21st December 2009
The birth of my first son started at 11.45pm on December 21st 2009 when my waters broke suddenly and dramatically during a marathon gift-wrapping session on my bedroom floor. As I dashed to the bathroom to remove my sodden clothes, any dreams of a natural birth were shattered because far from being clear and runny my waters were a thick green gloopy mess. I knew instantly that the baby had passed meconium – a fairly good indication that he was already in distress. There would be no birthing ball for me. No birthing pool. No mooing over the mantelpiece whilst swinging my hips from side to side. Nope. My fate was sealed.
22nd December 2009
Confined to a hospital bed and strapped to a monitor, the hours passed slowly and, despite experiencing moderately painful contractions, I failed to dilate beyond 1cm. Twelve hours after arriving at the hospital (and still only1cm dilated) I was given an epidural and a hefty dose of Syntocinon to ‘get things moving’. Three hours (and a relaxing snooze) later I pushed baby Elliot into the world.
On the whole I was happy with the way things went. The nurses did what they had to do and what was right for my unborn child. Yet I secretly wished it could have been different; that I could have experienced a natural birth rather than relying on the drugs to do most of the work. It all just seemed too ... well, too easy! Moreover, I felt like a failure. Because, during those few hours before the epidural when I could still feel my contractions, I was in so much pain I wondered if I’d have managed a natural birth anyway!
Fast forward two and a half years ...
Thursday 31st May 2012
I was four days overdue with my second son and feeling pretty fed up so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I’d been given a small bottle of Clary Sage Oil by a friend. “It helps induce labour when you inhale it and makes the contractions more effective when you rub it on your belly,” she told me. Willing to try anything, I poured half of it in the bath then waited. Two hours later, and with no signs of labour, I instigated some under-the-duvet-action with my husband. According to my midwife, the prostaglandins in a man’s semen were “proven” to kick-start labour in late pregnancy.
It worked. At 2am I woke up with amniotic fluid gushing everywhere. Hurray for Clary Sage Oil! And hurray for my husband’s prostaglandins!
Friday 1st June 2012
Like with Elliot’s labour, the first contraction occurred around 10 to 15 minutes after my waters broke which was pretty useful – just enough time to clear up the mess before heading off to the hospital! This time round, of course, we had to figure out what to do with our two year old son. Our nearest family member being over 200 miles away, a number of friends had offered to take him when things kicked off. But at 2 o’clock in the morning it suddenly felt quite wrong to be calling any of them. By the time I’d plucked up the courage to pick up the phone and finally settled my confused and tearful toddler into a strange new bed, it was 3 o’clock. We arrived at the hospital half an hour later.
The triage nurse was waiting for us and luckily, although she was expecting a number of other labouring mothers, we were the first to arrive. She quickly hooked me up to a monitor to assess how my labour was progressing. At this point my contractions were fairly regular so I requested an internal examination. She explained that she was happy to do this, however, given how well I seemed to be coping with the pain I was probably still in the early stages of labour, possibly even only 1 or 2cm dilated. I was happy to accept her opinion and had no reason to doubt her. She then sent us home and told us to come back when the contractions were 3 minutes apart and lasting 40 seconds or more.
The journey home wasn’t pleasant. From the moment I climbed into the car, my contractions seemed much stronger and scarily already much closer. But, with the midwife’s words still ringing in my ears (only 1cm dilated) I made a conscious decision not to make a fuss. I didn’t want anyone to think I was being a wimp!
We arrived home and between contractions I managed to do a load of washing and make a cup of tea. For the next hour I sat in front of the sofa on my son’s space hopper (a cheap and cheerful alternative to the birthing ball) timing my contractions whilst enjoying some toddler-free TV. I wasn’t concerned that my contractions were only three minutes apart and lasting 40 seconds because, whilst very uncomfortable, they weren’t unbearable. They didn’t make me want to scream. I wasn’t ‘out of control’ or clawing at the floor on all fours. In fact I was quite enjoying the experience. It seemed somehow magical; just me and my unborn child slowly inching our way towards our first cuddle.
After approximately an hour of samey contractions, something changed. Instead of the usual three minutes, my next contraction came after five minutes and it quite literally paralyzed me. It was worse than the others. Much worse. And then another gush of water. Shaking like a leaf, I shouted for my sleeping husband to come downstairs and after a quick change of clothes and a last minute cuddle we headed off to the hospital again. This time the contractions felt like they were only seconds apart and every bump in the road triggered an excruciating wave of pain. I prayed that I was dilated enough not to be sent home again.
At the hospital we were shown to a delivery suite and told to wait for the midwife. “If she tells me I’m only 1cm dilated I’ll cry,” I whispered to my husband. Moments later a young midwife entered the room. It was clear that it had been a long night for her. She looked exhausted and had clearly just been in surgery as she was still wearing her surgical hat. She sat on the edge of the bed and yawned her way through the usual questions: How regular are your contractions? How painful are they on a scale of 1 to 10? Has it been a straightforward pregnancy ...
I was still expecting her to tell me that I was only 3cm dilated when, out of nowhere I got a massive contraction and an overriding need to push. The midwife suddenly looked wide awake and pleaded with me not to push until she could examine me. But before she could get her gloves on, I’d started pushing. There was absolutely no way I could stop myself.
The midwife yelled at Robin to press the red button on the wall next to him. I panicked. Something had gone wrong! But nothing had. After 40 weeks and 4 days my baby was in a hurry to get out and the midwife simply needed the assistance of a colleague to deliver him.
The most unexpected part of labour for me was the sensation you get when the baby passes through your birth canal. In short, it feels like you’re having a poo. This took me completely by surprise. In that moment, high on gas and air, I managed to convince myself that I had somehow gotten it wrong; that I wasn’t having a baby but the biggest dump of my life. And I was horrified. How could I have gotten it so wrong? I’d be very surprised if the entire wing didn’t hear me frantically shouting, at the top of my voice, “I’m having a poo! It’s just a poo!” as my poor baby prepared to enter the world.
It took the midwife several attempts to convince me that I was having a baby and not a poo by which time I’d reached the point of no return: the baby’s head had crowned.
I was now gripped by a burning pain followed by an instinctive urge to reach down and press the tip of my baby’s head; perhaps a subconscious desire to control the delivery? Who knows, but when the midwife asked me to remove my hand I couldn’t. It was like it was stuck there. Likewise, when the midwife told me to push through pain I couldn’t. It took me two more contractions before I gathered the strength both physically and emotionally to push the baby’s head out. It stung like crazy but the worst of the pain lasted only a couple of seconds and before I knew it, 8lbs 4oz Brody Sullivan Huffer was born.
I was in complete shock! I couldn’t believe he was here already and that I had given birth to him with hardly any pain relief. I felt unbelievably proud, excited and relieved. On my request I fed and cuddled him for five minutes before cutting the umbilical cord myself. Unfortunately, the speed of the delivery meant that the baby needed checking out by a paediatrician but he was quickly given a clean bill of health.
I always imagined the placenta would follow the baby out almost unnoticed. But, after several minutes I found myself once again gripped by a massive contraction and the overwhelming urge to push. For a moment I was totally panic stricken. Was I having another baby??! No one had warned me that the placenta would be so difficult or painful to deliver. It took several contractions and a few puffs of gas and air to push it out!
It was ironic that after delivering Brody (and the placenta) I should fall apart at the final hurdle: the stitches. I didn’t need many, but I still required numbing and when the midwife came towards my private parts with the needle I burst into tears. Luckily she was extremely patient and sympathetic and twenty minutes later I was enjoying a cup of tea and a slice of toast whilst texting family and friends as if Brody had simply been left at the end of my bed by The Stork.
All in all it was my dream labour. Quick and pretty much as nature intended. I feel blessed to have been able to experience two very different, but ultimately successful labours. And even more blessed to have two healthy happy sons.