My birth story: part 3
After spending so much time thinking about what to pack in our hospital bag, I had no desire to partake in any of the entertainment we had loaded onto our various Apple products. I didn’t want to watch Mad Men or play Tap the Frog on my iPad. All I wanted to do was sit there, visualise lotus flowers opening with a baby’s head coming out of the middle, and relax to the smooth stylings of Tibetan bowls. I imagined holding my baby, safe in my arms. I dreamed of breastfeeding her for the first time. Could I use the power of positive thought to get my body where it needed to be?
James sat by my side for the entire day, checking baby’s heart rate monitor when he thought I wasn’t looking. There wasn’t much he could do to help, and there certainly was no opportunity to practice his NCT back massaging techniques. To keep his mind off everything, he wrote a blog post and massaged my feet.
We had done a couple of hypnobirthing sessions, but were less than disciplined about doing our visualisation homework. Juliet, our instructor, had told me about a woman who visualised her waters into breaking. I had actually been thinking a lot about waterfalls on Saturday night, so maybe it really could make a difference.
I don’t know if it worked. Maybe it was just the Sintocin. Maybe it was a combination of the two. But the baby responded better to the drug the second time around and another cervical sweep showed that I was 6cm dilated. Finally –active labour. Only 4 more centimetres to go until my body would be ready to start pushing. James and I had both taken to staring obsessively at our baby’s monitor every time I had a contraction and James started giving her encouragement to keep that heart beat above 140, cheering along like it was the Grand National.
However, we weren’t out of danger yet. Even though my body was moving in the right direction, we were still racing against the possibility of C-section if the baby suddenly started having an adverse reaction. It may sound odd but a C-section would mean that I wouldn’t be able to take beautiful portraits of my daughter in my studio in a week’s time, as we had planned, and for a photographer that’s quite heartbreaking.
Gloriously, by 23:00, I was 10cm dilated. The midwife told me we’d wait another hour before we got down to the business of birthing babies, so that the baby could move down further. I should point out that the baby was still in a back-to-back position. She never moved around. When the baby is in a back-to-stomach position, she naturally would come out in the narrowest way possible, causing the least damage in her passing through. In her current position, she would be coming out with her widest part first. And as the doctor would later exclaim: “This baby has a big head!” Great. I hope it’s because she’s going to be a rocket scientist. I waited until 23:50 for my last epidural top up, to make sure it was working through the birth. The thought of any pain creeping back into the experience made me feel sick.
The problem with an epidural is that, not only does the midwife have to tell you when to push, but you also can’t really feel where you’re supposed to be pushing. My bottom was completely numb. The only bits I could detect were my feet and parts of my thighs. I had to concentrate on straining against the muscles I could feel and hope that, by pushing on those, I was also pushing on the muscles I couldn’t feel. We did some practicing beforehand and the midwife actually complimented me on my pushing. I remember turning to James, laughing, and saying weakly: “I’m a good pusher!”
We put The Sound of Music soundtrack on when it came time to get to work. As the Entreacte played and I pictured a twirling girl who would never be a nun, I swore I’d have her out by “Do-Re-Mi”. I pushed through the “Alleluia”. I grunted through “Maria”, “I Have Confidence” and “My Favourite Things”. The midwife, who was watching the monitor signalled when my contraction was beginning. Then I would take a deep breath, curl my chin down and push with all my might, as James counted to 20. I’d do this 3 times per contraction. But by “Do-Re-Mi”, still no baby.
In my NCT class, we talked about the “Cascade of Induction”. This diagram showed us that, if you were induced, then it was more likely you’d get an epidural. If you got the epidural, then it was more likely you’d need an episiotomy, which is where they cut open the vaginal opening to make room for the baby to come through. It’s a little snip snip, but it requires stitches right afterwards and takes about 10 days to heal. And finally in the cascade, if you got the episiotomy, then it was more likely you’d need forceps or ventouse.
A ventouse is a vacuum-based device that helps them suck the baby out. I didn’t really see what was going on at the business end, but I saw the doctor produce a white cup attached to a hose, reach into me (thankfully, I felt nothing), and she attached the device to the baby’s head with suction. I was then instructed to push while the doctor pulled with all her strength. James described to me that the doctor’s muscles bulged with effort, like she were in an intense tug-of-war. I was so worried that they would accidentally pull off my baby’s head, I pushed and pushed until I felt like my blood vessels were going to pop. And then suddenly, there was a big slurp and the baby was out.
In the background, Frauline Maria sang to Captain Von Trapp about how she must have done something good to deserve him. I knew exactly how she felt.
This is the point when it also became clear what had been distressing the baby in my womb, the reason why her heartbeat dipped when I contracted and why she made the meconium: there were two huge knots in her umbilical cord. As she came out, I am told, the knots pulled tight, cutting off her oxygen supply from the placenta. I remember the midwife shouting, “Oh my god!” and swiftly cutting the cord. Whenever I think about what could have happened if she hadn’t come out by that moment, I feel cold. This could have gone so horribly wrong, especially if I had followed my original birth plan. The birth that Baby and I had was the right birth for us. And I feel absolutely zero guilt about that.
As it was a ventouse delivery, the paediatrician had been brought into the room to do immediate checks on the baby. I watched as they carried my little blood and vernix covered passenger to the baby warmer. As she had done a poo while still on the inside, the doctor needed to suck any remainder from her mouth and check her over. I pushed James to go see how she was doing. Bless him, he seemed to be caught between watching after me and checking on her. I begged him go to our Baby.
I bled a lot afterwards. The medical staff seemed concerned about it, but I could only think of one thing: holding my little watermelon. They finally brought her over to me, all wrapped up in a towel, just as the Von Trapp family climbed every mountain. I gazed into her beautiful eyes for the first time and completely fell in love. She was perfect, even with a misshapen head from her traumatic delivery. She looked at me with her big glassy eyes and made little happy chirping sounds – sounds that we’ve come to love hearing her make on a daily basis. And I couldn’t quite tell through the blood still on her sensitive scalp, but was that ginger hair on my darling daughter’s head?!
My legs were still up in stirrups because they needed to sew my episiotomy wound and deliver the placenta. After the amount of drug I already had in my system, I didn’t have a problem with the injection to make my placenta come out faster (the alternative is to let the placenta come out naturally, which can take a lot longer). Taking the injection also helps to reduce bleeding, which I needed. This is the third and final stage of labour.
However, there was still one bit to come that I had been looking forward to: the breast crawl. I willed them to sew faster, so that I could have my naked daughter put onto my bare chest so she could find my breast for the first time. Babies can only see high-contrast objects when they are newborn: for example, an enlarged, dark nipple against a sea of pale skin. Skin-to-skin contact is important just after birth for a number of reasons, but most of all, because it feels nice for both mother and child. It’s a chance to bond. We had seem a film in NCT of the breast crawl, where the baby instinctively finds the breast by pushing itself up its mother’s chest, and wanted to experience it for ourselves.
The doctor finished sewing me up. Apparently, it took a little longer because I had also torn on the inside, in addition to the cut they made. I didn’t care; I just wanted to hold my baby.
Finally, I was able to extract my legs from the stirrups. James helped me strip off the hospital gown and the midwife brought Baby over to me, placing her on top of my recently vacated stomach. Baby and I stared at each other for a few seconds. James and I waited expectantly for her to start crawling. We waited about 30 seconds before the midwife picked her up and put her on my breast. Unfortunately, breast crawls are always best if they happen immediately after birth and, by this time, about three-quarters of an hour had already passed. What Baby needed was a dose of milk and I was the only one who could give it to her.
I turned on my side, so that she could get a better grip on my nipple. I absolutely loved those first moments with my daughter and husband. Despite being tired, I felt so incredibly alive.
Eventually I had to give her back so she could be weighed and measured: 7lbs 2ou. and 50cm long. I was ordered to take a shower, not just to clean off the day’s labour, but also to help me feel more human again. They moved my new family and me to a private room, so they could get my birthing suite ready for the next delivery.
After 3 years of trying to conceive, one distressingly failed attempt at IVF, many mornings of frustrated tears as yet again another period taunted me, I finally have the most wonderful baby in my arms. She has the softest red hair that I just can’t stop stroking, and the most kissable face, hands and feet. The adorable little facial expressions, including the one in mid-scream, are just so cute that I struggle to do much else than stare at her with a soppy expression on my face. The bond between us is already extraordinary and I’m so happy that my darling husband James, my perfect little Baby, and I are now are a family. There is another big soppy smile on my face as I write that: Family.
I will always be eternally grateful to the staff at Kingston Hospital for how they helped to bring Baby into the world. I cannot recommend them enough. They have been fantastic and are a great example of the NHS working well.