There was quite a bit of anticipation in the lead up to my baby’s birth. I’m one of 10 children, I’d been a nanny for years before then becoming a midwife. I’ve spent most of my life raising babies, catching babies, surrounded by babies and birth. Finally it was my turn.
Simon (my other half) and I excitedly planned our baby (my first baby, his second; he has a 9-year-old son whom I adore) and to our surprise, I was pregnant the first month. Embarrassingly for a midwife, due in September- the busiest time of year.
I was nauseas and vomiting for the first 14 weeks; not easy when working on a busy birth centre. But other than that, I loved my pregnancy. We chose not to find out the sex of the baby. I had a very strong intuition it was a girl but a 30 week growth scan tricked me into thinking boy, so we were running with that for the last few weeks of pregnancy. I’m not sure why, but I always sensed this baby would be early. I’d been doing all the things to avoid a post-dates induction- raspberry leaf tea, long walks, hand expression- you name it, I did it. I went on maternity leave at 35 weeks and luckily I did.
On Sunday 2nd Sept at 04:35am, at 37+2, I woke up to some uncomfortable tightenings (not unusual as I’d been tightening for weeks and they had been starting to wake me up as period-like pains a few nights a week). I went for a wee then got back into bed. Suddenly, I felt a tiny gush which I presumed to be watery discharge in my sleepy state but it then trickled a second time. As only a midwife would, I touched the fluid with my hand then smelled it- it was a definite smell of amniotic fluid. I stood up and more trickled (nothing got on the bed! What a result!). I loudly whispered to Simon that I thought my waters had gone and we shuffled through to the bathroom where a huge gush happened and I stood there totally drenched and dripping. No mistaking it now! We stared at each other in disbelief. This was much earlier than even I was expecting and Simon was due to return to work the next morning after summer holidays (he’s a teacher). I sent him back to bed as I needed him to rest up. How he managed to get back to sleep so quickly I’ll never know!
I was shaking from the shock so I ran myself a bath with the aim of calming down then to go back to bed for a few hours if possible. Tightenings started almost straight away. They were totally manageable but 3-4 minutes apart. I was unlikely to be able to sleep through them. My amazing friend, Madou, was on call for me but it was far too early in the labour and far too early in the morning to wake her. I lay in the bath listening to my labour playlist and messaged my close girlfriends and sisters to update them (there were even some meme exchanges!). My second midwife on call, as well as two of my best girlfriends, were on holiday. We had all previously joked about them all missing the birth. I couldn’t believe this impeccable timing. With a family history of quick labours and being 37+2, I thought it best to let the birth centre know that things were brewing but I would call Mads when things hotted up. She would do home assessments for me and liaise with them once it was time for me to head in.
The bath worked to calm me down, even though I did have a little cry with mixed emotions; excitement to meet my baby but sadness at my pregnancy ending! I loved being pregnant and thought I would miss the constant wriggling inside of me. Of course, I found out later, that the immense love I would feel for my outside baby would override that!
Around 6am I called Mads. I was worried things were picking up and didn’t want to call her too late. Little did I know we were in for a day of it! We planned for her to come over in a few hours unless things ramped up before then.
I couldn’t get back to sleep after my bath so I watched some tv and ate some porridge whilst sitting on my birth ball. The day was shaping up to be sunny and I wondered if that was the last sunrise I would see as a pregnant woman (ha!).
Simon woke up around 8am and needed to focus on work prep for the week (to send across to the substitute teacher!!). My tightenings were about 2:10 and I was managing to breathe through them. So I sent him off into the other room and I carried on doing my thing.
Mads arrived around 9am. She did a full check on me and the baby- all good. She then did some amazing reflexology and massage for about an hour with my essential oils my doula friend, Lara, had prepared for my labour. This was mega zen. We had my birth playlist on and it really helped me to relax and rest a bit. She made me the most delicious peanut butter crumpets and tea before leaving and we would check in with her as and when we needed to. Things were still early (and it would have been inappropriate/pointless to do a vaginal examination at this stage due to risk of infection with broken waters and early labour contractions).
We then pottered for the day and tried to further encourage my labour. Contractions were typical of early labour. Sometimes they appeared as though they were regular, then would space out to 1:10. We went on a huge walk around the park and got ice cream from this amazing Italian gelato place near us. As it was a sunny day, the place was packed. I kept finding a corner to stand in and have a contraction. An older, Italian woman clocked me and smiled at me knowingly a few times! We ambled home and messaged Mads to update her. We ordered pizza for dinner but it was early evening by this point and I was getting twitchy. Why wasn’t my labour establishing?? I’m a Fletcher! I should’ve had my baby by now! Also, once waters break you’re slightly on a ticking clock. At 24hrs it’s recommended to have a CTG (fetal heart trace) and augmentation with a hormone drip (oxytocin) is discussed (although this can be put off until 36hrs). I really wanted to avoid this and all other intervention if possible, particularly as use of oxytocin drip significantly increases the need for an epidural (I’m certainly not anti-epidural, I just personally wanted to avoid one if I could).
In light of this, we phoned Mads to ask if she could come over and give me a sweep to hopefully nudge things along. She arrived around 9pm and boy, did she sweep me!! She has notoriously long, boney fingers and they meant business!! I was 2cm dilated, 1cm long. Baby was back to back with a high head. Not ideal and a bit mentally deflating. She did some more reflexology and massage and some Spinning Baby techniques to encourage baby to rotate. My contractions ramped up to 3-4:10 post-sweep. I sent Simon to bed for a bit more sleep and Mads helped me to get the TENS machine going. I loved that TENS!! She then went home for some sleep and I was sure I could do a few hours on my own with the TENS. I managed from 10pm until about 1am with contractions still messing about with 1-2:10 and sometimes 4:10. Incredibly frustrating! I tried to rest in between contractions as I was exhausted but I couldn’t and the contractions were now all in my back thanks to baby’s position (despite me doing all I could to encourage rotation!). Back labour is no joke and they were getting more intense. I took off the TENS and tried the shower. It was at this point I was definitely getting more vocal and was starting to feel overwhelmed on my own with cabin fever in our flat. I kept tapping the wall with my hands during a contraction which weirdly seemed to help but it was 1am on a Monday morning and I was worried I would soon wake the neighbours! Reflectively, this is when things got serious. I was about to wake Simon but he had already woken up to the sound of me pacing around. He was immediately in my zone with me. I didn’t want to call Mads as I knew it was still relatively early labour but I needed to talk to a midwife (I just wanted a voice of reason as I was starting to flag, mainly from tiredness). One of my best friends, Alice, happened to be on a night shift. I called her and we spoke about my options. I didn’t want to turn up to birth centre too early. That would also risk unnecessary interventions. But I needed a new plan, even if it was just some token codeine and paracetamol. I decided to try and stay at home for at least another hour or two. My 24hr CTG was booked for 4:30am and I didn’t want to be there much earlier than that. At 2am I called birth centre and said ‘I need to come in. I’m too early to be admitted so I don’t need a room but if you could give me some codydramol then I’ll mobilise the hospital until my 24hr CTG’. I basically midwifed myself.
The journey in should have been speedy in the middle of the night but we got every red light. The car ride was immense and just as difficult as women had always described it! Once we arrived I insisted we leave the bags in the car (I was determined not to be an early labourer that turns up with all the things!). We made it up to birth centre and my lovely colleagues gave me codydramol tablets straight away. I mobilised for a while and remember thinking how strange it was to be walking around my work as the labourer and not the midwife. We have a 24hr Costa coffee in the foyer and I looked down at it from the third floor as I was contracting, thinking how funny it was that I normally get a coffee on night shifts when there are often women in labour mobilising. I felt like part of an exclusive club. Alice found met us in the corridor and I cried when I saw her. No real reason, it was just all so surreal and how was it that I was in labour?? Birth centre was heaving that night but the girls kindly arranged a lovely room for me- lights were dim and the double bed had been pulled down if I wanted to try resting on all fours there. Unbeknownst to me, Simon had called Mads as it looked as though I could be in active labour. The back pain was excruciating. I have a whole new respect for women with back labour! Simon was amazing the whole way through. He literally said and did all the right things at all the right times. He never missed one contraction with me and his lower back counter pressure gave me life!
At 4am Mads examined me… 2-3cm, 1cm long, head still relatively high and not very well applied to the cervix. I was fed up and began to feel really defeated. I started asking for an epidural because there was no way I could carry on with that level of exhaustion and with the intense back labour. Mads and Simon were amazing at steering me away from the epidural idea. They knew how much I didn’t want one but also never once made me feel like they weren’t listening to my request (a truly amazing skill of a good midwife). Somehow they convinced me to try pethidine instead, once I’d had my 24hr CTG. Mads brought the CTG into the room (normally this wouldn’t happen on birth centre but it made all the difference to not have to relocate). In my exhausted state I kept hearing what I though were decelerations of baby’s heart rate. Mads reassured me these were normal in relation to contractions but I was starting to see my labour going down a pathway I didn’t want. I thought the CTG trace would would be abnormal and I was just waiting for Mads to break it to me. It was a really tough point in my labour because my brain was somewhere between a midwife and an exhausted woman in labour. I was over analysing everything and it wasn’t helpful. And nobody can interpret a CTG in a labouring/exhausted state! After a normal (!) CTG, I agreed to try Pethidine to allow for some rest. If after Pethidine (which generally takes effect for about 4-6 hours) things hadn’t progressed, we would make a new plan.
The Pethidine was bliss as I hadn’t slept in 24hrs. I woke with every contraction and the back pain was relentless. But in between contractions I was totally zonked. It was just what I needed to allow my body some rest. I was lying on my left side on the bed with Simon lying behind me. As always, he was there with the much needed back pressure for each contraction. I did have a vomit around this stage (Simon managed to quickly catch it in a bowl) and I remember thinking ‘I wonder where all this is going..’.
I didn’t have to wonder for long. One hour after Pethidine, I felt different. I could feel pressure in my bottom but also in my vagina. I instinctively rolled onto all fours and asked Simon to get Mads. Mads came in and I told her I felt I was pushing and ‘something is different’. She helped me to pull my bottoms down and there was lots of bloody, mucousy show. I felt the pushing sensation with every contraction. The midwife voice in my head was saying ‘you’ve done it, you’re fully!’ but the labouring woman voice was more sceptical. I insisted to Mads I must need the loo so I ambled to the bathroom. I sat on the toilet and waited for a contraction. There is a mirror opposite the toilet and I remember looking at myself and thinking that this bathroom had seen me in all stages of my pregnancy (vomiting in the early stages, frequent loo trips late in pregnancy and now labour!). When the contraction came, I pushed and grunted to Mads ‘Ok, it’s a baby!’.
Back on the bed, Mads examined me and confirmed I was fully! My clever baby had rotated to the ideal position and clearly that’s all that needed to happen as I then had progressed so quickly. I don’t remember saying this but I apparently stood up and said ‘fold the bed up, we’re not insured to deliver on those beds’. Stupid midwife brain again! Nobody delivers on beds in birth centre anyway!
Mads called across to the ward Alice was working on to say I was fully dilated and to get over here! There is something seriously amazing about giving birth where you work. I could really feel the positive vibes from those that knew I was in labour.
Alice arrived and we were all buzzing. The girls offered me the pool and started running it but I didn’t feel a strong urge for a water birth. It was like a switch had gone off and I was confident I could push this baby out.
It was 7:30am and sun was pouring in the room. I always thought I would have my baby at night but suddenly this seemed perfect.
I sat on the birth stool and pushed when I felt I needed to. Oh boy, was it intense! I could feel the stretching and burning sensation as the head got closer and for a moment there I was scared to push. But I gave myself a talking to and snapped out of that mindset pretty quickly. Mads, Alice and Simon were the ultimate dream team and from that point I just felt everything would go smoothly. Knowing I was so close to meeting my baby really kicked the natural oxytocin up a notch! Vertex (head) was visible after about 20 minutes on the birth stool and was advancing so well that Mads asked me to move onto the mat on the floor (we discourage birth on the stool as it significantly increases risk of a large perineal tear).
I went on my knees on the mat but decided to change position so I could hear Mads a bit better (I definitely yelled at her to speak up when I had my head buried in the bean bag. Sorry Mads!). I had always said I would love the birth filmed if possible and everything was so straightforward that Alice was a free pair of hands to film whilst Mads helped me with the birth.
There were a lot of tears from everyone during this stage. It was an amazing, emotional lead up to meeting our baby. There was truly so much love and support in the room. I felt so safe and even managed to crack a few jokes with a baby half out of me! It was just the type of environment I wanted my baby to be born into- calm and relaxed. I only pushed for 1 hour and 8 mins (quick for a first baby!). We had a song that we wanted our baby born to that we had listened to a lot during my pregnancy (‘River by Leon Bridges). Alice played it and it really helped me to get the head out (even though baby was eventually born to Adele!). The moment our baby was born and we saw it was a girl was the happiest, most overwhelming moment of my life. I truly felt like I’d wished her to life. She was and is everything I’d dreamed of. Ivy Adeline Harris was born in perfect condition at 08:38. I had a gush of blood as she came out so the girls quickly gave me a syntocinon injection for my third stage of labour (which I had requested anyway). The bleeding settled quickly and wasn’t a concern.
Being 37+3, Ivy was coated in vernix and her tiny, wriggly, sticky body was the sweetest I’d ever seen. She stayed skin to skin with me whilst I delivered my placenta.
I had a small second degree tear thanks to her naughty little hand being near her head when she delivered but the girls sorted it out beautifully (I’m pleased to report its never looked better down there- thanks girls!). Afterwards, Alice helped me to shower whilst Ivy had skin to skin with Simon. I always love helping women to shower post-birth as it’s such a surreal time, knowing your new baby is on the other side of the door waiting for you. Before we knew it, we were tucked up in bed as a family with tea and toast. It was magical. I couldn’t believe we’d done it and had a beautiful, healthy baby girl.
I feel so lucky to have had such incredible continuity of care, love and support. I can honestly say, it was the most incredible, empowering experience of my life.