This birth story has been a work in progress since Lilly was born, in fact I only recently finished it.
Be warned – it is very, very, very long! And, if you’re just about to give birth yourself, you might want to look away…
So, nearly two years on, here it is… the story of Lilly’s birth…
Lilly was due on December 20, 2007 – but right from the beginning I suspected she might be planning to be fashionably late.
I remembered only too clearly when my mum had been pregnant with my little sister 18 years earlier – when I was eight years old and very impatient to meet my little brother or sister. Diane was due on Boxing Day, 26th December, but didn’t actually put in an appearance until an incredible 13 days later, on January 8. By that point I had given up hope of ever being a big sister, and even accused my mum of “just being fat, not pregnant at all!”. And, although I was born on my due date, it was only because my mum was induced because of high blood pressure. Otherwise, I was quite comfy where I was, thanks very much.
Keen to carry on the family tradition, December 20 came and went without any sign of Lilly whatsoever. On my due date, I had an appointment with the consultant. He examined me and told me I was already 1cm dilated, which I thought was very exciting! He did a sweep – where they sweep away the membranes around the cervix in the hope that it will stir up the hormones that trigger labour. We went home full of hope that perhaps things would kick off in the next 24 hours or so. But nothing.
After that, I worried that she might decide to make an appearance on Christmas Day, and my main concern was how she’d feel having a Christmas Day birthday for the rest of her life – so much excitement on one day and the rest of the year with nothing! But Christmas came and went without our little girl – and then we really started getting impatient.
So, we decided to try out some of the old wives tales to see if that could get her shifted. We went for more long walks than we ever had before in our lives. We tried spicy (ish) food – although my spice threshold is painfully low! I did plenty of bouncing on my birth ball. But nothing seemed to work.
A week after my due date, on the 27th December, we went back to the consultant who announced I was now 2cm dilated and that my cervix seemed a little bit thinner. He also said he could feel the waters, so if it came to induction, they would be easy to break to get things started. He did another sweep and then booked an induction date for me – Tuesday, January 1, 2008, at 8am – when I would be 12 days overdue.
We left feeling a bit deflated. Although I had dilated another centimetre, I wasn’t very happy about the talk of induction. I really wanted to go into labour by myself and I was sure I could do it, if I was given the time. I could feel that things were happening – my body was preparing itself. My joints felt looser down there and I had on and off achy pains like very mild period pains on occasion. I had plenty of Braxton Hicks (practice contractions), although they were never painful, no matter how much I tried to imagine it! But more days went by and still there was no sign of imminent labour. But it seemed that almost every night after my due date I went to bed thinking “this could be it, I could be waking up with contractions”. But every morning when I woke up feeling fresh as a daisy, my first thought was “oh no, nothing’s happened!”.
A week or so after my due date, my mum and sister came to visit and my mum told me that the night before Diane was born, she had had four cups of raspberry leaf tea and two glasses of wine. Well, here, at last was a theory that had worked in my family and it had to be worth a try for me. The three of us went out in search of the magical raspberry leaf tea but unfortunately only managed to come back with raspberry and apple Twinnings! I decided it was worth a try anyway and started drinking it with avengeance. But the next day, my mum called me to say she had found some real raspberry leaf tea in a shop near her and she was putting it in the post for me.
The package arrived the next day and I wasted no time in making my first cup. It didn’t taste as bad as I thought it would, so I decided that I’d try and drink as much as I could. I don’t know if it did anything, but two days later I was in labour!
Things finally started to happen in the early hours of Sunday, December 30. Ironically, it was one of the first nights in ages that I had an absolutely dreadful night’s sleep. Lying in bed on Saturday night I started to worry about the impending induction, which now looked more and more likely as it was only three days away. It occurred to me how awful it would be if I didn’t get a good nights sleep the day before. Considering that not only would I be really nervous and excited, it would also be New Year’s Eve and the entire neighbourhood would be letting off fireworks all night, the chances of a restful nights sleep would be slim. So, on that Saturday night, I was unable to sleep a wink for fretting about not being able to sleep the day before the induction. And so it was that after being awake all night, my contractions started at 4am.
It was true, they really do feel just like period pains. Except, where period pains are a constant dull ache all day, these would last 20 – 30 seconds or so and then fade, only to appear again ten minutes later. I lay awake, wondering if this could finally be it, and making a note of how frequently these pains were coming. They were almost exactly ten minutes apart each time, and were completely manageable at this point, strong enough to be noticeable, but probably only when you were really concentrating on it. I decided not to wake Tony as I still wasn’t sure of what I was experiencing and I knew that, even if these were contractions, there was a long way to go. Finally, two and a half hours later, I drifted off to sleep.
When I woke up, they seemed to have disappeared. I was frustrated. Surely this couldn’t be another false alarm? I told Tony what had happened and we decided to go out for another of our walks to see if it would kick start things again. On the way home, we called in at Tony’s mum and dad’s house and had our Sunday dinner. By now things seemed to have stopped altogether.
But at 5pm when we got home, the contractions magically appeared again. This time there was no doubting what they were. They were stronger – although still very manageable. We started writing down when they came and how long they lasted to see if there was any kind of pattern. They were more erratic in timing than they had been through the night but they started off roughly every eight minutes, slowly increasing over the next few hours to every four or five minutes by about midnight. At this stage they were also a little bit more painful and Tony connected me up to the Tens machine that we had hired. We decided to call the hospital and get their advice on when we should be thinking about coming in. I spoke to a midwife who advised me that we should try and wait until they were about 2-3 minutes apart and so strong that it was impossible to hold a conversation during one. In the meantime she advised going to bed and getting some sleep.
So we headed off to bed not sure how on earth I would be able to sleep for a) excitement and b) the fact that I was in some fairly significant pain every five minutes. And, in fact, as soon as I lay down they seemed to get even stronger and much more painful. After a particularly big one, Tony jumped out of bed and said “right, we are going to the hospital!”.
So, into the car we got at about 12.30am on Monday, December 31 and headed for hospital. I was having contractions as we drove, which was a strange sensation, but I noticed that they seemed to have slowed back down to every five or even six minutes again… typical!
We got to hospital and went up onto the delivery ward. A midwife came and took us into a little room and said that she wanted to hook me up to the monitor. Now, we had been told at our NCT classes that we could refuse this, as there was a danger that once on the monitor, you will never get off. This would mean you were forced to stay lying down throughout your labour to keep the monitors on, and could slow things down as you would not be using gravity to help things along. Aileen, our teacher, said that the monitors could easily show some small deviation from what is considered the norm, and the staff can be very reluctant to “sign off” the trace and say it is all ok. But, in the heat of the moment, we were just so pleased to be in labour and that things were happening that we went along with the plan and I sat down and was hooked up to the monitor. I was examined and told I was 2-3cm dilated… not as much as I had hoped but progress, surely?
After 30 minutes on the monitor, the midwife looked at the printout and told us that the baby’s heart rate was dipping at the peak of every contraction, but recovering again “nicely”. She said it was normal and nothing to worry about. But she explained that, as I wasn’t in established labour yet – my contractions were still too far apart – they wouldn’t be able to admit me to delivery. I had two choices – either be admitted onto the labour ward downstairs or go home and come back when things had moved on a little. Bearing in mind it was 1.30am by this point, the thought of going onto a dark ward, alone, while having painful contractions and trying not to disturb anyone who was asleep while Tony would be sent home was just horrendous.
The midwife went off to show the heart rate trace to her supervisor to get it signed off so that we could go home. But when she returned, she said: “I’ve showed the print out to my supervisor and she agrees with me that it’s not right”. Oh dear, I could hear Aileen’s words ringing in my ears! But at the time it felt like a godsend as she said I could stay another 30 minutes to be monitored further – it seemed to have bought us some time before making the decision whether to stay or go.
So the 30 minutes came and went and the midwife said the trace was still showing that the baby’s heart rate was still dipping with each contraction. She said that because of that, she would admit us to delivery after all and Tony could stay! The trade off was that I would have to stay on the monitor throughout. At this point it seemed a small price to pay as my biggest concern at that point was being left in hospital without Tony.
So we were shown through to a delivery room and we got as comfortable as possible. The same midwife stayed with us and hooked me up to the monitor. I was still using the TENs machine at this point, although it didn’t seem to be making much difference. The contractions felt less intense than they had when we had been at home, and they were still at least five minutes apart.
After a little while, the consultant registrar who I had seen at my last two appointments came in. He said that, with my medical history, “the most important thing is we avoid a caesarean.” He said he was going to examine me to see how far I was. Shortly before this, I had been given the gas and air, as we didn’t feel that the TENs machine was making any difference anymore and some of the contractions were becoming fairly painful. I hadn’t quite got the hang of the gas and air yet – the art was to breathe it in a few seconds before the contraction hit, so that the gas and air would kick in at the same time. Unfortunately, I didn’t really find the gas and air that good, because it made me feel quite sick. It was like being incredibly drunk and the sensation hitting you all at once – not something I enjoyed, especially after nine months without even being tipsy! And so, as the consultant was examining me, and just as I huge wave of gas and air nausea and confusion hit me, I felt a warm, damp sensation – my waters had gone. It felt horrendous – the gas and air meant I couldn’t quite understand what was happening. The examination was painful – the water was confusing and I just remember looking at poor Tony, who looked probably just as anguished as me and saying “I don’t like it”!
(I assumed that my waters had broken coincidentally as the consultant registrar examined me. It was only a few days later that Tony told me he had done it on purpose – using the big crochet needle type implement. But he did not tell me he was going to do it, which, in hindsight, makes me feel rather cross. It was not a pleasant experience, largely because I didn’t know what was happening. I realise that the intention was to speed up the labour by breaking the waters and also to check for distress by seeing if the waters were clear (they were). But to be warned in advance would have been nice.)
Anyway, now that my waters were broken, they were hopeful that I’d start to make quicker progress. I was still hooked up to the monitor and the computer was constantly printing out a graph showing the strength and duration of my contractions, and the baby’s corresponding heartrate. My contractions were still not regular, though – coming every three, four or five minutes.
I’m not sure how much time went by but there began to be some discussion by the midwife and consultant registrar about the monitors themselves. They were like little round discs which were laid on your stomach and held in place with straps. It meant that you couldn’t move much, or they’d fall off. So the registrar decided he wanted to put a monitor directly onto the baby’s head. The midwife told me this and I asked her: “Will it hurt the baby?” She assured me it wouldn’t. But what I hadn’t accounted for was that it would hurt me… quite a lot actually! I honestly did not realise what I had let myself in for and before I knew it – the registrar was back – pushing and poking downstairs trying to attach the monitor to the baby’s head. Yes, it hurt. A lot! I still had the gas and air but it didn’t seem to help much because it was still making me feel sick and upset. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Once the monitor was attached to the baby’s head, the registrar tries to hook it up to the machine and finds that it doesn’t work. So he needs to attach a different one! He does this (ouch again!) and find that this one too, doesn’t work and goes back for a third attempt! Unbelievably, this one doesn’t work either!!!!! And he suggests that maybe it might be the machine, and not the leads, which are at fault! (perhaps it would have been a good idea to try out that theory right from the first?!?). But he has already pulled the third lead out. Thankfully, however, he decides not to try for a fourth time just yet to give me a break. He wouldn’t have had much choice in the matter as I was very much ready to put my foot down and say no anyway.
I had a bit more peace from the excruciating examinations and probing for a little while, before the registrar came back and announces that, as the baby’s heart rate is still dipping with every contraction, he wants to take blood samples from the baby’s head. This, of course, means more intervention “down there”. Only this time it is worse, if that were possible. I have to go in stirrups.
The dreaded stirrups. Of all the birth scenarios I could have played out in my head, stirrups were the one thing I never, ever wanted to contemplate. Seeing those things in soap operas makes me shudder. I’ve always vowed that I would never be in that position. The humiliation is just too much… and even now, thinking about this episode, it makes me cringe. Because yes, it IS literally as bad as you think it will be. There you are, legs akimbo, while an assembled group of about four medics stare down there and then start poking around. It is enough to make you cry – and that’s before it starts hurting. After the labour it was weeks before I even remembered that I ended up in stirrups – I think it’s just too embarrassing and horrifying to really want to remember. Hopefully the memory will fade to nothing over time and I’ll be in denial that it ever happened!
Anyway, the blood samples were duly taken. The results came back very quickly – a matter of minutes, or so it seemed to me. All clear. Baby is not distressed. I thought that would be an end to it all and I was relieved.
A little more time went by and it was felt that I still wasn’t making quick enough progress. It was suggested that I should be put on the drip to help things along. The contractions were already painful by this point, and the gas and air wasn’t really helping. I knew from other people’s experiences that the drip would make the contractions more intense and more painful. I had specified on my birth plan that I did not want to be offered an epidural, I would ask for one if I wanted it. But as the talk of the drip began, I began to think that perhaps it was time for the epidural. So I told the nurse that, if I was going to have the drip, I’d like an epidural first.
So, the anaesthetist arrived. I was dreading the epidural because the thought of having a needle in my spine really freaks me out. I knew that I had to be still during the injection and I had no intention of moving a muscle. Trouble was, the anaethatist wasn’t exactly Mr Sunshine. A man of few words, he set up his kit and the midwife told me to tell him if I had a contraction coming. I did – so I told him so. And he just carried on! At this point I was looking at Tony and crying and saying over and over: I’m having a contraction, I’m having a contraction”. It seemed to me like nobody took any notice. I tried to stay still but I found the whole thing very traumatic as I hated the idea of the needle in my back anyway but then was convinced that it would go wrong because he carried on through my contraction. After he had gone, the midwife says: “He’s a man of few words, but he does a good epidural”. Oh, really?
Anyway, the epidural was in. And then the drip was set up. I began to feel that this was it, I could cope now for however long this took. I couldn’t feel anything except my stomach feeling a bit tight every so often when I had a contraction. I felt in really good spirits and that the worst was behind us. I was on the drip and things would soon start moving. I wasn’t in pain and the baby wasn’t in distress. Yes, I can do this…
But, after a little while, the side effects of the epidural began to kick in. I started to shake and shiver violently. I asked the midwife: “Is this normal?” It must have been as she didn’t seem concerned. But I was!
Eventually, the shivering and shaking stopped. Things calmed down a little. However, without really realising it, I had started feeling the contractions again. Looking back, it is obvious that the epidural had worn off. I remember saying to the midwife: It’s a good job I’ve got this epidural in, because they feel quite strong as it is, imagine how strong they’d be if I didn’t have an epidural in!”. Of course, I shouldn’t really have felt anything. And why she didn’t realise that, I don’t know.
But, I was quite happy. Tony took advantage of the lull to go and put another ticket on the car and call his mum and my mum to tell them what was going on.
However. While Tony was outside, the consultant registrar came in again. “I am going to speak with the consultant and decide what to do,” he said. “We need to decide whether to carry on or bail out now.”
“Bail out now? What do you mean?”
“Have a caesarean,” he said, casually.
Oh. Well, I was not expecting this. Wasn’t he the one who said a few hours earlier that the most important thing was to avoid a caesarean?
“It’s just that, when you start intervening at 4cm, sometimes it is inevitable,” he said.
Oh again. I thought the intervention was to avoid the caesarean.
“We could carry on,” he says, “but we’d have to take bloods from the baby’s head ery half an hour. Once we’ve done it, you see, we have to keep doing it.”
Oh no. This feels like a threat. The blood from the head thing means the stirrups and the pain and the humiliation. No, no, no, I can’t have that every half an hour from now until god knows when! And the baby’s head will be cut to shreds!
Tony gets back and I ask the consultant to explain again what he has just been telling me. We’re both surprised, neither of us knew this was on the cards.
He goes off and Tony and I are left with the midwife again. Things are looking bleak. I’m not progressing fast enough and I don’t want the bloods every half an hour. Tony is worried that there is something wrong with the baby, although I’m adamant that there isn’t, that this is an over-reaction. But, how do I know? If I’m wrong, I’ll never forgive myself.
Luckily, at this stage, we have a fantastic midwife with us. She tells us that she had her baby by caesarean and tells us all about what happens and what to expect. What’ll happen in theatre, how the recovery will be, how long I’ll have to stay in hospital for.
By the time the consultant comes back, we’re beginning to reconcile with the fact that it looks like it’ll be a c-section after all. In a sense, we are relieved, we haven’t had any sleep for a long, long time, and it means an end is in sight. We are going to have a baby today!
The consultant still seems to be debating over whether or not I’ll have a section, and says we can either leave it another hour or we can go for the section. We say we want to go for the section. But there is another lady already in theatre, so we will have to wait.
While we are waiting, I experience another unpleasant side effect of the epidural (the pain relief effects of which, by this point, must have completely worn off as I was having to use the gas and air through contractions again). I am hugely sick. It is not pleasant – I am absolutely covered in it, and so is Tony – and it is green! I feel terrible and I know I’m going to be sick again. This time it’s not as much but I’m feeling really rough.
The decision is made – we’re off to theatre. Tony gets given scrubs to change into. He comes back, complete with hat… he looks hilarious!! I’m given anti-sickness drugs and prepped for theatre.
A different anaesthetist comes in to top up my epidural. A woman this time, and one who actually speaks and is fairly friendly. She injects the anaesthetic into my back and I feel the cold sensation entering my body.
The main thing going through my mind is for Tony to bring the camera – “bring the camera, bring the camera!” I’m telling him. “Never mind the camera, it’s not important” he says. “Bring the camera!!!” I tell him!
Before we go down, the anaesthetist wants to check that the epidural is topped up. “Can you feel your legs?” She says. “Yes,” I say, “I can move them” and I do a demonstration. “But they’re feeling heavy, aren’t they?” She asks. No, they’re not, actually. She’s puzzled and sprays a little bit of cold water on my legs. “Can you feel that?” She asks. “Yes” I say.
She decides to try one more time to top up the epidural, as the last top up clearly didn’t work. She says she’ll check again when we get down to theatre that it’s working.
So off we go, wheeled down to theatre, me still amused at the sight of Tony in his scrubs! I’m so excited and anxious, because I know I’ll be having a baby in a matter of minutes!
We get to theatre and they all start discussing lifting me onto the bed. I say: “I think I could probably get on myself, actually”. “No!” they all say. So, they lift me on and I can feel a contraction coming on. “I can really feel this contraction,” I tell them. “Are you sure?” says one of the doctors? “Er, yes, it really hurts!!”
We go through the “can you feel this” and “can you move your legs” and the water spraying thing once again. I can feel it all. I already know what is coming next, and although I can’t believe it I can, I feel like there’s been something inevitable about this all along.
“You’ll have to have a general anaesthetic, the epidural won’t top up,” the anaesthetist tells me. “Typical” is all I can think. She explains that they can’t keep trying with the top up, because if it does suddenly kick in, I’ll be higher than the sky!
Next thing one of the doctors says: “Right, we need to get on with this, the baby is getting more distressed” and Tony is ushered out (he isn’t allowed to stay when the op is under general anaesthetic). All I can think is “what if it doesn’t work either, and I can feel everything?” and I ask the very nice doctor who is looking after me “how long will I be out for?” He assures me I’ll only be out for half an hour, then they’ll wake me up so I can meet my baby. I’m relieved at that because I imagined I’d be out for hours.
Then I’m given the general, and, thankfully, it does work, and I am out for the count.
The next thing I know, a midwife is in my ear telling me “wake up, wake up. We’ve got a very anxious daddy and a baby wanting to see you”.
“No, no!” I say. This is the first decent sleep I’ve had in a while and I’m exhausted. I want to go back to sleep!
Then the thirstiness kicks in and I’m begging her for a drink of water (which I’m not allowed, only the flannel on the lips thing, grrrr!)
“Can dad and baby come in yet?”
“No, not yet, I don’t want them to see me like this!” I’m preparing for the most momentous occasion of my life, and I just don’t feel ready. I’m exhausted, half out of it and my mouth feels like the Sahara.
Anyway, in they come. Tony carrying this gorgeous little thing with these big, piercingly green eyes (they were actually piercingly blue, but that must’ve been the drugs!) and she is just the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in my life! And seeing Tony carrying her like the perfect daddy I knew he’d be – it’s just too much. The midwives put her to my breast straight away and she latches on fine. Magic!
We go back to the delivery room, where we have a couple of hours (or so it felt like, not sure how long it was in reality) together. We just stare at our little baby and can’t believe we have her. At some point I think “we haven’t checked if it really is a girl yet!” because neither of us has seen her naked yet! But it’s fine, she is!
After a little while, the midwife tells Tony to dress Lilly in her first outfit – a vest and babygro. He does the little vest and I’m glad it’s him not me, she’s so tiny and precious and it’s such a nerve wracking task!
Then Tony goes home and I make him promise to come back as soon as he can.
Lilly and I are in the delivery room for a little longer, and then we are prepared to be taken down to the ward.
On the trolley ride down, they let me hold Lilly, and she is laid next to me while I hold on tight to her. It is an amazing feeling – I am in charge of making sure this little person is ok – this is it, I’m really a mummy, and we are really doing this. This is moment it all sinks in – and I love my little girl more than the world.
On the ward that night, after our visitors have been and gone, we settle down for lights out. I have just dozed off when I hear a cannon go off outside, followed by fireworks. I realise for the first time what day it is – New Year’s Eve.