Matilda's Birth Story

Until recently, I didn't understand why there were so many birth story blog posts. Why did people feel the need to write them? Surely one labour was much the same as another - you either pushed the baby out or you had a caesarian? And who on earth would want to read about it? Ick.

Then I found myself six months pregnant and I couldn't get enough of them. I wanted to know what this was like for other people - I wanted to be mentally prepared for what turned out to be the myriad of possibilities and to know that all these other women had got through it in more or less one piece.

So: Matilda's birth story it is. For all the heavily pregnant women reading. And most likely nobody else.

After a couple of months of Braxton Hicks contractions, things started to ramp up in early April. For a week and a half, I was getting fairly intense contractions every thirty minutes, every evening. They weren't frequent enough to be real labour and they would calm down when I went to bed, but every evening I would start to wonder if this was it.

It wasn't.

On the eighteenth of April, four days past the estimated due date, I had a membrane sweep. I was in two minds about whether or not to go ahead with it - both of the midwives I spoke to were quite upfront that nobody knows for sure whether sweeps are actually effective or whether it's all just a coincidence. It sounded pretty unpleasant but I really wanted to know whether the contractions I'd been having were getting me anywhere. I decided to go ahead with it and it turned out it wasn't that bad. It was uncomfortable but it only took a minute or two; I had some bad cramps for about an hour afterwards and a bit of bleeding. The midwife was able to tell me that I was only 1cm dilated but my cervix was already very soft.

Then nothing happened. Nothing happened for the rest of that day. Nothing happened the next day. I assumed the sweep had failed.

I was booked in for an induction the following Sunday which I really didn't want but which I was opting for because the alternative was to struggle back and forth to the hospital for a check up every day until I went into spontaneous labour. I was feeling pretty disheartened at this point - I could not imagine labour happening of its own accord; I knew it was impossible to stay pregnant forever but I was resigned to needing medical help.

Then, at 4am on Monday 20th April, I was woken by an enormous thumping sensation in my belly and an immediate, extremely powerful contraction. For the next two hours, I lay in bed having strong contractions every fifteen to twenty minutes, but I still wasn't certain that this was labour starting - a part of me wondered if it might be wind from the pineapple curry I had eaten the night before!

When I finally got up, my contractions increased to every ten minutes and I lost what was unmistakeably my mucus plug - it was like a handful of ectoplasm coming out in the toilet. Nice. The pain was gentler while I was in the shower but there was no change to my contractions regardless of whether I was sitting, standing or lying down.

By this point, I was almost certain I was going into labour but I knew that this could be a long, slow process. Steve and I grinned at each other a lot as we tried to figure out how to handle this. He ended up calling his boss and arranging to work from home in case I needed support.

By 8am, the contractions were coming every 3-5 minutes and lasting 50-80 seconds each. I was leaking liquid but was unsure whether it was just discharge or whether my waters had gone; at 11am, the baby must have shifted position because there was a big gush of liquid and that was that question was answered. I called the midwife unit for advice; they said, given that we were quite close by but didn't have a car, they recommended staying at home until I was averaging four contractions per ten minutes or no longer felt able to cope.

Steve and I had a big bowl of pasta for lunch, realising that we were both going to need lots of energy and might not have a chance to eat again for a while!

Shortly after lunch, things became more intense. The contractions starting rolling into each other, to the point where I couldn't tell where one was starting and one was stopping. All I could do was count the peaks - there were roughly four per ten minutes and I was incapable of anything other than holding my head in my hands and breathing through them. Our original plan of taking a taxi to the hospital suddenly seemed unmanageable so Steve called a neighbour and asked for a lift while I called the midwife unit and told them we were heading in.

Hospital bracelets

When we got to the hospital, I was given an internal examination. I was only 3cm dilated so not considered to be in active labour (that starts at 4cm) and my contractions had died down to two per ten minutes. The midwife told me it was not unusual for contractions to lessen when people left the comfort of their own home - she sent us for a walk around the hospital to get them going again. This resulted in me spending fifteen minutes trapped in a public toilet, breathing through a flurry of strong contractions, unable to stand up and wondering whether the baby was going to slide out of me right there. Steve and I then spent a further fifteen minutes sitting on a bench in the middle of the hospital, breathing through another flurry and working up the energy to make it back to the unit.

Back in the unit, the midwife filled the birthing pool for me. The water had to be kept very warm for the baby's comfort; I found I couldn't fully submerge myself as the heat made me feel faint and nauseous. Squatting in the water, hanging over the edge of the pool so that just my legs and belly were submerged was great, though - it took a lot of the weight off my hips making it easier to ride out the contractions.

At some point, I decided I had had enough of the water. From then on, I spent the rest of the labour hanging over a birthing ball. Every so often, I had to clamber onto the bed for an internal examination - those climbs on and off the bed were far and away the worst bit of labour; thanks to my hips, they were five step procedures and each step would set off another contraction. When I lay on my back I felt like I couldn't breathe.

I was given gas and air to help with the pain. So many people had raved to me about gas and air beforehand but I've got to be honest: I felt absolutely no benefit from it. In fact, it made so little difference I wondered if the equipment might be broken! What it did offer was something for me to bite down on during contractions - I soon realised that each contraction lasted for five deep, slow breaths so I concentrated on biting, squeezing Steve's hand and counting one... two... three... four... five...

At some point overnight, I was given a shot of morphine. Again, it didn't seem to make any difference to the pain, but it did let me take forty second naps between contractions. Those naps were some of the best of my life!

Through all of this, Steve was awake timing contractions, keeping track of what was happening when, handing me the gas and air pipe, handing me the seemingly endless bottles of Lucozade the hospital provided, telling me I was doing great. He tells me he got through it on cups of coffee but I have absolutely no memory of him drinking them.

The usual naysayers had warned him beforehand that "things will be said" during labour - that I would sling all sorts of abuse at him. He had treated this with a large degree of scepticism and it definitely wasn't the case. At all times, I felt like we were working as a team - I was the one in labour but he was the one getting me through it.

The contractions never really settled into a pattern but remained at a level the midwives described as "very strong". They kept calling me "Superwoman" because I was smiling instead of screaming and I chose to accept the compliment.

As I got further along, it became harder for the midwives to establish how far dilated I was - my bowels were too full! At one point, they were placing me at anywhere between 7cm and 10cm. Various measures were taken to clear my bowels (I have now lost all feminine mystique in Steve's eyes!) and all of those measures failed.

Around lunchtime on the second day, my temperature rose too high so I was moved from the midwife unit into the more medical labour ward. A belt was strapped around my belly to monitor the contractions and my heartbeat while a clip was attached to the baby's head to monitor her heartbeat. Both were uncomfortable and I was becoming very dehydrated - I could feel the skin peeling from my lips.

My temperature was still rising so a doctor was called for advice. She said I had the option to have my bowels cleared manually and to keep pushing but that, for the baby's safety and for my own comfort, she wouldn't recommend it. She advised having a spinal anaesthetic and a forceps delivery, both of which I had hoped to avoid - a spinal would mean not being able to feel my hips (that might sound like a good thing but I was scared of inadvertently damaging them further) and forceps sounded brutal. I was so tired that I couldn't take in what she or the anaesthetist were telling me - I couldn't even keep my eyes open long enough to look at them. All I remember hearing was "high chance of resulting in a c-section" which filled me with terror. Still, I was lucid enough to know I had to put the baby's safety first - I signed the forms and we were off.

I was wheeled through to the theatre which was bright and white like a spaceship and filled with so many people in green scrubs, all of whom introduced themselves and none of whom I could name or recognise now. I've no idea what they were all there for.

I was guided into a forward slumped position while the spinal anaesthetic was administered, clutching a midwife's hand and biting on the gas and air pipe through several more contractions. I was then helped onto my back, with my legs and lower torso already becoming heavy and numb.

Steve was brought in in scrubs and sat beside me, facing my head. A midwife sat on the other side, hand on my belly, feeling for contractions. If I put my hand on my belly, I could feel the muscles tensing and relaxing but all of the pain was gone.

Then it was time to push. With each contraction, I had to take a deep breath, hold it in and push down. This was bizarre - I couldn't feel my body responding at all and yet it must have done because after just three big pushes the baby was out!

"Can you see?" the midwife asked Steve.

He could. "It's a girl! We've got a girl." His eyes were filled with tears; mine filled up, too. She was placed on my chest and we held her and we looked at her and it was the hugest thing, this tiny, purple daughter of ours.

Steve-and-Matilda

After a moment, she was taken to one side to be checked over. I sat cupping Steve's cheek with one hand, blinking back tears and looking over to where our daughter was being examined. Steve was then called over to give her a cuddle while the surgeons tidied me up.

That done, she was brought back to me and laid on my chest.

"What do you think," Steve asked, "is she a Matilda?"

"Yes, I think she is."

She lay on my chest and stared into my eyes, slurping a little on the gunk she had swallowed coming out. She had red forceps marks on her cheeks and a red spot in her left eye. Her fingers were white. Her hair was dark and wavy. She had vernix coating her head. I held her for a few minutes and she didn't take her eyes off mine. She and Steve were taken aside for her second check over. I couldn't see her but I couldn't stop watching Steve gazing at her.

She was perfect.

Except that she was perfect with a raised temperature and a fast pulse so she was taken to the neonatal unit to be administered antibiotics... But more on that to follow (here).
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