When my first child was born three years ago, I knew it was unfinished business.
I was rushed to theatre, exhausted by the high fever developed in advanced labour (at 9cm!) after a prolonged induction, and numbed by the high dosage of pain relief.
To this day, I find the memories of that night a bit blurred, a hazy mix of excitement at meeting my baby for the first time and over tiredness after the long labour.
When I found out earlier last year that I was expecting again, I knew I wanted things to be different. I knew I wanted to fully experience labour and the pain of birth (ouch!), reducing the amount of medical intervention, if possible.
I found reassuring reading the statistics that over 70% of women achieve vaginal birth after a C-section and I met a supportive midwife team that encouraged and informed me throughout my pregnancy regarding benefits and risks of a VBAC.
I also appreciated the level of additional care that I received, where I could discuss my intentions further with a consultant midwife at two separate appointments. They listened to my concerns over the cause of my previous emergency C-section and agreed to give me the medication I needed to reduce risks of unwanted infections.
The support I received gave me the confidence that I needed to take with me into the labour ward. I wanted to keep control over my body as much as possible and remain calm and positive when compromise was necessary.
And indeed, it was needed when I started writing my birth plan and I realised that my birth plans might need to change due to my medical history: I had to abandon my hopes for a water birth in a midwife led unit, as I would have required additional monitoring in the labour ward. Moreover, the chances of induction were going to be higher, as I had hit the big 4-0 and the consultant midwife did not want me to go over my due date.
Having been induced in the past made me feel like an absolute beginner. As my due date approached, I started wondering if I would have been able to recognise the signs of labour, and if I would have ended up having one of those speedy second births that don’t even give you the time to open your front door to go to the hospital. I also recognised that if I wanted to keep control over my body as much as possible during labour, I needed help in managing the pain.
So while the builders were frantically drilling in my garden, trying to finish the work ahead of my due date, I put my headphones on and embraced the relaxation and the empowering messages of hypnobirthing. It was fascinating to learn how deep breathing and positivity can help the natural contractions of the uterus in childbirth, and how fear produces Adrenalin, which can hinder labour.
In the end, my baby decided that there was no need to rush and that the living room carpet was not going to be her place of birth, after all. The calendar was updated and my induction date was booked.
I have mixed feelings about induction: for a practical, slightly anxious person like me, induction is nice and tidy – it removes that element of surprise of waters breaking on new carpets or the nervous counting down the minutes to the next contraction. On the other hand, it felt like a pity to relent some control and rush things up. Anyway, I followed medical advice and went ahead with my induction.
Hospitals are not my comfort zone but I wanted to stay calm as much as possible, even when the obstetric doctor decided that the balloon was going to be replaced by the hook (!) to break my waters – “is it literally a hook?” – and when it was decided I should be put on the drip, with the possible consequence of having an epidural.
The EMMAs and Fiona midwife team assisted me in my choice to keep the strength of the drip low to start with, in the hope that contractions would pick up in earnest, and in my decision to avoid having an epidural.
After prolonged leisurely conversations on postnatal royals, common acquaintances and dinner meals, it became clear that the intensity of those pesky contractions needed to increase.
And up it went, so fast that I suddenly found myself clenching to the gas and air and trying to keep the breathing in check, while sending monosyllabic texts to my partner to come to the hospital (he was on bedtime story duties at home with my son, thinking things might take a while…) and leave my mum in charge at home. Less than two hours later, I felt the need to go to the toilet and managed to have the dreaded poo in familiar surroundings (i.e the toilet), which gave the hint to the midwives that things were progressing pretty fast and the drip was no longer needed. Abandoned all last minute secret yearnings for an epidural, I embraced the gas and air tube and pushed ahead (so to speak!).
With all the energies I had left, I squeezed James’ hand, and what seemed an eternity of time pushing out “the biggest poo I will ever do” (not my words, the midwife’s), ended with a slight sense of pressure and the sight of my little pink, slightly bewildered baby Frida, who lost no time in skin to skin gallantries and went straight for the boob.
My legs were wobbly and my bladder in two minds whether I needed a wee, but the feelings of relief, happiness and gratitude really took over me. My uterus had made it, powered by oxygen and oxytocin. My baby was so new and yet it felt like I had known her for ever, and she had just given me one of the most empowering experiences of my life.