It's taken us 10 weeks to write but here it is. Our Birth Story. I'm glad we persevered. Why? Because having a record of such a monumental time of our lives is invaluable.
AND because motherhood has taught me that sharing stories is vital.
Every mum (and her birth partner) has a story to tell. Some are funny and some are embarrassing. Some are shocking and some go completely to plan. But if we give mums space to tell them with openness and honesty, it could greatly improve the outcome and circumstances of others.
My husband Fabian and I spent a lot of time preparing for the birth of our first baby. I did pregnancy yoga (even qualified to teach it at 24 weeks pregnant), my pelvic floor exercises, read loads of birth stories and listened to Yoga Nidra CDs from my Womb Yoga guru Uma. Fabs was in charge of the birth pool, back massages, perennial massage and...the placenta. More on this another time! We wanted a home birth but were open to everything changing as we went along. And change it did. This is our story. My part (Fabian's) is in Italics:
Sunday 21st February
My tummy was big but I was mobile, happy and too excited for words. We went to the pub with my overly excited parents to watch England in the Six Nations.
16:00 - I felt some twinges. It was like fairly bad period pains that came in waves. I watched the game with my pelvis tilted forward in my chair, huge bump tucked under the small square pub table and smiling whenever I caught my mum or dad looking at me out the corner of their eyes.
“You alright?” Mum asked repeatedly, trying to sound breezy.
“Yep!” I replied, almost too confidently.
“You don’t think we need to go home and fill up that birthing pool do you?”
“No mum. Let’s watch the game,” I replied, breathing through a few waves of mild discomfort, just for practice.
Looking back, this was the start of my pre-labour symptoms. Not filling the pool was a good idea, but I still remember going to sleep that night thinking, “THIS IS IT!”
Monday 22nd February
No baby. Maternity leave as usual. Bit of yoga, read a few pages of What to Expect, walked on Peckham Rye via a de-caf coffee stop, then met Fabs at the school gates. (He’s a teacher.)
That night Lucy began feeling some pains very low down. She described them as “like someone giving the pelvic floor a good punch.” When she got the pains I could see her really have to concentrate on them until they went away. I ran her a bubble bath to relax then we laid in bed watching her belly morph into all sorts of shapes as our baby twisted and turned.
That night I dreamt that there was a word for these pains and everyone was using it like it was a thing. ‘Framping’. The Framps continued...
We fell asleep thinking, “THIS IS IT.”
Tuesday 23rd February - 41 week mark.
Still no baby.
I woke up eye level with Rabbit in the Chicco Next to Me crib, swaddled snuggly after my practice session on him the day before. So cute!
09:30 - I toddled off to a midwife-recommended acupuncture appointment to try to help naturally induce labour and then floated home for a midwife visit. The Framps were still happening quite regularly. My lovely midwife talked me through my options, which included the inevitability of being induced on the Sunday if baby hadn’t made an appearance by then. She offered me a sweep and I said yes. Anything other than being medically induced on Sunday.
The sweep wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, but it really wasn’t comfortable. Afterwards the midwife told me my baby was in the perfect position for birth and I was already 1.5cm dilated. This ‘Framping’ business was obviously moving things along in the right direction. YAY! I celebrated by Googling ‘What happens after a sweep,’ followed by a nap. All findings pointed to a good chance baby could come tonight. “THIS IS IT!”
Wednesday 24th February
STILL no baby.
Stupid Rabbit still swaddled next to me. Considerably less cute now. Where is this baby?! I power walked to school to drop off some things Fabian forgot for his day and power walked home.
13:00 - I notice my mucus plug was starting to come away. “At last! A real sign!” I took a photo of it and sent it to Fabian. I know that’s gross but he did say he wanted me to include him in every stage of this process!
Lucy messaged to say the Framping was getting really bad now. She told me that today WILL BE my last day before paternity leave. I got excited - not least because this baby was about to get me out of a Parents’ Evening on Thursday! In all seriousness, it was part excitement and part compartmentalisation as the prospect of organising everything I needed to at work and home became extremely daunting. A sobering thought, however, was always how daunting this must be for Lucy, bringing another lickle hooman into the world.
I was in quite a bit of pain now but was convinced it wasn’t labour yet. My tummy was a bit upset (a pre-labour sign apparently) so I tried to nap, waking up every 30 minutes or so with a wave of the worst period pain I’ve ever had. That evening, Fabian had to help me in and out of a hot bubble bath because I was so uncomfortable. I went to bed hoping I’d sleep through early labour surges and wake up in the early hours ready to push out our baby like so many of the birth stories I’d read.
The last thing I remember is Lucy saying, “Oh man, tomorrow we could have a baby”. I remember thinking, “Oh, YEAH, amazing...” but then, “wait a minute, we’ve said that every night for a week!”
I remember feeling like it was all kicking off and was on the cusp of waking Fabian and telling him to fill up the pool. Then I must have fallen into a deep sleep.
Thursday 23rd February
06:00 You guessed it, still no baby. Rabbit was still there looking smug in our baby’s bed.
“What the...HOW AM I STILL PREGNANT?!” This is too exciting. The anticipation was building. And my sister-in-law was getting closer and closer to winning our bet!
It was on this day I moved Rabbit into hiding for his own protection…
Then I noticed the Framping had totally stopped. What’s more, I couldn’t feel baby moving at all. Odd.
05:38 Most mornings I wake up before Lucy and get ready for school trying not to wake her. I’d developed a little routine for Lucy as I get ready to try help her start her day right and refuel from a night growing a baby, least I could do as the useless man-dad. A morning dose of Floradix to keep her iron levels up followed by soaking some porridge so she could have breakfast as soon as she got up.
This morning I tiptoed around nervously wondering if I should even be going into work. We made a decision that I should but as I readied to leave at 06:40 Lucy had begun to get worried about the lack of movement she was feeling.
When you wake up at 6:30 every single morning from 30 weeks pregnant onwards and feel your baby moving every day, then one morning you can’t feel anything, you tend to freak out a little bit.
Lucy paged our midwives. She was really worried and a bit emotional. They told us the baby was out of routine given its busy night Framping (we hope the medical profession will inaugurate this word soon into common vernacular). They advised Lucy to do the usual check (down a pint of cold water, lie on her left side and count the movements). If she still couldn’t feel anything, head to Labour Ward at Kings for a check up. We felt some movement and Lucy calmed but still wanted to go to the hospital to be sure. I told her to let me know if I needed to leave work...the joys of living an 8 minute walk from work and a 5 minute bus ride from the hospital. We both left at 06:50.
07:05 - At the hospital and they did a quick scan. Within seconds I could see our baby moving around, heart beating fast and strong. They hooked me up to a trace and told me the baby was well, happy and healthy and getting ready to make an entrance. I took a selfie with my most relieved face and sent it to Fabs.... [pictured]. The trace picked up some tightenings (what I was calling Framps - but now I know they were contractions) of my uterus every 15 minutes or so. On the bus home, baby decided to wake up and began kicking me in the ribs once more. I downloaded an app on my phone to record the surges. This really IS IT now.
The rest is a little hazy. I remember some more of my mucus plug came out that afternoon. My wise mother-in-law called and said to get rest. I was going to need it. I found myself needing to crawl onto all fours and breath through the surges until they passed. I took refuge in the spare room like a pregnant cat searching for a warm dark place to have her litter. I flipped the blinds, got under the covers, curled up gingerly in a foetal position and waited for Fabian to get home.
I’d kept in touch with Lucy throughout the day, checking I wasn’t needed. I got lambasted at work by a female colleague who said,”you should be home massaged her back, she needs you, trust me!”
“Trust ME”, I thought, “ there is nowhere I’d rather be right now…”
When I got home I found Lucy there in the spare room and crawled into bed next to her. We napped there together but at this point she was having to flip onto all fours every 10-15 minutes for a surge. Time to get that pool up in our living room. The midwife told us not to let Lucy get in until she was in established labour. I felt her pain (metaphorically speaking) because the warm water looked very inviting in our living room! But the TENS machine would have to do for now.
It was no use trying to sleep anymore so I made my way into the living room, kept the lights really low and crawled onto my yoga mat which was surrounded by my bolster and cushions. I hunched over the footstool to our glider nursing chair and rocked back and forth through the night, recording the surges as I went. Every now and then Fabian would put a straw in my mouth to try and get me to drink water.
21:00 - The surges were regular so I paged the midwife. She told us she wanted more surges closer together before she would come to us. Lucy hadn’t eaten much since lunchtime so I laid out some bowls of high energy food (like homemade Rocky Road she’d made the week before) but she couldn’t stomach anything despite my best efforts at force feeding or however small I chopped things.
00:00 - Lucy was having surges every five minutes lasting a minute so we paged the midwife again. She came round to assess how she was doing and found her naked on the footstool, TENS machine round her neck, candles everywhere and a hypnobirthing CD on the iMac - I remember thinking, this is exactly how Lucy wanted it to be.
The midwife checked the baby’s heartbeat and examined me. Then with apologetic eyes, announced that I was only 3cms and she would be going home again if it didn’t progress to 4cm soon. (She wasn’t supposed to stay with me until at least 4cms or more.)
“Ok,” I said, trying to hide the look of disappointment on my face.
“I doubt I’ll be there very long though by the looks of things,” she offered. Keep doing what you’re doing and call me when they are every couple of minutes and lasting over a minute. See you soon!”
And she was gone.
Friday 26th February
05:30 - After a sleepless night I called into school to let them know my wife was in labour. Lucy moved herself into the spare room where she said she was going to try to rest on the bed in between surges. We dozed on and off and the surges seemed to slow down to every 10 minutes. Neither of us knew why, or what was happening. So I paged the midwife again. When she called back around 11:00 she was shocked that she hadn’t been summoned later that night after she left us - we seemed so close!
She explained how Lucy’s hormones would change as night fell. That explains the slowing of surges. We all made a plan to try and get Lucy to rest and refuel as much as possible until around 18:00 at which point we’d go for a walk up and down the stairs of the apartment block. I did everything I could to help her relax and manage the pain in the day, which she was smashing out of the park. Her breathing was so controlled, she was OMMING, humming and groaning her way over the waves of each surge like she had practiced. Even after this many hours of labour she was resolute, she was in it for the long haul.
However, a lot of time was spent trying to get some sleep and failing, trying to get Lucy to eat, and failing.
18:00 - Go time. I helped Lucy pull on some loose clothes and we went for a very slow walk up and down the stairs in our building. Lucy walked in front and did some high knees and wide leg swoops, squats and hip rocking. Amazingly, Lucy managed a hilarious praying mantis impression in between surges. This woman is amazing! How on earth does she have the ability to laugh, no, actually be funny and me laugh too at this time?! Oh...another surge. *I resumed my place and stroked her back.
20:00 - We bumped into our next door neighbour and her children returning from a swim. Lucy was hunched on the stairs and not in the mood to chat about her labour...time to head back in the flat. Night fell and her body started responding. She was in a lot of pain and asked me to page the midwife again. I distracted her with some pool ‘alterations’ and generally flapping about until 21:00 knowing the midwife wanted at least an hour of serious surges before she’d come out.
21:30 - A new midwife arrives. We’d never met her before which can be worrying but she was amazing and we were so grateful for her patience, hard work and understanding. She examines Luce. 5cms! The midwife informs us she will now be staying by Lucy’s side until our baby is here. THIS. IS. IT!
“GET ME IN THAT POOL!”
TENS machine off. Midwife whips out the gas and air as a replacement. Oooh the water was warm. It took me a while to get used to a new way of breathing with the gas and air seeing as I was so well practised on my own by this point. Now I was hunched over the side of the pool, gripping the handles and sucking on a weird tasting pipe. Midwife was on the sofa writing things and Fabs was kneeling outside stroking my arms and whispering affirmations he read from posters stuck up on the walls...all with his swim shorts on. Always ready!
What I thought was 30 minutes of pool time, I learn later was 3 hours! I drifted in and out of sleep hunched over that pool and in hindsight, it probably slowed the labour down again.
[This must be...] Saturday 27th February
01:00 - Midwife asked me to get out so she could examine me. Fabs pretty much carried me to the sofa wrapped in a towel. Lying on my back seemed out of the question at this stage. I was in so much pain it was all fours or nothing. Somehow I was examined and WOOSH, my waters broke. Whether baby liked it or not, now things really did have to get moving. Luckily I was now 8cms. Almost there!
The midwife sheepishly admits she may have broken the water but Lucy and I reassure her that this is not her fault. She then reveals there is a tiny bit of meconium. Although Lucy stays in the zone, the relaxed midwife now starts to try and move things along a bit.
All of sudden it seemed our midwife advised some more drastic action. Time to put my yoga asana practice to good use. She explained the pool may not aid moving labour into the next stage quickly and I spent the next 3 hours (yes, 3 hours) taking baby steps round the birthing pool, waiting for a surge, then squatting low to my heels and wiggling my hips until it passed. It was thigh tremblingly hard. The midwife mentioned how we needed to move the baby down further into the birth canal.
Fabian and I were in the zone, walk, breathe, squat, affirmations, believe, breathe...somewhere in the background we heard a few clicks. It later turns out our midwife had picked up our camera and was taking some photos of us. They turned out to be some of the most incredible photos which I will cherish forever. An unparalleled experience shared between us, captured on camera to forever remind us of those intense sensations, matched with intense support, determination and love.
05:00 - my next examination, I was SURE to be 10cm by now after all that leg work.
“I’m really sorry to tell you that you are still 8cms Lucy.” What happened was, baby had turned its head upwards and in, towards my inner thigh which meant my cervix wasn’t dilating fast enough anymore. 8cm...so close yet so far.
“I think it’s best that we get you to hospital for some help.” She continued.
It dawned on me right then, that no matter how much preparation you do, no matter how ‘in control of letting go’ you are, sometimes nature has its own plan.
Our midwife told us that we would be sent in an ambulance to hospital and once there I was probably going to have to have a hormone drip to make contractions (everything turns a bit medical at this point) stronger in order to turn the baby.
The midwife said that she also wanted Lucy to have an epidural as the hormone drip would mean the strength of the contractions would be too much especially given she’d now gone more than 50 hours without eating anything or sleeping.
The words, ambulance, drip and epidural were not in ‘my plan’ - or the loose basic plan I made in my head, but at this stage, I didn’t care. I had reached the end of what I could do physically. Everything changed from here - my mental state of awareness shifted, I was a little scared, white as a sheet, shaky with exhaustion and my whole belief in the ‘my body knows exactly how to do this’ thing was wavering. Fabs, again, was by my side, whispering our affirmations in my ear as if we were still in our cosy living room den.
05:45 - we arrived at Kings. Luckily we had a community midwife with us otherwise we’d have been turfed out and made to go to St Thomas’ because the ward was full. They wheeled me in a wheelchair up to a birthing suite where we were to wait for a room on the ward. I crawled onto the bed and waited.
This was the first of two extremely tough moments for me. Lucy’s whole approach changed, and why wouldn’t it. We were now surrounded by strangers, bright lights, drugs and medical advice. There was no zone anymore, the advice of painkillers and imminent epidural/hormone inducement had seen to that. It was tough because now Lucy’s tiredness became apparent, the exhaustion of 2 days with limited food and sleep whilst going through the most intense physical exertions a human can endure. Painkillers advised, Lucy gets drowsy and sleeps for 45 minutes. At last. She sleeps.
08:00 - After the longest sleep I’d had in two days I was examined. Amazingly I was now 9cms, the baby had moved and my body was ready to do it all by itself. Fabian looked at me in amazement...but I was gone. I couldn’t clench a fist, my eyes were half closed, stinging and my skin was like tracing paper. Drained. I’d gone almost 60 hours with barely any sleep or food and I had nothing left to give. The midwife and the doctor advised that I needed help to get the baby out now, namely sleep. They proposed I have an epidural that I administer myself in order to remove the pain of the contractions and allow me to sleep for at least 2 hours so I could recharge my energy, ready for pushing. I would stop the epidural, or rather Fabian would stop administering it, after an hour and a half so that feeling returned and woke me up.
“Yes - let’s do it.”
But I wasn’t the one who needed persuading. Fabian had discovered his kryptonite. The one thing that made him worry, after days of helping me clear every obstacle we faced with ease and composure, now I could see in his eyes that he was worried.
“At least I don’t need the hormone drip Fabs,” I was almost asking his permission to have the epidural. I knew how much he wanted me to avoid any sort of medical intervention. But I was proud of my body for getting me this far and proud of my mind for not standing in its way.
09:00 - The second extremely tough moment arrived. It was the anaesthetist who scared me. Of course she had to tell Lucy about all the risks, such as being paralyzed forever, but hearing it like that filled me with dread. What if this goes wrong? Should I call her parents and tell them this is happening? I hadn’t updated them since we left our flat! The thought of the needle going into her spine was too much. Drugs are natural in some way, this was not. But she was sure. Her mind was made up. Our midwife and doctor nodded in agreement that it was the best option for Lucy and for our baby. Our midwife was actually our midwife from all those visits during the pregnancy after a shift change, what a stroke of luck.
Logic prevailed and kept my watery eyes from exploding into waterfalls of emotion. By 10:00 the anaesthetist arrived and the epidural was administered.
Fabian held my hands and it was me now who was reassuring him, whispering that everything was going to be ok. The pain relief was instantaneous, such relief! I fell straight asleep, the last thing I remember seeing was Fabs in the chair by my bed, probably taking this photo…..
Midday: When I woke up the midwife got me into position and coached me through the pushing stage. No screaming, no fear, just sheer determination. Thank you epidural! I pushed for an hour and a half before the doctor came in to assess the situation. We could see the baby and things were coming along nicely, I was back in the zone! She stayed to watch a contraction and then we had our final mini drama.
So you know when someone is pretending not to be worried but is actually shitting bricks...Fabs language! That was our doctor. “Those heartbeats are very similar”, she hinted, worried that we were reading Lucy’s twice and not the baby’s. “How long have you been pushing?” When the midwife said just over an hour and a half the doctor’s face looked like she’d been hit with a big wet fish.
Lucy, the midwife and I had noticed this earlier and had already tested this out, we were very sure that the baby’s heartbeat was being read and that it was fine. The doctor was less sure.
All of a sudden there was a team of people in the room. A senior midwife calmed everyone, quickly, checked the baby with a scan and suggested she stay to help get the baby out once and for all. She asked for me to push with the next surge to see how much I was managing to move baby on my own. She was satisfied that I didn’t need forceps but only a little extra help by way of the kiwi cap / ventouse. This part moved very quickly - but I was still calm - my mind was focusing on an image of my little baby’s head moving down my birth canal, ready to be born into the world. I remember trying to use the J-breathing technique… with a few more pushes, and pulls - Fabs almost shouting now, “Go on Luce, you can do it!” (Standard)... I could feel my face red with the pressure of pushing, then snatching my breath and pushing again, and again and they pulled HARD - I remember the new midwife saying something about hair on the baby’s head making the suction slippy (MY BABY’S HEAD!!) Then there was an episiotomy somewhere amid the pushing and pulling, until finally! FINALLY!
Soooo, that episiotomy Lucy glosses over...a little gorey if I’m honest...it was like something out of a Tarantino movie...think Kill Bill, fast, blade, flesh, spurt. No time for shock, there’s a baby’s head!
“Oh my god Luce, Oh my god! Oh my god. Look look!” Fabian’s voice was trembling and he helped guide my neck off the pillow to look down at what was happening. Our baby was being born! The doctor lifted him up and straight onto my chest for that all important skin-to-skin contact. He did a few squawks to let us know he was out and breathing and then almost immediately, his deep blue eyes opened and fixed on mine.
I’ll never forget that feeling as long as I live. It repeats in my mind daily, filling me with love, my heart fit to burst with the pure joy and relief of that moment my son opened his eyes in the world, he saw me! And then he stopped crying. Like he knew me. He was out. Our connecting cord still pulsing as we let it give him as much oxygen and nutrients as we could before Fabian asked, “ so what is it?” Boy or girl?!" ...before stepping up to cut him free. He was born, his own person, River James Leonard, we had done it!
I looked up at Fabs and bit my lip.
His eyes were the widest I’ve ever seen them.
River was snuffling and nuzzling on my chest and they wrapped him in blankets and wiped some of the slimey stuff off him. I didn’t care, I kissed him all over, his warm little naked pink body was out of my tummy and in my arms. Birth really and truly feels miraculous.
Fabian kissed my forehead then kissed our little boy. He was still saying “Oh my god.”
My life came into focus.
We were a family.
Let the adventures truly begin.