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. 

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