My labour story: Part 1 | the latent phase
On weds 15th Jan I woke up at 3:45am with some cramping. This continued all morning and at 6:42am I rang my Mam. I left Andy to sleep until 7:45am then I told him I’d been cramping repeatedly for 4 hours and my Mam was on her way via train. He got Otis ready for nursery then said “should I pick your Mum up from the station then go to work?” (😂in denial I think!) I informed him it would probably be best if he stayed home today!
My Mam arrived at 10am and I spent the morning in my labour space, bouncing on my ball. Then my cramps / tightenings (I refused to call them contractions) slowed down until 12:00 and they stopped. I felt in despair and disappointed. I worried that I had never been in labour and I had wasted my Mam’s time. My Mam suggested we get out of the house for a bit so we went shopping at the Mall and had lunch. Whilst out, the cramping returned and had definitely stepped up in intensity. During our meal at Cafe Rouge I really started to struggle with the contractions as I was sat down at the table. I wanted to stand, but I also didn’t want to create a scene. By the time we got home at 5pm (after picking Otis up) they were more frequent and still intense.
The contractions (there was no doubt in calling them that now) continued through the evening and my team helped get me through: as I stayed on my ball in my labour space, my Mam gave me a back massage with the help of Otis, Andy gave me a hand massage, my dad recorded the times of every contraction and they all kept me company. At this stage every contraction made me stand and hold onto the table.
After putting it off for a while, I took 1 paracetamol at 9:40pm – that was my first pain relief. During contractions, I found strength through the affirmations I’d put on the wall, in particular focusing on the ones that said “my body was designed to do this” and “I can breathe through this contraction”. I found they helped me concentrate on my breathing as I said the words in my head. I rang the homebirth team at 11:13pm to finally tell them I was in labour and that I wanted to go to the freestanding birth centre (Cossham). I was heartbroken to be told “I’m afraid we can’t open Cossham due to not enough staff” and I felt panicked as they wanted to make plans with me to go to the birth centre at the hospital instead. They offered home birth, but of course I hadn’t organised a pool or anything. I was absolutely gutted after fighting twice in pregnancy for my right to go to Cossham. I expressed how anxious I was about returning to the hospital and I asked what time they would have enough staff. They said 7:30am. I told them I was coping ok at home for now, but would ring back when I needed to and feeling like my choice had been taking away from me, I reluctantly agreed to “pre-booking” a room at the hospital.
Feeling deflated, at midnight I sent everyone to bed knowing I’d need them to have energy the next day. Soon after, the home birth team rang me back with the best news – they had put out a plea in a WhatsApp group and someone extra had offered to come into work for me and I could now go to Cossham.
At 00:30 I laid down on the sofa to try and rest, but every contraction made me throw myself upright again. At 1:30-2:30am I went in the bath hoping to ease the pains, but ended up taking 2 more paracetamol at 2:50am. Inbetween laying down and having a bath, my labour space at home became really important to me. I bounced on my ball alone with the lights off, candles lit and my labour playlist playing.
At 3:12am I called the homebirth team again and explained I was now struggling to cope and we made plans to get ready to leave the house and meet them at the birth centre. I woke up Andy and my Mam and told them what happened: Andy and I got ready and went to the birth centre whilst my Mam and Dad stayed with Otis until 6am then took him to my friend’s house who had been on standby for weeks!
My labour story: Part 2 | established labour
Thurs 16th Jan
We met Julie (midwife) at the birth centre at 5am. The room was set up for us: dim lighting, sensory lights and the pool had been filled. After an examination she said “fantastic, you’re well over halfway” and “your baby will be born today”. I didn’t know how many cm dilated I was and this bothered me at first, but actually it was great not to obsess over a number. I was relieved not to be sent home.
I continued to labour without pain relief, bounced on the ball and Andy set up my playlist. At 7am I finally had a show. Mam & Dad arrived at 7:30am and shortly after, my Mam attached my TENS machine to me. At 8am Julie was replaced by my midwife Kate. I really liked Julie so this change slowed my contractions down, but they picked up again as I quickly developed a trust in Kate too.
I was examined at 9:30 to check on progress and was absolutely devastated to be told I was 5cm and had been 5cm when we arrived 4 hours earlier. Baby still hadn’t moved down or gotten in the right position. We started talking about my options which included breaking my waters and at that point I broke down. I completely lost myself for a little while because that’s what happened with Otis: I didn’t progress, my waters were broken and because there was meconium in them, we were blue lighted to the hospital at 8cm where I then had an awful experience and poor care. And I knew because Eddison was overdue, there was even more of a risk of him pooping. I cried. A lot. And I couldn’t stop.
Kate knew how vulnerable I was about the thought of going back to the hospital and so agreed to re-examine me in 2 hours instead of intervening. My Mam took me out for a walk around the birth centre and a reality check as I had totally lost emotional control at this point. She helped me re-focus and with her encouragement and my TENS machine, I spent some time lunging and doing squats on the stairs to try and encourage baby to move down. When I returned to the room I decided to “put my game face on” and put my full face of make-up on so that it would stop me crying again. It worked, I suddenly felt empowered. I put on my playlist, my mam gave me a nice hand & arm massage & Kate put some calming essentials oils in the diffuser. Andy and I laid on the double bed for a little while and had a cuddle and I nodded off for a couple of minutes between contractions.
At 12:00 I was re-examined & was shocked to hear I was now 8cm!
My labour story| Part 3: Eddison’s birth
Before the examination, I’d convinced myself nothing would have changed and I’d have to accept some form of intervention. When Kate said the words “I’ve got good news for you Holly” I cried. Then I smiled and then I laughed. Being told i’d progressed to 8cm made me emotional with relief. I also felt proud I’d managed to get to 8cm with just my TENS machine. After the examination Kate asked if I wanted to get in the pool now and I couldn’t get in there quick enough. I put my swimwear on, swapped my TENS machine for gas and air and by 12:15, I was in the pool. I was absolutely full of smiles and felt ridiculously calm and happy for someone so far into labour. I felt like a different person. Kate did my hair for me and I felt ready for this next stage. Inbetween contractions I snacked, chatted, laughed, listened to my music and enjoyed the company of my team. I even watched videos of Otis playing that my friend had sent to Andy and they made me smile so much. He was having the best time and that was so reassuring. I missed him so badly, but I could see he wasn’t missing us at all! He was hoovering her kitchen and playing with her daughter and having lots of fun.
Whilst in the pool, Andy and my Mam took it in turns being beside me, holding my hand and talking me through contractions. My Mam was great at reminding me to control my breathing and after every contraction Kate listened to baby and reassured me that all was ok. Over the next few hours in the pool my contractions got closer together and lasted for longer. They hadn’t really had any pattern until that stage. I got really sleepy as I was tired and also dizzy from the gas and air. I was worried Kate would want to take me out of the pool so I fought hard to keep myself awake. But the hours went quickly and it wasn’t long before I was at the point of thinking (and saying!) “I can’t do this” and “it hurts too much”. Id been sat in the water with my back to the side of the pool, pushing into it with every contraction. Then all of a sudden my body started pushing and I instinctively swung myself around so I was now facing the outside of the pool, holding on to the metal handles and knelt upright and told everyone “I’m pushing!”. It caught me by surprise. I hadn’t thought about it, my body just did it. Kate encouraged me to listen to my body and push as I needed to and kept me informed of what was going on. My waters still hadn’t broken and so I had bulging membranes that wanted pushing out too. During this time I’d asked my Mam to take a photo as I wanted to see my baby still in the waters and she told Andy to look too so my dad took the role of sitting infront of me and helping me through. He told me “you’re doing amazing” and when I said “I can’t do it” he told me “yes you can, you’re doing it”. I was pushing for less than half an hour before Eddison’s head was born. Eddison was born in his waters and so Kate broke them as his head emerged. The 3 minute gap felt like ages before the next contraction to push his body out, which was an easier task than the head had been!
Before I knew it, my baby had appeared in the water in front of me and Kate helped me lift him into my arms and she held us both. We’d agreed that Andy would announce the gender, but I couldn’t help myself and straight away lifted his legs up and told them all “it’s a boy!”.
I felt that instant rush of love as I looked down at my perfect baby boy, who was now here in my arms that had longed to hold him for months and I was relieved my labour was over. I’d had my perfect water birth…
Then things got complicated.
My labour story | part 4: after birth
Please note: this part comes with a trigger warning of trauma. Please don’t read if you are pregnant & feeling vulnerable.
I’ve found this part difficult to write and so I’m just going to come out and say the worst bit: I thought my baby was stillborn.
In the pool I looked down at my new baby with emotion and I was relieved my labour was over. I’d had my perfect water birth & I was elated. But in the few seconds I spent looking at him I realised something was wrong. My floppy, purple, silent baby was also not breathing. (I was told later that his cord has been wrapped around his neck). I felt sick and frozen with fear as the resus team was called in, Eddison was cut from me quickly (not by Andy) and my baby was taken to the other side of the room where I couldn’t see him. I managed to get a glimpse of him between people and saw him being rubbed in a towel like a little puppy. I was then asked to get out of the pool to deliver the placenta and as I stood up, blood just fell & surrounded me. I had a large haemorrhage & lost approx 1.2 litres of blood. As I stood in the pool I looked over to Andy who was stood on the middle of myself and Eddison, looking back and forth between us both and crying his eyes out. He looked terrified and his face haunts me still. Eddison came round quickly though and was given straight to Andy for skin to skin.
What happened next was a bit of a blur to be honest. I was taken to the bed and Kate gave me the choice to push the placenta out or for it to be pulled. Well after the trauma of it being pulled after Otis and the cord snapping and the placenta getting stuck, I wasn’t going to take that chance again and pushed as much as I could before answering Kate. It came out fine and I said I don’t want to keep the placenta but would like to see it. Kate calmly told me about the plans to take me to hospital and told me she would come with me, not to worry and that I would be ok. I didn’t feel ok though, I felt terrified. I thought I would die and I thought of Otis and Eddison and how I didn’t want to leave them without a Mum. I called to my Mam that I was scared, but when I saw her I could see she looked scared too. The paramedics were quickly in the room and were so lovely with me, explaining a drug they were giving me and what would happen next. All the staff that were in the room were calm and quiet and that helped me to stay calm too. Eddison was placed on the bed next to me for a bit of skin to skin before he was taken by his own ambulance to hospital (with Andy) and I was taken in another one. Being separated from him was torture.
The tone changed at hospital; the staff seemed flustered & dramatic & prodded/poked me unnecessarily. Their panic led me to ask that they keep Andy outside the room as I didn’t want him to see them all and panic more. I wanted to protect him after seeing him so distraught in the birth centre and was really angered to hear afterwards that someone went outside to tell him “she’s ok, but she doesn’t want you in the room”. That breaks my heart because it’s not that I didn’t want him there, I just didn’t want him to panic. If I’d arrived and the staff had been calm and reassuring, I wouldn’t have thought twice about having him in there. He stayed in the corridor with Eddison whilst they put me on 2 drips, took blood, dug about for clots (unnecessarily as there weren’t any!) and stitched me up. I kept telling them I felt shocked and that I wanted to breastfeed my baby.
When Andy came into the room I was so relieved to see him and Eddison and after being weighed, Eddison was handed to me for my first proper cuddle. And I just broke down immediately. They were tears of many emotions: happiness, trauma, shock and just relief that I now had my baby with me. My mam came and held me as I cried. I nursed him straight away and instantly felt my body calm again.
The legend that is Kate had put my placenta in a bag and brought it to hospital with us so that I could see it. I was really interested to see that because Eddison was overdue, parts of it had already started turning grey and gristly. The hospital midwife talked me through it and I found it fascinating looking at the thing that gave my baby life for 9 months.
Kate had explained to the hospital midwife my experience last time at the hospital and how I felt it had been traumatic and she made sure to protect me. They allowed my dad into the room and then allowed my 2 sisters, brother and brother-in-law to visit although it was against the hospital rules. They had driven an hour and a half and had been sat in the car park for hours and I was so happy to see them all, I can’t express how their presence helped me to feel like myself again. Nobody rushed them out and I loved seeing them each hold Eddison for the first time.
Kate had also arranged for me to be taken to the birth centre ward instead of the main ward and this was such a thoughtful move which really did help me heal emotionally. I was given plenty of time to shower before being taken to the ward in a wheelchair with my baby in my arms, where I had such lovely care and a great experience before I was discharged less than 24 hours later.