In Part 1 and 2 of my story, I focussed on just how long it took for us to fall pregnant and how challenging pregnancy was for me. In this the third in a 4 part series of blogs; Getting Pregnant, Being Pregnant, Giving Birth & Parenthood, I describe my labour – all 32 hours of it!
I hope those on their own journey to parenthood will take comfort in my bumpy ride and will remain hopeful that dreams really do come true.
PART 3 GIVING BIRTH
In many aspects of my life I had taken the approach of going with the flow. Labour was no different. I had steered clear of my friends birthing stories, I had never watched an episode of ‘one born every minute’ and by accident I had missed the ‘what labour entails’ antenatal class. I had no idea what I was in for and hoped that in this case ignorance would be bliss.
I’d read that the pain experienced during labour is the equivalent of breaking about 20 bones all at once, and having never broken a single bone in my life, I was worried about how I would get through it. But, I had known many people with much lower pain thresholds than me that had given birth and lived to tell the tale, so how difficult could it really be? Those were my famous last words..
On 29th January 2018, In the early hours of morning, I woke up from a restless sleep. I felt quite uncomfortable, more so than usual and with my eyes barely open, made my way to the bathroom. My waters had broken. It was nothing like the movies, no sudden gush, no embarrassing public moment, pretty uneventful really. Having not really sunk in, I made my way back into bed quite unsure of what to do next. A few minutes later, I nudged hubby and told him the news. We consulted Google, which had become our failsafe over the past 9 months and the search results advised us to call the labour ward at our hospital, the Royal Free. I got through to the ward straight away and the gentleman on the phone told us to make our way to the hospital so they could monitor Peanut’s vitals . We packed a few things to eat, grabbed our hospital bag and pregnancy notes and off we went.
It was strangely quiet in the labour ward, a word the midwives don’t like people using. Apparently, it can jinx the situation and cause an influx. There were faint crying sounds from the birthing rooms in the distance, but triage was empty. I was greeted by a midwife who showed me to a bed and hooked my tummy up to a heartbeat monitoring device. As I lay there, I reflected on the journey that we had been on to get to this point. Suddenly it felt mightily real.
Whilst being monitored, we heard others come and go. A husband had arrived in a very panicked state, urging the midwives to admit his wife. The midwives asked him to calm down and encouraged them both to remain patient whilst they found them a room. Just as we were being sent home, approximately 20 mins after this couple were admitted, the husband returned elated screaming, ‘we’ve had a boy’! I was amazed! Could it really be that easy? I later found out that it was their second child, and that things are allegedly a lot quicker second time around.
No need to be alarmed
All seemed in check and as my contractions hadn’t yet begun, the midwives sent us home with clear instructions. We were to return when either my contractions were 4 mins apart or in 18 hours’ time if no contractions had made an appearance. So back home we went to wait patiently for the inevitable. We got the feeling that nothing would happen immediately, so hubby made his way into the office to quickly close off his outstanding work and to finalise his handover so he could officially begin his paternity leave. I went back home to let in the alarm fitters, who I was keen to ensure made the house safer for our impending arrival. I warned them that my waters had broken and that I could go into labour at any point, they reassured me that they knew where the hospital was and that their van was empty should I need transporting!
As soon as I got a moment to myself, I called my mum and filled her in on the mornings events. I asked her what a contraction felt like and as she was done explaining that it begins as a dull period like back pain, I felt my first one! Soon after putting the phone down, I downloaded an app to keep a record of the frequency, the intensity and the length of each contraction that was to follow. I tried to get myself as comfortable as possible; with a hot water bottle in one hand and mobile phone in the other I made my way to the sofa and put it in full recline mode.
In the weeks running up to my due date, I’d googled breathing tips and had a few friends who’d recommended hypnobirthing, a technique of breathing that helps one remain calm during labour. So, each time I felt a contraction I inhaled the discomfort and exhaled the pain. At this point it wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined.
A few hours had passed and hubby arrived back home officially signed off from work. We made ourselves some lunch as we knew that it could be our last meal for a while. Four hours had somehow passed, the pain had progressed and the breathing wasn’t quite cutting it.
Eight, nine, TENS.
The next stage of pain relief for me was a Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machine. It involved the use of a mild electrical current to disguise pain and helped my back muscles to relax.
We had rented a machine for seven weeks and it was by far a worthwhile investment. Hubby carefully placed the sticky electrode pads on my upper and lower back and put the remote firmly in my hand. Each time I felt a contraction coming I pressed the button, it made my back tingle and seemed to really ease the pain.
My contractions started to become more frequent, more intense and were lasting longer each time. I checked the history on my app and 7 hours after my first contraction, we felt it was time to make our way to the hospital. My contractions were now 4 mins apart and the hospital was 9 whole miles away!
I found myself in the familiar triage section of the labour ward waiting to be seen. Unlike earlier that morning, triage was inundated! People far more progressed in labour than me were waiting to be seen, so I sat tight and continued my breathing and rigorous use of the TENS machine. I was eventually seen, and although my contractions were 3 mins apart, I was only 2cm dilated. I knew what was coming.. the midwife reluctantly told me that I wasn’t dilated enough to be admitted. She explained I would need to be at least 4cm and suggested that I may be more comfortable waiting at home!
Home would be about an hour away in rush hour traffic. I couldn’t go back all that way, not with the pain I was now experiencing. I gave the midwife my best puppy dog eyes and convinced her to find me a bed; it worked!
Room with a view
The midwife escorted us to a room which had four beds in total. Just a thin curtain separated us and it seemed strange that although this sheet kept us from seeing one another and gave us some form of privacy, there was no sound barrier from the screaming that was about to follow.
Time seemed to really drag. Getting through each contraction felt like such an ordeal. My heavy breathing had now reached painful panting levels and somehow 2 entire hours had passed.
I turned to my hubby and said what he knew was coming.
Mums the word
I needed my mum. I’m not sure what she could have done differently to my hubby, but we both knew just her being there would help. She was already waiting patiently on standby and rushed over as soon as she could. I felt comforted knowing that she was by my side and that hubby could now share the load with her.
Mum knew that I was strong, after all, she’d raised me to be! But 9 hours into this, all my barriers were down; I was weak, vulnerable and all cried out.
Gas and air
The labour ward had become extremely busy and midwives were very thin on the ground. I looked at my mum and as yet another contraction approached, exclaimed that I needed more pain relief. She scurried the floor and when she eventually found somebody, insisted that I was given gas and air.
It was a strange sensation. It tasted funny, it made my mouth really dry, but it was pretty effective. I took a deep breath in each time I felt the pain coming and although it helped with the discomfort of the contractions, it went straight to my head and I felt very lightheaded and nauseous.
I’d been on gas and air now for 3 hours.. in this time, I had thrown up quite violently which made me feel even weaker. My screams were getting louder, but there were still no rooms available. I was very conscious of the 3 others occupying neighbouring beds. I wanted desperately to be taken to a delivery suite and to be given the next form of pain relief !
During pregnancy I spoke to my mum about pain relief and I knew she was of the school of ‘the more natural the labour the better’. So in some ways I felt like I might be disappointing her if I asked for an epidural. With uncontrollable tears running down my eyes, I turned to her and before I could say anything, she said ‘let’s get you an epidural’.
I was taken to a suite and that’s when I was handed over to Sophie. ‘Sophie, I need an epidural’ I begged. Sophie explained that she had requested for an anaesthetist, but they were all busy in surgery. She suggested I try pethidine, which would be injected in my thigh to manage the pain I was experiencing. At this point I was using still my TENS machine, sucking on gas and air and had just had a dosage of pethidine jabbed into me. I felt like my body no longer belonged to me.
Thankfully, 15 mins later Sophie had managed to pin down an anaesthetist to administer the long awaited epidural. This was very welcomed news, particularly as the pethidine was doing nothing for me! In this time I had gotten to know Sophie quite well! Turns out we both went to the same university albeit 10 years apart. In fact she was graduating the following day!
Although I desperately needed more pain relief, the thought of a long needle being injected near my spine really scared me. What if it went wrong, what if I moved at the wrong time, what if it caused me permanent damage?, I wondered.
As I sat upright reaching desperately for the gas and air every 3 minutes, I turned to see the anaesthetist prepping. I wish I hadn’t looked. The needle looked a mile long and as I quickly turned back around to avoid the view, I was asked to remain very still.
‘Still?’ I thought? my contractions were intensifying by the second.. how was I supposed to stay still? ‘Use the gas and air to ease the pain’ Sophie suggested. I felt a sharp scratch and I just couldn’t control my body. It jumped and I instantly looked at both my hubby and mum; at that moment we simultaneously gasped for air. It was over.. it had worked! Thank God for that. The only caveat was that the epidural would take 15 mins to kick in. By this stage I’d managed 14 hours.. I was confident I could handle another 15mins.
Having the epidural meant I would feel very little from below the waist, this meant no standing, no walking around and no going to the loo, so I also had to have a catheter fitted.
The night shift
It was now nearing midnight. My body was tired from head to toe. With each top up of epidural my body felt colder, but as I was now numb from the pain, it was a chance to recover, rest and reset. Sophie had been monitoring Peanut’s progress and the signs were not great. Each time I had a contraction, Peanut’s heart rate would drop, sometimes even disappear. I could tell this was very concerning, but thankfully the heartbeat continued to reappear. This cycled into the early hours of the morning and the longer it did, the more distressed Peanut appeared.
There seemed to be no real sign of a baby!
Peanut had set up camp and didn’t want to leave the comfy home I had created in my tummy these past 9 months. Sophie’s shift ended at 8am and she was keen to deliver the baby she had so far invested so much time in helping, but time was slipping away.
Better out than in
The hours of gas and air had finally taken its toll. My body reacted with all its might. I hadn’t eaten anything for over 15 hours so wasn’t sure what I even had in me, but there seemed to be loads in there that I vomited out. In doing so I pulled a muscle and any ounce of energy that I had left, at that moment disappeared. I was embarrassed more than anything and was aware that with each hour that passed, I lost more and more of my dignity!
We bid farewell to Sophie and couldn’t believe how much time had passed. It wasn’t just me who was exhausted. Hubby and mum hadn’t eaten or slept much in just as long. I was only 6cm dilated, we were still in it for the long run. But after a comprehensive handover, in came Rebecca and her student midwife Marta.
They too were both wonderful. As I lay there completely in their care, I thought about how fortunate we were to have such amazing people working for the NHS. I couldn’t possibly have been in better hands.
The next 4 hours consisted of a lot of consultations from various midwives and doctors. They were all concerned that Peanut was taking so long to surface, particularly as his heart rate kept dropping at each contraction. So, they put me on a hormone drip, had me try out various positions to allow gravity to help and at one point even asked me to push, all to no avail.
Rebecca came in, looked at how exhausted we all were and said it would be another 4 hours still! I sent mum home to freshen up as she had not eaten in over 15 hours. And almost as soon as she left, the doctors came rushing in and said ‘we need to prepare you for theatre’! I was shocked to say the least. Just 15 minutes after telling me it would be hours, there were now forms to sign and decisions to make. There was no way I would let them cut me now. Not after enduring so much pain, for so long. As scary as it all was, the thing that scared me most was that my mum was no longer by my side. I gripped hubby’s hand and asked him if I should sign, he gave me the nod and I then felt reassured. They would be attempting an assisted delivery using forceps and if that didn’t work, a C-Section it would be.
Theatre, not the musical kind
Before I knew it I was on a bed in theatre surrounded by 20 people. Scrub nurses, midwives and anaesthetists all by my side awaiting their instructions. More drugs were pumped into me and as I’d recently had a top up of an epidural I couldn’t feel much. This meant I’d have to push, but would have to be told when. I was determined to get this baby out safely and with every ounce of strength left in me I pushed.
One of the nurses asked me ‘is this your first child ?’ I responded with the only thing I could, given my state of mind at the time..’it’s my first and my last’ I exclaimed!
Hubby was there right by my side, holding my hand throughout. The entire room was willing me to push and I couldn’t quite believe how invested they all seemed.
The final scream of ‘PUUUUSHHHH’ echoed in the room and as I pushed, they pulled! And just like that, our 3 year journey resulted in the most beautiful ending. Out came our little peanut, a baby boy, more beautiful than we could have ever imagined. Tears streaming down our face, we knew then that he was worth every second of pain and uncertainty.
Hubby bravely cut the cord and when I heard Peanut scream, I felt relief and joy like I’d never felt before. I had a few minutes of skin to skin contact before he was whisked away to be clothed.
After finishing up in theatre, I was wheeled to the birthing room, still drugged up on morphine, I felt as high as the sky! The adrenaline pumping through my body masked the pain of the past 32 hours. My mum had returned and she and my hubby were taking turns in cuddling our beautiful son, the sight of this made my heart melt. This had been the hardest thing I’d ever had to do and I couldn’t have done this without either of them by my side.
So there he was, our little miracle had arrived at 15:35pm on 30th January 2018, his actual due date, weighing a very healthy 7lb 2oz! In that moment I felt so very grateful and truly blessed.
With a new found appreciation for mothers all over the world, I was ready to take on the adventures of Motherhood.