After I had my son in 2012 by caesarean section (due to failure to progress after an induction at 40+17), Chris and I tentatively decidedly the beginning of 2016 that this would be the year to start trying for a second child. I’d suffered quite severe postnatal depression (PND) after the birth of my first baby, and so became very anxious when I discovered on Good Friday that I was pregnant- what if it all happened the same way again? What if I just was one of those mums that couldn’t give birth naturally?
After the first 18 weeks, the anxiety and low moods started to lift, and talking to friends and family helped me no end. It was reassuring to hear I wasn’t alone in feeling the way I did. I was also referred to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which seemed to take the edge off of the anxiety, and helped me cope more day to day.
During my pregnancy I was under consultant-led care and saw Dr Pathak at 16 weeks who discussed the idea of being induced at 40+12, then on day 13 provided I wasn’t already in labour I would have another caesarean. However, she was keen to express that I had a strong chance of having a VBAC, around 60% or so. Fortunately, Hinchingbrooke were keen advocates for VBACs.
As the pregnancy continued, I started to feel more anxious again. Conscious that we have no family locally and my son having started school, I was increasingly worried about having another caesarean. While discussing my fears on a Facebook mummy group, someone suggested hiring a doula to ensure I would feel in control of my birth and experience no matter the outcome. It was also suggested by my community midwife Carl to be something I might find useful, to guarantee continuity of care and to have someone with me at my child’s birth who was educated in my options. After all, as lovely as I’m sure each midwife in the delivery suite would be likely to be, I worried that I would be assigned a midwife who wouldn’t know how to handle VBACs. Silly I know.
I did some research of local doulas, read up on their profiles, and made a shortlist that I showed to Chris. For me it was important that our doula would not only be, hopefully, quite spiritual and holistic, but also be logical and factual for Chris’s benefit. We saw three wonderful ladies who all had very different approaches to being a doula, but when Verity, the third and final doula left our house after coming for the initial meeting, Chris turned to me and said “well, no point in debating – she’s the one.” (See what I mean about logical and factual..?)
As my due date was looming, I’d been lent a VBAC hypnobirthing CD that I listened to every day religiously and would often fall asleep to- it definitely helped me to relax!
At 36 weeks, I went to Dr Pathak’s clinic once again for a catch-up and met with one of her registrars who granted me permission to go to 43 weeks gestation should my body not go into labour beforehand, on the condition that baby’s movements continued well and I felt physically well too. On both mine and Chris’s side of the family the women have carried until 41 or 42 weeks gestation without issue, and it so it was agreed that unless there were any concerns for either my health or baby’s health, no intervention would be done until 43 weeks. I agreed to daily CTG monitoring and weekly scans to check the fluid around the baby, the start date of which would be discussed at a follow-up appointment with Dr Pathak. This was made for 24th November, when I would be 40+5.
I made sure I remained as active as I could be, as not only did it help me to keep up with my son who is a ball of energy, but it also helped to somehow keep my SPD at bay, and kept my anxiety low.
From around 37 weeks, I got regular Braxton Hicks in the evenings. They would normally start around 8pm, and die off around 10.30pm or wherever I went to bed. Rather than feeling anxious about it, it excited me. It proved to me that this pregnancy was already so different from my last, as I’d hardly had Braxton Hicks at all with my son. My body was preparing for my cervix to contract and give birth to my baby when the time was right!
Two days after my due date, 40+2, the Brixton Hicks didn’t stop. In fact, they grew in strength and numbers, and I downloaded a contraction timer. To my amazement, I was having more than three contractions in ten minutes, and before long the app told me to “GO TO HOSPITAL”.
I went for a nice relaxing bath (as relaxing as it could get with Chris panicking in the background and packing the last few bits for the hospital bag that is!) and Verity had lent me a TENS machine that I started to use once I got back out.
Verity soon arrived and around midnight we went into the lounge as my contractions were making me increasingly vocal as I breathed through them but we didn’t want to wake my son or mum up. Soon, however, I started to feel incredibly sick and started to vomit after each contraction which was tiring me out quite quickly. At Verity’s suggestion, we headed off to hospital.
At 3am we’d arrived at the Delivery Unit and had managed to get Room 7 which was the low-risk room in the delivery unit also attached to the birthing pool. Sadly, despite my best efforts, I still couldn’t keep anything down in spite of an anti-sickness drug, baby was only 4/5ths engaged and I wasn’t dilating. After a few hours I was taken into the antenatal ward, was eventually given fluids by IV to get me rehydrated, and was CTG monitored for a while in the afternoon. The day seemed to pass in a blur as I was exhausted, still having strong vocal contractions, but Verity and Chris encouraged me to be as mobile as I could be. Once rehydrated to an extent, Chris and Verity encouraged me to go for a walk around the corridors of the hospital, and I was grateful for the large oversized radiators there as I could lean against them during a contraction while rocking back and forth.
Upon my return to the ward, I asked for pain relief as I felt that the TENS machine was reaching its limit, and the midwives asked to examine me in case I’d dilated enough to allow me back to Delivery so I could get gas and air. To my sheer relief, I was 3cms and well on my way. Baby had turned from being back to back earlier in the day, to being sideways on. A midwife was called in, and soon we were in Delivery with a lovely midwife called Kimberley. Although we’d hoped to go back to Room 7, it was already occupied but Kimberley got as many props as she could- a nice mood-light, a beanbag, and a birthing ball. I was happy as a Larry as I eventually was given access to gas and air as Kimberley could see how strong the contractions were, as well as an anti-sickness drug that seemed to keep the sickness away.
Sadly, again, I failed to progress in time, so, frustrated and nearly in tears, I was sent back to the antenatal ward, but not before Kimberley did a sweep (she claimed to have great talent when it came to giving sweeps- in hindsight I’d tend to agree!).
I sent Chris home to get some sleep and Verity was allowed to stay with me. She and I were placed in an empty bay in the ward, as the midwives were aware that I may feel self-conscious about being so vocal with my never-ending contractions. Once on the ward, I begged for more pain relief; I hadn’t slept for nearly two days, and I was conscious that in order to give myself a fighting chance of having enough strength and energy for childbirth, I needed to rest. I was eventually given oramorph and in spite of my initial cynicism, Verity was quick to point out that I had in fact been able to sleep between contractions; they were still there, but I’d been able to sleep. At 3.30am I was given a top-up, and remember asking the midwife if I should now be trying to get labour started again, or if I should carry on resting til the morning; I felt THAT well-rested! Needless to say, she strongly urged me to get the rest while I could.
Wednesday morning Chris came back, Verity was sent home, and after having had a quick conversation with Dr Pathak on her rounds, she was sympathetic but explained that the longer I stayed in hospital the more likely I would be pressured into having interventions of some kind. She explained that, as this was essentially the first time my body was in labour, the latent labour phase could take hours, days, or weeks! She wanted to respect my wishes of as few interventions as possible, so encouraged me to go home. Although I was grateful for her support and advice, I must admit that it felt weird going home while contracting as much as I was, and as strongly as I was, rather than be staying to have my baby.
Once home, Chris went to work, and my parents looked after me for the day. I remember my son coming home from school, excited to see me as I’d been away for two nights, but trying to explain to him that no, mummy wasn’t dying, she was trying to get his baby sister out of her tummy through breathing and making loud noises, wasn’t easy.
Fast-forward to the evening and the previously slightly-manageable contractions seemed to ramp up to another level again. And the sickness returned. I called Labour Ward, explaining my situation, and pleaded with the midwife to let me come in just so I could at least get another anti-sickness injection. The contractions I could just about handle, but being sick on top of it all made me anxious that it would get as bad as it did on Monday-Tuesday. Eventually we got told to come in, I called Verity to ask her to come to hospital too, and she pointed out that I’d had more than three contractions in the 6 or so minutes we’d been on the phone..!
This time, when I arrived at hospital I had to be wheeled up to labour ward in a wheelchair. There was no way I could walk even that short distance!
On the Delivery Ward, I met with our assigned midwife who said she recognised me – it was Charlotte, the midwife who I’d met in the summer during a VBAC Clinic and who had been the first to assure me I could still have a water birth if I wanted, and that VBACs were possible. I remember thinking at the time that it would be great to have her as my midwife for delivery (she just had a certain air about her that made nothing seem like a worry or stressful), and there she was! Of course, at this point i didn’t expect to be kept in as I was only expecting to have the anti-sickness drug (Chris and Verity were quick to give Charlotte the background so I was given the right drug), but Charlotte handed me gas and air in exchange for an internal examination to see how far along I was, and I’d done it – I’d got to 5 cms! FIVE! No matter what anyone said now, I was well in established labour territory! I remember punching the air with my fist, shouting “Let’s get this show on the road! Come on, FIVE CENTIMETRES!” and then the preparations went underway. This time, Room 7 was free, as was the pool, but there was a sticking point- I declined continuous monitoring, and the doctors wouldn’t give me permission to use the pool without it. Charlotte tried to convince me to have the telemetry monitors (which were waterproof and wireless) as per the doctors’ requests but I was stubborn. Doctors on delivery were equally so. In the end, Charlotte came across Dr Hamilton, explained to her that I was aware of the risks of scar rupture but only wanted to be monitored intermittently, and Dr Hamilton agreed! We’d been given the green light!
Verity disappeared to run the water for the pool, Chris helped to get our belongings together, and soon enough I was in the pool room. I remember Chris asking me where my tankini top was, and whether I wanted it now, at which point I threw my t-shirt I was wearing at him, and told him not to worry.
Completely stark naked, I was in the pool, my playlist I’d begun putting together on Spotify (but hadn’t finished – I wasn’t expecting to be in labour for weeks yet!) which included songs Chris absolutely HATED was on (he knew though that this was not the time to argue with me about it). Chris and Verity took turns to rest, get coffees, go for toilet breaks, and at no point did I feel like I was on my own. Prior to labour, I remember reading in a book that I mustn’t grab my birth partners whole hand for support, but only three fingers at most, as any more and I could break them. Both of them motioned for me to grab their thumbs only. Apparently my grip was pretty strong. Who knew?
Time flew by, and hours felt like minutes. The gas and air plus the warmth of the water, and the knowledge that I was surrounded by three amazing people who I love (Chris) or respect (Verity and Charlotte) dearly, kept me going. At no point was there talk of interventions, and although it took me a while to get to 10cm dilation the only suggestions that Charlotte and Verity came up with were changes of position and trying to handle the contractions without gas and air for a bit. Chris kept reiterating how well I was doing at regular intervals.
I had a wobble where I was convinced I couldn’t do it anymore (presumably the transition) and my Dream Team of wonderful people kept cheering me on. Before I knew it, i was beginning to bear down, and I felt immense pressure as baby’s head was beginning to crown. My waters had broken without anyone realising, but had clearly run clear. As I was bearing down with each contraction Charlotte jumped in and monitored baby after each one. I’d push, she’d monitor. Push, monitor. It went like clockwork. I moved into different positions as I listened to what my body wanted, going from squatting, to laying on my back, to standing.i remember looking down at my bump at one point while floating on my back and holding onto the handles of the pool, and noticed colostrum glowing on my nipples. My body knew the time had come to release my baby, and was starting to prepare for feeding. It was doing everything by itself, and it knew exactly what to do. It was such a deeply primal experience, no logical mindset remained. I couldn’t speak anymore, and I didn’t care.
After I’d been pushing for about 45 minutes or so, I was struggling to cope with the pressure on my perineum. Charlotte, aware that I didn’t want an episiotomy, suggested I tried to wee as I’d been drinking a lot of squash and water to keep me going and continue to rehydrate me. As I was still in my strongly primal warrior-woman mode, I couldn’t seem to engage my bladder. Charlotte got me out of the pool and onto the birthing bench, and was about to flush my bladder as meconium spurted out. Even if this meant we needed to get baby out quicker, there was no sense of panic. Charlotte asked the other midwife (who had snuck into the room quietly at this point) to go and get a paediatrician, explained to me that I now needed to be continuously monitored, and the pool was unfortunately no longer an option. As I could fully understand the reasons WHY, I agreed. Another couple of pushes and Charlotte asked if she could do an episiotomy, as my perineum just didn’t seem to want to give. I consented, she gave me some anaesthetic and did a small cut. During the next contraction I felt an absolutely blinding and indescribable pain – Her head was out! Everyone shouted at me to stop pushing, and baby’s head slowly rotated from face down to sideways on, and with the next push, her body was born.
At 5.37am I got to see my beautiful daughter Lorelei Faith for the first time as Charlotte placed her on my chest. She only had a little cry, but seemed more shocked and surprised than anything!
The paediatrician was satisfied that Lorelei was fine, and i remember feeling a sense of silence and calm. Chris cut the cord once it had stopped pulsating, and after a while, through the use of the injection, a big juicy placenta was delivered. I remember looking at it and thinking “whoa, did that really fit inside me as well as the baby?” Eventually I was moved into another room to have stitches done, and I remember feeling like such a pro as I had my legs in stirrups (my “cosmetic surgery” as I called it) and feeding Lorelei at the same time.
Charlotte kept me informed all along, and at no point did I feel out of control, or like I was having interventions I didn’t want.
We got to cuddle Lorelei for what felt like hours before she was weighed and had her newborn checks, and I felt on top of the world as I was wheeled back into the postnatal Ward. Carl, my community midwife, was in the hospital that morning so came through to congratulate us, and the midwives we saw when going from delivery to Lilac Ward cheered me and congratulated me on my successful VBAC having just used gas and air. They were all in awe. Kimberley and Oriel (who had worked on the antenatal Ward on the Tuesday afternoon/evening) came through especially to offer their congratulations too.
As Lorelei had pood on her way out, we had to stay for monitoring for twelve hours but got to go home that same night, but not before the night staff shifts began, and Charlotte came through to say goodbye. I’m so glad she did, as I got to say a massive thank you to her for keeping me going.
The next day at home I sat in a dreamy daze- we hadn’t got much sleep that night, but I couldn’t get over just how much I loved her already. My son absolutely adored his baby sister from the moment he met her. If you were to ask me if I’d do it again, hell yes. In spite of the sickness and long latent labour, nobody put pressure on me to have interventions, everyone treated me with respect, and it really felt like each and every staff member and volunteer was on my side.
A final special Thank You to Chris for having supported me throughout the pregnancy despite my moods and anxiety, to Verity my doula extraordinaire for empowering me and helping me believe my dream birth was possible and keeping me going throughout the labour and looking after Chris, and finally to Charlotte, super midwife. Words cannot express my gratitude enough. She remained calm and in my side throughout my labour.
I was so blessed to have my Dream Team.
And there’s FREE monthly face-to-face support at Cambridge Birth Choices free drop-in group, held on the second Friday of the month at Cambridge Women’s Resource Centre and the last Friday of the month at Satyam Yoga Centre.