I've written about my second birth story, rather than my first, as a) it's more recent and b) there is more of a 'story', because I was under a lot of pressure to be induced. I will share my first birth story one day, but actually after a few hours of contractions it all happened so fast there's not much to say!
The pressure for induction began around 25 weeks at a routine community midwife appointment and you can read all about my experience of refusing induction here.
Natural Induction Methods
As I approached my due date I found it difficult to be excited because I was so tense about the potential looming induction. I had an early miscarriage previously, so every single moment of this pregnancy had been stressful. I was classed as 'high risk' due to having low amniotic fluid (AFI) and placed under consultant-led care. Sadly I was told that home birth or the Birth Centre were not options for my labour.
At my 38 week appointment, I had been told I would have to have a sweep at my scheduled consultant Monday morning appointment, following my usual weekly scan. I planned not to consent to the sweep if the scan result from that morning was looking OK. I really, really didn't want to go down the induction road, so over the Saturday and Sunday I decided to try some natural induction tips I'd Googled for and give myself and my baby a bit of a head start and see if I could get contractions going. So here's what I did:
- Ate around 5 whole pineapples
- Went for 2 long walks
- Drank litres of raspberry leaf tea
- Consumed a delicious, spicy Thai Green curry
- Had some slightly less spicy, ginormo-preggo sex
Lo and behold, my waters went shortly after the finale to this fun-packed weekend, at 2.30am. My husband gives himself credit with his magic penis (patent pending); I prefer to think my daughter is as stubborn as me, and just wanted to make her own decisions.
After my waters went, I didn't experience contractions right away, so I didn't go to hospital immediately. I didn't want to spend too long there, but our first baby arrived very quickly and I never had a regular pattern of contractions to give any indication of progress. So I was torn between wanting my little girl born safely, as we'd been told there were risks due to my situation with low fluid and her small measurements, and not being in hospital more time than necessary.
The consultant I'd seen the week before had told me to get right to the hospital at any sign at all of labour, so I thought I had best get advice and so rang Triage to say I would soon be on my way in. Unbelievably, despite everything about being high risk and all the issues I had over low fluid, they told me to stay at home and only come in at 9am for my scheduled appointment. It was 2.30am and I was tired of arguing that if my waters had gone, surely that would equal less fluid, therefore baby could be even more at risk. Triage lady was not budging.
After hanging up at a loss, we decided together that if contractions started then we would go right to the hospital - despite what Triage lady had said. My contractions did begin shortly after, just very gently at about 4am. To begin with it felt like a little bit of a period pain. I was tired so simply rested and watched and waited for a couple of hours.
About 6.30am the contractions suddenly felt much stronger, so my husband and I got ourselves organised with toddler childcare (thanks Granny!) and headed up to hospital. When we arrived the midwife who was assigned to me didn't believe I was in labour. She insisted on hooking me up to the monitor and when she returned, although the machine had showed I was contracting irregularly every 2-3-4 minutes, she still did not believe I was in labour. Nor did she listen to me when I explained that this was the irregular pattern I’d had in my first labour, which lead to me mistakenly being labelled as 'not in established labour' and my baby born in our bedroom with only my husband to help me. (There you go, that's my birth story for our son!)
After 50 minutes of sitting still to be monitored, plus the stress of arguing about me being in labour, had of course caused contractions to stall. The midwife insisted I went downstairs to attend my pre-scheduled weekly scan appointment, because apparently the consultant could then decide what to do about my induction. Nobody around me believed I was in labour, despite seeing the contractions on the trace from the monitoring, and they were still wanting to go ahead with an induction. Baffling and ludicrous.
I decided to go for a walk anyway, as I really needed a break from that stuffy room and the unhelpful midwife. Just a few moments of walking down to the scan department brought the contractions back on, which is why I always love doing the walking meditation in my MummyNatal classes: walking is so just beneficial for labour - a woman is upright and moving, all of which can help to get or keep labour hormones flowing. Unfortunately I then needed to lie down and be still on the scanning table, and had an internal probe. This showed I was 2cm dilated and apparently had 'a lot' of cervix still to thin out.
Back to Delivery... and Waiting
I managed to get back upstairs in between contractions, and my husband went to find out where our midwife was. He let the staff at the main reception desk know my contractions were speeding up again, and reminded them I had requested the room with the birth pool in my birth plan. We were told our previous midwife had gone to deal with an emergency, but that someone would come to our room shortly to read the birth plan and sort the pool room. I hoped my new midwife would be more supportive and actually believe I was in labour.
After what felt like a long wait still nobody had arrived, and my contractions were flowing thick and fast by this stage, so I buzzed to get a midwife’s attention. Someone came in, and I asked to be examined so that I could make a decision as to use pain relief or to keep going with breathing. That person said they'd find someone to examine me, and off they went.
Knowing from the scan that I had been just at 2cm made me feel as if I was miles away from birth, but the sensations I was experiencing were so strong I felt instinctively that baby’s arrival was very close. My mind and body were battling each other, logic fighting instinct (because everything I had read to prepare for birth had told me that I needed to be dilating to the magic 10cm.) I now realise I had absolutely no way of making an informed choice about anything – I just had to keep waiting for someone else, which made me feel passive and pointless, as if I couldn’t trust myself.
The midwife who did eventually come in then refused to examine me. Because some of my waters had gone, she did not want to risk infection. This didn't seem to make much sense, as I'd just had an internal probe scanning my cervix, but I was tired and couldn't keep on fighting and explaining over and over again. I needed to relax and let my body's rhythm take over. I asked for some pain relief and was told I could have a codeine tablet. For a long time nobody came back, so we buzzed again and then a while later buzzed again. Each time someone looked in, saw me labouring, went off to get the mythical codeine - and never came back!
Finally, after much repeated buzzing, another midwife arrived who examined me to find I was now 6cm dilated. She gave me a couple of codeine tablets. We explained about my birth plan and wanting to use the pool room, and thankfully she went off to get this sorted. Between contractions I managed to waddle down the corridor after her, and heard the reassuring sound of the water running.
A Poo or a Baby!
The midwife at first asked me to get on the bed for another examination while the pool finished running. I realised I could feel the baby between my legs, and had an urge to push. I wanted to get in the pool now! But the midwife kept saying it wasn't ready. I just desperately wanted to feel the water on my tummy and have a bit of privacy after feeling so on display, labouring in scan waiting rooms, and on ultrasound tables, and down corridors. Eventually at some point I angrily told her, 'I'm either having a poo, or having the baby, and I'm getting in the pool!'
I managed to kneel in the pool and dip my tummy below the water - and climbing in was such an effort, I hadn't realised how hard that would be. Looking back it was probably silly, a waste of energy even climbing in, as I was so close to birth. But I was determined that because I'd missed out on a nice water birth during my first labour, I was getting in that bloody pool to have my baby, no matter what! Sadly the water couldn't offer me much relief, as at this point the contractions were one long continuous pulse. The midwife helped me with the mouthpiece for the gas and air, I really wanted something to help me as the codeine hadn't had time to take effect at all. I was aware of quickly feeling sick and dizzy when I breathed it in, so found I actually didn't want to keep using it.
At some point another 2 midwives came running in, and I remember them all chanting, 'You're doing so well,' at me which I found very irritating. I just wanted quiet, and to focus on my breathing and pay attention to my body. None of them had read my birth plan, and if they had would have known I wanted calm and peace, no coaching, and minimal interventions. I'm sure those women meant well, they wanted to support me, and had no idea of the horrible journey I'd been on to get into this birthing pool. But their choice of words somehow offended me as it seemed so patronising. I wasn't 'doing well' - I was just being, trying to let natural processes do what they needed to do in order to deliver my child safely. I didn't want praise, and in that moment language never seemed more important: a woman giving birth is at one moment both vulnerable and strong, and her body is performing a fine balancing act on the high wire - even the slightest change in tone could cause a stumble.
I asked them all to be quiet (OK, I may have angrily shushed them) and asked the first midwife, the one who had examined me and run the pool, if she could tell me what was going on. I thought for sure it must all be over as I felt wiped out.
At that point it was not done - our daughter was crowning, I could feel her slipping out a bit, then back in, and that was the absolute pinnacle of pain. I wish I could say I felt elation, ecstasy, excitement but I only felt an awareness of being worn out and desperate for it to be over at that very moment.
I recall a student midwife, who unbeknown to me had come in at some point, just leaning over and whispering in my ear that in just another couple of pushes my baby would be here. She stood out to me because in my Entonox blur, she was wearing a bright white uniform and had a beaming smile on her face. The other midwives present just seemed to look worried and/or pissed off. I'm not sure why I had that feeling, but it wasn't pleasant. So I clearly remember feeling so grateful for those quiet words and that student's smile. Even now as I write, I am feeling that same surge of emotion and tears in my eyes at her subtle support. After all the negativity, people not believing me, and those hours of pain and exhaustion, just that one tiny comment gave me so much strength. I don't know her name, but I have a lot to thank her for - finally some positivity after hearing so much 'NO'.
A few moments later I had our girl in my arms, born at 12.23pm. I had actually only been in the pool for around 7 or 8 minutes, but those moments felt longer than all the preceding hours put together.
Our daughter was checked over and weighed in at 6lb 9oz, certainly not the minuscule size predicted during all the pressure to be induced. She was absolutely fine and perfectly healthy. It's not the birth experience I had hoped for, and I wasn't treated the way anybody should be during labour, but thankfully our little rainbow baby had arrived earthside safely and soundly.