My Birth Story: Rebecca and Jason

My due date was on the 8th May 2016. Bags packed, toenails painted, hypnobirthing cd on replay. We were so ready and couldn't wait for things to begin. My labour began on the 10th May after seeing my midwife for a sweep, she confirmed I was 2cm dilated. Later that day labour started with a show and mild contractions which were 15 minutes apart and quite manageable, so manageable in fact that we decided to go to the local pub that night for dinner as I knew things can take a while to kick in.

The contractions eased up the next morning so started bouncing on my physio ball sniffing a bottle of clary sage whilst sipping raspberry leaf tea.  Jason massaged my lower back and attached the tens machine (incredible at this stage!!)  By 2 pm the contractions were 8 minutes apart and becoming more intense, by 10pm the contractions were far more intense and coming every 4 minutes. It was time to head to the Stoke Mandeville birthing centre. Feelings of excitement, anticipation and the unknown took hold of both of us whilst driving down our bumpy lane (twice as Jason forgot if he'd locked the front door).

On arrival I was examined and disappointedly had not dilated any further, the midwife did a sweep and stretch (ouch!) and suddenly my contractions became intense and all consuming.  She then told me we could go home, I knew I wanted to stay in hospital as I felt so safe and calm there so they agreed we could.

It was so busy that night so we headed up to the postnatal ward. Walking became impossible so I was wheeled to a cubicle to await imminent dilation. This was the strangest part of the labour for me, my contractions were coming every minute, almost feeling like there was no break between them and all I could have was paracetamol until I had got to 4cm. We were in a room with sleeping new mums, brand new babies and another lady that seemed so in control of her labour, all I knew was I felt so uncomfortable to make too much sound. The environment made such a difference to the way I felt I could cope. The overwhelming waves of labour at this stage meant I couldn't relax which made my body fight what was happening. After 2 hours on PN ward they ran me a bath, this helped a lot as we finally had a room to ourselves, the contractions at this point were becoming frequent and far stronger.

Everything slowed down at this point,  in fact I almost feel like it was a blur through these few hours.  After what felt way longer than 4 hours I was examined, I was finally 4cms and ready to head to the birthing centre. I'd had a strep B test come back positive so I needed IV antibiotics, The midwives helped me onto a transformer labouring bed where they put a cannula in my hand, it took a few attempts but finally started to administer the antibiotics whilst taking gas and air. Relief.

The hypnobirthing really helped at this point, I couldn't panic, I had to surrender to the pain, I had to trust my body and wow our bodies are amazing. Jason was so supportive and was in constant discussion about what was going on, this made a huge difference as I had a voice that knew what I wanted. The room was bright and not the place I wanted to give birth so I asked if the water pool was free yet, it was and a midwife ran in to let me know they were running the bath for me. My contractions then changed and felt quite different, expulsive creating a feeling of wanting to push,  the midwife reminded me I would have to wait as the antibiotics needed 2 hours to work. An impossibility, my cervix had dilated completely from 4 cms to 10 cms in an hour.

We arrived in the birthing pool room, it was dimly lit, relaxing music playing and the water felt incredible. After a long wait I was finally in the pool, Jason was right by me and I finally could let go. I think I roared like a lioness, my waters broke and I started to feel pressure, it was her head. Jason started to cry as he saw her little head full of jet black hair emerge. It was all I needed to see to keep going, I kept saying is the midwife here she has to catch the baby as I'm pretty sure they were quite shocked as to how quickly it all happened. With a few more roars our baby appeared, the midwives caught her and placed her on my chest, there she was my gorgeous baby girl it was incredible. Jason was so emotional and we both stared at her in amazement.

After a few moments Jason cut the cord, held her in his arms for skin on skin and I climbed out of the bath to birth the placenta. I needed a couple of stitches but they were really no problem. All exhausted, Eleanor Primrose Pearce had arrived on earth. We were totally in love. The midwives and support enabled me to have my dream birth and I'm so incredibly grateful to the team at Stoke. She weighed a healthy 7lb1.

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Why I didn't hire a Doula

This week I've been doing some thinking. Why didn't I find myself a Doula for River's birth? I've come up with the following reasons: 

  1. I didn't want my husband, my birth partner, to feel undermined
  2. To be honest, I didn't know enough about the role of a Doula and didn't realise how significant the presence of a Doula can be on your birth experience
  3. I read a lot about the less people being present at the birth the better
  4. Doulas are expensive! At the time, we couldn't afford this and I didn't like the thought that giving birth could turn out to be really pricey. *p.s. - I plan to make my Doula services available to all women and will be writing about this more in the future.

What I now know: 

1. A Doula never ever replaces your birth partner. They exist to support them to, to compliment them. Often, your husband or partner has never seen a birth before and it can be quite overwhelming for them - having a Doula there, someone they know will be there to help them support their awesome labouring partner, is often incredible peace of mind. Someone to help her birth 'decisions' get realised if their minds go blank from the emotion of the day. A midwife, no matter how brilliant she is at her job, has one primary concern - the health of you and your baby - she/he will not necessarily be attentive to your emotional needs and if you don't have a case-loading midwife, there's also a chance you've never met her before! A Doula is someone to take the pressure away from remembering everything your partner learned in NCT class (!) so they can be a little more free to enjoy the experience and just 'be there' for the mother-to-be. Today, more husbands/partners are an active role in the birth process and Doulas really encourage participation from the partner, offering reassurance if at any time they feel anxious. After all, it's natural to feel some nerves in such a life-changing experience such as labour, but our role, as a team is to keep the mother-to-be as calm and relaxed as possible. 

2. Statistically, the presence of a Doula, dramatically increases the mother's chance of having a less medicalised birth, with less intervention and higher satisfaction. 

A Cochrane review published in 2012 found that in labours with the continuous presence of a Doula, labouring mothers experience:

  • reduced use of pitocin
  • decreased rate of interventions during labor
  • less need for pain medication and less requests for epidural
  • higher satisfaction with birth outcomes
  • much lower c-section rate
  • higher chance of a spontaneous vaginal birth
  • shorter labours.

You can read more about the evidence for Doulas here: http://evidencebasedbirth.com/the-evidence-for-doulas/

3. The ONLY thing that matters, is that the mother feels safe, loved and supported. Whether that's "crowdbirthing" or locked alone in the bathroom with just her husband - the midwife, mother and sister banished to the other side of the door, then so be it!

My view is, you can never have enough love and practical help around you, but you'll have a good idea of who will help you to feel calm and who you definitely don't want there. At the end of the day we are mammals and we like to birth in private, warm, dark and quiet spaces so don't be surprised if you instinctively crawl into the corner to give birth away from every one of your audience members when the time comes. 

I read an excellent article on this subject yesterday. Here is is: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/30/birth-crowdbirthing

The Cochrane review I mentioned above also compared Doula support to other types of labour support, including support by hospital staff, support of a friend or relative, or partner support and found that doula supported mothers had the best outcomes. This is not to discount the very important role of family and birth partners, but to show that Doulas can provide additional help to a labouring mother.

4. Well...Doulas are expensive. They give many many hours of support, often sleepless nights away from their own family and are on call for your every desire for much of that time. Most importantly though, if a Doula can so probably improve your experience of childbirth and help you and your partner welcome your baby into the world in a more safe and peaceful way, a way that you'll treasure forever, you can see why millions of women hire Doulas. 

However, it's my strong opinion that this is a service that all women should have access to - not just the well off. This is why I plan to be, The Affordable Doula, whilst still managing to feed my own baby and hungry husband! Watch this space and soon, I'll reveal how. 

I know one thing for sure, I'm searching for my Doula for my second baby already! I can't wait to meet her. 

 

 

 

 

My Birth Story: Gabi and Adam

GABI AND ADAM

As soon as I found out I was pregnant I started to read others' birth stories. I suppose it gave me understanding and a great insight into what may happen to me when the time came. I really was clueless, as I think most of us are and I found it really reassuring to read the stories of all these women and I was fascinated by how different everyone's experience was. As I got closer to my due date I felt quite comfortable with the prospect of birth, I wasn’t terrified of it as I always thought I would be and of course, in many ways, I was very much looking forward to it. I felt armed with positive vibes and a belief that what would be would be and that would be alright.   However, as I went past my due date I started to search for and read stories, every day looking for a similarity or a sign that would make me feel certain that today would be the day and that soon I’d meet my baby.  

Every woman has a different story and every one is so different. I think it’s really important to emphasise that. I believe that reading others' experiences helped me and so I hope that reading mine will do the same. I’ll be honest as best my memory serves me and whilst I’m sure I should avoid using words such a ‘pain’ I’ll just go ahead and describe all the sensations as accurately as I can. I’m a great believer in protecting and encouraging expectant mothers, flooding them with positivity but there has to be a balance of realism, in my opinion.  

I was due on August 8th and I couldn’t wait. I really can’t say I loved being pregnant and as it neared the end I felt I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I felt bad for not relishing every moment and as the days dragged on and over ‘D-Day’ I became desperate. Every day I was trying a different ‘trick’ that I’d been told or found online on some stupid forum. It’s amazing what desperation will have you do and believe! On day 40+3 I ate 2 pineapples, a mango, a curry, bounced on my ball for hours, did yoga, walked the dogs, inhaled and applied clary sage and had sex. I felt nothing other than very sick. Of course. Useless. However, I woke the next morning with an acceptance that there is no due date and that, within reason, my baby would come when she was ready and that my body knew what it was doing. I was still analysing every twinge and wondering if it was a tightening, lightening, Braxton Hicks, a contraction, wind, full blown labour.

It was Tuesday night, eight days ‘over’ when I started to feel some different sensations. It wasn’t pain as such and I didn’t know what it was, I only knew it felt different. I was home alone, Adam was working and about a four-hour journey away. I sat on the sofa and went with it, deciding to see if this was going anywhere or getting any worse. After two hours these sensations started to feel like they were coming with some uniformity. They were consistently achy. At this point, I called Adam and said that perhaps he’d like to come home after this job which he did and arrived around 11pm. By this time I’d had a bath and was trying to settle myself still not really knowing if this was it or if it would simply pass. I fell asleep around midnight and woke again at 3am in considerably more discomfort than the previous evening. I went to the loo in great expectation of the mysterious and elusive mucus plug…nothing. I woke Adam and had another bath as the pains were ramping up. It was like strong period pains but more in my back and within the hour they were stronger and we decided to start timing them. By 6am these pains were every 3-4 minutes and lasting at least 45 seconds. This is what we’re told to look out for and when we are told to go to the hospital. So we called and they invited us in.   We’d opted for a mother-centric birthing centre attached to our local hospital and I had hoped for a water birth. That was as detailed as my birth plan was, choosing to have faith in my body rather than try to stick to a plan which, knowing myself, could stress me out if something deviated.

We hadn’t done a visit to the birth centre as we could have done as again I preferred to not know and to take it all as it came rather than spend the weeks pre-labour with an image in my mind as to how it would be. We had however, made a dummy run and checked out where everything was.  The journey is about 30 minutes by car and by the time we got there I was struggling to walk. The midwife asked me to rate my pain on a scale of 1-10. I said 10 given that it was the most pain I had ever experienced, how was I to rate it any less? She examined me and I was 1cm dilated. 1cm!!! This was not labour, this was pre-labour and that terrified me. It hadn't even started yet. I had no tolerance for pain. Oh shit.

We were to go home and wait it out. So off we went.  I tried really hard to calm myself as the realisation hit that I just didn’t know what was going to happen, how it was going to feel started to scare me. It had occurred to me that in reality, my rating of 10 should have been 1 and that gave me some insight as to what 10 might really feel like. My midwife was scheduled for a visit to perform my second sweep at 1pm so we decided to wait it out until then and take action from there. So we were home and focused on getting through the next 7 or so hours until she arrived and told us that we could go back to the hospital. I was so fearful of making another wasted trip as I’d found the journey very uncomfortable and stressful. I had another bath and the pains were just as regular, consistently every four minutes maximum and lasting for 45-60 seconds. Adam set to work trying to get me to eat which I simply couldn’t face so he made me fruit, oat and honey smoothies which I’m so glad I got down me when I could. He’d brought my yoga mat and birthing ball up to the bedroom as I found being seated or on my back intensely uncomfortable. I needed to be on my knees, rocking and moving.

I was on countdown until Elizabeth my lovely midwife arrived. She asked me some questions. Waters broken? No. Scale of pain? I just didn’t know how to answer. She examined me and I was…..1cm! Noooooo! How can this be? She could feel the baby's head and the bag of waters. She performed a very ‘assertive’ sweep which was not comfortable but at this stage it was all pretty sore so no matter. We asked how to know when to go to the birth centre as the timings etc were all we really had to go on. She advised to wait, ‘wait as long as you possibly can as you will get sent home if you are under 4cm’. Given that I thought I was in full blown labour at 4am that morning none of this advice really meant anything to me. With nothing to compare anything to, how on earth do I know how far down the line we are?  As soon as the door closed behind her it really started. The next few hours are still very vivid to me. Adam had pulled the blinds, lit candles and incense. We were figuring out which positions helped, how to breathe and how he could help me, which he did greatly. The pain was intense now and I had become very vocal which I found both helped and alarmed me but I couldn’t help it. Every contraction was more intense than the last and so I was always ready to make the call and head to the hospital but after every contraction, Adam would say ‘Just wait a few more minutes’ ‘Breathe’ and ‘You’re doing great’ and so the next 3 or 4 hours passed. At some point I’d lost my plug, the ‘bloody show’ and all those days of wondering ‘is this it?’ were suddenly laughable. When it goes, you know!  

It was around 4 o'clock I think when Adam declared we were leaving. It was Wednesday and we were approaching rush hour which could make the journey over an hour. We loaded into the car for the second time. We have a small car and so the baby seat has to be installed behind the passenger seat otherwise there’s no room for our legs when driving. This makes the passenger seat very upright and close to the windscreen so there is no space at all. I couldn’t move and felt fixed at a right-angle which was at this stage excruciating. It was a very warm afternoon and I was sweltering so we made the journey with me screaming out of the open window. Towards the end, Adam really put his foot down and we must have been a real sight!  We made our way into the birth centre, I was really struggling to walk and couldn’t stand unaided when a contraction hit. I was 6cm! Thank The Lord!! We were getting there!  

Everything seemed to be in fast motion from here on in. I was in another room facing a huge jacuzzi looking bath before I knew it. I remember the two midwives asking me what I’d like to wear in the pool at which point I just stripped off and got in before the next contraction arrived. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I’d be wearing anything! Almost as soon as I got in the water, my waters broke. It was at this stage Adam decided he’d not be getting in with me!  I felt relief at being at this point, the journey done and such incredible excitement at the prospect of meeting my little girl but the fear was also strong. Knowing what I know now, I’d rate the pain at a 7.

What happened next is less vivid, more of a blur. The only thing that felt vivid were the sensations coursing through by body. That is all there was. I could hear Adam in the background and I knew the midwives were there but I was entirely inside myself, suddenly there was no outside, no water, no birth centre, no light or dark or positions or breathing. It was just a fire in my back, my stomach and my vagina and it grew in intensity as each contraction hit and then crackled in the background in between letting me know it was still there and would come back with force and move my baby further down my body. I had no idea where she was, how far along we were. Whether she was still in my tummy or whether she was right down in my birth canal and that scared me as I just knew I needed her out. I could hear my own roaring, so much so that the midwives were trying to stop me so I didn’t damage my throat but it was the only way I could bear the contractions. It was at this point that I asked for the gas and air. I’m not sure why I didn’t have it sooner. Perhaps they were waiting for me to ask for it, I don’t know. The gas and air helped me to breathe slowly and concentrate on breathing through the contractions. How much it helped with the pain is hard to say as, again, I have nothing it compare it to but it gave another focus and that was a good thing.  I reached the point when I cried out for an epidural. Midwives say there is a stage in every woman's labour when they claim they cannot continue, they want to go home or just not have the baby anymore. They said I could have the epidural but I would need to get out of the water. They said I should wait for the next contraction and then we could do that. I think they knew how close I was as I then immediately needed to push, it was so overwhelming. A totally primal urge that washed over my body. I remember it so clearly and it makes me feel breathless just thinking about it now. Unlike all the other words that had been spoken I heard clear as a bell ‘Don’t push! Breathe, breathe, breathe.’ I remember that I didn’t know why I shouldn’t push, I’ve not read WHY I shouldn’t push, I thought and as such, I thought that pushing would hurt my baby. It is astounding what power the mind has over the body and nothing has made me realise this with such clarity as in that moment when I thought that pushing would hurt my little girl. I didn’t push. I sucked on that gas and air and I breathed and roared through it. Her head was out. I remember Adams face as clearly as looking at a photograph. ‘Her head’s out!’ he said and I thought ‘Shut Up!’ That meant shoulders were next. I remember asking Adam to hold my leg, as if to pull my legs apart which for obvious reasons felt like the right thing to do and realising then that he’d been holding my head above water all this time. One final contraction and I felt her leaving my body. I felt her length in my birth canal tearing down through me and then the midwife telling me to pick her up out of the water. There she was! Underwater! I scooped her up and just remember balling my eyes out and looking at the midwives and saying ‘thank you, thank you’. The relief was incredible. She looked to be ok. I asked if she was ok, more than once! Her little face hit the air and she screamed and she had me at that very second. There she was. Wow. But she has dark hair! I guess the gas and air did work because for a split second I thought she was the wrong baby as I always thought my baby would look like me, with blonde hair! Back to reality and she was mine. We’d made it. Two hours after arriving at the birth centre and Ruby Jean was here, and we were all okay.

Adam looked at me with a bit of ‘see, I told you it’d be alright’ mixed with a lot of ‘Oh my God, look at her!’  I hadn’t even considered what might happen afterwards. It didn’t even occur to me to think about it but if you’re interested then here it is.  Adam was asked if he wanted to cut the cord, which he did. Whilst watching this happen I noticed I didn’t have a bump and how amazing that instantly felt! Ruby was handed to Adam who had removed his t-shirt for some skin to skin while I was helped out of the bath to the bed. Everything was covered in a lot of paper and those pads that as far as I was aware were for toilet training puppies. I had an injection to speed along the delivery of the placenta which was, in comparison a doddle. I wasn’t prepared in any way for the amount of blood. Hence the paper and pads. The pool looked, as Adam said, like the scene of a shark attack and it kept on coming for some time following delivery. I couldn’t feel it and it wasn’t painful, more of a gentle burn but it was a little disconcerting.  This after bit took just a few minutes, all the while Adam was holding Ruby in a chair next to me and I was on the bed staring at Adam and Ruby wanting so much to hold her. My head was clearing a little and I felt quite shocked, quite scared but I just wanted to hold her. Adam put her on my chest and the midwife helped me to show her my breast and she started to feed immediately. I hadn’t really wanted to breastfeed, until that moment.  Once they had checked us all over and saw that Ruby was feeding well they left the three of us to absorb what had just happened. It was the most precious time and we were lucky to have the peace and space to enjoy each other.

With the exception of the two midwives popping in and out to check we were alright it was just us for the next 4 hours.  I was examined and learnt that the real reason I wasn’t to push when that urge took over was to avoid tearing myself, not as I had thought to avoid hurting my baby. By some miracle, I’d managed to avoid the need for stitches and had come out the other end of labour relatively unscathed. No tearing, no stitches, no undue blood loss and no drugs. This was in no way due to planning, preparation or intention. I would have been first in line for an epidural and always assumed that I would have one but for one reason or another, it just didn’t happen that way.   We asked if we could go home. The midwife looked a little surprised and asked if we were sure. We were. It felt right and we felt ready. Ruby Jean had arrived with us at 6.27pm and we were home with a take-away pizza at midnight that same night.   It wasn’t plain sailing, but we did it. I still think about Adam guiding me through those pre-labour hours one minute at a time and that’s how I’m approaching these bewildering and exhilarating hours postpartum. Just one at a time. If Ruby and I got through that ok, we’ll do this standing on our heads.