Throughout my pregnancy, I attended hypnobirthing workshops and repeated positive affirmations as if by ritual in the hopes these would help me to have the most natural birthing experience I possibly could. But from the moment it was decided that I would be induced, I knew this textbook natural birth I’d hoped for might not (and probably wouldn’t) go to plan. And although I was, admittedly, a little bit disappointed, I was too excited to meet my little boy to worry too much about how he would get here, and vowed to stay positive regardless. I knew that being induced would mean I’d be hooked up to monitors and – more than likely – bedbound. But still, I could breathe through each contraction, repeat my positive affirmations and remind myself that no matter how painful each contraction might be, you’re capable of doing absolutely anything for one minute (or so the hypnobirthing midwives told me!) And, so long as my baby arrived safely, nothing else mattered.
When my contractions started, almost immediately after my waters broke, I couldn’t actually believe how painful they were. I hadn’t expected them to be easy, but it’s so true when women tell you that nothing can prepare you for the pain. Each and every one took my breath away, and given I wasn’t actually hooked up to monitors or confined to my bed at that stage, I tried absolutely everything to get comfortable in the hopes it would make them more bearable. I straddled a chair, bounced on the birthing ball, kneeled up and clutched the head of the bed, you name it, and nothing helped. Michael had been sent home earlier on, as we were still on the women’s ward and he could only stay until 11pm, so my poor mum was left to deal with me on her own – and I could see that it was absolutely breaking her heart to see me in so much pain, even if it was for the loveliest reason. In between contractions, she would rub my lower back for me and it was gorgeous. But the second a contraction started, I couldn’t bear her touching me and had to move away from her – it genuinely made me feel sick. I was offered paracetamol for the pain and told that until I was taken through to the delivery suite, it was the best they could offer. Paracetamol doesn’t touch me if I have a mild headache, so I declined, hopeful that it wouldn’t be long before I could try the gas and air.
Two hours later, there was finally a bed for me on the delivery suite, so I was wheeled – crying and singing to get me through each contraction – into my sweet little suite where I met my lovely midwife, Ceri. Then, Michael appeared and I remember feeling so relieved that I was where I needed to be, surrounded by the people who would help me through all the grisly bits before I met my little cherub. I remember throwing myself onto the floor and clutching the gas and air for dear life, and my god, that stuff is absolutely amazing. For the first time since my labour started I felt comfortable and my contractions were bearable. But then Ceri told me I needed to get into bed so that she could monitor me, and I was so upset because it was absolute agony to move. Ceri and Michael helped me into bed and for seven hours I survived on gas and air and crappy jokes from Michael, and girly chat with my mum and Ceri. It’s all a bit of a blur, because I was delirious by this stage, but even so I remember my contractions becoming more and more intense until I bit so hard on the gas and air pipe through a scream that I actually cracked it.
At this stage, cradling me through tears and screams and deep breaths, Michael begged me to consider an epidural. I’d never been against having one, but I knew from my hypnobirthing classes that an epidural can slow down labour, and can even limit your ability to ‘push’ when the time comes. In my delirious mind, accepting an epidural felt like a failure. But I had to admit, I was struggling to cope. I was trembling between contractions, I was so exhausted and the pain was horrible. Then, even Ceri told me that she thought I’d had enough, and that if I left it any longer, I’d be in too much pain to sit still for the epidural and therefore they couldn’t risk me having one. So, I gave in and agreed. I was so proud that I had coped on nothing more than gas and air and positive affirmations for almost nine hours (I hadn’t been nasty or used naughty words either), and knew it was time to accept a little bit more help.
My anesthesiologist popped in five minutes later and he was the most gorgeous human being I have ever clapped eyes on. He was so gentle and calming and talked me through the process with the patience of a saint in his lovely, soft Welsh accent. I am terrified of needles and even though I was experiencing full-blown labour, I still cried at the thought of an epidural. But I can honestly say I didn’t feel a thing. He stuck around to make sure it had worked, and from that moment on my labour changed completely. I watched the zig-zagging of each contraction on the monitor beside me and took comfort in my baby’s wriggles and kicks, knowing it was just a matter of time before we would finally meet. I sat up in bed and enjoyed some of my packed lunch and chatted to my mum, Michael and every midwife that came in to check on me. My local hospital (and our NHS in general) is absolutely amazing. They have midwives popping in and out sporadically to check baby’s movements are as they should be – so you can rest assured that nothing is missed by the exhausted midwife who is literally holding your hand as you navigate the biggest moments of your life.
Every hour or so, Ceri inspected my cervix to see how dilated I was (this isn’t painful but quite invasive). But after about 10 hours of labour, I still hadn’t dilated past four centimetres, so it was decided that I’d be put on a hormone drip to help speed things up. Again, I cried like a baby and asked if they could numb the back of my hand before they put the needle in – imagine it. Unfortunately, they had to move quickly and couldn’t waste 40 minutes whilst the cream worked its magic, so it was a big, brave, deep breath job. As the hormones began working their magic, I began to feel incredibly nauseous and unfortunately I was sick – a lot. I couldn’t keep a thing down, not even sips of water. Fortunately, Michael was on hand to wash the sick out of my hair and pat my face down with a warm flannel when I felt queasy.
After 18 hours of labour, three cycles of epidural and two hormone drips, I had still only dilated to 9.5 centimetres. So, my midwives brought in one of the surgeons for a second opinion. They used a long blue device (I can’t remember what this was called, but it looked like a long, pointy ruler) to attempt to ‘push’ the remaining cervix out of the way, in the hopes it would allow me to deliver naturally. When this didn’t work, they asked me to try pushing – thinking this might help that .5cm of cervix to budge. But unfortunately, it just wouldn’t. So, the lovely surgeon explained that she thought it would be in everybody’s best interests if I had a caesarean. She explained that my baby was fine for now, but my cervix wasn’t going anywhere and if I continued through labour, my baby could go into distress and I would require an emergency caesarean regardless. So, although I was sad (a c-section had been my biggest fear since I discovered I was pregnant) it was more important that both me and my little one made it through safely.
Whilst Ceri fitted me with some gorgeous stockings for theatre, which are designed to prevent blood clots, I was asked to sign some paperwork whilst the procedure was explained to me. I was told I could have a spinal block (which is a bit like an epidural but wears off much more quickly), a higher dose of epidural, or a general anaesthetic. I decided on a stronger dose of epidural – the cannula was already in place, so it seemed like the easiest option, and the last thing I wanted was to be asleep for my baby’s arrival. Michael was gowned up whilst I gave my mum a great big squeeze, and then I was wheeled off to theatre.
My anesthesiologist tweaked my epidural and then sprayed my legs with ice to make sure I couldn’t feel anything. Then, a screen was pulled up over my stomach and I was told they were going to make the first incision. Michael sat at one side of me, holding my hand, whilst my anesthesiologist sat at the other side, talking me through the process and reassuring me that my uncontrollable shaking was a normal response to the amount of epidural I’d been given. I thought I might actually fall off the table at one point – I felt like my body had gone into shock. Then, I felt lots of pressure on my tummy and tugging (almost like somebody doing the dishes in your stomach) and then I was told I’d feel breathless for a moment as they pulled my baby out. Then, I heard a tiny little cry, and my heart melted.
When babies are delivered naturally, all the mucus is pushed out of their nose and mouth as they’re born. But because my little one had been born via caesarean, this hadn’t happened, and so he needed a visit to the neonatal special care ward so that they could give him some oxygen and help him clear his airways. I was so worried, but my surgeon assured me it was very common and that I had no reason to be concerned. I was shown my beautiful boy for a brief moment before he was whisked away, and I was taken to a little room on the ward where my mum was waiting for us. The surgeon asked Michael if he’d like to go and stay with our little one, which I encouraged because the thought of him being all alone broke my heart. A lovely student midwife helped me to get changed into fresh pyjamas (which I didn’t expect to happen so quickly after major surgery, I was terrified that if I stood up, I’d split in half) and gave me a warm flannel for my face.
As I waited to meet my beautiful son, my mum said: “Oh Luce. I have just seen the most beautiful baby girl being wheeled past in a crib. She was lovely and had a little pink hat on.” Then, the midwife said: “The only baby that has been past is your grandson, we ran out of blue hats so we had to use pink!” My mum broke her heart crying, she couldn’t believe she had seen her grandson and not even realised. A couple of minutes later, I was asked if I was ready to meet my baby. Then, I heard the door creak open and beneath the curtain I could see the wheels of a crib and Michael’s feet. Then, my little baby boy was wheeled over to me. As Michael placed him on my chest, the emotion took my breath away. I couldn’t believe I was finally meeting my beautiful little baby. His rosy face was so warm against my chest, and he opened his eyes to look at me whilst his tiny little hand rested on my chest. I remember sobbing and saying: “This is my son.” We quickly agreed he was Theo – we’d orginially liked Ezra, but he just suited Theo so much. I was so exhausted and could barely keep my eyes open, but the immediate bond I felt between me and my little baby was the most beautiful, most overwhelming, all-consuming, wonderful feeling in the world. It sounds truly crazy, but in that moment, I felt like I’d known him forever. I remember asking my mum where that all-consuming, unconditional love comes from. How can somebody you have just met be the centre of your whole universe? Just magical.
Childbirth, regardless of whether you deliver naturally or via caesarean, whether you use gas and air or accept an epidural, is by far the most brutal, empowering, emotional, overwhelming, beautiful thing you could ever experience. Although my experience wasn’t what I had envisioned, and it certainly wasn’t a play-by-play of the birthing plan I’d given to my midwife, it was magical. Despite the pain, the tears, the trauma, the exhaustion, I truly would do it all over again tomorrow. The pain is unlike anything you could ever experience, but the baby in your arms at the end of the day is worth every second and I feel truly blessed to have experienced it in all its gruesome, wonderful glory.
I truly hope by sharing an honest account of my birthing experience, I have helped just one expectant mummy to feel more prepared for what might lie ahead. And although it may seem scary and daunting and unpredictable – please remember, you can do this!