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My pregnancy diary: Part three

Labour and birth – the best Christmas present ever!

Author Sophie Sharp
Categories   Labour and Birth

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On 23rd December we went out for a Christmas meal with a big group of our closest friends.

It had been such a stressful week and I remember leaning back, looking up and down the table and just feeling so much love and luck to be there with everyone. I thought to myself “If this doesn’t bring on the oxytocin, nothing will.”

Sure enough, the following morning on Christmas Eve, I woke quite early with period-like pains. I didn’t think too much of it until going to the toilet and seeing a very slight ‘show’.

We went for our usual 40-minute walk into town and back home through the woods, only this time it took us around two hours. I felt quite shaky and weak, so nipped into the bakery for a pastry. Halfway through the woods I stopped still and just cried. My hormones were doing somersaults.

We went over to my parents’ that afternoon and by around 3pm I was getting a sort of upward, shooting pain every half an hour or so. I had no idea at that point what a contraction felt like, but looking back I don’t think they were contractions. Perhaps Braxton Hicks, or my body just getting ready for showtime!

By 8pm that night, part way through watching Love Actually, we decided we’d better start timing. Until that point, I hadn’t quite accepted I could actually be in labour. Ever prepared, we downloaded the first app we came across and I started logging every contraction.

In hindsight, this was a rubbish idea. The app was annoying, the phone kept locking and the sliding scale for ‘contraction intensity’ was pointless. I had no idea what the top and bottom of the scale would feel like. I was feeling irritated, uncomfortable and not at all focused.

We called the labour ward to let them know things were starting and they asked us to call again when the contractions were less than two minutes apart and lasting more than 30 seconds. I felt quite flustered and was fixating too much on timing the contractions precisely.

We had planned for my mum to be there during our home birth, so I called to update her but told her to stay put for now as it could be hours before anything changed.

Sam started moving the coffee table out of the lounge and moving the birth pool in. I have no memory of him doing this - by this point I had started going inward – calming down, concentrating on my breathing and swaying through the contractions.

I had imagined I would feel them around the top of my bump pushing downwards, but instead they were low down and moved outwards. I can only describe it as everybody else does – ‘tightening’. Imagine your lower abdomen is a big, wet towel and somebody is wringing it out.

At some time around 3:30am we called the hospital again to say we thought it was time for the midwives to join us. They listened to me over the phone having a contraction and agreed. As per procedure, one midwife came straight to our house while the other went via the hospital to collect the kit. Sam then called my mum, who had been sleeping by the phone with one eye open!

By the time the midwife arrived, at around 4am, I had been on my feet since we’d given up on watching Love Actually at 8pm the night before! I had found my contractions much easier when stood up but hadn’t realised I was exhausting myself. 

The midwife suggested I took some Paracetamol and go to bed. This was enough to take the edge off so I could catch some sleep between contractions, which were around five minutes apart at this point. I woke at some point to hear my mum’s voice downstairs. As I slowly made my way down the stairs, she was stood there waiting with the biggest hug. I was so relieved to have my mum there, and despite not being able to communicate very well, I was so excited and grateful to be sharing this with her.

We had different midwives coming and going as they all finished and started their shifts. Each one was incredible.
All of the medical equipment and paperwork was kept in the kitchen, as per my wishes, meaning the lounge was my quiet, safe space. Sam had filled the room with candles that friends had sent to remind me they were thinking of us, photos, blankets and cushions. My birth playlist was playing and the lights were low. 

Each midwife read my birth plan when they arrived and when the moment was right, they quietly nipped into the lounge to introduce themselves to me. My mum was busying herself in the kitchen, making cups of tea for them and nipping in every so often to top up the birth pool with hot water. 

It is bizarre how little I remember of what was going on. For the most part, I was completely unaware of my surroundings and was so focused on the process my body was taking me through. My memory of what follows is pieced together by Sam, my mum and my labour notes.

By 10am, now Christmas Day, I was 6cm dilated and having minute-long contractions every two minutes. The midwives started to prepare for delivery and suggested I got into the birth pool as I had said I would like a water birth.

Frustratingly, the birth pool slowed everything down. Perhaps I was too relaxed or maybe my body didn’t like the change in temperature. Over the two hours I was in there, my contractions had slowed down to five minutes apart. Despite the change in ‘progress’, it was a very welcome relief. It seemed to take some of the weight of my bump off me and the warm water soothed my aching back and legs.

In the birth pool in our lounge

I was completely unaware of the pace of my contractions or the time of day. I do recall the moment I realised it was Christmas Day, I wished the midwife a Merry Christmas and she gave me a huge hug over the side of the pool.

Another pool moment I recall was just me, Sam and almost baby. The song I walked down the aisle to on our wedding day started playing. I was on my knees leaning over the side of the pool, Sam kneeling over from the other and we sang the lyrics together. I would pause for a contraction, then carry on singing. It was probably more of a whisper and I’ve no idea how many of the words I managed, but it is a precious memory that will stick with me for life. 

I had two water bottles prepared, one with just water and one with an isotonic sachet mixed in. I had also stocked up on fruit pastilles, nuts and dried fruits to keep me going through labour, but it turned out I wanted to eat and drink very little. 

The midwives knew that baby was laying back-to-back. This meant baby’s head was not pushing onto my cervix as it should, so now almost 18 hours since starting to time my contractions, my waters still hadn’t broken. They suggested I got out of the pool and laid on my side, I do remember the contractions being far more intense this way but knew this meant they were more effective. 

At around 3pm, the midwife examined me again and found I was still at 6cm dilation. She went back into the kitchen to phone the team at the hospital. A conversation was had about breaking my waters artificially. As this is classed as an intervention, they needed permission to do this at home. I am so grateful to the midwives for advocating for my home birth and doing everything to let it happen.

She came back into the room to explain and discuss this with me and unfortunately, I started to feel panic. I think through my exhaustion, I hadn’t fully rationalised the situation and in my mind all I heard was “Going to hospital” and “Baby is stuck.” None of which were true. Soon after, my waters were broken artificially, and the intensity of the contractions ramped back up. A lot! 

Up until this point, the only pain relief I’d had was the two Paracetamols when the first midwife arrived. I had stated in my birth plan not to offer me pain relief, but I think my mum recognised where I now was and knew that taking the edge off this new level of intensity would help me over the final few hurdles. I’m not sure whether it was because my waters were now broken, or whether it was because I had been knocked off my stride mentally, but this was the first time I felt I needed pain relief. 

My mum suggested I try the gas and air, and I agreed. It was set up quickly and I took my first few gulps of it. It took a few contractions and a lot of guidance from my mum to get the timing of it right. When we got it wrong, I sure knew about it! 

I was in this phase for around an hour and a half, but in my mind it was no more than 20 minutes. 

I switched from the sofa to the floor, to my side and then finally onto my knees on the carpet. Here, I felt an almighty force from the top of my head right down through my body. I think this must have been what people call the urge to push. I can only describe it as feeling like I was being crushed from my head downwards, and the only way to release the pressure was to push. I can clearly remember hearing my mum saying, “She’s near, she’s making the groan.” as I made the most primal sound from somewhere deep within me.

By this point, my cool and calm breathing techniques had gone straight out of the window and were miles down the road! I was grabbing at the gas and air and really fighting with the intensity. 

I remember pushing and somehow knowing that baby’s head was very nearly born but hadn’t quite got there. When the next surge came, I very vividly remember saying to myself in my mind, “You have to give this absolutely everything you have got.” I have never, ever worked as hard at anything in my life, both physically and mentally, as I did in those few moments. Sure enough, the midwife told me with so much joy that the head was here.

My mum had stood back to watch and I was leaning forward onto Sam who was sat on the edge of the sofa in front of me. Those next few moments were a delirious concoction of excitement, pride, determination and absolute desperation to finally reach the relief of the finish line. 

Before I knew it, I felt a huge weight leave me and I instinctively reached down to lift baby up to my chest. I wish more than anything that I could remember that moment more clearly, but I think I was absolutely floating on adrenaline while also completely and utterly exhausted. 

I remember holding baby close to my chest, and staring straight ahead at Sam’s knee, not even thinking to look up at him or down at baby. Eventually, the midwife said, “Are you going to turn baby around and see what you’ve got?” I hadn’t thought to do this as I was already so convinced she was a girl. Sure enough, she was!

I was helped off my knees and down onto the floor, leaning back against Sam. I sat there for a while holding baby, completely unaware of anyone else in the room.  

Baby stayed with me, skin to skin, for a long while and we delayed cutting the cord, cleaning or dressing her.

We kept the lights low and everything quiet. She started to feed from me instinctively and I remember feeling so peaceful, absolutely in awe and incredibly relieved.

Sam cut the cord and at some point, I birthed the placenta. I started to shake quite heavily as my body was in shock, which we had already read about and was assured it was normal. I breathed through it and concentrated on feeding our tiny girl. 

Around this time, the midwife I had got to know through my pregnancy arrived. Her shift had started just as baby was born, but as it was Christmas Day, she hadn’t seen the messages from the other midwives. As she popped her head into the lounge I burst into tears of pride and relief, it was so reassuring to see her.

She weighed baby, who still had no name, checked her over and helped Sam to dress her. I had been helped back onto the sofa and was given the best cup of tea I will ever drink!

Boxing Day morning with our baby girl

My mum and Sam cuddled baby as I showered and was given a couple of stitches. By 9pm, we were in bed with baby next to us in her Moses basket. The midwives showed us how to swaddle her safely and checked we were all happy before leaving. We all slept until morning as we were all so exhausted and woke on Boxing Day with the best Christmas present we could have ever wished for. 

We spent hours staring at her and slowly got to grips with holding, feeding and dressing her. 

We headed downstairs to open our presents, better late than never! As we did, we finally settled on a name I have always loved – Ffion. 

We had a visit from one of the midwives who checked we were all okay. She told us we should wake Ffion every two hours in the night to make sure she feeds. That first night had clearly been a one off, there was no waking required from then on!

We stuck to one visit a day from friends and family and enjoyed slowly introducing her to everyone. We stayed in our little bubble for a long while and slowly got used to being a family of three. Those were days I will always cherish and will be forever grateful for.

Author Sophie Sharp

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