This is another post it’s taken me a long time to write. I initially had to fill in the many gaps in my memory through conversations with Aaron. Then a friend suggested writing it down as a way of processing it, which helped. But it wasn’t blog ready, or particularly coherent. I always intended to share my birth story on my blog, not only because I’m nosy and enjoyed reading other women’s birth stories, but to kind of reclaim it as a positive memory.
PND set in a couple of days after my daughter was born and in that time I had literally just a few hours sleep. Meaning it felt like one continuous day. This tainted the whole experience for a long time, when in reality my labour had nothing to do with the PND.
I didn’t get the labour I hoped for, in fact very little went to plan. Although I wouldn’t change it, because it was ours. And for anyone pregnant reading this (firstly, don’t), the soundbite you’ll hear a lot: “you won’t remember it” is actually very true. Eight months on and I feel almost nostalgic writing this, which I know I would have found absurd at the time. My catch phrase for weeks was “I’ll never do this again. EVER”.
Sharing My Birth Story
Towards the end of pregnancy I filled my time by trying to get organised. I scheduled a few blog posts and made a note in my calendar to share my birth story, two weeks past my due date. I thought two weeks would be an adequate timeframe to have settled into life with a baby. After all, newborns sleep all the time, right? I figured I would be be practically bored by that point.
Needless to say things didn’t quite pan out as I had imagined (said every new Mum, ever). It’s now eight months later and my small person is no longer a newborn. In fact she crawled for the first time last week. And is currently napping on the floor beside me, grizzly from cutting her new tooth.
I’ve tried to trim this back as much as possible, but it’s a long one. I’ve split it into two parts but feel I should give you a -somewhat obvious- warning, it’s going to contain some very TMI details. I’ve had many a “am I really putting this on the internet?” moment whilst writing these posts, but feel strongly that it’s important to talk about maternal health, childbirth and all the awkward conversations surrounding it. If that means talking about my fanny on the internet, so be it.
I felt like getting up and running out of that hospital, to nowhere in particular
Count Down To The Due Date
The end of the third trimester is incredibly boring. Something huge is about to happen, but you can’t really comprehend it. And you have no idea when it will happen. I knew that a tiny percentage of expectant mums give birth on their estimated due date. And coming from a line of women who went overdue with their first, just assumed that would happen to me.
Unable to walk more than a few steps thanks to pelvic girdle pain (another absolutely JOY of pregnancy), I spent the last weeks longing for a time where I could put my knickers on unaided. Whilst obsessively playing Animal Crossing Pocket Camp, from within the safety of my pregnancy pillow which we affectionately named ‘the doughnut’.
You become incredibly tuned into your own body. As any slight change or new feeling could be a ‘twinge’ or sign that things are moving. My baby’s head had engaged early, but I kept that statistic about first time Mums going overdue in my mind. I was convinced I had three weeks to go, when I first started feeling the ‘twinges’ everyone asks you about.
After a night of feeling very restless, I went to the bathroom at around 4am and felt as though my waters had gone. And a quick check revealed my mucus plug -not as hideous as I had imagined for anyone wondering- had made an appearance. I sat in my bathroom for a moment and cried because I knew I would be meeting my baby soon. Feeling a mixture of excitement and anticipation, I knew that the next 24 hours would be eventful and had a real sense of needing to take a moment to myself.
I waited until around 6am and called my Mum, who I had planned to keep me company in the early stages of labour. Something about the morning reminded of my childhood, when you got up super early to go on a school trip. Aaron reluctantly went to work, as I knew it could still be a while before anything happened. Even so, it felt like a real anticlimax when the contractions I had been expecting didn’t kick in.
I called the hospital to let them know, expecting them to ask me to come in within 12 hours if contractions didn’t start on their own. You have to have an induction if you don’t go into labour naturally after 12 hours, as ruptured waters present an infection risk. However they wanted to see me straight away, to clarify if my waters had definitely gone. I called Aaron home and the excitement returned, as we made our way to the hospital.
We were led into a delivery suite inside the midwife-led unit, so I could have some checks. The room was setup a bit like a hotel room, with dimmed lighting and fairy lights. In the middle of the room was a birthing pool, something I associated with calm natural births. I have no idea why, but at that point the fear set in. I felt like getting up and running out of that hospital, to nowhere in particular.
The midwife took my blood pressure and a urine sample (by that stage in pregnancy I pretty much took one to Waitrose), commenting that my blood pressure was sky high. Assuming it was because I was quietly losing my shit and fantasising about trying to run away, I didn’t think much of it. But the urine sample changed everything. Suddenly the quiet room with just a chatty midwife and us was filled with several midwives, with worried expressions on their faces.
Waters can rupture in a variety of ways, not just the big pop like you see in films
They suspected I had preeclampsia, a serious pregnancy complication which causes high blood pressure. Throughout pregnancy at all my midwife appointments, my routine tests had shown no issues. I wasn’t considered at risk for it and had no history of it in my family. Having come into hospital expecting to talk about my waters, this threw me completely.
I had no idea you could even get preeclampsia this late in the game, or what it really meant for me and the baby. But I knew it meant my dream of a natural water birth in the midwife-led unit was over. Despite feeling pretty normal, they insisted I be taken to the consultant-led ward by wheelchair and admitted to hospital.
I didn’t have a lot of time to digest that information, but I felt a lump in my throat and my eyes welling up. I had focused so much on having a natural birth. I’d spent the past few weeks getting my iron levels high enough to be allowed to use the midwife-led ward and my birth plan revolved around it entirely (which in retrospect was ridiculous and I’ll be writing about that in future). I couldn’t even begin to get my head around the fact the baby and I could be in danger, it was just too much to take in. Suddenly the birthing pool didn’t seem so frightening.
I hated everything about the consultant-led ward. The midwives were cold, the delivery suite looked like a bare hospital room. And there wasn’t a string of fairy lights in sight. After the hectic transfer from downstairs, we were left to wait for several hours, save for the odd midwife taking my blood pressure. The blood tests taken when I arrived in hospital had to be repeated, adding more time to our wait for answers.
I hadn’t eaten anything whilst we had been in hospital and felt tired, having been up since the early hours. A midwife came eventually to check my waters, by which point I had forgotten all about the fact they had ruptured. To check, they use a speculum to inspect the cervix and use a spoon-like-thing to collect leaking water, whilst getting you to cough. She told me that they hadn’t burst, smugly telling me that I would have known if they had. Incidentally I’ve since found out from other midwives that waters can rupture in a variety of ways, not just the big pop like you see in films. I knew at that point she was wrong, as I had been leaking fluid all day. Unless I was in a continuous state of wetting myself, this seemed a little suspect. But I didn’t want to argue.
My blood-work still hadn’t come back, but exhausted I begged the midwives to let me go home. I promised I would come back if needed and they agreed to call later to give me the results.
The Night Before
The same midwife who had checked my waters called me on the way home to say that my blood had come back clear. Utterly baffled, I just felt relieved that I didn’t have preeclampsia and could hopefully now give birth on the midwife-led ward. I was hugely disappointed that I wasn’t in labour, but tried to focus on the fact it had been a bit of a dry run.
As I didn’t have an appetite, I got ready for bed at 7pm. I had started to get strong period cramp-like pains in my abdomen, but put it down to all the poking and prodding I had earlier whilst getting examined. Nothing could have convinced me not to get into bed, despite it being so early. Which in retrospect was probably a sign something was going on.
The period pains got worse, waking me from my sleep every half hour. I assumed they were Brixton hicks, I hadn’t had that yet and wanted to experience a contraction as a preview of what was to come. I watched the hours on the clock pass by, getting increasingly irritated that I couldn’t sleep. Unable to get comfortable in any position. It blows my mind that I didn’t work out that cramping pain was me in labour, especially given how focused I had been on ‘twinges’ for weeks.
At around 5am -exactly as the day before- I decided to get up and have a glass of water, having hardly slept all night. I did my awkward pregnancy shuffle to the end of the bed and as I stood up, I felt it. A gush and pop, exactly like you see on films. I knew then my waters had ruptured the day before, as everything was the same just this had a bit more umphh behind it. 6am came and I called my Mum, retracing my steps from the day before, only this time feeling less scared and more confident.
Like a criminal on their way to hand themselves in, I tried to drag things out as much as possible.
The Strangest Shopping Trip
I felt that the day before I had nearly been cheated out of the experience I had envisioned for so long, going through early labour in the comfort of my own home. The expensive NCT classes I had endured talked so much about the importance of this stage. The bottom line was a hospital environment isn’t good for oxytocin production, so stay at home or risk labour slowing down. I felt completely focused on creating the right environment and so decided to go shopping, despite it being 5:30am in the morning.
Going to Tesco in the early hours reminded me of being a teenager. I felt silly, like we shouldn’t be there and had snuck out. We bought firewood, almond croissants, a Krispy Kreme and a loaf of bread. It was like shopping whilst drunk, we just giggled our way around the aisles. Had I known that would be the last food I ate for 24+ hours and the last time I’d have an appetite in two months, I might have chosen more carefully. Excluding the almond croissants, as there’s no scenario where those are a bad idea.
I had a sanitary pad on but had seriously underestimated the situation. At one point I had to do run into an empty aisle to hide, as I could feel amniotic fluid dripping down my leg.
Back To Hospital
We picked my Mum up, said hello to the dog and went back to the house where I ate my Krispy Kreme and planned to photograph the Sleek advent calendar I knew I would be too busy to blog. As little more than a heads up, I called the hospital to let them know my waters had definitely gone and was totally shellshocked when they said I needed to come in. I tried to argue my point about labouring at home and the fact they had checked me over yesterday. But it was to no avail, the best deal I could get was a couple of hours extension to do whatever it was I was doing, that was more important that having the baby. I imagine the long-suffering midwives who take the calls are used to people not being at their most reasonable.
Like a criminal on their way to hand themselves in, I tried to drag things out as much as possible. Stopping in our local Co-op to buy an onion bargee sandwich (that would live -untouched- in my fridge until it went off). Bending awkwardly to the side when I felt a contraction coming. And watching the horrified look on the cashier’s face when they politely asked when the baby was due and I told them: ‘Now. I’m in labour’.
I felt furious that I was being left to labour in a hospital waiting room, with zero privacy
As soon as I got to the hospital, they took my blood pressure. I knew from their reaction that they suspected I had pre-eclampsia again and my heart sank. Not this again.
Queue more blood tests, from both arms before eventually going into the top of my hand as my veins were rubbish. I looked up at the ceiling tiles and cried, hoping no one would notice, all the excitement of the morning now gone. Surely the bloods would come back normal again? But in the meantime, I’d be trapped there instead of labouring at home. What about my oxytocin levels? No amount of raspberry tea or dark chocolate was going to save this. My hands felt like Hellraiser’s face and yet again, I was wheeled up to the consultant-led ward.
This time there weren’t enough beds to admit me, but as my blood pressure needed to be measured every 15 minutes I couldn’t wander off. Instead I was asked to wait in the assessment unit, somewhere I had been before in pregnancy when the baby’s movements were reduced and I had come in to have them monitored.
The chairs were the flip down ones you get on buses. Uncomfortable and in no way big enough for me and my 9 months pregnant arse. The cramping pain had really started to ramp up, so I had to bend to one side to ride it out. Unable to sit there any longer, I paced up and down the room.
The waiting room was full of pregnant women and their partners or relatives. All holding their bumps, looking worried. I remembered the feeling of being there and was acutely aware the last thing they needed was to see an angry women in labour. But unfortunately politely masking my feelings wasn’t an option.
My blood work came back confirming I had preeclampsia. The conspiracist in me couldn’t help wondering if that was apparent the day before, but for whatever reason they sent me home knowing I’d come back the following day.
Either way I felt furious that I was being left to labour in a hospital waiting room, with zero privacy. I couldn’t go home because of the preeclampsia and so was trapped in hospital until I either went into labour naturally or ran out of time. As my 12 hour until induction countdown ticked away, I felt any chance of avoiding one was slipping away.
In that moment I didn’t feel scared or sad about the preeclampsia or consultant-led ward I would be delivering in. Just a sense of real excitement that whatever happened, we would be meeting our baby soon.
After two hours of pacing in the waiting room, I was called in to see a Dr. She explained she needed to check if my waters had gone spontaneously. At this point I had almost forgotten that’s why I was there and not at home. But I already knew they had, so calmly agreed to the examination again. She was chaperoned by two midwifes and Aaron sat to the side of me.
I’ll never forget the look on the midwife’s face when it happened. The Dr inserted the speculum and opened it so she could check for amniotic fluid. With the spoon thing all the way in, something happened and the speculum snapped. Literally f**king snapped, sending the spoon and speculum smashing into my cervix. I remember screaming at the top of my lungs and the pain. It was just awful, on a level with childbirth in retrospect, albeit more fleeting.
She said she had seen that I was definitely in labour and that my waters had burst. She asked if I would like her to go back in to check how dilated I was, which unsurprisingly I declined. Whilst I can joke about it now, it was pretty traumatising. I mentioned it at my smear test and coil fitting, where both the nurse and Dr confirmed they had never experienced that and looked suitably horrified.
The Quiet Before The Storm
With early labour now underway and my blood pressure through the roof, I was finally admitted to a bed. Not yet in active labour -but too high risk to be allowed home- I was put on the induction ward. We had our own cubical at the back of an empty ward, with a window view looking out over Cardiff.
A midwife offered me an induction then instead of the next morning when my 12 hours was up. But I decided against it as I knew I had a good chance of not needing one. It was around 4pm and I had until 5am the next morning to get to 4cm dilated. In our own little space, I finally felt able to regroup. We had privacy and a sunset, I felt like if I stopped focusing on what had gone wrong and pretended I was at home, labour might actually get going properly.
We settled into our new space. Unpacking my bag and talking about everything which had happened. In that moment I didn’t feel scared or sad about the preeclampsia or consultant-led ward I would be delivering in. Just a sense of real excitement that whatever happened, we would be meeting our baby soon.