My pregnancy with Isla was quite unremarkable really. I had a touch of morning sickness at the beginning but nothing out of the ordinary, which was such a relief after being so incredibly nauseous for the first 16 weeks with Hugo. The second trimester was absolutely fine and virtually flew by while I continued to work and look after my toddler. As I entered the third trimester, though, the extra weight and loose ligaments made walking quite painful and slow and in the last few weeks, sharp, shooting pains of sciatica made it very difficult to get around. But there was plenty of time to relax – unlike my pregnancy with Hugo where I worked right up until the very end, this time I decided to finish six weeks before my due date to spare myself all the discomfort of a very long drive to work and back each day.
I began to show very early on with Isla and felt I needed to tell my work colleagues (unofficially at least) when I was only eight weeks pregnant. I just didn’t have the energy to hide my growing bump and the fact I needed to sit down during team presentations. With Hugo I had an enormous bump, but it was very high right until the end. So high, in fact, that hours before I went into labour, a friend commented that I would probably drop soon as I was nearing my due date. But with Isla my tummy seemed a little bit smaller and definitely saggier. Hugo’s bump was all front and centre and if you saw me from the back you might not even have noticed that I was pregnant, but with Isla my entire middle seemed to expand.
Isla was due on 4 July (American Independence Day, how fitting!). I had previously learned in my NCT class that first babies usually come late and first labours are usually long. If you have read Hugo’s birth story you will know that he broke all the rules (typical Hugo!), coming into the world fast and furiously, two weeks early and within four hours from the first twinge. Subsequent babies, we were taught, usually come more quickly as your body has already been prepared for what it needs to do.
So, when I was planning for Isla’s birth with the midwife, we discussed the possibility of her coming even earlier and more quickly than Hugo. I was advised that I should seriously consider having a home birth, as chances were, it would be my only option. Statistics show that there is no more danger in having a home birth with a second baby than a hospital birth, but I just couldn’t shake the niggling worry that if something went wrong, a doctor wouldn’t be immediately available and I wasn’t prepared to take any chances; not when I had Hugo to think about. And I had been watching both Call the Midwife and One Born Every Minute (both wonderful programmes but seriously, why on earth did I torture myself so?!) and so had all sorts of horrific scenarios in my mind. And so I confirmed with the midwives that I would have my birth in the midwifery unit at Kingston Hospital, where I had Hugo.
As my first labour was so rapid, there was no time for any pain relief other than a futile last minute attempt at gas and air. The midwife warned me that there was a good chance pain relief would again not be available to me and advised that I should have a backup plan. The pain with Hugo had been incredibly intense as neither my mind nor body had time to get used the contractions and I went into shock. That’s not to say it wasn’t a ‘good’ birth (whatever that means), it was. There’s something to be said for getting it over quickly and I was extremely lucky not to require any intervention. I was even able to have Hugo in the birthing pool per my birth plan. But, this time I wanted to be prepared. I had heard about Hypnobirthing and although I didn’t really believe it would work (I hate to say it but at the time I thought it was a bit silly and hippyish), I decided to give hypnobirthing a go. It got good reviews online, I felt it certainly couldn’t hurt and, if nothing else, it might make me feel like I was a little more in control of my birth experience.
So I downloaded an app and spent the last three months or so of my pregnancy faithfully listening to the disembodied voice of the Hypnobirthing lady telling me that “my body was made to give birth” with spa music playing in the background. I listened at bedtime, in the bath, out in the garden; basically anywhere that felt relaxing. I won’t tell you too much about it in this post as hypnobirthing definitely deserves a post all of its own, but I will tell you that I laughed my way through the first couple of weeks. I really didn’t think it was working and I giggled over it with my husband and mocked it until one day something happened. I was sitting in the garden in the warm summer afternoon shade listening to the app when suddenly I realised, I wasn’t awake. That’s not to say I was asleep – I wasn’t really – but I felt more relaxed than I had in ages and although I could still hear the birds chirping in the garden, it was almost as if they were far away, in another place. All the pain of my aching joints had gone and I felt like I was floating. I began to feel a little less worried and a little more confident in the abilities of my body. It was unexpected and rather wondrous.
And so I thought, if I’m going to do hypnobirthing, I might as well really go for it and find myself an ‘anchor’. That is, something constant and comforting. You know how a whiff of Chanel No 5 instantly brings back memories of happy childhood times with your grandmother or the smell of cookies baking brings you back to baking with your mother as a child? It’s the same concept. I chose sweet orange essential oil as my anchor as it’s summery, can be used in the bath and didn’t remind me of anything else. I would put it in the bathwater and breath in the warm, orange scented steam whilst listening to my app or put it on one of Hugo’s old muslin cloths and put it on my pillow next to me in bed. The scent of sweet oranges quickly became synonymous with relaxation and feeling safe and comfortable and still to this day brings back those happy feelings of being pregnant in the sunshine.
As mentioned earlier, the midwives had advised that this baby had a fairly high chance of coming early and, after the fiasco with the hospital bag when I was in labour with Hugo, I wasn’t taken any chances. By the beginning of June I already had my bags packed and ready to go and we had arranged for friends to come look after Hugo at a moment’s notice. My husband had agreed with work that he would work from home for the last two weeks of my pregnancy which took a huge weight off my mind. Everything was ready to go and all that was left to do was to wait for Baby Isla to begin her journey into the world.
I nested to the max, I practiced pregnancy yoga which helped my aching back and hips and I took long, comforting baths to take the weight off my joints and I listening to my hynobirthing app. And my due date came…and wen…and there was no sign of Isla. On my due date I had a midwife appointment and the midwife offered me a sweep. I was really torn as I was more than ready to get Isla out but I had read that sweeps can be painful and cause painful contractions and they don’t always work. I felt that perhaps it would be better to leave things alone; after all my app had told me (in a “Looook into my eyes, you are getting verrrrrry sleepy” kind of voice) that “Baby will come when baby is ready”. So I politely turned down the sweep and was told that I would need to come in for an induction a week later if Baby still hadn’t arrived. I scoffed at that, thinking I would probably go into labour that night or the next day. But I was wrong.
The next day, when I still hadn’t gone into labour, I went to Hugo’s pre-school sports day. I was determined to get labour going so I participated in one of the relays. I must have looked ridiculous, this enormously pregnant woman, half waddling, half running, carrying an egg on a spoon, but I did it. Everyone joked that I might go into labour right there and then but of course I didn’t and I didn’t feel any different than before (other than rather pleased with myself from having won the relay at 40 weeks pregnant!).
I began to despair. I was so uncomfortable, it was almost mid-July by this point, the heat was becoming unbearable and I wanted Isla out! I didn’t want an induction but as the days passed with no change, it was looking more and more likely.
Finally at around 1.30 am on 10 July, six days after my due date and the day before my scheduled induction, I woke up with mild cramps. The cramps were just enough to rouse me from my (very light and uncomfortable) sleep, but not strong enough to be sure I was in labour. I got up to go to the loo and lost part of my mucous plug. Again, I knew that didn’t mean much – some people lose theirs a week before they go into labour, so I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much. I woke my husband to tell him I might be in labour but not to worry about getting up yet as I wasn’t sure and I was about to hop in the shower, just in case. I had my shower, blow dried and straightened my hair and the cramps kept coming. More a slight nuisance than actual pain.
We sat in bed for another hour or two and then my husband and I got up and we went downstairs together, had a coffee and breakfast and watched tv for a bit. During that time I began recording the contractions using my baby app and it was clear that they were coming regularly and this was indeed labour. Around 7am we woke Hugo up, got him ready for pre-school and explained to him that mummy’s tummy had started to hurt and Baby Isla would coming soon. He was only two years and nine months at the time, so he didn’t really understand, but he was excited when we told him our friend would be coming to look after him after pre-school. After Hugo left for the day, I did my makeup and painted my toenails. The contractions were beginning to intensify slightly but I had my hypnobirthing app on and every time a contraction came I rode it like a wave, understanding that each contraction would begin, build to a peak (which would be the worst part) and would gradually fade to nothing. I gently breathed through each one, almost silently, and then carried on doing my nails.
The contractions started coming every two minutes or so, but they were just so manageable. I was happy and comfortable on the sofa at home and thought we should wait a bit longer but my husband was adamant we should go to the hospital and so we did.
The contractions became pretty intense in the car but it felt almost as if they were happening to someone else. There was no screaming or loud panting, only the gentle, controlled breathing. When we arrived at the maternity ward, I hopped out and went in while my husband parked the car. I walked in as casually as if I was there for a midwife appointment, went to the reception deks and said, “Hello, I’m in labour!” A couple of midwives instantly gathered round and asked if I wanted a wheelchair. I asked, “Well, how far is the room?” and when they told me it was almost directly above us one floor up I said I would rather walk.
The two midwives assigned to me introduced themselves and asked me to sit on the bed. They asked if they could check how far along I was and I consented, expecting them to say I still had ages to go. As they checked me I could hear a quiet gasp and with great surprise in her voice, one of the midwives told me I was over 7cm dilated! “But, I would hardly even have known you were in labour, if you hadn’t told me!”, she said. And that’s when I explained about my hypnobirthing. They both agreed that it was clearly working for me!
The midwives had begun filling the bath and moments after they announced it was full, my husband finally entered the room and I said, “I think I need to start pushing now, so I would like to get in.” I was so focused on getting Isla out that I still hardly made any sound. Instead, I just continued to breathe. There was a brief point where everything felt very intense and I could sense there was a lot of pain but again it was all foggy, like it wasn’t happening to me.
After only a few minutes in the pool, I gave birth to my beautiful baby at just after 11am. I was congratulated by the midwives, who helped me out of the birthing pool and I got back in bed to be all cosy with my new daughter. She had the smoothest, most beautiful skin I had ever seen and her eyes were wide and aware from the moment she emerged. She began feeding instantly, which was such a relief as feeding had been such a struggle the first time round. It was so serene and beautiful and bonding. After her feed, Isla was thoroughly checked over and the afterbirth was delivered and declared intact. I had a second degree tear again, but it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the one I had with my first birth and the midwife was able to repair it without calling the doctor in.
Everyone was so happy with how well Isla and I were doing that we were told we could leave in a few hours, if we wanted. The only condition was that I needed to urinate before I would be allowed to leave. The midwives brought me some lunch and some tea and then left the room. Eating had really helped get my strength up and I decided I would make my way to the toilet so we could go home. But as I stood up from the bed something didn’t feel right. I felt something dripping but I thought that was probably normal as I had just given birth. When I got to the toilet I glanced behind me and I could see a trail of blood leading back to the bed. Again, I wasn’t sure whether that was normal, but I had my heart set on going home so I could see Hugo and be home with our baby, so I sat down on the toilet and tried to go. Then the room started spinning and I felt like I might either be sick or faint and I remember calling out to my husband that I didn’t feel well and things became blurry.
I vaguely remember the midwives and nurses helping to get me back into bed. I could see a lot of blood everywhere but I didn’t really know what was happening as I still felt so weak and dizzy. One of the midwives told me that she would need to check whether anything was left in my uterus and that it would hurt. She began reaching around in my most tender areas, pulling out little fragments of placenta but the bleeding continued, unabated. The midwives had been collecting bloodstained towels and weighting them and kept calling out the amount of blood I had lost. Just under a litre by the time I got back to the bed and counting. I could hear their voices becoming more and more urgent. A doctor was called in and he attempted the same procedure, this time with his whole hand. The pain was excruciating and by now I was screaming. I heard one of the midwives say that it was such a shame this was happening as I had just “breathed my baby out” and had the loveliest birth. The doctor continued for several minutes but the pain was too much and the doctor said he would need to send me to the operating theatre.
I was wheeled down the corridor with Isla being wheeled in her cot next to me and my husband walking behind us. Fear had begun to really set in at this point and I was trembling from head to toe. I kept saying to my husband that I was scared and I wanted to see Hugo. He was asked to leave the room while I was prepared for my procedure. I was given a spinal block which involved a large needle being placed into my spine. There was first a tiny prick of the local anaesthetic going in and I remember nothing about the spinal block needle. But what I do remember is suddenly not being able to feel my legs at all and watching with a combined sense of horror and awe as my legs, which no longer seemed to be part of me, were lifted into the air and into the stirrups. A sheet was then put between me and my legs and my husband came back in. I heard one of the doctors call out that I had lost 1.25 litres of blood and that they needed to get on with the procedure. I could feel the life draining out of me and all I could think about was Hugo and my new little baby as my body kept involuntarily shaking from the shock of losing so much blood. I felt very cold. A young, very kind midwife stuck with me the whole time and talked to me in the calmest most soothing voice.
All throughout, I had been listening to the worried voices of the doctors as I continued to lose blood but I noticed a few minutes into the procedure the voices began to sound calmer and more confident. The doctor told me that the bleeding had finally stopped. The problem had been that lots of tiny chunks of placenta had broken off and remained lodged in my uterus causing a massive haemorrhage. My birth wound had reopened during the procedure and would need to be repaired for the second time but the doctor promised me that he would do an excellent job; and he did.
I was told that, due to the amount of blood I had lost, I would need to have a blood transfusion, but first I would be taken to the maternity critical care area to be looked after and assessed and to rest. The room was large with lots of cubicles separated only by curtains. Some of the cubicles were open and I could see that some mothers looked worse off than me and some better. I was completely exhausted and my lower body felt numb but I couldn’t keep my eyes off my beautiful baby girl who was wide-eyed and staring right at me from the clear plastic bassinet next to me. She was so alert and aware and was constantly moving her tiny arms and legs and looking around her. She had the biggest eyes I had ever seen on a newborn and none of the wrinkles and squashed appearance most babies have in the first few weeks of life. She had a full head of almost black hair and eyes of the darkest blue-black.
Nurses came and went and poked me with needles and I noticed I was still on a drip but I didn’t care. All I cared about at that moment was that I was still alive and the love I felt so strongly for my new little baby.
A nurse entered the cubicle and said there was good news: although I had lost well over the amount of blood that would usually require a transfusion, my body was doing an excellent job of repairing itself and my haemoglobin was low, but at an acceptable level. If I continued to improve as I was, I wouldn’t need the transfusion after all and I didn’t.
While I was still in the critical care area, Isla finally dropped off to sleep for the first time since she was born. She had had a huge feed before my haemorrhage and another small feed after that but a nurse who entered around two hours since Isla fell asleep insisted that she needed to eat again. Isla wasn’t ready to wake up and because of that she wouldn’t feed right then. For some reason the nurse insisted that she had to feed straight away. I think it was because they wanted to move me to a normal post natal suite but couldn’t until they had actually seen Isla feeding. When Isla still wouldn’t feed, she asked me to express some milk (something I have never been able to do) and when I couldn’t she insisted on giving Isla some formula. I relented in the end as I felt the nurse must know best, but I knew in my heart that Isla would feed when she was ready and in fact, soon after she had a little formula she properly woke up and had another very good breastfeed. I was annoyed that I had been pushed into giving Isla formula but that little mouthful was the only formula she ever had as she continued to feed well after that.
That night passed in a blur. I can’t even remember changing Isla’s first nappy (I think my husband did it) or much else of what happened as I was so exhausted from my ordeal. In the morning the doctors did lots of tests and once again I was poked with needles and my catheter was removed. It was determined that all was well and I was very lucky to be allowed to go home with little Isla the next day, a little over 24 hours from when I arrived.
When we arrived home it was very quiet in the house as Hugo was at nursery and my husband and I enjoyed some quiet time cuddling with our new daughter. Strangely, even after all that had happened, I felt much better than I had after I had given birth to Hugo and I was able to get up and walk around a bit right straight away. When my husband went to pick up Hugo from nursery, I got out some presents “from Baby Isla”, which she gave him as soon as he got in. He was vaguely interested in his new baby sister (or “Baby mister” as Hugo called her), but much more interested in the new toys!
For the next ten days, I was required to have a daily dose of Warfarin, a blood thinner, delivered by a needle in the thigh, and I was required to wear compression socks in order to prevent blood clots. The doctor had shown us what needed to be done before I left hospital so I could do it myself. But it was so extremely painful going in, I couldn’t do it and had to ask my husband. Not only would I cry out in pain as it was being done but it left severe bruising at the site each time and so by the end of the ten days I was so black and blue that I looked like I had been in an accident.
But other than that I was feeling well and the July weather was perfect. We had the most beautiful 14 days of being together as a family of four while my husband was on paternity leave. And I felt like the luckiest woman in the world.
And that is the last of my birth stories. There won’t be anymore…I was advised by the midwives that another birth would be very high risk and, whenever I see a newborn and begin to feel a bit broody, I remind myself how lucky I am to have my two beautiful babies and I just can’t risk not being around to see them grow up.
I would love to hear about your birth stories! Please contact me if you would like yours featured on my blog!