Everyone likes a good birth story right? (you’re either cringing and hurriedly clicking the ‘X’ at the top of your page or your interest has been piqued!). My two pregnancies and births were so completely different – one was intense, rapid, painful and unexpected and the other was long, slow, calm and ultimately life threatening. Below is the story of H’s birth, as I remember it four years on.
My husband and I got married in the summer of 2013 with a beautiful ceremony, surrounded by our closest friends and family, in Mallorca. We were so looking forward to our honeymoon in Argentina later that year in November and hoping to, as soon as possible thereafter, get pregnant with our first child. We were very lucky to be able to get pregnant within three months of first trying and I got my first (yes I checked about ten times to be certain!) positive pregnancy test on 12 February 2014. I hadn’t really thought I was pregnant, but as we had been trying and I’m a ‘by the book’ kind of person, I didn’t want to drink alcohol if there was any possibility at all that I could be pregnant and I had dinner and drinks with friends planned for that evening. It was with slight shock and then absolute wonder and elation that I saw the two pink lines appear on the test! All afternoon I wondered how I would tell my husband and decided to leave the positive test on the side table by the front door so he would see it as soon as he arrived home. And he did. He walked completely unsuspectingly in the door, picked up the test and started saying, “What’s this?” After about the third time repeating the same question, he ran to me with a huge grin and gave me a big hug. We were both so excited, although it still didn’t feel real as I didn’t look or feel any different, but there was no denying the two little lines on that test (or on any of the tests that followed!).
Against all advice, we told our parents straight away as, even though I was only a month or so pregnant, as I couldn’t wait to share the excitement. And also because in case it didn’t work out I didn’t want to feel alone. A couple weeks later I had a scary bleed, but thankfully all was fine and the next ten weeks or so were an exercise in trying to keep our happy news a secret from everyone else. This became more and more difficult as the morning sickness kicked in at around six weeks. It was intense, like having the stomach flu every day, all day for ten weeks. I never actually vomited, but the nausea and sensitivity to smell meant that I could hardly eat and I lost ten pounds (almost a stone) during the first trimester. Onions and garlic were completely off limits as the faintest whiff of them was enough to start the retching and I could smell garlic on anyone who had eaten it within the last 48 hours. Did you know that each and every person has their own and very unique natural smell? No? Neither did I until I was pregnant with H and let me tell you, people don’t actually smell all that good! At 16 weeks the morning sickness finally started to back off but the heightened sense of smell and the food aversions stayed with me until the day I gave birth.
The rest of my pregnancy was fairly uneventful other than some unexplained heart palpitations towards the end and an extraordinarily huge tummy (seriously, ask my friends, it was enormous!). I ended up gaining 28lbs, which is right in the guidelines of 25-35lbs, and baby seemed healthy. I was working as Deputy Company Secretary of a big company at the time and work was very important to me as I loved my job. I had it in my (naïve) head that I should work right up until the last minute so scheduled my maternity leave to start from my due date, 22 October (first babies always come late, right?).
At the beginning of October the Braxton Hicks contractions, which I had been having mildly for a while, started to intensify. I mentioned them at one of my midwife appointments and was told that they really don’t mean anything and was offered some advice on ways of easing the discomfort, like changing positions or getting up and walking around. My last day in the office before I started working from home would be Wednesday, 8 October and I had a two day 9am-6pm management board meeting that week on Tuesday and Wednesday.
I was ridiculously uncomfortable sitting at the boardroom table. The Braxton Hicks were so bad that I was constantly shifting positions to the point that the CEO asked if I was ok. I reassured him that I had no plans of giving birth in the board room and carried on with my work. All went to plan and I worked from home on Thursday and Friday. On Saturday some friends were visiting from the U.S. and we had them over to dinner. I was on my feet all afternoon and evening, cleaning, preparing the food and serving drinks and again the Braxton Hicks were really bothering me. I could also feel the baby moving and stretching at the skin of my belly which which already felt too tight. We had a lovely evening chatting and eating and our friends left for their hotel around 10pm. I was finally in bed and asleep with my legs wrapped around my huge pregnancy pillow around 11pm, reminding myself as I drifted to sleep that I really should start preparing my hospital bag the next morning.
I woke up in the middle of the night to use the loo as usual, and noticed there was some blood. I was slightly concerned, but this had happened once before and there wasn’t much blood. Everything else felt fine and the baby was moving as usual, so I went back to bed. The next time I woke it was 8am and I felt mild cramping. I woke my husband (little did we realise this was the last lie in we would ever have!) and told him I thought I might be in labour. I don’t think he totally believed me as the baby wasn’t due for another ten days and as the cramps were very mild they could easily be Braxton Hicks. In any case, we had learned in our NCT course that first time labours are usually very long so my husband suggested I have a bath and see how I get on. So I did. I was in the bath for around 45 minutes, still having mild, hardly even noticeable contractions. I was hungry so I got out of the bath, went downstairs and poured myself a big bowl of cereal. I ate it quickly and still felt hungry so I poured another bowl.
Halfway through my second bowl of cereal, it hit me like a freight train…I was doubled over with the most intense contractions imaginable! I shouted for my husband who came immediately and between animal-like groans I managed to ask him to call the midwife. The midwife told my husband that, as the contractions had only just started and it was my first pregnancy, it would likely be ages and I should stay at home for the next few hours until the contractions were 2 minutes apart. My husband hung up with the phone and that’s when I…for lack of a more accurate description…exploded. My waters broke with a tremendous force right there on my living room floor. The contractions started coming every 2.5 minutes, then every 2 minutes as my husband scrambled to phone the midwife back and simultaneously put towels down on the carpet. By now I was actually screaming and struggling to catch my breath between contractions and I shouted to my husband that I had started pushing and couldn’t stop! The midwife said to come straight away. We hadn’t yet packed a hospital bag and I was still in my pyjamas and dressing gown. I started barking orders at my husband as to what I needed to bring and he frantically ran around the house trying to find everything before we ran out to the car.
The ride to the hospital was possibly the most painful experience of my life. Each contraction was like a searing knife in my tummy and I couldn’t stop pushing, even as we were stuck at a red light. I didn’t think we would make it to the hospital and being strapped to the seat, sitting upright was agony when all I wanted to do was to be on all fours pushing my baby out.
When we arrived at the hospital, parking was limited so my husband dropped me off outside the maternity ward. I waddled towards the automatic doors as fast as I could under the circumstances. I had made it through the first set of doors when a tsunami of a contraction hit me and I fell to my knees screaming…in my dressing gown…just outside of the reception area where all the newly pregnant ladies were waiting for their scans. I am sure they were all scarred for life. Thankfully a midwife appeared, scooped me up and whisked me to my room which had a birthing pool and I begged her to start filling it as I was adamant I would have a water birth. While we waited for the pool to fill up, in between agonised screams, I asked the midwife whether she was going to check to see how dilated I was, to which she looked at me, mildly amused, and said, “Honey, your baby will be here in the next few minutes, I don’t need to check.” My husband burst into the room just as the pool had been filled and I got in. The midwife handed me a gas and air mouthpiece and told me it was too late for me to get the hang of this enough for it to work but trying might take my mind off the pain. Literally minutes later at 12.09pm, in a searing wave of pain, H was born, being launched into the water like a baby dolphin.
I vaguely heard the midwife say, “You can scoop up your baby now. Erm…You can scoop up your baby now.” and when I couldn’t move or speak she said, “Uh, ok, I’ll scoop him up.” and I was handed a crying, purple, swollen creature, covered in a waxy white substance who stopped crying the moment he was in my arms. And he was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
The midwives were lovely and let us have skin-to-skin snuggles for ages afterwards before they came to inspect the damage. I had sustained quite a bad 2nd degree injury during the birth and the midwife called a doctor in to repair the tear. For me, the stitches were actually worse than the birth and THAT had been painful. I cried through the whole thing and was so relieved when it was over and I could go to another room to recover and be with our new baby.
That night I slept in the hospital bed with little H in his cot beside me. No NCT class could have completely prepared us for the first nappy change or for the challenges of breastfeeding. I was still in quite a bit of pain from my birth injury so luckily my husband was on hand to change the nappy. I desperately tried to breastfeed but H was a very sleepy baby and either wouldn’t latch on or would finally latch on and then fall asleep. I tried and tried to get him to feed but he just couldn’t stay awake. The midwives helped me with lots of different suggestions, none of which worked. After several hours of not being able to feed, the midwives finally suggested that we try some formula in a cup, which we did, and H was finally able to feed.
Everything was fine until around 2am when I heard my husband get up and shuffle to the bathroom and then what could only be vomiting noises. A little while later I heard it again and asked my husband what was going on. It turns out he had a stomach bug. The kind that makes your whole body ache and shiver with fever while you puke your guts out. The midwife came in to check on me and H and saw my husband in this state and said that, for health and safety reasons in case he was infectious, he would have to leave. The rest of the night on my own, looking after baby H, was so hard as it was painful to get up to change nappies and I didn’t get have the confidence to pick him up without worrying I might drop him. In the morning I was starving but couldn’t get breakfast as it was on trolley down the hall. My birth injury wouldn’t allow me to get up and walk that far and anyway, I was too afraid to leave H on his own. I suppose I could have called for the midwife, but I didn’t have the confidence and one doesn’t always think practically in these situations.
I was checked over by the midwives in the morning and was told I would be discharged that morning and could call my husband to come and take me home, on the condition that I would top H up with formula milk until he was feeding better. I agreed and was so relieved when my husband walked through the door. We strapped H into his car seat which my husband carried through the hospital and out to the car. Only, he could barely walk as he was very weak from being so ill during the night and I could hardly walk as I had just given birth to an 8lbs, 6oz baby. What a pair we made!
We got to the car and attached H’s car seat carefully in the back and made our way home. I had a romantic image in mind of carrying the car seat with sleeping H over the threshold and into his new house while my husband took a photo but neither of us could figure out how to detach the car seat from the base (seriously pregnant ladies – practice installing the car seat well before your baby is due!)! We literally spent ten minutes struggling with it before giving up and waking the baby to carry him, crying, into the house. And from that moment on, the best years of my life had begun.
Check back for Part 2, Baby I’s birth, COMING SOON!