Sunday 15 November 2020

5 Best & Worst Things About Having a Baby in Lockdown


Fiona wearing a mask in the birth centre

Ettie was born in July, in the middle of a global pandemic, and while I wouldn’t recommend this timing as ideal for a stress-free pregnancy, I do think there were some positives. Ettie wasn’t my first baby and, if she was, I think I would feel completely different. I think I would have struggled with isolation if she was my first because I wouldn’t have had existing mum friends around me to offer support and listen to me moan. 

This list is a personal one based on my circumstances, and it won’t apply to everyone. Probably a lot of the things I class as benefits won’t apply to other people, but equally, there will be things I found difficult that perhaps other people wouldn’t have struggled with. I don’t live near to my parents, and I have missed them a lot this year. I would have loved to have been able to walk past their house regularly and wave at them through the window so they could see Ettie growing bigger (and me, during my pregnancy), but alas, it’s not possible for us. 

Now the disclaimers are out of the way; I am going to move onto the actual post. So, pregnancy and birth and babycare in a pandemic. What a headfuck. If you think your anxiety has been out of control during the pandemic, you should try being pregnant. It was stressful. 

Here are five of the best things about having a baby in lockdown:

  1. Being cocooned 

I was six months pregnant when England went into lockdown. At the time, nobody knew how long it would last or what it meant for the future. I knew I wouldn’t be re-entering society until after the baby was born, however. Even when discussions started about when to re-open schools, I had decided I would be keeping my older children home until after the summer holidays. 

I stopped working pretty soon after lockdown because it wasn’t possible to juggle childcare and two working parents, and my job is flexible enough that I was able to stop. I know how lucky that makes me and that most people didn’t have a choice. I stopped working by April and then spent the new few months merely being pregnant and not homeschooling my kids. 

I would wake up early every day and take my eight-year-old out on a long walk. We walked for an hour and a half each morning (started as an hour, but by the end of pregnancy, I was sloooow). It was lovely to spend that time with her, listening to her chat absolute shit about Harry Potter and her future career as a librarian and her dream garden. When we got home, I would sit in the bath trying to pretend I wasn’t dying from the walk (my poor pelvis). Then, slowly, I would get dressed and ready for the day. We spent most of our time in the garden. Me, reading a book, lying on my Holo (a lilo with a bump hole - pregnant women, you need this).  The kids, completely feral, running wild in the garden.

I was in charge of feeding the kids, which was a fulltime job, but aside from that, I had very little to do. I was just pregnant, and it felt like a real luxury to be able to focus on that and take a break from real life. After the birth, I continued in this lockdown cocoon until the kids went back to school in September. 

  1. No ‘Still pregnant?’ comments

As a woman who gestates for approximately 87 years with each pregnancy, I liked not seeing people. I don’t care who you are; I don’t want to hear your thoughts on the size of my bump or how long I’ve been pregnant. With my previous pregnancies, I have endured plenty of “Is it twins?!” and “Still pregnant then?” comments. This pregnancy, I only got one comment from one old man on one of my early morning walks with Ebony. I can handle one comment; I can’t handle weeks worth of comments. If I’d been on the school run in June, I’d have had to endure countless “Have you tried curry?” comments and the rage would have been difficult to manage, so for that reason alone, I’m glad I was on lockdown. 

It’s not fun going so far past your due date, but it felt manageable because the lack of other people’s opinions gave me space to relax and endure those final weeks of pregnancy (I was going to say enjoy but who am I kidding). 

  1. Laurie was around

If somebody had asked me a year ago whether I would like Laurie to work from home fulltime, I would have said no. Then felt stressed that they were asking for a reason. Then rung Laurie to check he definitely wasn’t planning on working remotely anytime soon. But actually, having Laurie at home this year has been amazing. For me. Probably not for his clients and colleagues who have had to listen to our four-year-old screaming during meetings.

When I was pregnant and uncomfortable, Laurie could jiggle his work schedule to give me a break in the day. He started taking the kids out on a lunchtime bike ride every day. When I couldn’t sleep, he took the kids out for 7 am walks so that I could catch up on sleep. When I was 87 years pregnant and emotional, he could take over the parenting while I sat in the dark and pretending I trusted my body and everything was Fine. When I had hospital appointments at short notice, he could drive me there and look after the kids. Everything was more manageable with him at home.

And now, with three kids in the morning, his being home takes the stress out of the school run. Life just feels so much easier with an extra pair of hands around to help out. 

  1. No visitors

It’s lovely when people want to come and visit your new baby. But, it’s also tiring and can be overwhelming in the early days. I had said right at the start of the pregnancy, long before anybody ate the bat, that I didn’t want to have any visitors for the first two weeks after the birth. After Ember’s birth, I felt very vulnerable and having visitors was just too much, and I didn’t want the stress of that again. 

Having a baby in lockdown means you can’t have visitors anyway. And, of course, there is a sad side to that, but in a completely selfish way, it was nice to have time to bond as a family of five. It’s tough when you’ve just had a baby. Physically, it takes weeks to heal even after a positive birth. Emotionally, your hormones are all over the place, and you feel insane. You are tired and overwhelmed and worried you will always feel this way. It’s not a good time to have people visit. I think we should all take it upon ourselves to leave new parents alone for the first few weeks so that they can bond with their babies and feel sane before they re-enter society. 

  1. The sense of community

I quite like that I had a baby during the pandemic, partly because of the reasons mentioned above, but also because it’s a little bit different. I have a special face mask in her memory box, which I wore to the hospital for her birth. I think having a baby during lockdown has been strange and while there are definitely downsides, it’s also pretty special. I can see myself as a grandma telling stories about when I had my baby in lockdown. The hours spent in an online Ocado queue will be like the stories my grandparents told me about ration books. 

It’s also been nice to see the community coming together, not just for vulnerable people at risk of the pandemic, but also for new parents. In the village I live in, mums have organised walks for new parents so they can meet up and talk. There’s a socially distanced baby group in the church. There’s a WhatsApp group for local mums with babies (and ones for dads). Yes, some parents have found it harder to access proper services (my Health Visitor just didn’t show up to our appointment, so my only contact with her has been over the phone), but it’s been nice to see mums supporting each other to fill that void. 

It’s not all been positive, though. Some things have been pretty crap. Here are five of the worst things about having a baby in lockdown:

  1. Extra anxiety

I think everybody felt anxious in March. There was an awful period where nobody knew what was going to happen. It was tense during those weeks; I was obsessively checking the news and death stats on my phone all day long. My screentime was about eight hours a day the week before lockdown. My eyes can’t cope with that level of screen use, and I had many headaches. 

Pregnancy heightened this anxiety. I wanted a home birth and home birth services across the country were getting cancelled, and I spent a lot of time worrying about that. I was afraid that if the kids or Laurie came down with symptoms, then I would end up having to give birth alone. I was worried about everything. It wasn’t fun, and it wasn’t easy to find reassurance to any of my worries because nobody knew what was going to happen. 

  1. Attending appointments alone and trying to have serious conversations through masks

Masks aren’t fun, are they? The first time I wore a mask was for a routine midwife appointment, and when I tried to talk, I ended up yelling, which was funny but also awkward and embarrassing. At that midwife appointment, it took a long time to find the baby’s heartbeat. I was lying on the bed, under a bright light, trying to breathe through a mask, while the room was way too silent, and it wasn’t pleasant. 

What was more difficult, however, was trying to speak to doctors through a mask. It’s also worth noting that you have to attend all these hospital appointments alone. I would have been heartbroken if Laurie couldn’t attend the earlier scans with me, and while he did miss out on the later scans I had during pregnancy, I wasn’t too bothered about this because we weren’t supposed to have them anyway. Attending the Antenatal Day Unit alone was a terrifying prospect, but I actually found it ok. I seem to cry more if Laurie is there, so going alone meant I cried less (still managed to ugly cry once though, go me) which I was ok with. 

Masks, however, made it all feel quite stressful. I found it difficult making myself heard (this feels silly to say now because I’ve gotten so used to wearing masks, but at the time, it felt challenging). I had one very frustrating conversation with a doctor, and although I think it would have been stressful regardless, I don’t think the mask helped. I guess I rely on facial expressions a lot during conversations, so not having that element made it a lot more stressful. 

  1. No visitors

I talked about the benefits above, but there are downsides to not having visitors. I was looking through old photos the other day and found some photos of my first child as a baby grinning at my mum, and it made me cry. It’s heartbreaking that Ettie doesn’t know who any of her grandparents are. Sadly, she hasn’t had regular contact with them or the cuddles that my other children had enjoyed by this age. It’s hard not living near my parents because it means they haven’t been able to see Ettie grow and she’s already changed so much. I’m glad we live in a time of smartphones and social media, but it in no way makes up for being there in person. 

On a selfish note, I missed my mum visiting in the early days because it meant our kitchen was a mess. My parents make my life easier. When I have a newborn baby, they appear with fresh fruit and homemade soup and by the time they leave, the house is less chaotic, my kids are happy, and my load feels lighter. I missed that a lot, especially in the early weeks. 

There are also lots of friends who haven’t met Ettie, and that feels weird. Quite a few of my faraway friends have had babies this year, and we haven’t been able to introduce them. I know this year would have looked very different without coronavirus. It’s been weird to have a year of minimal socialising, and I am so looking forward to things returning to normal again.

  1. No baby mates

I know, babies don’t really have friends, but also the do. I miss the days of going to the pub and plonking the babies down on the pub sofa and pretending they were best friends. I miss lying all the babies down next to each other at baby group. I miss watching them interact, even though it is inevitably scratchy and drooly. 

I am lucky to live a few doors away from a baby group that has found a way to continue in a socially-distanced capacity. That baby group is over-subscribed (as I’m sure you can imagine) because of the limit on numbers. However, the woman who runs it is lovely and is going above and beyond to make sure mums are still able to find the support they need (I think she might be an actual angel). We sit on mats and can’t move around the room, the babies don’t get to interact, but it’s a nice play to go and chat with other mums, and it has been a life-saver. 

I am so glad Ettie wasn’t my first baby and that I already know plenty of mums I can meet up with for walks. When I had my first baby, I didn’t know anybody in my local area, and not many of my friends had children so I would have struggled so much with loneliness if we’d been in lockdown. I feel for all the first time mums trying to navigate parenthood for the first time this year. 

  1. Her baby book is a little sorry

There is definitely a market for pandemic-specific baby groups because the regular ones don’t work very well. There’s a big focus on visitors and cuddles and things that just weren’t possible in 2020. I would prefer a place to stick the facemask from her birth, and photographs of loved ones waving through windows, and perhaps maps of the many, many, many walks I took her on when there was nowhere else to go. Instead, the baby book is like a collection of what should have been—the special occasions and the family meetups and baby showers that were not to be this year. 

To all those of you who have welcomed babies this year, I hope you have found some positives to take the edge off. It has certainly been a strange time to have a baby. 

Saturday 24 October 2020

Maternity Leave Lockdown

Ettie is three months old now. I don’t know how that’s possible, but there it is. It feels like she has always been here. The pregnancy feels like a distant memory now. I was thinking recently how strange this year has been, and how I’ve barely written so there will be no record of how I felt during this time. I don’t know whether that matters, but it seemed strange to live through such a strange time and not have written about it. 

I wrote that first paragraph a month ago, I am really struggling for time at the moment. Sitting down at my laptop isn’t easy and on the rare occasions I manage it, it’s usually because I have something specific to do. I often find myself trapped on the sofa under a sleeping baby, but that’s not a great position for typing so I’ve been using that time to read books. I like reading books so this has been lovely and I’ve read lots about birth and motherhood. 

I think the past month has felt harder pandemic-wise. I was ok being in lockdown when I was pregnant. I felt pretty safe cocooned at home with my family, knowing we were keeping ourselves safe. I may have been the strictest person, in fact, I was so terrified that one of us would come down with symptoms and it would me stop me having a home birth. We got all our shopping online because I just didn’t want to take any risks, which seems a bit silly now but nevermind. 

Having a new baby in lockdown was ok, too. We didn’t have to worry about visitors and that was quite nice to just spend that time as a family of five (so many) getting to know each other. There are so many hormonal changes happening in those early weeks, it’s actually quite ridiculous how much socialising new mums are expected to do. I wasn’t struggling with breastfeeding or anything so the reduced support didn’t bother me personally. I felt really looked after by my lovely midwife and I didn’t feel like the pandemic had caused me to miss out on any care of anything. 

But now, I guess now that the protective bubble doesn’t feel quite so necessary, it feels more restrictive. Ettie doesn’t feel like a vulnerable newborn anymore, and I miss my parents. It’s hard not being able to see them or my faraway friends. I find all the uncertainty around the guidelines and laws and restrictions quite unsettling. I wish there an end date, I think a lot of people are feeling that. I totally understand why the rules are there and I’m certainly not breaking them, but I think mentally it feels harder now than it did in the summer. 

I spend a lot of time walking with Ettie in the sling. My mum bought me a big babywearing coat to keep us both warm and it’s just lovely. It’s like wearing a big hug and I love it. I wish I’d bought one two babies ago instead of waiting till Ettie. I bought myself some walking shoes, too, which means I can stomp down the canal even when it’s very wet and the path is covered in giant puddles. Every morning, I drop the older two at school and then go for a big walk around where I live. It’s beautiful at this time of year. But I get back home at about half-past ten in the morning and then there’s really much to do until I pick the kids up again. There aren’t many baby groups, I can’t meet friends in cafes, it just feels very different from my previous maternity leaves. 

I go for walks with other mums some days. Other times I end up going for a few walks by myself just to fill the time. I’m not sure Ettie will ever learn things like rolling over or crawling because she spends so much time in the sling. I hope the babywearing coat and the walking shoes will mean we can keep walking every day even when it’s wintery and cold because otherwise, it’s going to feel like a very long winter. This has certainly been a strange year to have a baby, and I’m very glad this wasn’t my first (or only) maternity leave. 

Thursday 6 August 2020

Ettie's Birth Story: The Birth We've Been Waiting For

This is the third and final instalment of my birth story (catch up on part one and part two) and I promise this chapter features a birth.

On Wednesday, I was 43 weeks pregnant. It was also July and my June baby was nowhere to be seen. I headed back to the hospital for another scan and more monitoring. The scan showed a further reduction in fluid (89mm to 84mm if I remember correctly, which I might not). Then I went back to the ADU to meet with the consultant. She asked what I wanted to do now and I said I would give myself until Friday and, if it hadn’t happened by then, I would go in for an induction. She looked relieved. I had another examination and some CTG monitoring and then went back home for more tense and angry bouncing on my birth ball. 

I had been having tightenings for a few weeks, sometimes for a few hours at a time, but they would always taper off without becoming anything exciting. On Thursday, I had plenty of these tightenings throughout the afternoon and evening, and I was really hopeful that things were starting to happen (hopeful/out of my mind desperate). Laurie went to a supermarket to buy last minute things for the birth/baby. The kids packed a suitcase so they’d be ready to go and stay with my parents when I went into the hospital.

I was still hopeful that I might go into labour naturally, but I knew I needed to mentally prepare myself for the possibility of induction. I’d been told they would probably just break my waters, so I wanted to know if I’d be able to be in the birth centre and in the pool if that was successful. I had many other questions too. But when I spoke to a midwife from the hospital on the phone, she basically just said she didn’t know to every question and then told me to ring back if I thought of any more questions and I couldn’t tell if she was being sarcastic because she hadn’t answered any of them so far. 

The next morning, I woke up early (shocker) and had a bloody show (this happened the day before Ember was born so I was now feeling hopeful). My tightenings had gotten stronger though still weren’t regular or contractions, but I felt positive things were heading in the right direction. My parents came and picked up the girls who were ridiculously excited to see their grandparents for the first time since February.

After they left, I ate half a tub of Ben & Jerry’s while feeling very sorry for myself. We watched some television and I told Laurie that I didn’t want to go to the hospital and I was thinking of staying home instead. He looked thrilled. I imagine his thought process was something along the lines of “why did I marry this”. He said it was my choice because he knows all about feminism, but what if it didn’t happen by tomorrow, at what point would I stop giving it more time. At half-past eleven, my phone rang. It was Sarah, the stand-in community midwife I’d met at an antenatal appointment a few months earlier, she said she would meet me on the birth centre in an hour. I can’t explain how relieved I felt when it was someone I'd already met on the other end of the phone. I'd really liked Sarah when I met her, she was very pro home birth and I'd actually said to Laurie after I'd met her that I'd hoped she'd be on call the night I went into labour.

I don’t know whether Sarah came with me because she knew how much I wanted a home birth and felt bad for me. Or whether the entire home birth team were terrified of having to attend the home birth of a Guinness World Record Breaking length pregnancy and she offered to come with me so that I would go to hospital. If it was the latter, it was a wise move, because I really don’t know whether I’d have gone that day if it hadn’t been her on the other end of the phone. 

We packed our stuff and then made our way to the hospital. Sarah had told me to eat something before going to the hospital but I felt too anxious, so I sent Laurie off to M&S to get some food after he’d dropped me at the hospital. I’d assumed he couldn’t come in with me straight away because of COVID, but apparently, he could have. I wasn’t too bothered though, there is a much higher risk of me crying when Laurie is there so figuring out what was going to happen by myself was actually ok. 

I went up to the birth centre to find Sarah. I spent hours on the birth centre when I was in labour with Ember and I thought I would find it quite awful to be back there, but it was ok. I was taken to the same room where I had spent hours not giving birth to Ember. It was about 1pm by the time I got there. Laurie got some food from M&S and then waited in the car for me to call him up. This took a long time, I am a terrible wife.

I had previously been told that I’d been going to have my membranes ruptured (ARM) and that there was a good chance this would be all I needed to start labour. On the day, however, the consultant suggested starting with a pessary. Unbeknownst to me, the midwife who had examined me two days previously had downgraded my Bishop Score to a 6, and I think the consultant felt a pessary was my best chance at avoiding the hormone drip. As soon as they start intervening, you’re on the clock, and the pessary would give me some more time. If I opted for the pessary, they would put that in then leave me for six hours before checking me again. I wasn’t that keen on that idea, I was already tired and I just wanted to hurry things along. 

I wanted to see what my cervix was doing before making a decision, but this meant they needed to have everything ready and waiting so it could all be done during the same examination. It took a bit of time to get everything ready, and I was placed on the CTG monitor to get a trace of the baby in the meantime.

It was 3pm by the time I had the examination, I don’t know how two hours had passed or what I’d been doing in that time. Laurie was still sitting in the car because I’d wanted to get this part over with alone and hadn’t realised it would take quite so long. The midwife had the pessary and the amnihook ready. Upon examination, my cervix was 5cm dilated, 50% effaced and anterior. We decided to go with the amnihook and the midwife attempted to rupture the membranes. This took an awkwardly long time, I guess the membranes were thick. Eventually, it worked and my waters broke.

I was still on the CTG monitor so the baby could be monitored throughout and after the procedure. This meant I had to stay on the bed which was essentially now a puddle. My socks were very wet. The Head of the home birth team popped in to see me, which was great timing because I had no knickers on and that’s how I usually like to receive guests. She told me Sarah had volunteered to go with me that day (isn’t that so lovely). 

Laurie came up with his bag of M&S food and all the hospital bags we had packed (I overpacked). I had to stay on the monitor for a while longer. Eventually, I was taken off the monitor and advised to eat something and move around. I had a couscous salad and drank lots of water. We mostly spent this time taking photos of ourselves in facemasks because that’s what people did in the summer of 2020. 

By 4pm, I was sitting on a birth ball. I’d started using the Freya App (it costs £2.99 and you need it if you are about to have a baby. Trust me, it will be the best money you’ve ever spent) to time my tightenings. They were irregular but they were definitely ramping up so I was hopeful things were starting to happen. I was feeling pretty sick after eating, I felt hot and sweaty and shaky. This is not how you want to feel in labour, but I didn’t really want to take any anti-sickness medication because that had made me throw up last time. 

I got changed into some cooler clothes. Cooler in temperature, not in style. I’d asked Laurie to get me a plain baggy nightie on his shopping trip but he could only find Winnie The Pooh ones and I’m really not that kind of woman. So I’d packed swimwear for the pool, and then a long strappy top for the birth. I figured I’d need something to wear with it so I’d found a black skirt which was fitted and maybe an odd choice for birthwear. It looked like I was wearing a bodycon dress. But I was very hot and it was cool so I was ok with it. 

At some point, the Head of the home birth team came to see us again. She told me she hadn’t dared to drink all week in case I went into labour and they didn’t have enough midwives, she’d put herself unofficially on call for me (isn’t that so lovely? Aren’t the home birth team in Stockport actually just the best midwives in the world?). Before she left, she told me my midwife would be leaving soon because her working day had already finished.

I was still very hot. Laurie had opened all of the windows and put a fan on for me, and I sat there sweating in my fake bodycon dress while he shivered in a jumper. It was just the two of us in the room and he was kneeling in front of me so that I could break his fingers or whatever during surges. 

Soon after 5pm, my midwife returned to say it had been two hours since she had broken my waters. Usually, after two hours, they would progress to the hormone drip if you weren’t in established labour, but I now had until 7pm. It is no fun to be on a deadline for something you cannot control. I felt quite stressed when she said I only had another two hours. If I needed the drip it would mean goodbye birth centre, goodbye water birth. She also mentioned that she’d be leaving soon but I think I looked so terrified that she felt guilted into staying (I hope it wasn't her wedding anniversary or anything). Laurie told the midwife that he’d been timing my contractions and thought I was in labour now, but I told her I wasn’t. Laurie thinks this made him look mental, but I just couldn’t cope with being told I wasn’t so best to do the nay-saying myself.

I went to the toilet to pee and that seemed to make my tightenings stronger (I don’t know if that is a thing). I can remember leaning on the toilet wall (probably not the cleanest wall) and breathing through it. The Freya App counts your breathing for you (in for four, out for eight). It’s such a simple idea but it’s honestly just amazing. I went back into the room and the midwife appeared to monitor the baby’s heart rate but I don’t really remember. It seems I mostly labour with my eyes clamped shut which is probably weird. 

I saw a big green mat in the corner of the room and asked Laurie to get it for me. I knelt upon it and leant over the birth ball and stayed there until pretty much the end of the labour. My midwife said she could fill the birth pool if I wanted but I was so worried about it slowing things down that I told her not to just yet. She mentioned that the pools take a while to fill but I decided we shouldn’t do it just yet. I was still feeling sick and sweaty and hot and shaky, so the midwife suggested I could try the anti-sickness pill (rather than the injection that I’d had previously) and went off to get a prescription from the consultant. 

She returned with the pill which seemed to work really fast. I managed to eat some grapes whilst kneeling and leaning over the birth ball. The contractions were more regular now, definitely at least 3 in 10, and they were lasting at least a minute each time. Some of them were much longer though so they never seemed to follow an exact pattern. I felt like the contractions were close together and pretty intense, so I was focusing on the Freya App and my breathing. I’d changed my mind about the pool by this point so Sarah started filling it and then left us to it. 

At some point, Sarah came back into the room. I think she might have wanted to monitor the baby’s heart rate again but I don’t think I was in a very accessible position. She sat on a chair behind Laurie. At this point, I felt everything open up. I don’t know if it was my bones moving to allow the baby through or whether it was the baby making her way down, but I’d never felt that sensation in my two previous births. I remember thinking “Was that…? No, it can’t have been, it’s too soon.” I didn’t say anything out loud about it (I am a weird secretive person). 

The rest of the story is not glamorous, but I’m going to put it on the internet anyway because that is what I do. I felt like I needed to go to the bathroom, for a number two. Well, to be completely honest, I thought I was already doing a number two. I have no idea what that was, but I was convinced. I told Laurie what I thought was happening and he told the midwife in a very weird and humiliating game of Chinese Whispers.

I made my way to the bathroom. For this particular birth centre room, the bathroom is not in the birth room, it’s a separate room in the corridor just outside (this is great because it means you’re walking around half-naked in a corridor, isn’t that what all women want during labour?). I locked the door and walked across the room to the toilet (it’s a big bathroom). As I sat down on the toilet, it occurred to me that I should not have locked the door. Then a contraction started, I switched my contraction timer on (it was 6:05pm) and then realised I was pushing. What a terrible shit this is, I thought to myself, while sweating on the toilet. After some intense involuntary pushing, I wondered where the hell the poo was. I had a quick check and, well, there was no poo. Oh dear, I thought, and then I reached down between my legs and realised the baby was there. 

I stood up just as the baby was crowning, I felt the burning sensation of the head being born, and put my hand on her head as she came out. I also made what Laurie has since described as “a really weird noise”. It was not the mooing he had heard in previous births, but a more surprised noise. He was, at this point, waiting outside the bathroom door with a clean pair of knickers for his wife who he mistakenly thought had shat herself.

“Are you ok?” He asked, probably imagining me weeping with embarrassment as I tried to scrub skid marks from my soiled underwear. 

“It’s the baby, the baby’s coming!” I yelled in a not-at-all cool, calm or collected voice. 

Laurie ran to tell the midwife who said something along the lines of “Oh!” She was much calmer than us. He ran back to the bathroom and unlocked it from the outside (what a hero) and, as the door opened, he was greeted with the sight of me, panicked, and half of his baby. He ran into the room just as her body was born and he managed to catch her. She was very slippery and covered in vernix. She cried straight away and Laurie told me we had another daughter. The midwife was right behind Laurie and she untangled the baby from the umbilical cord (it was looped around the baby’s tummy) before passing her up to me. 

I felt completely amazing. I couldn’t believe it had happened so fast and so easily, I was completely overwhelmed with joy and gratitude and whatever the word is for feeling like the most impressive woman alive. And relieved the baby hadn’t landed in the toilet. I was so pleased that I got to be the first person to touch her, and that Laurie had been the second. I entered that bathroom feeling like a woman who had just soiled herself in public, but I left it feeling like if there was an award for birthing, I would surely win it.

When we walked out of the bathroom, there was another midwife in the corridor (see how there are people wandering around so your nudity does not go unnoticed during toilet trips in this particular birth centre room) and she asked if everything was ok. My midwife told her we’d just had the baby in the toilet and the new midwife asked if she wanted a hand. My midwife said we were ok, before opening the door to the birth centre room and realising it was completely unsuitable for a newborn baby. Every window was open wide and the fan was on and the whole room felt more like a snow blizzard than the kind of place you might take a newborn. She called the other midwife back and they ran around closing windows and finding blankets to pile on top of me and Ettie. 

My notes say that Ettie was born at 6:10pm, and by 6:14pm she was having her first feed snuggled up on the bed in the birth centre. Laurie took some photos at quarter past and I look so ridiculously proud. She was finally here and she was fine and she was perfect. I had the injection to deliver the placenta so that happened quickly. I felt more aware of my blood loss this time, I don’t know if that was because Dr Kenickie had kept banging on about the risk of PPH or whether it was because a fast birth doesn’t leave you quite so numb down there.

At 7:30pm, I handed Ettie over to Laurie for his first cuddle, so I could have some stitches. This was not pleasant, giving birth is ok but stitches are terrible. I didn’t have any pain relief for the birth but had gas and air for the stitches (and still kept getting told off for tensing). Just before 9pm, my midwife gave us a science lesson where she showed us the placenta. At the time, this was fascinating and my placenta was a thing of wonder, but now the photos on my phone make me feel nauseous. The placenta was gritty but she said it didn’t necessarily look like the placenta of a post-term woman. She said I was the most pregnant woman she’d ever looked after but it was not the oldest looking placenta she’d ever encountered. 

Shortly after the impromptu placenta TED Talk, Sarah left, hours after her shift should have finished. I was so grateful to her for staying with me and for volunteering to be there with me in the first place. I felt so supported and well cared for. My birth plan was vague, it pretty much just said I wanted to be left alone and to maybe catch my own baby, and that’s exactly how it went. Being pregnant for 43 weeks and 2 days is truly terrible, but the end was made more bearable by knowing that there was a team of midwives rooting for me. I couldn’t love the Stockport Home Birth Team more if I tried, they are all wonderful, but especially my midwives. 

After the midwife had gone home, I went for a shower and changed into some clean clothes which I immediately bled all over (really, what is the point?). They were my last clothes so I then had to leave the hospital covered in bloodstains which was great and very stylish. Also, they were not clothes but pyjama pants and they were pale yellow so the blood was very noticeable and not at all discrete. If I had been an Instagram photo, I would have been taken down for breaking community guidelines. We had to wait in the hospital for what felt like forever after the birth and, in hindsight, I wish we’d just discharged ourselves and left earlier. But sometime after midnight we eventually carried Ettie through our front door. 

Ettie's Birth Story: So Many Hospital Visits

Thanks for joining me for the second instalment of this long and tedious birth story (the first part is here, if you missed it). I can’t quite remember when all of the following things happened (lockdown problems), but hopefully I have the weeks correct. 

At my 38 week appointment, my midwife couldn’t determine the baby’s position, and it took a really long time to find the heartbeat. I wasn’t overly worried because the baby had been moving around as normal not long before, but also it was the first time I’d worn a face mask and I was lying on my back under a bright light for a long time and I did feel like maybe I was about to die of stress. She found a heartbeat eventually but wasn’t sure whether the baby was in an oblique lie so she rang the Antenatal Day Unit (ADU) to make me an appointment for a mini scan to check the baby’s position. She said, “I’ll make you an appointment to see me at 40 weeks on the off chance that everything is fine with the scan.” This did not fill me with confidence.

We didn’t have much time to get to the hospital so it was a bit of a rush to get the kids ready and in the car. On the way there, I made the mistake of googling ‘oblique lie’ and found posts saying ‘Take your hospital bag because they’ll want to do a section so you won’t be going home lol.’ Reader, I did not lol. I ugly cried again, but silently because the kids were in the back of the car.

A consultant came to see me and scanned my bump (with a scanner that she probably borrowed from a history museum, it was not fancy). The baby was head down and happy. Because of Ember’s size (4.7kg which translates to ABSOLUTELY MASSIVE), the consultant suggested I have a scan at 40 weeks to check the size of this baby. She said if the baby was below the 97th percentile, she wouldn’t worry because I got Ember out just fine ( she wasn’t there at the birth and I feel like 'just fine' was overselling that traumatic experience), but if the baby was over the 97th percentile then they might want to talk about intervention. I agreed to have a scan at 40 weeks and then I went on my way, relieved that the baby was head down. 

At my 40 week appointment, the midwife found static growth when measuring the fundal height measurement (this means the baby hadn’t grown since the week before). I was once again referred for a scan, though this time it was a full scan in the ultrasound department. My scan was the following Monday, so I was 40+5 by the time I was scanned. I was really worried that the scan would find polyhydramnios (this means excess fluid and was the diagnosis that stopped me having a home birth last time) or a giant baby. 

The ultrasound technician did not find a giant baby, in fact, it seemed that this baby was destined to be my smallest yet. She did, however, find that I had too much fluid (polyhydramnios). However, it was only a mild case, so it wasn’t as worrying a diagnosis as it had been last pregnancy. I was found to have a deepest pool of 9.4cm of fluid this time (with Ember, it was classed as severe which means the deepest pool was at least 16cm, I think). I wasn’t particularly worried about the fluid because it seemed borderline-ish, and I was relieved that the scan didn’t find a giant baby (although I still thought that’s what I was having because I did not trust the scan). The sonographer didn't seem too worried about the excess fluid so I was sent home after the scan.

My next appointment was with another stand-in midwife when I was 41+2. She was very pro-home birth and was talking about how lovely the birth would be. Then she touched my bump and found that the baby was ballotable (this means the head was free in my pelvis, I know this because I googled it after I left). With this and the polyhydramnios diagnosis, she felt I needed to be seen by a doctor at the hospital. “It’s such a shame, you’d have had a lovely home birth,” she said. This did not fill me with confidence. 

I am in no way medical or intelligent, but for those interested: the risk with polyhydramnios is that the excess fluid means the baby bobs about rather than becoming fixed in the pelvis. This is concerning because if your waters go when your baby isn’t head down, the cord can prolapse which can be a serious medical emergency. So a ballotable head and polyhydramnios didn’t sound like a great mix.

I went back to the ADU and waited to see a doctor. When the doctor came, he said he was offering me induction because of the polyhydramnios. I told him I’d rather not be induced, and he said: “You know we’ll be inducing you in like two days anyway, right? That’s what we do with women who go over.” As though I had no say in the matter whatsoever. When he said this, he was leaning against the wall with one knee bent and his foot flat against the wall, his mask hanging under his chin, more like one of the T-birds from Grease than a medical doctor. Obvs they didn't have face masks in Grease, but if they had, Kenickie would definitely have had his under his chin and not covering his mouth and nose).

I tried explaining that I wanted a home birth and he said that wouldn’t be safe. He said there was a risk of postpartum haemorrhage (PPH) and so I’d be better in hospital. I tried to ask about the severity of the polyhydramnios but he didn’t really answer my question. Or any of my other questions. He said if I went into labour over the weekend, I needed to head straight to the hospital and have the baby there. He told me to go back on Sunday for monitoring and to be booked in for an induction. 

It was 5pm on Friday by the time I was free to go and I felt worried that if I went into labour that weekend, I wasn’t going to get the birth I wanted. I decided to try and find a senior midwife to speak to before I left the hospital to see if we could put together a plan. What I should have done was taken ten minutes to think about what I was going to say and talk myself down from panic mode. Instead, what I did was stumbled into clinic, found a senior midwife, and immediately began to ugly cry at her. So, that was great. 

Luckily, the mask hid most of my crying face, so the midwife was only subjected to my ugly eyes. But also I made some pretty intense weeping noises that will never leave me. The midwife I found was the same midwife I had ugly cried on when I was told I couldn’t have a home birth with Ember. I don’t know if she recognised me and my ugly eyes and intense weeping noises. I didn’t tell her I recognised her, I basically didn’t tell her anything on account of all the crying. I managed to say I wanted a home birth and I think that was the only coherent thing I said. 

Luckily, midwives are very good at pretending that you aren’t being mental and they are skilled at ignoring weird crying noises, so she passed me a tissue and wrote a new plan for me. The plan was that if my contractions started, they would send a community midwife out to me to check the position of the baby and, if all was well, support the home birth. If my waters went first, however, I was to go to the hospital to check there was no cord prolapse and that baby was in a good position, and then, if all was well, I could go home. I stopped crying, thanked her a lot, and went home.

The next day, I spoke to my obstetrician friend for some advice. I recommend you all get yourselves an obstetrician friend, especially if you have stubborn babies who are trying to force you to be pregnant forever. I wanted to know whether or not a home birth was safe, and I decided that if this particular obstetrician told me it was unsafe, then I would know it really was. And I would likely take the news better from her because I already trusted her opinion. And it would be via the phone so she wouldn’t see my cry face if it was bad news.

Speaking to her was so helpful. By the end of the call, I felt reassured and informed and ready to advocate for my wishes at my next hospital appointment. I was back at Stepping Hill Hospital that Sunday, I was 40+10 and I had a CTG scan to monitor the baby. The midwife confirmed that the plan I’d put into place with the midwife on Friday was still the plan and I left feeling happy.

I didn’t have to go back to the hospital until I was 42 weeks. Going overdue isn’t fun, but I didn’t feel too stressed about it. Ember was born at 42+3 so I figured this baby was likely to be late as well. Obviously, I would have loved to have been wrong, but I wasn’t going to start panicking until I’d gotten to that point. That Wednesday, at 42 weeks, I went back to the hospital for monitoring. I met with a consultant who was lovely and nothing like Kenickie from Grease. She listened to what I wanted and respected my choices and didn't wear a leather jacket or have a car with daggers hanging out of the wheels. She was happy for me to birth at home and for me to continue down the expectant management route instead of being induced. It makes such a difference to speak to a doctor who listens to you. 

The consultant wanted me to have another scan (it had been a week since my last one) and to continue with the regular CTG monitoring, both of which I was happy to do. I headed down to the ultrasound department, admittedly a little worried that the scan would show further increased fluid levels and that I’d end up having to give birth in the hospital again. I needn’t have worried though, the fluid measurements had actually gone down (from 94mm to 89mm) and everything looked ok. I agreed to go back for further CTG monitoring that Friday. 

At each visit to the hospital, I was having examinations and my Bishop Score was very slowly climbing up which felt like a positive thing. When I went back that Friday (at 42+2), the midwife said my cervix was favourable and the CTG monitoring was fine so I left feeling positive. I was convinced the baby would be born that weekend just as Ember had been. I was, of course, wrong. The weekend came and went with no baby. I was still ok on Sunday, but by Monday morning, I was beginning to lose hope. 

I trudged back to the hospital on Monday morning at 42 weeks and 5 days pregnant. The CTG scan took a little longer than usual because the baby was in a sleep cycle for the first 20 minutes, but after that, there were plenty of accelerations and movements and the trace looked fine. The consultant came back to see me and I said I was happy to keep waiting for a few more days so she asked me to go back on Wednesday for further monitoring and a scan. I had another examination and this time my Bishop Score was 8 (things were headed in the right direction so I was feeling positive). 

While I was in the hospital, the head of the home birth team came to visit me. She was really lovely, as you might expect. She told me the midwife who examined me on Friday had been convinced it would happen over the weekend so all the on-call midwives had been ready and raring to go. I asked if they got many women going post-term and she said I was the record. This was not reassuring to hear. I knew I was in the minority but hadn’t realised I was so extreme. I asked at what point I would no longer be allowed a home birth (I was now 40+19) and she said it wasn’t about being allowed. It was my choice and they would support me. So I asked at what point they would no longer recommend home birth and she said 40+12 (so, like, a week ago) and then an awkward silence filled the room. She talked about hypnobirthing and home births and lots of other positive things, then told me she was on call that night so would see me at my home birth in a few hours. 

I went home and relaxed for the rest of the day and then I went into labour.

Just kidding.

I still did not go into labour. And how relaxed can you really be at 42 weeks and five days pregnant? Not very. It is not relaxing to know your baby is taking extra time to grow, especially when your previous baby was an actual giant. But, I tried my best. I listened to my birth playlist a lot (it was 1 hour 10 long which was optimistic considering my previous labour was 15 hours) and I watched time-lapses of flowers opening (judge me all you will, but if you’ve never been 42 weeks and 5 days pregnant you have no idea the levels of desperation it is possible to reach. If a midwife had told me voting Tory would induce labour, I would have done it).

Needless to say, the flower time-lapses did not work. The hypnobirthing visualisations did not work. My stupid massive baby was stuck or stubborn or just a terrible person. Laurie had finished work when I was 42 weeks pregnant, so he was looking after Ebony and Ember which freed me up to spend all my time wondering why the fuck I was still pregnant. Sleep had become a distant memory. I spent most nights lying in bed waiting to go into labour (this doesn’t work) and then every morning I would wake up at 4am and feel overwhelmed with misery that I was still bastard pregnant. I couldn’t ever get back to sleep so I would go downstairs and bounce on my birth ball (this also did not work) whilst listening to my birth playlist and, often, crying. It was a great week. 

I apologise for the sheer length of this post. Probably you won't read this bit because you will have died of old age before you reach this final paragraph. I promise that the next post will include a wonderful birth.

The photo is from when I was 42 weeks and 6 days pregnant, it's the last proper bump shot I have because it just got too depressing after that.

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