Third time on the whirl and this birth story I totally had in the bag, surely?! It was written before it even happened. I’d had a straightforward, if long, first labour in hospital followed by an ‘almost’ straightforward, if long, labour at home with my second. The writing was on the wall for my third and I assumed all I had to do was sit out the length, go with it and make everyone dance to my tune. I knew my body better than anyone else right? This time I wasn’t going to be cajoled into hospital too early as I had been with my daughter and neither was I going to have unnecessary monitoring meaning I might have a fight on my hands to get home again as I had done with my son. I was going to tell them all what was happening and make them listen to me.
Oh, and I was going to be calm about it too.
i was good at labour, i loved labour, roll on birth story number 3
There’s no feeling like the moment you push a baby out of your body and that superhuman strength which has taken over you turns into a superhuman sense of achievement, frankly, I couldn’t wait! I’d long felt sorry for the women who’d ‘given’ in early and ended up with C-sections, believing they’d never truly know what a ‘proper’ labour felt like and considering them all the poorer for it. I was smug. That’s what I was in essence and I had no idea. None at all. Third time on the whirl and you might consider yourself a pro, I know I did. But there’s a very fine line between confidence and arrogance and thankfully, a whole NHS team at my local hospital who were prepared to look past the latter.
Everything had been different about my third pregnancy, from feeling sick all the way through when I’d never so much as felt off colour with the others, to the fact I’d gone past my due date when both my older babies had been born a week early. I don’t know why I’d expected the labour to be so conformist to my previous experiences but I was absolutely convinced it would go like this: Labour long and hard and eventually give birth with no drugs. And that was it. Oh, and I was going to do it at home, of course, no intervention and a candle burning that I’d spent ages choosing. What could possibly go wrong?!
My waters went on the Friday morning as I stepped over the threshold of my local Mothercare. My Mum and I had popped into the store after our aqua aerobics class (which is probably what got things moving) to choose the baby an outfit for a wedding the following weekend and on the way into the shop, it happened. The staff were lovely and cleaned it all up, I guess used to it happening on a reasonably frequent basis, and after I’d bought some pads and sorted myself out (luckily we were in the right shop) we got back to the clothing, chose an outfit for a girl (as I assumed I was having based on nothing other than a ‘feeling’) and a ‘just in case’ for a boy before we went about our day.
My Mum wanted me to call the midwife but I knew it would be ages before anything meaningful happened and I assured her I’d got it all underhand.
We went shopping some more, popped home, picked the big kids up and waited for Jonny to come home from work before going out for some tea. Then, over a burger and laughter at the situation of us going to have a baby ‘any minute’, I began to feel the contractions starting. Oh yes... Here they are I thought. I know this one. And I’m ok. Really I am.
time to call the cavalry!
The midwife was called when we got home, just to check in really and I explained that I knew I wouldn’t need to see her until tomorrow. That I was fine. That this would go on a bit... I was in control. I was ahead of the game. I was on top of everything! She seemed very concerned (I wasn’t) that my waters had gone 12 hours earlier and I wasn’t in hospital to be examined but agreed I could wait until the morning and bid me a good night. And I slept well knowing I had a marathon in front of me, I was doing all the right things!
It was no surprise to me by morning that the contractions had stopped and I was back to absolutely nothing because THIS is what my body did; I was just happy to be confirming all my predictions and proving myself right. The midwife was more anxious, she wanted me to go in for a trace and exam so badly that when she came out to see me with a colleague, I agreed, with a roll of my eyes, that I would. Just to assuage her you see.
I had no doubt that I would get into labour on my own and every fear that hospital would try and keep me for invasive interference but I agreed knowing I had the sass to walk out if I wanted to. I was bold. I was angry. I knew what I wanted and I wanted them all to know it. They monitored and let me out with advice that I was doing the wrong thing but I knew myself, I knew my body and I knew my labours. THEY did not...
Saturday afternoon and the labour was at a standstill but this is what I expected right?! I So I went for a walk to get things on the go and I borrowed a friend’s birthing ball. I walked and bounced and bounced and walked all day. I kept active. I kept moving. But nothing. Nothing at all. By Saturday evening the midwives were getting a little bit annoying and felt unable to leave me alone. I agreed, reluctantly, to another trip into hospital on Sunday morning if nothing had happened through the night – they were being such worriers and seemingly wanted to completely ignore the fact I KNEW WHAT I WAS DOING!
So confident, so full of it and so in control. Or so I thought... Meet me in part two to find out just how ahead of the game I really was and meet a humbler me by the end of it perhaps?
The thing about having babies is that we rarely could have so many that we’d become a labour expert. Midwives have to deliver 40 children before they get their midwife wings so giving birth to two doesn’t really have you high up on the list of pro experts! Funnily enough though, while in labour for the third time, I thought I knew it all and when I promised my hospital I’d be back in the morning if nothing had progressed, trying my darndest for a home birth, I truly believed I knew what I was doing!
“Wise people understand the need to consult experts; only fools are confident they know everything.”
― Ken Poirot, author
Morning came and we were all systems go! So see! That’s what I told them, ‘see, I told you I knew best’ and when I lay in the bath early doors and before the rest of my house had got up with my candle burning, I pushed the pain away with my mind, knowing my baby was going to come that day. Not suspecting, KNOWING, because like I said, I knew what I was doing right?!
And then everything stopped. That wasn’t expected. But ok... Ok, I could deal with that I’d thought. It will all ramp up again. It’s unlikely to be EXACTLY the same and this is the ‘same sort of thing’. Keep going. Keep going. The midwives encouraged me in for another exam and trace. I wasn’t happy and I let them know it but I went under pressure and came home again as quickly as they’d allow. Even though they said it had all gone on too long I just felt that because they didn’t know me they couldn’t possibly understand. I knew me, I just knew! And I knew I’d go into labour properly, I just had to be left alone.
I agreed that I’d go back in for a third exam that evening and after some more stop-starts that’s what I did but that fight to get home was in me strong. I just didn’t want people mucking about with me and yet again, against advice, I went home to try one more time! The cut-off point was 10pm, I’d given it to myself and promised I’d be back if I had to. If I absolutely HAD to!
Then, a few hours later, by luck or sheer determination, I had some solid contractions coming every three minutes. I called the hospital triumphantly and asked for the home birth team to be sent. YES! I’d won. I knew it. I’d known it! I knew my body and they did not! I knew what I was doing right?!
As soon as they arrived my contractions stopped. Mother of sweet... I didn’t know what was happening, why wasn’t it going to plan? I was so confused and tired and upset... I just wanted my baby and the euphoria of giving birth and I felt like it was slipping away from me. I was feeling totally and utterly useless at this point and when they were gentle but firm with me that it was time to go in I had to concede and do as I was told.
The midwife in my living room said she had prepared the best room in the house for me. She’d put twinkly lights up and told me I’d feel at home, she said she’d be with me every step of the way. I felt wounded everywhere from my hope to my pride and as Jonny drove me in I wept. It was a perfect Mickey take when I had to grip onto the wall of the hospital on my way in, as if the baby was about to drop out of me there and then, after all, that dilly-dallying but true to form the labour continued as it had started and throughout the night it started and stopped as before, only this time with monitoring.
induction on the cards and my ‘expertise’ not quite cutting it!
I agreed to an induction drip and eventually because the pain of those enhanced contractions was worse that when Jimmy had actually made his appearance in my last labour, I agreed to an epidural. I felt, again, a failure, I felt like it was a tumbling cascade of events and I had lost all my control and I wept frequently throughout the next hours despite everyone giving me many reassurances. I was just devastated that it had all spiralled and in fact I hadn’t known my own body or my own labours at all. By the time a consultant came in and said it was time for a C-section the salty drops were just falling from my eyes and I remember such odd things from that moment that all the fright of the situation disappeared in a way.
Kind faces in corridors smiling and saying good morning, it was Monday now. And a very handsome face, the Doctor, saying he would examine me one last time when I’m fully prepped and if I’m dilated enough will try forceps. Clinging onto the most natural way possible, I felt relief. He tried. It didn’t work and he told me, kindly, that though I was dilated, my cervix hasn’t shortened at all. With every contraction and every push, my baby was basically being bashed into a brick wall... The C-Section had to be...
And what happened next was very scary indeed. My husband made no jokes and the room was almost silent as I saw the baby be rushed past me. A voice escaped me that I didn’t know I owned and in this guttural, animalistic tone I told my husband to go and be with the baby. And then it all went a bit black. Faces became very serious and more silence coupled with lots more people filling the space told me all was not well. I’d lost half my blood and become quite poorly but with an amazing team of medical staff I was holding my baby boy just half an hour after he was born and with me back in the land of the living and a baby who had passed all his checks we were allowed our moment of euphoria – oh it really was euphoric.
I’d thought it mattered about being natural, I’d thought it meant something to do it without drugs and intervention. I’d thought I’d known everything actually. I had, in fact, known nothing – it was no surprise then that he wasn’t a girl at all but a darling little boy!
And nothing mattered other than he was here, he was safe and so way I. Holding my baby I realised it didn’t matter how he’d got here, just that he had; we had the rest of our lives to be sat wrapped up just us with a candle burning and this was exactly how his moment had meant to be, it was just for him. I hadn’t known what I was doing at all but the hospital staff thankfully DID and their care both then and afterwards were perfect, we are so grateful to them for the safe delivery of Raffie Rocco Cricket, our little baby boy who was rather happy to stay put thank you very much and no amount of chanting, bouncing or pushing was going to have it any other way!
Ruth Davies Knowles, writer and actress.