Here at Umi HQ, we adore a positive birth story and are really passionate about contributing to change the narrative around birthing & labour for the better! Positive and empowering birth stories come in all shapes and sizes and our Helen is sharing hers with you all now…….
Just a warning that this is a lengthy read! I wanted to be able to remember every single detail of what happened so there is nothing spared from this recollection, so grab a cuppa & settle on in!
37/40: looking back, I now realise I was in early/pre-labour for approx 3 weeks before birthing Lochlann! On the day I turned 37/40 (19 days before birth), I was having, what had become, my usual daily tightenings/Braxton Hicks & period like pains (these were always more noticeable & frequent at night time) but I also lost some pinky discharge that evening which was not usual for me. Over the following week I noticed a few bloody streaks in my discharge too. Period pains were getting stronger and I also was having softer and more frequent stools. I was doing perineal massage in the evenings approx every other day and had tried the epi-no once. I continued to do my daily stretches in the morning whilst listening to positive birth affirmations and go on daily walks.
38/40: by now the tightenings/Braxton hicks were increasing & I was being woken up by them increasingly more frequently. One of the nights (12 days before birth) I thought I could feel Bandl’s ring - thankfully it turns out it was just different parts of the uterus ‘practising’. Isn’t the body amazing!? In this week, I had managed to get up to 9.5cm with the epi-no, I had started to use a clary sage diffuser each evening & I lost my mucous plug in the evenings over 3 days mid way through the week (9, 8 & 7 days before birth). I had noticed also that Beany (Beany was the Bump’s name) was feeling increasingly lower & my belly button had got lower & started pointing downwards too! I Still felt good though & even made it to CrossFit 4 times this week plus keeping up walks & daily yoga/stretches.
39/40: The ongoing regular braxton hicks continued along with the period like pains and a few false starts during the night times! Due to being high risk during my pregnancy, having early labour signs from the moment I turned 37 wks & knowing that my mum never went overdue with me or my siblings, I had convinced myself that I would be having an ‘early baby’ so by this point, on the approach to the due date, I was doing all I could to distract myself from getting impatient and really trying to focus on making the most of the last few days!
Hours leading up to labour:
39+4 was a Sunday (day before giving birth). I was feeling relaxed and had now convinced myself that Beany was never coming at all & that I’d just be the world’s first person to be pregnant forever! It was a grey & wet day so my husband & I generally just hung around the flat staying cosy & warm other than a walk in the rain to the food shops & back. I had tightenings & period pains all morning (again!). I tried colostrum harvesting for the first time in the afternoon - I collected a couple of drops and was so pleased with that as I know that it’s normal to sometimes not have anything at all in at least the first few attempts. I cooked & ate a huge early dinner of slow cooked pulled pork, BBQ beans, freshly baked rolls and pickled cucumber, which was so delicious! I then tried colostrum harvesting again in the evening & got a bit more (0.1ml in total from both breasts) which i was over the moon about! It’s amazing the things that excite you on this journey to motherhood! At no point during the hand expressing did I feel any tightenings or anything. I then did some more perineal massage in front of the TV later in the evening & had sex with my husband Dermot when we got into bed. If I’d known how busy my poor vagina was about to become I may have laid off the perineal massage &/or sex!
1st stage of labour:
39 + 5 (Lochlann's birthday!): Within about an hour or so of falling asleep I was woken up with a flash sweat across my whole body & a very strong braxton hick (this was around midnight) - I was unable to stay laying down during it as it was quite strong so I got up & went to the bathroom for a wee and then had a very strong urge to poo (which is unusual as I’m normally always a morning poo person!) I sat on the toilet wondering if my waters had gone as I was also having small gushes of light pink fluid (I hadn’t seen this light pink fluid since the day I turned 37 wks)....... I was wondering if this could finally be the start of labour or just yet another false alarm........I was quite shivery and shakey at this point but thought that this was down to the bathroom being cold. I stayed in the bathroom for a while wondering & waiting to see if this was really happening & I had a few more tightenings but nothing quite as strong as the first one....... I went back into the bedroom at approx 1am, Dermot sleepily asked if I was ok - like he did without fail every single time I had come back to bed from the toilet throughout the pregnancy (up to 3-4 times per night on the nights when my bladder was really being squished!) - instead of my usual reply - ‘yes I’m fine, go back to sleep’ - I told him that I think my waters had gone & with that it was like a light switch into being fully awake & he jumped out of bed! Later Dermot reminded me that at this point I had told him that I’m still not sure if this was it..... as I then proceeded to climb onto the bed during another ‘braxton hick’ and was on all 4s focusing hard on my breathing & ignoring what he was saying to me! Dermot knew that this was different to all the other times & started to set up the front room and birth pool in preparation for our planned home birth.
I started to mobilise around between the bathroom & front room & quickly realised each tightening was more bearable if I was standing & leaning forward. I also started to use the Freya hypnobirthing app by The Positive Birth Company to listen to the relaxation scripts on repeat (Presence is Perfection, Simple Head & Face and Golden Light of Strength) & to use the breath counter during tightenings and to monitor the tightenings. According to the app I went into established labour very quickly (by 1:20am) - at this point, the contractions (which I know realised that they were!) were lasting 30-70secs each (mostly 45secs on average), coming every 2-3mins & felt very strong. This really took me by surprise as I thought it took a good while to ramp up to established labour, especially with this being my first. This made me wonder if I would be able to carry on as I couldn’t help but think if this was just the start & they were already feeling this full on, what were they going to build to??! I had made such a long list of things to do whilst I was waiting for established labour to arrive! Lol. The contractions literally felt like they came out of nowhere & hit me like a steam train, I felt like I had no warning/warm up. Despite this thought, the relaxation scripts kept me calm & focused. I continued to experience some uncontrollable shaking, which I kept thinking was me being cold- but in hindsight I think my body was in shock at how intense things had become so quickly!
At this point (1:20am) Dermot also texted Ali, our lovely homebirth midwife, to let her know that my waters had gone, contractions were intense & he was going to start setting up the pool. I was trying to help Dermot set up the pool & front room in between contractions but I was useless! I think I moved one chair and connected the hose to the tap adaptor but other than that I was no help at all, I had to use my energy & focus to manage the contractions. The relaxation scripts really were a saviour to calm me back down & settle myself in between each contraction.
I felt all of the contractions in my front, lower abdomen - like very intense period pains. I had some low back ache on & off but it didn’t really bother me as the front intense period like pains took my main focus. I asked Dermot to put the TENs machine on pretty much straight away as I knew for it to be effective it needs to go on as early as possible in established labour. Well, the TENs was unbelievable, I was SO surprised at how much it helped! I wouldn't have been able to manage my labour if it weren't for the TENs. I went in on myself very quickly to cope through the contractions from this point on, in fact I think I hardly opened my eyes at all for the whole of labour! I started to use the TENs burst function with the breath counter on the Freya app to get through each contraction.
By 1:50am contractions were intensifying - they were now lasting mostly 60 secs each & still coming every 2-3mins. I continued to focus on my breath through each one. It helped if I began to use the burst on the TENs & the breathing a little before each contraction started so I was ‘covered’ by the time it peaked.
At 2am Dermot decided to call Ali. I was already at this point unable to speak through contractions when Ali asked to speak to me on the phone so she offered to come over & arrived shortly after.
At 2:50 Ali examined me for first time - I found the examination tough as any position other than upright felt wrong during a contraction but we made it work quickly in between contractions. I remember I was unable to stop my legs shaking during the examination despite lying down. Ali found that I was 3cm dilated (I didn't want to know how dilated I was at each examination but I actually didn’t mind knowing at the time). It was after the examination that things began to deviate from my original birth plan. When I stood up, I lost a bit of blood and I continued to bleed for a while with each contraction…...
At 3:30am there was a bit more blood & Ali explained her increasing concerns re: the fact my waters were already pink tinged and the amount of fresh blood I was now losing wasn’t normal & she was unable to identify the cause without further checks that aren’t possible in a home environment. The whole time Beany was fine every single time he was checked so Ali agreed to let me labour at home for a bit longer to see what progress I made - the blood could have just been my cervix changing & progressing very rapidly. Dermot was amazing as my advocate and was asking all the Q’s for me using the BRAIN acronym (Benefits, Risks, Alternatives, Instinct & Nothing). We agreed to go in to hospital if needs be - the safety of myself & Beany was the most important thing. Ali contacted the ambulance team & had them on standby just in case. Despite all this, I felt totally calm about it all & didn’t think there was a threat, I believed the bleeding was just my cervix changing given my medical history of large loop diathermy & genuinely wasn’t worried at all.
My contractions roughly stayed the same length (with some up to 90secs long though which was tough as I had only practised breathing in for 4 & out for 8 four times which was now of course not covering the whole contraction!) & frequency but intensified even further. I felt strongly that I needed to be in a low frog like position (I had never seen or practised this position before but was just going with what my body was craving/telling me). I was on the bathroom floor with my knees really wide apart & leaning forward with an ice cold compress on my forehand (I had begun to feel very hot). Contractions were now unbearable if I was on my back, sitting or lying down. I also did some very low conventional deep squats for some of the contractions holding onto the bathroom sink as that what my body was telling me it wanted.
I actually spent most of my time in the bathroom - not really what I had imagined but I mostly wanted to keep out of the way of Dermot setting up the front room (we are in a small two bed flat) but also I kept feeling as though I was going to be sick as the contractions got stronger so it was handy also to be next to the toilet! (I didn’t actually vomit at all in the end despite feeling like I was about to several times). I was doubting myself a bit here - I didn’t know if I could continue with the intensity if this was still just the beginning & I knew with a first labour it could be a long time, I thought I was being such a wimp! Dermot & Ali were very encouraging & saying all the right things though. I was surprised at how quickly I was unable to engage in what was going on around me - I was aware of everything that was going on & everything being said etc but I just wasn’t able to talk or engage back - by this stage even in between contractions I couldn’t speak to anyone as had my full concentration inwards on my body. The whole thing felt a bit like an out of body experience.
I do remember at this point seeing how Dermot had set up the front room & pool so perfectly with fairy lights, candles & our playlist 🥰. I felt so loved & grateful to him for doing this. I was also aware that the pool had been a nightmare to fill & taken quite a while (thanks to a rubbish boiler that took ages to reheat Dermot had also been heating water using pans on the hob!) I had to ask Dermot to turn the playlist off though as it was distracting/annoying me! lol
At 3:55am I said for first time out loud “I can’t do this!” (2.5hrs into established labour). Soon after this Ali wanted to examine me again to check how much progress I’d been making as she was still not happy with amount of blood I was losing. On examination I was only 4cm so Ali arranged ambulance transfer into Holles st Hospital.
The Ambulance arrived approx 4:30am and I remember being unhappy with the clothes Dermot had got out for me to wear 😆 grey pj bottoms with grey fluffy socks, trainers & big green coat! I was already wearing a grey long sleeve top. Don’t get me wrong, I usually love grey but this was too much even for me. I was incapable of communicating my dismay at his outfit choice though at the time so in I went dressed head to toe in grey!
Dermot wasn’t allowed in the ambulance with me, it had to be Ali only - which I had been worried about beforehand because I knew this but at the time I was so focused on contractions it didn’t worry me. I had a contraction whilst walking out to the ambulance (I clung onto poor Ali’s arm!) & I remember it was dark & raining & cold. The ambulance transfer with blue lights only took approx 10mins but was awful going over the bumps in the road during a contraction! and I wasn’t allowed to stand/ squat - I had to lie down on the stretcher which I found extremely tough! I was given gas & air for first time in the ambulance - I’m not sure it did much but it served as a temporary distraction at least. I remember the ambulance crew (2 young men) trying to talk to me but I have no idea what they were saying/wanted & I was so thankful that Ali answered their Q’s for me as I couldn’t speak! All the while I carried on using my breathing with the Freya app & TENs machine. I was finding it increasingly hard to keep control of my breathing and started to wonder now I was on my way to hospital, if I might be able to have some pain medication.
We pulled up outside Holles St Hospital at approx 5am, the ambulance crew offered to stretcher me in but I have never got up onto my feet so quickly once we had come to a stop! No thank you, I just needed to get back into standing/upright I walked myself in! I can’t explain the overwhelming sense of relief when I saw Dermot standing there in the road in the rain when they opened the ambulance doors (I didn’t know at the time but he had been following the ambulance the whole way driving Ali’s car). We walked all together straight up to the labour ward into labour room 10. As I was already 4cm dilated & in established labour, despite the COVID restrictions, Dermot was allowed in & to stay with me the whole time which I of course was so happy about. Upon entering the labour room, I immediately stripped my bottom half off & climbed onto the bed and got back into the low frog squat position. What an entrance! I don’t even remember saying hello to anyone!
2nd stage of labour:
The hospital midwife (MW) (apparently) dimmed the lighting for me (my eyes were still closed!) and read my birth plan, At 5:25am I asked for more pain relief as my confidence in my ability to continue was waning - I was examined (legs still uncontrollably shaking!) & told I was 5cm dilated & the only pain relief I could have was an epidural. I felt so disappointed that the only thing they were offering me was an epidural but I felt like I couldn’t continue so I reluctantly accepted to have it. As soon as i had said yes though my contractions turned into pushy/pressure++ sensations……..hello transition......I stayed on the bed in a frog squat again for the next while. The involuntary pushy/pressure sensations I was now having were overwhelming but totally different to the contractions I had been having previously. They were now more of an involuntary pushing action and did genuinely not feel painful at all. I was intermittently using gas & air in the labour room but it was beginning to just annoy me as I didn’t think it was doing anything & it was just another thing to try to think about/co-ordinate! I felt like it was wasting my energy trying to use it so I gradually just stopped using it.
Due to the bleeding I’d been having, Beany now had to be continuously monitored, the trace kept coming off though as I was very flexed in my frog squat & couldn’t keep still! So the team instead placed a monitor on Beany’s head (again I remember Dermot asking all the right Q’s for me before they did this).
At about 5:30am I asked Dermot to switch the Freya app off as the contractions had changed and I was now finding the relaxation scripts annoying! I was now making a lot more noise at this point than I thought I would (I remember being surprised & feeling a bit self conscious of this & was told that I kept apologising for the noises I was making!) I wasn’t examined again, the midwife instead just gave lots of reassurance and told me to trust my body/go with it. I also did not have the epidural.
At no point could I feel him moving down like some women describe, I could just feel lots of pressure. At one point the MW asked me to try to pass urine by sitting back on a bed pan - well, that wasn’t happening at all! I tried but I was totally unable to co-ordinate going for a wee given what was going on.
At probably about 6:30am I had a strong urge to be a lot more upright - so I got into kneeling leaning up & over the back of the bed. I also remember being SO thirsty throughout labour - Dermot kept giving me sips of water with the long metal straw we had bought (life saver!) & putting cold flannels on my forehead which was like heaven!!
I was told after that the team were able to see progress by how far along the monitor on Beany’s head was moving down. The contractions changed towards the end to be a little bit further apart giving me a bit of a longer rest in between each one but they were then longer & even more intense when they happened. Beany’s heart rate was not recovering as quick as they liked so I was advised to get onto my left side & to start some active pushing - I was able to do approx 3 active pushes per contraction. I could now feel him moving down & back up at this point. Although being on my left side wasn’t comfortable (I wanted to just be upright all the time), it was actually bliss for my legs - my legs felt SO tired from all the squatting!
The MW used a warm compress on my perineum as Beany was crowning as per my birth plan. The MWs asked me to hold my right leg up at one point - that was never going to happen(!) & I got cramp in my right hip straight away, thankfully Dermot helped me and held my right leg up for me - my hero! I then just had to get Beany out! I must have been actively pushing for approx 15-20mins in total (approx 6 contractions) The MWs asked me to pant at time of crowning too to help reduce tear.
As he was crowning I felt like the midwives were pulling my vulva apart - I asked them to stop & they said it wasn’t them, it was Beany’s head! They told me to open my eyes to look at his head as it was born but I couldn’t - I was still in the birth zone and just kept thinking that I am still trying to give birth here, stop distracting me!! Dermot was head end but saw Lochlann’s head be born. After his head was delivered, the next contraction came very quickly & then his body was out (weighing 3.6kg and 49cm long). Time of birth was 7:34am - just 6 hrs from onset of established labour to birth! He was placed straight onto my chest (and pooed on me!) & he looked like a little grey alien! Dermot shed a tear but I was just in total shock! I then immediately took my top & bra off & had uninterrupted skin to skin with him for a few hours. We also had delayed cord clamping until the cord had stopped pulsing - this only took a few minutes.
3rd stage of labour:
I had a physiological 3rd stage which actually happened extremely quickly. Within about 3-4 minutes the placenta had been delivered weighing 670g. I then had a post-partum haemorrhage of 800ml (weighed total) and all of a sudden lots of people were then in room. I remember clearly a doctor kept pushing my abdomen/uterus and scooping out clots vaginally which I found SO uncomfortable - I just wanted to be left alone & not touched after giving birth but they kept saying it needed to be done to stop the bleeding. So I was then given syntocinon, 2 cannulas, IV fluids, catheter etc. This all coincided with shift change/handover which may have added to how many people were in the room. I felt well the whole time though & was completely asymptomatic of the haemorrhage. Lochlann stayed on my chest the whole time as the medical team were doing what they needed to do to stop the bleeding.
Now the bit I had been waiting & getting impatient for - the Perineal check! ........ all clear!! Much to the MW’s surprise (she must have checked about 7 times due to disbelief!), no tear or injury at all! I just had one graze on my left labia. My vulva and vagina were very swollen though. A Dr was called to look at what a MW thought was a left sided ?internal varicose vein on my labia - but the Dr thought it was just swollen hymen remnants so nothing that needed any intervention. I did have one present from all that pressure though - a haemorrhoid.
I was able to latch Lochlann on (left & then right breast) within the first half hour of giving birth which I was so happy about. We then all stayed in room 10 on the birth ward for a few hours (the plus side of having the PPH meant I had to stay a bit longer here to be monitored and as long as I was there, Dermot was allowed to stay!) - I had a slice of jam on toast & a cold orange juice - it was delish! Then I noticed Dermot had put our battery operated candles up all around the room! They looked so lovely!
At approx midday I was then taken up to the postnatal ward where I was given a cheese & ham sandwich - this again tasted SO good despite not being a culinary masterpiece. Due to COVID restrictions Dermot then had to go home as ‘visitors’ (how the dads are classed as visitors is beyond me!) were only allowed to stay for 2hrs so we decided his 2 hrs would be better spent later on in the day.
Even though I didn’t get my first choice of a water birth at home, I look back on my birth experience as a really positive one. I believe that all the right things were done at the right time & am really grateful for all the care I received. Given the PPH, I would have had to transfer in to hospital anyway so I am very happy with how it all panned out in the end & most of all that all my perineal prep (perineal massage & epi-no) paid off by not having any tear or injury whatsoever! I am so proud of myself for getting through the whole thing using just TENs, breathing & a little gas & air. I am so relieved that I was not given the epidural! I was & will always be eternally grateful for all the support, attention & love Dermot showed to me, I couldn’t have done it without him. The female body is truly astounding, women are amazing!!