Before I was pregnant I had always assumed that I would want to give birth in a hospital with as much medical assistance and pain relief as possible. When planning my birth I knew I had two hospital options within pretty much the same distance so I started researching them both, this is when I came across my local Birthing Centre at the RVI in Newcastle. To be honest I didn't have a clue what a birthing centre was and how it was different but as soon as I started looking into it I knew that this is where I wanted to give birth. The problem was that I knew if I wanted to have my baby there I had to do it without an epidural. At this point I still had the assumption that I think a lot of women have, that 'of course' I would need an epidural, what kind of crazy woman doesn't take the epidural?! However in my research I came across the term 'active birth' which is something I had never heard of before. I bought a second hand book on active birth by Janet Balaskas for 1p plus postage on Amazon and it turned out to be the best investment I made during my pregnancy, it was a massive turning point for me. I realised there was so much about birth I didn't know, and the book really helped me understand what I needed to do to help this baby get out!! I genuinely think all pregnant women should be offered a copy!
With my birth plan written I was now just waiting, my biggest fear now was going overdue and having to be induced and go to the hospital delivery suites instead of the Birthing Centre. Luckily two days before my due date things kicked off! I’d had a really lazy day and just hadn’t really felt like doing anything, this was slightly unusual as since I had been off work I had been pretty obsessed with keeping the house clean and tidy in case the baby came that day! I had just gone to bed at around 10 ish and was trying to read when I became aware of some weird dull back pains. They were quickly becoming a little too distracting to read and I realised they were coming in waves. It occurred to me that this could be something starting but I couldn't quite believe it so I started lots of googling about 'early labour' signs! My partner was next door asleep at this point, with no idea what was going on as I was sleeping in the spare room where I had more space to sleep comfortably. I knew early labour could be a very lengthy process so I decided to try and go to sleep but the cramps were spreading and intensifying and I felt too uncomfortable to sleep. The waves increased in their frequency and at around 01.30am I decided that I was pretty sure it was starting and got up to go and tell my partner the exciting news. As I got up some slightly pink tinged liquid leaked out (lovely!) and I knew for sure it was time. I crept into our room and gently shook my partner to wake him, my exact words were 'I don't want to freak you out but it's time!'.
It felt very surreal getting my pregnancy record book out with the Birthing Centre number to call them. They told us to keep count of the contractions and when to call them back. I had a shower, ate some toast and got my tens machine out for my partner to stick onto my back.
By this point I have to admit I was quite shocked at how quickly the contractions were becoming quite painful. I think I had really underestimated early labour as I'd read so many stories about women cleaning their houses, going for walks, watching movies, or not even noticing! I was kneeling over a pile of pillows on our bed using my tens machine and was starting to wonder if I was really prepared for this. The contractions actually sped up quite quickly and by about 04.00 we called the Birthing Centre again and they said I could come in and they would check how dilated I was but warned me I may be sent home. It was an incredibly surreal journey at around 04.30am along the empty motorway to the hospital!
When they checked me they were surprised at the frequency and intensity of my contractions as I was actually only 2cm dilated! At this point I was really starting to question my birth plan and whether I was actually strong enough to handle this on just gas and air if I was in this much pain at only 2cm. I remember joking that I was pretty sure my birth plan would be 'out the window' as this got worse! They gave me the option of staying for four hours to see if I could get to 4cm or I could go home and come back in a bit. I decided I couldn't face going home again and I felt a bit better with the midwives around. The next few of hours are a bit of a blur, I remember being in quite a bit of pain and spent most of the time kneeling over the side of the sofa in the room while using my tens machine to distract me from the contractions. I tried to move around more and tried sitting on a birthing ball but I was only comfortable on my knees leaning over. I was in a lot more pain than I thought I would be and still really doubting whether I could really do this without an epidural. I told the midwife that I thought I was going to need some pain relief and she reminded me of my birth plan and that she knew how much I wanted to stay in the birthing centre and suggested I waited a bit longer. I remember telling her and my partner I just didn't think I was coping with the pain well and wasn't sure I could do this. They both just kept reminding me of what I had said I wanted and encouraging me to keep going for a while longer before making any big decisions. Eventually they checked me to see if I had met their 4 hour 'deadline' to get to 4cms... luckily I had as if they had asked me to go home I think it would have really unsettled me.
Once I knew I had reached 4cm I got a new lease of life and felt more confident in my ability to do this, I knew now I could try the pool and use the gas and air. With the gas and air, at first I couldn't really get the hang of it and thought it was a bit pointless but once I understood how to use it to breath though the contractions I realised that it was actually quite relaxing, although it did not really do anything to ease the pain! Luckily it didn't take too long for them to fill the pool and I was in there straight away. The moment I got in the warm water I felt instantly calmer and more relaxed, enough so that my contractions actually slowed down and my midwife was a little concerned I may have to get out if they slowed down too much. Luckily they stayed constant enough for her to be happy for me to stay in the pool. Initially I enjoyed the time in between contractions and even recall having a laugh with my partner and the midwife and chatting to them. This period actually felt far easier for me than the previous hours in early labour! However as the contractions came closer together and lasted longer my memory of things become blurrier. Whilst I hadn’t practiced hypnobirthing I had done some reading on it and general relaxation techniques, this seemed to help as I just drifted off into my own little world. I really became very zoned out and I know I fell asleep a few times. In total I was in the pool for about 12 hours but I had no concept of time, I specifically told my partner and my midwife that I didn’t want to know what time it was. In fact when my son was finally born I had absolutely no idea whether it was even day or night!
For the majority of the time I was in labour in the pool I was kneeling over with my head resting on an inflatable pillow I had brought and then moved to all fours once I was properly pushing. I remember every now and then I needed to stretch out my legs as they were going pretty dead from being in the same position. Through each contraction I squeezed my partner's thumb very hard and breathed through the gas air mouth piece, some were so intense I remember practically biting down on the mouthpiece and thinking I was probably going to give myself mouth ulcers! Every now and then I would open my eyes to see what was going on (usually all that was going on was my partner munching on something new from the bag of snacks I had brought!) however for the majority of the time I felt much more comfortable zoned out with my eyes closed. I know I was very sick at one point although I’m not sure when this was. My midwife was excellent at reading me and could tell I just wanted a quiet calm environment so she made no attempt to talk to me unless I spoke with her.
Although I do remember at one point when she went for her lunch break and was handing over to a colleague I did have to very politely say ‘I don’t mean to be rude but please can you go and talk elsewhere!!’.
When things felt really intense I recall asking my midwife if she thought I was in transition yet and she said she didn’t think so as she would expect me to be different however I knew in my mind that I was feeling all the things I had read about the transition phase I just wasn’t shouting about it! Then at some point my waters eventually broke, this was luckily just in time as there had been talk of them wanting to artificially break them if they didn’t break soon. I think not long after this was when I started feeling the urge to push, there was this great feeling of pressure and I can’t really describe other than the feeling of needing to poo a watermelon! She asked me if I wanted her to check for me to see if I was fully dilated but I chose not to be as I just didn’t want to move and wanted to remain in my ‘birthing bubble’.
Around this time I recall asking a couple of times if I had done a poo! I knew I had but both my partner and the midwife kept saying I wasn’t which was slightly confusing as I really felt like I had (I found out after that yes indeed I had!!)
At the time I really had no concept of how long I was pushing for (I found out after it was an hour and 45 mins) but I do recall towards the end the midwife telling me that I really needed to push harder to get him out. It honestly felt like he was crowning forever, the ring of fire for me was undoubtably the most painful part of the whole labour. I remember feeling quite freaked out and panicky about the insanely intense and painful sensation of this baby (which at this point I didn’t know was 9lbs1 oz!) waiting to be pushed fully out! The midwife then said he had loads of dark hair and this gave me a new lease of energy and I remember putting all my effort into the final pushes and making some very deep guttural groans as I pushed (my partner kindly described them as my mooing noises afterwards!). Then suddenly there was this sensation of relief and I realised he was out! The next few minutes are unfortunately a blur and I wish I could remember them with more clarity. The midwife told me quickly to catch him in the water and I pulled him up and held him whilst going ‘oh my god’ repeatedly, that was literally all I could say!! I just couldn’t believe it was over and I had done it! We waited a few minutes and I held him in a daze until it was time for my partner to cut the cord. I hadn’t even realized that there were quite a few people in the room by the point and they had brought a bed in ready for me to lie down. I found out after that they had been quite close to asking me to get out the pool as they felt I might have needed some help getting him out!
Once I was out the pool I attempted a physiological third stage but after an hour it was recommended I had the injection to speed up the placenta delivery, I agreed and the placenta was out within ten minutes. We were given a close up inspection of it, although we hadn’t actually asked for this I think they assumed we wanted to be shown it!
Unfortunately the hours after his birth I felt extremely weak and dazed from exhaustion and quite significant blood loss. I also had a very strange numb foot from being on all fours (four months on and there is still some slight numbness!). However whilst feeling this way, I also felt completely elated, I couldn’t believe I had just done that. It was the most intense thing I have ever experienced and I was so proud of myself for doing it. It has always been a joke in my family that I have a pathetic pain threshold but clearly I was much stronger than I realised!
We were moved to a different room where they had set up the double sofa bed for us. One of the main incentives I had for giving birth in the Birthing Centre was so my partner could stay over afterwards with us and so this was my reward, being able to spend our first night all together. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have had to send him home, it was so important to me to have him there. We were offered a second night too so I could get some more help getting breastfeeding established. The facilities and treatment we got at the Birthing Centre were what I would have expected from a private hospital, I was so impressed that this was NHS. It really helped me feel rested and confident to take him home. When my parents came to visit us the midwives told them that I had been inspirational which is without a doubt the best compliment I’ve ever had!
For me the main things that made my birth positive were –
Educating myself in advance so I knew all my options - However what saddens me is that this information is really only out there if you research it yourself to make these decisions. I saw three different midwives during my pregnancy and not one of them discussed birth with me. In the late stages of my pregnancy I was asked if I had written a birth plan but it was not discussed with me. I believe so many more people could have better births if this was discussed properly as part of your antenatal care. For example a couple of the girls I met at NCT had chosen not to use the Birthing Centre as there were no beds in the rooms, but obviously nobody had told them you don’t need to lie on a bed to give birth!
My midwife – I got lucky and got an amazing midwife who just seemed to know exactly what I needed. My partner actually thinks she was so perfect for me they must have matched her to me based on my birth plan, but I think she was just very adaptable and good at reading the situation. All the midwives I encountered were very respectful of my birth plan, and really helped to make sure I didn’t give in to the pain on a whim (which I would definitely have regretted later).
My body – You can plan and research your ‘ideal’ birth as much as you like, but you can’t always control what your body does (or doesn’t do!). I know I was extremely fortunate that I got the exact birth I wanted because my body did what it was supposed to do! If something had gone wrong things could very easily have been very different but I know it wouldn’t have been my fault.