I’ve been lucky enough to have two pretty straightforward pregnancies, and two beautiful healthy babies. The way they both entered the world was very different, and I wanted to take a moment to share my birth story with you all. I feel very strongly about focusing on the positives when it comes to birth. Whilst it’s important to be prepared for all that can come with birth, having a positive outlook going in can make all the difference, and it’s not helpful at all when people share horror birth stories with pregnant women (they’re usually third hand anyway and Chinese whispers and all that…). So before I get in to any details, know this – I’m being honest here, but more than anything I had positive births, despite their challenges, and feel so much stronger for the experience they offered me. So here’s my story…
In the interest of starting at the beginning, some more on the birth of my son, my first birth. My waters broke before contracts started so 18 hours after that first trickle of water (it’s not always the tidal gush the movies would have you believe) we dutifully went back in to hospital for me to go on IV antibiotics. By that point I felt I was progressing well, with contractions now coming regularly. By the time we reached the hospital things had slowed to a virtual stop, and thus began another 12 hours of laps round the hospital grounds and desperately hoping with each examination to be dilated enough to get in to a room to welcome our baby. Eventually I needed to be induced, and things finally began to gather pace at extreme speed, and the pain and exhaustion had me begging for an epidural.
The hospital staff warned me an epidural could slow things down, which was worrying as I’d already been contracting for over a day, but I needed some rest. The epidural actually served to relax me and so speed things up, and my active labour was only about 6 hours long. It wasn’t straightforward though. My son was in distress, and had to be monitored with a heart rate probe internally, and I only realised how worried the midwives were when the 6th member of staff, a paediatrician came in the room.
It was also really difficult to push without feeling the natural cues from my body, and I was totally reliant on the midwives to coach me through. In the end there was such an urgency for delivering my son they used ventouse and I needed an episiotomy. He was born with his cord wrapped round his neck twice which was what was slowing his heart rate and causing all the worry. Luckily I was shielded from the exact moment he arrived, and only my husband had to watch him arrive blue and struggling. Luckily he recovered in record time, and was checked by the paediatrician and we were out within the day.
I approached my second birth pretty differently. I knew deep down the stress of travelling to, and being in hospital, in a shared ward for so long slowed down my labour. The more I heard about hypnobirthing the more I thought it could help me so I thought a lot more about how to control the environment, and encourage the right kind of hormones to help birth progress more speedily than before. The truth is, it really did help. I worked on being in a calm zone, with headphones with a playlist full of calming tracks, and my husband took the reigns with talking to any midwives about my care.
Labour started at 5 am the day before my due date, though it took me at least an hour to realise it wasn’t just more period type pains. For most of the day I carried on as normal, getting coffee with my husband before work, and doing some jobs making sure everything was prepped for my mum coming to look after our toddler son. We called her in that evening so she was there before bedtime, so as to not confuse my son when he woke up. By 11pm we headed to the hospital hoping to hear things were progressing well. Unfortunately the midwife examined me and I was only 1cm, and said we should go home again. This was honestly one of the things I least wanted to hear, knowing how much the journeying to/from the hospital could affect things. So we trusted our instincts and begged to be given a bed. I think if they’d have said no, I would have gone and paced the waiting room in all honesty, but luckily they had a bed and said we could stay. We got all set up in our cubicle, and started to relax again, intermittently pacing the halls to let gravity do it’s work.
At 3 the contractions were super intense and I was convinced things were moving along only to be examined and be told I was still “only” 3cm. This was heartbreaking, and despite my husband doing his best to convince me how well this meant we were doing, I started to say I didn’t think I could do it, and I needed an epidural. All I could imagine was hours and hours of more of the same intense pain and I didn’t think I had it in me.
The reality was very different from the long drawn out affair I envisaged. 10 minutes after the midwife had walked out I told my husband I felt pressure and he slightly dubiously went and got the midwife again. I could almost feel the eye rolls as she came back in the cubicle, which I understand given she’d literally just examined me. But we were right to call her as then my waters broke, and I felt the urge to push (and poo, it’s not a myth, and I’d skipped this part thanks to the epidural before). There was meconium in the water so yet again the baby was in distress, and at that point it all went crazy. They ran to get me a wheelchair, whilst Matt my husband desperately tried to pack up the mountains of stuff we’d taken with us. I flew through to labour ward, with the midwife worrying I’d be upset about not going to the birthing centre. At that point I didn’t care where I was, so long as it was private and the baby arrived safely.
After 22 hours of contractions, but within 30 minutes of active labour starting, she was here, a healthy baby girl weighing in at 8lb 8oz, born on her exact due date. It was the most bizarre experience, and it still makes me laugh now, to go from being told they’d come back to examine me in the morning to calling the midwife back within minutes and being rushed to the delivery suite. It was a bit like a log flume at a theme park. You queue up for hours on end, and then the ride’s over in seconds.
That’s not to say it was an easy ride though. It was my first time experiencing that pain, and with zero pain relief it was super intense. They call the baby crowning the ring of fire, and I can see why. Despite the pain though, I almost think this birth was easier than my first. Experiencing everything, while tough, made things quicker and better for me to respond to my body’s cues to push at the right time, and help things along.
The reality though is that for both my births I did what was best in the moment, and I think that’s the key for any woman going in. Don’t be a martyr and insist on no pain relief, it won’t necessarily make your birth better. Same as an epidural won’t necessarily make it the birth you wanted, but it may like for me make it manageable. The only thing I’ve truly learnt going through two ultimately positive births is TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. It’s the strongest thing you have, and if you do that, you should come out the other side feeling positive about your birth, even if things don’t go exactly as you’d perhaps “planned” before.