Nicola with Elizabeth and Alexandra

In celebration of Mother’s Day over here in the UK, I bring you this amazingly empowering story from Nicola. Nicola who lives in Denmark got in touch only a few days after she birthed her second baby! Impressive stuff. Nicola was so traumatised from her first birth that she was left feeling like a failure as a woman and mother. But this only made her more determined to change a negative experience into a positive, and under two years later Nicola birthed her second baby her way, the right way. Here she shares her story.

Dear Clemmie,

I started reading your blog about 10 months ago while researching ‘gas and air’: I live in Denmark where I’ve now given birth twice, and as my local hospital had stopped offering gas and air for pain relief, I was doing some research… since then, I’ve been hooked & find the stories and posts incredibly inspiring.

The reason I’d like to share my birth story is to offer encouragement to women who have had traumatic experiences but want to have children again; needing to face a fear of childbirth. I had a horrendous time giving birth to my firstborn, but have just had a truly positive second childbirth experience at home which I hope would give these mothers something positive to ponder.

“After a previous early miscarriage I was overjoyed to be pregnant with a healthy baby 5 months later and when labour day arrived at 40+3 I was in excellent form (I am a marathon-runner, cross-fit fanatic & much more!). The pregnancy had been fine, although we saw 4 different midwives over our 5 appointments. Things started to go wrong when we arrived at the hospital that was too busy to admit me despite being 4cm. I was given drugs to stall the labour, reacted badly to the pills, was a day later given morphine without proper explanation and began throwing up with each contraction. This continued for 4 hours alone in a side room: I was dehydrated and still stuck at 4cm. This wasn’t the labour I’d envisaged, where I would be respected, informed and able to let my body do its job! Once a midwife was finally assigned to us she broke the waters and put in an epidural and IV. I was soon 8cm so she reduced the epidural as I laboured & vomited, waiting to push.

My husband helped me out of bed to stand for the pushing: for over 2 hours with a hormone drip before the baby finally came out. I was ill, exhausted, dehydrated, my throat burned from vomiting and I am sure I only got through naturally thanks to my high fitness level. Two days after regular contractions had started, my daughter was born.

Beyond relief that the ordeal was over, I felt like an absolute failure. It took me months before I could replay any part of the experience without breaking down, and even longer to stop blaming myself. I believed I had failed at becoming a mother; that I was weak not to question the drugs being given. However, I did receive written advice from the chief midwife that she would recommend not birthing there again… and this is where my story moves from despondency to hope!

9 months after my daughter was born I was pregnant again with a mixture of trepidation and joy! I went to get my papers and was asked by my doctor how things had been ‘last time’. The floodgates opened and she was a super-star: immediately changing me to a different hospital and signing me up for a special midwife dealing with women who’ve had difficult first births. This time, we saw the same midwife at each antenatal appointment and were given tasks to discuss between times, such as ‘for each thing that went wrong, what can you do this time to try to prevent a recurrence?’ Seeing the same midwife each time also meant that the antenatal appointments were more than just a physical health-check: we built a relationship and felt cared-for.

During the early months I realised my preferred option was a home birth. I would be in control, a midwife would be assigned to us for the whole labour, and above all – no drugs would be allowed! Not even gas and air at a home birth here. We also wouldn’t need to travel to hospital, and they couldn’t be ‘too busy’ because home births take priority. It was an all-round winner.

So, three days ago I gave birth! And wow: what a change of experience. I feel healed, whole and that I am indeed a capable mother after all. The baby was 8 days overdue and we were staring down the barrel of a medical inducement, ruining all our homebirth and drug-free plans. In a last-minute avoidance attempt we went to 3 hours of reflexology and rebozo (I have all my money on the rebozo being the golden answer!), came home and did more rebozo on the floor, went to bed, had sex and then I started nipple stimulation.

Within an hour I was having period pains, so ramped up the stimulation. Two contractions came & I tried to recall some hypno-birthing mantras, but they were lost on me. Third contraction made me roll onto all fours on the bed & my husband started timing them, even though I laughed that he thought anything could be happening given that last time took 2 days! I was convinced by my breathing that these were 20 second false alarms, but they were actually 50 seconds every 3 minutes from the word go, and hitting me deep down in the pelvis.

Half an hour later he called the labour ward to say ‘something’s happening but she thinks it’s a false alarm.’ … And one hour later he called to tell them to send someone right now. The interesting thing is that I still thought it was a false alarm, no one should do anything, and OH MY WORD how could another contraction have come so quickly?! Denial…

I was still on the bed, swaying in a pear shape for the contractions then resting forward. I was getting 6 sways in to start, but was now regularly making 10 or 12 circles to get through. Some contractions hit harder than others, sometimes I moaned like a cow into the pillow, but at no point did I think it was inescapable. I was desperate for the midwife NOT to arrive so she couldn’t tell me I was 4cm, devastate me & make me ask to go to hospital for pain relief.

Fortunately my husband was a little more aware of what was going on & had already filled the pool. The midwife arrived after 40 minutes to hear me moo-ing for over a minute. She looked like an angel dressed in white in my bedroom door & asked ‘why’ I wanted to go to hospital? I told her I didn’t feel well & if this is 4cm “what about the rest”? She smiled, told me to get straight in the pool or I wouldn’t be going anywhere because I was fully dilated and she needed to unpack her bag. Seriously!

I hopped into the pool with some kind of new energy, leaned forward & pushed a little at the top of the contractions. Twice. I called over to ask whether I was actually allowed to push and she replied ‘yes, if you want to’ in a very non-committal manner while continuing to unpack. Third push and I bit the wooden spoon like I’d break it, started screaming ‘HELP MEEEE!’ into my husband’s neck and was convinced I was about to die: I’d felt three separate things ‘pop’ between my legs during a good 2-minutes of contraction and had NO idea what they were – internal organs? Why wouldn’t anyone say what they were?! Why would neither of them help me?! And why was she still unpacking her bag on the other side of the room?!

As the wave subsided I heard them telling me to stop screaming, my husband whispering with relief that ‘we’ve got a baby! We’ve got a baby!’ and a massive, plaintive cry from the baby who was in the midwife’s calm, capable hands behind me. Those 3 things weren’t my internal organs busting out; it was the waters, the head and the body all in one fell swoop!

You can see from the photo: I could not stop smiling! I had done this amazing thing, all by myself! I had proven that our bodies, as women, are capable of labour and birth when allowed. I had proven that last time didn’t need to be like that, but that it didn’t need to overshadow what would come in the future. I had proven the stupid hospital wrong! I had shown that HOPE can be built from your worst dread.

I write this with my new baby asleep next to me, and my daughter snoozing in the other room. I feel well, I feel proud, I feel whole. I feel the absolute opposite of the failure of a mother from last time.

I want to tell women who’ve had bad experiences: next time doesn’t have to be like that. The single biggest thing you can do is identify 3 extremely specific things that went wrong, and what exactly you can do in your own control to prevent that next time. Perhaps you need more pain relief, perhaps less. Perhaps you need someone with you who will take control and ask questions; perhaps you need a note to take to the hospital with you to explain why you’re scared. But don’t let it stop you fulfilling your dream of another child: we have 9 months to positively challenge our thoughts to create a better experience. To believe it can be better and different. And whatever happens, remember that you are a full woman & a success just for giving birth, however it happened. No one can ever take that from you: you are wonderful!

Nic & Elizabeth after 2 days of labour Healing with Alexandra Happy family the morning after the birth

Suzanne and Thea

SH&RH pregnant

If at the start of my pregnancy, you’d asked me how I hoped I would give birth, I would have informed you that natural childbirth, not to mention a drug free, pain free one, was a myth!  And then I would have gone on to tell you that the only possible way our baby was coming to join us was via caesarean section.  Now, this isn’t a birth story where I turn a full 360 degrees, and tell you my daughter glided out into a pool at home with me smiling, and yogically breathing my way through labour.  Almost but no, not quite like that!  But my view of birth and my approach certainly changed as my pregnancy progressed, and my wonderful midwife Clemmie, was one of a number of people who played a part in that.

Throughout and since my teenage years I’d been told war stories of the pain of childbirth and more importantly, the aftermath and scars that are left, both physically and mentally on the female body.  I think women tell these stories partly to exorcise their own perhaps unhappy memories of difficult births, and also throughout history  we know that in small communities, women assisted younger women through pregnancy and childbirth, sharing experiences and aiding and teaching future generations of mothers.  So I think it’s mostly well intended, though it left me with such a fear of the butchering my body would undergo, that I spent my twenties telling people I didn’t want children!

But as is often the way, I entered my 30s with my biological clock ringing in my ears and after a long struggle, we were delighted when we got pregnant with our first child.

Around the time that Clemmie was assigned as my midwife, two other things happened that influenced my opinion of how I might give birth:

A friend recommended I read a book called Birth Skills by Juju Sundin, an Australian obstetric physiotherapist.  To say it blew my mind is an understatement.  It was the first time that I truly understood both the physiology and psychology of labour, and I began to believe that my body ‘knew’ what to do.  I learnt that labour pain is not the pain of illness or disease, but the healthy pain of the uterine muscle working.  It’s just a muscle that works hard, gets tired, and aches.  I accepted that though a part of me would be in pain during contractions, the rest of my body would be pain free!  And that it would only hurt for the duration of the contraction.  And I grew to accept that as I can’t control the pain of a contraction, why waste precious energy and time trying, why not put my energies into something else.  It also felt like the first time that someone was saying, you’re afraid of the pain of childbirth? You’re absolutely normal!

This message was also reinforced when I hired a doula named Milana Silva.  She believed that you could achieve a peaceful pain free birth though the power of the mind, but she also told me a doula was there to support the mother in anyway she needed, and if that meant assisting her though a c-section, or discussing an epidural, a doula is there for you.

And then there was the wonderful Clemmie, who listened to and answered my many questions, talked through my worries and concerns, and allowed me the time to work out my own birth plan.

The other truly important message of Birth Skills, (and that of my doula and midwife and mum) was that no matter what happens during your birth, the important part, the truly important thing to take away with you, is that you did your best for you and your baby, and it doesn’t matter how they arrived, what matters is they’re here.  You meet your baby!

So, how did my beautiful daughter Thea eventually join us?

I experienced Braxton Hicks from about the middle of my pregnancy, and I often wondered how I would know that I was having actual contractions.  But 3 days before my due date, I went to bed one Tuesday evening, and just as I was drifting off to sleep, I knew.  It suddenly felt different.  I glanced at my husband Rich who was sleeping beside me, and decided that until it was truly time, I wouldn’t wake him.  I then spent the next 9 hours making a note of how long each contraction lasted and how far apart they were.  When Rich woke up at 7am he said, “someone’s been wriggling around all night”, to which I replied, “someone’s been having contractions all night!”

I texted Clemmie and my doula to warn them, and attended a pre planned appointment with the consultant at Kings.  This appointment had originally been booked in to discuss their preference to not allow women aged 40 and over, to go beyond 40 weeks.  But on examination, I was told I was 2cm dilated and the lovely consultant,  said, “I’d be surprised if this baby wasn’t born within the next 48 hours!”

So off home I went to busy myself through the early stages of labour.  On the advice of Clemmie I baked a cake!  Two cakes actually!  I think secretly she likes to eat cake when she visits her ladies, but she says it’s a good way to take your mind off things!  I went for a walk to buy ingredients and had to stop quite often to breathe though the contractions, all the while thinking, OMG I’m in labour here, actual labour, but here I am walking along Lordship Lane buying cake ingredients!!

By the time we went to bed on the Wednesday evening, the intensity of the contractions was starting to increase.  Though Rich had been following me as I walked around the house, massaging my back with a wooden massage roller, I decided it was time to use the TENS machine I had hired, only the week before as a last minute decision.  Oh how glad I was that I hired it!  The TENS machine was perfect for me.  I paced the bedroom floor (as Birth Skills had taught me), focusing on my breaths and counting through the contraction or rhythmically repeating, healthy pain, healthy pain, with the TENS doing its thing on my lower back.  My little walks would take me to various baby girl dresses that Rich had hung up around the house, some of them with our 3D scan picture attached!  A sweet reminder of who we were about to meet.  In between contractions I sat in a comfortable chair in the corner of our bedroom, with the sound of waves playing quietly on the iPod.  I love being by the sea and had adored swimming throughout my pregnancy, so the wave sounds were hugely comforting to me.

On Thursday morning both Clemmie and my doula arrived and both commented on what a peaceful and serene scene they had entered into.  When I think back to my early fears I had not imagined any of this!  After examination Clemmie told me I could move to the pool if I wanted.  From a fearfully planned c-section to a birthing pool that was sitting in the dining room!  So you did do a full 360, and your baby did calmly glide out into water you ask?  Well no, not really, as two contractions in the pool later and I was yelling loudly to anyone who would listen that water alone does not cure pain! What was I thinking?!

But the next game changer then arrived in the shape of gas and air.  Oh it was Heaven!  For the next few hours I floated about in the warm water, with a fantastic chill out playlist playing in the background, and blissfully declared my love of entonox.  Really, this bit was just lovely.  I must have felt pretty ok throughout this stage of my labour, as I apparently offered pizza to anyone who was hungry and directed them to the freezer!

But as is often the way, things changed a little.  I became pretty worn out (by this time I hadn’t slept for two nights), and Thea became a bit stuck (holding a hand up by your ear will get in the way of your route through a birth canal y’know!).  Eventually, and happily, we transferred into hospital.  An epidural and some forceps later, and Thea was born on Thursday evening at 22:51, an hour and 9 minutes before her due date.  In the theatre a radio was playing Don’t Take Away the Music by Tavares.  Yes, baby was born to the sound of disco!

In the weeks after Thea arrived, a few people (on hearing my birth story) said, what a shame you ended up in Kings, rather than birthing naturally at home.  But honestly I look back and I don’t mind, nor care, that Thea was born in a theatre at Kings.  My birth choices were mine.  I’d educated and empowered myself and though of course was scared of the unknown, felt, if not confident, comfortable on the day I went into labour.  Not how I had originally imagined it at all.  From the early days of wanting a section, to deciding to buy a birth pool, and eventually to having the epidural, I was happy to make these choices for my baby and I, and they were all good choices at the time.  I learnt to be prepared to deviate from ‘the plan’ and trusted that it would all be ok, whatever happened.  The important thing is that I got to meet my daughter Thea.  How she arrived is really irrelevant.  She’s here and she’s amazing.

Thea 1st pic Thea feet

How To Support a Family When Their Baby Dies

Following on from last week’s post ‘Thomas’s Story’ I was emailed by a couple who wanted to share how they were supported when they lost their baby in 2012. They experienced the unthinkable when just only one hour after their son was born, he tragically died. They have written this post as a guide to help and support friends and family in these circumstances.

holding hands

“Not all pregnancies have a happy ending.  I’m sure most people know this, we certainly did.  But it´s one thing knowing something in principle and something else entirely to live through it.  We read the leaflets and had the hypothetical conversations that I’m sure lots of couples have when they approach the end of a pregnancy: “what will we do if…?”.  But nothing could have prepared us for the death of our first son, an hour after his birth at 41 weeks.  No warning, very little explanation and absolutely nothing we could do about it other than start the long and painful process of grieving for our beautiful, perfect boy.

But, unlikely as it may seem, we look back on that time with gut-wrenching sadness, but also a lot of joy thanks to the amazing kindness of many, many people.  We now know that every single day in the UK, 17 babies are stillborn or die shortly after birth. Most of these are completely unexpected and often go unexplained.  Sadly, with statistics like that, the chances are that most of you who read this blog will be touched by the death of a baby at some point, either directly or indirectly.  We have chosen to write about some of the ways in which people helped us in the hope that, if faced with a friend or relative who has lost a baby, others may be able to offer help and solace during what may be that person’s darkest days.
Be there. These are likely to be the worst times your loved ones will ever go through so the most important thing is to be there, in whatever way you can.  Visit, call, send a message, whatever you can manage and whatever you feel is appropriate.  Nothing is worse than saying nothing, ignoring what´s happened and waiting until ‘things get better’. Don´t be afraid to cry, it’s a sign that it has affected you too and that what’s happened has sent ripples far beyond the immediate family. One of the most horrendous feelings is the sense that whilst their world has completely collapsed, the rest of the world has carried on as normal.  People get married, have children, go to work, get on the bus, take holidays. All of this ´normality´ is really hard to watch and even harder to be a part of.  Anything you can do to reach out a hand of support could help.
Listen.  Nothing makes sense to parents who have lost a baby and every minute of every day seems like an eternity as they cycle through the feelings of anger, confusion, denial, depression, total isolation, questioning…  Everyone worries about not knowing what to say or, worse, saying the wrong thing.  The truth is, there’s no right thing to say.  The best thing to do is listen.  People want to tell their stories and bereaved parents often want to talk about their baby.  It helps to make it real and tangible: that baby is a person, he or she had a life – however short – and talking about what happened can help enormously. Having said that, everyone is different and it’s important to be sensitive and try to respond to the signals coming your way.  If they don’t want to talk, don´t force it, though don’t read this as a sign that they may never want to talk about it.  One day they may talk non-stop, the next they may not want it mentioned at all.  Grief is not neat, linear or organised, you just have to do your best in the circumstances and try to read the situation on a minute-to-minute basis.  And whatever you do, avoid cliches like “time is a healer”, “it was meant to be” – these are most definitely not helpful.  The death of anyone shouldn’t be bundled up into glib soundbites, least of all a baby.  Yes, time passes and over time the rawness eases, but in the early days the depth and darkness of the hole parents find themselves in is absolute.  And in no world is it ´meant to be´ that a baby dies unexpectedly.
Bring food. Don’t stay too long. Just like any new parents (and yes, your loved ones are parents, even if their baby is not with them), the day-to-day responsibilities of life can become impossible to keep up with.  Buttering a piece of toast can seem like an insurmountable challenge, never mind cooking a meal.  If you can bring food, it will be so welcome but don’t expect to be invited in.  Your friends will be grateful but, when grief takes over, there’s little room for pleasantries or thank yous.  Those will come later.  If you are invited in, don’t stay too long.  Again, try to read the situation and remember that it’s about THEM, not about YOU.
Be proactive.  The utter shock of losing a child is all-consuming and can leave parents with little or no motivation.  This includes the motivation to do things they would normally enjoy and, more importantly, the motivation to ask for help.  Even that is too much effort. So, where possible, take the lead and take care of any practicalities you can: washing, loading/unloading the dishwasher, running errands etc.  If they have older children, perhaps offer to look after them for a few hours.  Also, taking on unwanted admin such as cancelling baby-related plans (NCT memberships, deliveries for the nursery etc.) or offering to call other people who the parents don’t have the strength to relate their story to in the immediate days and weeks.  Another brilliant thing is to offer to accompany your friends to appointments.  These can be scary and often have to take place in the very hospital where their baby died.  A friendly face can really help.  Again, offer but don’t expect a yes.  It’s a question of offering helpful options rather than imposing yourself on the situation.
Inform yourself. There are charitable and professional organisations that support parents who have lost a baby. SANDS offers emotional support to bereaved parents but also has information for family and friends that can help to explain how the parents may be feeling.  The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be.  Cruse Bliss and Winston´s Wish also offer support and information.
Go the distance. Grief doesn’t go away, it doesn’t even get much easier.  Bereaved parents will forever remember the child(ren) they’ve lost and that space can never be filled. Every birthday, anniversary, Christmas, Mothers’/Fathers’ Day will bring back very painful feelings.  During the early weeks and months the support pours in, but as time goes on, that wave of support recedes and the parents are left feeling as if they´re alone in a world that now feels very alien, needing to ´move on and get back to normal´.  This can be the hardest time for parents and for friends too.  Again, no-one wants to say the wrong thing and avoid upsetting the parents all over again.  In reality, nothing is more upsetting than the feeling that people have forgotten.  Do your best, in a sensitive way, to show your friends that you haven’t forgotten their baby and he/she will always have a place in your lives.  Tread carefully because everyone will have their own way of dealing with their feelings but you could think about acknowledging anniversaries, raising money for a relevant cause, or simply continuing to talk/ask about the baby if it feels appropriate.
We miss our son every single day.  We should have a noisy, boisterous toddler tearing around our house, instead we have the photos we proudly display on our mantlepiece, the stretch marks I have on my tummy, the tile with his tiny footprints imprinted on it, the little hat he wore during his very short life, and of course the heaviness that we carry with us every day.  But he is also with us in the box brimming with cards and messages that we received following his death, he is in the new friendships we’ve forged with people who truly went above and beyond in their support for us and mainly in the firmly held belief we now have that, although there are inexplicably awful things that happen in the world, there’s a tremendous amount of goodness too and we’re so proud that our precious boy has given us that gift.”

Thomas’s Story

A few weeks ago I received this email from a woman in The Netherlands.
“A few days ago I came across your blog for the first time and I have been reading birth stories and blog posts almost nonstop since then. I am mother to a gorgeous three year old girl born at home and to a baby boy who passed away at 39 weeks of pregnancy. I am now 24 weeks pregnant with our third child, a scary time! My second birth story is quite different from my first for obvious reasons. Would you welcome a birth story where someone has to give birth to a stillborn? Or maybe a birth story about the baby being born after that? I guess I am just trying to break the huge taboo that is the death of a child. No one wants to know or hear about it. And then all of a sudden it happens to you and you don’t know what’s going on.”
This emailed made me stop. It made me think that this woman’s birth story is just as important as all the other stories I publish on here if not more important. So here is Thomas’s beautiful story of his arrival into this world. It may be upsetting to read and there are two photos included. Thomas’s mother wanted these to share the story. As always full consent has been gained to publish this.
‘I wake up on Monday morning thinking the baby in my tummy is awfully quiet. I poke and prod a little but get no response. I start to panic a bit but tell myself I am overreacting and being a typical worried mum-to-be. But the feeling that something is off won’t go away. Thinking back I can’t seem to remember when I last felt our little boy move. Was it last night in bed? On the sofa? Yesterday afternoon? Morning? And all of a sudden I can’t remember anymore.
 
We call our midwife and are told to come in for an extra check. We don’t have to wait and are able to walk in immediately. I lie down and she does the scan. We can’t see the monitor but our midwife is very quiet. When I tell her she is making me worried, she replies saying she is worried too. She tells us she can’t see a heartbeat. She tries the Doppler but this also remains quiet. 
 
We are numb. We don’t even cry. Our midwife can’t officially tell us that our baby boy is dead but she leaves us in no doubt. We are sent to the hospital to be checked by a doctor. She confirms what we already know, our son is no longer alive.
 
I am 38+5 weeks pregnant. I am carrying a fully grown baby in my tummy. A baby who was so ready to be born in a few days, to come home with us. Instead, we are told to come back the next day to have an induction so I can give birth to our dead son.
 
We go home in a daze and pick up our two and a half year old daughter from school. It breaks my heart that I have to tell her that the baby brother she has so anxiously been waiting for, will not ever be coming home with us. The rest of the day we alternate between crying and staring into space. We pack a hospital bag because we had left it until the last minute to do so. We were so counting on another smooth home birth that an induced hospital birth never featured in our plans. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow and how things will progress. 
 
All night we lie awake staring at each other. Our daughter sleeps in the middle, we can’t bear to tuck her into her new ‘big sister bed’ in the shared bedroom downstairs. I don’t want to think about it too much but my tummy is quiet, way too quiet. All hope is gone.
 
Early the next morning we take our daughter over to my cousin’s house and I feel sad because I don’t even know when I get to see her again. We drive to the hospital where we meet my mum before we go in. The day which we have been waiting for for 9 months is here. But we feel no joy. We walk through waiting rooms full of pregnant women eagerly anticipating the births of their children, we hear babies cry behind closed doors. And we know things will never be the same.
 
The nurse explains what will happen that day. But she can’t answer the most important questions in my mind: how long will it be? What will it be like?  
Around 9am the doctor comes to check me and insert the first tablet. She tells us I am 1cm dilated already which is fairly good news because it means my body is showing signs of being ready to deliver our baby. She informs us she will be back in 4 hours to check on me again. I start to panic. Another 4 hours? Won’t I be in labour by then??
 
Over the next few hours we just sit in our room, walk around outside for a bit and I feel nothing. I am afraid we are in it for the long haul and feel almost guilty for wanting to get this step over with. Finally at 1pm the doctor comes back and drops another bombshell; a very small 2cms dilated max. Another tablet and 4 more hours of waiting to go. 
 
But within half an hour of the second tablet I start to feel some minor cramps. My mum asks the nurses to set up the epidural. Why wait? The doctor has already explained to us that in these situations they tend to be very lenient on requests for pain relief. Epidurals are not given very easily in The Netherlands and I would normally never have wanted one. Even now, I feel almost guilty towards our baby boy but I know it’s silly. I don’t know how long this labour will be, but I do know that our time with him will be so very short and I will want and need all my strength for that moment. 
 
The epidural is quite painful but fairly quick. I am no longer allowed to leave my bed. I slowly feel my legs and feet going a bit warm and tingly. The pain from the contractions is hardly noticeable anymore. I can tell something is happening but it doesn’t hurt.
 
Our own midwife stops by to check on us. She will come back for the birth.
 
It is around 3pm when I tell the nurse that the pain from the contractions is getting much stronger and my legs are no longer tingly. I can move my legs perfectly as well. They up the epidural but it has no effect. 
 
At 3.45pm the day shift is going home and the nurse comes to say goodbye and introduce her colleague. The hospital midwife for the evening shift has also arrived and comes to check how we are doing. I feel devastated when she tells me I am 2cms dilated, maybe a very small 3. She tells me she will try to break my waters to help things along a little bit. It takes her a while and quite some prodding but eventually she manages. A flood of brown amniotic fluid comes out and the midwife explains that the colour comes from the meconium our baby passed when he died. It feels like a knife in my heart to hear this and to realise that my little boy was under so much stress. I am heartbroken to think that he was fighting for his life without me even realising it.
 
The midwife gives me one more extra dose of the epidural but it makes no difference anymore. I am having very strong contractions coming close together and I am in a lot of pain. Just after 4pm my husband asks the nurses to call our own midwife because he thinks our baby will be born soon. The nurses tell him it will be a while longer as I was only 2cms dilated just now. But my husband recognises this stage from my previous birth and insists they call our midwife.
 
I can’t do anything apart from concentrate on the contractions. Of course I was in pain when I gave birth to our daughter but I cannot remember this extreme pain, this totally overwhelming feeling. I tell myself it must be the emotional impact of this labour.
 
Our midwife arrives at 4.30pm but I hardly notice. I am completely consumed by the natural forces that are taking over my body. I need all my strength to get through this. I feel sick, I throw up, I cry and hyperventilate all at the same time. I can’t do this, it is too much. I really start to panic when I can’t breathe and I shout that they need to do something, anything.
 
The midwife decided to check me before considering any other type of pain relief. To everyone’s shock, and relief, I am fully dilated just before 5pm and can start pushing. Just like with our daughter, I don’t feel the urge to push yet. It’s too late to get any other pain medication and I am now almost hysterical. My own midwife is standing by my head talking to me nonstop. “The head is there already, you can do this, he is almost here, honestly.” I call out a few times asking how much longer but then I can feel it myself.
 
A tiny little head that slowly drops between my legs. I can do something with the pain from the contractions now and that is a huge relief. Only a few minutes later the head is born and I can feel the rest of his body slide out. At 5.01pm our son Thomas is born.
 
Because I gave birth sitting on my knees on the bed, I can’t see him immediately. My husband is crying and telling me not to look. I want to turn around and see my son but I am getting scared. What is wrong with him? 
 
But nothing is wrong with him. He is perfect. He is so beautiful and the spitting image of his big sister. He is still warm from my body and has ten lovely little fingers and ten lovely little toes. His little pink cheeks and so soft and his lips are red. It is such a beautiful, sad and scary moment. I hold him and look at him. I recognise him. And as perfect as this little boy in my arms is, something is also very wrong. He is no longer alive. 
 
I hold him and admire him. I want to remember everything about this moment. The time we have with him is much too short. His skin is a little broken in places and his little head is quite soft. Slowly his hands get colder and instinctively I pull the blanket around him.
 
The placenta takes a little while to come but then that scary moment has also passed. Does anything look wrong? But the umbilical cord and placenta look just as they should. 
 
My mum very gently and tenderly washes her first and only grandson. I sit next to her on a chair and together we dress him in his gorgeous clothes. The clothes we so lovely chose for him. We carefully wrap his fragile head in a tiny hat. Then we wrap him up in his own blanket and my husband gets to hold his son for the very first time. An overwhelmingly sad and proud moment. 
 
Our daughter is on her way to the hospital to meet her little brother so I have a shower while I can hear my husband crying and whispering to his newborn baby boy.
 
When our daughter comes in she is a bit confused. She touches Thomas carefully and tells me he is cold. We explain that he is feeling nice and warm in his blue outfit and his warm blanket lying in daddy’s arms. She notices the bruise on his eyelid and pokes it with her little finger. She is not very impressed by this new brother that doesn’t even move. 
 
I sit back on the bed and hold my child again. The child that was already such a big part of us, the child we so very much wanted in our lives. He is so loved already by everyone. And yet the time has come to say goodbye. It seems an impossible task. I look and look, try to absorb every detail. I want this moment to be etched onto my memory. Because even though there is an all consuming sadness in me, I also have a beautiful boy in my arms. My child, our daughter’s brother. I open the blanket and kiss his small hands with those tiny fingers and blue fingernails. I stroke his cold little feet and we take picture of all these details that we never want to forget. 
 
To help our daughter be involved in what is happening today she is allowed to help make hand- and footprints on small pieces of paper. She loves being able to put green paint on a small baby. The nurse makes some handprints and then, very carefully, I make the final footprint with his cold little foot that I will carry in my heart forever. We clean him up and put his socks on.
 
And then the inevitable moment has come to say goodbye. We take Thomas downstairs ourselves and my husband puts him in a little white coffin. We ask that they leave the lid off. My husband carries the small coffin to the car and they drive off to take him to the funeral home. My heart hurts more than I ever thought possible but then suddenly my daughter starts to cry uncontrollably calling out for the baby. And I give up. I can’t be strong enough for this. I feel the enormity of this loss, of the pain. This pain that is not only so overwhelming for me, but also for my wonderful little girl. And I will have to carry that with me for the rest of my life. 
 
Then, only 4 short hours after giving birth, we are back in the car. Back to being with the three of us. The fourth member of our family no longer a physical presence in our house, but a very real one in our hearts. My tummy is empty, no longer full of expectation. Yet my heart is so full of hurt. I feel the loss within my very soul. But I am also overwhelmed with a sense of guilt. Guilt towards both my children. I have been unable to keep them safe.
 
Our son Thomas is cremated several days later. We talk about him a lot but the pain does not get any easier. We miss him every day. And for the rest of my life he will have a very special place in my heart. A place where I will keep him warm until the day I die.’
DSC02119 (2) DSC02156If you have been affected by anything in this story please contact SANDS for more information and support.

International Women’s Day, Let’s Celebrate!

Portrait photographer Jenny Lewis has been working on One Day Young for over four years, capturing women in the first 24hrs since the birth of their child, in their own homes. With International Women’s Day on the 8th of March, it seems like an opportune moment to share this ongoing series with you.  I had the pleasure of catching up with Jenny over a coffee last week to find out why she decided to start this project.

What inspired you to start photographing women and their newborns on day 1?

It felt really important to me to create some positive stories about birth to dilute the negative messages and portraits are my tool for telling these stories.  Having had two really good births, a water birth at UCL and a water birth at home I felt it was important to share this possible outcome… when it all goes well..no drama. I think for over ten months I was bracing myself for the most traumatic unmanageable ordeal and in fact that wasn’t the case at all. I hadn’t met anyone who said it would be OK,  that birth could  be empowering and joyful and that actually made me feel angry. My only knowledge was fear, people clamming up and giving worried looks, or really dry over medicalised, unemotional explanations from the hospital.  With some positive stories in mind I would of been in a  much more confident head space.

How do you think your photos capture the wealth of emotions and rawness following birth?

To capture these portraits in the first 24hrs is really important. That’s when the emotions are still primitive and overwhelming.  The women are powerful, proud of what they have achieved, this is  captured before reality seeps back in.

Do women approach you to take part in the project or do you seek out new candidates?

All the women are strangers not chosen on their age, class, race or looks but responding to leaflets i post around the borough.  Later word of mouth and groups like Mothers Meeting , Momma Loves and The Hackney Homebirth Team have helped recruit more subjects.

Being a mother yourself and having gone through birth twice, does seeing these women on day one make you feel differently about how you felt in that early hormonal time?

Not really I felt pretty amazing, that crazy tectonic shift when you look at everything in the world a little differently …like you suddenly get it and have huge empathy for other women.  A certain clarity before the haze of tiredness takes over.

What makes these brand new mothers so interesting to photograph?

Having been an editorial portrait photographer for years  shooting celebrities and real life features , I am  constantly trying to break down the barriers people put up, searching for a true portrait.  With the One Day Young  the honesty I’ve been searching for is there immediately. Unapologetic proud women who are not trying to be prettier, cooler, slimmer, more intelligent…a lack of awareness of the self they want to portray and just what they are feeling openly fresh on their faces.  Its been such a great pleasure to shoot this series and I am extremely grateful for the  generosity all these women. to let me come round and  capture this rawness and intimate time.

Who was the most interesting woman to shoot?

Absolutely impossible to pull out one women against another.  All the women are equal in my eyes, the stories I’ve heard have been incredible and give me goose bumps to think of.  Women who lost their own mothers at an early age, lost a child, women who have struggled with IVF, women who are on their own, but at this moment its like all their life experiences are levelled.

What is the atmosphere in the room when you first meet the women and their babies?

The atmosphere is addictive, its crackling from the moment the front door is opened, sounds crazy but its like a tangible bubble of love you can almost taste it.  I’m often the first person in the use once the midwife has left if its a home birth or the first if they have just got back from hospital so its an incredibly intimate time.  I’ve never felt more welcomed into peoples homes and have a great affection for all the women I’ve met.

You have also done another project celebrating Modern Motherhood? Do you think there is a shift in the way women as mothers are being perceived in the media/society?

The Modern Motherhood exhibition was really looking at the women beyond the fact that they were mothers, their ability to be both a mother and carry on their own creative journey.  One Day Young is a celebration of Women, at that transition that they become a mother… lets see how it goes down in the media I’m looking forward to hearing a critical response.

Where are you planning on showcasing these photos?

I am currently pitching for an exhibition but better not say where for now, but after that i would like to see the series in hospitals settings  aswell as art galleries. To be used as a tool to  increase positive thinking around birth.  The view of birth is so medicalised, you may have views on this being a midwife, I think it can only be helpful to encourage the media to see women at home in their normal environment.  To understand the shape of the mother straight after birth the puffiness and redness of the baby. I know my daughter who is 7 has a positive view  of birth from seeing this series as i’ve been working on it for the last four years.  She is fully aware of a woman’s body shape after having a baby, That labour is difficult but not unmanageable pain and certainly not something to fear.  The stories she hears of birth are ones of joy and great courage rather than whispers of screaming and terror so she will have this understanding in her when she grows up.  I am obviously aware that there are complications with birth but that doesn’t mean that the positive stories shouldn’t be shared to help educate and empower other women.

How do you hope these pictures help other expectant women out there about I embark on this journey into motherhood?

Like i said before the series is like a mantra that its going to be OK. The message is the same in every image so by the repetition it gets stronger and is impossible to ignore.  You would easily be able to find someone in the series that relates to you whether that be age, physical build…and that gives you the encouragement that if they can do it so can I.  If nothing else there is a great selection of baby names to look through.

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Caroline and Silas

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Chieska and Floyd

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Dilek and Noah

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Elizabeth and Anton

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Hazel and Rudy

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Helen and Hudson

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Jenny and Max

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Jenny and Nora

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Joti and Keiren

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Laura and Finn

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Laurie and Tyrrick

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Leda and Electra

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Mairead and Arlo

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Shenelle and Arissa

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Tara and Penelope

Jenny Lewis’s work can be view on her website Jenny Lewis photographer and follow her on Twitter JennyLewisPhoto.

Birth Story Of The Week – Josephine and Milo and Elliot

josephine

Blog: Twins In London

Twitter: @TwinsInLondon

“Throughout my pregnancy I had been warned to be ready for my MCDA twin boys from 32 weeks, it had gone fairly smoothly bar sickness throughout the pregnancy, in hindsight I was suffering from depression in the form of anhedonia throughout the pregnancy which is an inability to experience pleasure from usually enjoyable activities, I didn’t feel happy or sad and having such a low range of emotions is really unlike me, other than this I was  fit and had lots of energy though .  I had made the decision to have a C-section quite early on as I’d been scared by stories such as there being a 50% chance of having a c section to get the second twin out.  My consultant had told me that if the second baby wasn’t born after 5 minutes they would give me a c-section which was the nail in the coffin for me.  This is of course not what happened.  At 32+6 I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia on a routine visit to the midwife.  I think it is important to note that throughout my pregnancy I did not see midwives, I was only given doctors appointments and in hindesite I missed some really valuable advice and care as I was seen as a medical risk rather than a mother to be, the practicalities of the safe delivery of my babies went over everything and I was totally unprepared for the natural delivery that I ended up having.

Two days before my pre-eclampsia diagnosis I had gone to antenatal classes something I had had to insist on being invited to early as within my local hospital they were only offered from 35 weeks.  The session I had attended was on natural delivery, I remember mumbling to my partner that there really was no point in us being there.  The midwife leading the class made an important point that I have never forgotten “when you come to hospital bring your bag and an open mind”.

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Having received my diagnosis of pre-eclampsia I was in complete shock, as it had been a midwives appointment I had thought it was a mistaken appointment and told my partner not to bother coming.  The consultant informed me that I should prepare myself to have my babies the next day.  I had come to the appointment on my lunch break, I had not noticed that anything was different, my legs had swollen at the ankles but I had not really noticed and thought that this was normal.  So having gotten home I was on bed rest and went back into hospital the next day and was told that whatever I was doing I should keep it up and they informed me that the babies might not need to come until the Wednesday.  I had felt some leaking sensations and went for investigations, which proved to be a false alarm.  In the waiting room I had been entertained by a woman who was getting a firm but polite bollocking from the receptionist for using an ambulance to get to the hospital, she kicked off and her entourage joined in to give the receptionist abuse who managed it all remarkably well and told her she should have used a taxi and not wasted public money on an ambulance that is needed for more urgent calls.

Anyway. Less than 12 hours after coming home from the hospital at 4:30am my waters broke and I went to hospital by taxi.  Sensibly grabbing a towel to sit on to not mess up the taxi seat.  I was taken to a room and my belly was monitored, from about 5:30am and I was around 2cm dialated.  The midwives came and spoke to me and hoped that my contractions would subside and I would be moved to a bed for a few days before the babies were born.  I made it clear I was having a c-section which was noted.  2 hours and 15 minutes later I had the urge to push, like needing a poo from my vagina.  I had not read anything about it but my body knew want to do.  I asked my husband to go and get somebody to come and help, they ran in saying ‘no no no’ looked between my legs and the dr mouthed ‘F**k’.  I was fully diallated and rushed to a theatre, commenting ‘but I’m having a c-section’ ‘No you aren’t, we don’t push them back up to take them out’.  When I arrived there were 15 people waiting for me.  The anaesthetist were lovely.  I remember the nurse shouting at some of the team for chatting as I was in the middle of a contraction and they were trying to do a spinal block ‘can I have some quiet please for my lady’.  I must have gone in to shock as my body was violently shaking.  When it finally worked I just felt a wave of relief rush over me and I had to visualise pushing as I couldn’t feel anything.  Twin 1 was born fairly quickly as he was already in the birth canal, it took a further 26 minutes for twin 2 to make an appearance, forceps had to be used and he was rresuscitated  I don’t really remember this as I was off my face on whatever had been given to me for the pain.  I didn’t get to see either of them for another 12 hours as I’d lost a lot of blood and couldn’t walk.  I remember being impressed that the beds were heated only to be informed that this was the spinal block wearing off.  That woman who had kicked off at the reception was in the same area of the ward as me amongst the women who needed more support from the nurses.  She was shouting about needing foot massages….

When I eventually got to see my babies they were in different rooms, one with more beeps than the other but both in NICU.  Twin 1 laid back stretched out looking pleased to have more space where twin 2 was curled in a ball with a furrowed brow looking like he was not ready.  Twin one was just over 2kg and twin 2 was just under.  It was so sad to be on the maternity unit without my babies, I got to work on expressing milk, I did it with all my might, it took 2 hours to express 2mls of cholostrum 1ml per syringe.  I took it to NICU and was asked for 6mls every 3 hours.  I was devastated at the impossibility of this task.  I couldn’t take care of my babies and I couldn’t feed them.  Of course my body was able to meet the demands which was such a relief.

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The boys were discharged just under 2 weeks later.  They’ll be 3 next week and are hulking beasts.  I am so grateful I was able to have a vaginal delivery, I was running for the bus 5 days after they were born to get to the hospital, not something I’d have managed with a c-section.  I am still amazed at my body.

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If I was to have another baby and it was a singleton I would definitely opt for a home birth….. we’ll see….. 10% risk of twins again!”