Planned hospital birth, first baby.

Ayla’s due date was August 17th, and I had finished work two weeks before this date in anticipation. I had a healthy pregnancy and was feeling good, though a little tired and heavy in the final weeks and lacking in sleep. We had initially been quite disappointed that she didn’t arrive on her due date, as Adam and I had both arrived spot on time, but I ended up making the most of the extra week. I continued to eat well, do lots of yoga, swimming and hydrotherapy, have acupuncture, and walked 5km a day. On August 21st my midwife, Georgina, did a ‘stretch and sweep’ and told me that I was already 2 cm dilated and had a ‘favourable cervix’ due to all my exercise, and she was really pleased with this. She didn’t want to get our hopes up but suggested an early night just in case baby arrived. My ‘show’ appeared at that point and continued for the following day.

The following day was a Saturday which we spent replanting our vegetable garden, rearranging our lounge, and I headed out for a walk with a friend which ended up being a longer walk than usual. We had a small dinner before an early night. I had no indication that I might be about to go into labour and I knew the ‘show’ could occur up to two weeks before labour so didn’t think too much of this as a sign.

I woke at 1:50am on Sunday morning with a feeling like intermittent period pain and an ache in my lower back, and I knew instantly that this was it. The feeling was not overly strong and was not painful, however it was the clearest feeling I’d had to date. Prior to this the Braxton Hicks had felt quite different (just a tightening of the uterus that I was only aware of if my hands were on my belly at the time) so there was no confusing the two sensations. I tried to go back to sleep to conserve as much energy as possible for later in the day, and I felt very relaxed, however I couldn’t get back to sleep. At about 3:30am after a number of these ‘contractions’, uneven in both duration and timing between (anything from 6-20 minutes apart and 10-25 seconds in duration) I decided to get out of bed as they were getting a bit stronger and I felt uncomfortable lying down without moving my legs around. I wanted to let Adam sleep for as long as possible so I left him and went to lie on the couch in the dark where I could be a bit more restless with my legs. The contractions seemed to start to form a pattern, then would become random, a number of times over. At 4:30am I was quite hungry and conscious that later on I may not feel up to eating, so I had a decent sized breakfast. I realised that I could influence the nature of the contractions at this point, feeling longer and more intense contractions when I was lying down (20 seconds every 10-15 minutes) and lighter but more frequent ones when I was standing up (10 seconds every 2 minutes). I would have to stop what I was doing during the contractions as they pulled my focus inwards, though they still were not painful.

At 5:30am I had a shower to get rid of the groggy night-time feeling, then woke Adam. I told him to shower and dress just in case, but to relax as I felt that baby would probably come much later in the day. He had recorded a football game he’d joked about wanting to watch before I went into labour so I suggested he watch this to pass some time! I was still feeling really calm and in control as I had done a lot of reading about what to expect, and things were progressing as I thought they would. I also dug out some notes from our antenatal class where midwife, Kass, had given a very helpful run-through of the stages of labour, which I kept next to me for reference. The sensations were along the lines of what I thought I should feel which was reassuring. I was excited that labour was finally happening! I had a busy 45 minutes as I wanted to make sure my hospital bag was packed with the last minute things, and that the house was clean and tidy, and then tried to rest for a while.

I decided to call my midwife at 7:45am as I felt that things were becoming a bit more intense, and although there was still no regular pattern I wanted to give her some warning now that it was daytime. I spoke to her colleague on night duty who told me to rest as much as possible and to call back if things intensified or if I was concerned. She said she wouldn’t notify Georgina just yet and in all likelihood labour would slow now it was daytime and I probably wouldn’t have the baby until later that night. Whilst practical and logical advice, I was really disappointed in this as I just wanted it to happen now that it had started and this took the wind out of my sails a bit. I was so keen to meet our baby! At this point I also messaged our friend Niamh who was to be our support person, and asked her to be prepared in case Adam or I called her for help. At this stage I still wasn’t sure what support I would want and we’d discussed that we may or may not need her.

At 8:30am I made myself a second breakfast as I was hungry again and wanted to make sure I had plenty of energy. I got most of the way through this, pausing for more intense contractions. They were now much more regular but shorter, and I had to stop and focus for every one. I was sitting on the floor next to the coffee table and alternating between kneeling up to eat, and leaning on all fours against the table for support during contractions.

By 9:15am I felt that things had intensified enough and I wanted some reassurance, so I called the duty midwife again. During the call I had quite an intense contraction so I had to give the phone to Adam until it had finished. I felt a bit vulnerable at this point and started crying as I felt I needed the extra support now. She asked if I would like Georgina to be notified and I willingly agreed. The midwife suggested going for a walk to help keep the process moving. At that point I also messaged Niamh again and asked her to make her way over. I felt that Adam could do with the support too, as the contractions really made me draw into myself and shut out everything else so I was spending more and more time ‘inside’. Adam was massaging my lower back and pushing his fingers into some pressure points as it was aching quite a lot and this offered some good relief. He was using a massage bar we’d bought in Venice and it smelt wonderful and brought back memories of our travels in Italy so it also helped me mentally. At this stage I was standing up but leaning over a cabinet which felt a lot more comfortable than sitting or lying down. Georgina returned my call and offered to come over and assess me, and I was really relieved. I said it would reassure me, even if she then left and returned later in the day. The idea of a walk quickly lost its appeal as I didn’t think I would make it very far between contractions and I didn’t want to get far from home. It was such a beautifully sunny, warm day for late winter so I walked up and down the deck with Adam. Niamh arrived at about 10:00am and I updated her on how I was doing.

Georgina arrived and we had a chat about how I was feeling. I could feel baby moving around inside which was a really odd sensation, although she’d been moving a lot for the past five months. It wasn’t the most pleasant experience on top of the contractions as it made me feel that my muscles couldn’t relax, but it was good to know she was healthy inside. I then had quite a big contraction, and I managed to alert everyone just in time that I needed to vomit, and threw up a large amount of liquid and some of my breakfast. I’d been drinking a lot of water and was disappointed to see it all come up again! At that point I felt like things had intensified to another level and whilst it was sucking my concentration and energy I was still really excited, though I’m sure no one would have known this as I was keeping to myself a lot. It was at this point that I found it hard to concentrate on what my support people were doing and saying, or to engage with them. I was very much focused on my body during contractions, and on resting in between. I could hear them talking and had thoughts about what to say or how to join in the conversation, but had to keep to myself, almost like I was locked in a box. I was very confident that they were in control and were happy with what I was doing, so this didn’t bother me at all.

Being at home with our beautiful views, native birds landing on the deck, and the sun out was the most relaxing way I could have wished to spend the day and I felt really positive and confident again, with the support of these three fantastic people. I alternated between leaning forward on the cabinet or kitchen bench, and walking on the deck between contractions.

Georgina checked baby and told me that she had turned and was in the correct birthing position with her spine to my left. I hadn’t felt this happen and was pleasantly surprised. She also told me that I was 4cm dilated and all was looking good.

I spent some time on my knees, with the front part of my body leaning on the coffee table again, and everyone was encouraging me to drink more to replace the fluid I had just lost. Thankfully I had bought some straws on the recommendation of an antenatal group member, and this made it easier to drink from a glass without having to move. I then was overcome with tiredness so I tried to lie on my side on the couch. This offered some temporary relief but I did find it hard to lie still during contractions, and I noticed the contractions slowed during this time and I wanted things to speed up despite my fatigue. This indicated to me that I was very much in control of my body and that I could positively influence the labour with my body position and other techniques, which was quite empowering.

At 12:40pm I did a pee test which indicated that I needed to eat and drink more, so I moved to a standing position leaning over the kitchen counter, and started to nibble on arrowroot biscuits, though I could only manage about half a biscuit at the most between contractions, and they turned to cement in my mouth. Georgina explained that she was going to leave for two hours as things were progressing well but she wasn’t needed to help. She explained to Adam and Niamh to page her if they were concerned, or if contractions intensified into an even pattern.

Niamh ran me a bath, but I found it difficult to get comfortable. I had to be on all fours which meant I wasn’t really in the water, and during contractions I wanted to hold on to something and there wasn’t much for support. I ended up resting my head on the tap as it was nice and cold, and I remember thinking I was going to wrench it out of the wall. Instead of this Adam helped me out and we walked up and down the stairs a few times to keep baby moving downwards. It felt good to move and I could manage a flight of stairs between contractions, with a drink and biscuit at the top, before heading down again. A few times I used a tapping technique I had read about to help me through contractions, tapping my fingers rapidly on the cabinet or bench rhythmically to distract myself. I had read about a lot of other techniques such as stamping my feet but during contractions but I found I had no energy for this and wanted my feet firmly on the floor as I had spent most of the day standing and was feeling a bit shaky.

When Georgina returned at about 3:00pm I was on the toilet (I had spent a bit of time here as it was quiet, cool, and I could sit without anything under my bum). I could hear her through the door and presumed she was timing my contractions as I was quite vocal with these now, using low groans. The contractions were now definitely more regular and about 3 minutes apart.

Georgina examined me and I think we were both surprised to see that I was 9cm dilated at this point, and she could feel my waters bulging. Even though things had become more intense and I knew things were progressing nicely, I still thought that the labour would take a lot longer and drag into the night, so I was surprised to hear this. I had thought, and commented, a few times that I was tired and wondered how I was going to have the energy for the second stage of labour so it was a welcome relief to know that I was almost there! Georgina presented me with two options at this point – to head to the hospital as planned, or to stay at home for a supported home birth. Either way I had to make a very quick decision as Georgina needed to organise support in either scenario. I was very tempted to stay at home as the effort to get up to the car and endure the car ride to the hospital seemed overwhelming, and I knew that the change in location could delay the progression of labour, however I opted to go to hospital as this is what Adam and I had agreed and I knew he would be more comfortable with the support we would have there (I’m sure I even thought about the bedding and carpets at this point too!). Luckily I had a lucid moment and made the call to leave the house while I felt good, and she helped me up. I already felt like I could push so I knew we had to hurry. Niamh and Adam prepared my bag and the car while Georgina helped me out of the house. This took a while as the contractions were coming fast so I had to pause every few metres, and it felt strange to be walking along our boardwalk in broad daylight and having contractions where any of the neighbours could have seen me. After a small panic that the car wouldn’t start, Adam calmly drove us to the hospital, while I moaned and groaned each time we went down a hill or came to a stop as it pulled my body backwards uncomfortably.

At this stage I felt a lot of urgency to get to the room and start pushing so the walk through the carpark, up in the lift and towards the room was uncomfortable with contractions coming hard and fast but we made it into the birthing suite. Georgina was rushing around getting the room prepared and filling the bath as I had been keen on attempting a water birth. In the meantime I climbed on to the bed kneeling and leaning on the vertical back. I started to push almost immediately and it was a real relief to be able to do this. Again however at this stage I knew that this stage of labour could last up to five hours and I wondered if I would have the energy to birth our baby. The birth pool was now ready but I realised that I didn’t want to use it. My bath earlier in the day hadn’t been a pleasant experience, and I did not feel like I had the energy to climb into the pool, and then climb out again if it didn’t work for me. I barely felt like I could move one step at this point but I did choose to climb off the bed and stand beside it as I wanted to straighten my legs. It was in this position that I spent the rest of the labour and birth. The bed was raised as high as possible so I could lean over and rest my elbows, and Adam mirrored my position on the other side of the bed so we were holding hands with our faces quite close. During contractions I’d put my head down into our hands and squeeze Adam’s hands. I felt like if I let go of him I would fall over backwards so I had an iron grip on him. Georgina called in a second midwife to assist, who crouched next to me to monitor baby’s heart rate. I had no concept of time at this point but was constantly thinking of the five hour timeframe in my head and doubtful that I could persevere. At no point however throughout the day did it ever occur to me that I could assist the labour with drugs. I had been determined not to use anything other than gas, but even this did not occur to me. It wasn’t so much the pain that was difficult, as managing my energy levels. My legs felt like jelly but this was the best position for me.

I felt like I had been pushing for a long time but didn’t feel any different for it, then all of a sudden I had the sensation that baby had moved down. Georgina, who was below and behind me, confirmed this and said baby was crowning! She asked if I wanted to feel her head but I couldn’t let go of Adam. At this point I started to feel an intense burning pain and I felt like my body was ripping. Georgina provided some relief by pushing back on my perineum with a hot towel during contractions which felt amazing, but a number of times I was too inhibited to push, due to the burning pain, which was frustrating. I talked this through with Georgina and she told me I just had to push despite the pain. I think at this point my vocalising got quite loud.

All of a sudden, baby came out! I was really not expecting it to climax so soon or so quickly, and I felt the weirdest experience of a whole baby’s body exiting mine. It was 5:06pm and I’d been in the second stage for about an hour. She slithered out with a gush of water that had been built up behind her, and what seemed like miles of thick, blue, veiny umbilical cord. I looked down to see all of this, and to see Georgina expertly catch Ayla. The relief was immense, but I think I uttered something like ‘that’s so weird’ as it was a very odd feeling. At that stage I actually forgot about the baby as the relief was instant and exhaustion swept over me. My memory of the next moments receded very quickly and even the next day I had no memory of baby’s first cry, of getting back onto the bed, or of how long passed before baby was handed to me for our first skin-to-skin cuddle. My next memory is lying back into the bed with her on my chest and feeling very overwhelmed and too tired to lift my head to take a good look at her. The feeling of her tiny body on my chest was enough. I remember looking at Adam and seeing so much emotion on his face – it hit him immediately but for me it came slowly as the emotion started to replace the exhaustion.

The next two hours passed in a similar blur. Over an hour later and with some coaxing, the placenta wouldn’t release naturally so Georgina injected me with oxytocin and assisted it to release, with one last push from me. I had both perineal and labia tears which were expertly stitched by an obstetrician. I was unable to encourage Ayla to feed which was a bit concerning, however new babies carry stores and she didn’t show any signs of hunger. Georgina had some concerns that Ayla was a bit snuffly, and her blood oxygen levels were quite low, so we waited for a pediatrician to come and examine her. They agreed she would be okay, with a bit of extra mucus on her lungs, and the hospital midwives would drop in and monitor her during the night. I was finally able to have a shower, and it was almost 10pm by the time we all headed to the ward to settle Ayla and myself in for the night. Georgina, Adam and Niamh departed and we were left on our own.

Despite my exhaustion, I didn’t go to sleep that night – a combination of nervousness and adrenaline. I was relieved when daylight arrived as I knew Adam would be back soon. The day passed quite quickly with many visits from our midwife, hospital midwives, and a lactation specialist to help with feeding; and a nurse who came to check Ayla’s hearing. We were given the all-clear to be discharged as I wanted to go home to get proper rest. At about 6:30pm we left for home, and our new lives together.

Welcome Ayla, you stole our hearts instantly and forever. We love you to bits. 

Birth Wise