Lessons from Birth: Part Three

I wanted to round off my Lessons from Birth series by posting Evie’s birth story.

As I wrote in my post ‘Waiting‘ Evie’s arrival was later than I expected. I had a lot of pre-labour contractions which were very hard to tell apart from the beginning of active labour, being uncomfortable, regular, and getting stronger over time before disappearing into thin air. This went on for a whole month and though I’d love to say that I bore this wait with patience and grace that would not be exactly truthful. To give myself credit I think I handled it ok at least some of the time.

It was reasonable to expect that I might give birth early because my last two pregnancies did not exceed the 37th week gestation. I had decided it would be prudent to arrange to have extra help around from 36 weeks on. Particularly because the children were off school for the month of August and we needed back up, especially in the case of a home birth during the day. This meant that my supportive and generous parents flew out from the UK to our home in Portugal, planning to stay from then until a week after my due date. The closer I got to my due date the more foolish I felt for planning things this way, as the weeks of help with our new baby, became weeks of help with the pregnancy. This was not unwelcome by any means, but I worried about how we would cope when my mum and dad left so soon after the baby was born.

Beyond this logistical issue, I felt frustrated with my ‘are they?aren’t they? contractions. I was sick of being a watched pot that would not boil. I began to worry about how big Evie might be: after all, my body had never carried a baby to term, nor had a full term baby exit from it. The hospital scans had shown Evie to be a little bigger than her siblings in utero.

Lesson 1: Growth scans are not very accurate.

Evie wasn’t as big as her brother and in fact only weighed 2.9 kg when she was born. It is unlikely therefore that she was in the 50th percentile back at my 32 week ultrasound. I knew not to base too much stock in these numbers as Rosie had been a small baby, which was never flagged in utero either. However, I let myself get caught up in ‘what ifs’ anyway.

Lesson 2: Don’t get too wound up about growth scans when you know they are not accurate anyway.

I should have paid attention to the voice of my previous experience here, instead of letting my imagination run amock with big baby fears. More specifically, the fears that I had about sustaining another 3rd degree tear or worse and needing surgery, which I thought I had banished after Sam’s birth, returned to haunt me around week 38 or so.

Lesson 3: Talk to your midwife.

I called our midwife, Antonio, who had also delivered Sam, and told him I was feeling worried. He immediately suggested that he came over for a chat to discuss my trepidations. He sized up my bump with his expert hands and told me that Evie was not all that big. When I brought up my anxiety about going overdue he said that we could try a membrane sweep to get things going if I went to 40 weeks. If my body was ready it would work and if not, it would do no harm. We happily arranged for him to do this the day before Evie was due. I felt a lot better.

Another factor which contributed to this renewed sense of calm, or at least resignation, was that my mum and dad extended their stay with us for a few days more. They would be relieved by my in laws on their day of departure so we had plenty of hands on deck.

Lesson 4: Mum and Dad rock. That is all.

The week leading up to my due date I was having a lot of contractions and kept hoping I would finally tip over into active labour. I felt ripe and ready. I was optimistic that a sweep might step things up.

The appointed day arrived and Antonio came over in the evening after we put the kids to bed. I was excited to see the medical bag appearing from his car as a confirmation that he fully expected a baby to appear. He explained that he would try doing up to three sweeps, one every three hours, to see if labour would start.

My husband and I went off to our bedroom with Antonio and he performed the first sweep. I lay back and relaxed. It didn’t hurt. We returned to the living room and sat around chatting, me sitting on my birth ball. I could feel contractions coming and going. This could really be working! My mum and dad retired to bed. I decided to get some rest too. Antonio and husband sat up talking a bit longer, then Husband came to bed. Antonio came through to do the next sweep at 1am. He exclaimed that the contractions were doing some work as Evie’s head had engaged. I grinned. Husband remarked that I was the happiest he had seen me in weeks. I felt elated. We were going to meet our baby. She would be here. But first we should try to sleep. Husband and I turned in. Antonio lay down for a nap on the sofa.

I lay in bed for another hour or so, just feeling the contractions come and go. They started to pick up a little and I couldn’t sleep through them, so I got up and sat in our library on a comfy reclining chair. I loved that the house was dark and quiet around me. I sat with my eyes closed and listened to my Natal Hypnotherapy CD on my iPod. I visualised calm scenes that I had practised of swimming in a tropical mountainside pool. I was happy to feel the contractions coming on stronger and longer.

Antonio appeared bleary-eyed at around 4am to check on me and see if a further sweep was needed. The strength and duration of the contractions were about the same as when I’d been around 6cm dilated with my son and I was expecting to hear that I was getting to around this point again. I was gutted to hear that I was 2 or 3cm. Antonio gave me a final gentle sweep to help keep things going. Neither of us wanted the labour to stall. I decided not to get hung up on how dilated I was. I felt deep down that this was it. Disappointing as it was to have progressed less than expected, progress had occurred.

I suddenly felt tired, so I went back to bed for a lie down. I positioned myself on my side with a few pillows at my head so that the baby had space to move if needed and to keep myself comfy while allowing gravity to do its job. The contractions felt quite intense, but I relaxed as much as possible and breathed deeply through them. I went to the loo a couple of times as I was paranoid about getting a urine infection. On my second trip I felt the contractions were getting harder to cope with and decided I would wake up husband and Antonio to see about getting the pool up and filled. I suddenly couldn’t wait to feel the warm, soothing, water around me.

As soon as I woke up my sleepy husband, the contractions ramped up another level.

Lesson 5: When your instincts tell you what you need, best to follow them.

I was so glad that I had followed my urge to wake up husband then. Though I was still coping I really needed to reach out to another person now.

I stopped and breathed through another contraction while husband woke Antonio. I was beginning to make some labour noises and moan, though I held back until we were in our big kitchen/dining/living room, away from where my parents and the children were sleeping. Antonio checked me, and said I was almost 5cm and could get in the pool. I couldn’t believe I was not more dilated, and began to panic somewhat about how I would manage the rest of the labour. As the contractions were coming harder and faster, clothes didn’t seem a priority anymore. I abandoned my trousers and underwear, focussing on finding a comfy place to labour.

Antonio and husband had got the pool out of its bag and seemed to be taking forever to start inflating it. We hadn’t covered the sofa in plastic sheets yet either, so I didn’t want to clamber onto it and sully it with an indelible stain. This consideration seemed wildly comic in a tucked away part of my brain, and I laughed at myself. Another big contraction hit. I scrabbled around with two big cushions trying to find a comfortable position leaning forward over the sofa. This contraction was huge, and long too. All I could do was cling on to a cushion as if my life depended on it, and make ‘oooooh’ noises. I thought ‘How can I possibly cope with this? I can’t do this for another few hours’. I couldn’t find the right position for my body to be in and was feeling really agitated. Antonio looked up at the sounds I was making and asked if I felt like pushing. Was the baby moving down? I really wasn’t sure, so I said I didn’t think so. Mostly because I couldn’t believe it was time yet.

Lesson 6: Hello! Transition much?

In retrospect, it is very easy to spot that I was experiencing transition at that moment, but I was confused by my apparent lack of dilation just moments earlier.

I threw the cushions on the floor, with my knees on one and my elbows on the other, in a sphinx position. Almost immediately, I gasped ‘Help!’ as another contraction came. Husband came running over and knelt in front of me. I felt like he was anchoring me, as my body flew out of control. Outwardly though, I was not moving much and not talking, so once I stopped ooing through the contraction husband ran back over to Antonio to continue assembling the pool. I summoned him back with another ‘Help!’. Antonio came over too, to see what was going on. I was still stranded astride my cushions, which afforded ease of access for a quick look at me.

Lesson 7: Sometimes it is best to ignore dilation and pay attention to what your body is doing.

Antonio told me that I was fully dilated and the baby was indeed moving down. The contractions changed, coming further apart and not so painful. I now had complete clarity in terms of what was going on and instantly felt calm and purposeful. Now that the contractions had relented, I could feel where Evie was and focus on helping her to move down the birth canal. I waited for a contraction and consciously squeezed my muscles, though really my body was already pushing, and all I had to do was provide gentle encouragement. Between contractions I thought ‘You’re stretchy. You’re going to stretch HUGE’ and visualised my body perfectly accommodating Evie’s emergence. Before I knew it she was crowning, and I tried to keep things slow, holding her at the gates for one more contraction. Husband knelt in front of me, breathing encouragements the whole time, which really helped me to stay centred. It was a lovely moment, having him close by, us both kneeling on all fours, and waiting for our daughter to be born. With the next contraction and a tiny push, Evie popped out. She had the cord wrapped twice around her neck, but was absolutely fine with a hearty little yell. It was just after 6am; around fifteen minutes since Antonio had examined me and found me at ‘almost 5cm’.

I sat up. Antonio passed Evie to me. Husband and I lent over her cooing our ‘hellos’. Antonio suggested we move onto the sofa. I protested that we needed to cover it with something first, so husband went to the birth bags and removed one of the big incontinence pads I had bought for the occasion. Between the three of us, I was hoisted onto the sofa, propped upright at my request, on top of my cushion and pad, with Evie in my arms. Wary of getting cold and delaying the placenta’s expulsion, I asked husband to get me a clean sheet I had put ready, to wrap me and Evie up. She latched onto my breast without any difficulty and we had our first feed. We continued to admire Evie, and the placenta arrived shortly with just a little push or two. Antonio examined me and found that I had no tears, just a very small graze. This was excellent news. I beamed at the perfection of our beautiful new baby, and the all round awesomeness of my perineum. What a relief!

Antonio packed up his stuff and headed home. I was sad to see the unused birth pool disappearing with him. It would have been lovely to have a go in it post-partum, seen as I had missed my third chance at the water birth I’d always fancied. Husband put the cushion covers in the wash, and cleaned up a bit, but there was surprisingly little clearing up to do. He helped me stand up and accompanied me to the bathroom. I had a quick wee, then got in the shower. I didn’t feel dizzy, so he left me to it and fetched me some clean clothes. I felt wonderful. Full of beans and totally exhilarated. My mum and dad came through and we had a quiet cup of tea and Evie appreciation. Her big sister and brother were woken up and came to meet their new sibling.

So there you have it. A slow burning labour, a roller-coaster birth, and a beautiful morning. The only downside was the afterpains, which were horrid, especially when my older children were jumping on me for cuddles, but I took arnica and painkillers, which helped. Overall, this was a very positive birth experience which I shall treasure. It was a real bonus not to tear and I have felt my body get back to normal so much faster this time. Having three kids aged 4 and under isn’t always easy, but they’re my lovely children, and I couldn’t have asked for a better start to being a family of five. I also look forward to informing Evie that she was pretty much born on a kitchen floor. It has a good dramatic ring to it.

The sofa is covered in smears of peanut butter and biscuit crumbs, but otherwise continues to fare well.