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.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Ettie's Birth Story: A Bit of Background

I haven’t written anything here for a long time. Blogging while heavily pregnant during lockdown wasn’t an option. Firstly, I had nothing to say because we were at home all of the time and secondly, I had no opportunity because the kids were with me All The Time. There was no headspace for writing inspiration, at all. I let the pregnancy updates fall by the wayside because each week blended into the next and the only change seemed to be that I got bigger and more heavily pregnant. This would not make for very interesting reading.  

The pregnancy was fine, albeit long, so there wasn’t much of interest to report. I had a cold for four whole weeks and that was probably the most exciting thing to happen. Things did start to get more complicated towards the end, however, and I feel like I need to include all of that in my birth story so that it is the complete unabridged version. It’s going to be long, sorry, but the birth was short so that might make up for it (did that hook you in?). 

I was hoping to have a home birth. That sounds casual. I was not. I had my heart set (like concrete) on one. I had Ebony at home, in 2012, and it was wonderful. It was calm and private and I was left feeling empowered and invincible. I didn’t shut up about it for years. Then, almost four years ago, I had Ember in hospital and, without wanting to sound dramatic, the experience left me feeling emotionally raw. It was not private or calm, and I did not feel empowered when it was over. I felt like I had survived something terrible, which is definitely dramatic but I cannot help the melodrama. 

This time, I was desperate to give birth in the safety of my own home. I wanted the baby to be born in a birth pool in our front room (of our mid-terraced house which is arguably less private than a delivery suite) under twinkling lights. I wanted Ebony and Ember to be at the birth, I wanted them to be able to meet their new sibling straight away. I wanted to be able to eat my own food, move around my own house, and, basically, feel like the boss during my labour. I wanted to be in control of the space and to feel safe and relaxed. I wanted to be tucked up in my own bed a couple of hours later. But, the best-laid plans, and all that. 

First of all, Coronavirus arrived to scupper my plans. Home births were being cancelled across the country as soon a Coronavirus became a thing. Every day, it seemed more and more trusts were cancelling home births and telling women they needed to give birth in hospitals instead. I asked my midwife about it early on (in the days before masks, remember those glorious days when everyone had mouths?) and she said she thought Stockport would keep offering home births because they have a dedicated home birth team and they had plenty of midwives. I wanted to feel reassured but I mostly still felt really anxious about it. The thought of not getting a home birth again was awful. 

Other trusts kept pulling their home birth services, I was watching them drop like flies as women shared their frustrations on Facebook home birth groups. All of Stockport’s neighbouring trusts suspended their services and I was convinced Stockport was likely to go the same way. My regular midwife was on leave at my next appointment, but I told her stand-in about my concerns and she was really reassuring and told me she’d had all her babies at home. A few days later, however, Stockport NHS Trust announced that they were suspending the home birth service with immediate effect. I may have ugly cried. For a long time. 

It was late April and I wasn’t due until June, but everything about Coronavirus was so uncertain at that point and I was worried home births wouldn’t be reinstated in time. I emailed a few Independent Midwives to enquire about availability and costs. They cost a lot, it turns out, but I was seriously considering it just so I could stay home. If you’ve had a home birth, you’ll understand why. It’s nice staying home. It’s completely different from a hospital setting. I messaged the stand-in midwife to ask if she thought the service would be reinstated before June (high maintenance, me? Maybe). She replied and told me that ambulance delays were to blame for the suspension but that if women still wanted to birth at home, and they had enough midwives on call, then those births could go ahead. I may have ugly cried again, but this time with relief (that I didn’t have to empty the bank account to pay for an Independent Midwife).

At my next appointment, I told my regular midwife that I would still like to go ahead with the home birth. When I was 36+6, she dropped off the home birth box and I signed some forms to confirm I understood the ambulance service couldn’t guarantee a fast response. With the home birth box in the corner of the living room, it started to feel real. We got the house in order, practised setting up the hot tub, and bought all the extra bits we needed for the birth (hose pipe, tap connector etc). We got into the habit of making sure the house was spotless before bed every night (we really aren’t usually those people) just in case. I felt ready for this home birth.

To be continued...

Monday, 20 July 2020

5 Thoughtful Gifts for New Mums

This is a collaborative post.

As a new mum, I can say with absolute certainty that we love gifts. And cards. I was surprised by how many thoughtful cards and perfect gifts we were sent when Ettie was born, especially considering the country is still in the midst of a pandemic. It was nice to know people were thinking of us and excited to meet Ettie when life returns to normal.

It can be difficult to know what a new mum needs. The things you'd usually buy her may not seem like great gifts when she has a baby to care for. Any kind of hobby might be taking a backseat, at least for the fourth trimester. Personally, however, I would argue that these gifts are fine. She might not get around to reading the book or picking up that craft project immediately, but it will keep until she has the time to invest in herself once again. 

Here are some thoughtful gift ideas for new mums:

1. All the sweet things
I have been sent postal cupcakes, letterbox brownies, and had a homemade lemon drizzle cake appear on my doorstep as if by magic. For somebody who ate a diabetic diet for the second half of my pregnancy, I can confirm that sugary foods are very much appreciated. Breastfeeding is tough and it's nice to have cake to contribute to the much-needed 500 extra calories per day. 

2. Pamper products
New mums deserve to feel good about themselves. They've just done something wonderful and they probably feel like they've been run over by a train. They need bath bombs and nail varnish and nice face cream. They need facemasks and bubble bath and perfume. Any kind of pamper product is likely to be appreciated.

3. Pyjamas
Make it clear that you think it's perfectly acceptable for new mums to wear pyjamas all day long by treating her to a brand new pair. There are few things in life better than new pyjamas, especially when you are sore and bleeding. This is the perfect gift to nurture a new mum and encourage her to get some much-needed rest.

4. Groceries
Pop to a supermarket and pick up a few essentials for your friend. Some fresh fruit to snack on is a great idea. Think of foods she can easily eat with one hand, especially things she can snack on while breastfeeding. Grab a fresh pizza or something they could eat for dinner or lunch. Picking up some supermarket basics could save your friends a trip to the shop which will make their life a little easier and allow them to enjoy their newborn bubble for a little longer. 

5. Vouchers 
I think all new mums go through a mini-identity crisis during the fourth trimester. It's hard work when your maternity clothes are too big and your pre-pregnancy clothes are too small. The jeggings you used to wear give you a squishy overhang, but your maternity tops are weirdly baggy all of a sudden. This identity crisis combined with the 3am night-feed leads to late night shopping. Sending a gift voucher to her favourite shop is a great way to a) encourage her new dangerous nighttime hobby and b) treat her a new item of clothing. Just be sure to tell her the voucher is for her, not the baby (otherwise you know it will get spent on another adorable sleepsuit). 

If you don't have much money to spend, fear not, your time is valuable, too. Help your friend out by doing the washing up, cleaning the kitchen worktops, or offer to hold the baby while your friend gets some rest or takes a shower. Basically, anything you can do to make the new mum's life a little easier will be perfect. 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Books I Read in March

This month, I bought new books. Many new books, because I did well at not buying new books last month (I realise this makes no sense). I also read a little less, I think because I have been feeling sleepier some evenings and so haven't had the brainpower to concentrate. This post contains affiliate links, you won't be charged extra if you click the links to purchase your books, but I will get a tiny sum each time you do.

Here are the books I read in March:

Where The Crawdads Sing
by Delia Owens
I kept seeing people talking about this book online, so I bought a copy. I'd just been to the hospital and since I can't reward myself with cake right now, I rewarded myself with a book. I really enjoyed this book, I found myself completely immersed in Kya's world. Based in the marshlands of Carolina, the story follows Kya who has to grow up and survive with little help. Delia Owens is a wildlife scientist, so there is plenty of nature facts hidden in the story. It's a coming-of-age survival story about our disconnection with the natural world. I loved it and found myself thinking about it often in the days after I'd read it. I also stayed up way too late to finish it which I think is a good sign. 

Girl, Women, Other
by Bernadine Evaristo
I've been waiting to read this book for months. Laurie ordered it months ago but the paperback version so we had to wait for that to be released (why, Laurie??). It arrived when he was away so I decided to read it first (never live with me, I am a terrible human). This book won the Booker Prize and I've seen so many people talking about how good it was. I wasn't disappointed. It tells the stories of 12 women and their lives in Britain. The characters link together, but the book doesn't follow a typical narrative. Each woman has her own chapter and this tells her entire story, though some of the women link together as you progress through the book. It's unlike anything I've read before and I really loved it, I think every reader will have their own favourites in the book (I liked the grandma character best of all). 

Mothering Sunday
by Graham Swift
I saw this book as part of a Mother's Day display in Waterstones and decided to read it. It's set in 1924 and follow's the story of a maid, Jane Fairchild. As was the custom in those days, Jane was given Mothering Sunday off work to spend with her mother, although she didn't have a mother to spend the day with. The story follows her on that fateful day and how it would come to change her life. The book is well-written and the writing style reminded me of a Richard Yates story. The writing is beautiful yet to the point, there is no waffle. It's a short book, but I enjoyed reading it and was keen to keep turning the pages to discover what was to happen next. It wasn't one of my favourites from the month, however.

The View from Castle Rock
by Alice Munro

I've never read anything by Alice Munro before but have seen countless people talking about how wonderful her writing is, so I have had this on my wishlist for ages. In hindsight, it's probably not a great book to start with. It's a fictional book based on snippets of information she found out about her ancestors. I think I probably would have got more out of it if I'd been familiar with her writing and known more about her as a person. It was an interesting book and I liked the writing, but I wasn't particularly blown away by the stories. I've ordered another of her books so I can explore her fiction properly. 

The Hypnobirthing Book
by Katharine Graves

I listened to this book on Audible, no physical pages were turned. I just think it's better to admit that outright. Before the schools closed, I spent my daily walks listening to pregnancy audiobooks and focusing on the impending birth. Now I spend them playing Harry Potter A-Z with Ebony which is lovely but very different. I had booked a session with a KGH Hypnobirthing teacher and I wanted to listen to this book first so I'd be able to make best use of the session. 

Katharine Graves doesn't read the audiobook, she only appears to narrate the visualisations. For some reason, they chose a man to read the book. I don't really like taking pregnancy advice from a man so I found this quite jarring. Also, there's a lot of 'KGH Hypnobirthing' branding throughout the book which I found a little much. And some of the advice is bordering on dangerous, it's quite anti-healthcare professional and I'm not sure that's helpful. By all means, asks questions and play an active role in your care, but I didn't like the approach taken in this book which felt very them v us. 

Your Baby, Your Birth
by Hollie de Cruz

This was another hypnobirthing audiobook I listened to and I loved it. Hollie de Cruz has a nicer voice and is not a middle-aged man so I much preferred getting my pregnancy advice from her. She has a softer approach and focuses on the fact that birth doesn't need to be perfect. I really liked her book and found the visualisations helpful. I listen to the daily affirmations in the bath and I'm finding them really useful. They're definitely helping me to feel more positive about things, even in the middle of a pandemic. 

If you're expecting a baby, I would definitely recommend Hollie's book. It's really positive and features lots of lovely birth stories that will help to build your confidence before birth. 

Give Birth Like A Feminist
by Milli Hill
This was another audiobook I worked through on my morning walks. I've wanted to read this ever since it came out but, if I'm honest, the title put me off. I wrongly thought it would push an agenda or end up making women feel worse about their births. So many women already carry guilt about birth and motherhood, and I was worried that this book would add to that. I can safely say, I misjudged it. That's not what this book is about at all. It's about birth and feminism, and that's it. 

Hill makes a point of saying that all births can be feminist, and there's no such thing as a right way to give birth. She talks about how birth has been left out of feminist discussions for too long and the impact this is having on birth practices. I found this book fascinating. I really enjoyed reading it, if you're a birth geek like me, I strongly recommend it. I will say, however, it's perhaps not a great book to read during pregnancy, especially if you're already feeling anxious about birth. Perhaps save this one for when you're done having babies. 


Those were the only books I read last month. I also started two books I couldn't quite get into so hopefully, I will finish those at some point in the future, or not. It is hard to get lost in a book during lockdown, I find. Is anybody else struggling with escapism at the moment? I find myself staring at my phone instead of reading books, which I feel crappy about. I don't seem to have much concentration at the moment, but I'm sure that's true of lots of us. 

Friday, 27 March 2020

Pregnant in a Pandemic: Too Many Worries

Well, life got a little weird, didn't it? It feels crazy that a few short weeks ago, my biggest concern was whether or not to have the Glucose Tolerance Test. That feels like a whole other pregnancy now. 

So, in case you were wondering, it is weird to be pregnant during a pandemic. I'm grateful this isn't my first pregnancy because I would definitely have felt much more anxious then. This must be a stressful time to be expecting your first baby, the news is full of fear and official advice keeps changing so it feels like hard work keeping up with what is safe to do during pregnancy. First pregnancies are daunting enough without a global health crisis. 

Pre-pandemic, I was doing really well at staying calm and focusing on the pregnancy. I was walking every day, I had reduced the amount I was working, and I was just trying to stay on top of general life to avoid stress. It felt like I had found a good rhythm. That rhythm is no more. And there's little chance of avoiding stress when it slaps me straight in the face every time I glance at my phone. 

Schools have closed now (you knew that right) which means I've got Ebony and Ember at home with me all day. I'm enjoying it, having them home is lovely, but it's disrupted my routine. I can't work in the week anymore (but you're blogging now, couldn't you just work instead? Ssssh), which means I'm going to have to cram all of my work into the weekend. 

And my morning walks with hypnobirthing audiobooks look a little different now. I have to get up early and Ebony comes with me and she makes me play A-Z of Harry Potter character names pretty much the whole way. It's lovely, but it's not a chance to focus on the birth. And Ebony gets a stitch every morning even though we walk at a snail pace.  

The baby is due in June, and I think it's likely the schools will stay closed until September. So, there will be no time to properly prepare for the birth or listen to my hypnobirthing, and I will probably spend my due date asking the kids not to argue. It's fine, it's just not what I imagined. 

I'm unsure how this is all going to impact on the birth. Lots of trusts are pausing home birth services because of staffing issues or pressure on the ambulance service. As of yet, Stockport is still offering home births and are expecting an increase in demand thanks to coronavirus, but who knows what will be happening in another 11 weeks time. Will we be at the peak of the virus then? If so, a home birth could be out of the question. That fills me with dread so I'm trying to push it out of my head for the time being. 

Then there's the question of how this will affect things after the baby is born. Will vulnerable people still be self-isolating at home? The thought of my parents not meeting their new grandchild is truly awful to me. But again, there is no point worrying about that for now, because it's impossible to predict how things will be in three months. 

For the time being, I'm just trying to take it easy. I'm trying not to get stressed out (easier said than done). I'm going for my morning walk with Ebony, and other than that I am keeping my feet firmly planted at home. I haven't been to a shop in weeks, and I'm fake coughing every time somebody breaks the 2-metre rule on my walks (they move pretty sharpish if you do this). I'm trying to find time to relax every day (much-needed after all the bickering). I'm continuing to eat well and avoid sugary foods. 

I'm trying to focus on the fact that a lot of this is out of my control. All I can do is my best. I want this to be a period of time the kids look back on fondly, I want them to remember the long summer we spent at home together, hiding from the world. I don't want them to remember it as the summer they spent with a heavily pregnant woman who had daily breakdowns. 

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

5 Things I'm Going To Do During The Coronavirus Pandemic

The UK coronavirus panic has been playing out in the media for a couple of weeks now. Last night, they included pregnant women in the list of vulnerable people for the first time, and I think that's made me feel more nervous about it all. I don't like to be a vulnerable person. 

Nobody knows what will happen over the next few months. I'm not too fond of uncertainty. I like to have a plan. I don't know when the schools will close or how being classed as vulnerable will impact me. I am worried about a million different things, and worrying about them all doesn't help to make any of them less worrying. So, instead, I decided to make a plan. It's not detailed, and it's not an hourly breakdown of how to spend your day at home with children, it's just a list of points I want to focus on during the next few months. Here are the handful of ways I'm planning to take control of the chaos caused by the coronavirus pandemic:

1. Not freak out my kids
This is not a good time to be an adult. Massive global catastrophes are much more manageable when you're a child and are not in charge of:
a. making decisions to keep your family safe
b. buying the snacks
c. two siblings who love to argue loudly at 6 am (used to be 6:30, but then the stupid birds started singing)

I don't want to be the adult who has to do all of those things. And if I am the adult who has to do all of those things, I want to do them with the help of a trusted and competent government (back slaps for everyone who thought a vote for Boris was a good idea), but, alas, that is not what I have. The media is full of panic; my social media stream is full of panic, hell, even my dreams are filled with anxiety. Last night, I dreamt we had to go on lockdown with another family, and we all had to share a room (can you imagine). 

I think it's important to think about how kids are experiencing what is happening. They aren't subjected to the constant Facebook stream of people giving out terrible and misinformed medical advice, and they aren't obsessively checking the BBC News site, so to them, it is less invasive. However, they're still very much aware of it. There are playground rumours, and they know schools might close soon. I've tried to be honest with my eight-year-old when talking about why Coronavirus is serious, but also to focus on the fact that we're taking precautions and doing what we can. 

If your kids see you panicking, they will panic. If they can sense your stress levels rising, theirs will rise. Yes, this is a very stressful time, and there is a lot of uncertainty, but it's important to show our kids how to handle stress and anxiety. We need to show them that we can cope with whatever life throws our way. 

2. Worry about my parents
My parents got old, I don't know when it happened, but they did. They're not over 70, but my dad is heading that way, and he has heart problems that leave him in the vulnerable person category. So, I will be spending the next few months worrying about him, I suspect. We won't be seeing them anytime soon, because it's too risky. However, he did do a big shop at Asda yesterday, so I'm not convinced he has the hang of self-isolating just yet. Hopefully, he will continue to improve his self-isolating skills until he is actually self-isolating, and then I can stop worrying. I will also be worrying about my grandma, who thinks self-isolating is something you can do while getting a bus into town to meet your mate Pauline at a cafe. I hope that with enough exasperation from the whole family, she will eventually stop doing these things. 

3. Slow down
If (when) the schools close, I am going to look on the bright side and embrace the slower mornings. I love the school holidays when I'm not required to ask anybody to put their shoes on fifty times before 9 am. I know that I am in a privileged position that the school closure won't be horrifically stressful for me. I will do my work at the weekends and look after the kids in the week. We don't need to depend on elderly grandparents or worry about alternative childcare, and it probably won't affect my earnings (because they are so tiny to begin with, you understand). 

I plan to go for a walk every day (ideally before Laurie starts work so I can go alone and listen to my hypnobirthing books and pretend the world isn't crumbling around me) so I can get some exercise. I'm going to keep eating the low glycemic diet, which will be way more depressing when the kids are next to me eating popcorn or crisps. I'm going to plant some vegetables with the kids and hopefully remember to water them. I'm going to sort out the garden. I'm going to keep reading every day and try to distract myself from the news. I'm going to follow Ebony's and Ember's lead. If they want to do their workbooks or dig out a book of science experiments to try, then we'll do that. But if they want to build with Lego and play board games, then we'll do that. I'm not a teacher, and this is not a school. If the schools close, I'll see that time as extra (very limited and samey) summer holidays, not as me trying to replace the school.

4. Limit my phone
I am feeling anxious at the moment. I keep checking my phone to see if the guidelines for pregnant women have been updated. Am I really expected to stay home in isolation for the next 12 weeks? I keep checking Twitter because it's reassuring (in the short-term) to see other people feeling anxious as me. But none of it is helping. I'm not feeling calmer or finding out more information because of my endless scrolling. Instead, I'm overwhelming myself and emphasising the fact that nobody knows what's going to happen. I'm going to wean myself off my phone. If the kids are off school, I'll leave it out of sight, so I'm not tempted to check it obsessively for news. 

5. Sign up to Disney Plus
Yep, that's my grand plan. I can't spend months stuck watching the shit on Netflix and Amazon, so when they close the schools, I'm pushing the boat out and signing up to Disney Plus. Judge me all you want, but I will happily watch Moana every week rather than spend hours scrolling through the utter crap we usually watch. It's £50 for the year, and I'll be saving that just by being stuck at home forevermore, so you can't talk me out of it. Disney, take my money, I just need an hour of peace. 

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