My due date was 23rd February although there was always some disagreement about it. A 28-day cycle would have given me the due date of 20th Feb, but anything from 31 to 35 days is perfectly normal for me. Eventually the date was adjusted to 23rd but I thought it was still possible the real due date could well be later. But then with most first babies being late anyway... it's only a guide.
In the early hours of 23rd Feb my cold was stopping me sleeping and I just could not get comfortable lying down because the bump was so big and heavy and felt as if it was pulling on all the ligaments inside me. I went to the loo about 10 times (no exaggeration) and felt very rough by the time morning came. I had some very very mild cramps, and a bit of a pinky 'show' - nothing much but enough to remind me that my due date was here.
I went to the midwife at the Richmond clinic and saw Donna, who said she would have offered me a sweep but as I had a cold and felt pretty rough from lack of sleep they would wait another week. We made an appt for the following Monday.
By the time I got home from Richmond I decided to go to bed and rest, as my cold was getting to me, and also by this time I felt some slightly stronger nagging period pain-type cramps.
By the afternoon I felt rough enough to cancel both my coffee date with Natasha that day, and my lunch date with Amanda the next day. I told Adrian I had cramps but even if this was the very start of labour, I knew they were comparatively mild compared with what they would become so no need to rush home.
By the end of the afternoon I began to really think this might be it. I got in the bath to try to ease the pain. It worked OK for a short while but not as well as I had hoped. It was uncomfortable in the bath as I was so big and we have a fairly small bath too.
Adrian came home and was excited that the pain had started. I tried to keep in mind that sometimes the pain can come on like this, and then stop and disappear for a couple of days.
I had a second bath and got out almost straight away - it just wasn't working anymore. This was a bit of a worry as I've always found baths absolutely brilliant for easing very bad period pain, and a warm waterbirth was really my entire gameplan for coping with the pain of labour. As the pains got worse I asked Adrian to set up the TENS machine. We struggled with it a bit but in the end got it sorted.
I phoned the hospital just to make contact with them, as I thought this must be the onset of true labour now. I knew it was too early to come in, but I felt that it was time to call them and let them know that it had kicked off a bit. The lady I spoke to was very nice and said I was doing all the right things. She said to call back when the contractions became more frequent and regular. I did that later and spoke to a less sympathetic woman who put me off coming in for a bit longer as she felt I wasn't ready yet. She told me to take 2 paracetamol! I did, but unsurprisingly they made no difference whatsoever - the pain had gone past that long ago.
Late that night the contractions were painful enough (I didn't want to talk during them - needed to concentrate, and I couldn't sit or stand still, I had to move around almost bouncing during each pain) and regular enough and long enough (he checked on a website! - a special programme where you press the spacebar when a contraction starts and stops, and it keeps track for you...) for me to say to Adrian that I thought we should go in.
I was still attached to the TENS machine - not sure how much good it did but I didn't want to take it off as it was a distraction at least.
Adrian packed the car with my hospital bag, our huge bag of snacks, and the baby's car seat. I really hoped we wouldn't be coming back home with it all until the baby was born.
Was seen by a nice midwife in Triage, who examined me and to my utter dismay said I was 1cm dilated, and not in true labour yet. She also told me (after she'd done it - I think she should have asked me first) that she'd given me a sweep to help things progress. I was gutted that I would have to go home and that the pain would be more intense and frequent before I'd even be considered to be in the early stages of labour. Weirdly the pains had slowed down a lot as soon as we arrived at the hospital.
So we went back home. Over the next hours I gradually lost the mucus plug so the sweep had kicked that into life at least. I knew I should try to rest but I couldn't lie down, it hurt so so much if I even tried. I spent the night sitting upright in a chair in the living room, trying to doze in between zapping contractions with the TENS machine. I took the painkillers the midwife had given me at the hospital and they took the edge off enough for me to sit down rather than constant movement, and to zone out a bit in between contractions.
I felt excited that labour was on the way, but already exhausted, and worried about that. Also in the back of my mind I was thinking 'if the warm water didn't help in the slightest, how will I cope with this?'
Tues 24th Feb - by the morning I was very very tired and struggling with the pains. Adrian tried to do a bit of work from home but it was clear to both of us that he shouldn't go in as I would be having the baby sometime in the next day or two, and I needed his support to get through the pain. I didn't want to be on my own. Although the pain was getting worse I did still have breaks between each contraction. However the pain never completely went away. Adrian kept making me snacks which I left half-eaten - I couldn't eat much - VERY unusual for me - something big must be happening ;o)
We watched a bit of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to try to distract me. I spoke to my auntie Gillian several times on the phone, which was reassuring.
By about 3.30pm, I suddenly felt it was time to go to hospital, and this time we wouldn't be coming back.
When we arrived in Triage, this time there was another girl in labour there. She looked about the same level of discomfort as me and I think we later heard that she was having twins. We both had TENS machines attached to us. Carrie the midwife couldn't decide which of us to see to first as we both looked about the same level of pain. She asked if it was our first baby - it was for both of us so that didn't help her decide. In the end the other girl went first but I was seen very shortly afterwards.
Carrie examined me and said I was 3 cm dilated (I think it was 3). Then she said 'oh, sorry, I've just broken your waters, sorry...' and I felt a strange warm gush of liquid. It was a different sensation to anything I'd felt before. It just didn't stop coming, and soon Carrie said that it was green due to old meconium (baby poo!) in the water. I had heard of meconium which the baby passes due to stress when it squeezes down the birth canal, but never heard of it already in the amniotic fluid. She explained that because of the meconium my contractions and the baby's heartbeat would have to be monitored so I wouldn't be able to go to the Birth Centre (the new part of the maternity hospital with birthpools and rooms with dim lights and beanbags and birth balls etc). This was a bit of a blow but part of me even at that 'early' stage was relieved that at last I was in the right place for the baby to be born and wouldn't have to go home again - my labour was being watched over at last and that felt like a relief after many hours of pain at home.
Still the amniotic fluid kept coming and it was gushing all over the bed and on the floor. Poor Carrie's arm was covered in it - what a job. Eventually she stopped examining me and gave me gowns to wear and lovely disposable stretchy net knickers and pads. Gorgeous. It took me ages to get into them because all my clothes were now covered in amniotic fluid and every time I got cleaned up enough to sort myself out, I would have another contraction and more fluid would soak down my legs and onto the floor. There was a lot and it just kept coming. THANK GOD my waters hadn't broken when I was out shopping! At this point I could hear Carrie talking to other midwives explaining that due to the meconium I was now a priority and she would carry on dealing with me for now so they would have to cope with the other admissions without her. I could tell she was a bit flustered about the turn of events but she was very focused when she spoke to me and I felt in good hands.
I finally made it to another bed - someone had to clear up the mess I'd made of the last one - and Carrie set me up with some gas and air (Entonox). She advised me to stick with it longer than 5 minutes before deciding whether or not I 'liked' it. It made my lips all tingly and I'm not sure it did much for the pain but it gave me somewhere to direct my concentration during each contraction so I kept going with it. From this point on I felt I barely looked at Adrian due to concentrating so hard on coping with the ever-lengthening contractions (I think I closed my eyes), but I was very grateful for his presence and I held his fingers at times and squeezed them for comfort.
My memories get a bit hazy at this point. Carrie had to go so another midwife called Lisa took over. She was also lovely, and I think she was there when I was wheeled to the labour ward to a room of my own. The pains were coming thick and fast by now and as I remember it there was little or no break in between them. At some point I got up from the bed and stood up to sway each time I had a contraction. Still the amniotic fluid gushed down my legs and onto the floor each time the pain came. I had such back ache all the time and I couldn't think about what was coming next, I just had to stay totally in the present to cope with the pain of each moment. It was hard. Adrian pushed really hard on my lower back every time I felt a contraction and I felt that I couldn't get through the pain without that pressure on it. Soon I started to make very primal noises with each contraction - loud low guttural sounds. It didn't occur to me to care who heard or what they thought; I just had to let the noise out and there was no other way for me just then.
At some point I was examined again and they said I was 5 cm dilated. An hour later (it felt more like 4 hours later to me though) an epidural seemed like the way to go. I was fairly sure that I wanted one - part of me was disappointed about that as I'd really hoped for a much more natural birth than this was turning out to be. But another part of me was desperate to ease the pain because I was so tired and knew I still had some really difficult stages of labour ahead of me. I felt that I hadn't rested for hours (if not days!) and that scared me, given that I expected I still had to push the baby out yet. I was also worried that if I had an epidural that decision would spiral into more and more intervention which could possibly be avoided if I was able to feel the pushing better and just put up with the pain for now. But... the pain was bad with no let-up and I was exhausted.
Lisa (I think) sensibly asked me if, when I was next examined, there was a number (of cm dilated) which would mean I would choose to avoid an epidural. I liked that she had asked me this but felt I really wouldn't know my answer until I knew how much further the dilation had progressed. I was examined, and I was still only 5cm dilated. That made my decision pretty much crystal clear. I couldn't keep going for the hours more required to reach 10 cm and then push after that (they suggested it could be 6-8 hours until 10 cm); I decided to have the epidural.
The anaesthetist was available straight away so I didn't have to wait long. It was hard to keep still while moaning through the contractions while the epidural was being sorted out but Adrian helped me and I managed it somehow. The relief was great and I felt like declaring my undying love to the anaesthetist.
At some point Lisa swapped with Su, the midwife who stayed with us until Gracie was born, and also introduced us to Kieran, a student doctor. They asked if it was OK with me for Kieran to be in the room too and I said yes.
I could still feel some of the contractions and even used the gas and air for some of the stronger ones, but they were much shorter than before and I felt I could cope with them. I felt a few urges to push a bit but can't remember whether this was before or after the epidural.
Ever since I had been given the gas and air in Triage, my contractions and the baby's heartbeat had been being monitored, and throughout the last few hours the baby's heart rate had regularly dipped with each contraction. It was explained to us that this meant it was possible that the baby was not coping well with the contractions, and may be gasping with each one, therefore taking in some of the amniotic fluid with meconium in it. On the other hand the baby might still be coping OK, but as long as the heart rate dipped each time, it was hard to tell and so would still be monitored.
As it was pretty clear by this point that the progress of labour was painfully slow, our next options were put to us by a couple of very nice female doctors. We could opt for a c-section. This would ensure the baby was out quickly (within 5 mins) and that would be a big bonus given that we weren't sure how she was coping. Another option would be to take a blood sample from the baby's head to give a clearer picture of her stress levels. If these results showed stress, they would recommend a c-section anyway. If the results didn't show stress, they would be repeated regularly to keep checking on the baby. I asked how much stress the blood sample would give to the baby. They underplayed the stress of the blood sample but I nonetheless I didn't like the idea of repeated tests on the baby at this point. I surprised myself by slightly leaning towards opting for a C-section. Adrian and I were given 5 mins to chat about it. We felt there were pros and cons to either decision and we also felt we just wanted our baby to be safe and with us soon. We couldn't decide and Adrian went outside to phone Gillian and see what her thoughts were. While he was out of the room I chatted more with the doctors, and they were very careful to present all options equally and not influence my decision, which I appreciated. I wasn't sure but I still felt that possibly a c-section was the way to go.
When Adrian came back, he felt the same, so we decided to go for it. I felt, and still feel, so surprised that I ended up with a c-section; I really didn't think my birth story would end this way. But a part of me felt it was another big adventure, and another 'first' (never had major surgery before) and I just wanted to meet my baby and for her to be safe. Also, I was scared of the idea of waiting so many hours until 10 cm dilation and then pushing when I was so tired. By this time I really didn't want to push. Also I thought that if there was a chance that we gave the baby all these stress tests and still ended up with a c-section, it might be that we were rushed into theatre in a somewhat frightening way, whereas if I went straight to the c-section decision, the operation could still have some measure of calm to it.
When we had given our decision, both the female doctors said that they would have chosen that option too.
Adrian was given a groovy purply operating theatre outfit to wear, including a turquoise 'bonnet'. He was chuffed to see that he was wearing the same as the doctors, which made me laugh.
I was wheeled into theatre without delay and lifted onto a rather slim table. There were quite a few people in there: Adrian at my right shoulder, the anaesthetist at my left, Su (midwife), Kieran (student doctor), the two female doctors who had spoken to us earlier, plus a few more male doctors too. The epidural over my left shoulder was topped up, and I began to tremble. I was starving hungry by this stage, as I had barely eaten properly for the last few days (the urine sample I had provided before I went to Triage had ketones in it apparently). Also I felt a bit nervous and excited, and I think the drugs they gave me contributed to the trembling too. My details were written up on the whiteboard. They put up a huge blue curtain right up to my neck - there was no chance at all of me seeing anything scary. Then they began to check how well I was anaesthetised. Weirdly there was a patch on my abdomen which just wouldn't seem to numb as successfully as the rest of me, and for what seemed like about half an hour they kept testing that part of me and I kept saying 'Ow. Ow. Ow. I can feel it'. In the end they just got on with it as it wasn't agony and I think they were running out of ideas.
I was aware of the scalpel as they cut into me (a bit nervewracking), and some pulling around (which didn't bother me) which they said would feel like someone doing the washing up inside me. Adrian was holding my hand and squeezing my shoulder and stroking my hair. Before long we heard a baby cry - THE MOST AMAZING MOMENT OF MY LIFE! - and we both looked at each other and instantly welled up with tears. (I'm doing the same now just writing it!) Our baby was here! I called out 'Is it a girl?' and they said that it was. Our baby Gracie. Wow. I had said to Adrian that he should have the first cuddle as I was lying down all trembly and also I wanted to see him have that first experience of holding our daughter. After a bit of cleaning up of the baby, she was wrapped up in blankets and given to Adrian to hold. I hope I never forget the look on his face. It was a totally amazing moment for us both. She looked absolutely perfect and beautiful and I know we both fell instantly in love with her. It didn't occur to me to wonder how many fingers and toes she had etc, I just couldn't stop gazing at her sweet face. Adrian looked so right cuddling her. He looked so strong and confident and at ease and at the same time he had such love and wonder on his face. Words can't really express how wonderful it felt during those moments. We kept saying things to each other like 'Here she is! She's so beautiful! Look at that face!'
We stayed like that for quite a while, as I was stitched up. The doctors and Su gave us their congratulations and we felt on top of the world. I was exhausted all right, but so elated. It was a strange and magical feeling. The harsh bright lights of the operating theatre were not what I wanted for my daughter's first introduction to the world, but it was just so fantastic to see her, safe and beautiful, cradled in Adrian's arms.
Eventually I was wheeled to the recovery area, and Su stayed with us and helped me breastfeed for the first time. Adrian and I were really pleased that in spite of having a c-section, I was able to feed Gracie so soon after the birth. I still couldn't feel my legs, but from the ribs up was all I needed and those bits seemed to do their job just fine. She seemed to get the hang of feeding OK and it was incredible that she was 'out' and we could bond together in this way.
After some time I was wheeled to a place on the postnatal ward. It was all dark and serene apart from the occasional cry from other new babies. There were about 4 other recovering mothers on the ward. Adrian left us at about 3am, to head home and phone a long list of relatives who knew labour had started and were waiting for the news. I was too keyed up to sleep at first and I kept gazing at Gracie in her transparent cot beside my bed. I still had a catheter and an IV line but was fairly comfortable especially when more and more feeling came back into my heavy legs and I could wiggle my toes again. Su appeared with a medical book in Gracie's name and I kept reading her name on it in wonder.
I ended up staying in hospital for 4 nights, and we left about 9pm on the Saturday night. Gracie is still a bit jaundiced but she's improving and feeding well, and is almost back to her original birthweight. I'm slowly recovering and am able to potter around the house and now I can make it to the local coffee shop (as long I can sit down for some cake while I'm there). Adrian and I are both very tired but so so happy. I have wanted this baby for so many years and we both feel blessed and that the present for us is a beautiful thing.
Saturday, 7 March 2009
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