“Somehow I never felt at all worried about or scared of going into labour. Every negative birth story I heard went in one ear and out the other, I truly believed I would have a very straightforward birth. My husband, Phil, often remarked on how relaxed I seemed about the impending pain.
Despite feeling really well during pregnancy, eating a good diet and doing regular(ish) exercise, I developed gestational diabetes at about 32 weeks. The initial shock of getting it was huge and I felt upset and even embarrassed. In reality, I was able to manage it well with diet alone and it didn’t really cause any problems… Even if it did mean saying no to cake at a time when you imagine you’d have the best excuse ever to eat it in abundance.
Because of the diabetes, I was told that I would be induced if the pregnancy went a day over 40 weeks. Desperate not to be induced, my midwife (Clemmie) and consultant both suggested sweeps from about 37 or 38 weeks. At 38+2 I thought that I maybe had a bit of a show in the evening. At 38+3 I had a sweep in the morning, at which Clemmie surprised me saying that I was already 3cm dilated… Although I felt ready and had always imagined that I would follow in my mum’s footsteps and labour early, I still couldn’t, and didn’t, really believe it. Of course I ignored Clemmie’s advice to rest that afternoon and instead spent 5 hours in Sainsburys trawling every every aisle, buying cake ingredients, magazines and tens of quick cook meals for us during the days of quiet labour that I assumed we had ahead of us. I recollect feeling vaguely ‘crampy’ that afternoon and perhaps had more Braxton hicks than usual (though I’d been having pretty strong and regular BH since about 20 weeks).
I didn’t mention to Phil that day that I was already 3cm dilated as I was sure that you could be 2 or 3cm for a few weeks before actually going into labour and I didn’t want to worry him or get him prematurely excited. So, as planned, he went out for drinks after work that evening and got back home at about 10.30pm.
I think he knew something was up as soon as he got home. I was quieter than usual and said I was just going to head off to bed. Rather than finding some sport to watch on TV, he came into the bedroom, lit some candles and put on relaxing music. He lay down on the bed beside me and stroked my hair whilst I tried to fall asleep. Sure enough, at 11.30pm, I had my first proper contraction and, unable to stay on my back, I flipped onto all fours on the bed. Phil immediately opened the contraction timer app we had downloaded and started timing…
After that first contraction I anticipated a long break until the next, but they were immediately 2 minutes apart and about 40 seconds long. I went through various different positions and found I enjoyed using a ball to support me through them. We had been advised that once the contractions were 3 in 10 to let labour continue for a couple of hours before calling the midwife but I knew after 40 minutes that I needed someone sooner.
At around 1.30am, another midwife, turned up. I was 7cm dilated when she examined me and happy to be told I could get into the pool. The pool felt AMAZING. The warm water felt so supportive and soothing after being on dry land and eased my aches and pains.
I spent about 2 hours in the pool until I started to feel too hot and Amelie’s heart rate went a little too high. After a couple of high readings, so the midwife decided we should transfer into the hospital to be on the safe side. As it was, as soon as I half clambered, half fell, out of the pool, her heart rate returned to normal but at this point I felt more comfortable heading into hospital for the final part.
Coming out of the pool, I had no clothes on except a crop top and wanted to stay this way – as far I was concerned at this point mid labour, I had no worries about the whole of south east London seeing my bare behind! Obviously more concerned for my modesty (and I am thankful in hindsight), the midwife insisted I put some clothes on and began pulling my knickers and trousers on despite my many protestations. I don’t remember much of the transfer, as by this point (at 9-10cms) the contractions were very intense, except that on arriving at King’s hospital none of the lifts would work. Eventually we found one that did and once in our room, Phil set about getting the music on whilst the midwife set up a mat and ball on the floor.
I remember feeling before we left home that I wanted to start pushing – my body must have slowed down during the journey in but I think once we were settled in the room things kicked off again.
Pushing Amelie out felt like the most epic and powerful task. I was using all my might and more and she would only move a fraction of a millimetre and then between each push would move back up again. Mid way through my waters burst like a water bomb. I tried hard to keep focused, think hypnobirthing thoughts and use all my inner strength to get through what I definitely found the most challenging of the labour. I think I pushed for about an hour and 10 minutes, mainly in a squatting position hanging from Phil’s knees with him sitting on a stool behind me.
Amelie Rose was born at 6.07am weighing 5lbs 9oz. Given that she was comparatively small I thought it should have been easier to push her out – but it turned out she had a hand up by her ear, which made it harder and caused a very small tear. I felt completely ecstatic and overwhelmingly happy that my birth had been short, straightforward and without pain relief.
Unfortunately, there were some complications post-delivery. Amelie took a breath upon coming out but then there was a pause and her skin tone wasn’t too great. I scooped her up from beneath me and rubbed and hugged her but it wasn’t long before the midwife took the decision to cut the cord and whisk her off for help. Something was blocking her airway and she was unable to shift it herself so it was suctioned out for her. She had oxygen for a short while and was taken off to SCBU and I sent Phil off with her. I was distraught. Desperate to see Amelie again as soon as possible I opted for the syntocinon injection to speed up the delivery of the placenta. I’m sure it was because I had been separated from Amelie, but this stage felt much more painful than I had expected.
I was unaware at this time that my blood pressure had gone through the roof, and at some point someone must have taken a blood test. In hindsight I must have known that something was up as with one thing and another, very little communication and lots of worry, it wasn’t until 6 hours after I had delivered little Amelie that I was allowed to go and visit her in SCBU.
I couldn’t believe that we had created this perfect little creature. She was delicate and beautiful and I breastfed her then for the first time. I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility and emotion.
But I had to leave her after just an hour and soon I was being wheeled through the wards to the high dependency unit and hooked up to a magnesium sulfate drip to decrease the likelihood of me fitting. Not only had my blood pressure rocketed, my liver had started to fail. It terrifies me that I still felt so well and would have had no idea that my body was reacting so badly to giving birth. I had gone some way to developing HELLP syndrome, a variant of preeclampsia. No one was ever really able to give me a clear answer as to whether I did get HELLP syndrome or not. Things weren’t right but I think that bodies can do some pretty strange things post-delivery and it’s a little unclear as to whether my body would have righted itself at some point or whether I needed all the medication that I was put on (which made me feel awful) to make me better. Either way, I wouldn’t have taken the risk of not taking it, not now I had a little being who was going to be completely reliant on me.
Hooked up to the drip I wasn’t allowed to visit Amelie anymore. Phil went to and fro between us, bringing me photos and videos, sending her my love, hugs and kisses. He changed her nappy for each one of those first meconium poos! He was absolutely my rock and hero and fought my corner to have Amelie brought to see me once every three hours so I could feed her.
After 48 hours I was off the drip and up in the postnatal ward. Amelie was released from SCBU and just went up there twice a day to get antibiotics, which they gave her as a precaution after the blockage in her airway. We stayed on the postnatal ward for 4 more nights, being constantly monitored. Phil stayed with us, sleeping half on a chair and half on the hospital bed. He went home each morning to make me a fruit smoothie and bring me homemade food. We were shattered from lack of sleep on a busy ward with a new baby. Until finally there was no reason to keep us in anymore but they seemed unable to let us go. In the end I threatened self-discharge and was finally allowed to go home.
Walking through our front door with our precious little bundle was the beginning of everything. I can’t believe that Amelie turns one on 8 August this year and took her first steps without holding my hand last weekend.
Writing about my labour and birth experience makes me realise that actually all I really remember now are the good bits. Whilst I am scared for next time and worried I’ll develop HELLP or preeclampsia again, I do hope that there is a next time. I feel incredibly lucky to have had a fantastic labour, nearly exactly how I wanted it – only 6 hours long, mainly at home, in a pool for a few hours and under the care of some really excellent, encouraging and supportive midwives. Most of all I feel mighty smug to have a little family all of my own.”