the top breathing you see on TV. The midwife had informed me that they would check me again when my contractions were about two to three minutes apart. Despite the ever-increasing pain, they were holding steady at about four to five minutes. The odd three minute gap would get me excited and then they would be back up to five.
At around half past midnight, the pain was getting intense. B and I hardly spoke as I really had to focus to get through each contraction. They were coming every three minutes so I called the midwife and asked her to check my progress. She did an internal exam, told me I was doing great but still wasn’t quite there. She asked about my contractions and when I told her the majority of the pain was in my back, she recommended that I take a shower, allowing the jets to hit my back to try to relieve it. I had little interest in taking a shower – I wanted to have a freakin baby! – but I thought it would pass some time and she told me that I was so close that she would check me again in an hour and was sure I would be heading to the Labour Ward at that time.
The 11 minute gap was me getting examined and the 35 minute gap was me having a shower.
B and I headed to the shower room. I was in so much pain at that time that I needed help getting undressed. I stood with the jets aimed at my lower back and held the wall. It was the smallest bit of relief but I still had to breathe heavily as each contraction hit. I thought I had a strong pain threshold but I couldn’t believe the intensity of the pain and I hadn’t even started to dilate yet! All of a sudden, I looked down to see a gush of blood fall out of me. B and I looked at each other and I started to feel panic build. I immediately assumed that there was something wrong. I got out of the shower, dried off and then wiped myself before putting my pants back on. I was still bleeding.
The Pre-Labour Ward was quiet and dark as most people tried to sleep. I could only spot one midwife and she was with another patient but I desperately wanted to know everything was okay with the baby. I rang the Call bell and my midwife arrived. I let her know what happened and showed her how I was still bleeding all over my pants. It wasn’t exactly a hemorrhage but it was like a heavy period. She told me it could just be from the internal exam and disappeared. Another midwife called to check on me, brought me a pad and again didn’t seem very phased by it. I was really worried and was delighted when the original midwife returned again, told me it had been an hour and that she was going to do another check. I almost didn’t believe her when she told me it was time to go to the Labour Ward.
Despite my excitement to be on my way, we had to walk slowly and stop when I got a contraction.
‘Are you going to get pain relief?’ she asked.
‘An epidural!’ I laughed. ‘I think I deserve it.’
She agreed with me but told me I was handling my contractions very well. That was all well and good but I didn’t fancy handling them any more.
From probably the day I was born, my mother told me that if I was ever giving birth to get an epidural. She had drilled it into me practically my whole life. Now I know it is a personal decision but I always wondered why you wouldn’t opt to do something without pain when you had the choice. It must be the only medical procedure where you might choose to go pain relief free. If the dentist asked if you would like to be numbed for a tooth extraction or not, I would imagine very few people would say no!
Leading up to my labour, the thought did cross my mind the odd time. So many women have done without. Perhaps I wouldn’t need it. I am covered in tattoos. I think I have a fairly high pain threshold. My main worry was always that I would say no and then be in so much pain that I would beg for one, only to be told it was too late. Now, in the grip of regular contractions, I was feeling a little hysterical and actually laughed at the prospect of going without.
At around two in the morning, I was introduced to my new midwife. Her first question was what pain relief I wanted and I almost shouted ‘epidural’ in her face. I had heard that you had to be a certain amount of centimetres dilated before you could get it or horror stories where people tried to talk you out of it but the midwife said ‘no problem’ and I felt such relief. She told me that there were a few things that we had to do first like put in an I.V. but she would make sure the anaesthetist was on the way. We went through all of the usual tests for the third time that day and she went on to break my waters which was uncomfortable but only lasted a few minutes. Once she did, the contractions got even stronger. I could barely focus on breathing. They ripped through me. As the pain engulfed me, I would try to move into a position that hurt less but moving hurt more, although so did staying still. B tried to rub my arm at one stage but I told him not to touch me. Everything was uncomfortable.
Things started to get a little blurry then and I lost track of time. I was given a sheet to read about the possible side effects of an epidural but the only thing I really took in was that it took about twenty minutes to administer, about twenty minutes to take effect and that I was to stay completely still throughout and let the anaesthetist know straight away if I was going to have a contraction. All I focused on was having to get through twenty minutes completely still and then twenty minutes after that, the pain would be no more. The end was in sight.
The anaesthetist arrived when I was at five centimetres, and got busy setting everything up. I didn’t actually have to stay still for a full twenty minutes. It seemed there were lots of bits and pieces for him to do. Eventually he told me to scoot to the edge of the bed and bend over. Now a lot of people I have talked to have told me that they wouldn’t consider an epidural because they are afraid of needles or the pain but because it is in your back, you don’t see a thing! And the pain? Well first of all the contractions are a million times worse but it is honestly the smallest pinch, similar to that of a blood test which if you are pregnant, you will be well used to. I was most worried about staying still but I focused so hard that by some miracle, I had no contractions while he administered it.
As I mentioned time was a blur at this stage but the epidural seemed to kick in fairly fast. The anaesthetist asked if my legs felt warm and I laughed as I realised they did. I was fairly loopy at this stage from the hours of pain. B actually asked if the epidural makes you high at one stage because I was so out of it but we were assured that it doesn’t. As I was no longer in pain, I just felt tired. I knew when I was getting a contraction because I felt a slight pressure in my bum but I actually had to confirm that with the midwife. It was such a slight sensation compared to the agonising contractions I was feeling up until that point. My legs felt so strange with the epidural. I could feel them but it felt very far away, sort of like when your foot falls asleep and you are just starting to regain the feeling in it.
I have no idea what time it was at this stage but with the pain relief now in place, I just felt tired. B and I were quiet, just waiting. The midwife checked and I was seven centimetres. She said she would check again in two hours. She asked if she could dim the lights and I said if she did that I would fall asleep. She told me that was totally okay. She had barely taken her hands off the switch and I could feel my eyes getting heavy. I came to a little while later because I felt a pain on the right side of my back. I soon realised it was a contraction and I could feel it. A few minutes later, another one. They were bad. I told the midwife who showed me the little button to press to increase the morphine. I pressed it. Several minutes later, I could still feel it. It was like a nightmare. I thought the pain was over. I was so tired that all I could do to try and block out the pain was sleep through it. I drifted in and out, feeling nauseous when I was awake. I pressed the button twice more over the next while but to no avail. I was getting no relief at all. I had heard of epidurals sometimes only working on one side of the body and that seemed to be the case for me.
I told the midwife who used this little canister of ice cold spray to check where on my body the epidural worked and didn’t. She told me that it was high up that I could feel so it was totally fine. Easy for her to say when she couldn’t feel the contractions. I drifted in and out until at around seven I woke and she started talking to me. She told me I should drink some water but I told her I felt sick. Seconds later, my stomach was heaving and B held out what looked like a little paper top hat for me to throw up into. The midwife assured me that it was probably all the hormones in my system and from not having eaten in hours. At this stage I was at my lowest. I was exhausted. I was still feeling the contractions on one side. I thought it would never end.
At seven thirty, the staff changed over and two new midwives bounded in. One was the student I had seen the previous morning on my first visit to the hospital. Both were friendly, bright and chirpy. Despite me usually being horrifically polite to all service workers I ever meet (from baristas and retail workers to nurses and doctors), I couldn’t summon a smile. They had all of this bubbling energy and I had just thrown up and had never felt so tired in my life. I couldn’t believe it when they started talking about pushing out a baby. I had no idea how I was supposed to do that. As soon as they heard my epidural had worn off on one side, they told me they would get me a top up and were straight on to the anaesthetist. They told me they had a plan. I was at ten centimetres so they were going to do some trial pushing. They wanted to see how the baby moved and how close she was so I would push for ten minutes just to see what happened. If there was no sign of her coming out, we would stop.
I have no idea where I got the energy from but I started to think about how I had reached the finish line. I was so close to meeting my baby. I was almost there and if I just put in a little bit of effort, it could all be over. We waited for a contraction and once I got one, they instructed me to take a deep breath, hold it, push my chin into my chest and push down into my bum with all of my might. I did as I was told. We waited for the next contraction but it took a few minutes and the midwives told me that they had really slowed down and weren’t really strong enough. We pushed a few more times but to no avail.
The midwives immediately had a new plan. They would hook me up to some Oxytocin – a hormone your body produces during labour – which would bring on the contractions harder and faster, hopefully moving the baby enough to get her out. I heard harder and faster and almost cried but luckily the anaesthetist arrived to top up my epidural. He explained that sometimes a top up would help but that if it didn’t, he could pull the tube a little way out and reinsert it in the hopes that it would be in a better position to work. He could have done anything to me to take away the pain and I would have agreed to it. Luckily he gave me a top up and the pain disappeared almost immediately. I had no idea that a top-up was even an option after the other midwife dismissed the fact that I could feel pain again! I suddenly felt great and the midwives started to administer the Oxytocin. They told me that sometimes babies could get a little stressed out because it was effectively like giving them a Red Bull so they would have to watch the baby’s heart rate for an hour and then hopefully I would be pushing her out.
That hour passed quickly with us laughing, joking and telling stories. I honestly almost forgot that I was there to have a baby. It was like chatting to old friends and we were having such a laugh. At one stage, they told me that the baby had Stage One Meconium. That means that the baby had done a poo inside me. They told me if it remained at Stage One, it would mean absolutely nothing although they did warn that there was a possibility that it could progress to Stage Two. If it were to go to Stage Two, once the baby was delivered, they would have to cut the cord quickly and clear her airways. They said if that was the case, the baby wouldn’t cry straight away and we shouldn’t be alarmed. They said Stage Three would mean an emergency C-section but that they thought that was unlikely. Funnily enough, Stage Three was how I came into the world so I joked about karma!
An hour passed and my contractions were coming fast and furious – or so I was told! I couldn’t feel a thing. They told me it was time to push and that we weren’t going to stop until the baby was out. They also informed me that it might come to a stage where forceps or a vacuum would be necessary to get the baby out but that what we were about to start would result in this baby being born. It seemed surreal that after such a long pregnancy and labour, it was finally time! We resumed our positions from earlier and once a contraction hit, I started to push with much encouragement from both midwives and B. He started near my head but the midwives encouraged him to watch his baby being born – something he didn’t think he would be able to do but is so grateful for! For each contraction, I did three bouts of taking a deep breath, pushing my chin into my chest and pushing down with all of my might. They told me she was moving down straight away and within three contractions her head was out. I cannot even explain to you how surreal it is to look down and see a big hairy head between your legs. When the next contraction came along I had to do some little huffs and puffs to release her body and at 9:36am on the 26th of April, Indie was born. They had to cut the cord quickly so we didn’t get the ceremony of B doing it but obviously her well-being came first so we barely batted an eyelid. They had warned us that she may not cry straight away but she came out screaming with her eyes wide open. They very quickly placed her on my chest. It honestly felt like a dream. Both midwives told me that they were actually surprised by how quickly she came out in the end.
B and I just looked at her for what felt like hours, taking in her mass of hair, her chubby cheeks that were oddly deceptive considering she was only 6lb 15oz even though she looked like a much bigger baby. We counted her fingers and her toes and I was just so overwhelmed that we had created something so perfect.
I continued to hold her as the midwives told me it was time to get the placenta out. A few short huffs and puffs again and it was released easily. They assessed the damage and told me that there were some minor superficial tears that they had to stitch up. They said one was internal and the placement of one meant it would be quite painful for me to pee afterwards but most of this went over my head. I was riveted by my baby.
They started to stitch me up and I heard some lowered voices. I heard them say something about a vessel and a lot of blood. I saw their gloves covered in blood. I saw gauze covered in blood. A little part of my brain started to panic but they assured me that it was just a blood vessel that had gotten nicked. They said it was a very minor cut but because vessels bleed so much, it was proving difficult to stitch. They persevered but eventually had to call in the head midwife to help. Blood doesn’t make me squeamish but I started to feel my eyes getting heavy. I wondered if it was pure exhaustion from all I had been through or if, perhaps, it was blood loss. I fought sleep. I didn’t want to drift off with Indie in my arms. I felt my eyes close but forced them open. Then my stomach heaved and I just managed to mumble something about being sick when B had another paper top hat in my hand and the student midwife had grabbed the baby from my jumping stomach as I retched violently a few times. After I had gotten that out of my system, I actually felt great. They finished stitching me up and then we had some time to just relax as the midwives filled out all the necessary paperwork. We had time just to take Indie in.
While I am only two weeks postpartum as I write this and would not be rushing back into pregnancy any time soon, I will admit that the final stage of my labour was actually really enjoyable. The two midwives who came into the room at half seven were like rays of sunshine. They were so friendly that I forgot where I was and I was laughing and joking within minutes. They also had such a great plan and kept B and I informed at all stages, even letting us know of the possible outcomes so at no stage did we panic. I felt like they were in control at all times. Then they were so full of positive affirmations as I pushed and eventually gave birth that I felt like an absolute superwoman. It was an amazing experience!
My one piece of advice for a pregnant person is to not focus on a birth plan. My one plan was to get an epidural although I also prepared myself for the possibility that it might not be plausible. Other than that I knew I was safe in the hands of the midwives and even if it had come to an emergency C-section, I was happy knowing that they were the experts and knew what they were doing. I think a lot of people have too rigorous a birth plan and when something happens that isn’t part of their plan, they can feel disappointed. While being in labour for twenty eight and a half hours isn’t ideal, I have no regrets about the birth. It was perfect because I had no preconceived ideas of how it would go.
Please share your birth stories in the comments. In the lead up to mine, I became obsessed with hearing stories from friends and watching One Born Every Minute. While some pregnant people find it scary, I liked being informed about all of the different ways it could go!
Disclaimer 2: The Contraction Counter app that I used was simply called Contraction Counter by Amila and while I have talked about it quite a bit and included photos, I am in no way affiliated with the app and this is not sponsored. I simply found it helpful and wanted to include the information in case anybody was interested in downloading it for themselves. I downloaded it last minute and did no research on it so have no idea if there is any better out there.