I’m incredibly grateful for my three beautiful babies. All of them with their own unique and diverse birth story.
But the tale of my third, and final (it’s absolutely our last) baby is one that I am so proud to tell – and that is something I thought I would never be able to say.
Despite believing I was fully prepared for all my births; I really wasn’t equipped to deal with the physical and mental aftermath. So, with two ‘failure to progress’ indifferently stamped across my maternity notes, and two emergency caesareans (quite literally) under my belt – when it came to my third pregnancy I knew I had birth choices to explore and I sought to prepare as much as I could in order to claw back the control I’d lost.
Firstly, there was the option of trying for a vaginal birth. I had done this with Marnie – she was my ‘failed VBAC’ and despite preparing as much as I could at the time, I don’t think that I had really put to bed the fear that had engrained itself into me after Elsie’s birth, and so when the going got tough – and it really did with Marnie, especially towards the end, I crumbled.
After the girls births, and subsequent physical (I was readmitted 10 days after Marnie, with a huge infection in my wound – another knock on consequence I believe of not resting and subsequently trying to do it all) and mental side-effects, I still wanted to explore the option of a VBAC2. Some said I was bonkers, other encouraged me to avoid surgery. Ultimately, this time around – it was to be MY choice. MY decision. MY body.
After a little soul searching, and discussing my previous births with my Psychotherapist, whom I was seeing weekly throughout my pregnancy up until around 34 weeks – I came to the decision that I would opt for a planned caesarean. I had done a fair amount of reading and with the conversation open to those around me I had also been exposed to a different approach to births that take place within a surgical environment. The attitude towards this more recent style of thinking had been given various labels, from a ‘gentle section’ to a ‘mother led section’ to a ‘family led section’ – the goal for me was the same – a calm, unobtrusive and controlled approach to an abdominal birth. That was what I would hope for and subsequently work towards for the rest of my pregnancy.
It began with researching hospitals and where I could gain access to a more open minded approach to abdominal birth (a term that I think better describes ‘a section’ which seems so clinical) and Ideally it would fall to a local hospital, although I was open to considering further afield if needs be. I’m so incredibly grateful for the platform that I have, the advice and guidance I have been exposed to and after opening up the conversation on my Instagram stories early on in my pregnancy, a lovely lady gave me the name of a consultant midwife at my local hospital St Georges in Tooting, who she believed would be great in championing my birth choices.
After leaving a long garbled and slightly wobbly voice message on her answerphone, I didn’t hear anything for a couple of weeks. I remember standing in the garden of one of the school mums at a playdate when I received her call back. We had the loveliest conversation, and I explained as best I could my desire for a different birth, all being well – for myself and my baby. She was kind, supportive and listened – and unsurprisingly, I cried – the first of many tears shed on my journey.
What followed was a series of meetings with Chantelle. She went above, and although she wouldn’t say it herself – beyond at least what I knew to be ‘normal practise’ but throughout, she listened and supported me through the whole process. For the first time in all my pregnancies I felt truly held – I genuinely love her for that.
What was also key for me during the process, was that despite working together, Chantelle facilitated in helping me craft the team who could support me in having the healing birth I so badly needed. I will feel forever grateful to her, and those who held me and my requests from pregnancy through to watching my son being delivered.
Something I’ve reiterated when questioned is don’t be afraid to push back, keep asking, go back and request again. It’s not a case of being ‘allowed’. I know that now and I didn’t before. I was able to meet my obstetrician, anaesthetist, and midwife (from the perinatal mental health team whose care I was under) before my birth, so at least four (out of the ten – I never realised how many people were in the operating theatre as it was so chaotic and such a haze) people were known to me beforehand. I cannot tell you how invaluable that was.
Alongside my consultant midwife I drafted my birth preferences. It entailed music, lighting, atmosphere, language, communication, skin to skin and gender reveal. It was my choice that we have our own playlist on from arrival in theatre, through to delivery. Communication was also key – I wanted to know what was happening at certain points (when the incision had been made, and therefore as I had asked, the screen to be dropped so I could see our baby born) and lights dimmed. All of these are normal, ordinary requests. I didn’t know this. One thing that I learnt along the way, is that every hospital practice differently and so, there are hospitals who maybe more open to practises than others, but that’s not to say they wouldn’t be happy to discuss and explore them.
At one of my later consultations we discussed dates and with it being an elective section, it is usually advised that the birth takes place around 38 weeks to avoid spontaneous labour. With both Elsie and Marnie, I went into spontaneous labour around ten days after my EDD so although I wasn’t initially worried about delivering early, as the weeks crept up, I became more anxious about losing control, going into labour, failure to progress and emergency deliveries. With that in mind, and my mental health at the forefront of many decisions, we discussed the availability of the ultimate ‘dream team’ if it was at all possible. I was given a few options and we settled with a slightly earlier date at 38+6 as the other available date with the team I had already met would be 40+1 and I felt uneasy about how I would manage my anxiety, and stay in the best place mentally throughout the last two weeks.
I chose to only tell our immediate family and my best friend about my delivery date. I think for me, with a planned delivery that I wanted to keep some of the magic a surprise. I wanted to be able to provide the news to those close to me, without the pressure of ‘waiting to hear’ (and it took a lot because I’m pretty gobby when I want to be!) but I’m so pleased we did.
The night before Reggie’s birth, J and I had booked our favourite restaurant. My parents had arrived that afternoon to set up camp, we collected our girls from school, took them for tea at our local pub (collectively, our fave place) and brought them home for bed time, before we left Nanna and Poppa in charge and ventured across the common for dinner and a well deserved glass of champagne. It was the most surreal feeling. I was worried I wouldn’t sleep, but after a hefty and delicious dinner and my mind whirring with images of meeting our baby the next morning, I was able to pass out – alarm set ready for the morning.
With a 6.45 arrival time at the hospital, we said goodbye to my parents. I didn’t want to wake the girls as emotions were running high, and I didn’t want to upset them or myself whilst I was feeling so positive and excited. We drove a short five minutes to St Georges Hospital, in Tooting and ‘checked in’ – such a surreal feeling! In the waiting room we were sat alongside three other couples who were also having planned sections, and it was anyone’s guess at that point who was going first. As it turned out, we were last on the list.
Once we had been allocated a bed on the ward, it was a matter of waiting, and despite thinking every minute would feel like a lifetime, it flew by pretty fast. I set up the crib with our blanket, listened to a podcast and kept in contact with my mum as to when we were being called.
After what felt like a very short hour, my lovely midwife from the perinatal team came to take us down to theatre. As we walked down the corridor and turned the corner to the operating theatre – there were the other three wonderful faces I had previously met. Clapping me! I felt like a bloody Rockstar! I want to laugh about it now, as It felt totally bizarre and I kept thinking to myself – I do not deserve this. But why not? Why didn’t I deserve as much Joy as I would if I were to be delivering vaginally on a high of oxytocin? This was as good as it was going to get for me and I can honestly say I walked into theatre feeling safe, heard and happy. Based on my two surgical experiences before and the terror which had surrounded the operating theatre, it’s something I never felt I would experience.
Jamie’s role was hugely important for me and we love our music, so a large part of the process was the playlist which we had devised together over the pregnancy. Music massively changes my mood and I know it would have been the same for him. We could link up our Spotify playlist with the speakers in the room and Jamie was able to provide the perfect soundtrack. Everyone in the room introduced themselves and the role in which they would play in delivering our baby. Jamie was with me throughout, holding my hand whilst the spinal was administered and there was a lovely sense of calm.
Part of the New Beginnings initiative is to ensure that if the mother would like immediate skin to skin, a warm towel is provided (there is a heater outside theatre keeping all the towels warm ready for those new-born cuddles) so that all being well with both mother and baby, they can be placed onto your chest and kept warm, whilst the suchering takes place. It’s small, but mighty changes like this in the theatre environment that provide mothers like me the opportunity to hold their babies straight after delivery. Something so simple, yet something I was deprived off with both my girls.
I had stated in my birth preferences that I would like there to be as little talking in theatre as possible but that I would like to know when the incision had been made, so we could watch our baby born – again this was a huge part of the birth ‘process’ for me and something that I felt having missed out on with the girls that was hugely important this time around. The most wonderful student nurse had read my birth preferences (everyone had a copy in their pocket) and asked at the start if I would like her to take any photos or videos, which I was so pleased with. And she did more than that – she captured the most beautiful and precious moments on my phone that I will treasure forever.
And so, at 0855 on Thursday 8th November the screen was lowered, and we watched as our baby was born. It was utterly mind-blowing. We didn’t know the sex and had asked that no one tell us, and we find out for ourselves. Jamie saw straight away that he was a boy and as he was lifted out of my tummy and I remember him saying to me “Look babe, look” and I saw we had a son (I always felt like I was carrying a boy) It honestly took my breath away. He was handed from the obstetrician to the midwife, and straight onto my chest. Another wish, which isn’t for everyone was that he wasn’t ‘cleaned’ and so, apart from the blood from the incision made in my tummy, he was placed on my chest as he should be – vernix n’ all!
Whilst the screen was raised again and I was sutured, our music was playing, Reggie was on my chest and we were in such a bubble it was unreal. I felt empowered, proud, in love and safe. I know for so many women this isn’t the case, and I know for many it is – for me – I craved this experience and I guess that’s why I worked so hard to get it. I knew I had to claw back the control for myself, and more than anything I deserved it. It’s not often I say that, but I did.
And you know what – If I could do it all again, I would. Over and over. It was healing, magical and everything I had had hoped my birth would be.
A huge huge thank you to New Beginnings, facilitated by Emma Evans @ St Georges Hospital, Tooting.