Saturday, 13 August 2016

My (Positive) Birth Story

Like many women, I’ve always wanted a natural, painkiller-free birth, so when my baby was ten days overdue and I was due to be induced, I was worried. In my heart I still believed the baby would come naturally, but I was beginning to have some doubts, for the first time in over nine months of low risk pregnancy, that the birth would go smoothly and be free of complications.

I walked all over Nunhead and the surrounding areas, doing lots of uphill and downhill brisk walking. This was exhausting at 41+ weeks pregnant but I was determined. In the end I think what did it was sex. I had stopped having sex in the final weeks, but after a midwife recommended it after an unsuccessful sweep, we braved it and found at my second sweep I was significantly further along. We tried it again and soon after I found myself with a stomachache and unable to sleep.

This was a usual third trimester nuisance so I didn’t recognise it as labour. I went to the loo as per usual and walked around lots in the livingroom because lying down felt too uncomfortable – I had had other nights like this. However, unlike other nights where my body eventually was too exhausted not to give in to (interrupted, uncomfortable) sleep, the stomach upset worsened and soon enough I was sat on the loo with the worst diohrrhea of my life.  I knew this was a sign of labour starting but as I’d had my bloody show several days before I didn’t get my hopes up. I was in intense discomfort at this point, but I thought it might be a combination of Braxton Hicks and tummy upset making usual pre-labour signs more uncomfortable, rather than it being the real thing. However I decided to time the ‘Braxton Hicks’ to check, and they were fortyfive seconds long and three every ten minutes – the indication to go into hospital.

My sleepy husband didn’t seem to think it was labour (this is the same husband who didn’t think my late period was due to pregnancy) and the labour ward was equally skeptical on the phone. My mind was split: on the one hand I knew the baby would come soon, on the other I didn’t want to bother my husband nor the midwives ahead of time.

I went to the living-room and continued to pace. At some point I started having to make noise during the contractions to deal with the pain. I still thought it might be stomach upset and Braxton Hicks, since they did not become more frequent nor longer, only gradually more intense. I called the labour ward again in between contractions and they asked whether the pain was unbearable, I said I didn’t know.

‘You’ll know when it’s the real thing, it’s your first baby, it’ll be ages yet.’

I got in the shower to help relieve the pain, and tried to run a bath when it felt like not enough water (our shower flow is very weak) but I was in too much pain to run the bath. I woke my husband up and asked him to run a bath for me. At this point I felt more sure that I might be in labour, because I stopped caring about bothering him and being melodramatic and just started asking for what I needed.

I also completely lost my sense of humour – you know how when you’re unwell and someone can still make you laugh, and you feel a bit better? This isn’t the case at all in labour. Just a heads up to any guys reading this who plan to relieve tension with humour when their partner goes into labour.

Nick asked me if the noises I was making helped with the pain, ‘yes,’ I answered, holding onto the bed in distress, ‘I won’t ask you to shut up then!’ he replied. I remember thinking he had no idea what was happening, had no idea how critical the situation was and how much pain I was in. ‘Okay, no more jokes from this point onwards please,’ I said, with no irony. He looked hurt but didn’t argue. I asked him not to go to work that day, he said ok and asked if we should call the hospital, and I told him I had already but they said I’d know when it was unbearable but I couldn’t tell. At that point I felt the next contraction coming on and I said ‘I can’t, I can’t’ as it approached, and he said ‘well that sounds pretty unbearable to me,’ and went to call them again. I couldn’t make sense of the words through the pain, but when the contraction passed he was off the phone and told me the midwife had said to go in. I was so relieved. I put a skirt on top of my nighty and slowly tried to make my way to the car as he shuffled around me packing hospital bag and car seat into the back.

The ten-minute journey to King’s felt fast but unbearable. Sitting with a seatbelt on through the pain was really difficult, and when we got there I kept having to squat down during contractions, making the short walk from the parking lot to the labour ward about ten times longer.

I tried to find something to lean on in the foyer, and went to the reception desk to lean on it. I could hear Nick saying ‘no, come on’ in the background, and as I ignored it I thought once again ‘he has no idea.’ I sensed that he thought I was being prematurely dramatic, like really I could still walk and grin and bear it, and it would get a lot lot worse, and I had to save my energy for the ‘real’ pain. When my contraction at the reception desk finished, a stranger asked me if I was okay and I said ‘yeah’ and shook my head and walked away from him or her (genuinely can’t remember), thinking, we’re in a labour ward, I’m clearly in labour, you dipstick. In retrospect I realise the labour ward was in fact on the third floor, and we were just in the wing’s general reception. Still, I was THIS pregnant so you’d think they would put two and two together:

When we got to the actual labour ward’s reception, the receptionist asked me how many weeks pregnant I was and asked me to take a seat, ‘the midwife will be with you soon.’ I took one look at the waiting room full of sheepish looking men and thought ‘no way.’

‘I’m going to wait in the toilet,’ I said to Nick, and locked myself in the waiting room toilet cubicle. I thought ‘what if a pregnant woman needs to use this toilet,’ and then another contraction came along and I didn’t care any more. After what seemed like the longest ten minutes of my life (thanks American TV, for making me think when you’re in labour the hospital staff rush to you with a wheelchair and speed you through to a delivery room) we were taken into triage and my blood pressure was taken by a healthcare assistant. I kept asking after the midwife, and they kept saying she was on her way. It’s only just hit me that she must have come straight from another birth, with no break, and that these women are a very unique brand of heroic.

At this point they offered me gas and air and I inhaled as long and as deep as I could. It didn’t relieve the pain, but it gave me a momentary high. If I timed it with the contraction it meant at the height of the pain I had a fuzzy feeling in my brain – it’s hard to focus fully on both at once, so it acts as a sort of distraction. The act of inhaling also gave me ‘something to do’ during the pain, which again acted as a good focus away from the sensations of pain.

A note on the pain. It is not so much intense pain as it is intense pressure. It feels like something huge is pushing from within – which I suppose, is exactly what is happening. I always imagined it like intense period pain, but this is not really what characterises labour pangs. It’s more like a part of you being squashed under something very heavy. I know I said this would be a positive story – and it will be. I didn’t do any hypnobirthing classes, even though what I effectively experienced was the kind of birth those classes aim for, but I know that the idea of pain and language of pain is best avoided within that philosophy. For me, I would say that it was never a question of not talking about or thinking about the pain, but rather of knowing the pain was there for a reason. Also, if it weren’t for the pain, you wouldn’t feel like superwoman afterwards – so embrace it.

Finally, a red-haired half Scottish, half Norwegian goddess in her fifties appeared and introduced herself (I never remembered her name, very sad about this) and said she would be my midwife. She told me she was going to check how far along I was, and I saw some blood and thought oh, I’m bleeding? I didn’t have time to worry.

‘You’re about five centimeters dilated, sweetheart, you’ve done very well’ she said, and I said ‘oh, thank God.’ I’ve never felt more relieved – I’d read so many stories of first labours taking ages and women going in only to be sent back home, but I knew half way there was enough that I’d stay in hospital. I looked at Nick and he had the face of someone who had absolutely no idea what that meant, but he was glad I was thanking God for whatever information we’d just received.

I’d like to clarify that Nick did come to all the antenatal classes etc. and paid attention and was generally super supportive, I just think most of the information doesn’t make much sense to guys, unless they very actively try to understand it and study it and become one of those guys with the camcorder at the birth who then tell the story to people in even more detail than you do (not for me, thanks!)

The midwife asked me what kind of birth I had planned and I said a water birth. She said she’d see which room was free, and I expected her to be another twenty minutes but to my utter delight she came back straight away and we got to this lovely very dark room with no natural light. It was huge, had a huge double bed covered in wipe-clean plastic, a huge bath that she started filling straight away, and lots of walking space. I paced around in a lot of pain squirming and squirming, soon enough I was finding it unbearable to be out of the water so I asked if I could go in, and she said yes.

The water was the perfect lukewarm temperature, and I was now naked and had no awareness of what time it was (I thought it was the middle of the night, even though we’d left the house at 7 am and it was daylight outside) and I was squirming and wriggling and shouting.

The midwife was massaging my back and I thanked God that she was applying strong pressure – Nick previously kept stroking me rapidly and with no pressure and it was only making the pain worse. I turned and realised it was Nick massaging me and not her --she must have shown him how to do it and it had been him all this time! I was oddly proud of him mastering this relatively simple task. It sounds patronising, but I do think it must be very difficult for the men to watch the person they love the most in the world undergo such an ordeal, feel completely unable to help, and on top of that worry that the other most important person in their life will make it out in one piece. As a woman I think you have access to that physical knowledge: you might be in pain, you might be out of your mind, but you trust your baby, you trust your body, and you can tell whether the sensations you experience are dangerous or not. As a spectator, you don’t have access to that knowledge, you just have to stay calm.

For these reasons, we were not sure whether he’d be there for the birth as he’s squeamish and I figured he might feel useless and needlessly worried. But in that moment I found it ridiculous that we’d even considered the possibility of him not being there. I asked him later if he had felt scared, and he said yes. I had no idea – every time I looked at him he looked, albeit dumbfounded and overwhelmed, very calm, and it helped me feel I was doing great.

I got increasingly hysterical as the pushing phase approached. The midwife put Nick on ‘water duty’, making sure I kept sipping water in between contractions and didn’t get dehydrated, and I thought how ironic this was since I’m always telling him to drink less squash and more water. Before I could say this out loud, another contraction came. I shouted in pain:


The midwife and Nick stared at each other, both looking at the other for an explanation. The contraction subsided and I elaborated:

‘In Friends, Chandler says to Erica that nobody will ever know whether being kicked in the balls or going into labour is worst, well he was wrong. This is it. This is worse. I know.’ I saw Nick chuckle while the midwife was too busy doing other things.

‘They said it would feel like a big poo. This doesn’t feel like a big poo!!’

At this point she looked me in the eye, and held my arm strongly. ‘Sweetheart, it’s going to hurt like hell.’ For the third time during my labour, I felt relieved. I appreciated her honesty, and something clicked in me and I felt ready.

I asked if I could start pushing – I didn’t want to start before I was fully dilated, and she told me to do what felt natural. I was surprised at her response, because I’d read so many birth stories where women were told to wait instead of pushing because they weren’t fully dilated yet. I felt a very strong urge to push, and she asked me if I felt it at the top of the contraction.

‘Yeah, why not!’ I said, having no idea what her question meant and feeling pretty delirious by this point. As the next contraction began seconds later, I said ‘YES, DEFINITELY AT THE TOP OF THE CONTRACTIOOOOON’ and started to push without asking if it was ok.

She told me to make sure throughout the pushing I stayed under the water, because the baby would have to be born into the water in order for it to start breathing correctly. After this, any time I squirmed or moved (which was often) Nick kindly reminded me to stay in the water (which I was doing at all times).
Again I remember thinking he had no idea – I was completely out of it, and I was naked and jerking around like a maniac and shouting nonsense, but there was no way I would do anything I’d been told would compromise the health of the baby. In that moment all you care about is your baby, which is why you seem to be so out of your mind and unable to make sense – not because you actually can’t make sense, but because you’re reserving all your faculties and strengths to ensuring that the baby is well. It requires absolutely all of your being. As he said to me again ‘remember, stay under water’ I said ‘Nick, if you never say that to me again that will be just great.’ This time I saw the midwife chuckle.

I think it took something like six pushes. Each time she said ‘big push now’ I pushed with all my might, remembering my friend Anna, who had just qualified as a doctor, who when I asked her if she might become a OB-GYN she said ‘no, some women are really shit pushers – I don’t wanna deal with that.’ All I was thinking was ‘don’t be a shit pusher’ because I didn’t want this woman to have a more difficult job than she already did. I don’t know why that’s what I was thinking about, but to think about her long shifts gave me a reason to put up with the pain. I also really really wanted it to be over as soon as possible, so I was really giving it more than I even had to give.

Pretty quickly she said ‘okay, we’re at the point of no return now, I want you to give me a big push.’ I tried even harder to push as long and as hard as possible, it got really hard, and then a bit easier. She said ‘that’s great, brilliant!! Okay one last push now,’ I pushed again and this time it was easy, it felt relaxed, and I felt empty. For the first time in months, I felt empty. I knew then that the baby was born, but I don’t think Nick did. For three slow, slow, seconds, I basked in this secret knowledge and lovely feeling of emptiness, and felt an intense peace.

‘Right… we have a baby.’ She held the baby, his waist still under the water, in front of me. Nick said ‘a baby!’ and as he said this I grabbed the baby and held him in front of me saying ‘it’s a baby!’ Nick and I looked at each other and then she said ‘well, have you found out the sex yet?’ I purposefully hadn’t lifted him higher, because I wanted to enjoy that moment of just meeting ‘the baby’, as I’d imagined him in my womb, neither a boy nor a girl, just a new little soul.

I pretended this wasn’t my weird intentional delay and said with surprise ‘oh-- no we haven’t, haha!’ and lifted him up. I saw his willy and was so exhausted I thought ‘which one’s that, penis or vagina?’ –genuinely. ‘It’s a boy!!’ I said, and Nick said ‘it’s a boy!’.

It might sound weird, but at that moment I felt so happy for Nick. I knew he would have loved a little girl, but he’s so stereotypically male and so close to his dad that I knew he would love his own little playmate for all his boring male interests. You know when people have near-death experiences and say their life flashed before their eyes? In that moment Nick and our son’s future life flashed before my eyes, the both of them climbing the alps in their bikes, watching boring sports, going to the pub together to exchange information and facts, watching boring neo-realist films together, complaining about corrupt politicians and other crap I don’t care about together, giving him girl advice, buying me mother’s day gifts together, planning my amazing surprise fortieth together, talking about how I’m the most incredible and inspiring woman in their life, building a statue of me for our huge garden… I said straight away ‘I don’t want to find out the sex for the next one either,’ because there was nothing like that moment.

Francis Alejandro Sutton, born 10 May 2016 at 9.20am, weighing 4.7kg (10.4 lbs)

1 comment:

  1. this is so good. I got teary at the last paragraph. and I laughed at the don't be a shit pusher part. You are so sweet to be thinking of the midwife. My son's first ever onesie looks like the one in your picture... he's almost four now. Love your writing. (Anne Kathryn)