The few days before Dexter arrived are kind of a blur. I remember on the Thursday prior to his arrival my friend came over to see me and I started with a migraine whilst she was there. I had suffered terribly with migraines prior to getting pregnant, having them on average every other month, but since falling pregnant I’d only had two. This was a particularly bad one impairing my vision and I was unable to think straight. I took both paracetamol and ibruprofen, thinking what is the harm at this point and drank a can of coke. My friend said to me a few weeks later that I looked so uncomfortable and ill she was sure I was about to go into labour that day!
I spent the next few days in bed watching TV. They say you get a rush of energy before you go into labour, an urge to clean and to nest, but I just felt exhaustion. I didn’t have any energy or drive to do anything except get up occasionally to make food and get glasses of water. On the Wednesday I started experiencing period type pain on and off throughout the day. There wasn’t any kind of pattern to it and I brushed it off as my uterus practising ready for birth. That night I sent Neil at 10pm to go and get a McDonalds, I’m not in the habit of sending my husband out for food in the middle of the night but I knew I just needed the sugar of the full fat coke and the calories of the burger and the fries. It was to be my last meal before giving birth.
I woke up at 4am on Thursday morning with period type pain, but it was quite a bit stronger than it had been the previous day. I have suffered my whole life with severe period pain and this felt very similar. There have been many occasions in the past when period pain has woken me up, I didn’t feel that this was strong enough to be real contractions, so I took some paracetamol and tried to go back to sleep. I slept on and off until Neil’s alarm went off at around 6am, by this time the pain was coming and going quite regularly instead of being one constant dull ache like it is during my period so I told Neil all about it and he suggested he should stay off work.
He rang his work at 8am to say he wouldn’t be coming in and from this point onwards the waves of pain started coming much more strongly and in a regular pattern of around every four to five minutes. By 10 o clock they were strong enough for Neil to demand we ring the hospital. I should mention at this point that I had a fear of going into the hospital and being told I was nowhere near ready to give birth and to stop wasting everybody’s time so it was a battle for me to ring the hospital in the first place.
I spoke to a lovely midwife called Hana who talked me through my contraction and helped me with my breathing. She suggested I wait a little longer and then call back. Neil decided I needed to get some food into me so he went out to buy some sausages sandwiches. Meanwhile the postman came to the door with a signed for package and halfway through me signing for it I started with a huge contraction. That poor, poor postman! Luckily, it wasn’t our usual postie and I haven’t seen this guy since…he looked so bewildered!
Neil returned with his greasy breakfast sandwiches and I tried to eat some of it but I just felt nauseous and not at all hungry. Neil was going on and on at me to eat but I really didn’t want to. I went to the toilet and found blood when I wiped, I figured this must be my mucous plug and started wondering if it was all for real and perhaps I would actually give birth today.
At 2pm we rang the hospital again. The contractions were still four to five minutes apart so they said I wasn’t ready even though at this point I had lost a lot of my mucous plug. They said to ring back when waters break or contractions are less than four minutes apart. We ploughed on through this long and tedious day. We tried to watch Pretty Little Liars but I couldn’t concentrate (incidentally I have never been able to watch PLL again since), we put Sky News on and that awful Kay Burley was there talking about how women weren’t allowed to be members of this Scottish golf club. A plane had crashed in the Middle East. An inquest had been held into the death of a victim of the Parisian shootings. The news went round and round and round.
I kept going into the bath to try and get some relief, I bounced up and down on my exercise ball, I walked up and down the hallways of my flat but every four to five minutes the contraction would come and I was yelling out in pain and then it would ease off. Neil woild just ignore me while I did this which was winding me up!
By 6pm, the contractions had still not gotten any closer together and I was starting to stress that Neil had taken a day off for nothing. Neil went out to buy Lucozade and flapjacks and muffins. He came back and tried to make me eat them. I was in the bath crying and he was trying to force this bloody muffin down my mouth. He was getting quite irate and so was I! I did not feel hungry in the slightest but he would not listen and insisted I needed the strength to continue on with my labour. I argued back that I probably wasn’t even in labour yet and this was just the beginning.
By 7.30pm, I was losing a lot of blood, especially during a contraction. Neil rang the hospital again who once more said I wasn’t ready but if I was worried I was to go to the Maternity Assessment Unit (MAU). I think by this point I wasn’t making a lot of sense and I was convinced I was just going to be sent home. I didn’t want to go but I was also worried about the bleeding. We grabbed the bags and went to the car. I should mention at this point that Neil hasn’t passed his test and our plan was to have L plates on the car and me in the front supervising.
On the way to the hospital I had three massive full blown contractions. I can remember each one vividly because I was so acutely aware I needed to focus on Neil’s driving. I was holding onto the rail, squirming but trying to act normal incase a police car passed us by. It takes about fifteen to twenty minutes to drive to the hospital so the contractions still weren’t close together.
When we arrived at the hospital I was put in the waiting room with women who were nowhere near as far along as me and probably there for growth scans etc. I come in looking like an absolute whale, clinging onto Neil, walking up and down the waiting room, moaning and shouting even, then apologising as the contraction wore off. Everybody was staring at me.
A midwife took me into the toilet and asked me to show her my knickers so she could see the blood. I pulled them down but couldn’t see over my bump and she agreed it was quite a lot and took me to a side room. It felt like we were left in there for an eternity. I was pacing up and down that room. I wish I’d had my Fitbit on because Neil reckons I must have done about 4,000 steps! Finally she came in and she examined me. It was so so painful. I didn’t have any gas and air to help me through it so felt every single swipe. She declared I was 8cm dilated and was to be admitted immediately. She was completely in awe of the fact I had got this far by myself at home with only two paracetamol.
I walked back into the waiting room and out into the ward. She told me to keep my head down because everybody that was waiting had been there a long time and I had come in and was seen straight away. Well, good! I was in full blown labour. Neil and I rubbed our hands with glee, this would all be over soon.
We were introduced to our midwife, Alice who ran the big birthing pool for me and asked me how I wanted things to go. There was a comfy space set up on the floor with pillows and sheets and I realised that would be where I would give birth. I got changed into my bikini top and decided to not wear pants and got in the pool. The water was lovely and warm and because I could immerse myself fully in it unlike my bath, the relief was immediate. I now also had access to gas and air which I could make full use of during each contraction. Alice informed us she would be in periodically but wouldn’t check on me properly until 12.30am. We were so bemused by this, we were so sure the baby would be making an appearance way before then. This was our first error. Little did we realise at this point, that most women dilate at a rate of 1cm every two hours and this was why she wasn’t going to be checking my cervix until at least 12.30am.
The next few hours seemed to whizz by and also drag. Is that even possible? Looking back now, I can only remember Neil ringing family to tell them the birth would be happening very very soon; me puffing on the gas and air and drinking lots and lots of water because my mouth was so dry and watching the blood seep out of me into the birthing pool. I can’t remember exactly what time it was when I started becoming incoherent. I realise now that I must have hit the ‘transitional phase’. I started telling Neil that I was ready to go home now and I had made a huge mistake. Alice came in to see us and asked if I’d urinated at any point since I’d been there – I hadn’t. I got out of the pool and she gave me a bowl to urinate into so she could test it. I went to the bathroom and I was shaking and shivering so much. I thought I was just cold after getting out of the pool but shivering is actually a part of the labour process and probably means things are imminent.
I could hardly urinate into this bowl and Alice quickly realised I needed a catheter to help me to go because the size of the bladder could be blocking the way. Apart from having my cervix checked, this had to be one of the most painful things I experienced. What’s more this wasn’t to be my only catheter during this experience.
By this point I was now on my back on the pillows and throws that had been placed on the floor. Alice decided to check my cervix while we were down here and she declared I was possibly 10cm, however she could feel something and wasn’t sure if it was a bit of cervix or an ear. Another, more senior midwife came into the room to have a check but they still were not sure. They said I could start pushing, and on each contraction I should push for four seconds, breathe in and then push again for as long as I could.
During this pushing phase I started vomiting. Neil kept giving me bowls to throw up into, I believe it was around eight I went through and all I can remember saying is ‘I told you I didn’t want to eat!’. It was painful, painful vomiting, the type that burns your oesophagus to bits. This pushing phase went on for two hours. Looking back, it seems as if it went on for two minutes. I cannot remember much at all. At some point she burst my waters. I felt them rush out of me and onto the floor.
At 2,30am Alice told me I was going to need help to get the baby out. She explained that we would go into another room with equipment and a doctor would have to help us and possibly I might need to go to theatre for a C section. I was really scared at this point. I really didn’t want a doctor coming in and shouting at me like I’d seen on One Born Every Minute and I felt like a failure because I wasn’t able to do this myself. Luckily, I was also high as a kite from the gas and air so all I could do was follow their lead.
I was taken into the room next door and put into stirrups. A doctor came and I have to say he was so so nice and nothing like I had imagined. He numbed my vulva with an injection and I was given another catheter to drain my bladder. As soon as he walked into the room and sat down in front of me he knew what to do and started shouting instructions to the two midwives and the paediatric doctor who was in the room. I’m not saying it wasn’t scary. To have gone from being in a dimly lit room with one midwife to being moved into a surgical type room with lots of people was worrying. However, the doctor reassured me every step of the way and explained what he was going to do. He inserted a ventouse suction cup to put onto the baby’s head and he would gently pull as I pushed. He explained that I would be doing all the work – he was simply there to help me.
After four pushes (and the cup coming off baby’s head) the baby was out and placed on my chest. He was born at 3.07am. I can barely remember it. All I know is that I said to Neil that I was never doing it again. Neil cut the cord after two minutes and the baby was left on my chest while I delivered the placenta which despite what people may say, does not hurt. A baby has just come out, this tiny organ is nothing in comparison!
I had a second degree tear which is normal for a ventouse delivery. The tear itself hadn’t hurt at all and it didn’t hurt while he stitched me up. He took his time and made no apology for this, explaining he wanted to do it right.
The baby was quickly weighed and checked over and then we were free to move to a side room to bond with our baby. He stayed on my chest while we tried to establish breastfeeding and we snuggled in bed. Neil started to ring our family and Alice brought us tea and toast. I was desperate for a cup of tea but quickly realised I couldn’t drink anything hot because of my horrendous vomiting and this lasted for four days.
Looking back, I do wonder if I was ready to push when I started. I didn’t make hardly any progress in the two hours and from what I’ve read, when it’s time to push, your body naturally helps you to expel the baby. However, I cannot fault the doctor and midwives who helped me. If and when I do it again I would be more prepared mentally. The fact that at 8pm we thought the baby was going to come very soon did not help me.
Dexter was born 39 weeks and 6 days after conception. He has ten fingers and ten toes. He had a small lump where the cap was fitted to assist his delivery but this disappeared after a few hours. He was born with curly brown hair and weighed 8lb 3oz. He is perfect in every single way. You will probably never have experienced pain like it, but there are so many options available to help relieve pain. I chose not to take anything except gas and air to help with our breastfeeding experience and found the process manageable. Women invariably ask, which pain is worse, contractions or pushing? For me, it was having my cervix checked and having a catheter inserted! I have suffered with period pain for many years and for me the contractions felt just like this but the pain ebbed and flowed unlike my severe period pain which is constant ache.
Despite saying minutes after birth that I would never do it again, I was already ready to do it a few weeks later. I didn’t have the ‘perfect’ birth but I had a very positive birthing experience. I think it’s important to share this with other women because I read so many negative ones during my pregnancy. What was your birth like? Is there anything you would change?
You can read all about my second son Felix’s birth here.