It took me until I was well into my established labour to realise that we were actually in the hospital for the purpose of having our baby.
For us nothing about having a baby had been spontaneous. It had felt like we had been continuously taking it one step at a time, moving from one planned and expected stage to the next.
Before we started the process of trying to conceive we were really naive that having a baby would be easy. Quickly after the first failed IUI attempt at artificial insemination we realised it was one step and one small success at a time. We needed to have a good number of growing follicles (but not too many) and a strong contender for ovulation; grow a uterine lining of good thickness; make it to the clinic for insemination (OK, this was only a risk for our cycle during “the beast from the east” snowstorms of 2018); get through the ‘two week wait’, get a positive test result….we didn’t get that for any of our IUI’s so after 3 attempts and falling at that final hurdle it was back to the drawing board and a switch to IVF (ICSI). Again, a series of small milestones we needed to reach – growing and collecting a good number of high quality eggs (but not too many); waiting to see how many fertilised; waiting to see if we got any fertilised eggs that had developed well enough to be transferred back in; survive the 2 week wait (again); get a positive test result (which thankfully we did first time!), safely make it to the 8 week scan, the 12 week scan, pray for clear abnormality tests, 20, 32 and 36 week scans….go into labour… always looking no further than the next milestone and praying for it to all stay OK. We never really looked much past the next step or really thought about the fact that if we got the whole way through we’d be having a baby come home and live with us until it was our very next and final hurdle.
(Quick disclaimer: I tried to write this from a completely positive angle as I don’t always think it’s helpful to worry mums to be with the things that didn’t go so well when there is a strong chance it won’t happen to them, but it didn’t feel honest. Some of our experience was not fun. Instead I’ve tried to keep it honest and constructive for those like me who would rather know what might happen so I can mentally prepare and be ready to cope if it does. Skip straight to the delivery part if you want the positive only bits, it was genuinely a bloody lovely day!)
In our area IVF mums are under the care of a consultant rather than just discharged completely into regular antenatal care as a natural pregnancy would be (never sure if “natural pregnancy” is the right terminology, you know what we mean though!). Our consultant told us very early on that he didn’t like IVF mums to go too far over their due date and so if we hit 40 weeks without Molly arriving that he’d likely recommend we be induced (this is something to do with knowing the dates of conception exactly and the risks increasing for IVF conceptions beyond 40 weeks I think but we aren’t medical and so if it’s something you’re concerned about speak to your healthcare professional for advice).
I really didn’t want to be induced as my sister had been and it had been a slow and painful experience, but nature will do what it will and 40 weeks came and Molly still wasn’t here so we went to our appointment with the consultant to discuss the plan. He suggested with a smile we really should start getting this baby out, so gave me a sweep there and then and booked us in for induction the next day if nothing had happened by then. Again, this planned step meant even going into labour wouldn’t be something spontaneous for us, so we went home and got all our things together, had one last nights sleep as just the two of us and left home early the next morning knowing all being well the next time I came home it would be with our little girl.
The Next day our induction process started with Cardiotacograph (CTG) monitoring to check the baby’s heart rate and movements. We were given a Propess pessary containing prostaglandin to hopefully get things started – the goal was to be dilated enough for the midwife to break my waters and start labour. Often this happens within 24 hours but sometimes is a lot quicker or takes longer. We headed back to our bay (a bed on a 4 bed ward) as we weren’t allowed to go home (again this can vary depending on which hospital) and had further CTG monitoring to make sure nothing had affected the baby. We watched some TV shows we’d downloaded on the Ipad (24 hours in A&E which is my favourite – I like to watch what Vic does at work (she’s a paramedic) and question her on what she thinks is wrong with people!), we went for a long walk around the hospital grounds (which can sometimes help apparently!) and bounced on a birthing ball to try and bring things along. We watched other mums come and go, many overtaking us as their induction process worked quicker than ours and grew increasingly more nervous seeing how their contractions/labour experience was. In our hospital there are no private rooms so short of a blue curtain you’re allowed to pull round if getting uncovered (but are encouraged to keep open the rest of the time so the midwife can keep an eye on you) it’s a pretty public experience!
Things didn’t seem to be moving too fast for us, I started getting tightening’s around late afternoon, but nothing more than a normal period pain.
Come early evening things on the ward started getting tense. They were incredibly short staffed as delivery ward was really busy and so our ward was closed and we were temporarily merged overnight with another ward. This was a bit unsettling for me and left me feeling a bit vulnerable as it wasn’t handled particularly well. After more monitoring partners all left (they don’t allow visitors after 9pm at our hospital unless you’re in labour) so Vic said goodbye and left me (a little tearful) and head home for a sleep.By midnight my tightening’s were getting quite strong, I couldn’t sleep through them but managed to sleep between them so was snatching 5-10 minutes at a time. I wish I’d been deeply asleep, because in my awake time I had to listen to the other women on the ward going through their pain too. The woman next to me was clearly very distressed, she was trying her best to breathe through her contractions but struggling and sadly for her they weren’t very productive so she wasn’t progressing enough to be moved to labour ward any time quickly. At around 3am she threw up all over the floor with the pain and finally was examined and moved to labour ward where she’d be able to get a bit of privacy and hopefully a little pain relief! Me? I was traumatised and heavily suspected this was what tomorrow had in store for me.
Morning came and Vic arrived back on the ward at 9am by which time we’d been moved back to our original ward and the day shift of midwives had arrived. I was being cared for by a lovely midwife and her student who took time to introduce themselves (ever heard of the “hello, my name is” campaign? Google it, it’s so important), got to know me a bit and explained at every stage what I could expect next and what was happening. I had more CTG monitoring, and then another internal examination. Still only 1cm dilated so the midwife did another sweep then we had some breakfast and then went out for another walk.
By lunch time the tightening’s were a lot stronger so I was sure SOMETHING must be happening. When I was examined though I was STILL only 1cm dilated and not enough for my waters to be broken. Whilst I understand ¾ of women go into labour within 24 hours of having the Propess inserted, I was clearly in the 25% that weren’t this lucky! This meant I needed to have a second Propess pessary inserted to try and move things along a bit more. This quickly increased my contractions.
By now my back was really starting to ache, I don’t know if it was lying on the bed for so long for hours and hours of monitoring (Molly kept having decelerations which meant they needed to watch her a bit longer..) or if as one of the midwifes in delivery later pointed out that the baby’s position may have been causing the pain (I later read about back to back labour which sounds about right). I wasn’t getting much relief between contractions because of this so was trying to move around as much as I could, bouncing on the ball and walking around. The nice day midwife showed me where I could take a shower so Vic helped me with that and it was lovely to freshen up a bit finally.By 9pm I STILL wasn’t dilated enough to break my waters so again Vic left to go get some sleep at home, but I told her not to expect it to be too long before I called her back as my pain was getting so bad I couldn’t believe we wouldn’t be in active labour soon. Around midnight I asked for more pain relief – I’d had too much paracetamol for the day so they couldn’t give me anything at that point unless I wanted Pethidine (I didn’t) so I said I could ride it out for a bit longer. I went to the toilet and saw my mucous plug had finally released which was another good sign so the midwife agreed to examine me again as the pain was so strong I felt we must have progressed more and on checking she said I was now far enough to break my waters (woohoo!). She took the pessary out and rang the delivery ward to see when they could take us, but they didn’t have any space for me until 7am the next morning (booo) so we’d have to wait where we were until then. I headed back to my bed to try and rest up a bit before delivery as I was now well into my second night without any sleep and knew I had a big job to do. The midwife had suggested removing the pessary might ease up the contractions, but I think things were progressing strongly by themselves by then and so instead the pain got worse.Around 3am I felt really sick. I ran to the bathroom before vomiting everywhere. At this point I phoned Vic and told her to come back to the hospital, I needed her moral support and someone to hold the sick bowl or help me move about in my increasing discomfort.
When Vic arrived around 4am I was examined again and the midwife let me stay in the side examination room until the morning as by then I wasn’t particularly quiet! (And was taking my turn at traumatising those coming after me!). At 7am the midwife from the delivery suite came to collect me, we walked down to the delivery ward trying to have quiet contractions as we passed through the mother and baby ward (Which was a challenge as I think I was demonstrating a whole zoo full of sounds)! By this point the pain was incredible. I was getting contractions every few minutes and no let up in between with the back pain, so as soon as we arrived in the delivery room I was offered gas and air and within seconds was high as a kite! I’m not sure if it was the Entonox or the fact that you have to concentrate and breathe that helped but either way I was in a bit of a trance.
Getting an epidural
On the way to delivery I’d told the midwife I wanted an epidural. For some reason in the run up to Molly’s birth I had been hesitant, I kind of wanted to do this without drugs but I didn’t know why, was just my gut feeling. That quickly went out of the window when I had a better understanding of the kind of pain I would experience and my tolerance for it. No one can tell you what the pain is like, it’s different for everyone. I had a back to back labour (Molly’s back was against mine), i’d been laying on a bed on monitors for hours a day for 3 days and I hadn’t slept – combined these factors meant I was DONE and I knew I needed the relief. Others may be able to handle THEIR pain, but all pain is different so don’t be ashamed of having an epidural if you feel like that’s right for you. It was bloody brilliant.
Through the gas and air I managed to acknowledge I understood everything the anaesthetist told me about the epidural (the risks (albeit low) and possible side effects) and agreed I wanted to go ahead. The key thing I was told was keeping myself still whilst the epidural was put into my spine. I sat on the side of the bed whilst the anaesthetist numbed the area and got everything ready then he told me to tell him when I had a gap in contractions which is when he’d insert the needle. Despite the writhing pain I was in at that point there was not a chance in hell I was moving, I could have sat still forever to get that pain relief! The second the epidural took effect our birth experience completely flipped on its head. Up to now I’d been in pain, a bit scared, tired, feeling a bit vulnerable and really not having much fun (so much for building the Oxitocin that is so helpful for birth!). Finally, the pain was gone. I was in a private room with just Vic and the most lovely midwife called Sharon who was calm and clearly cared about me, the baby and Vic. The sun was streaming in the window and I was comfortable, the midwife broke my waters and then while the she caught up on our notes and did some monitoring, we both finally took a nap – we were exhausted!
The rest of my day in labour is a bit hazy, but it was a really lovely and enjoyable day which I remember very fondly. People think I’m being sarcastic when I say our day in delivery was a lovely day, but it genuinely was.
Once I woke up from my sleep we had some tea and toast. We chatted over our birth wishes with Sharon while everything was calm and we got to know each other a bit. What was lovely about Sharon and the other staff we met that day was that they seemed genuinely interested in us as a family, our story of how we got to where we are today and what the future might have for our baby girl. They made us feel really at ease. One concern I’d had as a same sex couple was that Vic wouldn’t be treated in the same way as a dad would (I’d read some horror stories about our hospital) but this couldn’t have been further from the truth. She was frequently referred to as ‘Mum’ as well as me and included in all the decisions and updates and this made us feel comfortable and in great hands.
Molly’s heartbeat was being monitored throughout the labour. Initially with a CTG monitor that has external sensors worn on an elasticated belt around the tummy. We were struggling to get these to stay on and consistently working due to Molly’s position and her constant wriggling, so Sharon asked if we were happy to have a little clip attached to Molly’s head for them to be able to monitor her better, which we were. We’d been talking about how long the labour process might take and when we could expect to meet our little girl. Whilst this is impossible to predict we were told typically you dilate around ½ a cm per hour so from the 3cm we were when my waters broke we could be another 12 or so hours to be fully dilated and then maybe another hour or so after that for her to move down and for me to push her out. However, when Sharon put the clip on she was surprised that I’d dilated to around 5cm already. At some point an hour or so later she examined me again and I was already 8cm dilated! Things were moving fast! At some point I’d been hooked up to a syntosin drip to help labour advance. Essentially my understanding is that this is a man made version of the natural hormone oxytocin and sometimes used in labour to stimulate the contractions, I think more frequently in induced labours where the body needs a little nudge. This is probably what was helping me progress so fast!
Not long after that the doctor who had originally told us it was time to be induced a few days ago came back in to check Molly’s CTG – she’d been playing up a little with a few decelerations all day but he wasn’t too worried. I was now fully dilated and it would soon be time to push. He examined me and told me he was going to teach me to push. When you have an epidural you can’t easily feel your contractions, I could a little as I’d not topped it up for a while (once the epidural is in you are in charge of topping it up as and when you want it so kind of in control of what you’re feeling), but if not they can see on the monitor when they are happening so can tell you when to push. He told me to have a few practice pushes and so we did. Vic got into position holding my hand (after being told off for taking the wrong hand as it hurt when I squeezed the hand that my cannula for my drip was in!) and after about 3 pushes he told me he could see the baby’s head. I remember thinking at this point “what? MY babies head? I thought we were practising?”. He handed me back to lovely Sharon my midwife and said we were ready to go, and wished us luck.
Not long after I started pushing Molly seemed to start getting a bit pissed off! Her decelerations we’re getting a bit worse and overshooting rather than returning to normal. Sharon wasn’t happy so pressed the call button and the doctor quickly arrived. Although not visibly worried he wasn’t comfortable and said he’d like to give her a little help to come out more quickly, he wanted to use the ventouse (suction cup that goes on the baby’s head) to gently pull/ease her out along with my pushes. To do this I’d need the dreaded episiotomy (a small cut to widen the space for the ventouse to go in), we said OK and he quickly got on with it.
Side note: I found it really interesting when thinking about my experience afterwards how calm I felt because interventions can seem scary and i’d been so keen to avoid them beforehand. A few extra people were suddenly coming into the room but Sharon made this completely normal for us by explaining who they were and why they were there. A paediatrician came in to check Molly over when she was born just in case as the heartbeat had been a concern (but really just in case, nothing to worry about), another midwife came in too (who we’d already met when she covered Sharon’s breaks and was equally as awesome) and I can’t remember the others. Sharon was smiley and confident (despite the fact I’d just pulled my cannula our shuffling up the bed and she was having to rush it in – for anyone who’s ever done one you’ll know that’s not easy!). The doctor was calm and friendly. He was assertive and in control but explained everything that was happening and made sure we were happy and reassured . It very much felt like they were all confident everything was going to be just fine and that the sudden rush and our need for interventions were nothing to worry about. I completely trusted them, and the universe, that I could stay calm and just enjoy the moment I’d be meeting my daughter. I’ve felt this overwhelming calm twice before: once whilst I was spinning around on the M25, in and out of cars having been hit by a lorry (I was fine but that was a miracle and it was bloody scary). In that moment I thought calmly about a recent conversation with a friend about how to/not to react in a car spin and did everything I needed to do before climbing out, walking to a safe place and then finally losing my shit! The second time was another car crash which ended in rolling into a ditch. My reaction was again instant calm and again, we were fine (another miracle, guardian angel anyone?), but it was bloody scary! I sometimes think ‘calm’ is my short term reaction to a big shock. I know I was a bit in shock because when the doctor told me the baby was suddenly coming, (5 hours into an active labour id assumed would take 13…) I started involuntarily shaking. I didn’t know why because I didn’t feel scared, but my body seemed to be! They told me this was the adrenaline and totally normal.
So back to the story: Episiotomy complete (which under my epidural I didn’t feel at all!) the doctor told me it was time to push. I don’t know how many pushes I did, but it wasn’t many. After a couple of pushes, helped along by the suction cup, the doctor said the baby’s head was out, I could feel it (a pressure rather than a pain) but again was a little surprised MY babies head was out, as I thought this was going to take some time? One more big push, just 4 minutes after the doctor arrived back in the room, I felt the rest of Molly’s little body whoosh out (the only way I can describe the feeling). The doctor bought her straight up and onto my chest and there she was, our daughter, eyes squeezed shut in what today we call her “what the bloody hell is going on” face (she still does it daily when something surprises or disgusts her!). Within seconds she gave us the big scream we were holding our breaths for, we cried a little with relief, the paediatrician looked her over, was happy and left us to it and the doctor stitched me back up, which I was oblivious to thanks to my best friend the epidural and being all consumed in the little bubble that was our new family!
So that’s the story of how after years of dreaming, 3 rounds of IUI, 3 heartbreaking negative pregnancy tests, 15 internal scans and 5 external, 19 self injections, 252 (!!) progesterone pessaries, 25 visits to the clinic, one positive pregnancy test (OK 2, I had to check) and far more thousands of £’s than we care to remember…. we finally met our Molly.