Jess' story - Francis' birth

I had a fairly normal pregnancy. I had quite a bit of spotting up until 16 weeks, and this worried me as I had previously had a miscarriage. But I got an early scan and seeing the heart beat at 8 weeks was such a relief!

My fundal height also measured rather large throughout the pregnancy, usually 4cm ahead of my weeks.  This meant I had lots of scans to keep an eye on his size.

It was great they kept such a close eye on it and lovely to see him growing.
I kept fairly active during my pregnancy, changing my commute to incorporate a twenty minute walk in the morning and swimming once a week. I managed to keep this up until 38 weeks. I’m really not a fitness person and find exercising really dull, but keeping active and my body moving massively helped during the birth and recovery. Also the exercise I was doing was pretty low level, the walking helped my restless legs and the swimming was lovely as you feel weightless. 
When planning the birth I really wanted keep things flexible. Having never done it before I didn’t have a clue how my body would deal with it, nor how it would be for me, so I didn’t want to fixate on a certain plan.

The first line of my brith plan was 'the main plan is to get the baby out', which the midwives found funny. I was totally up for their guidance and support, they have experience so I wanted to use this. I thought a water birth would be good as I had swam so much during pregnancy and always felt way more flexible and comfortable in the water so it was great that the birth centre had pools. 

I did very little preparation - no hypnobirthing, yoga or breathing exercises. I didn’t do NCT, just the 2 hour NHS class which was really useful. I went to a breastfeeding class at the hospital, and both of these short classes gave me a glimpse of what to expect.

Everyone had a birth story to tell me and most were dramatic and came with their own horrors. I found this really unhelpful and decided I wouldn’t really listen to them as I am my own person with my own body. The info that I did take away was  the midwife in the class talking about embracing the contractions. I held onto this as it seemed sensible. All the best advice came from the midwives. They are the experts, trust them, make them your friends. 
Overnight on Wednesday into Thursday, I had a show. I didn’t realise straight away as had gone to the loo in the dark but in the morning, I saw there was some mucus so guessed it was that. I took it really easy on Thursday, did some baking as I find it really relaxing, and then had the brownies and flapjacks to take into hospital. Over night on Thursday I had quite a bit of pain. It felt like period pain and I was really restless. I would wake with each surge of pain. I now realise these were contractions but it’s hard to know as you’ve never had them before, but period pain is the best way I can describe it. 
Friday morning I had my 40 week appointment. Due to the changes starting with the Corona virus, I had to go further for my appointment as the family centre was shut. I walked through the park with my husband and got the bus. My walking was super slow and my lower back had really start to hurt. I was having to stop every few minutes. Again I wasn't really sure if they were contractions. You don’t know how hard it's going to get, whether  you are at 10% or 50%. I saw the midwife and she examined me and said the head was fully engaged and that we would probably go in later today. I should ring the hospital to get them know how I was doing. 
By the time I was home, the pain had increased, so I ran a bath.  But I couldn’t get comfortable. My husband kept coming and checking on me. After the bath I went to the loo and had quite a heavy bleed so we rang the labour line and they said to come in to get checked out. I was worried we were heading in too early and would be sent home. By now what I was calling surges were happening every few minutes. They were strong contractions, I just didn’t know. 
I arrived at the birth centre just before 2pm, and was still fairly together at this point. On arrival the midwives weren’t sure if I was far enough along, but then I had a surge and they realised it was time. I was straight into the birthing room and they examined me and I was 7cm dilated. I was so pleased. I got on the gas and air for the remaining contractions which went on for another hour and got into the pool for pushing. The pool was lovely, so supportive and like swimming I felt weightless and way more flexible. 
When the pushing began it was intense. I made a lot of noise, shouting out, and the midwives advised me to push the energy down into my body rather than out of my mouth. This felt like great advice and though I still made loads of noise, I focused on pushing down into my bum as advised by the midwife. I was on all fours int he pool, holding on to the handle bars and resting my head on my husbands arm. Inbetween pushes, I was able to come up for air, and drink some water and lucozade. The midwife kept an eye on things down below and explained that baby was progressing 2 steps forward and 1 back. She started to see the head and said I could feel it if I wanted. Initially I was freaked out by this but then a few pushes later I had a feel which was really cool. Damian my partner had been dubious about being down the business end but he had a look at the head crowning and said it was amazing. He said he was really pleased he did as its not something you see every day!
I had asked to be kept informed as I am a big believer in having all the facts. The midwife kept me updated and gave me some real nuggets of advice. She told me that when we get close she will tell me to stop pushing and take short, little breaths so that the baby didn't come too fast. As we got close I could feel things start to shift. I was opening up and could feel the pushes doing the job. The midwives had said when you feel like you can’t do it, that’s when it happens and I really was scared but I trusted my body and then she told me to stop and I did and then it felt like he slipped out. The pushing lasted about an hour. I didn’t realise there would be so much pushing but all in all, the birth was actually super quick. Funny to think I thought we might get sent home.
Straight away they got him onto my chest. This picture is just moments after the birth. Once the umbilical cord had stop pulsing ,my husband cut it. They gave me an injection to help deliver the placenta as I had bled quite a bit before coming in. It took a while to get the placenta out, and eventually I had to squat down and push it out. They had thought I might have to go to theatre to deliver it, but thankfully I was able to pass it. The birth took 2 hours in total. I couldn’t believe it. My mum had quick labours so I guess it runs in the family.
Francis was born at 16:08 and we were able to stay in the birthing room till gone 9pm, feeding him, chatting with the midwives, eating toast and having a shower. He needed observations as he had a poo during the birth and his breathing was a little fast but the midwives were very chilled and helped me with breastfeeding while they checked him out. We stayed in overnight, in the hottest room on the planet with three other mums and their newborns. Don’t expect to get much sleep that first night, not between looking at your baby, feeding and waking to the sound of other babies. My husband went home to get some sleep which was useful as he could be more helpful the next day. Some partners stayed over in the super hot room, but I’m glad Damian got some rest. 
The main things I took away from the whole experience was that you have to go with the flow. I used to be a stage manager and this means I like to plan everything and know what is going on, but with birth there are so many unknowns I decided to let go of control and trust my body and the midwives. Not having a definitive plan meant that I accepted what ever happened. I know I had a fairly good birth and I might feel differently if it had been tougher but I truly believe that going into to it being open to options massively helped. The expertise of the midwives was brilliant. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t met them before. We were all there for the same reason and by trusting them to guide and support me, I was able to concentrate on the brith.

I was amazed that I didn’t even tear and I think this is because I really listened and trusted my body and the midwives and remained fairly calm. 
Francis is a month old now and my body is doing a pretty good job of coming back to itself. The first few weeks were tough, as it's all so unknown and feels a bit relentless. But we are getting to know each other now and I am looking forward to when the lockdown lifts so we can meet up with family and friends for cuddles. I think he will be quite surprised to learn there are more people in the world then just his mum and dad. But we have to feel grateful for these early weeks in our little bubble and the joy of video calling grandparents!