It’s been hard trying to put this journey into words, so I’m just going to start at the beginning and write as best as I can recall. It’s a long one, so buckle up!
So, early labour…
On Monday morning, the 9th, I woke around 2:45 to use the toilet. When I came back to bed, I had a Braxton Hicks contraction that was somewhat intense, but I’d been having these a lot at night and didn’t think much of it, and tried to get some more sleep. At some point I realised these felt like they were coming regularly and after one at 4:30 that really required my attention a bit, I started timing them. Every 10-12 minutes and getting stronger.
When Jim got up for work I told him it might be a good idea to stay home and see what happened. As I suspected, when Luella woke up around 6:30 the contractions slowed down a bit in intensity and regularity, so I went back to lay down, where they picked up again. I texted my birth team, but didn’t want to get hopes too high.
Luckily, Ash, one of my best friends who I’m so lucky lives three houses down from us, offered to take Luella for the day so I could focus a bit more. The answer was an emphatic YES! So we got Lu organised for the day, and said goodbye, wondering if the next time we saw her, she’d be a big sister.
I went back to bed, as the contractions seemed strongest when I laid down, and at the advice of my midwife I stopped timing them and just relaxed and did some reading. Jim had woken up with a cold that morning and I’d been stressing that he wouldn’t be able to be there for me if this turned into “real” labour, but we had some good talks and he had already snapped into action, getting everything in the house ready to go and I was feeling good.
He went out to pick up some lunch – falafel rolls and salad – and we enjoyed spending some rare time, just the two of us. After lunch I thought I might try labouring a bit more actively. I danced around the kitchen to 80s music, bounced a bit on the yoga ball. Eventually I decided to take a shower. Boy, did that do the trick. After two really intense contractions in the shower it started to hit me that this was the real thing.
I got out and started getting myself ready and soon the contractions started becoming really full on, sometimes one on top of the other. I laboured in the bedroom because it was dark, on the yoga ball, with my birth rope slung over the door for me to pull on when contractions hit. Around 3 in the afternoon I’d say was when active labour started and Jim assembled the team.
Jim’s sister Heather left work early to come get Lu from Ash’s house. Sheryl headed our way and Sarah, another dear friend who was coming to photograph, began making her way. Then I started vomiting. Heaps. And getting a little worried – there was no way I could be in transition already. But the puking would continue.
I kept labouring in the bedroom because it felt dark and safe. Sheryl arrived and then Sarah, but I felt like I needed to hole up in my cave. I had a chat with Sheryl about how I was beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed. It was all happening.
After a little cry, doing my vitals, listening to me moan through contractions, Sheryl told me the pool was ready and waiting for me if I wanted. I asked my team if they could make the room darker. It felt amazing having people scurrying around me, all focused on setting the stage for me to birth.
When I got into the pool it was the biggest relief. Not just from the contractions (though at this point I’d begun to feel them shooting down my legs which was quite intense), but just to be in a bit of an oasis. The water really helped me go into my own little world. I guess that’s what they call “labour land”.
Time got a bit fuzzy from there – a blur of contractions, water sips, cool wash cloths, squeezing Jim’s hand, and moaning. Sometimes I felt like I was outside my own body, watching myself labour in this beautiful water, all purple and twinkly from the fairy lights.
Then, to cut into this tranquil scene, the vomiting started again. I’d hear someone say “she must not have anything left” and then I’d spew again in full force. This was not my favourite part of labour. When the contractions came now I found myself dreading them. My moans of “ohhhhhhh” turned into “no, no, no”. This, I suspected, was my real transition.
After that, things seemed to slow a bit, which I knew sometimes happens – a little reprieve before pushing. Except that this seemed to be a rather long reprieve. My contractions weren’t as intense or close together and I wasn’t feeling anything that resembled any kind of pushing urge. I made a few half-hearted attempts at pushing during contractions anyway but it didn’t feel right. It was dark now and Sheryl confirmed my suspicion that things were taking too long.
“With your permission, I’d like to do an internal exam.” she said, so out I came to the bed where she reported I was fully dilated and effaced. Hooray! Except why didn’t I feel like pushing? Sheryl said she didn’t normally like to rupture waters artificially but that it might help give me the push I needed, so I agreed to it and then got back into the pool.
At this point Sarah had to leave as her son was not coping well – Ash had been looking after him, down the street. So instead Ash came by to take over photography duties. It was nice to have another familiar face. At some point (it’s very possible I’m getting things out of order) Heather came to put Luella to bed and I got to have a quick cuddle and kiss from her between contractions.
Unfortunately, nothing much had changed in that department. I’m not sure how long I continued to push despite no urge but it was a fair amount of time before Sheryl began suggesting some more ideas. I got out again for a quick catheter to empty my bladder and then tried pushing side-lying in the bed. No go.
Then we moved to the living room where Sheryl and Ash had set me up some pillows, blankets and cloths to try pushing kneeling against the couch and then squatting, with Jim supporting me from behind. Pushing had begun to feel painful, but not in a productive way.
Then Sheryl told me that we had reached a point where I’d been pushing too long without progress and legally we would need to transfer to hospital. I protested “no, no, no” and had a cry but there was also some relief. I wasn’t sure exactly what would happen at the hospital, but I suspected an epidural was on its way.
Legally we had to transfer in an ambulance. It wasn’t comfortable by any means but it was a tiny bit exciting – I’d never been in one before! Ash threw together a quick go-bag for me and Jim, Sheryl and I headed to RPA (where Lu was born) and they were ready for us.
I met Aideen who would be my delivery midwife and quickly realised luck was on my side. She was incredibly gentle and respectful with me, explaining everything she did and always asking my permission first. She got me onto an IV drip to keep my fluids up and then said I’d be getting an epidural, but no syntocin – we’d just see if my contractions increased on their own once I could relax my pelvic floor.
What I haven’t mentioned is that at this point it was after midnight and I suddenly realised that Jim was SICK. He has never been good with needles and when they wee explaining the epidural process to me I realised he looked ready to faint. He was so determined not to leave my side I nearly had to demand he take a break, eat something and lay down.
My anaesthetist did the quickest, easiest epidural ever and within 15 minutes or so my legs were feeling warm and fuzzy. And I was feeling surprisingly pretty good still. One thing that I had grieved in Luella’s birth was not being able to push her out on my own. I was ok with the epidural this time because rather than hindering me, I felt it was enabling me to push my baby out. And so we began.
Aideen and Sheryl each took a side and helped me sense when the contractions were coming and coached me through the pushing.
And push I did. I pushed with all the power I could summon up. I pushed like my baby’s life depended on it. He finally started making some progress and coming very slowly down the birth canal. I could feel him moving and it was exciting. Eventually I could even feel a tiny part of his head.
But the excitement was short-lived. The clock was running out. I was told I could only push for an hour until the doctor would take over. I somehow found the strength to push even harder in those last few minutes. I was a woman with a mission.
So when the doctor came in to tell me I’d be heading to theatre for a forceps delivery, even though she tried to break the news to me as nicely as possible, I broke down. I had to sign a form consenting to the forceps – and that if it was unsuccessful I’d get an emergency c-section. As I did, I sobbed. I grieved for my homebirth and for pushing my baby out “on my own”. I cried in fear of the c-section. I cried because I was longing for my baby and he felt so close, yet so far.
I looked around and saw Jim’s face and could see his heart silently breaking for me. Sheryl was trying to come up with some kind of explanation as to why this was happening to me and she and Aideen began advocating for me with the doctors, telling them I didn’t want an episiotomy, that I wanted to keep my placenta. Sheryl wouldn’t be allowed to come with me but she whispered some final words of support. Aideen and Jim stood by me as I was wheeled through the hospital.
I had needed that big cry as an emotional release – so that it didn’t stay bundled inside me and turn into anxiety. The people surrounding me had created a safe space that allowed me to do that. I knew they understood my tears and they were all rooting for me.
Things started feeling a bit hectic in theatre as more and more people became involved. I realised if I wanted to get through this I’d have to go inside myself again. I had to treat all the medical intervention the same way I treated the physical pain of contractions. Rather than fighting it I needed to welcome it as a means to an end and focus on the prize: holding my sweet baby boy.
After what felt like ages, I was ready to go – legs up in stirrups, epidural topped up, eyes on the prize. I could feel that contraction creeping up and it was go time. As the doctor readied the forceps I gave my hardest pushes yet and could feel him moving even more. As I was trying to catch my breath, I heard some kerfuffle and Jim trying to get my attention: the head had been born!
I couldn’t believe it – in just one contraction my baby was nearly here. I reached down to feel his head, and let me tell you – it was the most amazing feeling ever! It felt like a soft, slimy grapefruit. On the next contraction his whole body was born and I cried out in relief, excitement and pride.
Nikolas was placed on me briefly while they cut his cord. I couldn’t see him well, but I could feel his soft gooey body. He wasn’t crying and it turned out he had aspirated a bit of meconium, so he was quickly whisked away for suctioning and oxygen. A short time later I heard his first little cry.
“That’s my baby!” I yelled out. I was nearly delirious with happiness and simultaneously sobbing and babbling to Jim and anyone else who would listen – “He sounds so cute! My baby is cute!”. Jim was pretty overcome with emotion by this point too, but went over to check on Nikolas as the specialists worked on him.
I could here Aideen negotiating with them, trying her best to get me skin-to-skin time asap and I scrambled trying to get my gown off. When he was finally placed on me, I was euphoric. And he was hungry! He immediately started rooting around. Because I was flat on my back with so many wires attached to me I was struggling to help him, so Aideen helped me position him and Nikolas had his first feed right there on the table.
After not being able to feed Luella for hours after her birth, it was so healing to see my son latch straight away. I knew then that even though his birth hadn’t gone according to plan that things were going to be different this time.
And how right I was! Our hospital experience was like night and day compared to the first time around, and we got to come home on the evening he was born to spend our first night together as a family of four, all tucked up into one bedroom together.
I like to think of it as a home birth, just with a little detour in the middle. And I’ve fallen more in love with my baby boy than I ever thought possible.
There are more photos here on my photo blog. Warning, though there’s no crowning shots or anything like that, some of the photos are fairly intimate.