We made our way through the deserted hospital to the labour ward, pausing for a contraction in the lobby area while a completely uninterested man with a cleaning trolley continued to carry out his work around me.
I was directed to Triage which is basically an assessment area where they decide how serious things are. Rather than the row of plastic chairs we’d been warned about at NCT, we had a booth with a curtain around it and I could relax on the bed or yoga ball. At this point they examined me and discovered I was 4cm dilated! So while falling short of the ideal 6-7cm you should be on getting to hospital, I was definitely too far gone to be sent back home. Having heard stories of women who’d been only a couple of cm and demanding an epidural already, I even felt quite pleased with myself!
It was around now that things started to go a bit pear-shaped.
My blood pressure was taken and for the first time in my life it measured as high. Never one to be left out of the action, my pulse also joined in and they told me it was racing. Great! I was given codeine. Unfortunately, this slowed down and dulled my contractions to the point where I felt like I had 12 hours earlier: they were now only happening every 10 minutes or so and I was even finding Mr Cath funny again. Sure enough, when they checked me again some time later I was still only 4cm: no progress had been made at all.
We were in Triage for several hours before being transferred to the labour ward. Because of my blood pressure I was not allowed to be in the midwife-led unit, but was put in a room with a pool attached to it. The midwives kept saying they would do their best to get me in the pool (I must say, the midwives and doctors we encountered were all excellent. Mr Cath told me afterwards that each new guest to the party read through my birth plan and really tried to honour all my wishes. And there I was suspecting that a birth plan might have been a pointless exercise! Take note people…)
At around 8am or so I had my last “meal” for a while which consisted of a pain au chocolat and decaf mocha from the Costa downstairs. By the way, I never did have that glass of red wine I’d promised myself after the NCT teacher had suggested it – it honestly never crossed my mind! Things must have been serious…
I remember kneeling on the floor hugging the ball, watching squiggly lines on a screen that showed when I was having contractions. It was helpful to see when they were on their way down from a peak: then I knew the pain would definitely lessen which was comforting. I found myself fixated on the screen, anticipating/dreading the next surge.
I’d had my first taste of gas and air in Triage that they’d offered to relax me after a particularly unpleasant examination. In the labour ward I started inhaling fairly early on; it’s difficult to say whether it had much effect or not but it didn’t make me feel sick or anything so I assume it was positive!
Around mid morning, they decided to kick things off properly. You’ll have to forgive my vagueness from now on as it all became a bit of a blur! My waters were broken manually (this was painless and is something I don’t think is uncommon) and the contractions got INTENSE. The idea of the birthing pool had to be abandoned as my blood pressure just wasn’t going down. I remember muttering “I don’t care about the pool” which was eventually followed by me saying very quietly to Mr Cath that I wanted an epidural. Even amidst everything I felt too embarrassed to ask the midwives myself and wanted him to request one for me! I felt a bit guilty too: not for myself, but the midwives had seemed so keen to make the water birth happen for me that I didn’t want to disappoint them. Isn’t it weird how the mind works under duress?
After various “are you sure”s, the anaesthetist was sought. Alas, he was busy with a caesarean… They told me that by the time he could get to me, it would take half an hour to set up the drug yada yada yada, and by then the baby would be nearly here so I might as well persevere with just gas and air. I had to resign myself. (The next day, I asked one of the midwives whether the anaesthetist really had been unavailable or whether that was just something they said to women who wanted natural births. She replied that they would have given me an epidural if they’d been able to!)
Compared with contractions, the pushing stage (when it finally arrived) wasn’t too bad. Mr Cath helped with the counting and although I was making a conscious effort to avoid “purple pushing” as advised by NCT, apparently my face was bright purple anyway. By this point I just wanted our baby out already.
Our baby was in the correct position but his arm was outstretched next to his head in the Superman pose. This meant he needed some assistance to enter the world, in the form of a ventouse. Luckily this went off without a hitch and all of a sudden Pip was here!
About the only thing in my birth plan that actually went to plan was delayed cord clamping. The cord was left attached for about 3 minutes. I expect the midwives were thrilled that finally something I wanted was happening.
After all that wanting a surprise so we could hear “it’s a boy”, in the event there was a bit of confusion because apparently they thought we knew what we were having. One midwife who’d been with us for the long haul did say “you were right then” as during an interminable earlier stage we’d been chatting about this and that, and I’d said I thought our baby was a boy. Based on superficial signs rather than any deep maternal instinct mind you!
It was only later on that I remembered this conversation and in the moment all I saw was a gorgeous BABY! He was placed on my chest straight away and soon stopped crying as we cuddled him and he heard my heartbeat. To this day, Pip can screw up his face, go red and make a particularly pathetic cry and I’ll stare at him in amazement as it reminds me of the first moment we met.