1. The Journey Begins
It was a Tuesday afternoon and I was on my last day of work before maternity leave and the wonderful women I worked with decided our time in the afternoon would be best spent over a long and leisurely lunch. I completely agreed and we all made our way to Kilmacanogue for a wonderful meal and chat. I was in the company of women who made me feel completely at ease and I was enjoying every moment of our gathering. During the meal, I had noticed feelings of ‘cramping’ but I thought it was probably Braxton-Hicks and didn’t even mention them to my comrades. We all headed back to the office so that I could hand over properly to my friend, who would be covering my area of work while I was off.
While I was talking to my colleague, i could feel these ‘cramps’ getting stronger but I still believed they were practice contractions and that I would have a couple of weeks before the birth, as I had just passed 37 weeks mark. At 5:30pm I finished work and said goodbye to my beloved colleagues as I headed off on my maternity leave. I got home and told my partner that I thought I had some pretty strong feelings in my belly but I wasn’t sure if they were contractions. He seemed calm and relaxed about it and told me that if they got closer he was ready to time them. At 7pm I phoned my sister (who has 4 children) to ask her if she thought I was in labour. She said I would soon know if I was! Then I phoned a friend who had given birth just over a year before I was due and I asked her did she think I was in labour? She gave me a similarly reassuring answer to that of my sister. I found out afterwards that both of them knew that I was having my baby but they let me ‘go with the flow’ and to discover this on my own.
At around 9pm, my partner and I went upstairs to our cosy bedroom and decided we would try to watch something funny. We popped ‘Arrested Development’ into the dvd player and as we were watching the first 10 minutes, my contractions seemed to get more intense. I told my partner that they were getting closer together and we paused the dvd and started to time them. They were all over the place! Every 2 minutes, then 5 mins, then 7 mins, then 2 mins again. We both decided that I wasn’t in labour because they weren’t exactly 5 minutes apart. I have to lovingly laugh at our naivete, in retrospect.
We attempted to continue watching our comedy dvd, but it became harder to watch as I kept grabbing my partner’s hand and saying ‘OOOOHHH!’ in a low, moaning voice. It got paused at least 8 times and repeatedly put back to the beginning again when I finally said to my partner: “I have to go downstairs”. I went downstairs and proceeded to sit on the toilet, where I got an immense amount of comfort. I am a yoga teacher and I was convinced I would be sashaying around the house and practicing my squats – but all I wanted to do was sit on the blessed loo – to take the pressure off. By this time it was around 11:30 or midnight and I know now that I was in active labour – I was in the ‘zone’ then so I wasn’t even ‘thinking’ – I was just ‘feeling’.
At around 1:30 am, after spending most of my labour sitting on the toilet and moaning deep, gutteral birth sounds, I looked up at my partner and said: “Don’t panic”, in a quiet and assertive voice. He didn’t miss a beat and he confidently replied: “I’m not panicking”. He then told me he felt we should be making our way to the hospital. I didn’t realise I was in transition, but he did! He got me dressed and we drove the 5 minutes to Holles Street. I thought we would just walk in and I would be taken straight to Labour and Delivery but I hadn’t taken into account Admissions.
I was beyond conversation when we were sent up to the Admissions office (after spending 10 long minutes in the front foyer of the hospital), the purpose of which is to formally admit birthing women into the hospital. The Admissions officer asked me to confirm my address and my date of birth. My eyes were gently closed and my head was slightly bowed down, I awkwardly pointed my finger and gestured towards my partner, covertly letting her know I was incapable of answering her question. At this point, the Admissions officer swiftly recognised I was in advanced labour and she retrieved a wheelchair, sat me down (which was not very comfortable as I was literally holding my baby in!) and escorted me and my partner up to the Labour and Delivery ward.
We were instructed to sit and wait for a midwife, who would bring us to a room where I could give birth. I recall saying to my partner that if someone did not come quick, I wasn’t going to be able to stop myself from pushing this baby out. I was 37+2 weeks and this baby was ready to meet us.
2. The Lead Up to the Birth
We had had a bit of a scare around 35 weeks when a midwife was concerned I was ‘small for dates’. I had been sent straight up to Fetal Assessment where they performed an ultrasound to try and determine my amniotic fluid levels (AFI). The diagnosis I received was suspected ‘oligohydramnios’, which meant I had low levels of fluid. I was brought up to a unit in the hospital and summarily told I “would not be leaving the hospital without my baby”. I was shocked and confused. I had no complications in pregnancy up until this point so I was completely taken aback.
I stayed one very restless night in Holles Street on the ward and then I asked every member of staff I encountered about the possibility of being discharged and attending the hospital from home. I promised them I would come every day if I had to but I did not want to stay there any longer. The consultant OBs for the ward had to be asked if this was permitted and the answer was “yes”, as long as I attended the Day Hospital and continued to have my AFI monitored by ultrasound. I was thrown into the deep end, researching as much as I possibly could to ease my mind that everything would be ok. The most difficult part of this was that there was a constant threat of induction as the medical team did not want to take any risks if my fluid levels continued to be read as ‘low’. I had not had any leaking or any changes in my pregnancy up until that point so I was not entirely convinced that I really had oligohydramnios, but I respected the doctors and their need to ensure the best outcome for me and my baby. I asked questions, I let them know what I was most concerned about regarding induction (namely that it is highly correlated with c-section) and I worked very hard at trusting and respecting the doctors and midwives opinions while continuing to trust my body and my own knowledge of how I was feeling.
It finally came down to the wire, when a doctor who was being extremely kind and compassionate asked me what I would like to happen. I told him that I wanted to allow this baby to remain in my womb as long as possible as that seemed, to me, to be the best place for him/her. He agreed and gave me a kind of reprieve on a Monday that I had until the coming Thursday before they would see if my cervix was favourable for induction. I reluctantly agreed to this.
This brought us to the moment of sitting in the Labour and Delivery ward of Holles Street early Wednesday morning, after my body spontaneously went into labour on the Tuesday. I never had a lot of time to think about this fact while I was in labour and it was only afterwards that I was eternally grateful that this baby had decided he was not going to be induced and he was going to arrive without any help from the doctors or midwives at Holles Street.
3. The Journey Ends – Twelve Minutes Later (and the Real Adventure Starts…)
After sitting in Labour and Delivery for what felt like hours but was probably minutes, a midwife (or ‘angel’ in my eyes) introduced herself and brought us to a tiny room where she politely asked me if she could examine me to see how far along I was in labour. She had barely looked at me, when she announced: “you are fully dilated and you can push whenever you feel the urge”. I was more than ready to push as I felt this baby had let me know that the birth was imminent. The midwife ruptured my membranes as I had never felt my waters leaking or breaking until that point. There was a gush, letting me know that I had, indeed, retained a lot of amniotic fluid in spite of the levels appearing low on the ultrasound during the ‘oligohydramnios’ scare.
I felt calm, in spite of the foreign feeling of my baby’s head emerging. I looked down and saw a head of dark hair and I could not wait to nudge my baby fully into this world. I used all of my strength to send my energy down to my baby and with one final gesture of encouragement, our baby arrived – perfect and healthy, twelve minutes after I was brought into the delivery room. I put our baby on my chest and he found the breast shortly after and began to nurse. It was only after 2 or 3 minutes passed that my partner and I realised we had a son. That Hollywood moment, where someone announces: “It’s a boy!” completely bypassed us as we immersed ourselves in the pure joy and love that this little baby emoted. The cord was left an ample amount of time to cease pulsating before it was cut and when the midwife began preparing a syringe, it dawned on me that it must be something to hasten the delivery of the placenta. I respectfully requested some time to deliver the placenta without intervention (ie. physiologically) and our midwife agreed and blithely mentioned to call her when I felt the urge to deliver the placenta.
The midwife left us for a few moments while she, presumably, tended to paperwork. We were completely besotted with this gorgeous little being in our midst when the midwife returned to tell me to let her know when the next contraction occurred so that I could deliver the placenta. I felt very much at ease and didn’t feel any contractions so I just said to her: “I’ll try pushing now” and with that, the placenta gently and easily emerged, fully intact.
Birth was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I felt strong, confident, empowered and supported. The midwife had been very ‘hands off’ (apart from the NMH routine artificial rupture of membranes – or ARM – the only thing I would’ve changed about the birth) which I greatly appreciated. It helped that I also felt completely connected to my body through regular yoga practice. I taught and practiced yoga up until the week before I gave birth and it was integral to keeping me calm, connected and relaxed during labour and birth. It helped to reduce any fear I may have had by reminding me to focus on my breath and the sensations in my body throughout labour and birth.
Having a baby is an incredible experience, and watching a baby grow into a person is, as singer, poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen once said : “pretty much the only amazing thing there is”. The birth of our first child – our baby boy – marked the beginning of a new adventure our life together. And so, the adventure continues…..