It has taken me a long time to write down the details of Rory's birth, just over eleven to be exact. I wish I'd written it sooner as I struggled to remember the details, but for me it was a long and difficult experience that I was keen to quickly move past. Birth stories are something I found a lot of comfort in while I was pregnant, I think the huge uncertainty about birth and a woman's transition into those early days of motherhood is as unsettling as it is exciting. Every birth is so unique, we find ourselves wanting any insights we can into what it might be like for us.
Before you read my story, because it's really pretty long to leave the important stuff until the end, I just want to say that although Rory's birth wasn't the calm, empowering experience I'd hoped for, it's something that I now feel very positive about. The moment my daughter was born was the most overwhelming and wonderful moment I've ever had. It didn't matter that this was in a theatre full of hospital staff, under bright lights with me hooked up to machines. Because it was the moment my daughter was born, and that's how it happened for me and for her and for us. In that moment, I didn't care about anything else. The labour, the pain, the exhaustion...nothing mattered but her. About a week after the birth, once my hormones settled down, all the memories of it started to fade. It's such a tiny part of the experience of pregnancy and motherhood, but at the time is so all consuming. My tough experience has faded, it really has, and it has changed in my memory to become nothing but the amazing story that brought me my child. It has become the positive and empowering experience I wanted, because that's what birth is. It doesn't matter to me now that it took time to feel that way, because the three days it took to bring my baby into the world has been utterly, magically eclipsed by the eleven months of her life so far.
Ok, so here goes...
Sunday 3rd January 2016 (39 weeks pregnant)
I'd had some back pain during the night and was generally feeling really restless, so I got out of bed to try and get comfortable on the sofa. I put something on Netflix and dozed on and off for the rest of the night, waking up at about 6.30am. I notice right away that my pyjama trousers were all wet, really wet. I stood up slowly, as more water poured down my leg and onto the floor. I knew right away that it was my waters breaking. I think my first feeling was a pang of disappointment. I was hoping for at least another week of maternity leave to rest before the baby arrived, and also that when labour starts with your waters breaking, it's likely that you're going to be induced and then even more likely you'll receive some kind of medical intervention in your birth. It seems so silly now to me that I ever felt like that, but when you've never given birth before I don't think you can help but cling on to your 'birth plan' because it gives you a feeling of control over a situation you really have very little control over.
I went into our bedroom to wake Gav. I said "you're not going to like this, but my waters have just broken". He'd been so busy at work for weeks before, and having his first day off for quite a long time. Willing my body to hold on to that baby for just another week so he could rest. I called the hospital labour ward, and they told me not to rush but just to come into see them as soon as we were ready. I took a bath while Gav slept a bit longer, tidied the flat, got dressed and headed out to the hospital. All the while, my waters were breaking. I assumed that when your waters break it just happens once, but turns out that's not what happens at all. Your waters just keep going and going and going. I was wearing two maternity pads at once, and changing them every 5-10 minutes to keep from soaking through to my clothes.
As we only live a five minute walk from Kings College Hospital, we walked through the park and down the hill to the labour ward. I could feel my waters breaking as we walked, my legs were getting wet and I hadn't brought a change of clothes. After a short wait we were seen by the triage nurse. She checked my pads, confirmed my waters had broken and hooked me up to a foetal heart rate monitor to check the baby was alright. I got a bit paranoid as I hadn't felt much movement that morning which was unusual, but everything was fine. The midwife told me that if I didn't go into labour soon, or progress quickly enough I was going to have to be induced. They give you 72 hours from when your waters break to deliver the baby, because of the risk of infection. I remember feeling close to tears in the hospital, because I knew that meant no water birth and probably an epidural and other interventions that I didn't want. I was tired and scared and emotional from a few sleepless nights, but after a little cry I got over myself and started to feel excited that our baby would be with us soon. The midwife sent us on our way, and told me to call the labour ward the next morning, or sooner if I started to have strong contractions. She told me to go for a walk, eat a hot curry and spend a lot of time bouncing on the birthing ball to try and encourage my labour to start.
We went home, Gav made me a nest of cushions on the sofa and we put Star Wars on our big projector screen. Sometime around midday I started to have contractions, irregular and not very strong, but I knew my labour had started. I timed them all afternoon while we watched movies, ate and tried to tidy the flat ready for bringing the baby home. I went for a walk around the park with the dog, sent Gav to buy up every maternity pad in South London and ordered the hottest curry we could find. By the time the curry arrived, around 4pm, my contractions were coming on a lot stronger but were still really irregular. I started to feel sick, and only managed a few mouthfuls of curry. For the rest of the evening, I sat on the sofa and timed my contractions, getting excited that my labour seemed to be starting properly and thinking that I might not have to be induced after all. Around 10pm I called the hospital, convinced that my contractions were as strong and as regular as the midwife said they needed to be before I called the hospital again. I made the call, and they told me to come in for a check.
We packed our bags into the car and drove to the hospital. I was seen by a different triage nurse who checked me and said I wasn't even one centimetre dilated yet. Nothing was happening and we needed to go home. She gave me some painkillers to help me sleep through the contractions, and said I should call in the morning to update them.
Monday 4th January (39 weeks +1)
I spent another sleepless night in the living room, after trying unsuccessfully to sleep through the contractions whilst lying in bed. Even though they were fairly mild at this point, they were strong enough to keep me from sleeping. I was excited and nervous about the birth, which was only adding to my restlessness. At about 1am I gave up trying to sleep, and went into the kitchen to put the kettle on. I spent the next few hours upright rocking backwards and forwards on my birthing ball, timing the contractions as they got more intense and closer together. The contractions were manageable, but I was on my second night of no sleep and starting to feel exhausted and emotional. By about 4am I decided to run a hot bath to help with the pain. I put the laptop on the loo seat while I took a bath, and spent a few hours topping up the hot water, breathing through the contractions and watching stuff on Netflix. I must have stayed in that bath until about 8am, gripping the sides when a contraction came, chatting with Gav in between the pain. At one point, I remember Gav coming in to find me in tears through a contraction, crying because I was just so tired and needed some rest. It's so hard to deal with pain when you're exhausted. At around 9am I called the hospital to update them, but the midwife said it still didn't sound like my labour was progressing very fast so they would definitely be inducing me that afternoon. I was to stay home for now, and call them again at midday.
At some point, I got out of the bath and Gav made me a nest of cushions on our bedroom floor. He wrapped the birthing ball in a duvet, put another duvet and pillows all around me so I could lean onto the ball and rock back and forwards through the contractions. I called my Mum for a bit and chatted between contractions, but for most of the next few hours I listened to the playlist Gav had made for my labour while I breathed and rocked during the contractions. At midday I called the hospital like the midwife asked me to. I was told there were no beds available, so to wait another two hours before calling. Another few hours passed much the same as before, until 2pm when I called the hospital again. The midwife said I had to come in and just wait, because as soon as a bed became available she wanted me to have it. My contractions were getting steadily stronger and more painful by that point, but still manageable. I got dressed and we drove to the hospital, me yelling out and gripping the door handle every time a contraction came. I went into the hospital while Gav parked the car, and I had to keep stopping on my way up to the labour ward to grip onto something during my contractions. The ward receptionist told me to wait in the ward waiting room until a bed became available for me. I remember that being particularly unpleasant, labouring on a plastic chair in a waiting room with total strangers, waiting there for their relatives who were about to have a baby. Coming from our cosy home, lights dimmed and music playing, the hospital was a bit of a shock.
Eventually we were admitted onto the ward, where we were told we had to wait until a delivery suite became available. A few other women came and went before me, that from their sounds I assumed were further along than I was. My contractions had slowed a little once we were in the hospital, but after a few hours came back with a vengeance. Because I hadn't slept since the previous Friday, the midwife advised me to take some Pethidine for the pain and try to get some rest. She gave me the injection, everything went all woozy and although I could still feel the contractions they seemed further away somehow. I was pretty high. The room started spinning and I couldn't talk properly, so I lay down and managed to drift in and out of sleep for a few hours. When I woke up, the midwife had come to explain to me what was going to happen that night and what my options were. They advised me that because it was my first birth and they were inducing me, that I should get an epidural because the contractions would come on very strong very quickly. I asked them how long they thought it might be before I gave birth, and they said they couldn't say but that they weren't even planning to check me until 8am the next day. Ten hours! I decided to take the epidural, contracting in pain all night after several days of no sleep didn't sound like much fun to me.
At about 10pm, we finally got told that a labour suite was available for us so we could be transferred out of the pre-natal ward. We'd been in there for eight hours already, and my contractions were starting to get stronger so we were pretty glad to be finally on the move. As soon as we got into the labour ward, I got changed into a hospital gown and the anaesthetist was called. He arrived pretty soon afterwards, and I remember being in really good spirits and joking with both him and the midwife in between my contractions. I think I was just so happy to be in our own room at last. The epidural didn't take long to do, but I do remember freaking out a little that it had done something weird to my legs. When a doctor reads out the risks of something to you late at night when you're in labour, and one of the risks is 'temporary paralysis' that's basically the only thing you hear. The pain relief was like a wave washing over my body. I couldn't feel the contractions any more, and my legs and lower body were heavy. Gav and the midwife helped me get comfy on the bed, and put some food and drink on the table so I could reach it At around midnight, I told Gav to go home and get some sleep. There was only a chair for him to sit on in the labour suite, and as we live only five minutes from the hospital it seemed crazy for him not to home and rest up in bed. Especially as we knew that we still had a pretty long way to go. We figured I would sleep until the morning, and it'd be much better if we both got some rest.
About an hour after Gav left, I started to feel really sick. I remember calling the midwife into the room as I was lying almost flat on my back and was so scared that I might vomit and choke. She adjusted my bed, gave me a bowl in case I was sick and an injection in my thigh to help stop me feeling so sick. It didn't work, and I was sick about four times throughout the night. I couldn't sleep as I felt so nauseous, so just sat up chatting to the midwife and listening to podcasts on my phone. Around 4am, one of the monitors started beeping loudly. The midwife told me to stay calm, but that the monitor meant the baby's heart rate was dropping rapidly and she needed to get a doctor. She warned me that a lot of doctors were going to rush in, all the lights would go on and they would be examining me to try to figure out what was going on. I cried immediately, I was so exhausted and overwhelmed, emotional because Gav wasn't there and I was worried that something serious was wrong. About a minute later, a group of doctors came in and turned on all the lights. One of them examined me, and I was told that the induction drugs had meant that my contractions were really strong and were putting a lot of pressure on the baby's head. They said everything was fine, but that they would have to turn down the drugs to reduce the contractions so the baby could recover. The lights went down, the doctors left and everything was quiet again.
Tuesday 5th January (39 weeks + 2 days)
At some point after the doctors had given me the all clear and left the room, I dozed off. The first few hours of sleep I'd had since the previous Friday night. I woke up at 6.30am to find Gav had arrived back at the hospital and was stroking my head. I remember being so happy and relieved to see him, and glad that he'd managed to get some rest so at least one of us felt like they had the energy to get through the day.
The midwife came to check on me at 8am, to see how far dilated I was. They don't like to check you too often when your waters have broken, because there's a risk they can introduce infection. She told me I was just 4cm dilated, and needed to get to 10cm before I could start pushing. It was really frustrating, to know that after two days of labour I still wasn't that far along. She told me she'd check again in two hours, and see how far I'd progressed. Two hours passed, only another 2cm dilated. I did the maths and figured at this rate I'd not be ready to push until 2pm. Another four hours to wait. It doesn't sound like a long time really, but when you've been in labour for two days, even five minutes seems like too long to wait. I was exhausted, and beginning to wonder if this whole thing was ever going to end. Hearing 'we'll check you again in two hours' made me feel like I was stuck in a time warp, in a hot and windowless room, huge and pregnant and contracting for eternity. I hadn't slept in three days, had spent the night vomiting up any food in my system and I was over it. I think at some point I cried to the midwife "this baby is never coming out!" but she assured me that they all come out in the end. What if I had the first one that didn't? The first one that stayed in there forever.
By this time, it was 10am. The midwife checked me, and told me to wait two more hours. Midday came, I'm checked again, and again I'm told to wait two more hours. The midwife told me I'd definitely be ready to push at 2pm, so at 1pm I was to start easing off my epidural - basically not to press the button every 20 minutes to top up my drugs. Around 12.30pm I started to feel really strong contractions coming back. I panicked. The midwife called the anesthetist to come and check the epidural, but neglected to tell him I was due to push at 2pm and so just to give me a light dose. By the time he'd sorted the epidural it was 1.30pm, and of course, he'd given me a double dose to make sure I couldn't feel any contractions. At 2pm, the midwives checked me and confirmed that after three days of labour I was at last ready to push. They told me how to breathe and use my breath to rock the baby through the birth canal, letting me practice a few times before starting to push for real. I had two midwives with me, one watching all the action (lucky her) and the other feeling my tummy for the contractions to tell me when to push as my epidural was so strong I couldn't feel a thing. I pushed for an hour and a half, and nothing. Still no baby. Now I was more exhausted than ever, starting to get emotional and the baby was feeling the strain of having her head contracted for such a long time. They called the doctor, and I was told that the next step was to take me to theatre so they could try and get her out with forceps. If that didn't work, I'd need a cesarean.
At that point, I remember feeling pretty low. I was so tired and just wanted the whole thing to be over. I felt like I'd let everyone down by not being able to push the baby out by myself, and I was really scared and upset. I had to sign all the papers to authorise the surgery, the anesthetist topped up my epidural and checked me with a cold spray to make sure I was numb from the armpits down. It was around 3.30pm by the time everything was ready for me to go to surgery, when an alarm went off in another delivery room. The doctors all rushed out, and I was told there was an emergency C-Section that had to be done on another patient so I'd have to wait to go to surgery. Another two hours.
At 5.30pm, I was finally wheeled into surgery. It was a world away from the calm, dimly lit delivery room. Bright lights, loud radio, and so many people. They were all introducing themselves to me, telling me what their job was and then attaching various things to me - monitors, needles, I've really no idea. They had a big screen to monitor the baby, and the volume was turned up loud so I could hear the heartbeat. The midwife told Gav his job was to stay by my side, hold my had really tight and give me lots of encouragement. I remember him looking at me to ask if I was okay, and I just said "I'm so scared" and started crying. I felt so helpless, lying on my back with no feeling in most of my body, completely exhausted and unsure of what was about to happen. I could feel the doctor doing something, as even though you can't feel any pain at all with an epidural you can still feel pressure. He told me he had managed to turn Rory's head with his hand, and that he was confidant she was in the right position to be able to get her out with forceps. But, he said, "you're going to have to push really hard'. It's pretty weird trying to push a baby out of you with all your might, when you can't feel anything going on below your armpits. You just have to grit your teeth, push like hell and hope you're doing it right. I remember going for it with every last bit of energy I had, and pushing for what felt like about ten seconds when I heard everyone in the room start yelling "I can see the head!". Gav squeezed my hand and started crying, "baby, I can see the head!". Then all of a sudden there she was. My baby. I can't even really begin to describe what that moment felt like. Relief that it was all over, sheer joy at seeing my baby for the first time, utter exhaustion and confusion at what was going on. Gav was crying, I was crying, I could hear Rory screaming from the other side of the theatre where they had taken her as soon as she was born to check her. The doctor stood up beaming and said to me "you did so well" and Gav and I both cried back at him "no, you did so well!". He laughed and said "yes, I did do well didn't I?". So funny, that for him this was just another day at work, but for us this was the biggest moment of our lives so far. Such a contrast between those two things.
I stayed in theatre for another 20 minutes while the doctor stitched me up and the nurses cleaned me a bit. I dread to think what I must have looked like, but I got a bit of an idea when I saw the doctor stand up with his arms soaked in blood up to the elbows. In that moment though, I couldn't have cared less. I was on a hormone high from everything that had happened, totally overwhelmed with happiness and exhaustion. I remember having a chat with one of the nurses while I was being stitched up, like we had just met in a coffee shop. All very surreal! The midwife asked me if I wanted to do skin to skin with Rory right away, but I decided to let Gav take her to recovery ahead of me. I didn't want the first moment I held her to be while I was flat on my back being stitched up and all the hospital staff were fussing around me. It seemed too chaotic, and I could barely move any of my body. Once the theatre staff had finished with me, I was wheeled into recovery where Gav and Rory were waiting for me. I did skin to skin with Rory right away, and fed her for the first time. I can't tell you the relief I felt that my very long labour at finally come to an end, and with a healthy and safe baby at the end of it. And the hunger, wow the hunger. Gav had made a bag of food for me to have after the birth, and I must have eaten about three sandwiches and two packets of crisps in under ten minutes.
I stayed in hospital that night, but sent Gav home around midnight to get some sleep. My memories of that night are pretty hazy, but I remember being exhausted and a little bit in shock that I had this tiny sleeping baby next to me that I had to keep alive. I put a podcast on and tried to get some sleep, and I think I managed a little during the night in between waking for feeds and the general noise of the hospital. Gav arrived back at the hospital around 6.30am, and we spent the rest of the day in the hospital. They have to check a few things when you've had an epidural, like making sure you can walk properly and that your bladder works okay after having a catheter in. They also wanted to keep an eye on Rory because she'd been born with forceps, and was at risk of developing jaundice. I took a shower around midday, but was so weak that I couldn't stand and could barely get myself showered. It was hard to walk, and I pretty much only managed a shuffle around the ward. By 4pm we were getting pretty fed up of being in the hospital. The ward was loud, hot and busy and I just wanted to get home. They weren't keen on us leaving until the next day, but as we only lived around the corner they decided to let us go. At 10pm we finally got our discharge papers, and we left. I shuffled out of the hospital in my slippers, clinging to this tiny blanket-wrapped baby for dear life.