After I gave birth, I had about 24 hours where I felt like the most powerful and incredible woman on the planet. I had a quick induction, I had laboured alone for hours due to Covid, and I had done it all without pain relief. Look at me go! But now, 4 weeks on, my birth story also makes me quite angry.
It all begins in early July when I took the Covid vaccine. My normally active son went quiet in the womb so I phoned the maternity assessment unit who told me to come in immediately to be monitored. I was so nervous to hear what was going on but thankfully, his heart rate was fine and eventually his movements picked up throughout the day.
However, while I was at the hospital, they booked me in for a growth scan as my bump was measuring smaller than it should have.
Two days later, I went in for my growth scan, and while I loved seeing my baby again (and finding out he had lots of hair!), I also found out that he was already seven pounds and I was only 35 weeks pregnant. So despite a smaller bump, I had a pretty big baby.
The doctor booked me in to be tested for gestational diabetes in case that was the reason for my big baby. Two days later, I went in for that test (all this is alone, by the way, because of Covid and social distancing), to find out that I was positive for GD.
Ali was able to join me for the consultation with the doctor who said that I didn’t really have any other option but to be induced ASAP which would be at 37 weeks. That was 11 days later.
Because they had found the diabetes diagnosis so late, they didn’t have time to gauge whether it was a high or low-risk case of GD. If it was high risk, then leaving Laith in the womb any longer could mean that he would run out of amniotic fluid or nutrients from the placenta. So there was no way we could do anything but take the doctor’s advice and book in for the induction.
I was shocked. I hadn’t even finished work yet. I was ready for Laith, to an extent, but I was still expecting another five weeks or so of being pregnant. I wanted to relax a bit before the baby came, I wanted to go into labour myself, I wanted to labour at home for a while, I wanted to get that stage where I felt “done” being pregnant. I wanted to finish my pregnancy. I loved my pregnancy so much and I felt like it was getting taken away from me. Of course, meeting my baby was a wonderful thought but this wasn’t the way I wanted it to happen.
I wanted to have the first stage of my labour at home, in the comfort of our house, together, just me and Ali. I wanted to get to the hospital when it was time and have a water birth, doing my hypnobirthing exercises, and have this almost “magical” experience that I’d been reading about and preparing for over the last few months.
Instead, I would have to be induced, alone without my husband (due to Covid), and I’d have to be hooked to the monitor the entire time which meant no water birth.
I spent the next 11 days so anxious and upset. Mostly about the fact that Ali couldn’t be there with me. The wards are making up their own rules (even now that the restrictions in Scotland have technically lifted…) and although it says on their website that you can have your partner with you throughout induction, most hospitals are not adhering to what it says on their site.
On the morning of my induction, Ali drove me to the hospital and dropped me off. I said goodbye to him as one version of myself and the next time he would see me, I’d be different, in a completely different stage of my life, and he wouldn’t get to be with me while I transitioned. It’s so wrong on so many levels to remove women’s birth partners during one of the most vulnerable times of their lives. But I had no choice but to get on with it…
We said goodbye at the door and I went in. I took a Covid test which was negative and got settled in my bay. I was the only person in the ward for a while (so Ali could have safely been there) and even when the other woman came to the ward, she was about 4-5 meters away from me.
I lay on the bed and read my book while I waited for the midwife to come round and start my induction. Around 11, she gave me my first pessary tablet and hooked me up to the machine to monitor the baby’s heart rate and my contractions. When the midwife came in about 20 minutes later, she said the machine was showing that I was having “tightenings” which I became aware of a few minutes later once they’d taken me off the monitor. They felt a bit like period cramps so I was able to carry on reading and then around 12:30, I got my lunch and Ali came in for visiting.
We chilled for a bit and then around 2ish, my contractions were starting to get a little bit more sore and closer together. I asked a midwife in passing (not my midwife… she didn’t check on me ONCE) if it was normal for my contractions to be quite close together. She said it was the pessary tablet hormones and it will probably calm down or stop altogether. I got a birthing ball and put my TENS machine on and was comfortable enough to carry on. However, at 2:30, Ali needed to leave. Looking back, I now know that I was in active labour here and he should have stayed, but because the midwife told me it was probably nothing – he left.
I lay down for about 5 minutes but it was too uncomfortable so I got back on the ball, did my hypnobirthing exercises and watched a movie. After maybe 30 minutes, my contractions were 4-7 minutes apart, quite long and quite sore. I went on FaceTime with Ali (yes, FaceTiming my partner while I was in active labour… how is this ok?!) for as long as I could before I got to the point where I couldn’t concentrate. I got off the phone with him, turned my film off and started using the Freya app to get through contractions.
The doctor came in and examined me and said I was dilated enough to break my waters. She also said I was “over contracting” and breaking my waters should hopefully get everything into a normal rhythm. I phoned Ali quickly and told him to meet me at the labour ward and at about 6, they took me down.
When I got taken down to the ward, I was feeling excited, happy and nervous. I couldn’t wait to get on with my adjusted birth plan with Ali by my side.
But when we got there, things quickly progressed and not the way I wanted them to. I got down and they broke my waters and hooked me up to the monitor again. I sat bouncing on the ball, doing my hypnobirthing, listening to my music and using my TENS machine, but the doctor came to check on me and said that the baby’s heart rate was dropping again and he was in distress.
She told me that we would need to start discussing a c-section. Ali and I both cried and I just told her I didn’t want that. I always knew it could be a possibility and if it happened, I’d be ok with it, but in the moment, the thought terrified me.
She told me that I could try labouring on my side and that might make baby happier. I quickly got into the bed and continued my labour on my side. This is a horrible position to labour in. You don’t have any mobility to distract you and with gravity against you, it’s very difficult to get comfortable and for the baby to descend. I was in a lot of pain by this point and my contractions were super close together, sometimes only 10 seconds apart.
The doctor came back in and said that the baby’s heart rate was fine in this position and she was happy for me to carry on like this. However, my contractions were still too close together so she gave me an injection to slow things down.
This worked for about 15 minutes before things started ramping up again. By now, it was about 9pm. I was getting into a rhythm of breathing, using gas and air, and Ali activating my TENS machine while I gripped a comb to help distract my mind from the pain of the contractions. I honestly don’t remember what the contractions felt like to the point where I could describe the pain – I suppose just like period cramps x100. But I remember feeling very much in control, pretty calm and not really scared. Just sore and uncomfortable. Ali said at one point, the midwife asked to feel my abdomen because my contractions were showing up as very intense on the monitor, yet I was remaining very calm. I had my eyes closed and was in a total zone, so I wasn’t really aware of anything else except my pain and my coping mechanisms.
The baby started to come down. I had read about a transition phase between the first and second stage of labour where mentally, I might freak out, but I didn’t have that. I just had a sudden shift in the sensations. It went from these painful contractions to an all-consuming and intense pressure as the baby moved down. It was unlike anything I could ever imagine or anything I’d felt in my life. I told everybody “he’s coming, he’s coming” around 9:30 to which they said “if he’s coming, we don’t see him” and then one of my midwives went onto her break. Two minutes later, the other midwife called her back for the delivery because she could now see the baby’s head.
All I remember was the pain (horrific) and pointing to my hip which was in agony. The midwife massaged my hip while I continued with my breathing, gas and air and TENS machine. As he continued to move down, the agony grew and I could no longer remain quiet and was now roaring like an animal with every exhale (lol).
When it got to the stage where he was close enough to be pushed out, I started doing the down breathing that I’d learned in hypnobirthing but unfortunately, because I was on my side, that didn’t work because I didn’t have gravity to help me get him out. They say your body’s contractions and breathing is enough to get your baby out, but that seems to only really work if you’re in an upright, forward and open position – which I was not.
So they told me to hold my breath and push, which was against everything I had planned. But I wanted the pain over and so I did what they told me to. I remember having about four contractions and pushing with each one before they told me to lie onto my back to open up my pelvis enough to let the baby through.
At 10:17pm, They placed him on me and I sobbed for a good 30 minutes just trying to catch my breath and come back to reality. They call this the golden hour but I don’t think that’s an appropriate name for it in my situation because the pain did not fade for hours. I held my baby this whole time as they did their checks, established breastfeeding, gave me stitches, gave me ibuprofen and then left us alone to take it all in. We were on the ward for another few hours which I’m grateful for since I hadn’t been able to have Ali with me for the early part of my labour. Ali got a cuddle with Laith and I got a little 30-minute nap.
At 4, they took me up to the postnatal ward where I slept for 30 minutes or but it’s impossible with a new baby because you don’t know what to do or what they need. I was able to go home the next afternoon after basically pleading with them to let me leave.
Although my labour was hard, the hardest parts began when I got home (another blog post for this). But overall, I don’t think I can say I had the positive magical labour experience that I had dreamed about. I think this was down to my late diagnosis of gestational diabates, a spontaneous and unplanned induction and of course, being alone. It wasn’t the pain that ruined the experience for me; it was the feelings associated with being left on my own. The only thing that really kept me calm enough to get through it was the hypnobirthing, so I definitely recommend doing that if you’re pregnant. I don’t really know how I’d have gotten through without it.
Overall, I’m just so bummed and a bit angry that I had to labour alone when just down the road, there were football stadiums full of fans, restaurants full of families and homes hosting parties. Care for women during this pandemic has not been a priority at all. And they wonder why more and more women are traumatised after birth. I’ve had to reach out to my perinatal mental health team for various reasons, and I can’t help but wonder if I had my needs met during my labour and birth experience, would my mental health be better right now? Part of me thinks it definitely would.
But the bottom line is even if you need to go through any stage of your labour alone, you are powerful enough and capable to handle it. But that doesn’t mean that it’s ok.
Besides that, I am of course so grateful that Laith and I were healthy after birth when there were times that it didn’t seem to be going that way considering Laith’s heart rate and the short discussion about having an emergency c-section. In terms of the diabetes, Laith’s glucose levels were stable and so were mine. We have the loveliest little baby who’s asleep in my arms as I type this.
Tune back in for another blog post about the “fourth trimester” because it is, by far, the hardest one.