I went into labour on a Tuesday evening at about 11pm after my husband Ben and I had been laying on the bed, watching a film. It was three days after my due date. It had been a hot May weekend filled with the Royal wedding and the Stokes Croft riots. Or rather for me, the near completion of a jigsaw puzzle.
I had what felt like period pains and had a small ‘show.’ I called my second birth partner, Beth who was living near Bridgewater at the time to tell her that something had started. We agreed that instead of going to work the following day she would come to us.
I sent Ben to bed in our attic room, as I wanted him to get some rest. He also had a terrible cold! The contractions were quite manageable and I was able to rest between them. I didn’t get any sleep though and in the wee hours they were close enough together that I felt I wanted to know a little more what was going on. I knocked for Ben who helped me time how far apart the contractions were. I was coping with them quite easily but they were about 7 minutes apart so we decided to call the midwife. My sister and my Mum had both experienced at least one quite rapid labour so I was anxious that I wasn’t going to get caught short!
A midwife did come and check me over. She didn’t examine my cervix but by the strength of the contractions, she felt I was still quite a way off. She thought I was in the “latent phase” and that it was quite likely that my cervix would not have really started to open much yet. She advised I take a paracetamol and try and get some sleep, which I did.
A friend had also advised me that when I first went into labour I should rest as much as possible. This is because first labours are often really long and one major cause for transfer to hospital or other interventions is the mother’s exhaustion. This was really good advise and I am so glad I heeded it. I didn’t know that I would not be having my baby until the Friday!
On ‘Day One’ of my labour Beth arrived and Ben and I were both so happy to have her there. We had all planned quite well together what we thought we would all need and how Beth could best support both Ben and me. This was especially important, as Ben really wasn’t very well. (The expectant Father getting ill does seem to be a common phenomenon – be warned!) Ben and Beth had learnt some Shiatsu pressure points to practice on me if I wished and they had their individual tasks too, such as reminding me to keep my out breath long and to make sure I went to the loo. Beth also did a local food shop and cooked for us. I was restless and moving about quite a bit during the day but was still finding the contractions quite manageable. I chatted on the phone to friends and tried to finish my jigsaw. I tried to eat as normal but did find I didn’t have much appetite. When evening came, I decided it was best if we all went to bed in our separate beds again as I felt quite able to cope and wanted to get as much rest as possible. The night was passed lying on my side on my bed with cushions between my knees. When I felt a contraction was coming, I would move to my hands and knees. I imagined that I was opening like a country gate and tried to keep my breath long. Then I would return to lying again and imagine I was floating on the ocean. This helped me to relax and to dose off.
A different friend had also advised me that the jaw is connected to the cervix. For this reason it’s good to remember (or have somebody to remind you!) to keep your jaw loose. Making your jaw wobble and blowing air through your lips can help keep your jaw and therefore your cervix relaxed.
On ‘Day Two’ of my labour we decided it was best if Beth went to work. She had a very understanding boss who was happy that she remain “on call” for us during the day. The most memorable thing about this day was that I decided to have a bath. I love my bathroom and although I had a birth pool all ready to go in the living room, I had always imagined that I might have my baby in the bath. I’d chosen a home birth because I loved my home and I wanted it to be the most natural and normal experience. I loved how domestic and comfortable it all was and wouldn’t have chosen to labour in the hospital. So I headed for my favourite spot in the house only to discover to my horror that nothing came out when I turned on the taps! The water was somehow off! I got quite freaked out and shouted at Ben to ring the water board. I was shouting that I wasn’t going to be able to have a homebirth with no water. I was sitting in this empty bath weeping, the contractions had all but disappeared and it was a real low point. What had happened was that the water company were doing some once every five yearly work in the area and had turned off the supply. After about 20 minutes it came back on!
In the evening Beth came home and I tried to eat some supper. Apparently I commented that the contractions felt a bit different. They were becoming stronger but were causing quite a bit of pain and discomfort around my coccyx and bottom. We decided to call the midwife, as we now hadn’t seen anyone for almost 2 days. The midwife on call was Judy from my Doctor practice. She didn’t feel it was worth her coming out because it sounded like things were still progressing quite slowly. It was really reassuring to talk to someone though and to know that Judy, who I know and liked, would be on call through the night. I felt I wanted someone with me so Ben and Beth took it in two shifts to ensure they would also get some rest. Their main job as I remember it was to help me to get from a lying position to all fours when a contraction came and to get a hot water bottle onto my lower back as swiftly as possible.
On ‘Day Three’ of my labour Judy popped in at about 8am on her way to the surgery to see how I was getting on. We had a chat and she observed some contractions and concluded that I was still probably not in “active labour.” This was on the basis that the contractions were still not demanding all of my attention and didn’t appear to be very strong. She didn’t really want to interfere with me too much but asked if I would like her to examine my cervix. I was really keen to be examined, as I wanted to know for sure what was happening in there. “I take it all back” she said “your almost 8cm dilated!” I was overjoyed! Finally things were moving along. Judy would also be staying to attend the birth, which was really reassuring. I remember that the pain in my bottom was really bothering me. I felt like I was constipated. It wasn’t a big poo I needed to do though! – it was the position of the baby. Ben started filling the birth pool and Judy asked me where I was planning to have the baby. I didn’t feel like getting in the pool. I felt I needed my feet on solid ground and was able to cope with the contractions despite this added pain in my back passage. So the filling up of the pool was halted and the mats and plastic were moved upstairs into our bedroom. We got the Tens machine out and I found that quite helpful for a while.
I was moving about back and forth from the bathroom and using all the space upstairs. Beth was attending me and although I didn’t feel like being massaged she was sort of holding me physically and ‘spiritually.’ I can’t really describe what she did for me. Although things were still very domestic and matter of fact, the atmosphere was shifting to become more focused and intimate. The energy was both delicate and intense. I was making quite a bit of noise and was using some yoga walks and positions I had learnt to help cope with the pain and to try and keep my pelvis open and my bottom loose. Beth would repeat mantras with me, like “open” and I remember repeating “come on pain! I need you pain!”and laughing as it sounded so ridiculous. At one point Judy felt I was getting ready to push so on the floor of the bedroom I tried pushing. Nothing more was happening though so it was up again back to pacing around. Ben was with me and I was glad he was close by but it was Beth who was kind of coaching me through. I was so glad I had chosen to have a female birth attendant.
Beth doesn’t have her own children but Ben and I had decided this wasn’t important. What was important was that we both loved and trusted her and that she had the qualities we felt we needed. We created a team and worked really effectively together. We called ourselves “Team Purdies” after the energy drink that helped sustain us through! She took the pressure off Ben enormously and allowed him to just “be by my side” whilst she dived in and became acutely in tune with the rhythm of the labour – quite amazing.
Around lunchtime after I had been labouring for about 62 hours I was beginning to tire. I remember my feet were aching from being on my feet for so long and I knew that if the baby didn’t come soon I would have to be transferred to hospital for an assisted delivery. I’d tried eating (a banana that I’d thrown back up) and I’d tried peeing to ensure the bladder wasn’t in the way but was unable to go.
The persistent pain in my back passage indicated that the baby was not in the correct position to travel down the birth canal. Judy is a semi retired and experienced mid wife who until now had left me very much to my own devises choosing not to regularly examine me or to break my waters. However at this point, she did want to have a feel of my cervix and found that I hadn’t dilated any further and actually my cervix was a little more closed than it had been hours before. She sent Beth and Ben off to bed to get some rest and with some gas and air beside me, she laid me on my left side on the bed. This was my first experience of lying still through contractions and it was incredibly painful! It was a taster of what it might feel like to have to be on a hospital bed! I needed the rest though and the baby needed to move round toward the left into a better position. I was in a drugged up haze and the baby was really active. I don’t know how long I lay there. The neighbours, in blissful ignorance, decided that now was a good time to do some metal grinding! It was very loud and poor Beth had to go out and ask them to cut it out!
Eventually I was released from my torture of lying still and I was helped up and to the bathroom. My legs were wobbly from the gas and I was quite light headed but I could feel the baby had moved. On my way back down the landing I felt an almighty change in the contractions signaling the beginning of the pushing contractions. It was like the reflex you get when you want to vomit but obviously different and the other end! With the next one I pushed whilst holding onto the banisters and my waters burst out all over the landing floor. There was no way I was moving so plastic sheets were bought in. There was a knock on the door and another midwife arrived to start her shift. This took my audience up to five, all neatly positioned about the stairs and landing. Ben was beside me but I didn’t want to be touched. I needed to focus all my attention on pushing the baby out.
The midwives advised me to use all of a contraction by pushing then taking a deep breath and pushing again. Someone also said to bend my knees and to stick my bottom out to help give the baby room. I wasn’t in any pain and was aware that something incredible was happening. Within about 20 minutes the baby’s head was out and then with one more push, I felt the body slip out and a crying noise. Ben said, “It’s a boy!” And he was passed to me through my legs and into my arms. He was crying and trying to latch on to my breasts. I was so happy and relieved to finally have the long awaited little boy in my arms. I was moved into the bedroom where I was standing when I suddenly felt very faint and managed to say “Can somebody take the baby please?” Before passing out backwards onto the bed. This was apparently quite a scary moment for Ben and Beth. I just remember waking up and thought I had time travelled to another land. I didn’t recognise anything until I heard Beth saying “You’ve had a baby” and I thought “Oh yes! So I have!”
Ben cut the chord and took the baby off whilst I lay back to try and push out the placenta. There was no power left in my body. I tried blowing into a paper bag and giving the baby a feed but I just felt nothing. Eventually the midwives gave me an injection and out it came. After examining me though it was decided that I would have to go to hospital – after all that! Judy wasn’t 100% sure but thought I probably had a 3rd degree tare and she knew it would be best to have it stitched by an experienced surgeon. I think everyone was expecting me to be a bit upset at this news but I was so happy and satisfied with my labour and baby I really didn’t care and relaxed whilst I waited for the ambulance.
Beth and the baby came with me in the ambulance and after a strong coffee, Ben followed in the car. Unfortunately it was now Friday late afternoon and of course the surgeon got caught up in the Friday evening rush of casualties. It wasn’t until quite late that I got to be stitched and then had to stay over night. I wasn’t in pain at all as the euphoria of becoming a Mum was now mixed with some strong painkillers and I had a really positive experience at Southmead. The midwives were really nice and made sure we were well supported and cared for. I was so exhausted it was actually very reassuring to wake up after a long sleep to find the midwives had neatly swaddled my baby up. I also remember ringing the bell at some point in the night and asking the midwife to latch him on for me. I couldn’t have done that at home! Finally on Saturday afternoon though we could go home to my own bed. Ben and I ate the best tasting Indian takeaway we’d ever had whilst admiring our little boy. He was perfect – strong and healthy. We called him Frank, which means, “free man” as well as “to be truthful.”
I found the recovery from the birth and particularly the tare, surprisingly long. Despite this hardship though, I felt transformed. I felt a renewed trust in my body and a new confidence to be the mother and woman I wanted to be. I also felt a deeper love and closeness toward Ben and Beth who’d given me so much. I also loved lying around breast feeding my baby and reflecting on his arrival, knowing that my experience of labour had been a gift, which I would cherish forever.