It’s 3pm on a Saturday afternoon and I’m sat at home in a button up nightie, hair in a newly acquired mum bun, while Baby Davis sleeps soundly on my lap. I’ve quickly learned that nap times are to be taken advantage of, even if I do have to type left-handedly so, it seems like the right time to sit and pen his birth story. If you’ve read my last blog post ‘Oh Baby! We’re Pregnant‘, or have followed my Instagram updates, you’ll already know that it was a long, long wait in hospital for Baby Davis. It’s wonderful to share that we welcomed Baby William Davis to the world on 26th October 2019, weighing a modest 8lbs 9.
Trigger warning: This is an account of a lengthy labour, including medical procedures.
William’s Birth Story
As an expectant mother, you’re asked throughout pregnancy to consider and write a birth plan ready to hand to your midwife when it’s your time in the delivery suite. Ironically, you’re also advised not to consider it a plan but a series of options. Throughout the first and second trimester, my ‘plan’ was ‘as little fuss as possible’. In honesty, I was naive and didn’t fully understand the complexity of labour until two pivotal things happened: an intensive hypnobirthing course and a routine appointment with an anesthesiologist.
At 28 weeks pregnant, I attended an intensive weekend course to learn about hypnobirthing principles lead by friend, and teacher, Ruth of Down to Birth Hypnobirthing. It was at this point that I began to understand the biology behind the process of labour and became an advocate for natural, spontaneous birth (even considering the possibility of a home birth!) After a day at work, I would unwind and release stress by listening to the relaxation tracks I planned to use during birth, and repeated positive affirmation after positive affirmation. I felt calm, in control and knew exactly how I wanted to birth.
Best. Laid. Plans. After a routine appointment with an anesthesiologist at 34 weeks, I was advised that the stress of labour could trigger my asthma meaning I shouldn’t rule out an epidural: if my asthma wasn’t controlled, then baby’s birth wouldn’t be either. This meant that a home birth had to be ruled out and a hospital birth was decided upon. It was around that time that, as part of parent craft classes, we were given a tour of Whiston Hospital’s delivery suite. Aptly named after gemstones, the delivery rooms we were shown were lowly lit, with birthing pools and decorated with the familiar, positive affirmations I’d started to memorize: it was a beautiful environment and certainly one where I felt content to bring baby into the world.
Two weeks later, again following a routine appointment, it was suggested that baby was ‘measuring large’ indicating a possible growth spurt in the final weeks and thus, I was sent for a growth scan. Then another at 38 weeks. We felt reassured to see baby so much and smirked when we could see his hair during the scan. Baby was indeed identified as being a larger baby (on the 95th centile) and it was suggested I may have gestational diabetes although throughout pregnancy, I’d never been tested for this (ironic that I’d had every other test) as I hadn’t met their markers at my booking appointment or at 26 weeks. Following an appointment with a consultant, they suggested I should be induced at 39+5 due to the perceived increased risk for baby.
Wanting as natural birth as possible, I didn’t want to accept that I was facing a chemically induced birth. It was during this appointment that I raised the question of a planned, elective caesarean. Looking back, the answer wasn’t satisfactory; I was simply told that the consultant would have to gain approval from a second consultant but I wasn’t given any further information and yet again induction continued to be arranged. Putting my faith in medical professionals, I agreed to be induced and afterward I sat with a coffee feeling numb, fighting back tears and trying to make sense of the limited information I’d been given while comprehending that I’d lost every part of how I wanted to birth: I wouldn’t be able to birth in water, nor would I be able to stay mobile due to the need for consistent monitoring.
As the time neared, I started to doubt the reason for induction before 40 weeks – my gut feeling told me a number of things. At 42 weeks, if we assumed the growth chart to be correct then baby would still be less than 10lbs (as both John and I had been larger babies, this did not worry me). What did concern me was if I had undiagnosed gestational diabetes and had grown a baby too big to birth safely. I did what any expectant mama would do, I researched. The NICE guidelines advised induction, for those with gestational diabetes, at no further than 40+5 – the risk being that chubbier shoulders that could get stuck during birth. So I decided to allow my body the chance to go into spontaneous labour and deferred my induction until 40+5.
My Experience of Induction of Labour
Despite my hope, I didn’t go into spontaneous labour so on Tuesday 22nd October 2019, we left home with bags packed ready to enter hospital and feeling excited that we were soon to meet our baby. Arriving at Whiston, a midwife explained that once we started the induction process, we had committed to follow it through. This meant that should the induction fail, an emergency caesarean would be carried out but we were optimistic and didn’t think we’d need four lots of Prostaglandin gel. We held hope that the first gel would kickstart labour. Little did we know what lay ahead of us.
With the first of many painful examinations came the insertion of Prostaglandin gel, a drug to soften the cervix and kick start labour, the examination confirmed what two previous failed sweeps had told me, my cervix was posterior meaning it was difficult to reach (but how they tried, ouch!) and still had to reach an anterior position. Still we were hopeful, especially when the lady next to me on the ward, following her first gel, went into labour and delivered within six hours of arrival!
An hour later, while enjoying a coconut flat white, I felt the first twinge -a possible contraction? Hours later, the pains had increased and I felt them intensely. It’s happening, I thought. It’s happening. I decided to accept two paracetamol (the strongest they’d give me) and took myself off for a hot bath thinking my waters would soon break and we’d be meeting our baby within hours. You can imagine how disappointed we were when a second examination, hours later, revealed I was a mere 1cm dilated. Worse still, monitoring revealed I had an overactive uterus which explained the severe pain. Still we persevered with hope, until the pain subsided and vanished completely and it was back to square one.
This process continued the following day: another uncomfortable examination, another failed sweep and another gel. This time, the pain arrived swiftly and even more intensely. Yet again, I took two paracetamol and went for a deep, hot bath to bear the pain, breathing through each contraction, completing visualizations (and not blinking an eye when a midwife came in while I was stark naked). Contracting into the night, I rang my mum at midnight, breathless and finding it difficult to stand, sit or move, I’d started to miss normality and made her update me about life outside of the hospital walls inbetween my grunts of pain.
The process was then repeated for a third time, this time first thing in the morning. After discovering codeine made me sick, my pain relief was restricted to two paracetamol every six hours. I had no option but to bear the pain. I wasn’t feeling positive any longer, I wasn’t in a good place. The final, fourth gel could only be given after a 24 hour break and an examination from a doctor. That meant once my contractions had subsided, on the Thursday afternoon, I then had to wait until the Friday morning to discover the next step. There’s an old saying, two steps forward and three steps back.
Again, another painful examination but with some positive news – I’d reached 3cm dilated and didn’t need another dose of, what I’d dubbed, the evil gel. This meant they were going to break my waters to hopefully start labour naturally, if not then a synthetic oxytocin drip would be administered to start labour artificially. At this point, I asked my female doctor if there was an option to refuse the drip and elect for a c-section if the ARM was unsuccessful. She looked at me smiling and asked me why, oh why, would I not want to opt for a section when access to pain relief was so good? I felt small and feeble explaining I was fearful of the side-effects I’d read about.
Arriving on the delivery suite, it was certainly not like the gemstone named suites we’d been shown. My first impression was how clinical it felt but there was no time to waste worrying about the environment as they broke my waters immediately (even then, I was still hopeful for a natural labour) all while the midwife and I discussed Atwood’s ‘The Testaments’ which lay neglected on the side. It was late afternoon by this time and I had two hours to try and kick start natural labour before they inserted the canular to start the oxytocin drip and force artificial labour.
If you’re one of my Instagram followers reading this (lengthy) blog post, you will already know that I was against an induced labour with the synthetic oxytocin being the main reason. Why? In a nutshell, it’s painful with increased risk of negative effects for the mother and baby. There’s a study released in Australia that outlines the downsides of induction – worryingly for me, increased risk of anxiety and postnatal depression. In my opinion, a predicted bigger baby (with gestational diabetes ruled out) did not instantly equal the need for induction but still, I put my faith in medical professionals.
After four days in hospital, we still held out hope that spontaneous labour was about to start and so I did what any heavily pregnant woman does – bounced, bounced, bounced on the birthing ball and waited. Two hours later, I stared in disbelief as it was time to accept that it was time to insert the canula and start the dreaded drip.
I don’t know about you, but I’m dreadful with needles. I’m not frightened of them, it’s just that whenever I need to have an injection my veins suddenly disappear and multiple attempts are tried while I’m sat there squirming. You’re probably thinking after numerous internal examinations, I’d be able to handle a canula but after the midwife missed and hit a valve … I most definitely was not. With swollen hands, it was an anesthesiologist who managed it on the third attempt – knelt down, on one knee, the midwife joked he was proposing. John took it in good humour, even going as far to call the anaesthesiologist a hunk.
And then, the contractions started and didn’t seem to stop, they just kept on coming. Wave after wave, more intense each time. Hooked up to wires, I was unable to stay mobile or bounce on the birthing ball but I was feeling the contractions so intense that I was unable to lie down either. So, I simply stood gripping husband John and wailing as the drip was ramped up releasing more and more chemicals into my system and increasing the pain more and more.
The monitor they were using had started to fail and not only that, it had started to cause an allergic reaction over my stomach. My skin felt like it was burning and moving the pads revealed it to be bright pink and raised. They decided to monitor baby’s heartbeat separately by placing a monitor on the baby’s head – inside me. By that time, I was past worrying about the pain and when I could no longer wee, they inserted a catheter.
For someone who wanted as natural birth as humanly possible, I certainly did not hesitate to ask for pain relief. I was feeling the pain so intensely, in such a concentrated area, it was all I could do to feel in control. I also did not want to be bringing baby into a world screaming in the way that I was, but that was how it had to be. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit that I was just like the wailing labouring women that you see in films but the pain was constant and unbearable so when the question of an epidural was raised, I didn’t hesitate to say yes – I knew that I couldn’t bear the pain. Later, John said how I’d asked the anaesthesiologist how I would know to push – it seemed everyone but me knew that it was unlikely I’d give birth naturally but still, I held out hope.
Being asked to stay still while they place a large needle into your back when you’re experiencing constant and intense contractions is not easy. Being asked to stay still when you’re aware the risk of moving could cause paralysis, is not easy. At this point, I should mention the student midwife that was in the room with John and I. Her name was Kirsty and she was a mum of four, I remember being in awe that she had four children and referring to her as a warrior. As I was being given the epidural, John could not bear to watch and Kirsty held my hand throughout it all. I’ll never forget that simple act of care.
I can understand why some women don’t feel positive about an epidural, because I was one of them. I wanted to feel each contraction and use them to push my baby closer. Unfortunately, my birth options had seriously changed meaning I couldn’t be mobile (ironically, I couldn’t sit now either) and an epidural was the only option for me to manage the pain. Boy! Let me tell you, it really was the gold standard of pain relief that was promised. Almost instantly, the contractions seemed to subside although I knew I was contracting as I watched the waves on the monitor. I felt calmer and much more able to cope, I even managed to drift off to sleep until I awoke around 7am to a new midwife, Sophia.
I will never forget her, Sophia Tallulah. Blond hair and blue eyes – I had the feeling she was angelic in some way (I was clearly high) but she had such a caring, mild-mannered nature. Completing another examination revealed I was a mere 5cm dilated (at best) after labouring all through the night. The next thing I knew, a doctor had arrived and was suggesting an emergency C-section. I fully agreed with them and asked them to remove the drip immediately.
Left alone with John, he wished me a happy birthday (I’d forgotten, how did that even happen?) and kissed my forehead. I cried. I cried tears of mixed emotions, for all that we’d been through and the knowing feeling that this time, we would definitely be meeting our baby soon. Did I feel apprehensive about having a caesarean? Quite possibly, but I remember feeling accepting of what was about to happen – that this was the only way, and also trusting of the medical professionals who’d looked after me so far. Plus, there was no waiting around or time to be nervous – I was to go into theatre within the hour.
You’d expect that being wheeled into a brightly lit theatre with lots of medical professionals dressed in scrubs would be intimidating but it wasn’t. Maybe it was the effects of the drugs, maybe it was the fact that every member of staff introduced themselves and jovially mentioned the fact that I was having a baby on my birthday (I mean, who does that?) but even when the spinal block was being administered, I’d chosen to have a spinal block because if the epidural didn’t completely numb all sensations, they would have had to give me a general aesthetic. I remember feeling very calm and supported. Looking back, I described it as routine as going to the dentist.
I’d been told that I could expect a slight pulling sensation at my stomach, but was assured that I wouldn’t feel any pain. I felt neither of these things. As you may know, a large, cloth screen is placed in the middle of your body so neither you, or your partner, are able to see any of the procedure. In fact, I didn’t feel anything at all, even when they sprayed icy water up my stomach. It was only when I heard the reassuring wail of a baby that I knew he had finally arrived. In a Lion King moment, they held baby up so we could discover baby’s gender ourselves. There was no doubting it, we had a boy!
Tears of joy, tears of relief, tears, tears and more tears. The emotion washed over us both as we said incredulously, “we’ve got a boy, we’ve got a boy!”. Our William – the boy whose name was decided long before his conception – wailed and wailed as he was weighed and received his vitamin K injection. Time seemed to pass quickly, but I’m aware that it was quite some time as they stitched the incision, John holding my hand. I was delirious with exhaustion but completely content.
Once stitched, I was wheeled into recovery where I met John. They swathed me in blankets to stop the chill I’d developed (an after effect from the drugs I’d been given). In no time at all, they handed me our newborn as John was adamant I should be the first to hold William after all I’d been through. Still in disbelief and feeling dazed, Sophia guided him on my breast and pop, just like that he latched and began suckling. I remember marvelling at how clever nature is, at that point I didn’t know anything about breastfeeding apart from I wanted to try but here was our baby, less than an hour old, teaching me.
John has helped me to fill in some of the gaps because even though I felt compos mentis, there are large amounts of time that I can’t account for. It was two hours until I was later wheeled onto a ward, baby alongside us, but it felt like no time at all. I remember ringing my family, who were all sat at my parents house round their large, farmhouse table to tell them the news but most of all, I remember knowing that life would never be the same and the feeling of excitement ready to start a new life as a family of three.