I’ve sat down about eight times this week determined to finish off the second part of Daphne’s birth story, but then something has happened – the doorbell’s rung with yet another delivery from the postman (we are so humbled as she’s been sent so many lovely things!), or her Majesty has decided to wake up and start bawling, or the cat’s thrown up on the rug for the first time in his entire life (yes, this really did happen last week - attention seeker!) or the washing machine’s started bleeping or or or… you get the picture! It is INCREDIBLE how much time a small baby can take up, and I’m not even exclusively breastfeeding (more on that in another post, but seriously, people who EBF – how do you ever leave your bed?!)
So, where was I? It was 3am and I’d finally been admitted to the birthing unit. The jolly midwife who gave me my second sweep then handed me over to another midwife – who was considerably less jolly. In fact, she seemed to be incapable of making conversation and instead spent her entire time sat on a stool in the corner of the room, writing things down in some sort of record book. Every time I had a contraction she glanced over her shoulder and muttered ‘Blow Charlotte, blow’ under her breath. Within about ten minutes I wanted to blow HER away. Anyway, I decided to try some of the legendary gas and air for the pain, but couldn’t for the life of me work out how to breathe it in properly and promptly decided it was too much of a faff. Therein ended my one and only attempt at pain relief during labour.
Thankfully, I had Oli for company. He kept the lights down low (it was obviously still pitch black outside), put Chopin on the Jawbone and talked to me as I lay on the birthing bed moaning. We cracked open the apple juice I’d carefully packed in my hospital bag months before, then realised it was actually out of date. There’s the downside of being TOO prepared. We also started to work our way through a bag of Phizzy Pigs – little did I know that over the next 24 hours they would be pretty much the only thing I would eat. It’s funny how in labour you completely lose your appetite!
After a while, I started eyeing up the birthing pool and asked the monosyllabic midwife’s back if I could go in. She turned and pulled a face but agreed and started to fill it. My god it took ages to fill. She told me that I was only allowed to have it at 37 degrees, no warmer, because she didn’t want to ‘cook the baby’. I got in but soon realised it was a bit chilly - not exactly relaxing.
One of the things they don’t show you on One Born Every Minute is that during labour, every five minutes (or so it seems) they have to check the baby’s heartbeat with a Doppler. For some reason this really got on my nerves (sorry Daph!). They also check your blood pressure, temperature and pulse pretty regularly too. I found all this 'being fiddled with' really aggravating.
By half seven, having hung out in the pool moaning as the sun came up, I was about 8cm dilated. My waters broke just after the midwife checked me - and this was as expected, a big painless gush of warm fluid all over the birthing couch. We were then very pleased to hear that grumpy midwife’s shift was over, and were even more happy to be introduced to our new midwife, who was far more cheerful and actually TALKED to me and Oli as though we were human beings. She also let me fill the pool up with hotter water, so I got back in (having got out when my shivering got too much – I was in and out of that damn birthing pool all day).
What I didn’t really realise about labour was just how long it takes to get to the transition phase – and how boring it must be for the midwives and your birthing partner. The pain of each contraction ensured I didn’t get bored, and instead the time seemed to fly by as I tried loads of different positions to get comfortable. But for people watching it must be a right snooze-fest. I can now well understand dads who fall asleep, or end up playing Angry Birds. It was all rather hypnotic and weird for me though – just floating about naked in this pool, almost half-asleep, with Oli feeding me Phizzy Pigs every now and then and Chopin playing on repeat… and then of course, the midwife sticking the Doppler on my stomach. It was like a really weird dream.
At some point mid-morning (I literally don’t know when) my sister turned up. I suspect she now wishes she hadn’t turned up, only to see me stark naked and without shame, mooing like a cow with each contraction. But I was grateful to see her as it gave Oli someone sentient to talk to. She also went to M&S and got some sandwiches for everyone, and a fruit salad for me. I think I managed a cereal bar for lunch too – like I said, it’s so weird how you must be using so many calories labouring but you have zero interest in eating anything. I did manage a cup of tea at one point though!
After a while, the midwife asked me if I had been to the toilet, and I realised I hadn’t had a wee for about ten hours. She asked me to go and try, but I literally couldn’t go. Another weird thing they don’t tell you – labour can sometimes ‘shut down’ your ability to urinate. The midwife was pretty confident that my bladder wasn’t empty and so she used a catheter to relieve me. I remember at the time feeling very undignified as I watched her fill two of those upside-down paper hat things with wee – over a litre apparently. My dignity was rapidly fading away.
After that, I got back in the pool. My contractions started to get stronger and I was finally 10cm dilated. Everyone got quite excited and cheerleadery as I did a few really good pushes, and I was utterly convinced that the head must already be sticking out by now. I remember thinking that my daughter was going to be born around lunchtime, and how great that would be – to have the afternoon to recover. But then, all of a sudden and for no apparent reason, my contractions tailed off, then stopped completely.
In desperation after half an hour of nothing, we decided to try to increase the amount of oxytocin (the hormone needed for contractions) in the room by… TWEAKING MY NIPPLES. Yep, you heard me right. I felt stupid doing it to myself, so Oli did it for me. It sort of worked a bit, but I think by then my self-conscious brain was just in full panic mode, and nothing was going to get those contractions up to speed again. I was also grimly aware of all the BITS OF STUFF floating in the water – I asked if they were poo, but apparently they weren’t. I then realised some of the bits were pieces of my Shellac nail varnish which had fallen off my toenails thanks to being in the water so long. Oh the glamour.
We tried EVERYTHING to get things going again – my poor midwife was so desperate – I sat on the birthing stool (for some reason this was stupidly low - someone needs to design a better version!), went back on the bed on all fours, sat on the loo (!), tried standing and leaning against the wall while Oli rubbed my back, but I’d lost all urge to push. It was so frustrating and I was completely exhausted. The midwife eventually went to speak to the doctor.
He recommended that I be transferred downstairs to the delivery ward (BOO) and put on a synthetic oxytocin drip to get my contractions going again. After everything, I was basically going to be induced after all! This would mean a cannula, a permanent catheter and possibly an IV drip too. I was also offered an epidural (the drip makes the contractions more painful than natural ones) but I was so fed up I decided I didn’t bloody care about the pain and I wanted as few medical interventions as possible.
I was taken downstairs in a wheelchair, wrapped in just a sheet and feeling like a right failure. The delivery ward was as depressing as I’d imagined, and it took three attempts to get a cannula in my hand – in the end they had to call an anaesthetist to do it, who I vaguely remember was quite good looking and tried to be quite jovial with me, but I was having none of it. Feel a bit bad about that now... The cannula really really hurt and my hand swelled up straight away with a massive bruise - out of all the things that happened that day, this felt like the worst thing oddly, and was the only time I cried all day.
Thankfully my midwife was able to stay with me, which I really appreciated as I felt I had built up quite a rapport with her by then. By 5pm ish, the syntocinon drip had got going. I was hopeful that Daphne would arrive in about half an hour or so – I was actually desperate for some super strong, super painful contractions that would blast the little bugger out of my birth canal.
But, as appeared to be the order of the day, we waited. And waited. And waited. And nothing much happened. The contractions started but they were pretty feeble still. I tried pushing but my best efforts were met with stern commands of 'bigger pushes Charlotte, bigger'. But I couldn't seem to do anything 'bigger' - I felt I was trying as hard as I possibly could. I asked the midwife to turn the drip up, which she did, until Daphne’s heart rate started to drop and she had to turn it off completely. The midwife started to get a bit tetchy with me, and said that Daphne was getting tired and that I really needed to push harder.
By this point I was feeling trapped in some kind of nightmare – I genuinely couldn’t see how on earth this day would end. I asked for a Caesarean. I asked to be cut. I was completely distraught when I was told neither were an option – the Caesarean would be almost impossible as Daphne would have to be pushed back up into my womb, and the episiotomy wasn’t needed as her head wasn’t low enough yet.
I thought I might die. Genuinely.
We tried some more positions – standing up, on all fours, but by this point I had no strength left to support myself. My wrists were absolutely killing me from being on all fours for so long upstairs, and for clinging onto the birthing pool too tightly. I actually lost all the sensation in the tops of my fingers for a few days after – and ended up with a bruise on my forehead from leaning too hard on the side of the pool. The only position I could manage to push in was lying on my side with one leg hoisted up over the poor midwife’s shoulder.
My sister then had to go home – I felt like I’d failed her as she’d been with me all day and she was desperate to see her niece be born. The midwife then said the next stage was to get the doctor again and for him to use the ventouse on me. Hearing this, I think some new kind of steely resolve took hold of me as I realised I REALLY didn't want to have anyone fiddling with me again. I think finally the control freak in me let go as I accepted that I had to lose all dignity to do this thing. From somewhere I found a tiny reserve of energy and decided to try pushing even when I wasn’t having a contraction (this is not allowed btw, don’t tell my midwife).
Immediately Oli was incredibly encouraging, telling me how well I was doing as I inched slowly closer and closer to getting her head out - I fully credit him with empowering me somehow. I squeezed his hands so hard I'm sure I must have cut off his circulation but his cheerleading was just what I needed at that point.
As I started to push more the inevitable happened and YES PEOPLE I pooed on the bed. This is no great surprise really because one of the weirdest things about labour is that you basically feel like you’re trying to do a giant shit. I don’t understand why, when the baby comes out of a totally different hole, but there you have it. Even in my state I remember feeling incredibly sorry that this lovely patient midwife had to wipe up my poo for me, and I kept apologising to her.
Somehow, some way, I seemed to finally get the hang of it. I made a lot of noise. A LOT of noise. The pain was excruciating but I almost used it as motivation – the more it hurt, the more I knew I must be progressing. By this point I was DESPERATE for pain! A few more midwives came in the room and I noticed them bustling about with towels and things – for the baby, I realised, and this also spurred me on.
Eventually Oli told me he could see the baby’s head (as well as my poo – the poor man, will he ever find me attractive again?), and the midwives asked me if I wanted to touch it (the head, not the poo). I did not want to touch it. This freaked me out completely but it was so good to know that finally, FINALLY, something was happening. Whoever said childbirth is like squeezing an orange out of your nostril was bang on the money. During the final pushes I remember thinking to myself ‘OK, so now I’m ripping myself in half but I have to do this OR THIS DAY WILL NEVER END.’
Finally I realised everyone was getting excited again – and I did it. With the last push her whole body came out in one big slimy gush, at 7.46pm. My lunchtime baby was born right in the middle of Corrie. And just 14 minutes before my amazing midwife's 12-hour shift ended.
They put her on my chest and I tried to pull her towards me but realised I couldn’t get her any closer because she was still attached to me by the cord. But I held her as best I could, and immediately – and completely randomly as god knows when I last heard it – the song Cheek to Cheek came into my head.
I'm in heaven...
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak...'
And I loved her straight away.