My pregnancy overhshare part three: (the long read) the birth

I’m aware I’ve skipped the third trimester part of my pregnancy overshare. I’ll do it eventually but here is a synopsis until then:

Heartburn, heartburn, insomnia, piles, horny, fed up.

But with a couple of friends due to give birth soon I thought I’d write this before their babies come sliding out (because it is that easy).

My uterus is an incredibly hospitable environment. So warm, so comfy. Like a hot tub with a constant stream of snacks yet with no calendar to remind Emily it was eviction time.

So on the Friday morning at 42+1 (which means two weeks and one day after due date for anyone who hasn’t been pregnant) I felt a little bit contracty. For anyone that hasn’t felt a bit contracty it is like a period pain but worse but shorter. I already had an acupuncture induction treatment booked so I went. I was having contractions once every half hour or so from 6am, acupuncture was 9am and had the contractions going more frequent during the treatment. I think the acupuncture bit is a whole other post so I’m going to skip over it for now (but if you do have acupuncture questions of any kind do message me because I love a bit of acupuncture chat).

My dad drove me to and from acupuncture but I didn’t want to let on that labour had started so I just went quiet when I was contracting in the car. Now I can’t remember exactly but I think it happened a couple of times between acupuncture and home which is only about ten minutes so things were moving.

It’s no secret that I like my food, so I made my dad do a sandwich stop on the way home and bought all the snacks from Monk Fryston stores. I had a contraction in the shop and smiled my through it to avoid a shop assistant panic.

Back home I sent my dad on his way in a everything is fine manner and made my own little chill out zone. Curtains closed, snuggly blanket, surrounded on all sides by snacks with the BBC adaption of War and Peace on TV. Carb loading TV bliss. I was hoping this would get the oxytocin flowing and the contractions going.

At about 3pm I was contracting one minute out of every five and I thought it was time to get her dad home from work. When he got home they started to get a bit erratic and weren’t consistently every five minutes so I settled down with a spaghetti bolognese. I was a diligent food consumer.

By early evening they were getting a bit intense so I got the TENS machine out and cracked on with paracetamol. I must say the TENS machine wasn’t exactly my thing. You stick the pads to your lower back and it zaps you with an electric shock pulsatingly, then when a contraction hits it gives you a constant electric shock. I think the idea is something about blocking the pain transmission to your brain from the contraction. It’s kind of like you’re at school and a bee stings you so some twatty kid says I’ll help you forget about the bee sting and stamps on your foot and then you’re thinking about your foot instead of the sting.

It might work for some people but I was just thinking argh my back feels weird and my womb hurts all at once. And I kept forgetting to switch modes when the contraction ended.

By late evening I was getting fed up with the pain (and also pretty bored of being in labour to be honest). Not every contraction was five minutes apart but I was just READY to go to hospital. It was quite a nice drive to hospital. Half on hour but all dark, relaxing music on, warm in the car etc. I remember thinking if I’m not ready to give birth we will drive for a bit as this is nice.

There is a fair old walk between the car park and Pinderfields labour ward. I stopped a few times. Staying upright was hard. Onlookers looked at the complaining bent over hippo with much concern. I was offered a wheelchair and although standing straight was hard, so was proper sitting down, so I continued my bent over hobble all the way.

Arriving at the labour ward was a happy time. I was there, it was peaceful. The suite in the midwife led unit was a beaut. I was unsure whether they would let me into the midwife led unit as I was over 42 weeks so was concerned they would send me over to the clinical hospital ward for obstetrics led care. The letter from my consultant did the trick and got me in. Celebrations all round.

The lights were dimmed, Leon Bridges was playing through the Bluetooth surround sound speakers. The enticing birthing pool was right there. I had arrived in my birthing room of dreams. I just needed a nice ripened opening cervix to be allowed to stay.

Shame I had a twat of a cervix. The bitch was one cm dilated. About 18 hours of contractions and it had opened one cm.

Now I’ll go off on a tangent for those not overly knowledgeable on dilation. Your cervix is the opening to the womb at the top of the vagina. Those who haven’t given birth have a 0cm open cervix. Their cervix will feel like a nose, not that soft, not that ‘ripe’. In the lead up to labour it gets soft, changes the angle a little and can sometimes be 1cm dilated before you are properly in labour. The end goal is 10cm dilated.

Contractions are where your uterus tenses up to pull it all up to stretch the cervix open. Once you get it open 10cm you can start pushing.

So when I was informed that it took 18 hours to get to one cm I was pretty deflated. Dilation can go fast then slow then fast so it wasn’t as though I could assume 1cm in 18 hours means a 180 hour labour until I could push. But still I did not enjoy this news.

The midwife cheerily informed me I could be in labour ‘for days’ hurrah. Best news ever. Thank you. I then cried.

My midwife thought TENS machines were crap and advised a warm bath for pain relief. I was avoiding this as I had been told a warm bath would relax your muscles too much and slow down contractions but my midwife thought the risk of this was outweighed by the need for me to rest and try to nap.

My positive thoughts of having a nice little drive if we got sent away were over. I was in pain, I was tired, I was so fed up. The thought of having contractions every few minutes was too much to bear. They were all consuming and there was zero chance of sleeping through them.

Back at home sometime around midnight or early hours I was in a warm bath. All lights down low to keep relaxed, except I wasn’t relaxed as I was entering the torture zone.

The contractions were sporadic but intense. They last one minute which doesn’t sound long but trust me it really fucking is. I coped by having my husband measure them on his phone and shout when I got to 30 seconds. My logic was that they build in intensity, peak and then fall. So it’s all downhill from 30 seconds in. Kind of.

I could barely speak through the contractions but when I needed hope I would shout TIME and he would say the seconds. Often I thought he forgot the 30 second shout out and the minute must have been over but it would sometimes be 10 or 15 seconds by that point. Which sounds silly but it was the worst pain I’ve ever been in (stick with me here… I’m really not trying to scare monger).

I live half an hour from any hospital and Wakefield involves a motorway. My fear was that I would give birth on the motorway. Fear creates tension which creates pain. Every contraction was intensified by fear.

At some point the sun rose. I remember it gradually getting lighter and thinking thank god the worst night of my life is over. Which sounds pretty melodramatic but I had a pretty easy life until this point so it’s all relative.

My husband decided he was exhausted after being awake all night so we asked my mum to come over to drive us to hospital when I was ready.

If you have a fairly long labour (I was 24 hours in at this point) I think it’s good to have a second birth partner. I contravertially have a lot of sympathy for birth partners. It is boring but stressful and exhausting. Having a tag team system works well.

By this point I was phoning the midwives begging quietly for pain relief between contractions then shouting HEEELLLLP MEEEE during them. I was given the very unwelcome advice to take a paracetamol and maybe a hot water bottle. During negotiations they reminded me I could be in labour for days. I insisted no one would survive this pain for days. She suggested I take a nap. I insisted no human being sleeps through this level of pain. She suggested I get a hot water bottle.

The hot water bottle did actually take the edge off (you might as well forget the paracetamol though). I had a bottle on the lower tummy and one on the lower back. If one was taken to be refilled I lost my shit.

At some point during the morning the midwives changed shift. Best news ever. During one call my new best mate Dawn said they may be able to give me some form of injectable pain relief. However before we left I got a bloody show, the bloodiest bloody show you’ve ever seen (The Show is not a musical it’s a mucus plug that keeps the baby inside the womb all snug and clean). Except my ‘show’ was Chainsaw Massacre, when my mum was on the phone to Dawn reporting this I felt like I needed to push so they said come in an ambulance to be safe (noting I didn’t want to give birth in my golf on the hard shoulder).

I was truly terrified at this point. I think I was naked too, covered in blood and mucus to paint you an accurate picture. When the paramedics came into my bedroom I was just shouting I’M SO SCARED at them. I hobbled my way into the ambulance and was given gas and air.

If Dawn was my new best friend then gas and air was my soulmate. DAMN I was into that stuff.

I think the exhaustion and terror really heightened the effect.

I was recounting my last adventure with gas and air when I was a student and got a shard of glass stuck in my foot and I got offered it while they plucked it out. I gave the paramedic a full review of my Manchester Infirmary A&E experience from 2008 which I’m sure he didn’t want. I also tried to get him and my husband to share the gas and air with me so we could all have fun together but they declined.

It is ever such fun arriving at hospital in an ambulance. You get wheeled in on a stretcher and get VIP access but they also let me keep the gas and air all the way to the ward.

Normally you get the gas and air only during a contraction. No such rules from my mate the paramedic. I was thoroughly off my tits on arrival. My friend was still at Pinderfields recovering from a long birth. I was screaming her baby’s name and saying she had been born here to any passing nurse. I was also cheerily saying Dawn has the drugs, I’m going to see Dawn (on repeat).

At the midwife led unit I got Dawn but also a bonus student midwife Georgina. I heard the student bit of her title and thought she was here for a laugh. I spent a fair bit of time trying to make her do gas and air with me for a bit of fun. I also wanted her to know about a book I’d read to give men advice on pregnancy and labour. In my defence it was written by a male midwife so I felt it was highly on topic.

The book said that men need to get labour going by making the woman orgasm (something about oxytocin and maybe the muscles contracting) which is fine to go in a book. But this author wrote make her orgasm but don’t be expecting anything back (fair) and don’t go wanting to come all over her chest afterwards. I found it a bit explicit and unexpected for a childbirth book and also hilarious after a solid 30 minutes on gas and air. I thought that as a student she would find this similarly hilarious but she just found it VERY awkward as my husband found it VERY embarrassing.

Perhaps to shut me up I was quickly sent through to the birthing pool. The birthing pool is a whole other level of heavenly experience. This thing is no bath. Deep and like an actual pool you can swirl around and go totally underwater. The room lights were dimmed and there were underwater lights shifting from blues to pinks to purples. Oh it was lovely. With gas and air for the contractions. At one point a cheese sandwich was pushed at me. It was the best cheese sandwich I’d had. I was having a good old time.

The key point here was that I was no longer afraid. The midwife led unit was my dream birth situation, I was a happy gal and therefore the contractions were regular and bearable.

At one point they were concerned about how long since I had done a wee. They wanted me to wee in a cardboard bowler hat. The problem was that all the muscle tension from the contractions meant I couldn’t release enough to wee. The main problem was that a full bladder blocks the birth canal to stop the baby coming out.

I had to have a catheter, it wasn’t as bad as you would think. She was using the cardboard hats to collect the wee and couldn’t believe it when she had to get additional hats. So much wee. Apparently I’ve got a massive bladder.

I also did a poo in a cardboard hat (nothing is TMI now). Which was excellent forward planning on my part as it meant I didn’t poo in the pool/ on my baby.

As things got close I was drifting out of this world a bit. In the preceding two and half days I had a total of three hours sleep. I was so tired. I remember going completely underwater a lot and not hearing what they were saying.

For a while I was telling them the head was there and they didn’t think it would be yet but on closer inspection could see it.

I was pushing that baby out for three hours. For quite a long time they could see the head but when that contraction ended she was getting dragged back up. It was so hard.

I really didn’t want to tear (obviously) and I had read a lot about relaxation to avoid a tear. Loosening your jaw, breathing etc and tried this but at one point she had been there far too long and it was getting dangerous.

If anyone wants a description of how it feels to push a baby’s head out of your body the best way I can describe it is a Chinese burn to the vagina. But also I must point out that my birth was filmed and her head was a shockingly small fraction of the size it was after birth when it passed through my vagina. In case you didn’t know the skull is soft and made of segments which overlap to make it smaller. Emily’s became so small that my mum was watching and was absolutely terrified something was seriously wrong as it looked alarmingly small.

Back to the story… I managed to get the head out but the shoulders were stuck.

Quiet concern was passed between two midwives whilst staring at my vagina/baby’s head. Emily was being born en caul which means that my waters hadn’t broken. So basically the protective sac that she had grown in was coming out of my body intact with all the amniotic fluid, which should be clear ish. I now know they were trying to work out if she had dark hair and that explained the colour or if she had done a poo inside the sac which was making it brown.

Doing a poo in the womb isn’t just gross it is a sign the baby is stressed. If the baby is stressed it is a warning that something could have gone very wrong. The baby needs to be out as quickly as possible. In my case they thought I was close enough to get her out.

Alarm buttons were pressed and more midwives flooded in. Gas and air was confiscated. Calm breathing and an open jaw was disallowed. I was told don’t breathe, don’t pause, grit your teeth and push push push push.

It didn’t work. They said get out of the pool we are going to cut you. Sounds quite scary really. In a bid to reassure myself I said with the local anaesthetic yes? And they said no time and too risky. So I said you lift me out of the pool yes? Nope they said. You climb out and don’t smack the baby’s head on the side.

I climbed out but it wasn’t easy. I then crab walked to the birthing sofa (no hospital beds in this super chill part of hospital).

At some part during this graceful moment the waters broke. They were right there had been poo. Poo and amniotic fluid went all over the pool / room, with blood.

And then said give us the hardest push you have ever done or we cut you.

That kind of threat did the job. Out she sloshed.

I wish I could say there was this magical moment where I had a lightening bolt of love like I had never before experienced and would change my life forever.

Instead I thought wow so slippery, so dark (remember she was effectively covered in poo), so vulnerable. What the fuck am I doing. But then she didn’t scream.

My plan was delayed cord clamping but a rub down later she still wasn’t breathing and got taken away to be resuscitated in another room.

I later found out that she had the cord around her neck twice which was why she wasn’t breathing initially, and probably why she kept getting dragged back up when I was almost pushing her head out then disappeared back up again.

Now her being taken away sounds scary and of course it was. But I knew this wasn’t unusual and with everything going on I just thought surely nothing bad could happen, that would be too bad, I can’t even consider the possibility. Before they could get her to the machine she started breathing on her own and was brought back for a cuddle, all safe.

However I needed the placenta out. I wanted it to come out of its own accord with a little pushing from me (natural third stage). I was told this wasn’t safe, I think because I was maybe bleeding too badly so I had the injection and they gave it a little tug. I was terrified of the tug but it wasn’t too bad.

Then they said I needed stitches. I had a second degree tear with ripped muscles inside my vagina and ripped skin on my vulva. I was so terrified. I lay with legs in the stirrups and she almost started a few times and I shouted, no stop, I was too afraid. They do give local anaesthetic but who wants any kind of needle shoving into your battered and torn vagina.

She kept telling me to have gas and air and I kept saying no I feel too sick. I succumbed and was soon back on the happy train. I kept chatting about my favourite midwife of all time Ina May Gaskin and was fangirling all over the place. I got so enthusiastic I was literally shouting at her and kept waking the baby and getting told off by her father. That stuff makes me drunk and disorderly in an enthusiastic kind of way.

At the end they put a painkilling suppository in your bum. Dawn looked really concerned before she told me this (because I was pretty much losing my shit at anything that happened before that) so I got really worried when she warned me I wouldn’t like what was coming. She said very seriously a suppository needs to go in my bum. I said very seriously back, am I allowed lube? And when she said yes I drunkenly said Dawn as long as it is lubed up you can put anything in my bum. No problem.

Just a reminder that my mum was in the room, as was my husband when I very much made it sound like I was some kind of lube / anal connoisseur.

And although this is highly non relevant (and I issue no judgement to those that are) but I am 100% not a lube, and certainly not an anal, expert.

I was just happy as a clam at high tide that the needle in vagina segment of my day was over.

On that cheery note I feel I have said enough. If you got this far then thanks, I’m appreciative of your commitment to my lengthy birth story.

And as a side note to anyone that was bothered by my descriptive words such as torture to describe my cervix dilating at home I’ll tell you this. My friend got to a similar level of dilation walking around at home feeling ‘a bit weird’. No labour is the same, no experience of pain is the same, no body is the same. But most of all YOU GOT THIS and you will get through it and when you do you will be a fucking superhero no matter how you get there.