For any mother that goes beyond her due date, it can be extremely challenging. The estimated due date is exactly that, an estimate. Research has shown that only c.5% of babies are actually born on the due date. Certainly focusing on this date made the end of my pregnancy more stressful than it needed to be.
So, come 40 weeks I went in for my midwife appointment. She offered me a membrane sweep which I took. I was over being pregnant. I also had Coco (my first) at 39 weeks, though she was induced due to reduced movement, so I was unaware of what my ‘normal’ gestational length was. At this point the midwife confirmed I was 1cm dilated and my cervix was “super stretchy” which were all really positive signs for a sweep to work. I was extremely hopeful, though 48 hrs later nothing happened apart from a few Braxton Hicks/cramping episodes. Each time they stopped it got me down, I was ready to go! Fast forward to 41 weeks and another sweep was offered. The midwife confirmed I was still 1cm but my cervix had become even more “stretchy” so she was quietly confident. Nevertheless, an induction was booked for 3 days time in the event the sweep did not work again.
At 9am I went into Chelsea & Westminster Hospital for a Covid test (a requirement pre induction). On entering the car park I felt cramping again as my hubby passed over a speed bump! I ignored it. Another came during the covid test and on exit. Rather than going home in crazy traffic we decided to walk around the block. The cramping started to get frequent around 3-5 mins apart and lasting around 40 seconds. We called the Birth Centre to let them know and they suggested early labour and to continue walking while balancing resting until I was getting 2-3 in a 10 minute period, lasting >45 seconds and to the point where I couldn’t hold a conversation. By around 10:30 they progressed to about 1 min in length and every 2-4 mins. I tried to rest in the car but failed miserably, so stuck the TENS machine on my back and headed up to walk laps of the hospital. We called the Birth Centre again when I could no longer speak easily through the contractions and they called me up for an assessment.
I waited for a good 30 mins, maybe longer, while hubby was patiently waiting outside due to Covid restrictions. On assessment they confirmed I was still 1cm though my cervix had moved into an anterior position and fully effaced by 12pm so they admitted me for early labour and hubby came to join.
Given how quick my first birth was, I decided to go with hypnobirthing and the Birth Centre. I wanted a Zen atmosphere and as little intervention as possible (genuinely didn’t think I’d need it) with the use of TENS and gas & air as pain relief. I had Coco with zero pain relief so this was definitely a step up!
The Birth Centre was all very civilised to begin with. The midwives made me feel very comfortable, they did their initial checks and said they would come back and check on me in 4 hrs but of course to buzz if I needed them. Hubby got me a Pret sandwich, I opened a little pressie he got for me which was a lovely book of photos of Coco to remind me of why we where here, and also a silk dressing gown for after birth. We put on the Calm app wave sounds on the speakers and just settled in.
The hours after start to blur into one. It was all very manageable in the first few – I moved from standing to forward leaning, to squatting to sitting on the birthing ball. The hours seemed to pass really quickly by the time the midwives came to check on me again. I remember them saying how quiet I had been. At this point I was almost 4cm and contractions were starting to get painful so they offered me gas and air and started running the pool just in case. At 4cm they asked if I wanted to get in but I refused. Between 4cm to delivery Coco came out in 1hr 50 mins so I assumed this birth would be quicker and was worried the pool would slow me down. In hindsight maybe I should have got in…
It’s really hard to remember timings after this point. I felt completely high which was great for the pain! I even remember laughing in between contractions with flashbacks to holidays, feeling like I should be in Mykonos! It was all very surreal. I was pretty much stuck in a forward leaning position over the beanbag at this point, rocking back and forth between contractions. The TENS levels were getting higher and I was using the gas and air just before each contraction, whilst coordinating with my breathing.
When the ‘mooing’ noises started to come out of me, it all started to get more real and I burst into tears. When the midwives asked me why I was crying, I said I missed Coco. I suddenly had a massive rush of guilt that I was having another girl.
Then everything started to feel longer…The midwives kept saying they could see “external signs” but still no head. They kept telling me to channel my energy to my bottom, not in my throat. I thought this was what I was doing – it certainly felt like it! As such, fear started kicking in as time continued to pass. I started to panic thinking I was doing something wrong. It became evident to me how important language is in a birth environment!
Fast forward to 8cm at the next check. I remember saying “IS THAT ALL??” I was in a lot of pain now. It must have been 8pm as the midwives were about to switch over but then my waters broke…the midwives were trying to get my attention but the contractions were quick and strong at this point and I could barely hear them. They needed to get a paediatrician over as there was a significant amount of meconium in my waters. They were worried about the baby. When she came they confirmed I needed to head ASAP to the labour ward. Fear increased and all breathing techniques went out the window!
They stuck a gown on me and helped me onto a wheelchair forward kneeling over the back, knees on the seat, bum hanging out! I remember them wheeling me very fast. The TENS machine pads fell off, I had no gas and air and the pain was intense. This mirrored the end of Coco’s labour and I was scared. They put me onto the bed, I said I needed to be side lying (I just wanted to be in the same position as Coco’s birth. I guess for familiarity). They hooked me up to the machine and all 4 midwives with the paediatrician rushed to the monitor to hear the heartbeat. At that exact same time I had the strongest contraction and urge to push and I knew….she started crowning and within seconds all 4 midwives surrounded me, helping hold my legs up. I remember they tried to turn my knees out and I immediately felt my pelvic outlet close off, so I flipped into internal rotation. One more excruciating push and she was out! My leg fell down and they lifted it back up to pass me my little girl. She went straight for the breast and I cried with relief whilst shaking profusely!
Soon after, they gave me the injection and I delivered the placenta. A total active labour of 3 hrs and 21 minutes. As with Coco’s birth, there was minimal blood loss (<200ml) and no tearing. Of course there will be genetic factors involved but I was pretty religious with perennial massage from 34 weeks! So I came out pretty unscathed, just a handful of haemorrhoids, which I expected and was prepared for with Anusol already packed in my hospital bag!
Our golden hour with our bubs began shortly after. I was so happy in that moment just the three of us whilst devouring a couple of Toffee Crisp and Lion bars in my new dressing gown!
So there you have it, my birth story – ‘from hypnobirthing to high risk’ – but in the end a perfect little girl to complete our family. I am forever grateful to the midwives at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital for bringing Alba into this world safely. Special thanks to midwife Michaela and student midwife Lucy who were with me from start to finish.
‘Coping during Covid Restrictions: A 7-Day Hospital Stay’ blog to follow. It all started when they wheeled me into the postnatal ward leaving hubby at the door…to be continued.