Firstly, let me say when I was pregnant I read a thousand birth stories, well maybe 50, but I read a lot. I was always a bit nervous when I would get half way through and things would take a turn for the worse.
So before I start let me say that in this birth story there is unexpected blood, things do take a turn, what I expected to happen didn’t happen but it all ends well.
If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea or you’re heavily pregnant and want only read things about babies floating to the top of a birth pool after a few gentle breaths I completely understand, I can highly recommend closing the computer and having a ginger tea with a slice of lemon cake instead.
For those of you that haven’t clicked away here we go. Let’s get comfy.
This day last year it was two days before my due date and I went for a run of the mill appointment at the midwife outreach clinic. The appointment started off like all the rest until they checked my protein levels, they then started to focus on my blood pressure and my swollen ankles. The midwife then called for a second midwife. They announced to me that they strongly suspected I had pre-eclampsia.
After a million birth stories and nine months of google I was familiar with pre-eclampsia. For those of you that aren’t wikipedia says
“Pre-eclampsia or preeclampsia is a multi system disorder characterized by high blood pressure and significant amounts of protein in the urine of a pregnant woman…If left untreated, it can develop into eclampsia, the life-threatening occurrence of seizures during pregnancy… part from Caesarean section or induction of labor (and therefore delivery of the placenta), there is no known cure. It is the most common of the dangerous pregnancy complications; it may affect both the mother and fetus.”
Everything I had heard was equally as blunt and negative. I was told I would have to go straight to hospital, do not pass go, do not collect €100. (I’ve added the monopoly reference, they were much more poker faced).
So off we went. I was regretting not having eaten before the appointment but other than that I was feeling pretty positive.
Yes, I possibly had pre-eclampsia but this is the end of the pregnancy, if I had to get it late pregnancy is better than early pregnancy. Plus they are not ignoring it, there are no unknown complications. They know what is happening and they are acting fast. Great, lets go.
So we went to the emergency room of Cork University Maternity Hospital as instructed. They did further tests, Steve and I had oat bars from the shop because everything else was closed and they confirmed I had pre-eclampsia. I was told they wanted to keep me in hospital and they applied a gel to try and get things started.
I was moved to the induction ward and we started the “wait and see if labour starts” game. I call it a game but it really just involves, walking when they make you, reading and chatting. Steve was sent home at 11 o’clock and I settled in to my bed in a 5 bed ward filled with beepy machines and extreme heat. I was a bit worried that I would have the baby before Steve could make it back. Ha, I really didn’t have to worry about that!
Steve came back first thing (17/04/2013) and we waited. I had some pains throughout the night and I was feeling very capable of managing this pain thing! They encouraged me to walk but not to leave the ward, so with ankles the size of small countries I waddled my way up and down the corridor. In between we sat and chatted, I preferred this part to the walking.
Everyone in the induction room went to have their babies. I waited. New people arrived and they too went to have their babies. I waited. The midwives were lovely and everyone was very calm. I was feeling giddy but I wanted everyone else to stop leaving to have their babies. They reassured me that the baby was doing really really well and we all waited.
Later that morning I started to feel a few more pains, stronger than before but still very manageable. As the pains increased I felt more excitement. We talked with the midwife and agreed that I would have a shower sitting on the birth ball for a while and then move to the birth pool. In Cork Maternity Hospital they don’t allow you to give birth in the birth pool but you can labour there as long as you agree to come out when they tell you too, no messing! Strange and false advertising with the name “birth” pool but either way the idea of a shower and the birth pool felt like heaven.
As I stood up to go to the bathroom Steve noticed that I had bleed on my dressing gown. We called the midwife and she said it was a small amount of blood that it was fine and she would go to get the birth ball for me to sit on in the shower. Great. A little scare but okay the plans are still the same.
I then went to the bathroom and a very large clot of blood came away. Now I was frightened. I called Steve. We both stood over the toilet bowl looking at it. We debated whether or not we should call the midwife to look or flush and tell her. I decided to face the weirdness head on and Steve called the midwife. The three of us stood for a second looking at the toilet bowl.
Then the midwife moved quickly. “Wait there, I need to get someone”. Steve and I stood nervously waiting. She arrived with more midwives. Then they all the midwives moved quickly. They decided a doctor was needed. Now the doctor, three midwives, a junior doctor, Steve and I were gathered around the toilet bowl.
I was moved back to the bed and hooked up to machines for monitoring. The shower dream was gone.
I was then told they needed to break my waters. This was done very badly. I was frightened at this point. What was happening? They were focused on moving things on but I wanted to know what was going on? The doctor who did the sweep to break my waters was ill-mannered and she took several abrupt attempts before managing to sweep my membranes. She did not explain why this was suddenly urgent and she was not gentle at a time when a little care was needed.
I told her that she had hurt me, gave her a stern “oww” and my trademark evil eyes. If you have ever been on the receiving end of my evil eyes you’ll know what I’m talking about! I never saw her again.
So with my waters broken the birth pool dream was gone and the machines beeped on.
The wonderful midwives explained the situation to me at this point. I was in a bit of a head spin so I don’t recall exactly (Steve is much the same but recalls that things suddenly seemed serious rather than just slow).
The gist was my pre-eclampsia wasn’t going away and while baby was doing great for the moment they would be happier if things were moved on. Bleeds like these happen but they can’t be sure that everything will remain okay for the baby which is why they prefer to move things on. After they broke my waters we waited. I was trying to stay relaxed at this point.
I had read so much about the ideal gentle birth, the nasty big hospital interfering in what should be a natural process, doctors scheduling unnecessary caesareans so they could leave in time for golf games. I think this gave me a prejudice against the doctors. When the doctors were around I felt things were serious. I felt at risk of being whisked to theater when there wasn’t a real needed because the hospital would prefer if I moved on.
The reality was that this wasn’t a nice and easy birth. It wasn’t horrific by any means but I needed to be in hospital. I remember thinking that if I had seen that blood clot in my own bathroom while I waited to get into a birthing pool in my sitting room I would have completely freaked out. I was glad I was in the hospital. When the midwives were around I felt their confidence, I felt their experience, I heard their reassurances, they explained how well the baby was doing and slowly I started to feel safe again.
As the theme of the story is waiting, we waited. It’s still the 17/04/2013 some time in the day. There were more pains. I insisted that Steve count aloud to five for five in breathes and again to five for my out breath through each contraction. I’m pretty sure this made us the most hated people in the 5 bed induction ward (oh yes we are still there) but as everyone kept leaving to have their babies I had little sympathy for them!
The pains were increasing but there was no progress other than that so after a few hours they hooked me up to a drip of synthetic oxytocin. I was hopeful that this would be the final push needed. Prior to the drip I would say I was in intermittent discomfort. They were definite labour pains but they were very manageable.
Once the drip started the pains got much more regular and stronger.They were no definitely pains not discomforts. I thought well this had to be it. This had to be the real deal. They left me alone (hooked up to monitoring machines) for a few hours and just looked in every now and again. This was reassuring .I thought the bleed panic had worn off and we were back to waiting and seeing (while being monitored and hoping the drip was going to do it’s job).
It was a number of hours later (late evening on the 17th of April ) and they decided to see how many centimeters I had dilated. The pains were strong and I was extremely hopeful. I had moved from discomfort on the night of the 16th all the way through the night to now strong pains late on the 17th. I would have guessed, never having a baby before that I must have been about 5 cm. The midwife checked and announce I was 1 to 2 cm.
I dismissed the one cm announcement that was clearly a lie! But only 2. My heart sank. I was exhausted. I was now awake for over 36 hours. Sleeping with the contractions now was not an option. I was happy to hold out if I felt I was nearly half way but at 2cm (ignoring the possible one) there was no way I could stay awake long enough to get all the way to ten cm, particularly if it all went this slowly.
From that point on I tried every pain relief they offered. Gas and air, sure, pethidin sure, tens machine, sure. Thinking back I was choosing the epidural but I didn’t want to be the first one to mention it. I wanted to sleep so badly. The thought of the epidural would wave over me at every contradiction but I didn’t want to say it.
I had said I was open to whatever way it would go but when it came to it I wanted to be the bravest of the brave, I wanted to have my baby naturally, I worried that as soon as I had the epidural they would decide that I should have a caesarean section. I wasn’t in the birth pool like I had hoped, I hadn’t even showered like I had wanted to, the monitors beeped constantly and as I looked at my hands and legs swelling even further I didn’t want to be the one to say hit me with the good drugs please.
But sure enough another a few hours later and 40 or so hours of being awake they came to measure me again and I was still 2 cm. Eventually, another while later they offered me the epidural. I looked at Steve and asked what he thought. Whatever you want was the answer and I thought yes I really really really want the epidural.
And then it happened. It didn’t hurt like I had thought it would and suddenly no pain. We were moved to the delivery suite, finally goodbye to the 5 bed ward with beepy machines I’m off to have my baby!
Well not quiet but either way I was out. I was assigned a midwife, so there was no more sea of faces. Gerti was my lady. She was my gal. Having never met her before I came to trust her completely. She was a lay everything out and get everything ready just in case kinda gal. She brought me iced water that was like the nectar of the gods. We talked and she relayed our agreement “we don’t want a caesarean but if the baby or you gets in trouble we may have to”. I signed forms to say yes do whatever you need to do. She explained how the pre-eclampsia might effect the baby and explained about how I was doing.
In summary baby super good but this can change fast with pre-eclampsia. As for me well my blood pressure was high, I was swollen like a balloon but nothing was too worrying but they were keeping a really close eye. She was as straight up as they come. No dancing around the issue with Gerti. She was also warm and encouraging.
It was now the wee hours of the 18th of April and I could get some sleep. Sweet sweet sleep. I went to sleep and I was dilated 4 cm. I woke up many hours later to be 8cm. Great Gerti said “let’s get ready to have your baby”. She prepped the tray for surgery just in case.
I thought you had to be 10cm I exclaimed thinking that she had forgotten this important fact. “You will be by the time we are ready”.
Yikes it’s go time.
Steve had slept on the most uncomfortable seat beside me but had been revived by the tea and toast Gerti had brought him. So we were both ready. We looked at each other in that raised eyebrow, wide eyed let’s go kind of way and it suddenly it all got exciting again. More midwives arrived. One for the baby another for the post baby stuff and of course my Gerti. Gerti told the doctor that the baby was doing fine so we were going to try and do this without a caesarean but the surgeon should be ready. The doctor was happy to follow Gerti’s lead and left us to it.
All of a sudden it was pushing time. Gerti asked me to put my hand on my leg and push. I remember looking at my swollen arm and leg and being horrified. I had been swollen before but suddenly I looked like I was hooked up to a helium machine. Trying to ignore my giant rugby legs I pushed as I was told. I leaned into Gerti and I squeezed Steve’s hand. Gerti was incredibly supportive and when one of the midwives returned and asked how I was doing she said amazingly, she is a fantastic pusher and it’s all happening nice and quickly.
I was elated. Whether or not she meant it I thought I’m doing it right. I’m doing it right!
And so in what felt like ten minutes (apparently an hour from the first push) there he was. A beautiful baby boy. Cleaner than I thought he would be, not a girl like I thought he would be, making a little cry like I longed to hear.
Now a year later I am welling up with tears but at the time I didn’t cry at all. This is from a lady who cried at a baton twirler in Britain’s Got Talent!
At the time I remember feeling really calm and confident. Much like when we found out first that I was pregnant. I didn’t feel the cinematic rush I just felt secure and strangely practically minded. Here we are the three of us. Great, let’s do this family thing!
After a bit of time of him lying on my and me and Steve staring intently at him they took him to weigh him and make sure all was well. They weighed his 8 pounds,9.5 ounce body and counted his fingers and toes out loud which I thought was very cute!
In a flash he came back to us wrapped in his crocodile baby grow with his tiny baby hat ready for us to stare at him intently all over again. About twenty minutes after he was born I breast fed him and luckily he was enthusiastic about his food and it all went well.
There were no Devandra Banhart Lp’s swirling in the background, I didn’t give birth in a birth pool in my sitting room, there were no doula’s, there were plenty of machines, there were drugs and a catheter yet somehow it all felt so natural.
I was unlucky to be a little unwell but I was lucky enough to have a team of people at hand who cared for me and my baby who were willing to wait but acted when they needed to.
Gerti’s shift was finished but she waited around to make sure everything was okay before she left. She was amazing, a force of confidence and I’m forever grateful for her support. But not as grateful as I am to have had my ever calm Steve by my side and a new baby Ewan who waited until it was exactly his due date to greet us. When the panic set in the outside world he just stayed calm and waited until I was rested before making his entrance.
The perfect gent from the start, just like his Dad.