The birth I didn't plan

17 Apr 2016

When you're pregnant you spend a lot of time thinking about your little one coming into this world. The closer you get to your due date all you do is plan your perfect birth; wonder how it'll feel, how long you'll be in labour for, how it'll feel when your baby is put into your arms after so many long months wishing and hoping for their safe arrival, wondering what they'll look like and what their first cry will sound like. You start to imagine every last detail, painting this idyllic picture in your head.

When your birth doesn't go the way you planned, it can be devastating.

I didn't want to write a birth plan. My entire pregnancy I was very blase about how I wanted to approach my birth, very 'what will be will be' mindset. I had looked into hypnobirthing but I was far too lazy to actually put the ideas into place. I knew I wanted to try for a water birth, I knew I wanted gas and air and I knew I wanted to have a natural birth. I was terrified of tearing, to the point where the fear of tearing down there often kept me up at night and sometimes had my anxiety so spiked, I would feel physically sick. When at 35 weeks or so I did finally write my birth plan, my midwife became concerned with how anxious I was about very small details. 

My main worry was going into labour, getting a lift from M's mum as neither of us drive, getting all the way to the hospital which is a good 35 minute drive, only to be sent home. I was convinced they would say 'sorry, you're not ready yet, come back later', we'd be sent on our merry way and then just my luck, we wouldn't make it back in time and our baby would be born in transit without help or medical professionals. I was so absolutely terrified of this that my midwife suggested we have a home birth; I was low risk, it would stop me feeling anxious about getting to the hospital on time and I wouldn't have to worry about staying in hospital overnight, which was another thing which had made me extremely anxious as I had never been in hospital before.

As luck would have it just as I got my head wrapped around a home birth and we went out and bought everything we needed, we found out Willow was breech at 36 weeks and at 37+2, we had a scan to check her position. Thankfully by then, Christmas Eve no less, she had turned back down and we were given the go ahead for a natural birth again, but by then I had been well and truly put off a home birth. What if she turned breech again? She'd been transverse most of my pregnancy and I was worried that if we tried for a home birth and she turned out to be breech again, we wouldn't get to the hospital in time. I told M that I had changed my mind, I didn't feel safe, I wanted to go to the hospital to have her.

My due date came and went and I was overdue, something I never seriously considered happening, but I think I took it quite well. M was far more impatient than I was, he was talking to my Gizmo bump and asking them to 'please come today', whilst I just smiled my way through day after day, relaxing, enjoying my last few days as 'me' before I became 'mummy'. At 1 day overdue I had my first sweep, with another a week later when the first didn't work. We tried hot curries, I'd been on the Raspberry Leaf Tea for a while (which had actually worked at softening my cervix a lot) and had been out walking, but the laziness was strong, I didn't try much else. 

I was given a date to be induced, Sunday January 24th, and I was happy for the first time in a long while. Although I knew the negatives of being induced, how it can be more painful, take longer and statistics show it more often than not results in an emergency caesarean, I felt relieved to have an end in sight, to know that our baby would soon be here. It was extremely difficult keeping the induction date to myself whenever anyone asked, either on Instagram or Twitter, simply replying with 'oh, I'll be induced some point next week I'm guessing if it doesn't happen naturally before then', but I wanted to give myself a few days to go through the induction, have our baby and take it all in. I had documented my pregnancy from very early on and I just wanted those first few days to me, M and our baby, to share with our immediate family, to soak in all those little details before we made the news public.  

At 8am on Sunday January 24th I called Leicester General Hospital. I had been up for an hour double checking my hospital bags and I was nervous. My heart was racing, a mix of nerves and excitement, I was looking around constantly, taking in the little details of our home knowing that once I left, the next time I would see our bedroom would be with a baby in my arms. I had been warned by my midwife that if the ward was busy I wouldn't be able to go in straight away and just my luck, they were full, but they promised to call back as soon as a bed became available and by 2:30pm we were at the hospital and our induction began.

Things started off with me being monitored for 30 minutes. Me and M were so excited and nervous at this point, talking about how our lives were about to change forever, that it wasn't just talking about having our baby anymore, they were really going to be here. After 30 minutes of monitoring, with the results coming out perfectly, I was given an internal examination. I was hoping I would be a few cm dilated, especially with being 12 days overdue, but I was only 1cm dilated and my cervix was still very high. I was talked through how inductions work and that in my circumstances, they would try a pessary to start my labour. A pessary would be popped in, kept in for 24 hours and then another popped in for a further 24 hours. I was told they very rarely worked first time and not to get my hopes up. In the pessary went and I was monitored for another hour before being moved over to the ward. 

As you'll know if you read my pregnancy posts, we didn't find out the gender of our baby, but we knew the names for either a boy or a girl. Some will say it was merely a coincidence, but when I was settling in to my hospital bed and popping all my bags in the locker beside me, M noticed that my pillowcase was fairly see-through and the pillow in the case had been written on in thick black permanent marker - From the Willow Ward. 

M wasn't allowed to stay with me long, just long enough to eat some food with me before being sent on his way. As neither of us drive and we lived so far away, he had no plans of going home and potentially missing the birth, and so he was a complete trooper and slept in the hospital corridor in a very uncomfy chair, texting me to keep me calm and my nerves at bay. You have no idea how much I wanted him beside me, and how much I hated that he couldn't be there with me. So much so, I spent much of my night going to and from where he was, because I just didn't want to be on the ward without him.

At 6:30pm that night I started to feel intense cramping and severe back pains, which only intensified as time went on. I was given painkillers and told not to worry, it was just 'end of pregnancy pains' and it couldn't possibly be the pessary working so quickly, just try and get to sleep. From 9pm I started getting regular tightenings, each at exactly 7 minutes apart and lasting 45 seconds, later followed by more of my mucus plug coming away. Again I was told to just sleep, that it wasn't labour; they wouldn't even agree to examine me, so determined that I was merely exaggerating. I spent the rest of that night fighting off tears, texting M and telling him how much I wished he was there, but no longer able to even walk to him because the pains were so intense. I was scared, I wanted him with me and I wanted the midwives to listen to me; it may be my first baby but I knew I was in labour, why wouldn't anyone listen to me?

At 6am after a night of no sleep, a lot of pain and feeling extremely uncomfortable, I was given more pain killers. By this point I was feeling the tightenings every 3-5 minutes, not quite regular, but always within 3-5 minutes and lasting 30-40 seconds. Because the timings were irregular, the midwives again assured me that I couldn't possibly be in labour - as I sat on the edge of my bed rocking my hips backwards and forwards, crying and begging to be examined. At 8:15am I was put on a monitor and at 8:30am I was finally examined, after the monitor confirmed I was definitely in labour and the tightenings were indeed contractions. I was 7cm dilated.

I was moved straight to the delivery ward, where the midwife just kept chuckling to herself 'well, you really are in labour then!' and I didn't know whether to laugh, cry or scream in frustration at her. By this point M was allowed to be with me again, finally, and he brought all of my bags over to the ward with us. I was moved into a room, introduced to my first midwife (I always had one midwife with me, but when shifts changed so did the midwife) and my pessary was removed at 10:20am. By 10:35am I was on the gas and air. 

I was examined by the head midwife on duty who told me that my waters were pressing down on my cervix which was why the pains were so intense and also why I was very dilated but my contractions were still fairly irregular. They explained I would need to have my waters broken and this may then mean I go from being 7cm dilated right back down to 1cm or 2cm dilated, but not to be disheartened. 

At 10:55am they started the process of breaking my waters. Having your waters broken is a very strange experience. It felt like someone was picking at my insides, I could feel the crochet-hook like instrument poking, tugging and pulling then a pop and a sudden gush as my waters were broken and what felt like a flood came rushing out of me. There was meconium present in my waters, which basically means that Willow had poo'ed, but they said that was no cause for concern and is very common when you are so far overdue. The head midwife was right, I was no longer 7cm dilated - I was now 5cm dilated.

I was dealing fine with my contractions, absolutely loving the gas and air, but I was also feeling pains which weren't related to my contractions. I needed to wee. I had the most intense, strong, painful and excruciating need to wee, and it only got more intense as time went on. Willow was pressing on my bladder, and although I could ride out each contraction with ease, the gas and air was my saviour for fighting off the pain she was making me feel. Willow was absolutely fine; her heartbeat never wavered once throughout my entire labour and she was happy and moving around as if it was just another day, whilst mama over here was feeling like I was stuck in the longest Download portaloo queue in metal history. 

At around 2:30pm, 24 hours after we arrived, I was told that my contractions were not speeding up as much as they would like for this point in my labour and so they were going to give me a drip to speed them up. At this point I was offered, and accepted, an epidural. Although I was fine with my contractions up until this point, I had been told that the drip would make the contractions far more intense than if they were to happen naturally and so I was all for having the epidural to help me through it. I'm not a stubborn mama who'll turn down pain relief just to be able to say I gave birth with no help, I'll take all the help I'm offered, thank you please!

At 2:48pm I was given the epidural and at 3:20pm my drip was started. Things started off fairly slowly and it wasn't until 6:30pm that things really started to intensify. I had a catheter put in at 5pm, downing water like you wouldn't believe but as I had been induced and was hooked up to the drip and monitor, I wasn't allowed to physically get up and go to the toilet. By this point the pressure Willow was putting on my bladder was becoming excruciating and even though the epidural was blocking out the contractions (to the point where I didn't even know when I was having a contraction), I was in extreme pain and had to continue using the gas and air with every contraction, purely to numb the pain of her pressing on my bladder. I was also told at this point that the box attached to my catheter, which would usually collect urine, was beginning to fill with bloody water. Still her heartbeat didn't waver, she was happy'as'larry.

At 8pm I was examined again. I was now 7cm dilated again but still things weren't speeding up as fast as they would like. They would let me stay as I was for 4 hours, being examined again at 12am. If things hadn't progressed by then, the most likely outcome would be an emergency caesarean. Although I wasn't scared of having a caesarean, at this point I was really determined to carry on and give birth naturally, I'd gotten this far hadn't I?! 

At this point I was still getting epidural top ups every 30 minutes, just using the gas and air to cope with the pressure and pain of her pressing on my bladder. The next 4 hours seemed to go by at a nice steady pace and I was sure things would progress so that I could birth her naturally. I was still 7cm, I was getting more excited by the minute; she could be here any moment now!

When midnight came and it was time to be examined again, there was good and bad news. I was now 9cm dilated and my contractions were closer together, which was all good news, but Willow was too high up. She wasn't anywhere near as low as she should be and if she didn't rapidly drop down lower, even a natural birth would require the help of forceps or a ventouse, neither of which I wanted. We agreed I would carry on for 2 more hours and if things weren't going in the right direction, I would be having an emergency caesarean. Downside? From that point on, I wasn't allowed an epidural top up, in case I ended up with the caesarean where they would need to administer more epidural for the operation. 

It was now the early hours of Tuesday morning, I had been in labour a long time and I was riding it out on gas and air. The contractions I could cope with, the pressure on my bladder however was now so intense I was crying out and sobbing. I could tell apart the pain of my contractions and the pressure on my bladder, and I was so angry that the pain from my bladder was taking over and becoming the focus of my labour. I was still filling the catheter box with bloody water, and I was struggling to stay still. The midwives were finding it difficult to keep the trace on to monitor her heartbeat because I couldn't sit still, whilst I struggled and rocked and held onto M, repeatedly telling everyone how much I needed a wee and that I didn't feel safe. I was beginning to panic and my anxiety was spiking, I felt like a panic attack was likely at any moment, everything felt like it was happening at 100mph. The pain was unlike I have ever felt in my life, it sends shivers down my spine just thinking about it.

At 2am the surgeon and head midwife on duty came back around to examine me again. This time my external examination was severely painful and I screamed, feeling as if she was clawing my insides out. Willow hadn't dropped down, but our stats were still good and I was given the option; go for a caesarean now, or try another 2 hours. At this point the pain on my bladder was so unreal, so excruciating, I begged and begged for them to give me a caesarean. I gave up, I couldn't do it anymore. Please, just get her out.

I was rushed over to theatre where M had to wait in a side room whilst they got me ready. I was told that the usual procedure was to top up the epidural to a maximum dose, which they did, and I was then given tests to see what I could and couldn't feel; ice cold water was sprayed over me in different places, "how cold is this?", or a flat and sharp surface pressed against me, "is this flat or is this sharp?". I could feel everything, every little test they did I could feel as if I had no pain relief whatsoever. Things started to get a bit blurry. The operating theatre was intensely bright, there were people everywhere, gosh there seemed like there was so many people. I kept asking where M was, I kept asking when my baby would be here, and they kept trying to make me concentrate and realise how important it was that I told them exactly what I could and couldn't feel. I remember snapping, telling them I could feel everything and would I feel them cutting me open? At this point, people started to panic.

Usually a caesarean is fairly straight forward, quick to set up, in and out. For me the epidural simply wasn't working and they were unable to top it up anymore than the maximum dose I had already had. I knew why, and asked "it's not working because of my weight, right?". It was explained to me that yes, because of my weight this wasn't going to happen the normal way and we had two options; a spinal block or putting me to sleep, the latter of which could be very dangerous and I needed to understand the possibility of what could go wrong if I was put to sleep. I felt physically sick. We tried the spinal block.

It was excruciating, sitting forward on an operating table, still feeling the intense pain from my bladder and unable to sit still, rocking backwards and forwards as they tried to make me sit still so they could put the spinal block in. Struggling for over an hour to get it in because my back fat was preventing them from finding the right spot. The needle finally went in and I jumped forward; everyone gasped. The dangers of moving whilst having a spinal block were serious, and I had just moved a lot. An electric shock had pulsed through my body running down my left side and I felt like I'd touched an electric fence. More hands came forward to hold me still, a student midwife spoke calmly to me and helped me stay still so that they could administer the spinal block without me moving again. Then bliss.

As soon as it kicked in, within seconds, my entire body just relaxed. "I don't need to wee anymore!", I told everyone crowded around me. I couldn't feel a thing, my body wasn't my body anymore, everything was numb. I was moved back onto my back on the operating table, M was finally allowed in (after fretting in the side room for almost an hour and a half) and the surgeons began to cut me open.

Willow was brought into this world at 4:04am on Tuesday January 26th 2016. I was in labour for over 19 hours and had been cut open for her to be brought into this world, having never even sprained anything before. She was brought to the side for M to tell me she was a girl and I saw her being held up by one of the many people who had helped birth her safely; she was swollen and chubby, purple, a head full of hair, but not as big as I expected. And then it hit me; I had a daughter, I was a mother. She cried, I cried, M cried. We were congratulated and she was bundled up in blankets and passed to M as I was stitched up.

I spent 2 hours in recovery, with what looked like space boots on and lots of tests and checks being done. M held our baby girl for the first hour of her life before I was finally allowed to hold her. I did the only thing I could do; I stared at her beautiful face and told her how much I loved her. All 8lbs 8oz of her.

I didn't get the birth I planned, I didn't get my water birth or survive on just gas and air. I had major surgery and had more than a little help bringing our gorgeous girl into this world - but she got here, safely. I'm left with a scar and a recovery that I never imagined, I struggle every single day with taking in our our birth went and how I never got the skin to skin contact I so desperately wanted as soon as she was born. I envy those who get their perfect births, and wonder if they appreciate it, when the birth I dreamed of was taken from me. I cry, every single day, because I'm still coming to terms with how things happened, as things start to unblur in my head. I spent 24 hours on the ward before discharging myself 24 hours earlier than the team wanted. I didn't even think to take photos of us as a new family in the hospital, so full of pain relief that those first few days, first few weeks, are just one big blur, the confusion of remembering every little detail, but as if I'm remembering it through a dense fog.

She was stubborn just like her mama and daddy, far too comfortable in my tummy to let me birth her naturally. But she's here, safe, happy and healthy. Almost 12 weeks later, I wouldn't change how she arrived. She's here, and that is all that matters.