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/a