Updated: Mar 9
My contractions started at about 02:00 a.m. Saturday/ Sunday morning; just enough cramping to wake me up and then I went back to sleep. One every few hours.
As part of my birth prep, I had written out my ideal birth day and story and it started with a very specific breakfast (black pudding, avocado, etc). I suggested to my husband we cook my ‘special’ breakfast – he thought it a little early, but we went ahead (and I’m very glad we did).
We then had a pretty normal day. We sat in the garden in the morning with friends, had a lovely lunch and went for a little walk in the early afternoon. My in-laws actually popped in in the afternoon and I was desperately trying to hide that I was in labour (from my family's experience, it's nicer not knowing when labour has just begun for a family member as it can be very long and the family start to fret). My first stronger contractions started during their visit but I would just pop out of the room and breathe during them slowly. My in-laws had no idea!
At about 7 p.m. my contractions started picking up a fair amount and so we called my sister, Laura, who was my second birth partner and is a trained doula. Laura suggested I have dinner and a bath and then let her know how I was getting on. I had a large bowl of pasta for energy, followed by my bath. After that it became clear that my contractions were ramping up (and I threw up my supper as my body was clearing itself out). Laura reached us at about 10:30 p.m. on Sunday.
From then on, it all picked up pace. I worked through each contraction using the waves of relaxation breath that I had learnt as part of the hypnobirthing course I had done. I breathed in slowly for 4 and out for 6 from the start to the finish of every single contraction and then used a 5,4,3,2,1 count down breath to relax in between contractions, scanning my body for tension and trying to relax. I found that I got very shaky from the adrenaline, so I made sure my breathing was really calm and this kept the shaking in control. I used a tens machine and liked the distraction of boosting it for each contraction but the pulses when combined with my shaking felt a bit much, so I kept the settings low. I generally knelt on cushions on the floor and lent over the side of the bed, which I found more stabilising than my birth ball. I felt the contractions very strongly in my back, so my husband, Paddy, applied a firm hand on my sacrum for each contraction which I found really key. My hips became painful after prolonged kneeling and we used a scarf to practice some Rebozo-like techniques and to take the pressure off my hips (which felt amazing).
At some point, perhaps about 01:00 or 02:00 a.m., I passed my mucus plug on the loo and took off the Tens Machine to have a shower, which was wonderfully soothing. We were timing my contractions and at 03:00 a.m. we drove to hospital (about a 20 minute drive). It being 03:00 a.m. on Sunday/ Monday, there was virtually no cars on the road and we arranged the car so that I was kneeling on a waterproof mattress protector in the footwell, leaning over onto the seat. Paddy sat in the back with me and kept his hand on my sacrum through all contractions. I had an eyemask on and was listening to my hypnobirthing tracks with earphones and did this until I reached the reception of the birth centre/labour ward. On arrival, I had to be triaged and, because of Covid, Paddy and Laura were asked to wait outside until I had been seen and it had been determined if I was ready to be given a room. I was examined by a very nice midwife who felt that I was 7cm dilated and we were given a room in the birth centre. The lovely midwife who admitted me was sadly then called away for an emergency and I got a rather stern cover midwife from the labour ward. The replacement midwife wasn't trained in water birth and didn't normally work at the birth centre and so she said I could not have my baby in the birth pool as I hoped.
Here Paddy and Laura gently, but firmly, asked that an alternative midwife be found so that we could have the water birth we wished for and that is usually offered at the birth centre. We had to wait an hour or so and it was mainly just us in the room, no midwife and no pain relief, but then a new midwife was sent to join us who was trained in water births. From there on, the team assisting were absolutely brilliant.
I then got in the birth pool and had some gas and air. The water was very relaxing and I absolutely loved it. It was maybe about 04:30 a.m. by then. I got in and out for several hours, always keeping upright and forward positions to help the baby move through the pelvis. I tried positions kneeling in the birth pool (but my hips were becoming very painful), leaning back in the water, standing and lying on my side on the bed with a peanut ball when I needed a break (keeping my leg lifted and supported so my pelvis could open, etc). I found that I couldn't pee during labour so had to have two very quick, in and out, catheters inserted. Each took 1 minute and was a huge relief. The midwife let me start pushing when felt like it but didn’t give me a vaginal examination until just before her shift ended at 08:00 a.m., when we realised I still had 1 cm to go to full dilation. The pool, whilst wonderful, had slowed everything down even though I'd probably got into the water at about 8 cm dilated so this something to bear in mind. This was also disappointing as we all felt the baby would be there during her time with us before her shift ended and I was slightly nervous that this would be deemed a failure to progress. However everyone was reassuring and I kept calm using my breathing. My new midwife, Katie, who came on shift at 08:00 am was incredible and more hands on in terms of directing positioning, pushing and breath work. I'd been pushing for maybe 2 hours at the point that she arrived and so the guidance was much appreciated. I had a very long pushing stage and we got to the stage where she could see the head during each contraction but every time it would go quite a way back in (more on this later). At this point Katie suggested I have no more gas and air as I needed to focus less on my breathing out and more on my bearing down. This was fine, and I didn't notice any difference when not using the gas and air. After about 5 hours of pushing and UFO positioning in the pool, on the birthing stool, the bed, etc, Katie called in a senior midwife to watch and give a second opinion on my pushes and the baby’s progress. I was on the bed at this stage sitting quite upright and leaning back on bean bags as the baby was already incredibly low in the birth canal and my pelvis had had the opportunity to open fully. Katie was showing me (by applying pressure on my perineum) where in my perineum to bear down to. Both of the midwives were happy that my pushing was still strong but my contractions had started to slow down a lot, to about one every 6/7 minutes at this stage and the baby had been very low in the birth canal for hours. I found that I was dosing between contractions. As my contractions had slowed significantly, the midwives suggested using clary sage to re-establish the contractions but explained that Katie would have to leave if we used it as she was pregnant with twins! I really didn't want Katie to leave and my body just seemed to miraculously rally at this point and the contractions quickened again. I found in my labour that your body gives you breaks when you need! This was my ‘rest and be grateful’ phase.
Once the contractions picked up again, I had both of the midwives giving me perineal assistance, gently helping me to stretch and trying to gently grip the baby's head. At this point, the baby had passed so low in the birth canal that they could no longer continue monitoring its heartrate (which they had been doing after every single push) so they gently told me we needed to get the baby out quickly (they were encouraging and calm in doing so). They therefore suggested they numb me for an episiotomy and then could give me one if I needed. I was happy with the suggestion, so they applied the anaesthetic. The baby's head still kept coming really far forward but then going back quite a lot after each push. The midwives then said they'd like to give me an episiotomy, which I agreed to. On the last contraction I had pre-birth, the senior midwife was trying to give me an episiotomy but couldn't make enough room to make the cut and I then pushed out the baby's head in the first wave of the contraction, which itself had two peaks, and then the body on the second wave. So, whilst I was very close to having an episiotomy, they didn't get around to it! I didn’t need any stitches after the birth so was even more grateful to have avoided an episiotomy. Clearly the long pushing phase had allowed my body time to stretch fully.
Once the baby was out, they saw the cord was around the baby's neck which had been preventing the baby from progressing through the birth canal as quickly as it should (hence the very long and hard pushing stage). Our son, Finn, was born at 12.38 p.m. after about 6 hours of pushing. I was so pleased to have been in the midwife centre where they trust you and support you, as opposed to a delivery suite where I don’t think I would have been given as much time to birth my baby naturally. The midwives supported me at every stage and I never felt like I couldn’t do it.
Once I'd had Finn, they had to cut the cord quickly (although it was already almost white) and get him going on a table next to the bed as he was quite quiet after a long and hard pushing phase. Paddy was quite nervous at this point but they know what they’re doing and I got him back in a minute and could see what was happening. I don’t remember feeling anxious at this point but it was very brief.
I was bleeding heavily enough that the midwives recommended I have the injection to pass my placenta, as opposed to having a physiological stage which I had planned. I was very happy to follow their recommendation and quickly passed my placenta. The injection made me vomit and Finn did a huge meconium poo on my chest just as he came out. I therefore had a quick cuddle for maybe 15/20 mins and then got in the shower to clean up and Paddy had some skin-to-skin time. As the baby wasn't on me, they used the time to do some checks and weigh him, etc. I think I was in slight shock and I continued to vomit for a little while (not managing the famous tea and toast) but my system slowly calmed down and we spent the next few hours alone, cuddling sleeping and trying to establish feeding as the midwives had shown me.
After Finn’s checks were done (which the hospital do 6 hours post birth), we were told we free to go and headed straight home, back in time for dinner.
My main tips are: 1) Trust your body. I didn't really have a ‘transition’ phase of labour and didn't freak out. You and your body know what to do. And if it's not working, the carers are there to look after you so just be flexible in your decisions. I was very happy to have an episiotomy when suggested, etc. 2) You will get insanely hot. Take flannels for cold compresses, ask for iced water, etc, etc. 3) Prep your birth partner on timings and logistics and tell them to be firm when needed. 4) Birth plan - I was fortunate in that I had the birth I pretty much wanted but I did change things up when needed - i.e. episiotomy agreed to, injection for placenta etc. Just keep an open mind.
5) In the final few weeks before birth, try and have a nap every day. Labour normally starts at night and you will be grateful for the extra energy!