Did I write this just so that I could finally use that ☝ picture somewhere? Maybe…
The waiting game
My first son, Alfie, was born bang on his due date. I couldn’t help but let this influence my expectations. As much as I told myself that every birth and pregnancy is different, all signs pointed to baby coming at the very least by the due date, if not before. Polyhydramnia (excess fluid around the baby) and a slightly low PAPP-A reading during my second pregnancy led to multiple tests for everything from gestational diabetes to a cleft lip, and a number of the things I was tested for carried a risk of developing pre-eclampsia, resulting in pre-term delivery. All tests came back negative which was great (although the extra tests did nothing for my anxiety levels) but I had mentally prepared myself for an early birth. Contractions at 35 weeks brought on by a UTI and a few more contractions at 38 weeks spaced out over a weekend did nothing to make me feel otherwise. But then my due date came, and went, and so did another 11 days after it. I like to fondly look back on this period and remember the lovely quality time I got to spend with my toddler for the first few weeks of my maternity leave…NOT! My SPD was so bad that some days I would just crawl around the house rather than walking to take the weight off my pelvis, whilst nesting like mad – the house has never looked so clean (and certainly doesn’t any more!) Alfie, who had just turned two, was understandably pretty bored with all the time spent at home with a mummy who couldn’t do much – it didn’t help that the January weather was rubbish and I was too scared to venture very far out in case things got going and I was stranded somewhere with him. I had a midwife appointment at 31 weeks where I was given a sweep, and told that my induction was booked for 31+9 if labour didn’t start by then. I was absolutely and completely sick of being pregnant. Then on the night of the 31st of January there was that big blue supermoon and my body decided it was time.
My waters break
I had spent a lot of time googling what this might feel like, as first time round my waters broke as Alfie’s head came out. One thing I had read about was a popping sound, and it was three surprisingly loud pops from somewhere inside me that woke me up at 6am. Ah, I thought, here we go… and there they went with a dramatic woosh. Luckily I had a towel close to hand and made it to the en suite loo without ruining any carpets or soft furnishings. They weren’t making it up about the excess fluid – there was a lot of water.
I called the hospital
This happened at about twenty past six in the morning. I was having fairly strong contractions but trying not to wake my toddler up, and they told me to pop a pad on and come in to be checked over. My husband was at this point on the phone to his brother, who would soon be on his way over in a cab. Alfie wakes up and isn’t sure what’s going on, he wants to hold my hand a lot and I cuddle him when I can and tell him a baby is coming as I try to get myself dressed amid ever strengthening contractions. In the end I have to call out the clothes I need to my husband to be passed to me, as I can’t get up from the bed. I wanted to plait my hair before going in but I can’t manage that.
Brother in law arrives
He gets there just before seven. As we prepare to leave he gives Alfie breakfast in the high chair, and my husband is in the downstairs bathroom getting ready to while I am kneeling in front of the sofa gritting my teeth against the contractions to try not to freak Alfie out as I struggle to put my shoes and coat on. “I think this baby is going to come quite quickly” I manage to gasp to my brother in law, who realises there is a slightly greater level of urgency than we had acknowledged up to this point. He hurries Phil along and I hobble out into the freezing February air to the car. It’s about twenty past seven at this point.
The drive to hospital
Conveniently placed in the back of the car was a bolster cushion that I had ordered from Groupon and was yet to unwrap since I had picked it up from the sorting office a couple of days before. I curled myself over this and braced myself against the contractions whilst trying to remember not to suffocate from pressing my face into the plastic wrapping. As Phil drove I called my mum over the car Bluetooth to let her know we were heading to hospital. I wanted her at the birth – she was there last time which hadn’t been a part of my plan but when I went into labour I had suddenly really wanted her by my side. She reminded me not to panic if things slowed down en route as they often did, and that she was on her way. Things did not slow down. I muttered to Phil between the shouts of pain that I didn’t remember the contractions being so strong so soon last time, and that I didn’t think I would be able to do this for several hours more. As it turned out, I didn’t have to.
We arrive at hospital
It’s 7:40am. I can barely get out of the car because the contractions are so strong and regular. Phil suggests dropping me at the hospital doors then going to park, but I scream at him not to leave me and won’t let go of his arm. I can only shuffle for a few feet at a time then stop and try to curl into a ball as the next contraction comes. Phil has to hold me up with one arm whilst trying to hold the hospital bag, my dressing gown and my pregnancy book with the other. I’m not sure how he manages not to drop anything, including me, but he handles it. Quite a few people are slightly alarmed by the noises I am making and come over to offer help. At this point I don’t know how I am going to make it to the maternity unit, which is at the end of a stupidly long corridor that takes a good ten minutes to walk down at a normal pace, if I can’t even make the hundred metre walk to the door. A nurse about to start her shift runs over and asks if we need a wheelchair, I say yes please and she disappears to find one. We manage a few more feet then she reappears like an angel out of the fog of pain with a wheelchair. As I clamber onto it on all fours, I feel a sudden very urgent and very terrifying urge to push. I remember this sensation last time – I had to hold off for about an hour as I wasn’t dilated enough with Alfie, but it wasn’t as strong then as it is now. I scream that I need to push and the nurse, who fully realises the urgency of the situation, shouts “not yet mummy, we are not safe!” She takes off at a sprint with me in the wheelchair and my husband running behind. We practically fly the length of the corridor and she uses her staff pass to get us through all the doors without having to wait. We make it. Just.
We arrive in the birth centre
There is just enough time to take my leggings, knickers and hoody off and get me onto the bed on all fours before I push Archie’s head out. There is no exaggeration here, it happened immediately. A midwife by my side shouts to me to not push too hard or I will tear when the head comes out, and I shout back that it already has. There is a strange moment of calm as that contraction ends then I panic that I can’t hear anything, and ask if my baby is alright. I am reassured that he is, and brace myself for another push. The midwives tell me not to shout or scream but to channel that energy into pushing. I do, and the rest of his body comes out with the second push. I turn onto my back, and he is passed between my legs, all slippery and covered in vernix and ianugo to lie on my chest. It is 7:53am and he has such a lovely, round, soft head. I can feel his chest rise and fall against mine as he takes his first few breaths and I hear him cry. I say hello to him and breathe a huge slightly shaky but happy sigh of relief. I say hello to him and Phil comes to say hello to him too. My mum walks in at 7:56.
The midwives introduced themselves to me. I recognise one of them as Susannah, the midwife who delivered Alfie. I think she had an easier time of it this time, as I didn’t have time to kick or bite her like I did before…I nestle my beautiful new baby into my chest, and rub my left nipple on his top lip to try to get breastfeeding going. Alfie was feeding within four minutes of being born last time, and I’m sure that played a key part in him taking to breastfeeding so well. I can’t quite believe how fast it has all happened. It feels very surreal. I had actually managed quite a good night’s sleep the night before so feel surprisingly refreshed – less than two hours of labour takes it out of you far less than the fourteen I had the first time around. We introduce baby Archie to my mum, and I manage to deliver the placenta without the injection, which I needed last time. I was feeling quite pleased with myself and like everything had gone surprisingly well, when a midwife came to apologetically examine me.
I wince as I am examined, and I wince again at the news that the speedy arrival has caused a second degree tear. The first time around I managed to get off lightly despite the humongous size of Alfie’s head, and only ended up with grazing. They took long enough to heal as it was, and a tear was unfamiliar territory. I was allowed some more cuddle time with Archie, who was managing to do a little bit of guzzling despite a slightly mucousy mouth, then Phil cut the cord as it had fully stopped pumping and took Archie for me to be sutured. The worst bit was the numbing injections. Bring back magic numbing cream, I say. It’s not like I hadn’t already suffered enough trauma in the area as it was. I was given all sorts of advice about what to do (don’t sit cross legged, bathe but not with soap, wear loose cotton underwear etc) but only verbally – I could really have done with something printed out to take away and refer to as I forgot some of it within half an hour and my mum had to remind me as I sat cross legged on the hospital bed with Archie on my lap.
We were discharged very quickly. Having arrived just before 8am, we were out of there by about half past two. Archie was given his vitamin k injection, we were given some rubbish hospital food (refer to first photo) and Archie fed quite a lot, which impressed the midwives. He weighed in at 4.282kg (9lbs 7oz) because me and Phil apparently make massive babies, and all checks seemed fine. My dad arrived and declared that it was handy that we had got it done in the morning because now we had the rest of the day to ourselves. Ahh, #dadhumour. We drove home in bright sunlight feeling dazed but happy and introduced Archie to his big brother, Alfie. If you’d like to read about how that went, have a look at my last blog post!
If you are not interested in reading about intimate details of my recovery then I would skip over this section. Don’t worry though, I haven’t included pictures.
It’s called the fourth trimester for a reason. Your body goes through a hell of a lot to reverse nine months of changes very quickly after you’ve had a baby. Having a toddler and a newborn doesn’t make this easy. It’s a sign of how bad my SPD had got that I was in less overall pain having just given birth than I was in the last few weeks before doing so, but the tear meant pain around the delivery area was much worse. I dedicatedly took two baths a day for the first two weeks while Phil was on paternity leave, and regularly changed pads although the bleeding stopped surprisingly quickly. The pain didn’t, though. If anything it got worse. All the unpleasant things you are told to watch out for appeared – discharge, dodgy smell, high temperature (of my body, not my vagina 😅) and the aforementioned pain all pointed to me having an infection. I went to a walk in GP appointment where I was given antibiotics and swabbed but not examined thanks to the five minute time restriction. The antibiotics helped but things still weren’t right. I was still sore four weeks after giving birth and would often find blood when I wiped after going to the toilet, which would sting as well. I went back to the doctor and was told that for some reason my tear wasn’t healing properly. It’s a difficult area to keep clean, dry and undisturbed I was told (you don’t say) and what it really needed was a bandage but that wouldn’t be possible there (again, groundbreaking stuff). I was prescribed sudocrem and told to apply it at least once a day as it would act as an antiseptic barrier. I had a follow up appointment a few weeks later where the nurse told me to keep doing that for another three months.
And that’s only for a second degree tear! When I see all the celebrity nonsense of famous mums who bounce back in weeks with their personal trainers and their strict diets I worry so much about not only them, because they must feel like they are under so much pressure to perform at a time when their body desperately needs to rest and heal as they will have often been through much worse deliveries than mine, and also about the message it sends to other women that despite this monumental physical change and damage that their body has undergone, they are not good enough unless they can be what they were to the world before it happened, despite the fact that it happened at all changes absolutely everything about their life and often themselves as a person.
What I have learnt
- Second labours can happen FAST. If I ever get pregnant again, I will prepare for a home birth. I was told that it would be quicker the second time around, but that was a little too close for comfort. I would rather be in hospital, but I will be ready.
- Listen to your body. Pain is there for a reason. As women we are often told and trained to expect pain as part of the biological processes we go through, and we end up ignoring or dismissing it, but actually the stronger contractions meant delivery was much closer than I realised and were a warning to get to a safe place, and the longer lasting post partum pain was a sign of infection, not just normal new mum suffering.
- Every birth is different. I knew this already, but it’s harder to let go of the expectations that you have shaped by your own experiences until you have another one. I gave birth to two boys, at full term, vaginally, in the same hospital ward, with the same midwife, yet the experiences could not have felt more different. With pregnancy and childbirth you really do have to expect the unexpected.
- Whatever happens, it will be over eventually. Okay so this is actually something I realised last time and is what I say to any first time mum who asks me about labour. As it happens, when I tried to remind myself of this outside the hospital I was saying “it’ll pass, it’ll pass” to myself through the pain, and my husband thought I was saying “help us, help us” which probably says a lot about where both our heads were at that moment in time.
- Pay attention to your mind as well as your body. I have spoken openly already about the difficulties that I have had with my mental health during pregnancy and in early motherhood on my Instagram and in this previous post, but what I found this time was that I kept having flash backs to the feelings of panic when I was in labour. Those moments of genuine fear that I wouldn’t make it into the hospital on time kept reappearing in my thoughts, often in the dead of night, and I found myself panicking about what might have happened if we hadn’t. Of course I knew that these worries were utterly irrational, but I also recognised them alongside the flash backs as a sign of PTSD. I have lived with PTSD since a car crash I had in 2014, and had had several months of CBT to learn how to cope with it, and one of the key things I had done with my therapist was a reliving exercise where I talked through what had happened, recorded it, then listened back to it. The basic idea here was that I had not processed the experience properly, I had repressed it where it could jump back up at me at any moment. A useful analogy was packing a suitcase – if you just stuff all of the clothes on then jam the lid down, it won’t close properly and is liable to spring open unexpectedly, with clothes unmanageably springing everywhere, possibly damaging the suitcase zip. If, by contrast, you iron (hah!) and fold everything neatly, it will fit in an organised fashion, it will take up less space, and it will be easy for you to access it on your own terms and you will also know where everything is and not be taken by surprise. That is part of why I am telling my birth story in this way – to revisit it in great detail and organise it in my mind, rather than repress it. It is also a reminder to other mums or dads who read this, who might be experiencing similar feelings, to talk about them and not shut them away, and seek professional advice if you need to.
It’s all worth it in the end
Ultimately though, this is not supposed to be a negative or traumatic tale for you to read. It has several moments of intense drama, but whilst I would have preferred a bit more time and a bit less tearing just to make things more manageable, it was ultimately all very much worth it for my big beautiful boy Archie to be born safely and healthily. And remember, if you are pregnant, your birth will not be like this, it will be completely unique. Do get in touch if you do want or need to talk about your experiences or have any questions though, as the first and absolute best thing you can do for your own mental health is talk about it. For now I will leave you with this lovely picture of Archie at 9 weeks old, looking more like 9 months old, and a big thank you for reading all the way to the end!