As my due date for number two creeps ever closer I can’t help but look back on my first labour and wonder if it will be similar. So, as this time three years ago I was in the throes of labour, I thought today would be a good day to share with you my first birth story – because who doesn’t love a good birth story?
To be frank, I’ve always been pretty petrified of childbirth – I have a very low pain threshold, and for years I was convinced that I would never have children because it wasn’t something I wanted to go through. So throughout my pregnancy the worry about the labour was always at the back of my mind. Luckily I think your body pumps so many hormones into you, that as the due date approached, I probably worried about it less than I had in the build up. However, I was very concerned about the baby’s back to back position, as I’d read back to back labours were typically very lengthy and very painful. I spent hours bouncing on the birthing ball and doing various exercises to try and make the baby move, but I had no idea whether they’d been successful or not.
My attitude towards the birth was always fairly laid back in terms of a plan. I had a vague idea that I’d like to use the birthing pool, if it was available, but I also felt that if the pain was too much (and I was pretty sure it would be), that I would be wanting an epidural. But ultimately, I didn’t want to go into things with too much of an expectation of how it would go.
Early labour – the waiting game
It all started at the start of my 39th week of pregnancy when we were having our new front door fitted – the final stage in a fairly lengthy and stressful house renovation. I remember being up and down a lot of the day, fetching cups of tea for the two men who were fitting the door. It was when I sat down on the sofa once they’d gone, breathing a sigh of relief, that I realised I’d been having on and off cramps for the last few hours. I’d not taken too much notice at first – pregnancy is full of strange twinges, and no-one ever really tells you what contractions will feel like! I’d expected something more like the braxton hicks tightenings that I’d had previously, but this was a very familiar pain – just like period pain, but which eased off and then came back 10 minutes later.
I texted my husband – “I think I’m in labour!”, but as is typical with him and work, he didn’t respond. As things certainly weren’t ramping up quickly and, as a first time mum, you are told to expect things to take ages, I followed up with, “What do you fancy for dinner?”. Still no response until about an hour later when he was leaving work, where he just responded to my dinner question – no mention of being in labour at all! Through the door he came, and still no mention – he’d not bothered to read that message! I think we had a few words at that point about the importance of reading messages! Still, I was pretty chilled out at this point, and we just got on with dinner and then watched Game of Thrones, while I bounced on the birthing ball, trying out the Tens machine for the first time.
It was a fairly uncomfortable night and I don’t remember getting much sleep. But the Tens machine was a good distraction from the pain. The contractions continued to come throughout the night, getting closer and closer together, and in the morning they’d got to the point where they were 5 minutes apart. Time to phone the maternity ward!
On phoning, I was told that the contractions didn’t sound strong enough to come in, and that they would want them to have been 5 minutes apart for at least an hour before coming in anyway. I think my heart probably sank a bit at that news, because after that phone call they started to get less regular, back to 8 minutes apart, and then 10.
Here we go!
The contractions continued throughout the day, and I remember enjoying a fabulous hot bath, which really eased off the pain. Until at 2am we decided that they’d been back to 5 minutes apart for a while and were definitely getting stronger – time to call again! This time we were told we could come in if we wanted and they would check things over, but to be prepared to be sent home again. So off we went to hospital! The drive wasn’t the best – we live about a 35 minute drive from the hospital, and my husband helpfully chose a route which took us over lots of speed bumps – every bump was not well received by me!
Eventually we arrived at the hospital and were shown to a room for examination. I remember being surprised when after examination the midwife said I was 4.5cm dilated so could stay! We hadn’t even brought our bags in from the car! At this point I asked her what position the baby was in, was he still back to back? And her response was “why do you care? Do you feel the pain in your back?” To which the answer was no – the pain was all at the front, not in the back at all, and pretty manageable still at this point. But she did confirm that he was still back to back, and I still had that concern that I had a very difficult labour ahead of me.
We were shown to our room, and pretty much left to it. My midwife would pop in occasionally and check we were doing ok and just perform a few checks. It became apparent that my heart rate was very fast, so she put an IV in my hand with fluids, which then ruled out the use of the birthing pool which I’d hoped might be a possibility. But things were still moving along ok and I felt I was doing really well, having the occasional gasp of gas and air.
4 hours after our admission, and it was time for another check to see how much progress I’d made. You can imagine how gutted I was when it was pronounced I was now 4cm – I’d been 4.5cm 4 hours earlier! The midwife went outside for a quick chat and then came back in to say that if I was happy, she’d like to break my waters to see if that sped things up at all. I remember always being fairly queasy about that prospect, but it’s amazing the things that don’t bother you once you’re in labour! They broke with a pop, not painful at all, but it was right after that that everything ramped up about 10 gears in terms of pain! I remember with that first contraction after the waters had gone saying “I can’t do this!” and asking for an epidural. I must have started taking much more of the gas and air too, because it’s from this point on that everything starts to get pretty hazy!
The next thing I remember is the anaesthetist turning up, and hearing him exclaim how he’d performed 6 epidurals today (and me thinking “isn’t that your job?” – hopefully not out loud, but who knows!). Maybe I did say it out loud, because he proclaimed that it looked like it was too late for an epidural as it looked like I was ready to push.
“Are you feeling like you need to push?” the midwife asked. I remember thinking “how the hell do I know?”, but it was clearly decided for me that I was ready and off he went, no seventh epidural for him! The next half hour is a total blur for me, the next thing I remember is lying on the bed, the midwife taking away my gas and air, and telling me “not screaming, pushing!” – clearly I wasn’t doing it right! There was a searing pain, the midwife headed to a cupboard to get something, but in that moment clearly I’d grasped how to push, because out he came in one push!
That moment when Max was placed into my arms is one of the most amazing, and yet surreal moments of my life. One minute he’d just been an abstract thing, but here was a real life baby, a little being that we’d made, that I’d delivered – I felt like superwoman! My little stranger, and yet somehow as soon as he was here it was like he’d been here forever. It was while I was holding him in my arms that the midwife said “Now’s about the time your epidural would have kicked in!”
The emotional rollercoaster after labour is one of the most intense things – one moment I felt on top of the world and on a complete adrenaline high, the next I felt completely overwhelmed and like I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Which kind of set me up well for the emotional rollercoaster of motherhood I guess!
Despite my fear of a back to back labour, the reality wasn’t actually as bad as I’d thought it might be. I have to admit that I’ll be hoping for a similarly smooth labour this time around too – fingers crossed!