Darcie will turn 17 months this week, so to say that this post has been a long time coming is an understatement! The details of my labour and her birth are becoming less and less clear in my memory all the time and so I want to write it all down before I forget any more. I saw a video on Facebook about a woman who had so much pain relief that she forgot giving birth to her baby and while the video was comical, I can’t help thinking that I would be sad to not have a memory of the birth of my child. Although there are parts you’d rather not dwell on too much it really is an amazing experience and not one I want to forget.
I have to warn you that this is a long one; I’ve written down as much as I can remember mainly for my own records, so feel free to skip ahead to the parts that interest you the most. When I read this to Dan for him to fact check the sections which are hazy to me, he said ‘Is anybody really going to read all of this?’ Quite possibly not, but it will be nice for me to look back on if nothing else. They take away your pregnancy and birth notes to keep on record where we live and I think it’s such a shame to not have them to look back on!
I don’t know the exact point at which I went into labour but when I woke up at 6am on Wednesday the 11th May, I had mild stomach cramps that were kind of coming and going. I was 5 days over my due date and was dreading having to go for another membrane sweep the next day; I really wanted to get the baby out by this point! We were having one of our British heatwaves at the time and I had reached the point where I was just done with being pregnant. I had heard about ‘false labour’ where labour can begin and then stop and not come back for a few days so when I began to suspect I could be in labour that morning I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much. I didn’t even tell Dan for fear that I might jinx it! These stomach cramps were coming in waves every 15 minutes or so and as I started to believe it could be real labour I set about tidying and cleaning the house ready for my baby. I hoovered and polished my way through these contractions for a couple of hours without telling anyone that I thought I might be in labour. I was due to see my friend Becky that morning and in the end I sent her a text basically saying ‘Don’t get your hopes up but I might be in labour, let’s reschedule’. Dan was coincidentally going to be driving right by our house at about 11am because he had a doctors appointment so I rang him and said the same thing ‘I might be in labour, don’t bother coming home but just giving you a heads up’. Like any reasonable person would, he came home anyway to make sure I was okay. By this point the contractions were coming every five to ten minutes and were painful but totally manageable. I was pretty hungry but not feeling like making myself anything so Dan went to the shop to get me some food and then I sent him back to work. The way I saw it was there was no point both of us just sitting around counting contractions.
By the time Dan got home from work at 5pm the contractions were pretty intense and every 5 minutes or so. I naively thought that when they were every 5 minutes that meant you were pretty close to having the baby, but it turns out that’s not true, not in my case anyway. At around 6pm I began using my TENS machine to manage the pain; the contractions were varying in length and frequency but averaging around every 3 minutes. Tip: A good way to distract yourself from the pain is to record every contraction, I still have all the times written down on my phone! I found that walking around was the best way to get through each one, sitting down and staying still made it all much more painful.
At 7pm we decided to go to The Birth Centre, I’d phoned them at various points throughout the day as you are supposed to, and after speaking to them this time I was told to come in so they could see how far along I was. We took all our bags with us although I was fully expecting to be sent home again. I’d heard that basically everyone gets sent home from hospital at least once during labour. I get that they don’t have the capacity to have everyone stay for the duration of their labour but it is seriously painful being trapped in a car whilst you are having contractions.
The midwife assessed me and told me I was two centimetres dilated and did another membrane sweep. I had really hoped that I was more than two centimetres dilated, as once you are four centimetres they class that as ‘active labour’ and you can begin to hope that the baby might arrive soon. Still, it was nice to know that things were going in the right direction. They gave me a couple of paracetamol and then sure enough they sent us home to wait it out. That meant another horrific car journey but at least it wasn’t rush hour like it had been on the way.
Once we were home we started to let our families know that little bump was on the way, everyone sent back such lovely encouraging messages of support which was another good way to distract myself from the pain. The next couple of hours were literally just spent timing contractions and eating pretzels and Jaffa Cakes, but it’s all a blur to be honest.
At about 11pm the pain was becoming unbearable so we went back to The Birth Centre to see how I was doing and hopefully to have the baby! When they checked me, I had reached the long awaited four centimetres so we went to one of the birthing rooms to wait out the rest of my labour. We had two midwives in with us, I wasn’t expecting them to stay with us the whole time but they did and it was so nice to have that support from them as well as Dan. They offered me Gas and Air which I refused at first, worrying it would make me sick. I think I gave in after literally two minutes and had a go on it; I instantly felt like I’d drank 6 double vodkas and a bottle of wine and promptly threw up all over myself. Apparently it’s pretty common to be sick during labour but I felt so much better afterwards and from then on the Gas and Air became my best friend. I don’t think I could have done it without it, being high is the BEST distraction from the fact you are about to have to push out a baby that is as big as a watermelon (as your pregnancy App has been reminding you all week!).
The next few hours are a complete blur of pacing around with my beloved Gas and Air and the midwives trying to take it away from me, saying something about how I needed to have some normal oxygen too. TMI warning: At one point I was desperate for a wee but because the Gas and Air is attached to the wall I had to try and time my wee between contractions so I could make a dash for the en suite. I messed up these timings and as I felt a contraction coming mid wee I lost all dignity and ran back to my trusty Gas and Air, Dan tried to pull up my trousers but I stopped him, saying ‘no, I’ve weed on myself’. The midwives came over asking me if I thought my waters had just broken and I decided to let them think that they had rather than embarrass myself any further. I was totally busted later though, when they quite obviously broke for real.
At around 1am I got that ‘urge to push’ that I’d heard people talking about but not understood; it is real! In that moment I couldn’t do anything but push with the contractions. During labour you just have to trust your body and your instincts and the rest (and a baby) will follow. The midwives had filled the birthing pool for me so I waddled over and got in. You know that feeling when you’ve had a long day and you get in a warm bath? Times that by a million percent and that is what it felt like. I would recommend using a birth pool to anyone.
They had Gas and Air by the pool too so I was able to keep using that which was a relief because it honestly felt like my lifeline. At this point I just remember one of the midwives feeding me a pot of jelly for energy, which was the most delicious thing I thought I’d ever tasted and exactly what I needed. Midwives know what they are doing in more ways than one! I was pushing for what felt like years when Darcie’s head began to crown. I didn’t need them to tell me that was what was happening because I had read about ‘the ring of fire’ and that is an accurate description of the pain. I thought that once the baby’s head crowns, the end is near, but it took Darcie another hour to come out! For me that was the worst and most painful part of labour. As she crowned, the midwives said ‘She’s got a load of black hair!’, as I am blonde and Dan was blonde as a baby, I responded ‘Well, who the hell has she got that from?!’, both Dan and the midwives agreed that this wasn’t the time for that kind of conversation! (For the record, Darcie is definitely Dan’s! Who says a woman can’t crack a joke when she’s got a baby coming out of her?). Her hair wasn’t actually that dark when she came out, the water was making it look a lot darker than it really was and it has lightened a lot over time.
We must have been reaching the maximum time that it is safe for a baby to have crowned but not fully come out and so the midwives started saying that I was going to have to get out of the pool and use the ‘birthing stool’, I didn’t know what that was at the time (I now know it is a stool that looks like a toilet that you sit on to have the baby, for anyone wondering) but the thought of having to stand up and get out of the pool was enough to encourage me to finally push out her head, and once that was done she shot out like a canon ball into the water which is the strangest sensation. If Darcie’s birth had a theme tune it would be Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus.
She was born at 4.07am on Thursday the 12th of May, weighing 7lb 8oz. They put her straight on my chest and holding her for that first time was the most surreal and amazing moment of my life. I never want to forget that moment. If I concentrate really hard I can still feel exactly how it felt to hold her, the tiny weight of her and how she fit so perfectly in my arms. In one of his soppier moments Dan told me that he could see me become a Mother in that moment as I held her. I just cried, and stared at her and felt so incredibly lucky that she was here and she was safe and so, so perfect. I felt like I had known her forever, it was like meeting someone I’d known my whole life but had never seen before; she was more perfect than I could have ever imagined. She wasn’t even purple or red, her head wasn’t squished (quite frankly that was a miracle after all that crowning) and she was just so cute with her tufty hair and little button nose.
I got out of the pool as they needed to give me an injection to deliver the placenta, I think this is something they tend to do if you have been pushing for a longer than average time. I’m not really sure what the injection does and I was too busy staring at Darcie to notice them pulling it out of me. I was shocked by the amount of blood that came out of me after giving birth and had to be reassured that this was totally normal. Before anything else happened, they helped me to get Darcie latched on which she managed first time and she had her first feed from me. Then Dan held her while they stitched me up and then the lovely midwives brought us tea and toast which I was so grateful for. Dan got Darcie dressed with the help of the midwives while I had a shower. That was the best shower of my life. Apart from being covered in blood and all manner of other bodily fluids, I also had mascara all over my face. There’s a tip for anyone planning on having a water birth, take your mascara off before hand! The midwives had actually wiped some of it off my face just before Darcie came out so I could make a good first impression on my baby and not scare her with my mascara face, of all the things to be told when you are birthing a human!
We ended up staying at The Birth Centre for two more nights so they could help me to establish breastfeeding. The staff there were amazing. I had such an amazing birth experience, especially compared to the many horror stories that I’ve heard and I can’t fault any part of my time at The Birth Centre.
I don’t want anyone to think I’m bragging when I say that I had such a positive birth experience but I think it’s important to share the good stories as we hear so many negative ones all the time. The whole time I was pregnant I could probably count on one hand the number of positive birth experiences I heard about and it would have made me feel less nervous to know that it is actually possible for things to go well during labour and delivery. My heart goes out to anyone who had a negative birth experience and if there is anyone reading this who is struggling to come to terms with it all, I know that most hospitals offer a service where you can go and talk to a midwife about what happened and why it happened. I’ve met people who have used this service and say it really helped them to heal emotionally.
Well done if you made it to the end of all that! I know that I’ll enjoy reading this back in the future, especially when I am preparing to do it all again or if Darcie ever asks me about it all.
How was your labour and delivery?