Positive birth story #1 – labour ward

Before I was pregnant, I had only ever head about labour being awful and the most painful, terrible experience a woman could go through. I had seen TV and movies of women screaming in agony and shouting at their partners in what seemed almost a parody of the birth experience. So there was no reason for me to believe that it would be anything other than a ‘grin and bear it’ scenario. And after a pretty harrowing ‘early pregnancy class’ at the local hospital, which told us we had NO IDEA of the pain we would feel and how no first time mother could ever be prepared for the horrors in store, I wasn’t thrilled at the concept.

37 weeks pregnant lady standing in profile in front of a mirror
My last bump photo, 2 weeks before C arrived

However, when I was 21 weeks pregnant Tom and I went to Boomtown Fair, a fairly off-the-wall music festival in Hampshire. We spent an amazing afternoon with a gorgeously chilled out doula in a very hippy tent full of cushions and blankets and all that changed. She had been a midwife here, but moved to Spain to set up a birth centre in the desert. We talked through the whole birth process and she explained the medical facts, but also the options we had for taking control of the experience and not letting it be simply some awful thing that had to happen to me to meet our baby. She also recommended a book that literally changed my life. Sounds dramatic, but it changed my entire outlook on birth and parenting. I cannot recommend it enough – “Bump” by Kate Evans. It’s funny, down-to-earth, empowering, relatable, factual and inspiring. Buy it for all your pregnant friends. Please.

21 weeks pregnant lady in colourful clothing at a music festival giving peace signs
21 week bump at Boomtown

On to my labour then. After these experiences, I was feeling really ready for labour and was excited about the experience. On a bit of a gamble, we had booked tickets to see the new Star Wars movie the day it was released, three days before I was due. Obviously, when I woke up that morning, my waters were leaking and there was no cinema trip. I had ruined Star Wars Day. We packed off to hospital to get me checked where they confirmed it was indeed my waters and if I didn’t go into labour spontaneously in the next 24 hours, I’d need to be induced. We returned home to wait (via a Miller and Carter for an enormous steak as my “last meal”).

Next morning, the call from the induction ward came at 9am saying that there was a bed for me. We made our way in, knowing that this time we’d be coming home with a baby! Despite being told there was a bed, we still had to sit out in the corridor for three hours. However, we were kept entertained in that time by accepting an offer on our flat and co-ordinating various lawyers and estate agents (on of whom responded “Oh ok, well let me know when you’re done” when I told him I was in hospital having a baby…). Once I had a bed there was even more waiting but luckily at that point, my mum turned up with a suitcase full of snacks and fresh conversation.

I was waiting on the induction ward for another 3 hours before I was seen by a doctor. All the while, I could hear other women in various stages of labour and sounding quite upset, which wasn’t the best motivator. I wasn’t having any contractions at this point and my waters had stopped leaking so, honestly, it was quite boring. Finally the doctor came round and did my check. I was 3cm dilated and she then uttered a sentence that is literally burned in my mind. “While I’m in here, I might as well do a quick sweep”. Oh. My. God. To this day, I maintain that surprise sweep was more painful than either of my births. Makes me cross my legs thinking about it.

Couple in labour ward room, pregnant woman sitting on the bed. Birthing ball on the floor in front of the bed.
The room where Carys was delivered, I’m just about to have my waters broken

Moving on. As I was already dilated, I didn’t need a pessary so they moved me on to the labour ward to have my waters broken. If that didn’t kick off contractions, I’d need the drip. Finally at 6pm I was moved into the labour ward and an hour later, a lovely midwife named Mandy came to break my waters. It was uncomfortable but at least I was expecting it this time! Luckily that kicked off my contractions, so Tom and I set about pacing the empty corridors of the hospital. It was gone 9pm by this time so there was no-one about and many of the lights were out. It felt like we had the place to ourselves, so we just wandered and chatted, stopping every so often for me to contract. We decided in these dark corridors that our daughter would be called Carys. I don’t know how long we walked for, but I remember at one point I just knew I had to get back to the room. I wanted to be somewhere safe and enclosed. My animal brain was taking over and I wanted to make myself a little nest for my baby to arrive.

This is usually the part where the husband might get out the candles and music he said he’d bring. Instead I got an “oh sh**, I forgot” and we ended up with dimmed hospital lights and the local radio station. Bear in mind it is a week before Christmas. So all local radio is now Christmas music and tacky seasonal ads for tyre shops and double glazing. Not his finest hour.

I asked for the gas and air at this point and got myself into a good rhythm. Too much made me feel spacey, but a couple of breaths with every contraction was just enough to take the edge off. All I could think about was how amazing it was that my body was calling all the shots. My brain was no longer in control and my animal instincts had kicked in. I would change position and not really be conscious of it, just moving wherever the contraction took me. I remember the illustrations in the book I’d read of a birthing mother “riding the wave” of a contraction and it really helped me to embrace the moment.

It was just at the point where I thought to myself, “I really don’t know how much longer I can do this” that the contractions changed and I felt the baby shift down. I told the midwife, who seemed pretty laid back about the whole thing, me being a first time mum and only 3 hours in. She said she could call the birth centre down the corridor (where I was booked in before my waters leaked) to ask them to start running the pool, but she wanted to be sure I was really in established labour first.

I was due a dose of preventative antibiotics, so with Tom’s help, I very ungainfully made my way up onto the bed. I really needed to push by now, but the midwife told me that I should still be breathing through most of the contractions and it wasn’t time to push. She clearly did not believe me. Tom insisted she take a look and her reaction actually made me laugh, in spite of being literally mid-birth. Clearly used to dealing with over-dramatic first time mothers, she wandered over to the business end of the bed, took one look and instantly starting running around the room grabbing her delivery kit, saying “Hang on, hang on”. Not sure she was quite prepared to see the top of a head!

As I pushed, I looked up and noticed two things. First, the time on the clock above the bed. It was 11.45pm and I knew then my baby would be born that day. Secondly, the radio was playing “Fairytale in New York”. As Carys literally shot her way into the world at 11:46pm, we were serenaded by a song about a drunk couple who resent each other. Fabulous.

Embarrassingly, my first words were a slurred “it’s a baby, it’s a baby” as they placed her on my chest. No sh**, Sherlock. But she was here and it was magical. There was a shower off the room and I don’t think I’ve ever had a better shower. Once I was stitched up, clean and dry, we managed to get a couple of hours kip before being taken to the post-labour ward. As the midwife wheeled me down the corridor, she advised me “Next time, come straight in or stay at home” (spoiler: it was the latter).

Newborn baby wrapped in a white towel and sleeping
It’s a baby!

I genuinely enjoyed my birth experience. Yes, it was painful but I really enjoyed letting my body take over and take me along for the ride. My instincts took over and I was ready to let them. I’d practiced breathing techniques in prenatal yoga videos and they helped so much. If I hadn’t met that doula at Boomtown or read Kate Evans’s book, it might have been a different experience. My birth wasn’t what I had on my birth plan but that didn’t matter in the end. The things that kept me going were:

  • Not fighting my body
  • Breathing and being conscious of my breath
  • Knowing what physical and emotional sensations I might feel and understanding the medical stages of labour
  • Snacks and distractions – most of the day was waiting around

My hospital birth was a hugely positive experience. I am fortunate not to have needed much medical intervention, even though it wasn’t totally as planned. I understand that some birth experiences are out of the mother’s control and no amount of breathing will remedy that. However, I really believe that feeling confident and empowered before my labour is what allowed me to own it and enjoy it. It is the most powerful and proud I have ever felt, and meant I went into my second birth feeling ready and able to have another positive experience.

New father holding his newborn baby, he looks tired but happy
This is one of my favourite ever pics of Tom

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