If I’m being honest there was a big part of me that didn’t know if I’d ever share my birth story online. It’s something so deeply personal and intimate that I wasn’t sure if there was a space for it, and although in the lead up to birth I inhaled every birth story from the many random Facebook groups I joined (honestly if there’s one thing getting me through 3am heartburn it’s a 38+ 2 home birth story from Sharon in Colchester), I still wasn’t sure how I’d feel once baby had arrived.
But then there’s a moment I always come back to, which I remember helping me so much in the days following my birth. I remember the feeling so well, sitting in my hospital bed with Arlo by my side, days after he was born; feeling overwhelmed and a bit lost (and pretty lonely due to Covid restrictions); where I serendipitously read the birth story of another mother on a birth group who’s experience looked almost parallel. Our babies even shared first and middle names and it felt like a warm blanket being wrapped around me- and this new feeling of muddling through as a mama suddenly didn’t feel so unknown or unique. It was ground that had been trodden so many times before, and although there’s definitely a feeling of being the first person to ever experience these things, knowing, and being reminded that so many had been there and done that was the reassurance I so greatly needed.
So that’s why I’m sharing this. For anyone about to give birth, have just given birth or even anyone in-between. To know that it’s okay and normal to experience whatever you’re going through; to know that it’s normal for things to change, and as long as you feel safe, listened to and happy and comfortable; there is no right or best way to do it either. Know it’s okay to take the pain relief (which, obviously goes without saying, but some of the things I read made me feel like it was less ‘natural’ to do so, which is weird); women have enough to manage without being martyrs to their own births so don’t refuse things if you don’t want to because of a perceived, or real pressure. Know that whatever happens; you’re amazing and have just done the most incredible thing.
Throughout my pregnancy, I gobbled up a handful of hynobirthing books, and found the breathing techniques and affirmations so, so useful during my birth. But largely being fully informed felt like one of my greatest powers during birth, and meant when things progressed differently to expected I was aware of what each step, or option might look like (meaning Joe could ask necessary questions and I could remain focused on being the zen mother earth I intended on being… ahem)…
But I’ll start at the top!
At our 36 week scan we found out that little A was in a breech position. Having visited hospital the week before, and read up a little about this in one of our several birth books; we’d had an inkling this could have been the case- but still being before full term, knew there was still time for him to do his thing and get into position (I think I’d joined a couple of Facebook groups at this point for reassurance)… alas, given another week, and creeping up to the shiny 37 week mark, he didn’t budge- cheeky sir!
This left us with a few options; a planned caesarean, a vaginal breech birth or an attempted ECV; all of which we’d read a little about, and in the end decided to attempt an ECV- something I’d ended up doing extensive reading about, and felt comfortable, for me, that it might be worth a go (at this stage we’d tried everything from Spinning babies, moxibustion and sitting upside down on a bloody ironing board- the glamour of January 2021 was truly unparalleled and I have the images to prove it). After booking in for an ECV on the 27th (which, in truly non medical terms, is where your stomach muscles are relaxed using an injection so that externally a doctor /medical professional can try and move the baby into a head down position)- everything felt very real. I felt extremely nervous; and going into the hospital that morning, knew there was even a chance today could be the day we’d meet him. But- if there’s one thing finding out baby was breech and the ECV taught me; it’s that with birth and labour there are so many variables out of your control, and if something doesn’t go to ‘plan’- often times there’s really nothing you can do and that isn’t your fault. I felt a lot of pressure (perhaps from reading lots of positive birth stories) to have a birth that looked a certain way, and whilst a water birth adorned with fairy lights and a string quartet playing would have been lovely; it was at this stage something mentally shifted for me; which meant in the days that followed; and whether the ECV was successful or not- I felt strangely more prepared for birth to go in a number of ways, and that be completely ok.
…Anyway! Back to the bloody story (sorry if your tea is cold at this point). Fortunately, the ECV was successful. I asked to have my headphones in (and will forever thank The Lemon Twigs for helping keep my mind in one place), held Joe’s hand and did a lot of the up breathing I’d practiced with hynobirthing- and in less than two minutes the procedure was over. I remember vivdly hearing the doctor say ‘it’s been successful!’ and baby had turned. At this stage things felt a lot more real and we were able to head home (with a slither of a suggestion my blood pressure was creeping up), and now to wait until the little man finally decided to make an appearance.
Fast forward four days to the Sunday evening. After settling down to watch My Best Friends Wedding (we’d initially lined up the last couple of episodes of It’s A Sin, but my overly emotional baby brain couldn’t hack it), and Christening Joe with his first viewing of this scene– we headed up to bed. After spending the previous weeks waking up around 3am with horrendous heartburn and the need for endless wees, it was nothing short of a miracle when I checked the clock to see that I’d slept through to 5:30am (a lie in!) After getting up and thinking I needed the mother of all wees, I was greeted with what can only be described as a true water-breaking spectacle. I couldn’t bloody believe it! This is what they said it could be like- and after waking Joe with a, ‘THEY’VE BROKEN! MY WATERS HAVE GONE!’ It suddenly felt like Christmas morning. The lights were on and the kettle was boiling; but because I knew things could still take a while, I tried to keep my calm- potter around, get slowly ready- which madly consisted of doing my make up and putting on a nice dress (in fairness to my pregnant brain, I thought a dress would be apt because I could give birth in it- not considering I wouldn’t actually be wearing anything at all, but I’m glad my favourite Ghost dress got a special outing)- as I phoned the birth centre to let them know what was going on.
Because I was due to have an appointment that morning (and finally share my birth preferences), I asked whether I should just wait to come in at midday, but was told to make my way in the next couple of hours just to check things out as my waters had likely gone; and near enough exactly after I came off the phone my contractions started. They felt like waves of period pains, coming and going every now and again- so I started timing them using the Freya app and doing a bit of breathing- whilst giving my dad a ring to take us over to the hospital.
On the way over, feeling positive, I packed some extra festoon garden lights into my hospital bag whilst panicking that I hadn’t made an all important birth playlist. So with oxytocin clearly in full throttle, started adding Elvis, ABBA and, erm… Chumbawumba to an integral playlist that I now know would not even come close to being aired. Fortunately, before The Fratellis could be added for a second time, we arrived at the hospital- and despite being almost certain I’d be sent home to continue laboring, found out I was 4cm dilated and Joe could stay with me- which felt like a bit of a miracle, as by this point things had started ramping up (and although the thought of going for a nice sandwich was tempting, I wasn’t sure how much walking around I could muster).
In an ideal world- one of my main birth preferences was to have a water birth, and fortunately there was a room with a pool available that I was able to use. Seemingly after walking into the suite, I went full on diva Liv in the ZONE mode, focusing literally on breathing and nothing else (it might have been the only time in my life I’ve not said more than five words in HOURS. A sponsored silence would have been an idea right about then)- and the pool was filled up. Over the next few hours I was in an out of it, breathing through contractions, occasionally noticing that the water might get a bit chilly, or too hot- and giving Joe an angry look to suggest it might be time for a jaffa cake (the lone one I consumed throughout the entire experience- my appetite, like my conversation, was AWOL). After trying some gas and air (which personally didn’t do much for me other than give me something to focus on), I was 8cm dilated by 5pm, and Joe was genuinely checking when Domino’s was open until- we’d have pizza at home tonight! CAN YOU BELIEVE! By 21:15 I was fully dilated, (which although at this point felt about ten years later), and by now my contractions had become back to back and incredibly intense- meaning there was little let up in-between each one. It felt like I wasn’t getting any respite in-between them, and just remember thinking ‘it has to be soon, right?! Surely it’s pushing time?!’ At this point Joe had heard the counting from the Freya app since midday and I slowly think it was driving him mad too.
Around 10pm I started pushing in the pool (after some gentle guidance from the midwives, as I hadn’t experienced the urge to push like I was expecting to), and ended up coming out of the pool a handful of times for examinations, and to try to make progress on the bed. This probably felt like the most intense and relentless part of the labour, as I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing (other than making some remarkable farm-yard like noises). I just remember truly not caring about anything, waddling to the bed from the pool, and even previous anxieties of ‘oh shit, what if I…poo’ had almost completely dissipated- because honestly, what they say is true; and it truly felt like trying to pass a watermelon. Stunning work, mother nature!
After an hour and a half of attempted pushing and still little progress, I was reviewed and I remember vaguely hearing the words ‘permanent pelvic floor damage’ and potential next stages mentioned if things carried on. Weirdly there was definitely a moment my stubborn determination was like ‘just let me try a bit longer’ but luckily I am not a medical expert, and the common sense of those around me prevailed. Additionally, Joe was able to relay things to me, as I truly felt like I was on another planet, so was happy to have him aware of my wishes and able to advocate for me when I was a little preoccupied.
At this point I was transferred to the labour ward to be assessed, knowing that the next stages looked like ventouse or forceps- and honestly, at this stage as long as baby was okay I was happy to try anything. Because baby’s head was in a transverse position (and unable to be moved), the former two didn’t work- and I remember being presented with some forms and the option of an emergency caesarean, as every other option hadn’t been successful, and I’d been pushing for too long. By now, my contractions were so intense that I genuinely just wanted him to be here and to feel a bit of relief, and after consenting to the caesarean, was taken into theatre and given a spinal (which felt like being given the most incredible instant ibuprofen for period pains EVER- literally in moments I felt like I’d gotten my voice back and could focus again) and was walked through everything. Although I didn’t imagine my birth to end up in theatre, having Joe by my side, the brilliant midwives and being able to still have a hugely special song playing as Arlo entered the world was the most unbelievable moment of my life. I remember hearing his tiny cry for the first time, and seeing him appear from over the curtain, and Joe’s reaction to him was the most beautiful thing, and I genuinely think however it would have happened would have been perfect, because it was him.
Little Arlo arrived at 1:58am on the 2nd of February, to a soundtrack of Into My Arms by Nick Cave, and two gushing parents who adore the little squidgy boy more than anything in the world.
(I’m going to wrap up this post here, because although I’ve got so, so much more to say- especially about the days that followed post natally (if you’d like another post on that let me know), I think the birth is enough for one day! I know it doesn’t require a disclaimer, but this is my experience and not everyone’s experience. I still feel that although things didn’t go to plan, it was a really positive experience, and felt so supported, which is the main thing. Birth is the most incredible, mind-bending and powerful thing I’ve ever gone through, and I hope in some small way this can comfort anyone who perhaps might have had a different experience to how they imagined (can I say experience one more time?)
P.S Everyone talks about the magic toast after birth, but for me it was the magic hospital jacket potato with the plasticy cheese that felt like heaven. A true perk of a prolonged postnatal stay!)