Prior to becoming a mother I knew virtually nothing about babies and parenting. I have one brother who is only 4 years younger than me, so don’t really remember him as a baby. None of my friends have babies. And the only time I can ever remember holding one was when I was a kid… and I dropped it! I’m not quite sure what made me want to have a baby, given that they have pretty much terrified me since then. I think I just felt something inside me… something missing in my life. And all of a sudden, at the age of about 23, I decided I wanted to be a mother.
It took me about a year to become pregnant, probably due to the contraceptive pill I’d been on and off from the age of about 16. I didn’t realise it could cause fertility issues when the time would come that I wanted a baby. But my partner and I didn’t worry too much. We just let it happen whenever, trusting it would eventually. In September 2009 we discovered I was pregnant, but unfortunately I had a miscarriage in October at 8 weeks. It was an extremely difficult time, and I was adamant I didn’t want to try again for some time. But, just 2 months later, in December I discovered I was pregnant again. (Strange how these things turn out!)
My pregnancy was uneventful, except some extra tests I had to have on my heart and the baby’s. I was born with a hole in my heart that needed surgery when I was 4, so the doctors needed to check my heart was strong enough for pregnancy, and that my baby’s heart was healthy. I was placed under the care of a cardiologist and had ECGs, etc, and a foetal echocardiogram at a cardiology unit. Luckily everything was fine, and I was discharged from the care of the cardiologist. I was graded from ‘high-risk’ pregnancy to ‘low-risk’, and only saw my midwife from then on.
As my due date approached I think I was in something akin to denial about how my life was about to change. I wasn’t interested in reading about pregnancy, going to ante-natal classes, or even hearing from others about birth and parenting. I had no birth plan, and no real idea about what giving birth would be like. I got the regular information from my midwife, and did attend one ante-natal class, simply so I would get chance to look around the maternity ward and find out what needed to go into my hospital bag. I never, ever considered a home-birth – it never crossed my mind. Everyone I knew had given birth in hospital. It was a done thing and I never gave it a second thought.
To be honest, I hated being pregnant and couldn’t wait for it to be over. Towards the end of my pregnancy I had pelvic girdle pain, terrible pain in my back, ankles so swollen I only owned one pair of shoes that would (barely) fit my feet, and a terrible itching all over my feet that kept me up most nights. I saw physiotherapists about my pelvis and doctors and my midwife about everything else, and was prescribed all manner of potions for the itching. I suffer terribly from hay-fever and had a hard time over the summer months, unable to take anti-histamines.
Then finally it happened. I had my first contraction at just after 11pm on the 22nd August 2010. I was 38 weeks and 5 days along. I was watching TV with my partner and dogs when all of a sudden I felt a strong cramp in my stomach. I got up to use my birthing ball, thinking it was yet another lot of Braxton-Hicks contractions. And as I did so my waters broke. I told my partner I thought they’d broke, and after a moment of disbelief he sprung into action. I ran to the bathroom as they started to gush and shouted for him to get my phone. I rang my mum terrified as I climbed into the shower and my partner mopped the floor. As I spoke to my mum, and tried to calm down, I felt another two lots of strong cramps. But I ignored them, thinking it must have been my imagination.
Over the next half an hour I realised I was really in labour! My contractions had started and were less than 5 minutes apart and getting stronger. I panicked and called the hospital, who told me to come in immediately. Despite my lack of reading up on birth while pregnant, this wasn’t what I’d expected. It was my first child – labour wasn’t supposed to be this quick. At that moment, all I could think of was that I had to call the dog-sitter. (We have 2 very naughty dogs, and a house full of cats they can’t be trusted alone with.) The dog-sitter had been arranged weeks before and was on stand-by. She got in her car and rushed over, but was half an hour away. Unfortunately, I couldn’t wait that long as my contractions were now 4 minutes apart.
Frantic, I told my partner to go get the neighbour to sit with the dogs and mind the house until the dog-sitter arrived. He did, and gratefully the neighbour kindly agreed. Cue me bent double in the kitchen, panicking, while a near stranger tries to wrangle our 2 massive dogs. I got dressed, grabbed my hospital bag, and we commenced the torturous 30 minute journey to hospital. And of course, the maternity ward is miles away from the only entrance open at night (through A&E). I practically crawled into the A&E reception, and my partner acquired a wheelchair and pushed me, puffing and panting, down endless corridors to the maternity ward.
This was where the real fun started. I was examined and told I was 3cm dilated. The midwife assigned to me then asked me the question… had I felt my baby moving much today. I thought, and realised that unusually I hadn’t. Oh I wish I hadn’t said that! This meant I now needed to wear a belt monitoring the baby’s heartbeat. And I had to lay on my back. Still. Oh the agony!!! All I wanted to do was get up and walk about, and reflecting now I guess I should have. But I felt vulnerable and did as I was told. So I laid on the bed, on my back, and endured wave after wave of contractions while the midwife was off doing who knows what, and my partner was on the phone to the dog-sitter who was apparently lost and needed directions. After what seemed like forever I was offered some pain relief. Paracetamol and Codeine. I nearly laughed! But it was something. And I huffed and puffed on the gas and air hungrily.
Soon after, the midwife examined me again and spoke to me about the next steps. I was now 5cm dilated and apparently she was struggling to decide whether I was far along enough to go to the delivery suite, given how quickly I had progressed, or whether it was worth taking me to a relaxation room until I was a little further along. She opted for the latter, and I was wheeled to a nice calming room, full of birthing balls and soft furnishings. I could finally walk around and I positioned myself kneeling over a chair and had about 5 minutes of free heaven. Then my contractions kicked up a notch. I was bent double with agony, screaming in pain. And my waters started to gush again—oh the embarrassment!—and I cried at my humiliation. The midwife rushed in and offered me some Pethidine for the ever-increasing pain while an assistant tried to calm me. I was given the Pethidine and then wheeled to the delivery suite. I’d been in the room less than 10 minutes!
Everything after that is bathed in a haze. The Pethidine combined with all the gas and air I was guzzling distorted time and made events seem far away. I could still feel the pain, but it felt distant. As I settled into the bed in the delivery room time seemed to stretch forever. I was back on the belt monitor, so had to stay laying on my back, but I was too ‘out of it’ to stand anyway. The minutes felt like hours. My contractions must have been about 2 minutes or so apart, and I dozed in between them. My partner stood next to me and held my hand through it all. He was my rock – not sure what I would have done without him.
Eventually I started to get the urge to push. This was the truly hard part as I was so sedated, it was all I could do to open my eyes and breathe through the contractions that were wracking my body. But eventually my instincts took over, the drugs started to wear off, and my body did its job. It took me just over an hour; an hour of the most strenuous thing I’ve ever done; an hour of screaming I couldn’t do it, and that it hurt too bad; an hour or squeezing my partner’s hand and him telling me how great I was doing. It seemed to last a lifetime. But slowly I managed to push my daughter out into the world.
Those last 5 minutes or so are a blur. I think my purely animal instincts took over and my mind was so focused on this one job that everything else faded. I wasn’t aware of anything going on around me. All I could focus on was the task at hand. I’m told by my partner that I was given a massive injection into my thigh to make my placenta deliver. I don’t remember. All I remember is the pain, and the most bizarre, disturbing feeling of something huge ‘falling’ out of my body. I remember the look on my partner’s face, and his tears falling onto my forehead. And then I remember my daughter, wrapped in a towel and placed on my chest. Her tiny fingers. Her pink skin. And the sound of her cry. The way she looked up at me with confusion. And the way she smelled – the most wonderful smell in the world!
Poppy Christine was born at 4:24am on the 23rd August 2010. She weighed 7lb 2oz. Her hair is blonde, and her eyes are green. She is the best thing that ever happened to me. At that moment—the moment I held her for the very first time—my life completely changed. All of a sudden someone else became the centre of my universe. I vowed to be the best mother I could to her, and to always be there for her. I changed into who I am now. In short, I became a completely different person.
Looking back I feel really sad about my birth story. It was so stressful. Not particularly the labour itself, which was quite short at 5 hours from first contraction to delivery, and easy. I only had one small tear and needed no stitches. But everything else… The trip to hospital, being shipped around, the powerlessness I felt in my own care. I felt I had no control in anything that happened: a semi-conscious, half-willing participant in something I didn’t know I had to prepare for.
I wish I had known what I know now. Poppy was 4 months old before I heard about attachment parenting, purely by accident, and started trusting my instincts. It was then that I started to learn about natural birth and started doing some serious reading on breastfeeding, baby-wearing, labour and pregnancy, etc. Luckily I had decided to breastfeed, and co-slept from the start simply because Poppy wouldn’t have it any other way. But I wish I had been more informed before I had her. Things might have gone a lot more smoothly.
If I have another baby I want a home-birth, if possible. I want to feel in control and calmly deliver my baby without all the hustle and bustle of getting to hospital. I want to take control and feel the power other women have inspired me to take. I wish I had done my research before having my daughter, but at least in the future I’ll be prepared, in the interim I have a beautiful, healthy, happy little girl.