I feel so incredibly proud of myself, of Tom, my Mum, Kay and of Hugo. Together we were just the perfect team and the birth allowed all my dreams of my perfect family to come true.
It was my last day at work before I was starting full maternity leave. By midday, I started feeling a little ‘off’, but I just assumed it was because I had been very active that day and by this point I was 37+3 weeks pregnant. However, by about 3pm, the Braxton Hicks, which I’d been getting for the last few months, started to hurt a bit. I had a meeting booked at 4pm, by which point I was pretty certain I was going into labour, so I cancelled the meeting and drove home. By the time I got in the car, I was sure that these Braxton Hicks were actually the start of contractions; they were painful (in comparison to Braxton Hicks) and coming consistently around every 10 minutes. They were totally manageable and as I drove home I was just extremely excited, but still wondering whether I was imagining the whole thing as I had been convinced I still had at least 3 weeks left!
I phoned Tom on the way home to tell him I thought I was in labour. By the time I got home, he had inflated the birth pool, which luckily Kay, our midwife, had delivered the week before. Tom needed to go and get some taps and other supplies, so we phoned my Mum to come round. Mum and I then got everything ready that we could think of – packed a hospital bag just in case, decorated the ‘birth space’ with candles, photographs and other objects, put pads and nappies and toiletries in all the bathrooms, and got towels down from upstairs. Mum cooked a pizza which I happily ate. The contractions were totally manageable but getting more frequent, so at 6:30pm I phoned Kay to let her know.
Kay advised me to sit tight and phone her again in a few hours if the contractions got stronger or more frequent. At 9:30pm I went to the loo, and when I turned round and looked in the mirror I could see a significant purple line – I knew this was related to cervix dilation and I was just so excited that things were progressing! By 10pm, I text Kay to tell her that I was now having 3 contractions in 10 minutes, and could she come over. I was breathing through the contractions calmly and peacefully, with Tom reminding me to relax on each one. It was just as I had imagined it.
Kay arrived at 10pm and quietly observed me, the atmosphere was so calm; the living room was dimly lit and just so peaceful. The room smelled of the lavender oil I was burning and I also had some on a tissue to help me relax. Soon after I started using the TENS machine, which really helped me to get into a rhythm with the contractions and gave me something to focus on. Kay checked Hugo’s heartbeat and constantly reassured me that he was doing great. At 11:30pm, Kay said she would examine me if I wanted her to, but we both agreed that this wasn’t necessary at this stage. Mum and Tom were constantly telling me how amazingly I was doing and Tom was talking me through each contraction, saying things like ‘relax’, and ‘breathe darling’. It was blissful and I felt confident and on top of things.
Just after midnight things started feeling like they were ramping up, it was much harder to stay calm and relaxed through the contractions and I was now moaning and groaning rather than breathing through them. Hugo felt so low down and almost like he was pushing downwards – I really felt like it wouldn’t be long.
By 1am my contractions felt very strong, I was having 3 in 10 minutes of about 45 seconds each. I was getting teary from the intensity. Kay suggested it might be time to get into the pool. After a quick trip to the loo, we removed the TENS machine and got into the pool. It was instant bliss! The warmth and buoyancy of the water felt absolutely incredible. I felt weightless, relaxed and calm again. I went into a dream like state for a while, the contractions were still strong but they just felt so much more manageable. Tom fell asleep at the side of the pool whilst still holding onto my hand – he felt bad but I was coping well and I told him this was a good time for him to rest.
By 2:15am I was very sleepy in between contractions, they were getting significantly more painful again, so I asked Kay if I could now use the gas and air. By 4am, I was struggling saying ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’. The Entonox was helping a bit but not as much as I’d hoped. Tom helped me with some visualisations; he encouraged me to think about our chalet in France with him and Hugo, having come back from a day’s skiing to a lovely steak dinner and the three of us out on the balcony looking out onto the mountains. Even now writing this that image brings tears to my eyes because it is everything I have wanted and Tom knew that this would help focus me again.
By 4:30am my back was really hurting, things didn’t seem to be progressing so I decided it was time to get out of the pool. Kay said that the 2nd stage didn’t seem imminent and if I’d like, she could examine me. I agreed. Firstly, she felt my tummy; Hugo was cephalic and deeply engaged, which was great. However, when she examined my cervix it was only 3cm dilated. She noted that it was centrally effaced, thickish, soft and loosely applied. She said that my waters were intact, and that Hugo’s position wasn’t completely clear. She said I was in the latent stage of labour. I was gutted by this news, I really thought I was already near the end. Kay reassured me that this was completely normal for a first labour, that she had no concerns whatsoever and that perhaps we should go upstairs and see if we could get some rest.
At 5:30am, Tom and I went up to bed and Kay rested on the sofa downstairs, whilst Mum went home for a few hours. We took the entonox canister with us so I slept in between every contraction and then used the gas and air to cope during each one. They were still just as regular as before according to Tom but it felt like I was sleeping for at least 15 minutes in between, which I suppose was a good thing!
By 8:30am, I felt I needed to go downstairs and Kay went out to get us some bread and jam to have some toast for breakfast. I had toast as well as a lemon and honey drink which was just lovely. Kay suggested I do a urine sample and said she could do another examination if I’d like, which I agreed to. I hadn’t planned to have any examinations and I know it is not Kay’s normal practice if it is not necessary, but I just felt I needed to know whether things were moving along.
As soon as I saw the urine stick I thought there might be a problem as it was coming up purple, Kay explained that this showed there were ketones in my urine and said that it was important that I try to drink fluids. However, by this stage I was really struggling with the idea of food and I wasn’t really ‘with it’ to understand why this was important. At 9:50am, Kay examined me again. My cervix was now soft and stretchy but I was still only 3cm, the same dilation as I had been 5 hours before. I was absolutely devastated to hear this, I felt I couldn’t go on and couldn’t believe all that time had passed and I hadn’t made any ‘progress’. I couldn’t bear the idea of going to hospital as I was so worried it would lead to intervention. In the simplistic way in which my brain was working at the time, I was convinced this would mean I would end up having a C-section. Kay assured me this wouldn’t be the case, and if I wanted to go to hospital, she would come with us and advocate for me. We all agreed that transferring would be the right thing to do; I was desperate not to, but I just felt I needed to have some other options nearby, particularly some pain relief.
Kay phoned the MLU who agreed to admit me, and she explained to me that we could all calmly drive there rather than call an ambulance, as there was no emergency. At 10:20am, we drove to the hospital. The drive was difficult to manage but I had my gas and air and was quicker than I thought. When we got onto the hospital grounds, I made Tristan pull over during every contraction, because the idea of him going over a speed bump during one was more than I could bear!
At 11:10, we were taken into Room 7 in the MLU Having tried to eat one of the fruit pastels that Kay had bought me, I managed to be sick everywhere. The midwives made me feel that it was no problem at all, and we moved to another room. There was a lovely beanbag on the floor which Tom was very grateful for! I was given a dose of pethidine at 11:50am. I really don’t feel it made a particular difference other than making me a bit more ‘out of it’. I had been sick a number of times and in the end they resorted syringing honey into my mouth as it was the only thing I could keep down.
At 3pm, the NHS midwives offered for Kay to examine me again for continuity, and by this time I was 5cm. Kay said that Hugo’s head was very low and she could feel the sac bulging. As this now counted as ‘active labour’ we moved for a third time so that I could be in one of the rooms with a pool. I don’t think I was particularly aware that I had now moved into active labour, or even that I had moved rooms, as my thoughts weren’t lucid. I had definitely moved into a more ‘animalistic’ way of thinking. At the time this made me feel a little out of control but looking back, I think it was a necessary part of the birth process; pulling me out of my ‘thinking’ brain and letting my body do what it needed to do.
At 3:30pm, I asked if I could use the pool; I needed 4 hours to let the pethidine wear off so they prepared the pool and I got in at 4pm. Again, it felt nice to get in the pool, but certainly wasn’t the total relief that it was before. By this point I wasn’t really aware who was there but I know that Tom, Mum and Kay all took it in turns to be with me in between having some time to rest. To be honest, it wouldn’t really have mattered who was with me – I was in my own world! But I did feel their presence which was comforting. I felt extremely drowsy and was resting myself in between each contraction still.
I had been begging Tom to give me some relief and let me have an epidural for hours. I just felt it had been going on for so long, and I had no idea if the end was even in sight. I was worried that eventually I would give up and have the epidural, and then all of pain would have been for nothing as I could have just had it to start with. To be honest, if there had been a needle right there I would have probably put it in my back myself. The thought of actually dragging myself upstairs to the labour ward was almost worse than continuing in the pain I was in! There was a point where I felt particularly conscious after begging for the epidural as I remember Kay and Tom’s words quite vividly: Kay had said to me that we could go any time and get the epidural if that’s what I really wanted, but that she didn’t think this actually was what I wanted. Then Tom’s words also really resonated with me when he said that I could have the epidural if I wanted, but ‘future Abbie will be so glad if you decide not to have it’. I knew he was right, and sort of gave up on the idea after that. I must have said ‘I can’t do it’ about a million times, but each time Tom, my Mum or Kay told me I can and I am doing it. Tom even said to me ‘you said that 24 hours ago and yet here you are still!’
I got out of the pool a little while later, and one of the other midwives, Pat, offered to examine me. She suggested quite strongly that she also break my waters to get things moving. I really didn’t want this at this stage and Kay supported me, saying that on average this only shortens the labour by a small amount anyway. I was really trying to avoid intervention if possible, so I was pleased that we made this decision. Pat examined me and said I was now 7cm, although I don’t remember this at all. I do remember that during the examination she did a sweep, which I hadn’t really asked for but by this point I didn’t really care too much or know what was going on. It had taken all my mental energy to say no to the breaking of the waters.
I was feeling very wet down below and wondered if my waters had broken. When I went to the loo, it was clear that I had lost my ‘plug’, as I had lots of mucus coming out. I was disappointed again, because I was sure my waters had broken on their own, but this wasn’t the case. The NHS midwives changed shift again at 8pm.
At 3:40am in the morning, one of the new midwives, Jane, offered to examine me again. This time I was 9cm. She offered to break my waters, and as I was now nearly fully dilated, I felt that this was something I could now agree to. Jane broke the waters which I had imagined would be horrible but I actually remember a real sense of relief and release, as well as the comfort of how warm the waters were.
I was on the bed on my side for a while as I felt this was all I could cope with. Tom was trying to help me to use the gas and air more effectively, as I was waiting until I was a little way into the contraction before using it. He was trying to get me to start using it as soon as I felt the contraction coming. He also kept telling me off because I was pushing the mouthpiece so hard against my front teeth rather than putting my mouth around it as the pain was just so intense!
Throughout the whole time, the midwives kept checking Hugo’s heartbeat and it was always perfect. I suppose that’s what allowed the NHS midwives to be willing to let me continue in the MLU rather than ‘go upstairs’, the dreaded words that I kept playing over in my head.
At around 4am, Kay suggested we should try and ramp up the contractions a little more in order to move things along and suggested we go for a walk. The thought of anything ramping up was unbearable to me as this was the worst pain I could ever imagine. But I trusted Kay and did what she said. We walked up and down the corridor twice; quite the marathon. After we returned the first time, I was mortified when Kay suggested we went up and down a second time! Tom carried the entonox canister with us, and on each contraction I would hold onto the wall, have Tom basically in a headlock, and just screamed like an animal! I felt very sorry for anyone in the other rooms but the noises were involuntary and I just had no choice.
When I returned to the room I lay back down. At 4:50am I was examined and was still 9cm. Looking back the contractions started to change here; the midwives kept asking me if I felt ‘pushy’ but I couldn’t get my thoughts together to consider if this was the case.
By 5am, after hours and hours of checking myself to see if I could feel the head, there it was! With fully stretched fingers, I could just about feel the top of Hugo’s slimy, hard little head, and then everything changed for me. Now I knew I was progressing, now I knew that the end was in sight, and so although this was of course the most painful part, psychologically I was ready for it, and I started pushing. The intensity of stretching to accommodate the head was unbelievably intense. I kept thinking that I couldn’t stretch any further, but then of course I did. I wanted the contractions to get closer together so that I didn’t have to wait in between them whilst being in such pain from the stretching.
Tom had taken his top off ready for skin to skin and to make me feel more at home with him from the smell of his skin; this really worked. I was kneeling on the bed, facing the headboard and holding onto the top of it. I knelt up in between contractions and knelt down to push with my arms above my head, hands gripped to the top of the bed. I don’t remember deciding to get into this position, it just seemed totally instinctive.
At 6:18am Hugo was finally born. I now know that he had turned to a posterior position, meaning his back was to my back and he came out looking upwards. This did a lot to explain the long and intense labour. He also came out with his arm above his head, which unfortunately caused me to tear in two places. I felt the upwards tear very vividly as he slid out of me – but did I care – no! My first thought was just ‘thank god that is over!’ And then ‘Oh my God, my baby is here’. It was instant relief from the pain.
I don’t remember if he cried, but I remember that the midwife passed him through my legs and I picked up his slimy little body which was covered in blood and vernix, and I held him to my chest. I instantly had a rush of adrenaline and was wide awake, telling him ‘It’s OK, Mummy’s got you’. My Mum later told me that it was amazing to watch after all those hours of being drowsy and ‘out of it’ that I then became totally switched on and was instantly his mother. They offered for Tom to catch Hugo on his way out, which he did but then freaked out a little so Jane the midwife took over. Kay told me that he came out up to his shoulder with his arm above his head on the penultimate contraction, and then it was on the final one that he slid out.
One of the midwives suggested that I put him down on the bed to look at him, which I did, and I just couldn’t believe it. I’m not quite sure what it was I was expecting, but the fact that there was a little baby there, my little perfect, beautiful baby, was just astonishing to me.
We settled into the bed and within 15 minutes Hugo was licking and nuzzling my breast and then started feeding. Once the cord had stopped pulsing, it was time to cut it, and as Tom and I both agreed we weren’t too fussed for him to do this, we offered Mum the chance to cut it. She was honoured. Tom held Hugo skin-to-skin whilst I focussed on delivering the placenta, which happened naturally, an hour later on the dot.
The days that ensued involved Hugo and I needing a little bit of help in hospital, but this was absolutely fine, and in fact it was quite nice to know we were being looked after at all times.
I felt quite upset about the birth initially. I felt like I had been out of control, a million miles from the calm goddess breathing out her baby which I had imagined I was going to be. I worried that everyone had watched me act in an awful, animalistic way and I had barely any recollection of any of it. It felt a bit like going and getting really drunk, and then wondering the next day how you behaved and knowing everyone else remembers it but you. I felt guilty that I had asked for an epidural so many times. However, as time has gone on, I realise it actually was a beautiful and amazing experience. I managed to birth my baby without any major intervention, despite him being in a difficult position. I managed to get through it without an epidural, meaning that Hugo and I could experience all the benefits of a totally natural birth. I was worried about not being in control, but Kay assured me that a woman isn’t really in control during labour, certainly not in her ‘thinking brain’, but that this is totally necessary to birth your baby. I started to realise she was right. I now feel so incredibly proud of myself, of Tom, my Mum, Kay and of Hugo. Together we were just the perfect team and the birth allowed all my dreams of my perfect family to come true.