Birth story - Jude and Ally: Why a Birth Plan needs to be Flexible
BABY: JUDE WILLIAM
Writing a couple of paragraphs on my birth experience has proved to be quite tricky. Not least because I have a wriggling 11 week old in my arms who is happily feeding (I send out apologies for "bremailing" [emailing whilst breast feeding], which I must admit I do quite frequently to maintain sanity, along with "brexting" [I'm not sure when else I am supposed to respond to all my unanswered texts], "broogling" [other search engines are available], and "bronline shopping" [for baby related items rather than shoes nowadays!]), but mostly because it feels very difficult to summarise such an epic experience in less than the length of a Tolstoy novel. I will do my best...
At 5 days overdue, I had been feeling a bit uncomfortable but not desperate for D day, as I had it firmly in my head that my due date was only very sketchy. Apparently only 4% of babies arrive "on time" - very helpful information from Clare at Lushtums! I was in St Anne's Well gardens with my NCT girls (fab mummy hang out, btw), chatting about our latest pregnancy woes and wonders. We had a nice, relaxed lunch and then wrapped things up around 3pm. It was a gorgeous day so I stayed to sit in the sun for a bit and read my book, the book I have been trying to finish for months, hoping that today would be that day, and knowing I would not have time after our baby arrived. I was really struggling to get comfortable and kept having to move around. For me there was no sudden gushing of waters and no intense waves of pain (at first!) but I felt things might be getting going as my stomach cramps and back ache, which I'd had all day but had managed, felt a little more intense and started to come in waves. Around 4pm I made the very wise decision to call my husband and ask him to head home from London (no rush though, I said!), and also get myself home. I decided not to finish that last chapter, although I was tempted.
I felt able to drive as we only live 5 minutes away (probably not a DVLA approved decision so I'm not endorsing this!). I got through the short journey managing the steadily increasing pain with deep yoga breathing, and a little bit of swearing. OK so I'm not that zen! When I got home I wanted to shower for some now evidently rather bizarre reason. I had planned to be fairly well presented during labour, unlike: "all those women on one born every minute who haven't even bothered to put make-up on, even when they're on the telly. Tsk!" That viewpoint now seems completely ridiculous! My contractions progressed very quickly and so I ended up lying on the bathroom floor with bedraggled hair and (shock, horror) no make up on. At that point I didn’t care a jot about my appearance and hopefully nor do the very lovely women on one born, who are brave enough to share their incredible experiences with us.
My husband got home from work about an hour later and after numerous calls to the Royal Sussex we decided to call a taxi and go in. My contractions were only lasting about 40 seconds but were coming thick and fast with only a minute or so in between and I felt it was time, despite their advice to wait it out a while. The staff on the phone were very lovely and very helpful but I just had to trust my intuition that now was the time to go. The pain felt quite intense by this point but I stayed on all fours, which really helped me, and continued to breathe through the contractions using the techniques I had learnt at pregnancy yoga.
I didn't think I was going to be able to get down the stairs, let alone cope with the taxi ride but I took advantage of the (now very short!) breaks in between my contractions to mobilise, and then focused on my breathing, taking myself to another place. By this point I was making noises I had never made before and could not make now if I tried, much to the bewilderment of my husband and our taxi driver, whose terrified eyes could be seen in the rear view mirror. He got us to the hospital really quickly and dropped us right outside the tower, which we were so grateful for. My husband's inability to drive, which I had been cursing throughout my pregnancy, actually turned out to be a blessing as we didn't have to worry about the route or parking.
My husband found a wheelchair (NB they have a mind of their own so pulling rather than pushing is the way to go - we learnt this the hard way after several collisions with walls and doors!), and a very lovely stranger helped us with our bags up to the maternity unit. How many babies have been born in those lifts, I wonder?! In the examination room we realised that my precious maternity notes, which I had carefully placed on top of my bags, had been left at home. I could just about remember my name, let alone my blood group, so the midwives had to improvise and look up my details. I think my husband got a bit of a telling off for this ("one job, you had one job!") but I can understand how easy it was for him to leave them behind amidst the panic of getting out the house.
An examination showed that I was 7cm dilated so we weren't going anywhere. This was it! We had told the team on the phone that I wanted to use the pool so that was all ready for us. I managed to strip off and climb in during the minute or so rest I had in between contractions. The swim skirt I had carefully searched for and picked out to hide my modesty didn't even get taken out of the bag, along with most of the items I had carefully packed! Being naked, like wearing no make-up in public, was now really not my main concern. I think my personal boundaries shifted somewhat during labour. All I really needed was my strength and determination (oh and a straw for my water bottle - top tip!).
The warm water in the pool felt fantastic and the gas and air really helped me to cope with the contractions. Both were a very welcome relief after the intense start to my labour and my thick and fast contractions. I remember a very calm ten minutes when one of the midwives was giving me a back massage (heaven!), my husband had put on some of our favourite music and I was breathing through my contractions in the pool. I felt in control and calm and hoped that things would continue like this. Whilst in the pool I felt a release of pressure, which I'm sure was my waters breaking but as they were clear it was hard to tell. I then started to get strong convulsions, almost like needing to be being sick, which was the urge to push.
What happened next was all a bit of a blur as things turned from calm to more frantic. The midwife told me that the baby's heart rate had dropped and we needed to get out of the pool as quickly as possible. The obstetrician was called, who confirmed that things now needed to happen very fast and I was wheeled through into theatre (semi naked on one of those bloody wheelchairs again). They administered an emergency epidural, which I was very anxious about during pregnancy, after a previous lumber puncture. However, it just felt like a sharp scratch with some pressure to my lower back. And then the relief was wonderful as I could no longer feel the contractions, which had been fairly constant for me from the start. The midwife told me that there were a lot of people in the room and not to worry (my husband counted 18 but I had no idea about this at the time). I remember making a joke about getting my money's worth - the pain relief enabling a glimmer of my usual, flippant humour to come through, which had very much escaped me for the past few hours. They were ready to do an emergency c section but first let me try pushing. The midwife talked me through this as I couldn't feel anything from my waist down, so she told me when my contractions were happening and when to push. I felt like I was just pulling funny faces but apparently this was working. Who knew. Our little baby was delivered after three pushes with a fair bit of help from the obstetrician, ventouse, an episiotomy and forceps. All of which I had no idea about, unlike my poor husband who recalls the ventouse battle as being quite epic (think tug of war type scenario).
It felt like an eternity before we heard the cry but then it came and I knew our baby was OK. I think I was in shock at this point and a bit overwhelmed by everything as I remember feeling numb (physically and mentally). My husband was called over to cut the cord and to find out if we had had a boy or a girl, as we had kept that a surprise during pregnancy. A boy! Jude William Ashcroft Grandison, born at 9.06pm on 7th August (just 5 hours after my labour began); with a few cuts and bruises after his battle to get out, purplish skin tone, a lot of gunk on his head, and very swollen genitalia! Luckily our NCT classes had prepared us for that! My husband held him as he wailed and I felt relieved and exhausted.
I didn't get that instant rush of love that I had expected, or the tears of emotion that I get when watching one born every minute (without fail). That surprised me. I think I was just overwhelmed by the whole experience. At first I just felt a quiet contentment but I also felt immense love for my husband who had supported me through the experience. OK so he couldn't drive us to the hospital, he drove me into a wall in the wheelchair, and he forgot the notes (the bloody notes!), but as I watched him holding this tiny wailing creature, our tiny, wailing creature, who we created together, I felt safe and calm and lucky and proud and excited to be a little family.
After a few minutes we went through to the recovery room, passing another woman in labour on our way - those familiar low, mooing sounds seemed like a lifetime ago for me. I had so much empathy for her. A mixture of pity for the struggle she was about to endure, but also envy for the incredible journey she was about to experience.
In the recovery room the midwife helped me to sit up and handed me my baby for the first time. He was so small and so perfect and felt like an impossible little miracle. My parents then joined us. They had left home in Essex as soon as my labour had started and gone via our house to pick up the notes (the bloody, bloody notes!). They arrived just after our son had been born and our very lovely obstetrician had met them in the corridor by chance, told them the good news and showed them where to go. It was magical to be able to share these early hours with them, me now having a new insight into what my mum had done to bring me into the world.
And that was the start of this incredible, exhausting, enlightening, at times monotonous, always uplifting, overwhelming and fairly indescribable journey. It was most certainly not the way I had envisaged things but I wouldn't change a bit of it. Having a very flexible birth plan and staying open minded helped me to stay calm when things got a bit hairy. The two things I didn't want (an epidural and an episiotomy) both ended up happening but neither was as bad as I had imagined. For me, the anticipation of these things was far worse than the reality, as in the heat of the moment I didn't have time to worry or stress out, I just went with it and trusted in my body and the abilities of the staff to deliver my baby safely. And here he is, Jude William Ashcroft Grandison, my proudest achievement.