I have to start by saying that the labour and birth of my second baby followed almost the exact same biological pattern as my first birth experience. This time, however, I have not come out of it traumatised. I am very sad not to have had the HBAC that I planned for and dreamed of for so long, but the birth I did have was instinctive, empowered and healing. I was respected, I had amazing support from everyone around me, my body and my decisions were truly my own and I have come through the experience without regret.
So my labour began with a few indefinable niggles during Friday 27th January. I was absolutely convinced that my baby wouldn’t be born until February, having gone to 42+2 first time around I expected a slightly longer than average pregnancy again. So I tried not to get too excited about the niggles, being only just 40 weeks. However, my brain felt like it was trying to shut down too, I couldn’t concentrate on anything and just wanted to clean my house! I sent my colleagues on Four Mums a message asking for them to find cover for me for the upcoming weekly topic and joked that my neocortex was trying to shut down for birth. It was a joke, but it turns out I was spot on. I contacted my doula, Vicki, as she lives some distance from us and I wanted to make sure she had a good heads up, so I told her I was niggling but that I would probably still be niggling in a week! I knew my independent midwife, Debs, had been at a birth that morning, so I sent her a text asking if her other client had birthed and I had the all clear to go. She replied in the affirmative and I let myself relax, knowing everything was in place.
Hubby, Andy, and I put the Munchkin to bed as normal and decided to have a take away and watch a film. I went off to bed fairly early and put my Natal Hypnotherapy CD on. As I lay in bed relaxing I felt a surge of pressure through the bottom of my bump, very different from the top down niggles that I had felt in the day and I had to really breathe through it. A few minutes later there was another one, accompanied with a sort of hot flush up through my chest and into my head. I was slightly unnerved by this one and posted on Facebook asking if anyone else had experienced such a thing. I couldn’t wait for an answer though, the surges were coming every three minutes and I had to lie down and breathe through them.
I told Andy that things were happening, I knew it wasn’t just a warm up, it was just like my first birth and I recognised the sensations for what they were. I was still unnerved by the hot flushes though, so I called Debs and asked her if it sounded normal and let her know that things were definitely getting started. It was already late at night, so she assured me that it sounded fine and to try to rest and call her back if things changed. I asked Andy to ring Vicki and ask her to set off. I knew it might be three hours before she got to me and had a feeling I would be needing extra support by then.
The surges were very intense and I tried to cope with them by kneeling on the floor and leaning on the bed. I really wanted my pool, so asked Andy to get it ready while I was still coping through the contractions on my own. I asked him to call Debs too, it was all very intense and I wanted all my support around me. Once the pool was ready, complete with fairy lights and scented candles, I got in. No need to wait for any pesky examination to tell me I was dilated enough. The water was bliss, the atmosphere was perfect. The contractions kept on coming but were easier to cope with.
I managed to get into a wonderful meditative state, with the help of music and Andy sitting by my side using the triggers we had practised as part of our Natal Hypnotherapy preparation. I became aware of someone arriving and joining Andy by my side and I just managed to focus long enough to establish that it was Vicki.
Shortly after Vicki arrived Debs did too. I had my birth team with me and felt the warmth of them supporting me. Labour was good. I was blissfully unaware of the time, but having looked back over my notes I gather it was about 3am by this point, so I’d been contracting regularly for about five hours. I knew that didn’t mean anything though, I was deliberately not checking the time.
The contractions started to become a little expulsive, but I felt I needed to get out of the pool and have a walk around, go to the loo and change things up a bit. I ended up on my side in bed with Andy and Vicki with me. The pushing sensations became irresistible and despite really wanting to get back in the pool I simply couldn’t move, so I went with my body and allowed myself to bear down. Vicki supported my ankle on her shoulder as I pushed and I found some coherence to call out “I’m going to give birth in the Call the Midwife position!” Everyone laughed, including me. Birth felt very close.
I needed to change positions and ended up on all fours, the pushing continued and I reached down to see if I could feel anything. I was surprised to feel lots and lots of goo! Debs reassured me that it was just a show and a good sign. Everything seemed to be ticking along nicely.
The morning was rapidly approaching and I began to be very conscious of the Munchkin waking up. I found it hard to vocalise through contractions and relax into them, but Vicki sensed exactly what was troubling me and encouraged me to let go and follow my body.
Sure enough, the Munchkin woke up right on schedule and Andy dashed off to make him happy with breakfast and TV. I could hear that he was happy and not worried by my noises, but his presence was inhibiting me so I asked Andy to call my parents and have one of them come collect him, which my mum did shortly afterwards.
The morning passed in a blur of intense contractions and absolute desperation to get back in the pool. Andy had to refresh the water so I had to wait, I was knelt at the end of my bed, hugging Vicki in front of me, with Debs sat behind me (ready to catch?!) I couldn’t stand to be in any kind of forward leaning position, the pain increased massively and even between contractions it felt totally wrong. My legs were taking serious punishment from the constant need to be upright, either standing or kneeling.
Eventually I was able to get back in the pool and I spent some time in a deeply relaxed state leaning back against the side. The contractions eased off and gave me a much needed break, until a whopper hit me out of nowhere and yanked me up onto my knees howling!
I felt the need to get up and mobilise again, though I was afraid the pain would increase again out of the water. It did.
After another period of intense pushing I asked Debs to examine me. We had talked a lot during pregnancy about how I felt about vaginal examinations, so she tried to talk me out of it, just as I had asked her to, but I felt something wasn’t right. I had been pushing hard for hours and hours and it didn’t feel productive, I expected to be able to feel the head descending but I couldn’t. I asked her to do the examination but just share useful information with me, I didn’t want to know how dilated I was. She did the check and suggested we try some different positions to try and get the baby to find a better position. I knew it, I knew something wasn’t right.
So I got onto all fours on the bed and put my head down, my bum in the air, to let gravity help the baby disengage. Then we went to the front room and I spent several contractions with one leg up on the sofa. The pushing urge continued. I tried turning around to put the other leg up but my body told me in no uncertain terms that this was wrong, so I turned back.
Vicki spoon fed me honey for energy and my team supported me physically and emotionally through this very difficult period of my labour.
After a while I asked to be examined again, Debs put me off, it hadn’t been that long and the results wouldn’t change anything for us yet. So we continued like this for longer, trying different positions.
Eventually I persuaded Debs to examine me again, it still didn’t feel like we were getting anywhere, I was exhausted and needed more information in order to decide where to go from here. I asked for all of the information, which she reluctantly gave me. I was only 5-6cms and baby was still not in a good position. The heart rate was a little higher than it had been and my pulse was also up and I was very hot, though my internal temperature was fine. We put a fan on me to cool me down and my pulse and baby’s heart rate correspondingly came back down.
It didn’t last, however, and we all talked about what to do. I told Debs I wanted to transfer in for a c-section. Andy looked hard at me and asked me if I was really sure, he told me he believed in me but that he knew I would never forgive myself if I was left with any doubts. I decided to keep going a little bit longer and Andy took me to the loo, which is where the pushing had been strongest all morning. During one massive contraction my waters went with a loud pop and huge gush and we returned to the living room with a renewed enthusiasm. Debs agreed that it was a positive natural change.
However, the contractions didn’t change, they remained slightly erratic and varying in strength, the pushing urge continued. My pulse was up and baby’s heart rate dropped significantly, and then sky rocketed. Debs became concerned and I knew we needed to take her concerns seriously.
Andy dutifully went to get things ready for us to transfer in while Debs called an ambulance. Vicki held me and asked if I was scared of anything. “Yes. This.” I cried. But I knew without doubt that things were wrong and we needed help. The emergency response guy arrived while I was in the loo with Vicki and she kept him away from me while Debs and Andy were bustling about. But at one point I was on my own in the living room with him and had to grab hold of him through a contraction, the poor guy seemed very confused. Maybe it was the first labour transfer he had attended, or maybe he was unnerved by me being on my feet and breathing through a contraction rather than screaming.
It seemed an age before the actual ambulance arrived and as I was helped out of the front door I felt a stab of recognition when I caught site of one of the paramedics, she had been the one sat in the back with me and the midwife last time this happened, the one who told Andy he wasn’t allowed to ride in the back with me, the one who ignored me completely and chatted to the midwife as if I wasn’t there, making me feel completely abandoned.
This time there was no question about who would be in the back of that ambulance with me, Andy and Debs climbed on up and Vicki followed in her car. The bad paramedic drove, rather dramatically firing up the lights and siren, despite there not being a serious emergency. When we arrived a wheelchair had been provided for me but I insisted on walking, I wouldn’t suffer the indignity of being wheeled in, even if I thought for a moment that I could tolerate being sat in the chair during a contraction!
We were taken to a room, the lights kept low and a midwife came in with us. My birth contract was given straight to her and she was told in no uncertain terms why we were there. I refused CFM and she happily used a pinnard instead, baby’s heart rate had settled back down to normal. The contractions that had dwindled during the transfer returned with a vengeance and the pushing sensation was incredibly strong. I tried to breathe through them but I’m afraid I had to go with my body and scream. Vicki and Debs were right there reminding me to let go and breathe, I could hardly open my eyes but I didn’t have to worry about staying conscious this time to assert myself, I had a wonderful team with me for that.
I knelt on the bed, leaning on the raised back and pushed my way through a series of these incredible contractions and Debs asked if things had changed and I felt they had, there was a huge amount of pressure at the front and the pushing felt different. She suggested we have another look at what was going on, she said that the registrar would want to do an examination before agreeing to a c-section, so we should wait for her rather than having the midwife check and then having another one anyway. It was my choice, I could have told the registrar where to go, but I had to have one last check to make sure we were doing the right thing.
“If I can push this baby out I bloody will!” I shouted and everyone laughed.
The registrar arrived and there was a conversation about CFM and she wanted me to have a scan to locate the placenta, seeing as I had declined the anomaly scan in pregnancy. Debs reassured her that the placenta was not in the way and I vocally refused both the scan and CFM. I compromised a bit on the CFM and agreed to Debs holding the probe against my bump, rather than being strapped up, that way she could follow baby’s movements and avoid that panic at loss of trace that so often leads to unnecessary drama in hospital births.
The registrar examined me and confirmed what Debs had found earlier, there had been no change. Right then, c-section it is. It was my decision, there was no way that me or the baby could carry on like this. I’d been pushing on a 5cm cervix for at least twelve hours. It wasn’t happening any other way and both me and baby were showing signs of stress.
The registrar was about to go into standard procedure mode, so I yelled “I have conditions!” and Debs passed her the contract and went through it with her. Boy did her eyebrows disappear into her hairline!
“You can only have one person with you.”
“No! Debs comes too.”
No further objection.
“No antibiotics? I’ll have to check with the consultant.”
Debs: “You can check, but Holly will still decline them.”
No further objection.
“Don’t cut the cord? We can’t do that.”
Andy: “It’s non-negotiable.”
Debs explained how a lotus caesarean could be done.
No further objection.
That was it. It was more like token objections than a real fight.
Debs and Andy were taken away in turns to change into scrubs. Vicki was to take our things to recovery and wait for us there. By this point I was begging for my spinal block. I was in agony and couldn’t stop pushing. The anaesthetist came along and explained everything, he was a very smiley guy and a bit of me fell a little bit in love with him. That must be common in his job.
We went to theatre and after a slight need to haggle over where Debs would stand, we were off. I had a contraction while the anaesthetist was administering the spinal and everyone was very impressed with how well I stayed still!
I had the same unfortunate reaction to the spinal this time as I had to the epidural last time; uncontrollable shaking. I got upset, this is what stopped me holding the Munchkin for hours and hours after surgery. I wasn’t going to let that happen again.
The surgery was, well surgery. Everyone was respectfully quiet as per our insistence and everyone knew not to reveal the sex. Debs kept a careful eye on proceedings and explained what was happening to me at each step. As baby was born (7.20pm Saturday 28th January) the registrar stated that there was meconium and baby had to go straight to the paediatrician as baby hadn’t cried yet, but before she’d finished her sentence there came this hearty cry, mocking her.
“Baby’s fine.” Snapped Debs.
He was held up for us to see that he was a boy as they waited for the cord to stop pulsating. Someone, I think it was the assistant anaesthetist, said he was getting cold and needed to go under a lamp. Why this was her area of concern, I don’t know!
“No, he needs to go straight to mum.” Debs ordered with authority. The cord had stopped pulsating, so it was clamped while they administered syntometrine to deliver the placenta, the clamp keeping the drugs from travelling down the cord to my baby. Then the cord was un-clamped again, left in tact, and our son was handed to Andy. The nice midwife who admitted us was there, dutifully holding the placenta in a bowl close by. Debs lifted my t-shirt and Andy placed the Bean on my chest and held him firmly in place as I managed to manoeuvre a shaking hand to my baby. Just like that, the shaking stopped. I held him tight and kissed him and watched in awe as he wriggled his way to my breast and began rooting. Biological nurturing during a lotus caesarean. How often does that happen?
The placenta was placed next to me and a warm towel placed over the Bean, with Andy’s hand still firmly on his back.
The stitching seemed to take forever, conversation picked up around us but I didn’t care. I was holding my baby, that was all I cared about, I was the first to really hold him, not roughly the sixth like last time. The registrar took the time to complement the strength of my uterus, saying it was very thin so had obviously worked very hard but my previous scar had held. I appreciated her telling me.
We were taken to recovery, where Vicki was waiting and she helped get the Bean latched on properly for his first feed. No messing about, skin-to-skin and feeding as early as possible. It took a lot of support and re-latching as he kept slithering down off my chest. Lying flat on your back is not the easiest position to breastfeed in!
The midwife in recovery was very nice, very intrigued by the lotus birth and somewhat puzzled by our refusal to have our baby weighed! I joked to her that I was aware her computer would explode if she didn’t enter a birth weight but it would have to wait until the next day. I knew that me having had IV fluids for the birth, the Bean’s birth weight would be falsely high if weighed immediately. My plan was to wait until his system had settled a bit so as to get a more accurate birth weight. My first hours in hospital were filled with speculation over how much he weighed as he was obviously quite chunky, though he still seemed tiny to me compared to his nearly three year old brother.
We stayed in recovery for hours, my dad turned up unexpectedly to see us and eventually I let Andy and my dad have a little hold of the Bean. One of the conditions on my birth contract was that Andy was to stay with us on the ward. The midwife tried to find us a side room but couldn’t and she absolutely would not budge on refusing us this condition if I was in a bay with other women. I could understand it but was very upset. It was gone 10pm by this point, we had been up for two days and I couldn’t bear the thought of Andy having to go home alone to a limp birth pool again, just like last time. So I asked my dad if Andy could come back to my parents’ house instead. At least he wouldn’t be alone.
After everyone left I was alone with my baby for the first time. It was a lonely experience, waiting to be taken to the ward and the night once we got there was horrible. The Bean wouldn’t let me put him down so I spent the whole night sat up holding him, unable to sleep. I was exhausted. At about 5am a midwife came in to tell me that the Munchkin had been admitted to A&E in respiratory distress and that they were letting Andy onto the ward to see me. My world crashed down around me. The first day of the Bean’s life skin-side was spent with me alone and Andy with the Munchkin in paediatrics.
Debs came to see me and she washed the placenta for me. She also weighed the Bean, he was a healthy 9lbs 4oz. Andy was able to come and see us a couple of times, while my parents took turns with the Munchkin and getting some rest. None of them had slept all night as he had been so ill before they decided to bring him to hospital. I couldn’t believe what had happened, I was desperate to have my family together.
I was adamant that I would get home that night and the midwife looking after me completely supported that, she did everything she could to push the required procedures through in time for me to leave but when it became obvious that the consultant wasn’t going to get to me by the end of the day, she discretely reminded me that I could discharge myself if I wanted to. So I did.
The Munchkin wasn’t well enough to leave that night, but my dad agreed to stay with him so Andy could take me and the Bean home. My parents brought the Munchkin home the next afternoon. Finally our family was together, and the Munchkin got to meet his baby brother. It was such a shame that those first 24 hours were stolen from us, when the birth itself had been so positive.
Despite the c-section, it was a positive experience. I have no regrets, I was in control of all of the decisions, I was not manipulated or assaulted in any way. My birth team were amazing and even the NHS team surprised me with their attitude and their ability to be flexible and accommodate such unusual choices. I am sad that I did not get my home birth and that both of my children had to be born by caesarean, but old demons have been laid to rest. I can honestly say that I did absolutely everything possible to ensure I had a positive experience, and by and large I did.
The lotus birth was fascinating. I saw the Bean react when the placenta was moved, I saw him holding his cord, which dried in interesting, twisting shapes and different colours. I really should have taken more photos, I didn’t get any of the placenta and only a few of the cord. That will be my one regret. The cord came away on day four, the 1st of February and Andy buried the placenta in the garden next to the Munchkin’s birth tree as it started to snow. I wish that me and the boys could have been gathered around the tree, but I wasn’t up to venturing outside in the cold. I had to be satisfied with watching from the window. I’m really glad we had the lotus birth, not just for ourselves, but for the eyes it opened at the hospital and hopefully the doors it will open for other families who may now get a midwife or consultant who actively suggests leaving the cord to pulsate during a c-section. You never know.
I hope that others can gain something from hearing about my birth experience. Thank you for reading.