AKA: “Good things come to those who wait”
I (Wishful Earth Mama!) gave birth to my second child, a beautiful boy weighing 8lbs 7oz
7.15am on Sunday 11 November 2018
Aylesbury Birth Centre, Stoke Mandeville Hospital
In the warm waters of the birthing pool
Birth in brief:
Glorious! Long-awaited but fast and furious when it eventually happened. A perfect spontaneous labour and beautiful water birth.
Birth in full:
My son, my second child, arrived in the world at 7.15am on Sunday 11 November 2018. Despite a taxingly long lead-up, his birth was one of the most joyful and proudest moments of my life, and I’m detailing it here not only as a happy reminder of such a very special event but in the hope that it might reassure or even inspire other women experiencing a ‘prolonged’ pregnancy.
My baby boy was due on 29 October. Earlier in the month, my midwife had stretched her paper tape measure across my straining stomach and uttered the chilling words ‘static growth’. My husband raced home from work to hold my hand as three sonographers performed an ultrasound to determine growth more accurately. The words that finally broke the excruciating silence were surprising: “He seems to be a very good size indeed”. Their measurements suggested our boy would weigh a sizeable 9lbs 7oz by his due date, but they warned that “his abdominal circumference has grown too big too quickly, and you have a large pocket of amniotic fluid”. The gestational diabetes test I was subsequently given showed I was ‘borderline’ diabetic. Not enough to warrant medication or prompt induction conversations, but “put it this way”, smiled the nurse, “if you’re still pregnant at 42 weeks you’ll certainly be diabetic, but of course you’ll have had the baby by then”.
Except I very nearly didn’t. My baby arrived at 41 weeks and 6 days gestation. Those 13 extra days passed in a torturous cycle of uncomfortable daytimes, hopeful bedtimes and disappointing mornings, as I repeatedly awoke to a stoic absence of any signs of labour. When my due date came and went, I breezily informed the world that “in France, gestation is considered to be 41 weeks”. I was sure he’d arrive by that milestone – my daughter had been born at 41 weeks the previous year, and her birth had followed several days of unmistakable signs of early labour and full-blown contractions the day before.
And yet, the 41 week milestone also passed without a whimper or whisper of labour. Was baby okay? Were his big tummy and my strange amniotic fluid measurements signs of a problem that meant he wasn’t ready to, or just couldn’t, emerge?
As part of my hypnobirthing practice I regularly visualised the joyful moment I went, spontaneously, into labour. I imagined waking up in the middle of the night to the dramatic breaking of my waters, and then rushing around the house pulling on mismatching pyjamas and flinging snacks and toiletries into my hospital bag. My husband and I would make sure our daughter was sleeping soundly, then make late-night calls to my midwife and my mum before zooming off to the birth centre for a calm, intervention-free water birth. Such was my dream.
As the days passed, my hopes of this scenario faded, and I prepared myself for the inevitable but unwanted recommendation that labour be induced.
I am a staunch advocate of natural birth, and for me this includes allowing labour to happen spontaneously. This should not be misunderstood to imply that intervention makes birth ‘less’, ‘worse’ or ‘inferior’ in any way. Any birth is a true feat and I look forward to documenting a wide variety of fabulous birth stories as my “Beautiful Births” blogpost series develops. Positive births feature healthy babies, happy mamas and a solid foundation of information, understanding, consent and respect. To be clear, I believe these factors are as feasible in an induced labour or caesarean section as they are in a spontaneous home birth.
My lovely community midwife broached the induction with a clear and comprehensive outline of the various induction techniques and procedures, alongside the reasons why they might be considered. The ‘might’ is important here. Crucial, in fact. Women are under absolutely no obligation to be induced. I urge you to gaily correct the semantics of all those who ask a heavily pregnant woman “how overdue will they let you go?” It’s not a case of ‘permission’. In the UK, induction is offered because there’s a higher risk of stillbirth after 42 weeks of pregnancy (the exact date at which induction is performed varies between hospital trusts). However, if you and baby are thriving and your pregnancy is classed as “low risk” it is totally your choice whether to agree to any induction procedures.
I am not a health professional, so will not attempt to detail the various methods of inducing labour, or the statistics that support (or argue against) their efficacy and necessity. If you would like to learn more, I recommend consulting the NHS website’s Inducing labour page (particularly the Choices when pregnancy reaches 41 weeks leaflet), and the statistics-packed induction bible Inducing labour: Making informed decisions by Dr Sara Wickham. For further inexpert ramblings, have a peek at my Wishfully waiting for baby blogpost, which I wrote 6 days after my due date.
Suffice it to say, I politely refused all methods of induction…until 11 days after my due date, when I asked my midwife to perform a membrane sweep. She hadn’t batted an eyelid when I’d refused this previously (it was first offered at 39 weeks), and seemed similarly unfazed at my volte-face three weeks later. I had been warned to expect resistance to my persistent refusal of induction, and I felt my position would be stronger if I’d already undergone some form of induction (a membrane/cervical sweep is a simple, quick, physical procedure that doesn’t requires artificial drugs, but can sometimes kick-start labour. For this reason, many class it as a labour induction method). Furthermore, I knew that the invasive nature of the sweep required investigation of the cervix, and I was keen to know what (if anything) was occurring in that area! I found the sweep uncomfortable rather than painful. Much worse was the news that my cervix was still “high and hard, more like I’d expect to see at around 38 weeks”. I left the appointment feeling utterly convinced that labour was a long way off indeed.
That night, our daughter decided to have one of the worst night’s sleep of her little life, which for her, was no mean feat! At 4am, after a fitful few hours, she was clutching me and screaming inconsolably. I began to sob too. Days of frustration, worry, sleep deprivation and overall physical discomfort had taken their toll. My husband, usually the most patient and gentle of men, lost his temper, and then his resolve. He began to cry too. It was a bleak moment for us all. Exhausted and emotional, we all climbed into bed together, and eventually drifted off in a tangled mess of hot tears and love.
The next morning, all was calm. The trauma of the small hours had been cathartic, and perspective had been regained. We were healthy and secure, and I suddenly knew with absolute certainty that our newest and much longed-for addition would come when, and only when, he was ready.
We had a lovely day. I had to go into hospital for monitoring in the form of cardiotocography (a ‘CTG’ or ‘trace’), and happily, this showed us that baby was healthy. My husband and I made an appointment for a scan the next day, and we then went for lunch. We spent the afternoon playing with our daughter, and had a lovely dinner with my parents. We were relaxed. We laughed, joked and soaked up some precious family time.
That night, our daughter slept through the night for the first time in weeks. Ironically, I was up from 1.30am. I didn’t mind at all though, because, finally, my vision was realised.
I was in labour.
A lovely community midwife came out to assess me at 3.30am. I’d lost my mucous plug and my contractions had become regular, but I wasn’t sure if my waters had broken. We laughed at the absurdity of having to creep around the house silently despite being in labour, such was the rarity of our daughter sleeping through the night! And I will always remember the comic indignity of being intimately examined by the light of an iPhone 6. (Our living room light is pathetically romantically dim!)
The midwife recommended I head to the hospital, as she was finding it difficult to ascertain whether or not my waters had broken. She warned that leaving the comfort of my home might cause labour to slow down. I felt differently: “I’m worried I’ll give birth in the car”. She took me at my word: “If that starts to happen, just call me and I’ll find you on the road!” She called the hospital to explain I’d be arriving soon, and that I wanted a water birth, so could they start filling the pool?
We arrived at the hospital at 5am. I staggered into triage, where I was gauged to be 4cm dilated. “Would you like me to give you a cervical sweep, to help move things along?”, asked another kindly midwife. “That really won’t be necessary”, I managed to say in between increasingly painful surges. “Can I get in the pool now?” I was keen to leave the bright lights and commotion of the triage ward. I was also very aware that the couple beyond my bed’s flimsy curtain were becoming distressed by the sounds I was emitting to help me through each surge, and I felt strongly that I needed to be somewhere much more private.
I vaguely remember walking to the birth centre. I vividly remember setting eyes upon the birthing pool, which, crushingly, was empty. Two midwives were attaching hoses to a tiny hand basin. As disappointment rose within me, so did pain. I couldn’t get comfortable on the bed, and a trip to the bathroom saw me crawling back into the room, desperate to find respite from the near-overwhelming power of each surge. I was in shock – their gut-wrenching strength seemed far, far stronger and less manageable than during my previous labour. I desperately wanted to immerse myself in the warm waters of the pool, but it seemed ‘immersion’ wouldn’t be possible for at least half an hour.
I lay on the floor, and to my shame, began to scream through each surge. My husband was panicking too. “Would you like your rain soundtrack?” In desperation, he was pawing at my iPad, trying to find the soothing rain soundtrack that always accompanied my hypnobirthing practice. I’d asked for it to be played on loop for the last ten hours of my previous labour, and quite understandably, my husband thought it might help me again. Unfortunately, I felt differently: “NO!”
The fact was, this labour wasn’t going to last ten hours. In total, my previous labour was 21 hours, and I believe this allowed my body to very gradually build up to the crescendo of surges that immediately precedes baby’s arrival. Second time around, my labour was progressing more quickly than I had anticipated. My surprise was turning to fear, the mortal enemy of a positive birth experience. Very quickly, I began to believe I couldn’t cope with the power of the surges.
I gasped a plea for help. “What do you want?” asked the midwife. “Pool!” I shouted. “It’s not ready”, she said sadly. “How about gas and air?” Reluctantly, I nodded. I had desperately hoped for a birth free of pain relief (like my first birth), but I realised I wasn’t managing this stage of labour at all well, and would have to accept help.
Once I’d mastered how to inhale the Entonox, I began to feel some very welcome relief. The effect is hard to describe. It’s a tasteless substance which you need to start inhaling as soon as a surge begins, so you’ll have some in your system during the surge’s strongest moments. I’ve heard women say that it made them feel dizzy, disorientated or nauseous, but I only felt a sense of calm, and a sudden ability to cope with the surges. My panic had ebbed away and crucially, I felt I had regained control.
I’m not sure how long I used the gas for, but it ran out pretty quickly! I was upset by this and asked for more repeatedly, but a farcical scene of reappearing empty canisters and too-short breathing tubes was playing elsewhere in the room. There was no more gas to be had, but I finally received better news: the pool was ready.
I had managed to labour on the floor for a further 30 minutes or so without Entonox, and all thoughts of the wonder substance completely disappeared as soon as I slid into the pool’s surprisingly warm water. It was blissful, and I knew I wouldn’t emerge again until I had my baby in my arms.
At 7am, I started to push. The midwife feared this was early, but a quick check of proceedings (using a skilfully-wielded mirror!) proved that it was absolutely the right time.
Amazingly, our son rose gently through the water and into my arms at 7.15am. Just ten minutes and a few long pushes had finally brought him to us. We were overjoyed, and I was elated that I’d delivered him naturally. I had always feared the pushing stage but actually, genuinely, it was painless. Not without sensation, of course, and it was an almighty effort, but compared to the ravaging surges I’d felt only an hour previously, it was far, far more comfortable. I remembered a key line from a hypnobirthing ‘birth confidence’ script: “Let your body push your baby. It knows what to do”.
As I met my son for the very first time, I’m told I greeted him thus: “Hello beautiful baby! Where have you been?!”. Quite simply, he was where he should have been, happily thriving, until he was ready to meet us. He was a fabulously healthy (and not, contrary to earlier warnings, an overly hefty) 8lbs 7oz, and he heralded an overwhelming wave of love that has continued to wash over all of us ever since.
I don’t know if I’ll ever have the privilege of carrying a baby and bringing them into the world again. To be honest, I suspect not. But if I ever should again, I will remember these important lessons:
- A ‘due date’ is an estimate.
- Growth scans are predictions with margins of error.
- You shouldn’t eat too much sugar during pregnancy (and actually, it’s very easy to give up).
- Ask, ask, and ask your chosen birth location to fill up the birth pool in good time. Then check, check, check that it’s happening (this is a great task for a birth partner!)
- Your body knows what to do.
- Trust your instincts.
Welcome to the world, beautiful boy.