My due date was 19th January 2016. But Baby had other ideas. By the beginning of December I was in hospital with possible pre-term labour. We had made a mad dash in the early hours to maternity triage and were seen by a variety of midwives and consultants. They were concerned about my blood pressure, which was sky high, and they couldn’t rule out that labour hadn’t already started. I was experiencing a lot of lower back pain and discomfort around my pelvis. I was given steroid injections (FYI, these hurt A LOT), which would help Baby’s lungs mature so they could hopefully breathe unaided if born early. I was also given medication for my blood pressure and strapped to heart rate monitors for Baby and myself. I have to admit I wasn’t particularly concerned at this point. Although it was early, I never seriously considered I could be about to have a baby. I mean, obviously I realised I was having a baby sometime in the near future, but not in a matter of hours or days. It just wasn’t real to me. Instead, I was kind of caught up in a feeling of excitement at the prospect of finally meeting Baby, and not really considering the reality of the situation. The reality being, born at 33 weeks, there was the likelihood that Baby would require some degree of medical intervention.
By the time it was decided I would be admitted, it was about 7am. I was nervous as I had never stayed in hospital before. I was also clueless. I didn’t know what would happen with meals, belongings, visiting hours. I don’t like not knowing what to expect, it does not work well with anxiety. But by this point I was so tired it didn’t really matter. The midwives on the postnatal ward were lovely, bringing me some breakfast and explaining that the doctor would speak to me at the ward round. They also told me about visiting hours and that I was welcome to leave the ward after the doctor had been round. I felt a bit more relaxed and less like a caged animal. I managed a snooze and was just coming round when the doctor approached.
I had had an ultrasound scan on my way to the postnatal ward, and it had all looked fine, no cause for concern. They had also taken a special test called a fetal fibronectin test. The doctor explained to me the results of the test were positive and this meant it was highly likely I would deliver within 2 weeks. It couldn’t determine if labour had started but, coupled with my raised blood pressure, it meant they wanted to keep an eye on me. I was kept in overnight to monitor our heart rates, and as everything calmed down and I had no more pain, I was happily discharged the following day.
I was so pleased to get home. It’s really, really difficult to sleep in hospital. People are coming and going at all hours, women are going in to labour, midwives were taking my observations every 4 hours. I was exhausted. I also hadn’t found it easy to move around on the ward, being hooked up to monitors a lot of the time, so I was thrilled to be getting home to my own environment. I can always manage my anxiety easier at home, because I am in charge and in control of my surroundings. Control is a big factor affecting my anxiety levels, and something I was well aware I needed to work on with the imminent arrival of a tiny human. Apparently they wouldn’t have much respect for my need to control everything.
What this ‘false start’ highlighted was that, for a control freak, I had absolutely no control and was in no way prepared. We were not at all ready. We hadn’t even packed a hospital bag. I was determined to be a bit more organised in case we had to make another hospital dash. So, obviously, I spent the following day doing my Christmas shopping online. And doing important prep such as putting a couple of my favourite films (My Cousin Vinny and Elf, if you’re interested) and a series of the American Office on my iPad. Priorities, yeah? I kicked up my hypnobirthing cd listening a notch. I still didn’t pack my hospital bag…
…and the next day I was in need of it. The Husband had left for work and I had a chilled morning of breakfast and catching up on I’m A Celebrity… whilst bouncing about on my birthing ball. At about 11am the doorbell rang, and I took delivery of my Christmas shopping – well done me. At almost the precise moment I signed for the delivery and shut the door, my waters broke. And it wasn’t like on TV or in films – it broke, and it kept breaking. I knew this was it, and was a bit giddy when I called The Husband to say he’d have to come home. The hospital told me to come in right away. So I started to pack my bag, which is no easy feat when you’re still living out of boxes. My mother-in-law ran some errands for me and I phoned my mum to tell her the good news – it was happening! The reality had still not hit. And my waters were still breaking.
By the time The Husband had arrived home and finished my half-arsed bag packing for me, I was on all fours on the living room floor trying to breathe through what were obviously contractions but what I kept telling myself were just niggles. The twenty-five minute trip to the hospital saw them turn from niggles to more noticeable pains and saw me tell The Husband where he could shove my hypnobirthing cd. I was so disappointed, I had wanted the start of the whole thing to at least be a little bit Zen.
As soon as we got to the hospital and were eventually taken in to triage – hello, I’m contracting in your reception area – we hooked up the Tens machine and I started to get in to a proper rhythm with my breathing. I was examined, and they confirmed (finally) that I was definitely in labour. Not only that, but I was 3-4cm dilated. I was pretty psyched! Then everything settled down again. I was admitted to the labour ward overnight, but the midwives were confident I would be sent home the next day. I was too. After all, I’d already had one false start. But the consultants had other ideas. At the ward round the next morning, they advised the risk of infection for both myself and Baby was now too high. If things didn’t pick up again during the morning, I would be induced. I was going to have my baby that day. Shit just got real. And I was terrified.
All the natural birthing preparations we had planned went out the window. I wasn’t allowed to move around much as I had to be hooked up to monitors for myself and Baby. I wasn’t allowed to use a birthing pool for the same reason. All the hypnobirthing I’d hoped to use fell by the wayside, as I’d already broke the cardinal rule of letting adrenaline take over. I was scared. I wasn’t supposed to be having a baby for at least another 6 weeks. I was scared of the pain of labour. And I was terrified of what would happen to my baby when they were born. It had already been explained that a paediatrician would be present at the birth and they would take the baby to Intensive Care in the Neonatal Unit as soon as they were born. It was possible they would have to stay in the Neonatal Unit for the next 6 weeks. This was not the chilled, mellow experience I’d been hoping for. In fact, for the first time in my pregnancy, I felt properly frightened about labour and beyond – I actually think I hadn’t given it all that much thought before. I’d had too much to worry about in order to get to that point, and although I thought I’d prepared to the nth degree, I might as well have just been playing.
I was in labour for 36 hours (The Husband kept track, I didn’t). Despite my initial fears, the first part played out quite well. Some of it was even quite fun – we had great banter with the excellent midwife and midwifery student, and I like to think I coped admirably well through a mixture of breathing techniques, Tens machine and Entonox (gas & air). The Husband tends to agree, and still says he’s surprised how well I did, considering the fuss I make over a stubbed toe (I have an EXTREMELY low pain threshold). Of course, morphine helps – that’s a saying right? I’d made the decision to go as far as possible with each level of pain relief, but to ask for the next thing before I got too upset. So sometime in the late afternoon I decided I needed to kick the pain relief up a gear, and requested a half dose of Diamorphine. Well, what can I say? I’m a fan. I’d definitely do it again with the Entonox and Diamorphine combo – and I believe I informed The Husband of this at the time. In fact, as he delights in telling me, I was “flying” and “absolutely hilarious”. What a trooper, eh? I like to laugh. So much so I requested the other half dose early evening. And funnily enough don’t remember the rest of the night quite so clearly.
The midwives changed over at around 8pm. I clearly remember coming out of a haze to find the banter-loving midwife of earlier in the day gone, and a stern, quiet, matron-like midwife in her place. This wasn’t fair. The other midwife had promised me I would have my baby before she finished her shift. But I was still here and not allowed to push. To be fair to the new midwife, despite the lack of banter, she was a total pro, giving exactly the influence and direction I needed at that point in my labour. The time for joking around was over.
At some point I had a total melt down in the bathroom, as I had to leave my gas & air behind. I believe they call this stage ‘the transition’. Oh, I transitioned alright. I went from being hilarious to completely retreating inside myself. I would be very quiet and only make noise or movement during contractions. I was desperate to push but they wouldn’t let me. It felt like an age before I was allowed to push, and as soon as I was, I wished I didn’t have to. It’s really hard. And not nearly as intuitive as people say it’s going to be. Of course, it didn’t help that they only realised Baby was back-to-back after I’d been pushing for a bit. Apparently, this isn’t good. Well, it certainly made the whole second stage a lot more tiring. And long. Very long. Towards the end I was becoming exhausted, and I was starting to think I couldn’t do it. I felt very helpless and scared. They kept telling me to push and I was really trying, but it was never enough. I felt like crying, I didn’t think there was a way out – it was such a struggle to push and I was sure they were going to whisk me away for a C-section. By this time, there were at least four midwives and a paediatrician in the room. It was feeling a bit crowded.
And then The Munchkin was born. It seemed to happen just like that. (It didn’t, I needed an episiotomy – don’t Google if you’re of a sensitive disposition). I was so relieved and so, so tired. The immediate post-birth time is a bit of a blur. The Husband told me we had a baby boy, and he cut the cord. I don’t even remember the delivery of the placenta (The Husband does). We only had a very short time for skin-to-skin and then The Munchkin was taken to the neonatal unit. They assured me he was doing well and that we could see him as soon as I was ready. We were given tea and toast, and I was stitched up. The Husband still finds it surreal that I had gas & air in one hand and a cup of tea in the other as I was stitched up. It was the best tea and toast I’ve ever had. I’d thought it was an urban legend about getting tea and toast following the birth – I’m here to tell you it’s not. And it’s so so good. I was then able to have a shower and it was the most delicate but most lovely shower ever. It was, quite simply, the most surreal time of my life. I had just given birth but my baby wasn’t there. I was exhausted and high as a kite. I was desperate to hold my baby again, but I also wanted to sleep. I didn’t feel like a mum. How could I when my baby wasn’t with me? It was strange and unnerving, and not at all like I’d imagined. Best laid plans and all that.
The next few days were extremely difficult. Whilst The Munchkin was ostensibly doing very well, managing to breathe unaided and moving on quickly from feeding through a nasogastric tube, I was not doing so good. The sheer high of the adrenaline from the birth wore off fairly quickly and I felt at first as though I was in a daze. It was strange to be on a different ward from my son, and I was making the short walk between the postnatal and neonatal wards many, many times throughout the day and night. When I was on the postnatal ward, I was desperate to be back beside my tiny baby. It was such a wrench whenever I had to leave him. I was so jealous of the other mums on the postnatal unit, who had their babies bedside. People tried to help by encouraging me to make the most of having the neonatal unit nurses on hand, saying I should take full advantage of the help and opportunity to rest, that I would appreciate this if I had more children. This advice, though well-meaning, wasn’t helpful. Because what they didn’t realise was I didn’t feel like a proper mum. I felt like a fake. And a shell of who I had been. I didn’t know who I was or how to be now. And I was so, so tired – you just don’t sleep properly in hospital. Especially when you are on speed dial for night feeds in another ward.
I find it difficult to describe how lost I felt at that point in time. The only thing I wanted was to get my baby home and retreat into a cosy little nest just the three of us. I felt on the verge of a proper breakdown, and when The Husband was potentially unable to visit the hospital on the third day post-birth I had the mother of all meltdowns. I couldn’t do this by myself, and I felt so alone. A few things got me through this:-
- The Husband being able to make it in after all. He is my absolute rock, and I was never more aware of this than in the days immediately after The Munchkin was born.
- The love and support of my fabulous family and friends, who brought themselves along to the hospital to cheer me up and sent messages of support when they couldn’t be there.
- The understanding and care from a fantastic team of medical staff, who acknowledged and understood my worries and never dismissed me.
- The Munchkin. He immediately became the centre of my world. And as long as I was with him, I felt OK. I felt I could do it. And I felt like I was his mum. He saved me.
So this was my labour of love. And what a love it is. But this was just the beginning, and I’ve learned so much in such a short space of time. And I’ve SO much more to learn. It’s quite the curve, I can tell you. In my next posts, I want to take time to thank someone who had a profound effect on me during my time in hospital, and then talk a bit about my experiences at home in the initial postnatal period and how my mental health was impacted. But for now, it would be great to hear your experiences of birth and how you felt after, or if you have any questions for me about my experience, please feel free to comment below!
I’ve added this post to a link up hosted by the fabulous Honest Mum – check out her site by clicking below!