It was a Thursday and I met with some pregnant friends for lunch. It was hot, and we all felt tired. I decided to get the bus back home, and, as I left, my friend Laura who knew I'd been feeling a bit different said, “I’ve got a funny feeling about you.”
As soon as I got home at about 3.30 pm I got into bed. I felt kind of weak and crampy. I wondered if labour might be starting, but I was wary of thinking this and saying it out loud too soon. My husband Johnny was talking about work, but sensed something was up. As soon as I started needing the toilet to poo every 15 minutes or so I think he knew we were on.
He started tidying the house up and finishing off some emails so that he could focus on me. I wanted to finish putting the pictures up in the nursery, but gave up on the second one when I realised it was wonky and I couldn’t concentrate. Then I made some dinner. I wanted to make sure I’d eaten and had the energy necessary for the night ahead. I’m glad I ate something, even though I felt sick for a few contractions afterwards.
It’s hard to say when the cramps turned into contractions, but it was quite fast – about 4 pm. They really hurt! Johnny was tracking them on an app and kept asking whether they were mild, moderate or strong. I didn’t want to say strong, but they were not mild!
The pain surprised and scared me. I’d spent so long listening to hypnobirthing recordings talking about a calm and gentle birth and learning about the physiology of the muscles of the uterus, that I had convinced myself it wasn’t going to hurt that much. I said to J, “I think I’ve underestimated this.” I wanted to be strong and powerful, but I felt scared and vulnerable.
Johnny got the TENS machine out and stuck on. I never quite got the hang of it, but it was a great distraction. It gave me and the people I was with something to do when the contractions came, and I think it helped balance the pain and make it less intense.
I lay on the sofa for a bit, then I lay on the floor of the living room with a duvet, then I was in the bedroom. I was trying to rest as much as possible. But lying down (on my side) was not comfortable when the contractions came, so I knelt on the floor with my head on the bed and moved onto all fours for the contractions.
At about 7, we decided to call mum to tell her to make her way over once she had eaten her dinner. I didn’t think we’d need her for a while, but I wanted her to be here before she went to sleep, so that we didn’t have to wake her up in the middle of the night.
As it got darker, the contractions got more intense. At about 10.30, I was contracting in the furthest corner of the bedroom, which is when Johnny decided to call the midwife and put up the pool. I was resistant – I expected each stage to last much longer than it did – but it was definitely the right decision.
From 11 to 11.30, Johnny had to put the pool up, chase the hospital as to why the midwife hadn’t arrived, and be with me for every contraction. He was brilliant – calm and controlled – but I think it was quite stressful, and I think he was very happy when mum arrived at 11.30, shortly followed by the midwife, Carolyn.
Mum came into the bedroom to be with me and power up the TENS machine for the contractions. The midwife went into the living room to do her paperwork. She spent about 15 minutes quietly going about her business, but listening to what I was doing, before she came into examine me. Lying on my back while she did her checks was not comfortable. I’d written in my birth plan that I did not want to have any vaginal examinations, and this made me more sure of my decision.
However, because we did not know how dilated I was, it was difficult to know whether to get into the pool or not, the concern being that if I was not dilated enough, it could slow things down and prolong labour for a few more hours. I was also worried about taking the TENS machine off, as I felt as though it was the one thing that had got me through so far. Eventually, Johnny decided that “a change was as good as a rest” and said he thought I should get in, so I did.
It was lovely in the water – warm, easy to manoeuvre, supportive, enclosed, safe. I thought I’d sit and lie back, but instead stayed on all fours. I was still struggling with the pain, so asked for the gas and air. It was still in the midwife’s car, so she had to go out and get it. I’m not sure how much difference the entonox made, but the gas and air helped me to control my breathing – taking air slowly and deeply in and then exhaling out.
Johnny had put my hypnobirthing CD on. However, I found her calm voice and her talk of a “gentle” birth so annoying - as it was far from what I was experiencing - that I told Johnny to turn it off. He read Psalm 46 to me again and again. The way it describes “the earth giving way” and “the mountains quaking with their surging” felt like a better description and understanding of my labour.
There came a point where I thought I wanted to push. In fact, I pushed a couple of times without telling anyone, as I didn’t think I was meant to, but I couldn’t help myself. Mum was with me, so I told her. Johnny said the midwife was waiting for me to use the “p” word – she didn’t want to suggest it to me.
While I was pushing, the midwife listened to the baby’s heartbeat with a doppler. Quite quickly, she calmly told us that the heartbeat was dropping when I was pushing and that I needed to get out of the pool and deliver the baby. She asked Johnny to call 999 for an ambulance.
I understood but I didn’t feel panicked. I could only focus on what I was doing and what I was being asked to do – get out of the pool, walk into the bedroom, get on all fours and push the baby out.
I’m not sure how long everything took, but the next thing I remember is mum in front of me, the midwife behind me, and Johnny and two paramedics in the corridor all shouting at me to push. I was giving it everything and pushed a couple of times, but she didn’t come out. The midwife told me I had to get her out with the next contraction, so again I gave everything and then some more, and she was born at 1.40.
The midwife cut the cord and took the baby into the corner to stimulate her breathing. I was on the bed and couldn’t see anything, so kept asking, “Is he alright?” She said they were fine, but asked Johnny over to discover the sex. It was a girl! For the entirety of my pregnancy, I’d thought it was a boy, and the feeling had grown in the final few weeks, so I was surprised and confused.
When they passed her to me and I saw her for the first time, it was like meeting someone new. I didn’t have a picture of what she’d look like, but I didn’t immediately “recognise” her in the way I’d imagined.
I don’t know if it was because she was born so quickly, because I was in shock, or because I passed her to Johnny quite quickly after the birth while I delivered the placenta and the midwives examined me, but I didn’t get the greatest oxytocin rush of my life, either.
I’d wanted to deliver the placenta naturally, but after I’d tried to deliver it on the toilet and it hadn’t come out, I just wanted everything over with, so asked for the injection. The midwife assured me that the placenta had detached successfully and that it would probably come out with just one more push, so she encouraged me to give it one more try. As she’d said, with just one more contraction and one final push, it came out. I’m really grateful to her for sticking to my birth plan, when I’d given up on it.
Johnny, Freya and I gave thanks for the placenta and for the way it had sustained our baby’s life for the last nine months. Then the midwives took it away. The midwives decided to transfer me to hospital for stitching - they thought it was worse than it actually turned out to be. After it was done, I felt I could relax a bit and finally had Freya on my chest and the chance to feed for the first time.
We stayed there for a couple of hours. The nurse asked me to do a wee, which I was able to do, which meant that we could go home! Mum came in our car to collect us. At home, mum had done an amazing job of clearing up all the mess – washing the towels and sheets and making our bed. We got in and I fell fast asleep, while Johnny held Freya.