I’m always interested to hear birth stories, so I thought I’d post about Arlo’s birth story – my first labour and delivery. Be warned, it’s a long one. It covers a couple of days and I didn’t want to miss anything out!
I woke up on the 14th of October (4 days before my due date) feeling under the weather. My vision was blurred (this had happened a few times in the previous few days), I felt like I had a migraine coming on, and I also had what I thought was a bit of a dodgy tummy from some pizza I’d eaten the day before – I’d heard lots of stories about this being a sign but it didn’t click at the time. I spent that day dozing on the sofa under a duvet watching TV. This turned out to be a good decision seeing as I would be awake for the next 36 hours.
In the afternoon I had heavy, dragging pains in my lower abdomen. I wasn’t paying too much attention (I really thought I had a bit of a bad tummy and didn’t think it was the start of anything) but I think these pains continued for a few hours at least before turning into irregular contractions. These weren’t bad at all, I slept through most of the afternoon and still didn’t think I was having contractions. I woke up a bit in the evening, Sam was out at a gig , I was on my own and getting a bit bored and restless. I started timing the pains as by this point they were more regular. Pains were about 6 minutes apart and around 30-45 seconds. I carried on with my evening, I remember putting on Michael MacIntyre’s comedy roadshow but not being able to concentrate on any of it. I texted Sam at 11pm and he was on his way home. By this point I had a feeling this might be labour so I thought I’d go to bed and try to sleep until things progressed. By the time I’d finished packing the last minute items and gathered my bags by the door (just in case we needed to leave in a hurry, I told myself, although I still thought I was jumping the gun and that it would be a false alarm – for some reason I expected to be in early labour for ages) Sam had arrived home. He was drunk and so went to bed to get a few hours sleep and to sober up. This was around 12.30am. I got into bed next to him and lay down to sleep. The pains felt much worse lying down. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep through them. This was the point that I realised it must definitely be labour as the pains were really quite intense when I lay down. So I got up again and paced around downstairs. Sat on my birthing ball, but that hurt as well. The best position was on my knees on the sofa, leaning forward over the back of the sofa for support. I made some toast as I hadn’t eaten a proper dinner and thought I should fuel my stomach for what could be a long night ahead.
Contractions were now between 3 and 4 minutes apart and lasting for 45 seconds. I called the labour ward to let them know what was happening. They said to come in when they were lasting 1 minute. As we live quite a while away from the hospital and needed to order a cab, I was concerned that the contractions might get to 1 minute apart before we could get ourselves ready to go. I was also finding it hard to time contractions myself, even with the help of my iphone app, so decided it was time to wake up Sam. He was in a really deep sleep, I had to shout at him and shake him to wake him up. This was 2.30am so he’d had 2 hours sleep and was really groggy. We got my tens machine out and whilst I don’t think it stopped me feeling any of the pains, it did distract me for a while (although the wires were really annoying and I kept pulling them off by accident). Sam timed my contractions for another hour or so, they were coming closer together but still lasting 45 seconds. Rung the hospital again and they said that I could come in to be examined if I wanted to. I was hesitant as I thought it was too early and they would send us back home, but at the same time the pains were getting quite intense and I wanted to know how far along I was, so we ordered a cab and off we went.
We got to the hospital at about 4.30am. We were shown into a little office type room with a bed and had to wait in there for what seemed like ages, as the midwife who was going to do the examination was off on her break. Once she arrived she checked my blood pressure, made me do a wee in a kidney bowl and kept chatting about a load of nonsense. I felt rude not being able to reply to her questions through my contractions, and at the time was a bit annoyed that she was distracting me when I was trying to concentrate on breathing through the pain, but I realise that she was probably doing it on purpose to time my contractions. Finally she examined me, and to my surprise she said I was a very thin and stretchy 4cm. She also said that my membranes were ‘very thick like a trampoline’.
So we wouldn’t be going home after all. The midwife read through my birth plan which requested use of a birth pool if available. The ward seemed very quiet, they said we had our pick of the rooms with pools and that they’d give us the biggest room. It was still being cleaned so they asked us to walk around for half an hour. We went into the room after half an hour and then I remember a lot more waiting around. We were left in the room on our own. We had to wait for someone to come in to start filling the pool, then it took an hour to fill. No sign of any midwives. I remember thinking that maybe they thought I was going to take ages and that’s why they weren’t bothered with us for the moment. I got into the pool at around 6.30am. It really helped to ease the aching pains I was getting in my lower back, and to take the weight off. Finally at 7am (2 hours after being examined) 2 midwives walked into the room and introduced themselves. One was a student midwife in her final year and they asked if I minded her looking after me with the more senior midwife supervising. I felt in safe hands so said this was OK.
I was examined again at 9am and was 6cm. I was disheartened to have only progressed by 2cm in 4 hours and was feeling like I couldn’t carry on for much longer. This was the point that I hit ‘the wall’ and started to say I wanted pain relief. The midwife seemed to think pethedine could be a good idea as it would give me a chance to rest a little. She made it sound very appealing but I came to my senses and remembered that I was set against it as I didn’t want anything that could cross the placenta and affect my baby. I was coping OK with the pain, I was just knackered, so didn’t think an epidural was necessary, but I said that if things didn’t speed up soon I might have to go for an epidural as I couldn’t see how I could keep going for too long – I felt like I was going to keel over. The pool was making me feel very hot, and I found it easier to cope with the contractions if I was moving around more, so I got out and stood up for a good few hours. I was so tired and just really wanted to lie down or rest my back against something, but every time I tried the contractions were so much more painful, so my only option was to stand up or to lean forward, which was putting a big strain on my knees and back.
I asked the midwives to examine me again at around 11am. They said they only check your cervix every 4 hours. The next two hours were the longest of the whole thing, as I desperately wanted to know if things had progressed or if I was still at 6cm. In hindsight, it’s a good thing they do only check every 4 hours, because if they’d checked every time I asked, I probably would have had an epidural. 1pm rolled around and I was 8cm! I now put thoughts of more pain relief out of my head completely as I knew it couldn’t be much longer before I would be pushing, and that was all the motivation that I needed. I was just being impatient at how long it was all taking. I think it was this point that I started crying a bit. Sam and the midwives started telling me how well I was doing, and I got a bit overwhelmed as I knew I was so close to meeting my baby, and I couldn’t quite believe that I’d got this far.
Another few hours went by. The gas and air started to feel like it wasn’t doing anything, but I think it still helped to have the distraction and take deep breaths into the mouthpiece. I was convinced that if my waters broke, things would speed up really quickly. I kept asking why they hadn’t broken yet. The midwives thought there could be a possibility that the baby would be born with the waters still intact seeing as my membranes were so thick. I asked if they could break my waters. They said they would if I insisted but that they weren’t keen to as if their was meconium in the waters then it would become urgent to get the baby out ASAP. I knew they were right, but at the time all I could think about was how to get it all over and done with as quickly as possible.
I walked around a lot. They kept asking if I felt like I needed to push. I wasn’t sure, I didn’t know what it feels like. I just felt a LOT of pressure down there. I pushed a little bit anyway, I thought maybe it might break my waters if I pushed, or that maybe I was ready and the baby was just sitting there waiting for me to push. The midwives said that I could cause my cervix to swell if I pushed before I was ready. So I stopped and carried on walking around with Sam pulling the gas and air canister behind me.
Then suddenly, I was standing at the side of the bed leaning on it for support, and there was a pop just like a water balloon bursting, and my waters broke. Pretty much straight away I dropped to my knees and had the biggest urge to push. It’s so weird how powerful that urge is, you just can’t stop it. Sam and the midwife helped me up on the bed and I kneeled upright over the head of the bed with a beanbag in front of me to support my weight. I pushed with every contraction. I didn’t really like the feeling. It was scary how overwhelming the urge was, and I also didn’t like that it felt like the worst dodgy belly/diarrhoea pains that I’d ever had. At first I couldn’t feel the baby moving down and it felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. But then suddenly I could feel the pressure of the head really low down in the birth canal. During this point it was shift change so a new midwife came in. The student midwife stayed on as she could tell I was close and wanted to see the birth (even though she was meant to leave at 3pm to go to her own son’s 10th birthday party – she really was lovely and I hope her son didn’t mind her being a little late to the party!).
I’d been pushing for over an hour (not that I realised, it felt like 20 minutes!) when the new midwife suggested I try a birthing stool. So with Sam sat behind me holding me up, and the two midwives in front of me, I continued pushing on the stool. I didn’t feel as comfortable in this position but it was working as straight away I could feel the head starting to crown. I probably pushed 5 more times on the stool and then the baby was out after one final push to get the shoulders out. The feeling of the head crowning and then feeling the whole head coming out, and the shoulders turning and then the rest of the body slipping out was very very weird. It all seemed so quick after the hours and hours of contractions. I was so relieved it was over and I’d made it through that I almost didn’t even register my baby for a minute or so. I remember leaning back into Sam’s arms and closing my eyes thinking ‘Thank GOD that’s over and I can finally rest’, and Sam was saying ‘Look Chloe, a baby!’ and I looked down at my chest where the baby had been delivered onto and thought ‘Oh yeah, there’s our baby…that’s what all this pain and effort was about’.
He came out wide-eyed and making little mewling cries and turning his head about. I tried to put him to my breast but he didn’t latch. I asked the midwives if he was a girl or a boy. They said ‘Why don’t you look?’ So I lifted up the towel that they’d wrapped me and the baby in and Sam and I looked together and found out he was a boy. This is a really special moment when I look back and I’m so glad we left it a surprise.
We stayed in the delivery room for a few hours after the birth. It felt like 5 minutes, but I was probably holding Arlo and having skin to skin for about an hour. The midwife then did her checks and dressed him whilst Sam and I rang our families and sent out a text to our friends to announce the arrival. Sam, the midwife and I all took guesses on his weight. I think I guessed around 8 and a half lbs, he was actually just over 8lbs. Sam and I laughed at how Arlo had inherited exactly the features that we predicted, my chin and mouth, Sam’s head shape and eyebrows. My mum arrived with a towel for me (I’d brought stuff for Arlo but completely forgotten to pack a towel for myself). I felt very faint so it took a long time to get showered and dressed. I was very chatty at this point, recounting all the details of my labour and laughing about it all. I think I was on a bit of a high now that it was over and I’d done it. I remember Sam telling me how proud he was of me and that he couldn’t believe how much strength and determination I’d had during my labour. Mum held Arlo while Sam packed our things and I got ready to move down to the postnatal ward.
A nurse arrived with a wheelchair for me. I held Arlo whilst I was wheeled down to the next floor. I remember lots of people we passed in the corridor smiling at us. It felt special to be showing off my baby for the first time. Mum left shortly after this as visitors hours had just ended. Partners were allowed for another 2 hours. Those two hours flew by. I’m not even sure what we did or talked about. Probably just stared at our son. I settled Arlo in his fishbowl crib and got myself ready to sleep. Soon it was time for Sam to go. I wasn’t as apprehensive about being alone with Arlo as I thought I’d be, I was probably too knackered to think straight. The ward lights were turned down low and everything went quite quiet. I took Arlo out of his crib and we had a cuddle on the bed. I told him that I was his mummy and that I would look after him. I still felt very faint and was worried about having him in my arms whilst I felt like that. So I put him back down in the crib and lay down to get some sleep. I remember thinking ‘There’s no chance I’ll sleep now, I’ll just keep staring at Arlo’. Next thing I knew it was 6am! Arlo had slept all night too. It took a long time to get discharged but we finally left for home at around 3 or 4pm.
Although it was really really hard work at the time (definitely the most strenuous thing I’ve ever put my body through), it was not as painful as I’d imagined. Overall it was an extremely positive experience and I am so thankful and lucky to have avoided any complications. I have nothing but praise for the midwives at King’s College hospital. They let me go about my labour exactly as I wanted with no intervention. They fully supported my wish to keep as active as possible during labour. I wish I could relive the moment when he was born and placed on me every day and would do it all again in a second.