Catherine’s Birth Story

Told by her mother, Janet

DSCN4769It started on the evening of Monday 13 July, when I had a bit of a show just before bed. I went to bed feeling quite excited; although I kept telling myself that nothing might happen for weeks yet, I felt somehow “different” and had a feeling that tonight may be the night. I couldn’t get to sleep as I had indigestion and couldn’t get comfortable, so I sat up and finished the book I was reading and then propped myself up in bed with pillows and tried to doze. At 2.50am I had my first proper rush, it was much more painful than anything I’d experienced before and lasted for a long time, around 4 minutes. From then on I had rushes regularly about every 15 minutes, although most were only like bad Braxton Hicks. At 5.30am I was sick, and, by now convinced that this was really it, I woke John up with a cup of tea at 6am to put the TENS machine on.

Jo (the midwife) had asked that if it started in the night I should give her a call in the morning to give her a “heads up” so she could plan her day; we decided that I would call her at 7. In the mean time we did the list of jobs we had compiled that needed doing before I got too incapacitated: moving the dining table out into the garage to make room for the pool, turning the sofa around, packing the emergency hospital bag. DSCN4760At 7am I rang Jo and explained what was happening; she suggested I call back when the rushes were consistently lasting more than 30 seconds, and also suggested that I have some breakfast. So John and I sat and had breakfast together, just like any normal Tuesday, then he emailed his work to say he wouldn’t be coming in, and then got on with the rest of the jobs on the list – putting down plastic sheeting, assembling the pool – while I mostly knelt over my birthing ball, breathing and rocking through the rushes, keeping note of timings, and in between making frequent trips to the toilet.

We rang Jo back at about 9.30 when the rushes were averaging 40 seconds, but as I was coping fine with them she suggested I rang back when they reached a minute. So I finally called back at about 10.30 and asked her to come out, and she arrived just after 11.30. Time passed, much more quickly for me than for my attendants; sometimes we chatted, sometimes Jo read her book; John started filing the pool (which would take about 3 tanks full of hot water, so needed to be started well in advance, and then kept warm with an improvised lid made from a plastic sheet and a duvet), kept everyone provided with tea and biscuits, and at one point popped out to pick up the new wiper blade for my car, mine having been vandalised a couple of days before. At some point, the phone rang; it was my mum, so I mouthed to John “Tell her lies!” and he spun her some story about how he’d just decided to take a day off work, and offered no explanation for why she couldn’t speak to me. We all knew that she’d probably guessed what was happening, but at least we’d tried!

DSCN4756By this point I was finding it helpful to exhale audibly and “purposefully” through the rushes, as we had practiced at yoga, as well as pressing the “boost” button on the TENS machine. I was still kneeling flopped over the ball, and John commented that I looked very serene. At some point I started to feel the rushes in my lower back; the TENS machine didn’t seem to help with this, so Jo suggested we try a hot water bottle. John fetched one and provided immediate relief; little did the poor lad realise that he would be stuck doing this for the next five hours!

In the early afternoon the pain of the rushes got noticeably worse, and I could no longer just breathe through them but started to vocalise with them: “AaaaAAAAaargh!” Jo was on the phone to the hospital at the time, letting them know I was in labour, and when she got back she suggested that John start to get the pool ready for me to get in. Only John had been too efficient at keeping the water warm, and it was actually far too hot, so he started adding cold to try to get it down to temperature for me to get in.

The pool was finally ready at about 3pm so we took off the TENS machine and I took off my clothes and got in. I had been weighing up whether to ask John to fetch a T-shirt for me to wear, but I found when it came to it that I really wasn’t that bothered; one of the advantages of the pool was that it provided a sense of privacy, particularly in the position I chose to adopt, which was kneeling, leaning forwards against the side of the pool. I also found that the water provided a similar level of distraction from the pain as the TENS machine, although it still didn’t help with the back pain, so I still needed John to press firmly on my sacrum with each rush. Other advantages of the pool were the feeling of weightlessness, enabling me to change positions easily and adopt positions that would be uncomfortable on dry land, and also the cooling effect; although the water was quite warm (just below body temperature), I could dip my shoulders into the water and then allow it to evaporate, cooling me down, as it was quite a warm day, and the sun was streaming in through the patio doors.

In many ways, my labour continued as before, with the rushes ever increasing in intensity. Jo would occasionally lean in to listen to the baby’s heartbeat or check my temperature or blood pressure (all readings were always very relaxed), but otherwise she left me to it. I entered an odd, almost trance-like state; I lost all remaining sense of time, and it felt like my subconscious mind was sorting through each piece of information, deciding what to pass on to my conscious mind for attention, and what to allow to slip by unnoticed; I was vaguely aware of the phone ringing at some point, but wasn’t remotely curious as to who it was (I later found out it was John’s Mum: “Oh, you’re at home.” “Yes.” “Are you busy?” “Yes.” “Right, I’ll leave you to it.”) Similarly, sometimes John wasn’t there, and it was Jo pressing on my back during rushes, but I never wondered where John was (usually making refreshments).

After a while, I went through a classic transition: I was sick in a bucket (Jo gave me a piece of kitchen paper with peppermint oil on to help with the nausea) and then I had a “rest and be thankful” period when everything slowed right down and I had plenty of time to rest between rushes and doze with my head on the side of the pool. I heard Jo explaining to John that this was a good sign and nothing to worry about. Sure enough, shortly afterwards I began to feel an urge to push at the beginning of each rush; Jo asked whether I was feeling the pressure mainly in my vagina or my rectum – I confirmed it was in my rectum – so she told me that until the urge to push became irresistible I should try to breathe through them rather than give into them.

There then followed what seemed like an interminable period of trying to breathe through rushes of ever increasing intensity. With each rush I would rise up on my knees and tuck my pelvis under; the pressure of John’s hand on my sacrum helped me to feel “grounded” in the pool, and I concentrated on keeping my pelvic floor relaxed, even through I suspected this resulted in a few little poos escaping (John later confirmed this was the case, and admitted his distress at the proximity of his hand, although at the time he manfully didn’t say anything.) Like so much else, this knowledge really didn’t bother me at the time. After an hour and a half of this I was in continual pain which only eased slightly between rushes and I really just wanted it all to stop, but I knew that there was nothing I could do at this stage but get on with it and get it over. (Interestingly it never occurred to me to ask for the gas and air, although I did have an internal conversation with myself about how I understood why people would ask for epidurals at that point.)

Sometimes Jo or John would ask me questions and I would formulate the responses in my head but could rarely find the energy to actually say them. Occasionally a need would become sufficiently pressing that I would manage a one work command: “Drink” or “flannel” or “don’t stop” if John was looking like releasing the pressure on my sacrum before a rush had fully passed. There was also a minor battle of wills about the pool temperature: Jo wanted to raise it back up to body temperature ready for the baby to be born, but I was already too hot and wanted to keep it cool. Since I wasn’t in much of a position to argue my case, Jo inevitably got her way, and John added a couple of buckets of hot water.

DSCN4761After I’d been in the pool for 3 hours my rushes started to slow down. Jo explained that while the initial effect of being in the water was to increase oxytocin and thus speed up progress, staying in too long could have the opposite effect. She said that she would give me half and hour but then we would have to consider getting out and trying some different positions on dry land. The thought of this filled me with horror; I really didn’t want to move from the position I was in, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to cope with the pain without the help of the water. However I didn’t manage to say any of this, but filed it away to be worried about later.

And then suddenly my waters broke in a cloud of green meconium. Jo explained that the best place for me to be was in hospital, and that I would need to get out of the pool so that she could do an internal examination and find out what was going on, to assess me for a transfer to hospital. Once again, I couldn’t find the energy to make any kind of acknowledgement; I’m sure John and Jo thought I was ignoring them, but in fact I was trying to summon together all my resources to make the move. Getting out of the pool was the hardest part of the whole labour; I would wait until a rush passed before trying to make my move, to give myself the longest possible interval to get to the sofa before the next one came along, but by then the rushes were coming so thick and fast that the next one would be on me before I had a chance to go anywhere. So in the end I waited for the initial, worst phase of a rush to pass, and then just got up and did it.

John and Jo, somewhat taken by surprise, helped me to the sofa and arranged me on my left hand side, with John supporting my top leg up in the air. Jo rang Val, the supporting midwife, to ask her to attend for the actual birth, but her line was engaged, so she left a message. Jo then carried out the first and only internal examination of my labour, and told us that I was 9cm dilated, but my cervix still had an anterior lip which we would have to wait for to go before I could start to push. She also explained that the reason my labour had been so long and back-achy was that the baby had gone the “long way round”; from its starting point with its spine on the right it had gone through 270º round the back to get itself into its final position for birth with its spine at the front. However as she said this the anterior lip disappeared, leaving me fully dilated. She then suggested that I should do a trial push, so that she could assess how quickly the baby was likely to come.

It was an absolute blessed relief to finally be able to push, after so long resisting it; it felt really powerful, but I don’t recall feeling pain at all, just relief that it would soon all be over. With my first push, Jo could see my vulva bulging, and announced that we were staying put as the baby was on its way and, it being rush hour by now, it was safer to stay where we were than to risk the baby being born on the A23. She also rang Val back and left another message telling her not to bother coming out as she wasn’t going to make it.

I managed two good pushes per rush – Jo always tried to coax a third but I could never manage it. With the next rush John announced excitedly that he could see the baby’s hair, and Jo encouraged me to put a hand down to feel it. Three or four rushes later the baby’s head crowned; this was the moment I had feared, but after everything I had been through, the burning feeling of the “ring of fire” was nothing but a minor discomfort to be put up with while I waited for the next rush which would bring it all to an end. John informed me, somewhat unnecessarily, that he could still see the baby’s head even between rushes, so I informed him that I could feel that!

When the next rush came Jo coached me through the birth of the baby’s head, telling me alternately to pant and to do tiny pushes. Then the head was out, John was overcome with excitement, and Jo informed me that the baby’s cord had been wrapped around its neck, but she had managed to loop it over its head without any problem. Then with the next rush I felt the rest of the baby’s body slither out, and Jo wrapped it in a towel and laid it on my chest.

I was surprisingly uncurious about my new baby; from my vantage point all I could see was the top of its head, but I was quite content to know that I had my baby safe in my arms, and it was all over. John was sitting looking at the baby’s face, and eventually thought to ask Jo whether it was a boy or a girl; Jo said she wasn’t going to tell us, so John had a look under the towel and announced that he thought we had a little girl, although he did ask Jo to confirm this! I then finally sat up to have a proper look at our daughter, and we sat and gazed at her in wonder until the cord stopped pulsing and Jo clamped and cut it. I then gave Catherine her first feed, and we waited for the placenta to emerge.

Jo said that as soon as I felt a rush I should push with it, but I never really felt anything. After a while Jo suggested I try sitting on her antique bed pan, but there was still nothing; we then tried kneeling and standing, but there was still no movement. Finally I walked out to the downstairs toilet, wearing a towel like a nappy to catch the blood from the cord, and I sat on the toilet, blowing over a bottle, while Jo gave me a dose of homeopathic Pulsatilla, but still to no avail. Finally, nearly two hours after Catherine’s birth, we admitted defeat; we walked back to the sofa where Jo gave me a jab in the thigh (more painful than I expected!) and delivered the placenta manually (also a lot more uncomfortable than I expected).

Jo then checked over the placenta and membranes to check they were all complete, which I watched with some interest, while John, who had no desire to see this, took Catherine for a tour of her new home. He then made us all a cup of tea, and Jo weighed and measured the baby and checked her over. She then wiped the worst of the blood and meconium off her with some damp cotton wool, showed us how to put a nappy on her, and dressed her for the first time. She also helped me into a pair of Tena pants and the clothes I had been wearing for my early labour, then installed me and Catherine upstairs in bed.

I dozed in bed with our daughter while John reheated and ate some dinner, pumped out the pool and disposed of the liner and its rather revolting contents, and Jo cleaned up her equipment, wrote up her notes and put all the dirty sheets and towels into the washing machine. She then let herself out and John joined me upstairs where he cracked open a bottle of champagne and we phoned all our respective parents and siblings. We then put Catherine down in her carry cot and finally fell into an exhausted but happy sleep.

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