Henry: the birth story

After two false alarms in three weeks, I’d reached a point of needing labour to be really quite convincing in order to get my attention, this time. What did strike me, was that on each occasion when the contractions re-started, they started at more or less the same level of intensity as they’d stopped, previously ? even when it was a fortnight before. They didn’t revert to the very gentle did-I-even-feel-that sensations of the first time. That didn’t help with anything, or prove anything, but I found it casually interesting.

On Thursday 5th July, I had a pre-existing plan to spend the morning with a friend of mine, at their toddler group. I think Lynn had in mind to take Daisy and give me a break, but that wasn’t really what I wanted, and I don’t think she’d have liked it much, either. People seemed terribly keen to take Daisy and give me a break, in those last few weeks, when I actually wanted them to take me somewhere. Me ?getting a break? is code for sitting at home with nothing to do, waiting for a baby to arrive. I really wanted Daisy and I to be able to go somewhere where she could be fairly self-entertaining, and I could have some company to cheer me up. And I really needed cheering up, by that point.

Anyway, we went, and then had lunch at Lynn’s house, and across the morning I was aware of what I was cautiously describing to myself as ?twinges? – though, as I said, they started off with the same intensity as they had stopped the last time, and only got stronger. In the afternoon, we went home, and were almost instantly visited by another friend, the net result of which was that I didn’t sit down and concentrate on what was happening until about 4pm. At that point, I decided I needed to at least start noting how often it was happening, and quickly discovered that it was around every ten minutes.

Daisy went out for tea, and came back, and I rang my mum (yet again) and told her that this might be it (yet again). Over the next few hours, the contractions got more painful, but not really much closer together. Kevin put Daisy to bed, and my mum looked a bit weirded out by the idea of watching her daughter in labour.

I was doing pretty well ? I’d had the TENS machine on since about 5.30pm, and unlike the last time I used it, I was turning it up periodically, which struck me as a good sign. I reached a point of needing to stand up for the contractions, and use Kevin as a leaning post, all of which I remembered from my labour with Daisy, and all of which suggested that it could be truly happening this time. I was still a bit wary of saying it out loud though, in case I jinxed it all again…

At about 9.30pm, they were still ten minutes apart, but starting to hurt fairly seriously, and I told Kevin to ring the hospital and tell them we were coming in. The midwife at the end of the phone was not encouraging. She basically said that ten minutes was still too far apart, and to take some paracetamol and go and have a bath – ?Maybe they’ll ease off, and you can get some sleep.? Ease off?! I’m at Term+8 with a baby that everyone thinks is too big, and this is my third attempt at labour; why on earth would I want them to ease off? I pointed out that a bath would require me to remove my TENS machine, thereby undoing four hours of endorphin-building, to which she didn’t give me a satisfactory response. So I tutted, hung up, and decided to take her at her word ? we’ll have no opportunities for telling me I wasn’t trying.

Kevin ran a bath, and I took the TENS machine off, and got in.

Baths are stupid. Why anyone would want to be in their bath in labour is beyond me. A nice, big birthing pool, where you can organise your position properly is probably fantastic. A standard-issue Edwardian bath is not. The only reasonable way to sit in a domestic bath is practically lying down, which was lovely between the contractions, when the bump was getting supported by the water, but absolutely horrible during them, when I was basically lying flat on my back in the position that I would have avoided like the plague if I was in bed, or, in fact anywhere else at all. I think I lasted about ten minutes before I got out again, cursed the stupid midwife, and put the TENS back on.

Oddly enough, in that ten minutes, the contractions suddenly went from ten minutes apart to more like five ? a pattern which I remembered from Daisy’s birth, when I thought about it. So, barely an hour had passed before we were back on the phone to the LWH, to tell them we were coming in, and there wasn’t a thing they could do about it (Kevin spoke to them that time, he may have been more polite than that…).

We got to the Midwife Led Unit at about 11pm (since, thanks to the wonderful bath idea, I was then in labour, wet and naked. Helpful, that ? thanks), and then had to hold serious discussions as to whether they would let me deliver there. Since my notes were peppered with references to shoulder distocia, my midwife (a very nice older lady called Doreen, who reckoned she could quite easily have delivered either or both of Kevin and I, thirty years ago) was a bit hesitant, and had to go off and consult. Eventually, the powers decided that they would send an obstetrician to be in attendance for the pushing stage, but they would let me stay in the MLU, all things remaining equal. That was very important to me psychologically, though I don’t know what practical difference it made to the birth. I just had this unshakeable belief that my very presence on the main Delivery Suite would be the top of slippery slope in terms of medical interventions, and since my home birth had already gone by the board, I was desperate to avoid giving up any more control than I already had.

All that agreed, we settled down in our little room, waiting for things to take their course. Doreen did an internal exam, and pronounced me to be 5cms dilated, which vindicated me on the subject of whether my labour counted or not (I never met the silly woman from the phone, which was perhaps just as well…).

I was mostly upright, but I was getting pretty tired (after all, I’d been going to bed before 10pm for months, and it was getting past midnight, quite aside from how hard I was working). Sitting on the bed between contractions was OK, as long as I got up fast enough when they came ? I didn’t, a couple of times, and that was much worse. I spent some time lying down on my side (absolutely not on my back ? I was determined), but I was terrified of letting it slow down, so I got up again after twenty or thirty minutes. Eventually, though, I lay down and stayed laid down. I’m really not good in the early hours of the morning…

I can’t remember when I hit the gas and air ? probably around 1am, maybe 1.30am. That helped for a bit, but was starting to wear a bit thin by 3am. I asked for another internal, and was at 8cms, which cheered me up a bit. About ten minutes later, I casually asked if it was too late to think about ?other? pain relief options, but I already knew the answer, really. And Doreen was quite right, because suddenly, unexpectedly, about ten minutes after that, I was pushing.

The thing you have to understand, is that I went into this labour thinking I knew what to expect. I had an epidural with Daisy, but I kind of thought that I’d experienced labour, up to that point, and beyond that point was more of the same. The second stage, though, is a completely different experience, when you can actually feel it. That sounds like a statement of the blindingly obvious, but the extent of it genuinely surprised me.

With Daisy, I know for a fact that there were times when I was pushing in the wrong place. It’s hard to describe ? I knew when I was doing it right, but I wasn’t able to do it right consistently, which is doubtless why it took so long, at least in part. With Henry, that simply wasn’t an option ? the pushing happened where it happened, there weren’t really any choices.

The other thing I wasn’t expecting, was involuntary pushing. It was a bit alarming, really. Suddenly, at the height of the most painful contraction yet, my whole body just seemed to go into spasm, most reminiscent of when you’re violently sick. My whole abdomen just heaved, and the rest of me pretty much followed in its wake. Kevin said it was kind of fascinating to watch, because it seemed to be aimed at getting me off my side and onto my back, which I didn’t think I wanted, but seemed to happen anyway. I rather wanted to be sitting up a bit more, but I couldn’t work out how to achieve it without triggering more pain than I could imagine, so I didn’t bother. The obstetric registrar came in and asked how long I’d been pushing ? which I didn’t think I was ? and was told, about five minutes, but it’s involuntary at the moment. If Doreen hadn’t said that, I wouldn’t have known what it was. I think I was assuming it was a kind of retching-in-pain stomach reaction, rather than the beginning of if all being over.

Anyway, after a couple of those, (and when they’d broken my waters, which had conveniently stayed intact till the last possible minute) we were ready to start the serious business of getting the baby out. It wasn’t the two-pushes-and-its-over experience of other people’s second babies ? more like about thirty minutes, I think, but it was certainly more productive and successful than my first birth. In the end, I still had an episiotomy. Doreen said later that she’d had a feel of my perineum, and there was a fibrous bit that was never going to stretch, so she gave it a helping hand. Presumably, that was true last time, and would be true again in the future ? that or a nasty tear. The stitches are much less uncomfortable this time, though, so I’m not particularly upset over it.

They decided to do a ?precautionary McRoberts? – which is to say, they put my legs in the position they would have used if they’d had trouble with the shoulders, first as last. That means, of course, that I can’t compare with what happened with Daisy. If they’d done that the first time, for some reason, she may well have come out without a hitch, too. However, the fact remains, Henry’s shoulders came out straight away. There was a point when the doctor said that his head was ?half out?, and I remember saying, ?Well, that’s inconvenient…? (funny lady, me…), but once the head was out, the shoulders followed in the expected manner, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

The next thing I knew, there was a baby on my stomach, and Kevin laughed, and said, ?Guess what? It’s a boy!?

?It can’t be!? I said. ?We don’t have boys!? But of course, he is. It took me about three days to get used to the idea, because I was convinced I was having a girl, all the way along. He’s terribly beautiful, though, and I love him with all my heart. Then, of course, they weighed him, and I was even more disbelieving of the news that he was 4.9 kilos. I had no idea what that was in imperial (eventually, we got it down to 10lbs 13oz), but I knew it was a good chunk heavier than Daisy, who’d been plenty big enough by most people’s standards.

I think it was being on the MLU (with only 3 staff in the room at the time) that made the post-birth period so much gentler. Once I’d delivered the placenta (which was pretty quick), Henry was bundled up and laid next to me in bed, and we showed him some boob to see what he made of it. He worked it out pretty quickly ? latched on, and fed for a good 45 minutes, if not longer. I really wanted that time with him, and I’m so glad that we got it. It was a good hour before Doreen started talking about the need to stitch me up, and so forth, and while we were in the suture room, someone came and tidied everything up, and turned my delivery room back into a bedroom, which was lovely. Kevin helped me to get a shower, and Doreen brought us both a hot drink and some toast (with jam!), and I generally felt much better looked after than I did on Delivery Suite. The only downside was that I lost quite a bit of blood, and they wanted to transfer me to the high dependency post-natal ward. Fortunately, it took them all day to find me a bed (by which time I was trying to reason with them that I felt fine, I’d been fine all day, and I’d much rather not, but you can’t talk sense to medical professionals), so I had my room to myself in which to sleep it all off, and was only on the main ward for a night and a morning.

All in all, definitely a better birth experience. The only bit that makes me sad, is that he was so huge. I really thought I wanted three children, but I can’t really imagine having an even bigger one ? and the great likelihood, is that a third would be. I was expecting Henry to be bigger, but not a whole pound bigger. I’ve joked that if I decide to have another, I shall probably take up smoking, as a precaution. But the truth is, I don’t know if another one is too big a risk to take. And that means that Henry’s my last baby, and that means that every second I look the other way, I’m missing my last chance. Which is, of course, stupid. Daisy needs my attention, too, and clothes and dishes have to be washed, and this mysteriously happy-to-just-lie-in-bed-asleep baby that is so unlike my first, is bound to be left to do just that. But part of me just doesn’t want to.