Firstly, right off the bat I want to say that I had an overwhelmingly positive birth experience. I might even want to go as far as to say I had a really good time. Having heard quite a few birth experiences, it seems to me you don’t often hear too many positive ones (especially when an emergency c-section is involved) so I guess that’s why I feel pretty happy to share my own experience of becoming a parent.
Our son, Frank, was due on the 13th January 2016 and at the start of December 2015, a friend went in to labour four weeks early, which immediately had us bulk buying from Mothercare and packing our hospital bag, which was then ready and by the door before Christmas. So as the 13th January approached we already felt like we’d been waiting forever. But then the 14th, 15th and 16th came and went. And then the 21st, 22nd and 23rd. Still nothing.
In the end, we got through 14 verrrrryyyy sloooooow groundhog days. It was the middle of January, it was cold, dark and we couldn’t go out too far, ‘just incase’. And although, physically I felt pretty OK, what wasn’t OK was the fact that I was losing my place in the queue. You see, we knew around fifteen friends, all due around the same time as us – some just before, some a little after, some a month or so after – and no joke, but everyone was having their baby before us. Every time I looked at Facebook, there would be another announcement, another ‘Introducing Betty!….Dylan! …Ella!’. I would wake up in the middle of the night, take a quick glance at my phone. Another baby, are you actually kidding me?!? Babies that were due way after ours were sneaking in and being born right whilst we weren’t looking. And honestly, I just couldn’t cope with it.
I think the fact that they were out the other side – that they’d done it, that labour was over, left me very much feeling like I was being left behind at the bottom of a very large mountain (that I was going to have to climb) and by the end of it I was having uncontrollable meltdowns with every new announcement.
But Frank appeared to be pretty happy where he was, so after around 10 days after our due date (and after a non successful ‘sweep‘) we were booked in to be induced on day 14.
I remember neither of us really asking too much about what actually happens when you’re induced, so although we had a vague idea, we very much got ready that morning and headed to the hospital kinda in the same way we would head to just go get some brunch. To be honest I think the whole thing was so surreal that we just didn’t really believe it was actually happening. I also distinctively remembering getting to the hospital, getting settled on the ward and turning to Pete and genuinely asking him ‘What the fuck are we doing?’ The whole thing felt a weird mix of ‘overwhelming HUGE life step’ and ‘What are we doing here again?’.
So, our birth plan. Hmmmm – well, it was pretty ‘basic’. We didn’t really have any major wants or needs – I quite fancied possibly getting in water if the room was free but overall we had no real specifics on what we wanted or didn’t want. Throughout the pregnancy, we’d been to a group Hypnobirthing session and also attended a private session too, so I liked the idea of concentrating on relaxing and visualising during labour, but I felt like I trusted my body and trusted that it would do what was best for me and Frank come the time. Honestly, I felt quite happy to just go with the flow.
So at around lunchtime they give me a pessary and after a while, I began sensing mild twinges, especially if I walked up and down the ward, but they seemed to stop and start. The pessary actually ended up falling out that evening but at around midnight my waters finally broke.
It’s funny – you always imagine the waters breaking scenario to be all action stations, but actually, it was pretty calm and still, and nobody seemed too bothered to do anything quickly, so I was left to try and get some sleep overnight – which if anyone knows me, I have absolutely no problems with. I will sleep anywhere, in any situation – waters breaking or no waters breaking!
The next morning, I was woken and taken down to the labour ward. My husband Pete had gone home the night prior, so they called him to come back in and I was hooked up to a hormone drip and monitor. The medical staff explained that they were looking to establish so many contractions within a 10 minute period – and that they would then gradually up the dose so that the contractions would become gradually more intense. They explained that every four hours they would check to see how dilated I was (your cervix needs to be 10cm dilated before you can start pushing baby out).
So for the next twelve hours I was mainly bouncing on a birth ball (basically a huge inflatable ball!) eating ice lollies and watching a Beatles documentary with Pete and our Midwife. We were chatting, giggling and as the time went on, the contractions gradually became more intense and would occur every few minutes. But, I still felt they were manageable as they weren’t lasting too long.
After the first 4 hours, my cervix had only dilated by 2cm, so we were left to work through labour for another 4 hours. Cue more bouncing and more ice lollies. By the next check, I’d still only reached around 3cm in dilation – I was told that I had another 4 hours to work through labour, but that they were expecting to see bigger progress in my dilation by the end.
Over this next four hours, my contractions became a lot more uncomfortable – I was having to concentrate more through each one. I remember our midwife kept offering me gas and air and I kept saying ‘no I’m fine’ – up until this point, I didn’t know what level my contractions were currently at compared with how bad they could be getting so just like ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’, I didn’t want to use one of my lifelines too early! In the end, I accepted the offer of gas and air, and spent the next few hours feeling just a little bit tipsy…..!
At the next check, the Doctor explained that I was still only 4cm dilated, and that they had been expecting to see better progress than this by now. He advised us to consider a C-section. I recall the Doctor approaching this subject as if he wasn’t sure how I’d react – I guess for many women, this can be pretty devastating news, especially so if they’ve set their heart on a more natural birth (add to that the fact they may well have just been through 12 hours of labour or more!), but you know what, I didn’t care how Frank arrived, so long as it was safely. So without dithering, I gave my consent (I might have even fist bumped the Doctor) and within minutes I was being wheeled in to the operating theatre.
Now I think we must have won the lottery with the team that was waiting for us because we pretty much entered the happiest room I’ve ever been in. Everyone in the room was smiling and chatting about their favourite holiday destinations. Pete and I told them all about our recent travels and I remember quite a few times telling a number of the staff that I loved them (and trust me – I hadn’t had gas and air for quite a while by this point – so this was 100% legit affection!). I just felt super safe – and happy.
The Doctor asked Pete to choose an album to put on and I lay there looking at the huge light above me, listening to the Garden State album and thinking how much it all felt like a scene from the film, and how much I really loved that film (see, super happy!).
I was given an epidural and within minutes, the medical team were telling Pete to grab his camera – and just then, over the top of the little curtain that divided the upper part of my body from the lower, where they were operating, our beautiful son Frank appeared.
His little sad face, bottom lip out (he had definitely been pretty comfy where he was!) – everyone was smiling, and telling us how much he weighed etc. They popped a tiny little knitted hat onto his head and placed him right under my nose so I could see him properly, and the Anaesthetist even took Pete’s camera and took some photographs of all three of us. It all just felt so surreal.
Shortly after this momentous occasion, we got taken to another room, where Pete took care of Frank’s first nappy and I was given tea and toast (pretty much the best tea and toast of my entire life!). We were then taken up to the ward where we had our first precious minutes with alone with Frank, all three of us, together.
Looking back now, this bit for me is the most blurred as Pete had to go home pretty much straight away and I was left on the ward on my own. I was barely able to move after my c-section, but it didn’t matter. I had this incredible, perfect little person snoozing away on my chest.
I was now a mum.
And changed forever.
All images by my husband, @thepetesmyth