When I was 38 weeks I had an appointment in the midwifery-led unit (MLU) where we discussed my birth preferences, only to be reassured that everything I was talking about was considered best practice there. At home, as the birth approached, we reevaluated who should accompany me for the delivery. Charlie found the whole experience very traumatic last time around, and he felt it affected him for days afterwards. So when he developed a bad chest infection, we took it as a sign and asked my mother to step in as birth partner instead, something she was excited to do. The weeks passed by and it wasn’t long before I started to feel like this baby would never arrive. On my due date, I was nearly driven to distraction by the incessant Braxton Hicks. My bump was rock hard and nothing would ease it. The following day was much the same. I must admit I wasn’t pleasant company that day. Tired, uncomfortable, overdue, and feeling huge.
I restarted my yoga breathing to steady myself and felt myself calming. I joked with Dad that whatever happens now he should keep driving or we’d be delivering the baby on the motorway.
That night I went to bed feeling very sorry for myself. I stuck in my earphones and set my Gentlebirth tracks to play on loop for the night. Then at 2am a strange but familiar twinge woke me. It only lasted about 30 seconds. Same thing at 4am. And then at 5am and at 6am. Between 6am and 7.30am I had three more short and easy contractions, each lasting 30 seconds or so, with about 30 minutes between them. I had promised my parents that I would give them plenty of notice so I texted them to explain that something was slowly happening and that they might like to join us for breakfast and see if there was any progress.
I placed a call to the MLU to let them know that I had a feeling something was happening and I’d be joining them at some stage in the next 24-36 hours. They had asked for notice because there are only two rooms in the MLU, so the more notice you can give, the easier it is for them to ensure that they have a room free for you. I was so excited at the thoughts of going there later in the day and availing of the deep pool when the contractions started to get too strong. I imagined Charlie joining me there that night and the two of us spending the night getting to know our beautiful new baby girl. While we waited for my parents to arrive, we had a lovely leisurely breakfast and I started tracking my contractions on an app called Expecting. They weren’t lasting long, and they certainly weren’t happening with any great frequency. To be honest, I was questioning whether or not I was in labour because they were so mild.
The morning passed quietly. My mother and I spent some time assembling the Arms Reach co-sleeper that I’d bought, and attaching it to our bed. I was excited to think that it wouldn’t be long before we had someone small to sleep in it. We took a stroll to our local Dunnes Stores to get a few things for lunch, and I continued to time the contractions. Charlie distracted Little Man for the day, and I did my best to relax and get labour going. I bounced on my birthing ball for half the morning, and walked up and down the stairs a few times. By lunchtime I was wondering if the contractions were all in my head! They felt too mild to be anything real. I decided to go for a nap and see whether they stopped or not. Listening to my Gentlebirth tracks, I slept for over an hour, and if I had any contractions in that time, they weren’t strong enough to wake me.
When I woke, they were still between 15 and 25 minutes apart, easily manageable and lasting only about 30 or 40 seconds. This was a totally different experience to labour on Little Man, which moved very quickly from the first pain, and intensified a lot sooner. I was a bit impatient for the afternoon, wondering if anything would happen that day at all. I realised that until I just relaxed and stopped overthinking it so much, the only thing I was going to accomplish was annoying myself! So I took my birthing ball up to my room, set the Gentlebirth music to play on speaker, and knelt on the ground, leaning over the ball and rocking back and forth. I focused on the Gentlebirth affirmations and practiced my yoga breathing, though to be honest I still didn’t feel I needed either because the contractions were so mild.
At around 4.30pm, dinner was ready, and I ate a small bowl of pasta and chicken. I checked my timer and saw that the contractions were 7-10 minutes apart, so at least there was some progress. With dinner over, I told everyone I was going back upstairs to relax again, but to my surprise when I got to my room, the contractions made a big jump. Suddenly they were 2 minutes or less apart! Oops! I waited to see if they continued. 15 minutes and six contractions later, I was grinning as I dialed the phone number for the MLU. This was finally it! But that’s where it all went wrong.
Rather than telling me to make my way in, the midwife on the phone started to explain to me that unfortunately someone had phoned in sick, and the MLU was closed from 8pm until 8am that night, so I should make my way to the general hospital instead. I can’t explain the panic that I felt. I couldn’t speak. “Are you having a contraction now?”, she asked, misunderstanding my inability to communicate. I don’t even remember what I replied. My mind was racing. As I hung up the phone I was thinking all sorts of illogical thoughts. 8am the next day wasn’t that far away. I could hold out until then right? Just 15 hours… As if to reassure me of my plan, the contractions seemed to stop. From every two minutes to nothing at all for 15 minutes.
I texted Charlie to come up to me. I didn’t trust myself to walk downstairs. I couldn’t stop crying. The next half hour is a bit of a blur. In hindsight I think the shock kicked me straight into transition. Charlie got on the phone to the hospital to see what was happening because I guess I wasn’t making a lot of sense. Unfortunately they told him the same as they had told me. All our plans! Suddenly we were back to square one. Part of the reason we had agreed that Charlie wouldn’t accompany me was because if I was in the MLU, he could stay overnight with me after the baby was born. But now I was going to be on a public ward, with no option for him to stay.
I remember thinking that the movement of air on my skin as they pushed the wheelchair across the hall was the most delicious cooling feeling on my skin!
Seeing that I was almost hysterical, Charlie suggested that I ask for advice on the Gentlebirth Facebook group. So that’s what I did, posting a cry for help there. I tried to run a bath, intending to use it to relax me, but as I sat there with the water running, the contractions started coming thick and fast again. This baby was coming whether I wanted her to or not. There’d be no bath. It was time to go to the hospital.
Saying goodbye to Charlie and Little Man was very upsetting. Far from the exciting goodbye we had anticipated… Charlie offered to come with me, but I refused. I figured enough had changed with our original plan. In the car on the way to the hospital, I watched as the reassurances flowed in on Facebook. The wonderful members of the Gentlebirth group reminded me of the affirmation “I accept the path my birth takes.” All those hours listening to the hypnobirthing tracks obviously paid off because the reminder of the affirmation was enough to help me centre myself again. I restarted my yoga breathing to steady myself and felt myself calming. I joked with Dad that whatever happens now he should keep driving or we’d be delivering the baby on the motorway. The contractions were a minute and a half apart and still just 30 or 40 seconds long.
As we walked into the hospital, I realised I had no idea where to go. All of my appointments were in the MLU in the preceding months. Luckily we spotted another woman in labour and were able to follow her! A midwife came out to greet us in admissions and asked who was there first. I said that the other woman was, because technically she had walked in the door before us. I have to admit I don’t really understand the logic of what happened next though. The same midwife asked us both what was happening, and the other woman explained that her contractions were about 5 minutes apart. I explained that mine were between a minute and a minute and a half apart. And then I was left waiting while the other woman was admitted first.
I’m not sure of the timescales here because the contractions started to come one on top of the other. I know it was just after 6.15pm when we got to the hospital. And I know that it was 7.30pm when a decision was finally made to move me to the delivery room, but how long everything between those two points took is a mystery to me. I know I stood by the bed while I waited to be seen, and swayed and practiced my deep yoga breathing to deal with the contractions. I was asked for a urine sample, and while I was giving it, I realised I was starting to feel an urge to do a bowel movement. There was no doubt about it. This baby was on her way.
I felt baby’s head move down again. So with each breath I thought, “Open…wider…open…relax.” If I didn’t believe in the power of the mind during labour before, this convinced me. I felt her move down easily.
Eventually another midwife came out to admit me. I told her that the contractions were coming constantly and that I was feeling an urge to poo. She asked me to lie back on the bed so that she could put me on a trace. I explained that the contractions were too much and I couldn’t do that. “Well if I can’t examine you, I can’t admit you,” she said. I am not ashamed to say that I hated her at the moment. I felt so helpless and vulnerable. What choice did I have but to do what she said. I knew baby would be here shortly and the sooner I did what she said, the sooner I could start to push. My mother thinks that I was too calm at this point and the midwife just didn’t think I was as far along as I was.
Looking back, I don’t know why I didn’t ask for a vaginal exam first, or just explain that based on my previous labour I knew I was about to give birth. What can I say – I was so thrown by the situation I found myself in, and the contractions were requiring all my focus, so I just couldn’t think straight. I lay back and focused on finding a calm place. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. As far as I am concerned, forcing a woman to lie on her back for an admittance trace is nothing short of pure torture. A little bit of evil. And I’ve learned since that it’s not even recommended for low risk pregnancies. What really kills me is that wanting to avoid a trace was one of the preferences I had discussed with the MLU midwife at my 38 week checkup and she had reassured me that it wouldn’t be required in the MLU. The unfairness of the situation I found myself in, just because someone rang in sick on a Bank Holiday weekend, threatened to overwhelm me.
As I lay there, waves of nausea flowed over me, and I started to overheat. The instant I was allowed up, I insisted on stripping and changing into my light nightdress. Then the midwife asked to do a vaginal exam. “You’re 9cm,” she said, sounding surprised. I wasn’t. The only surprise for me was that I wasn’t already 10cm. They brought a wheelchair to move me to the delivery room. I definitely wouldn’t be walking there this time. As I sat up on the bed, preparing to move to the wheelchair, I felt the baby move down. My breathing changed, and I made a moaning sound I’ve never heard myself make before. “Lisa, don’t push!” the midwife exclaimed!
Somehow they got me in the chair and across the hall to the delivery room. I remember thinking that the movement of air on my skin as they pushed the wheelchair across the hall was the most delicious cooling feeling on my skin! It was difficult, but once in the delivery room, I got from the chair up on the bed, and leaned over the back of the bed. I thought of the images from the Active Birth book that I’d read, and I widened my knees to give space to my pelvis. I put in an earphone and let the Gentlebirth birth music play. I put all my focus into my breathing. Then I felt my baby’s head move into the birth canal. My first instinct was to panic, but I calmed myself. “You can do this,” I thought. I felt someone do something to me and a trickle of water ran down my leg. “That’s lovely and warm,” I thought. Funny the things that go through your head.
With the next contraction, I felt baby’s head move down again. So with each breath I thought, “Open…wider…open…relax.” If I didn’t believe in the power of the mind during labour before, this convinced me. I felt her move down easily. I was vaguely aware of the midwives shouting at me to pant and not to push. But I wasn’t consciously pushing. I did my best to pant, but I think the contractions were pushing for me. I was emitting a loud moan with each breath and I had no control over it. With a whoosh and a gush of water, my baby girl flew into the world! Wow! Everyone helped me to sit back and passed her between my legs so that I could pick her up. This little girl who kept me guessing all day had eventually arrived all in a rush at 7.45pm, just seven minutes after I got to the delivery room. What an entrance! She was here. All birth stories and images featured in 42 weeks have been generously shared by members of the public in Ireland. If you would like to take part and share your story, we would love to hear from you. Get in touch through the website http://www.42weeks.ie, through Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/42weeks or follow us on Twitter at @42_weeks.