This blog comes from a place of healing. I am writing this as my new baby snoozes next to me, in the hope of providing assurance to anyone worried about giving birth; whether this fear comes from not having done it before or because you have done it before! I fell into the latter category and I have spent the last two years obsessing over birth. I’ve read, researched, been counselled, talked, reached out and attempted to dispel negative thoughts through alternative therapies. Add a dose of denial and the body’s incredible way of making you forgot the pain, we got pregnant for the second time when my son was 14 months old.
You can read about the ordeal that was my birthing my 10lb 30z firstborn here.
Overdue – a term not to be used lightly
I gave birth to my daughter at 41+5 weeks pregnant. Many people have expressed their disbelief that I was ‘allowed’ to go overdue when my firstborn weighed 10lb 30z at 40+4 weeks. The key point here is the word ALLOWED. The NHS are incredible and they recommend what they think is best. However, we are the decision makers and we know our bodies, therefore decisions lie in our hands. I measured within average range during my pregnancy, so initially growth scans weren’t offered to me. I, however, insisted on at least one growth scan because I had also measured within normal range for my macrosonic (big) son. I am aware that scans are often inaccurate and therefore I knew to take the results with a pinch of salt. However, the scan acted to reassure me and with reassurance came the relaxation hormone oxytocin, which is what you need lots of in order to give birth. The sonographer predicted that the baby would weigh no more than 8lbs. We would soon see but I was dubious, even though I felt in my bones that the baby was smaller this time, I didn’t think it would be that small. The scan also acted to stop the midwives recommending an induction before term, which had been stressing me out. I had decided that unless my baby had been estimated to be more than 12lbs in weight, I would rather attempt a spontaneous labour with a big baby, than an induced labour with a small one. The scan and the fact I again didn’t test positive for gestational diabetes meant my pregnancy was deemed low risk and I was left to it. Hurrah.
I am very lucky to have had a largely pleasant, easy pregnancy, once again. Indeed, at nearly 42 weeks pregnant, I was still taking my son pony trekking and managing short jogging bursts. It was for this reason that I declined three offers of induction. The baby was moving lots and the NHS recommends induction before 42 weeks (you can decline that too if you wish but extra monitoring is recommended). I wasn’t 42 weeks yet and there was no medical reason given to induce me; I think they offered me induction because they had a quiet ward. Inductions are hard for the NHS, they require more staff and more resources. It must be easier to spread them out and fill in quiet times if they can. This is why it’s important to do your research so you feel confident when faced with options and decisions. The reason I accepted the offer of induction at 41+5 weeks is because the knowledge that there is a small chance of increased stillborn risk after 42 weeks meant I had anxiety niggles and I would have opted for monitoring. I’ll say again, anxiety is not conducive to birth and the monitoring would have kept me away from my son, which was a thought that made me cry.
Very early labour
Shortly after hitting the 40 week mark, I started to get pre-labour signs. Namely, these were bursts of mild, irregular period type pain and my bump dropped. It wasn’t until 41 weeks that I started to lose my mucous plug and had stronger, yet still irregular contractions. I declined a membrane sweep until 41 weeks because I didn’t see the reason to rush the baby. Did you know you’re not even considered due until 41 weeks in France for example? I felt my body was doing what it needed to do, easing in gently with a long pre-labour that didn’t hinder my daily life. At 41 weeks, I was just shy of 1cm dilated, but my cervix was still high, hard and posterior. I was 3/5 engaged. They weren’t even able to perform the sweep, they just gave me an extremely painful internal examination (sweeps can hurt when the cervix is posterior). At 41+3 days pregnant, I had a midwife appointment and I consented to another sweep. I was pleased to hear I was now 2cm dilated so early labour was going its thing. My cervix was still posterior but it was shortened and soft, a sweep could now be performed.
The day of the sweep, my labour signs actually stopped. I resigned myself for an induction the following day, trying to reassure myself that the induction should at least be easier this time because my body was already trying to get going and because it was my second birth. There is also a new induction method called the ‘cook balloon’ which provides a mechanical, not chemical, induction method. This cheered me up because from past experience, the drip hurts so much more than natural contractions. If I had been faced with the drip, I made the decision to have an epidural straight away, unlike last time where I opted to try in on gas and air. Some woman don’t get an epidural with an induction but most do. It is because the chemical forces your body to do something it isn’t ready for and it also blocks the body’s natural pain relievers, called endorphins.
I went to bed at midnight on the day of my planned induction. I sent hubby downstairs to get me a hot water bottle because my back started hurting in dull, throbbing waves. My baby wasn’t back to back (backache is typical of back labour) and also the pain wasn’t too bad, so I just presumed my posterior cervix was coming forward and I tried to go to sleep.
1.40am: I awoke to more intense back pain. I half stumbled out of bed and went to get some paracetamols and then tried to sleep but I couldn’t. I tossed and turned.
2am: I wanted to leave my husband to sleep but I was struggling, so I loudly groaned and fidgeted next to him to wake him up! I wasn’t putting it on, I just wasn’t hiding it. He woke up and his birthing research kicked in. He sat up, rubbed my back and asked what was happening. I just said that it hurts and wriggled around the bed trying to find comfort with the hot water bottle. I now recognised a building and breaking sensation in the pain and I knew they were contractions, which were getting more regular and stronger. I snuggled in bed with my husband in-between the pain. My husband got my TENS machine out and put it on for me. I had told him before to make me use it as early as the pain kicked in because this way the endorphins build up in your system. For some reason, I delayed using it for ages last time thinking the benefit would wear off! I would recommend a TENS machine to anyone.
2.30am: I couldn’t stay in bed any longer. I went downstairs and wriggled around on the loo and the sofa instead! My contractions quickly got stronger and more regular. My husband turned on the Positive Birthing Company’s ‘Freya’ app and I listened to it intently, allowing the app to time my contractions. My husband was by my side coaching me and reassuring me, telling me to breathe, to kick, to fixate on a point (all tips picked up from Juju’s Birth Skills book). My husband had taught himself all about birth this time and his support was incredible because of it. The app alerted us that I was in established labour; my contractions were 1.5 minutes long and I had 3 of them every 10 minutes. We were trying to stay at home as long as possible because labour tends to go quicker that way but I needed help with the pain.
4am: I told my husband to ring the hospital. I needed help with the building pain. Bearing in mind we live 25 minutes from the hospital, they said we would come in when we were ready but we should be mindful that second births tend to progress quickly so we shouldn’t leave it too long. We called our wonderful friend who came over to look after our son. She ended up coaching me whilst my hubby loaded the car. I was sat telling myself off for getting myself pregnant again, whilst listing the benefits of adoption! I also remember cussing the Freya app when it compared birth to a marathon. Although I understood their point, I still declared that if I was running a marathon, I would be just stop and buy an ice cream!
5.30am: We left for the hospital. The contractions didn’t let up in the car but my TENS machine got me through, especially when hubby realised he forgot the baby’s bag and had to leg it back.
6am: Arrived at the hospital. The benefit of labouring at this early hour was that we found a parking space easily! I could barely walk now, the baby felt so low and the contractions kept coming thick and fast. It took me 20 minutes to walk along the short corridor because I was gripping the walls and staggering. I walked around the corner to the delivery ward and I nearly collapsed at the sight of it; the memories of my last birth came flooding back. Hello birth trauma! I draped myself over the reception counter and a midwife swiftly came to help me along to a delivery room. I apologised for making a fuss and told them that I was likely only 2cm dilated still because I had stayed 2cm dilated for three days last time. Once in the delivery room, they asked whether I consented to an internal examination to assess how far along I was. This took a while because the contractions were coming so fast, I couldn’t sit still long enough to let them do it. When I finally allowed them, I was delighted to hear I was already 6cm dilated and was therefore in active labour. I asked for gas and air and it took the edge of the contractions nicely for the next hour or so.
8am: The gas and air now wasn’t taking the edge off quite as much and in-between contractions, I was calmly enquiring about more pain relief whilst cursing my life choice to have another child. I was told I could have diamorphine if I wanted but I was warned the baby would probably need help to breathe because my labour was progressing so fast, it would cross into the placenta and slow down the baby’s breathing. That put a dampener on those plans! In truth, although the pain was intense and hard to bear, I had that injection with my son and in made me spaced out and very sick, so I wasn’t keen. I have just realised that diamorphine is heroin and this shocked me. I knew it was an opioid but I didn’t realise it was the medical name for heroin and to think I consented to this first time around without realising just goes to show that being informed makes such a difference to labour.
I was beginning to doubt how much more pain I could take and so they offered me an internal examination to assure me that all was doing well. In hypnobirthing, they rightly say that internal examinations aren’t always needed; woman do well just left to get on with birth and I do agree. I, however, needed to know if it would end soon because my first birth went on for so many days. I was now 8cm and I was dilating very quickly indeed. This was the time of the shift change and I was introduced to my new midwife. During the handover, I started to cry in the background and swiftly explained to the new midwife that I was scared of the pushing stage because my son had been big and he had got stuck. I also said I couldn’t do much more and questioned how I would cope with the pain getting worse.
My wonderful midwife calmly took my hand, looked into my eyes and said, “You can do it because you are doing it. You’re incredible. When you need to push, I’l be there with you and I will coach you through. You can do it and you’re not on your own”.
10am: Between 8cm and 10cm, it was hard. It was intense. I started to think I couldn’t do it, which is a sign of transition and impending birth. I started to lose it during one particularly lengthy contraction and I scratched my own face at one point, such was the pain. My midwife held my hand and reminded me to keep at the gas and air. She also suggested I get up for a wee to make sure the baby had space to descend. The baby was monitored intermittently and by this point, I was very aware of the sensations. So much so, I would tell the midwife when the baby jolted down and she would confirm this with a smile by listening to the heartbeat further down, telling me that I was going to be fine because I obviously knew my body very well.
My midwife suggested that I might be more comfortable if I moved up the bed and I remember saying calmly, “Sorry but I don’t think that’s right for me so I’m not going to do it but I promise I’ll do as I’m told later!”. She laughed and said to trust my body. She then left the room for a few minutes and then everything happened! She said afterwards that it was then she knew for sure that I was in transition because women either go crazy or go calm and I went serenely calm.
I got on all fours and told my husband to get the midwife because I needed to push. It was too late for him to actually reach the call bell because I pushed and my waters broke! In walks my midwife and I heard her say “You’ve got this. Do what you know you need to do”. She didn’t say another word. She said after that she could tell I didn’t need coaching so she let my intuition do the work. I calmly said to hubby “I don’t need to push again yet but the contraction will come”. And it did. I bit down on the gas and air mouth piece and pushed. I felt the head come out and I said “Heads out!”. As if they didn’t know! My midwife invited me to feel the head and it was amazing! It didn’t even hurt. No ‘ring of fire’ that I’d heard about, it just felt like a tight squeeze. One more long push and I felt every inch of the baby’s body funnel out and the legs flopped out at the end; the legs kind of felt like a wriggly goldfish coming out! “Body is out”, I said with relief. My midwife scooted my babe up and under me and I looked down to find out I had a daughter!
I turned over onto my back and she latched straight away. My midwife said I was a natural. I snorted and said “You should have seen me struggle last time”. At our request, we waited for minutes and minutes before inviting my husband to cut the cord because I wanted a delayed cord clamp to ensure the baby got all the blood. It was an incredible feeling to be feeding her whilst she was still receiving blood and oxygen from the cord.
I felt a serene sense of peace, strength and pride
Now it was time for the third and final stage of labour, delivering the placenta. I had thought I’d wanted the assisted third stage, where they give you an injection and they pull the placenta out. I thought I wanted it because I had it last time. I had visions of pushing for ages without it and I knew that it reduces the risk of blood loss. No-one until this point had suggested that I deliver the placenta naturally until another midwife walked in with the injection and my midwife turned to me and said “It’s completely up to you of course, but would you like to try to deliver the placenta naturally?”. I was surprised because all other midwives I had seen tended to favour the injection and this was the one thing that I never really questioned.
My midwife explained that I had lost very little blood. I had trusted my body up to this point and I was considered low risk. She said that if my blood loss increased in an hour, she would watch me and just give me the injection anyway. I trusted her completely and we sent the injection packing! It was 15 minutes later, when I was busy feeding our new baby girl that I felt a tiny urge to push and with a very lazy, tiny push, my placenta fell out just like that!
My daughter was 9lb 3oz with a 98% centile head (meaning only 2 babies out of 100 have a bigger head and my son was the same). She was a pound lighter than my son even though she was nearly two weeks ‘overdue’. This is likely explained by her being 6cm shorter than my son was at birth! She seemed so dinky to me.
I had no intervention, no pain relief with lasting effects and my blood loss was minimal. Unlike last time, I had no wires coming out of me and unlike last time, my baby was feeding like a pro. I ate tea and toast with gusto, had a bath, hugged my midwife with heartfelt thanks and left within four hours to go home and introduce brother to sister. I did have a second degree tear but this time, it didn’t even hurt. I didn’t feel it happen, the stitching up stung a bit but it healed without any pain or discomfort. I’m amazed because last time my stitches were agonising.
I did it. I overcame my the birth trauma from my first birth just like that. All the memories and tears about my first birth were now remembered without pain for the very first time. Also for the first time, I understood what women mean when they call birth an incredible experience. I never thought I’d say that.