Aromatherapy, a calming soundtrack, some massage from my husband, yogic prana breath and a water birth were key points in the birth plan that I wrote in the space provided for it on my NHS pregnancy notes. Yet under the bright glaring lights of a Kings College operating theatre, George Forrester Shelley arrived after an emergency caesarian section, like myself and my mum before me.
A decade plus of yoga practice had me thinking I would breath my way through this labour, that I would naturally deliver my baby at home. The birthing pool was set up in the lounge room. I would have done hypnobirthing it if I had the spare money but instead I prepared by reading a friend’s book and downloading some very relaxing hypnobirthing tracks by Katharine Graves from iTunes that I listened to each night in bed.
The talk of the home birth had shocked my mother, and was the only one in my NCT group, though our elderly neighbor had three of her babies at home. The NCT antenatal course cemented my belief in home, natural birth against all else. I poo-pooed all the drugs, I wasn’t going to need them. Until I did.
There’s nothing like labour to make you realize you’re not always involved in the choices life makes for you. I have a very plan A, plan B and plan C brain, so I really did think that if it came to it, I’d actually be fine with any drugs or intervention if that’s the course things took. If I could have chosen, I would have had none.
I was in labour, but I didn’t know it, at 6pm on a Friday night one day after my “due” date. I messaged my homeward-bound husband read “fuck my back is killing me”. That, it turns out, was labour starting. I did managed to labour at home all weekend with the TENS machine, oms, breathing, bird song and clary sage and lavender oils. We finally drove in to Kings College Hsopital Denmark Hill at midnight on Sunday.
My amazing midwives from The Lanes had been to see me on the Sunday evening while I was in labour, but it wasn’t long after they left that we called them back and they arranged for me to go in to Kings a where I was taken to a one bed triage room. This transfer was something I dearly wanted to avoid during my labour, because I had heard how the transfer of locations can slow labour, but I could not bear the constant and overlapping contractions any longer.
The NCT classes had convinced me drugs were bad. Wrong. They were amazing. I first had pethedene, and while it may have made me a little sick in the mouth, it wasn’t any more than after seeing Jeremy Clarkson with his shirt off on Top Gear. I clearly remember telling Mark it was as good as clubbing days in the nineties. Plus, this stopped me screaming and let me have some sleep.
Then came the entonox, or gas and air. After hours of me lowing with each contraction, a night nurse walked into our room and said “We can hear you out there, so I thought you might like some gas and air.” This really annoyed me. I didn’t realize I could ask for this, or was out the point where I needed it. Again, it felt amazing and I tried to make Mark take some.
The next morning, the epidural. Another wow drug. All the pain and exhaustion from the last two and a half days instantly disappeared. My contractions had been steady and unrelenting since Sunday morning and there was no sign of the baby. This was arranged some unbelievably quickly by Erika, one of the midwives from The Lanes, and delivered by one of an anaesthetist who was one of a steady stream of amazing young female doctors to help me during my labour.
By Monday afternoon, despite the baby’s best efforts at twisting and turning, there was no dilation and baby was nowhere to be seen. The only option seemed to be to take the induction drug prostaglandin to push my labour along. I had, by this point, completely lost my sense of humour. I was still trying to breath and remain calm, trying to go with the options that life was presenting me and be at peace with them, but this was so far from my idea of a peaceful waterbirth at home.
I was able to get some rest at this stage, but when I woke, nothing had changed. The epidural wore off. The pain was immense. My waters were broken by Erika and they revealed meconium. The baby had had enough, and so had I. I had mentally made the decision I would have a caesarian. The consultant read my charts and came to the same conclusion, asking me very clearly if this is what I wanted and outlining the reasons he thought it necessary. I agreed.
By this point my regular midwife Mary had come on shift and so having brought me all the way through my pregnancy, was ultimately on hand to deliver George at 10:45pm on the Monday. It was such a joy to see her as I had known her since we conceived. And so my final and most amazing drug – the spinal anaesthesia. All the pain from the last three days disappeared and I felt huge relief that my baby was going to be with us soon. While I thought that consciously, the photos tell a different story. My eyes were glazed, I was full of drugs, and I was exhausted. Being me – a journalist with a huge interest in women’s careers – I was quizzing my anaesthetist on her career development while we waited for the operation to start.
Our beautiful and healthy little boy George Forrester was finally born and after time bonding skin-to-skin in the recovery room, we were moved to the 6-bed ward. I felt a huge surge of respect for all mothers everywhere, and I clearly remember thinking “this is the least millennial experience ever. I have real concerns that anyone will bother continuing the human race.”
We were kept in the hospital on antibiotics because my temperature had unsurprisingly crept up slightly over my 3 day labour. This really sucked. I had to listen to five other families in the shared ward when I really wanted to be at home with my baby, hearing them bliss out over their swift labours and wade through a lifetime of emotion. Fortunately Kings lets partners sleep on the floor next to you, so Mark was with George and I the whole time.
The best part of the stay was visits from Clemmie, Vanessa and other midwives from The Lanes who popped in to give me a hug. The caseloading system means I had known these angels for months and that means so much at such a vulnerable time. The surge of emotion that other mothers in the ward were experiencing was blocked my internal sea of drugs but five days later as I made my way out of the door of the hospital with our tiny baby for the first time I experienced every nameable emotion. I was terrified for him, I was elated, and I bawled the whole way home.
Check out Melanie’s amazing new project Mumspo a ‘resource for amazing Mums who flex their creative muscle either on maternity leave, or with growing kids.’ You may spot a familiar face on there too.