Monday 26 September 2016

Feeling Raw After the Birth

It's been exactly one month since I felt those early contractions which hinted that the baby might finally be on the way. The physical pain of labour is long gone, I can now sit without wincing and walk down the street without looking like John Wayne. There was a point where I really didn't think I would ever move normally again. But here I am, four weeks after the birth and I feel human again.

Emotionally, however, I'm not quite there yet. After my first birth, I didn't have any emotional healing to do. I felt amazing and powerful and like I had nailed womanhood. I don't feel those things this time. Instead, I feel disappointed, upset and disempowered. I feel like I was robbed of something I really wanted. I know how beautiful birth can be and it hurts me to think of how different this birth looked.

Most days I am ok. Most days I don't spend much time thinking about the birth. And when it crosses my mind, I tell myself that I tried my best and that I did the best I could in a bad situation. I tell myself that I made the best choices I could with the information I had at the time. On those days, I look down at the baby in my arms and know that she is worth anything the world throws at me.

But on darker days, when I haven't slept, when the baby is unsettled, when I find the unused home birth box behind the sofa and have to return it to the midwife so that a more successful woman can make use of it, I still feel hurt. On those days I find myself tearful, wondering why things went so wrong. I replay it all in my mind, wondering what I could have done differently.

I think back to the Friday afternoon. I was sat in the living room with my mum and I was telling her that I'd have to go for monitoring at the hospital on Monday if I was still pregnant. Oh, don't do that, she said, you know your own baby, if you think everything is ok, it is. If only I had listened to her. Sometimes mums just know, don't they?

I wish more than anything that I had delayed monitoring for a couple of days, that I had given myself a little bit longer to go into labour before I let myself end up in hospital. Maybe, if I'd done that, I'd have ended up with another baby born at home.  I'm sure it would still have been a more difficult labour than my first because of the position of the baby, but I know it would have been easier at home. I'd have felt more in control, safer and better supported.

There are so many things I would do differently if I could. And whilst on good days I can think oh well, it is what it is, on bad days, these thoughts go round and round in my head. The things I should have done differently, that feeling of helplessness, the stress of having to keep fighting whilst in labour.

And then there's always the feeling that I'm being ridiculous. That yes, my birth didn't go to plan, but it's hardly a traumatic story, is it? I have friends who have had emergency sections, forceps deliveries and large tears. I have friends who thought they were going to die. And here I am crying because I didn't get to give birth at home.

But I can't help how I feel. All I can do is try to process it and move on. And for the first two weeks after the birth I talked about it endlessly. I asked Laurie a million questions about what happened, I wrote it down, I talked to friends. And that helped, I felt better, I do feel better, it's just the occasional bad day now. The days when I'm overtired and over emotional, on those days it's hard to ignore the disappointment I feel inside.

On those days, it all still feels very raw. After all, I might never do any of this again. That might be the final chapter of my story. Those feelings of strength and pride after my first birth feel like a distant memory. Now when I think about birth I remember feeling scared and helpless and weak. I am trying hard to focus on my first birth, to remember those feelings and how amazing birth can be. I want to be able to feel excited for other people planning home births instead of just feeling jealous that mine didn't work out. There's nothing I hate more than feeling jealous of other people.

This morning I took my unused home birth box and dropped it off at the doctors so my midwife can use it again. She can pass it along to another woman planning her home birth. I really hope she gets to use it. That she gets to meet her baby for the first time in the comfort of her own home, away from the bright lights of the delivery ward. I hope she gets to take a bath, put on clean pyjamas and snuggle up in bed with her brand new family. I hope she gets the birth she wants so badly, because all women deserve that, don't they?

Now I've gotten rid of the big pile of home birth things from the corner of my living room, I hope I won't be reminded about the birth quite so much. I hope I will go back to thinking that I did ok. I hope I can believe that I did the best I could and I hope I can feel proud of myself for the birth I did have.

Friday 23 September 2016

The Day You Doubled in Size

The day your baby sister was born, you doubled in size. When you came to the hospital to meet her, you were taller and more grown up than ever before. You had dressed in your favourite clothes, a too small bright red dress that highlighted just how much you’d grown. A glittery headband was lost in the unruly mess of your hair. You looked tired and excited and in love. I asked if you could guess whether you had a baby brother or sister and you looked excitedly at the baby in pink before announcing that you had a sister. You said she was cute and you immediately whispered in her ear that you loved her.

You held her, that hours old little baby lay safe in your arms as you stared at her in amazement. You sat so still, you looked scared to move in case any harm should come to your baby sister. You looked so proud of her and so proud of yourself for finally becoming a big sister. She looked so small in your arms and suddenly you looked ever so big.

Now, when we walk to school, your hand feels big in mine. It’s no longer the little toddler hand that used to grip mine as we walked across busy roads. You are growing taller every day it seems, reaching up towards the sky. When I put you to bed at night, your head feels heavy against my arm. Only a month ago, you still felt so little to me, but becoming a big sister has changed all of that.

All of a sudden, you’re my big girl. You’re the big sister. The protector. The teacher. The leader. The entertainer. You long to play with your little sister, to teach her all the things you know, to keep her safe. You look after her when I leave the room and I hear you telling her you’re here when she cries. When I leave the changing table to grab more wipes, I come back to find you playing peekaboo with her over the side of the table. You sing to her and tell her about your day.

You miss her when you’re at school, and me, I hope. And your face lights up when you see her as you walk out of school. You come running over and stroke her back or tickle her feet, telling her you’ve missed her. You’ve been gone all day and we’ve missed you. You are a schoolgirl now and that means we spend the day missing you and wondering what you’re doing.

So much has changed recently. We were separated for a week when I was in hospital and that was hard for both of us. We’re not used to spending time apart, kid. We’re always together, me and you against the world. Every time you came to the hospital, it made my heart hurt because I so badly wanted to go home with you. And then, finally, your sister arrived. A little sister for you, someone you can play with, share secrets with and have blazing arguments with. You are so lucky, my biggest girl.

And then you started school and suddenly you were gone all day. Now your day is a mystery to me. I only know what you tell me. Very little. I know you eat sweetcorn for lunch. I’m hoping that’s not all they give you but finding out from you is impossible. You speak fast and traffic whizzes by on our way home and I don’t always hear what you say. Sometimes I catch it later when you tell your baby sister. You tell her that one day she’ll go to school too, and that makes me heart hurt again because I know you will both keep getting bigger and bigger until one day you are ready to make it on your own.

Though that will never happen, you tell me, you’re going to live with me forever. You’re going to marry your sister and we’re all going to live here forever and ever. And if you have babies, I will get to babysit them while you go to the pub with your friends. Because you always have your eyes set on the future. You’re already counting down to your birthday because you can’t wait to be five. And the days pass so quickly now that you’re in school, I know you’ll be fully grown in no time.

Friday 16 September 2016

On my big girl starting school

Life has been picked up, shook up and scattered all over the floor. Nothing is quite the same. All of a sudden, I'm a mother of two. I have a gorgeous little (big) baby girl to cuddle and my sweet big girl isn't here for lunch anymore. 

It occurred to me yesterday that I don't see my big girl much anymore. She wakes early and plays downstairs with her daddy while I'm busy catching up on sleep after a late night party with the littlest. She eats her breakfast, gets dressed into her uniform, brushes her teeth, runs in to kiss her baby sister goodbye and then disappears out the door. 

And then I have to wait six and a half hours until I can see her again. And in those six and a half hours she plays, she reads, she eats. She does all of the things we used to do together, only now I'm not there to join in. 

And finally 3 o clock crawls round and I can go and pick her up. Her face lights up when she sees her baby sister in the wrap and she runs over to tickle her feet. 

We have a few hours before bedtime. But those hours are often dotted with tears. The transition to schoolgirl isn't easy, the days are long and she is exhausted when she gets home. I'm hoping this will get easier as she adjusts to the longer days and the routine of school. It feels unfair that the little time I get with her now is littered with meltdowns and tiredness. Then all of a sudden it's time for dinner and bed. And our time together is over for another day. 


Ocean finance very kindly let us choose some back to school goodies to ease the financial burden of the start of school. Isn't it crazy how much you end up spending on school stuff? My favourite purchase was the unicorn backpack pictured above. Ebony doesn't even need a backpack for school because she has a book bag, but it was too cute not to buy. Ebony loves unicorns so this was an immediate hit. 

This is a collaborative post. 

Thursday 15 September 2016

A Birth Story Part III: 14 Hours & 41 Minutes

I can only apologise for writing the world’s longest birth story. I promise this will be the final chapter. By the time you finish reading this post, I will have a baby in my arms and a very sore vagina. You can find Part I here and Part II here.

I started having tightenings on Friday night and though the hospital midwife seemed only vaguely excited, I was beside myself because I knew things were finally happening. I was very worried that the tightenings might ease off, so I felt like I needed to do something constructive. It was quite late and the ward lights were off so I decided to go and sit on the sofas at the entrance to the ward where I would be guaranteed some privacy. On the way, I called by the midwife’s desk to ask whether the birth centre was busy. If I couldn’t have the home birth I had my heart set on, I definitely wanted to give birth on the birth centre.

“It’s closed tonight. There aren’t enough midwives to keep it open.” This was said very matter of factly, as if such a thing was commonplace. Goodbye home birth, goodbye birth centre. It felt like I had absolutely no control over my own birth.

I went to ring Laurie and sobbed down the phone. I just wanted to go home. I didn’t want to give birth on the delivery suite with all the doctors and interventions and bright lights. I wanted to go home to my husband, my hot tub and my four year old. I wanted privacy and love and to feel in control. Being in hospital was making me feel completely panicked about what the birth was going to be like. I decided to listen to music on my headphones and try walking around to keep the contractions going. I think I spent an hour or so in the darkened reception area to the ward, walking, bouncing and trying to pretend I wasn’t panicked about the birth.

It was after midnight and I’d been awake since 6am so I was feeling pretty tired. I decided to go and lie down and see if I could get some sleep. I was having contractions every few minutes but I wasn’t in established labour yet. On my way back to my room, the midwife said that the birth centre had reopened. They had one midwife up there, one woman had just given birth and another was labouring. What a relief!

I tried to sleep, but the contractions were keeping me awake. I knew I wasn’t in established labour yet, but I was worried that being in a ward and not having any privacy was going to stop my contractions. I eventually gave up on sleep and went to find the midwife to ask if I could move to the mobilisation room. The birth centre at Stepping Hill Hospital has four birthing rooms and a mobilisation room. The mobilisation room is for women who aren’t yet in established labour but might be soon. There are birthing balls, sofas and, most importantly, a bath. The birth centre midwife said it was fine for me to go up there so I headed upstairs to the birth centre.

As soon as I was in there, I ran a nice warm bath. I honestly don’t know how people can cope with contractions without the aid of warm water. It provides instant pain relief. I got straight in the bath as soon as labour started with my first child so I was glad to be able to do the same this time. Obviously, it’s not quite the same when that bath isn’t yours and you’re stuck in a hospital, but it was better than nothing. Laurie called my mum and asked her to drive to ours to watch Ebony so that he could come to the hospital. The midwives had said Ebony could be present at the birth, but I wanted to make sure everything was going smoothly before we invited her down.

I was in the bath focusing on my breathing for a long time. I’m not sure how long. The birth centre midwife was called to the delivery suite not long after my arrival so it was just me and a maternity assistant on the ward. Every so often, a midwife from the ward would appear and suggest that I go back to the ward because there was no midwife to look after me on the birth centre so it wasn’t safe for me to labour there. I declined this kind offer and explained I wasn’t in labour, I was just in the bath and wanted to stay there. Laurie arrived sometime after 4am and found me in the bath. There was still no midwife so I kept being asked to get out of the bath. I kept declining.

At around 6am, the birth centre midwife was back on the ward and she came to check on my progress. I was 4cm, though she said that wasn’t necessarily established labour for a second time mum. The contractions were feeling quite intense and the bath didn’t feel deep enough to cover my back and ease the contractions so I asked if I could get in the pool. She explained that I could, but there was a risk that my contractions would ease off and because I was so far past my due date (16 days by this point), she would recommend holding off a little longer. I ended up back in the bath. For the next hour or so, I kept asking if I could go in the pool and she kept convincing me to wait a little longer. I was worried that the birth centre would get busy and suddenly there would be no pools available to me. The midwife kept explaining that the birth centre was empty so this was very unlikely but I would not be convinced. She offered to write my name on the door of a room so that that pool would be ‘mine’ and I could stop worrying about it.

Eventually, I decided I couldn’t bathe any longer and I needed the pool now. The midwife went off to start filling the pool. The problem with a hospital birth is that the midwives disappear a lot and don’t come back for ages. This doesn’t happen at a home birth. It was now 8am and time for the midwives to handover. We knew this might take a while and I was in established labour so Laurie and I took it upon ourselves to find our birthing room. I wasn’t planning to get into the pool, but it looked so inviting when I walked into the room that I couldn’t help myself (my notes read: ‘couldn’t find Fiona in the mobilisation room. Found her in the pool).

The pools they have in hospitals are pretty big and it was nice finally being able to submerge my back under the warm water. I was leaning against the side, drifting off between contractions (I’d now been awake for 26 hours) when all of the midwives came in. My midwife was called Vicky and she was lovely. There was another midwife milling around with aromatherapy oils. And they asked if we’d be happy for a student midwife to attend. We said yes and it turned out to be the student midwife called Paris who had been shadowing my community midwife throughout my pregnancy so that was nice. I can remember feeling quite overwhelmed at this point, there was a lot of chatting going on and I was half asleep.

Laurie was pouring warm water on my back during contractions and this turned out to be the best thing ever. I was falling asleep between contractions and every time I woke up Laurie looked scared that I was about to drown. I think I stayed this way for a few hours. There was a clock in the room and I couldn’t stop looking at it. They really shouldn’t have clocks in delivery rooms. Midwives should just have very good watches. Like they do at home births. Le sigh. I can remember seeing that it was 10am and wondering why the fuck the baby wasn’t here yet (if the first birth was six hours, this one would surely only be three, right?). Then eight hours later it was 10:15am and I wanted to die. Time was passing so slowly. Mostly because I was asleep a lot, I think.

People kept telling me to eat and drink, but I really didn’t feel like I could. Every time a new member of staff came into the room, they went through the risk of polyhydramnios with me again. This was really great and calming because it meant every thirty minutes or so somebody would say the words ‘crash section’ to me, which is exactly what you need when you’re trying to have a calm water birth. It felt a bit like the birth centre staff were quite stressed to have a high-risk woman under their care, and that they were already planning how they would hoist me out of the pool when something went wrong.

My maternity notes had the notes from the scan stapled into them. These included information that my amniotic fluid levels were above the 97th percentile. At one point, my midwife came and explained that because my baby was above the 97th percentile, there was a risk of shoulder dystocia (I had read lots about this during pregnancy and this made me absolutely terrified) and other complications. As soon as she left the room, I burst into tears and told Laurie that nobody had warned me I was having a giant baby. Eventually, it turned out it was the fluid that was above the 97th percentile, not the baby, so that was a relief.

I started using gas and air at about noon. I was really hoping I’d be able to skip the gas and air the second time around. I used gas and air for just under two hours at Ebony’s birth but I just wasn’t coping as well this time. I felt really panicked. I couldn’t stay calm and I didn’t feel in control. All of the good things about Ebony’s birth just weren’t working out for me in the hospital.

I kept having to get out of the pool so they could check my progress. This didn’t happen at my home birth where I was checked once and then left to progress in the pool. This birth felt much more interfered with simply because we were in a hospital. In hindsight, I wish I’d refused at least a few of those checks because I think getting out of the pool and being examined could have potentially slowed labour down. I did refuse CTG monitoring, opting instead for doppler checks every fifteen minutes. If it’s good enough for a home birth, it’s good enough for a high -isk birth in a birth centre, right? One check I really really wish I had refused is the urine test. Nobody checked my urine at my home birth. I hadn’t slept for days, I didn’t eat anything but ice pops during labour and yet nobody cared, they just left me to get on with giving birth. No such luck in hospital.

Ketones were found in my urine and this meant I was in a lot of trouble for not eating and drinking. All of a sudden I was being force fed orange juice like there was no tomorrow. Each time they checked my urine, more ketones appeared. A consultant appeared and said I needed to go to delivery for an ARM (artificial rupture of the membranes), to be constantly monitored and to have fluid to rectify my ketones. I think we disagreed about all of this. Vicky said my progress had slowed, two hours had passed and I was still just 6cm dilated and she felt that having fluids would sort this out. Eventually, I agreed on the condition that they wouldn’t leave the cannula in. I am very scared of needles and the thought of having a drip is horrifying to me.

Vicky decided she would get the midwife most skilled in cannulas to do my drip because I was so petrified (this birth was in no way inspiring or empowering for me). She found said midwife and then Vicky went for her lunch break. What Vicky didn’t mention was that the midwife most skilled in cannulas was also really mean. She tried twice to insert the cannula but it didn’t work. This was super fun for me because I am terrified of needles and drips and veins and all things medical. They can only try twice so then she called for a junior doctor. The junior doctor famed for her cannula skills arrived and tried a few more times. This was quite horrifying, as was hearing sentences like “You have great veins, but I’m getting no blood.” Eventually, the horror was over and I had a cannula in my arm and fluids heading into my veins. And it was at this moment that the mean midwife told me they wouldn’t be taking the cannula out because it was so hard to get in. This. Was. Not. The. Deal.

I had to have two bags of fluids, this took bloody ages. I was sat upright on the bed whilst this was being done, I think it took a few hours. I could have gotten back in the pool or walked around but I was majorly freaked out by the drip so I just needed to stay still. Once the drips were finished, I decided to get back in the pool. I found it really difficult to get comfortable in the pool. If I knelt up and leant against the side of the pool, this helped with the contractions. But it also meant my leg went dead. If I sat any other way, the contractions felt unbearable. I have concluded that the hospital pools and just too rigid. I longed for the cushioned floor of the inflatable hot tub I had waiting at home.

I was feeling really worried about the risk of cord prolapse. It feels silly now because it was always such a small risk, but it was literally all anyone had said to me since Monday and I was scared. I knew that I would be too scared to push. I started saying I couldn’t do it. Vicky looked hopeful and I could tell she thought I was in transition. But I also knew that I wasn’t. That I really couldn’t do this. That I was too scared to push. I think they spent quite a while trying to convince me that I could do this, but I just felt like I couldn’t. I felt completely helpless and weak and pathetic. This whole experience was so far removed from what birth was last time.

After my leg went dead for the eight millionth time, I decided to get out of the pool. I went back to the bed but my contractions were stronger and the backache was terrible. Everything felt so much more intense than it did last time. I don’t know if that’s because it was a different labour or because I couldn’t relax in a hospital setting. At about 6pm, I decided to have some pethidine. They only give a very small dose now so it doesn’t affect the baby’s breathing after the birth anymore. I thought it would offer something in the form of pain relief. It didn’t. It just sent me to sleep between contractions and I’d been doing that pretty much all day anyway. Laurie said I spent an hour and a half drifting off between contractions. The pethidine meant I couldn’t go back in the pool for two hours but, to be honest, the dead leg had made me give up on my dream of a pool birth anyway. There is nothing relaxing about having a dead leg.

I felt like I was too scared to push because of the risk of cord prolapse. As soon as your waters break, either the baby’s head comes down or a bit of cord does. If it’s the cord, your baby needs to be born as quickly as possible. And, even though the risk was TINY, I couldn’t stop worrying about it. I decided I wanted a controlled rupture of the membranes. This meant the baby would be held in place during the rupture to reduce the risk of the cord slipping past. I felt like this was safer. It also meant there would be a doctor present at the time my waters broke so if anything did go wrong, help was at hand. In order to have my membranes ruptured, I would have to move to the delivery ward and leave the birth centre behind. But by this stage in the labour, I felt it was my only option. I just didn’t feel like I was ever going to be brave enough to push otherwise.

Vicky was really lovely, she kept checking and double checking that I was absolutely positive I wanted to go to the delivery ward. She told me that, because my baby was so late, there was a very high chance that there would be meconium in the waters. That this was normal for postdate babies, but that the doctors would see it as a sign of fetal distress. I was really glad she took the time to explain this to me. Things move quite fast in hospital and there isn’t time to do research so having a midwife I trusted was really helpful.

At 7:30pm, I was taken downstairs to the delivery ward. 8pm is staff changeover in a hospital setting so it meant Vicky would be leaving soon. It also meant all the doctors were handing over so I ended up meeting two teams of medical staff. This was a whole lot more risk talk and the risks of a crash section were explained to me. I was completely asleep by this point and kept waking up to hear phrases like “...and that could result in death…” or “...and then your bladder wouldn’t work anymore…”. Luckily, the pethidine meant I was too tired to be scared by any of this. It did mean, however, that I sleepily agreed to an unnecessary epidural just before the membrane rupture ‘just in case’ they needed to do a section. When the anaesthetist left the room, Laurie and the midwives turned to me in horror and asked if I knew what I’d just agreed to. Er, yeah, that they might need to do an epidural if they have to do a section. But apparently not, I’d just agreed to the epidural anyway. This was quickly resolved. Thank fuck.

The midwives changed over, Vicky left and a new midwife called Helen appeared. I don’t remember her saying anything to me but then I had just agreed to an unnecessary epidural without realising so who knows what was happening. Not me. At some point, a team of doctors entered the room. I was relieved to see the induction-happy consultant wasn’t there. There had been talk of moving me to theatre for the ARM, but the registrar quickly explained he wasn’t bothering with that. He ruptured the membranes immediately and announced I was 9cm dilated. There was no meconium in sight and I agreed to go on the monitor for a short while just to check that the baby was happy and the cord wasn’t being compressed.

The midwife said she was going to write some notes and that I should let her know if I needed to push. I don’t remember this, but Laurie said I waited for her to get to the other side of the room and then I whispered to Laurie that I needed to push. The midwife was setting up her equipment and I was sitting upright in the bed with my gas and air. The midwife told me to just go with my body and she told Laurie he was in charge of pulling the cord when the baby was about to be born.

I spent the first 10 minutes sitting on the bed before realising that that was a terrible position to give birth in and I wanted to move. There weren’t many options for birthing aids on the delivery ward so I decided to kneel up and lean against the back of the bed. I’d spent a lot of the pregnancy reading Ina May Gaskin and knew this was a good position for birth. Laurie was stationed behind the bed, so I was sort of leaning against him during contractions.

I still felt like I wouldn’t be able to get the baby out, that eventually it would all end in an inevitable intervention. The midwife sounded pretty keen to hurry up and get this baby out which made me worried that something might be wrong so I pushed as hard as I could. I was hoping to have a more relaxed second stage this time after pushing stupidly hard during my first birth, but alas the panic took over and I just pushed as hard as I could. I could feel the baby twisting as she moved down and it was pretty painful. The midwife kept saying the baby would be here any minute. It felt way more intense than my first birth, I seemed to be more aware of the baby’s movements. The midwife told Laurie to pull the cord (to be clear, the cord to alert the second midwife, not the umbilical cord) and seconds later the baby was born just as the second midwife and a healthcare assistant strolled into the room. My second stage lasted 26 minutes.

At this point, I was still leaning against the back of the bed. The baby was out and I could see the baby’s head if I peered backwards, but she felt very far away from me. I think I kept saying in a panicked voice that I couldn’t see the baby and then Laurie said “It’s a girl” and I burst into tears. I think the midwives were trying to figure out a way of getting the baby to me, but a short cord meant they couldn’t pass her through my legs as they usually would in that situation. The cord was cut and clamped and I was able to turn around and finally hold my daughter. I cannot put into words how amazing this felt. I really didn’t think my baby was ever going to come out, I definitely didn’t think I’d manage to get the baby out myself and I certainly wasn't expecting another daughter. I was just overjoyed to meet her at long, long last. She arrived 17 days after her due date and she was perfect. And huge. 10lb7, to be precise. Ember Rose, my beautiful giant little baby, here at last.

Friday 9 September 2016

A Birth Story Part II: A Hospital Stay & Avoiding Induction

You can find Part I of my birth story here.

Birth stories don’t usually have parts, I am aware of this, but I am writing this out as a form of therapy so I feel it is important to be thorough.

After being admitted to Stepping Hill Hospital on the Monday, my plan was to go into labour naturally. This is pretty much impossible in a hospital setting. You know what helps with labour? Dim lights, calm, quiet, feeling safe, privacy. None of these things exist in a hospital setting. I was staying in a ward with four beds and though there were moments when I had the room to myself, it was usually a pretty busy place. I spent part of the week in a bed next to somebody trying to give up cannabis, her phone conversations were always pretty dramatic and it wasn’t exactly a peaceful setting for spontaneous labour.

Every morning, a doctor would do the rounds. My first morning there, I saw the consultant who had wanted to induce the day before. She still wanted to induce and I still didn’t want to be induced. She felt my stomach and said the fluid didn’t feel overly excessive and that there was probably a sizable baby in there. After she left, a midwife came to put me on the fetal heart monitor. She asked what my problem with induction was. Apparently, she was ‘playing devil’s advocate’. I get the impression that it’s unusual for women to want to avoid induction. I explained that intervention leads to more interventions and unnecessary risks and I didn’t feel like it was medically necessary. The risk of cord prolapse was still small. Terrifying, but small. And being induced wouldn’t reduce the risk.

At the end of the day, the midwife asked me if I wanted to be induced the next day. I told her I didn’t. She said she’d put a question mark down, so the option was there. She implied that this would be useful to me because it would stop people hassling me.

The next morning, a midwife turned up to say they had a private room for me which might help me to go into labour by myself ahead of my scheduled induction at 6pm. So the midwife from the night before had clearly scheduled me in for an induction I hadn’t agreed to. I immediately went into panic mode. The midwife turned out to be a Supervisor of Midwives (these are the most useful people ever if your birth isn’t going to plan, they are completely on your side and will help you problem solve until you find a solution you’re happy with). She said I could take the room and decline the induction and then ran off to the delivery ward to double check. While I waited for her to come back, I packed up all my bags, piled them on the bed and sat in the chair waiting to move. Nothing like looking keen, is there?

When she returned, she said she’d had a change of heart. She had decided that if I went to delivery, then there would be doctors knocking at my door all day trying to get me to induce and she felt that would actually be more stressful for me than being on a shared ward. She looked sadly at my packed bags and then sat down to talk to me about my birth plan. She was really supportive and understanding and I found talking to her really helpful.

I saw a registrar that day (this is a type of doctor, I did not know this) and she sat down on my bed whilst saying, “This is your baby and your body and nobody is going to make you do anything you don’t want to do.” I liked her a lot. As long as me and the baby were both fine, they were happy to let me wait for labour to start naturally. Though I did get the impression the pressure to induce would build as time went on. I was originally admitted because of polyhydramnios, but by the Wednesday I was 42 weeks pregnant and I have learnt that this makes medical professionals very nervous. Midwives kept hopefully asking me whether my dates could be out, but I don’t think they could have been really not by more than a few days.

The baby was monitored once a day on the fetal heart monitor and by the Friday this was increased to twice daily. The baby was perfectly happy each time. The baby was very active and nobody seemed to have any concerns about the baby’s health other than the risk of polyhydramnios. The doctors seemed to be in disagreement over whether more scans were needed and with seeing a different doctor each day this got confusing. A couple of doctors felt additional scans were necessary, but others disagreed because the placenta, blood flow in the cord and amniotic fluid levels were all good last time. Well, the fluid levels weren’t good, they were too high, but the risk with a prolonged pregnancy is reduced waters and clearly I wasn’t suffering from that. Internal examinations were performed and each one concluded that there would be no labour anytime soon. Eventually, I saw a doctor who said that I shouldn’t have internal examinations, that I should give my body a break. I liked her a lot.

I spent my days bouncing on a giant birth ball, listening to music on headphones and walking around the hospital. I walked from the maternity building to the ambulance bay and back over and over again. I clocked up miles just walking between the two hospital destinations I felt I would be safest if my waters went. My parents came over to help with Ebony so that Laurie could spend the day with me at the hospital. These days were depressing and I mostly spent them crying and saying I wanted to go home. One day my parents came and we walked to the ambulance bay many times in the rain. Laurie brought Ebony to visit me every morning and then again for bedtime stories at night. We ate our dinner together, huddled over the table above my bed. Ebony and Laurie both looked exhausted by the end of the week. It was so heartbreaking not to be able to spend those last days as a family of three together. I wanted nothing more than to cuddle Ebony to sleep at night, have a bath and then go to sleep in my own bed.

Staying in hospital isn’t fun at all. This was the first time I’d stayed overnight in hospital since I was a newborn baby. I was waking up at 6am every day, my body clock tuned into my early rises daughter, the day stretching out ahead of me. It’s not easy to fill your time in hospital. The days and nights are broken by the inevitable interruptions of observations, monitoring and the drugs trolley. I spent most of my time out of the room, either sitting on the sofas at the entrance to the ward or soaking up some sunshine on a bench outside the hospital. I tried to feel calm, to focus on the birth and to trust my body to do what it had done once before.

The supervisor of midwives told me to think of a date at which I might consider induction. I spent the day googling on my phone. I was 42+2 by this point. Though medical professionals seem uneasy letting women stay pregnant past 42 weeks, I couldn’t really find much in the way of modern research explaining why. I found some articles about increased risk at 43 weeks. Not hugely increased risks, but potentially scary sounding outcomes. I thought maybe I would accept induction at 43 weeks. But knowing that this meant an increased risk of pretty much every intervention going including c-section, I didn’t commit to the idea and just left it floating at the back of my mind.

Though the hospital had told us Ebony would be allowed into the birth centre with us, this was only if we could find somebody to come and stay nearby so they could take her away if necessary. We had a few trusted people who were happy to help out with this, but it was difficult knowing who would take her on what day. I wanted to be able to tell Ebony what would happen but there were too many ifs and buts. My parents were due to go to Greece the next morning and I was feeling really nervous about them not being there. In the end, I asked them how they would feel about delaying their holiday so they could be there to look after Ebony during the birth. My mum said she was happy to do that and I cannot tell you how relieved I was. I’d spent all week hoping I’d have the baby before they left and now I could finally stop worrying about it.

By the Friday, I had been in hospital for four days. I was 42+2 and truly fed up. Laurie and Ebony came in the morning and we had a chippy lunch sat on the benches outside the hospital. Ebony did some dancing for us and made Laurie join in too. My parents came over to take Ebony out to Bramhall Hall for the day. Ebony was pretty emotional, it had been a long week, but I knew she was in safe hands. Laurie and I spent the day walking between from the maternity ward to the ambulance bay (most boring walk ever). We watched a movie in my ward and then went for another walk. My parents brought Ebony back late afternoon and we shared dinner together in my ward. We read bedtime stories, we did some colouring in and then it was time for Ebony and Laurie to go home.

My ward was empty that evening. I spent the evening talking to my family on the phone, bouncing on my birthing ball and watching television. I felt calm and hopeful that perhaps labour would start soon. I was watching Friday Night Dinners when I noticed that I was having pretty regular tightenings. I was due to have another monitoring so I asked the midwives if they could do it soon. I was strapped up to the monitor and I watched with excitement as the contractions made little hills on the printed graph. A woman was brought onto my ward and we chatted a little while I was being monitored. I knew that this was the start of labour and I was really hoping that the contractions wouldn’t teeter off.

When the midwife came to check the monitor, she told me that the tightenings were a good sign. She wasn’t quite as excited as I was, but then she hadn’t been pregnant for 42 weeks. I knew this was the start of things and that I needed to try and keep the contractions going. I couldn’t sleep so I decided to go for a walk to help things along.

Tuesday 6 September 2016

A Birth Story Part I: Expectant Management & Polyhydramnios

I’ve been a mother of two for ten days now, so I guess I should write about the birth. When Ebony was born, I spent the first two weeks telling anyone who’d listen just how wonderful her birth was, recounting the details with dramatic finesse and beaming each time Laurie mentioned how well I’d done. I wrote her birth story down two weeks after she was born because I didn’t want to forget a single detail.

This time is a little different. I’m using writing as a form of therapy because I really need to process what happened. It feels like my head is filled with the unraveling threads of my birth story and it’s difficult to make sense of. So I’m writing this down as a way of unpicking that tangle of thoughts, of trying to work out how I feel and hopefully of letting myself accept what happened.

I didn’t get the calm, beautiful home birth I did the first time around. I didn’t get to welcome my new baby into my living room. I didn’t get to give birth in the hot tub I bought specially. And, most devastatingly of all, Ebony didn’t get to be there to welcome the new baby into the world. She didn’t get to pass me cold flannels or tell me what a great job I was doing during contractions. Instead, I gave birth in a hospital while Ebony slept at home with my mum.

The problem was this baby just didn’t want to come out. I was expecting to have to wait a few days after my due date, but I thought the baby would arrive within a few days just like Ebony. Every night, I went to bed hopeful that tonight would be the night. I would do a quick tidy up of the living room, make sure the hot water was switched on and that I had everything I might need, and then I would go to bed excited. And then I would wake up the next morning. Still pregnant and with not a niggle insight. It became quite ridiculous, really.

I went to see my midwife when I was 40+9. She looked at me sadly as I entered the room and said she had been checking for my name every morning, wondering if it had happened in the night. In Stockport, it’s standard practice to induce at 40+12. Instead, I chose to have expectant management. This was due to start on the Monday with a trip to Stepping Hill Hospital for a scan and monitoring. I agreed because I was convinced it wouldn’t come to that, of course, my baby would arrive over the weekend.

Only it didn’t. Friday we watched a documentary about Ina May Gaskin in the hope that might get me in the mood for labour. Saturday I had acupuncture and reflexology in the hope that might tempt the baby out. Sunday I bounced on my birth ball. None of it worked. Monday morning I woke up still pregnant and dreading going to the hospital. Laurie decided to start his leave early on the assumption that, surely, the baby would arrive soon.

Early on Monday morning, my mum arrived to look after Ebony whilst Laurie and I headed to the hospital. We were sent for a scan first. They check the placenta, the cord and the levels of amniotic fluid. The sonographer explained that the fluid levels were unusually high and though he initially said this as though it was no big deal, he soon appeared with a yellow alert note stapled to the front of the maternity notes. When we got back to the maternity unit, it was clear things had changed. The midwife spoke about my home birth in the past tense, as though it had slipped out of my hands since she last saw me 30 minutes ago.

A consultant was called. She wanted to induce. She explained that there was an increased risk of cord prolapse. Cord prolapse can be fatal for the baby, is difficult to be predict and means a crash section is necessary. It’s also incredibly rare, even with polyhydramnios (the medical term for holy shit that’s a lot of amniotic fluid), but the consultant didn’t seem too bothered about that. We asked how much the risk had increased by (the risk of cord prolapse is always there even in a low-risk pregnancy) but she didn’t say. She just said she would strongly advise induction and that she felt a home birth would be a big risk. She told me if I chose to go home and my waters broke, I would have to immediately get into a face down position on the floor and call 999 to await an ambulance ride to the hospital so I could be checked for cord prolapse.

Then we were left to make a decision. The problem is, it was very difficult to make a decision based on the information given by the consultant. She went through worst case scenarios but didn’t bother explaining how unlikely each scenario was. She wanted to induce, explaining that sometimes birth doesn’t go to plan, but not really understanding why I wanted to avoid unnecessary induction. And so, Laurie and I spent the day at the hospital not really knowing what the fuck to do. I wanted to go home, I didn’t want to be induced and I wanted to have a home birth. But I also didn’t want to suffer cord prolapse or have to take an ass-up ride in an ambulance. I spent a lot of the day crying and the rest of the day googling on my phone. There just didn’t seem to be a right answer.

In the end, a kindly midwife took pity on me and offered me a bed. That way, I could avoid induction and wait for labour to happen naturally without straying too far from the safety of medical help. This really felt like my only option. They sent a Supervisor of Midwives to speak to me and we discussed the possibility of still having a home birth. She wasn’t sure it was a great idea but explained they would make an exception and allow Ebony into the birth centre should I choose to give birth there. It was all a lot of unknowns and didn’t feel massively reassuring but I did at least feel supported by the midwife team.

They showed me around the birth centre in the hope of convincing me it was a nice place to have a baby. Whilst I’m sure it’s a step up from the hospital environment on the delivery suite, it simply couldn’t compete with the tranquility of my previous home birth and I spent most of the tour trying not to cry. All I kept thinking about was how disappointed Ebony would be to miss the birth and how stupid I had been for not preparing her for this eventuality. I’d spent the whole pregnancy preparing her for the birth without even considering the possibility that I might not get a home birth.

I was shown onto the ward and Laurie went home to get some things together. He came back a couple of hours later with plenty of clothes, food and my beautiful daughter. I spent the two hours he was gone preparing myself for seeing Ebony. I didn’t want to cry in front of her and upset her. Her first words when she walked nervously onto the ward were, “Mummy, why are you crying?” because, of course, I had immediately burst into tears as soon as I saw her. I just wanted to be at home with my family.

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