On Friday 3rd July, right around midnight, we were given a choice: my waters had broken, so we could opt for immediate induction, or return 20 hours later for induction. The midwife gave us a leaflet outlining the pros and cons of both options. The pros of immediate induction far outweighed those of waiting, and most notably, immediate would be safer for the baby. It was a done deal, and we delivered our decision to the midwife, feeling excited. It was finally happening!
On a previous tour of the maternity and delivery wards, we’d been shown ‘the doors’ that lead into the delivery suite corridor from the maternity assessment unit. You would only ever go through those doors when you were actually about to have your baby, we were told. So being led through them, at 1am on Saturday morning, I felt like I’d been given a golden ticket. It was time to meet Little Tiny! I had a big smile on my face, and a spring in my step, as if I was off on holiday. Oh poor naive me!
We were given the choice of delivery rooms, and we opted for room 9 – firstly, because it’s Dan’s birthday, and secondly because it had a pink curtain. Of course, the curtain could have been covered in pictures of a naked Channing Tatum and I wouldn’t have noticed, once things got going.
We met our midwife Zoe, who was young, blonde, and smiley, and I instantly warmed to her comforting smile and her laid-back nature. We went through my notes, and I had my first examination to see how advanced the labour was. I was 2cms dilated. No, I wasn’t massively bowled over either. At this point, they decided to break my ‘other’ waters – apparently there are two different types of waters that break, and it transpired that only one of mine had broken. Zoe had a failed attempt at breaking them, and so called in one of the doctors to help.
This process was very, very sore. I decided against watching the very large ‘knitting needles’ with a hook on the end coming at me, and instead closed my eyes, clenched my fists, and desperately clung on to happy thoughts. It took Zoe and the doctor some time to successfully break them, and they commented on how impressive my pain threshold was. And they even seemed to mean it. At this point I felt quite proud of myself, and naively started to believe that it would all be OK. It was a strange feeling once the waters popped, and I was surprised by the amount of blood mixed in with the ‘waters’. But I was now feeling excited, the induction process had officially started.
I was then given the hormone pessary as a catalyst for contractions. Having since spoken to tens of women who have also been given the pessary, I can conclude that the pessary never works. No really, never. Zoe warned me at the time that it probably wouldn’t work, and she was right. Whoever manufactures this damn pessary is having a right laugh. They make a drug that never works, yet the NHS continues to bulk-buy it. Even they know it’s useless. Go figure!
Anyway, at this point, we were left to get some rest, waiting for this bloody pessary to pull its finger out and do something…anything! Dan was given an enormous beanbag to kip on, and within minutes, he was catching flies. I’d be lying if I said this was the last time Dan would get some sleep – in fact, he managed several decent naps throughout the labour process.
A few hours later, Zoe confirmed that the pessary had in fact, done F all. She sent us for a walk around the hospital grounds and to get some breakfast, reminding us to fuel up as it would be a long, gruelling day. She wasn’t wrong. It was the 4th of July, and the weather was beautifully hot and sunny. It was the perfect day to have a baby. It’s no secret that I love all things American, having travelled around many US cities and States on both holidays and work trips several times a year since I was 21. Delivering Little Tiny on Independence Day would be a nod to my favourite country, and perhaps also my independent streak. It was also Daniel’s granddad Tom’s birthday, who sadly passed away only weeks after we discovered I was pregnant. I’ll be eternally thankful that we were able to share our news with him before he passed. He was a wonderful man, the perfect gentleman.
The chocolate croissant and berry smoothie I had for breakfast would be the last things I’d consume – other than water and four percy pigs – for the next 30 hours. As we returned, I was hooked up to the hormone drip to kick-start contractions, and with sadness, said goodbye to Zoe, who had finished her shift. She introduced us to Kate, who would be our midwife from now on, but promised that if I was still in labour when she came back on shift that night, that she’d request to be my midwife again.
Kate was also wonderful. She too was young, had long brown hair, and was very relaxed, personable, and like Zoe, I trusted her completely. Labour is so emotionally and physically challenging, and such a life-changing experience which you share only with your birth partner and midwife, and so you build a rapport and bond with that midwife way quicker than any relationship would normally progress. I will be forever grateful that Zoe and Kate were the midwives assigned to me during labour, and I couldn’t have wished for anyone better.
The hormone drip, unlike the damn pessary, has a job to do and actually does it, as unpleasant as that may be. As I remember, my contractions started pretty quickly once I was hooked up, and once they started, they came thick and fast.
I’ve always heard contractions described as “really, really bad period pains” but in my opinion, that just doesn’t do them justice. I’ve searched to find the words to describe them most accurately, but my journalist skills are failing me. It’s a pain so raw and so consuming…they come in tidal waves, gradually stronger and stronger until the pain drowns your consciousness…you enter a world where rational thoughts escape you, and you find yourself submitting to the indescribable torture.
During the earlier contractions I would furiously cling to happy thoughts. I’d close my eyes, rocking viciously back and forth in the rocking chair, and use my imagination to take myself to a better place, re-living my happiest memories as I forcefully guzzled the gas and air, allowing the dizziness that it causes to engulf me. Later on, as the contractions were more regular and even stronger, my body would succumb to each one, shutting down completely as I’d lose consciousness from the pain.
I have a condition called cardiovascular syncope, which means that my blood pressure often drops dangerously low, resulting in loss of consciousness. During labour, this was my nemesis even more than it is in everyday life.
During these contractions, Kate never left my side. Which is more than I can say for Dan. At some point in the afternoon, catching me between contractions, Dan asked me: “Are you hungry, Treacle?” The look I gave him negated an answer. He “popped out to Pret” and was gone for about 45 minutes as he decided to catch up on his correspondence whilst out, returning to find me just as helpless as before – probably more so. In the delivery room, Dan’s phone had been expelled to his pocket after I’d grown annoyed with his half-hearted attempt to comfort me with one hand as his other hand– and his eyes –had been firmly and consistently fixated on his phone.
The pain – combined with the gas and air – was making me feel sick, and as Dan returned and produced a hot tuna melt sitting down next to me, the smell practically tipped me over the edge. Before I could do it myself, Kate banished him to the other side of the room to eat his tuna melt, as she rolled her eyes at me.
As the afternoon wore on, Kate began to mention pain relief more and more frequently, but I was determined to do it on paracetamol and gas and air. I’d always been against an epidural, hating the thought of it, and stubbornly insistent on trying to do it naturally. Even with tears rolling down my face, and breathless with the pain, I insisted on continuing without. At 6pm, I would be examined again, and I’d learn how far I’d dilated and that would motivate me to do that final bit without the epidural, right?
Wrong. Dan had been encouraging me to consider an epidural for a few hours, seeing just how much I was hurting. Even Kate said that she would “highly recommend” it as she grew more concerned each time I passed out. We compromised: I would continue without until the examination, and depending on how far dilated I was, and how long I still had to go, make a decision on pain relief.
When I was told at 6pm, that I was now only 4cm dilated, my heart sank to the pit of my stomach. 4cm!! Agony all day, and for what? A pesky 2cm progression? I was distraught. I also felt like Rachel from Friends. Realising how far I still had to go, Dan and I made the decision to get an epidural, much to Kate’s relief. My body was giving up, it couldn’t cope with the pain, and I was tired and weak. Instead of feeling disappointed with myself for making that decision, I just felt relief.
Within moments of me agreeing to an epidural, there was an anesthetist in the room, and by this point, I was barely able to form a sentence, let alone aware of what I was signing or what was going on. I was counting down every contraction knowing that soon I would soon be free of pain, I just had to make it through a few more. The pressure to be completely still as the epidural was injected weighed heavy on my mind, and I struggled to believe I’d succeed given the ferocity with which the pain was overwhelming me. But I knew the importance of succeeding, and my head in Dan’s hands, I concentrated every bone in my body to be still.
The epidural would be effective within 15 minutes I was told, and I waited for that physical relief to wash over me. But it didn’t. Half an hour later, with a numb right leg but agonising pain persisting in my stomach, I was told that the epidural had been incorrectly positioned and thus totally ineffective. I was beside myself – the anticipated relief had been snatched away from me and I felt totally helpless.
I was promised another, but the anesthetist had been rushed into emergency theatre, and they would have to call in another from a different hospital, which would take at least 90 minutes. That doesn’t seem like long, but when you’re in excruciating pain, it’s a life sentence. I was re-examined again at this point, and learnt that I’d gone from 4cm to 8cm in less than 90 minutes. I’d have been elated, if I hadn’t been in such agony.
I remember very little from the next two hours waiting for that second epidural, but Dan tells me I was in and out of consciousness and “gone in the eyes”.
It was 10pm before the second epidural was administrated and working, and I can’t begin to describe the relief as the drug worked its magic. I suddenly knew my own name again, and was surprised to see Zoe back again. I had been so out of it I hadn’t even realised Kate had left and Zoe had tagged in to start the night-shift, again. “Have a little sleep,” Zoe told me. “We’re going to start pushing at midnight, it’s time to meet your baby.”
I’d been awake for 40 hours by this point, yet still found it hard to succumb to sleep knowing it was only a matter of hours before I’d meet my Little Tiny. Dan was not suffering in the same way, and was comfortably snoozing on his beanbag bed.
Midnight came, and as promised, I started to push. Dan put one of his playlists on the speaker, and I concentrated hard on doing exactly what Zoe told me to do. Pushing is such a strange sensation when you’ve had an epidural, and although you don’t feel the pain, you can feel the pressure, the tightening, and it’s still exhausting. After an hour or so of pushing, and not enough progress, Zoe began to talk us through Plan B and Plan C. Otherwise known as forceps and an emergency C-Section. At this point, I remember feeling like a complete failure. I was trying so hard, but not getting anywhere. I was desperate not to have a C-Section. I’d come this far, and I wanted to see it through. I hadn’t gone through all this to be cut open.
What I didn’t know during the pushing process was just how much Little Tiny was struggling to cope. His heart rate was dropping dangerously low, but Dan and Zoe kept this from me until after he was born. At one point, as Zoe was discussing Plan B vs. Plan C with colleagues, Tiny’s heartrate dropped low enough to trigger the alarm and cause our room to be filled within seconds with several midwives and doctors. It was then that they decided to progress with a forceps delivery, but had no time to make it to surgery, so would deliver in my room.
I’d been very sick several times during my labour, and poor Dan was wearing a lot of it, having failed to catch it in those ridiculously small cardboard containers they give you to be sick in. But it was at this point that I excelled myself, by projectile vomiting all over the lovely doctor who had freshly scrubbed in and was stood in between my legs (held in stirrups), forceps in hands, ready to deliver my baby. I hadn’t eaten all day and night so luckily it was just water-based sick, but sick none-the-less, dripping down her scrubs. I apologised profusely and was absolutely mortified as I watched her having to re-scrub. When you’re told you lose all dignity during labour, it’s absolutely true.
“Let’s meet your baby,” she said, and within two contractions, we did. Whilst the epidural numbs the pain of a forceps delivery, it doesn’t mask the force with which those forceps tug at the baby and the feeling that all of your insides are being pulled out. I remember watching the doctor, both arms tugging on those huge forceps, her entire weight pulling Little Tiny out.
At 02:43AM, Dan watched as they pulled Little Tiny out and held him in the air, furiously unwrapping the umbilical cord which was wrapped around his neck three times. Within seconds, he was on me, and I remember feeling like my heart was pounding so hard that it would explode out of my chest. I don’t remember being told that he was a boy, or even looking to see. I’d been convinced I was carrying a little boy all along, and I was right.
Laid on my chest, with my arms wrapped around him, I waited impatiently to hear a cry, but it never came. “Why isn’t he crying? Is he OK?” I asked frantically over and over again. “He’s absolutely perfect,” Zoe told me. “He’s OK, I promise.” And there he was, breathing soundly, eyes open, taking everything in. I remember looking at Dan, and we both had tears frozen in our eyes…the emotion having had to take a backseat to the concern and panic of the whole dramatic labour. But here he was, healthy, happy, and absolutely perfect.
What I didn’t know whilst completely captivated with my magical baby boy was how much blood I was losing. I was aware of more and more doctors and midwives entering, but I was starting to feel like I was drifting away, and whenever I snapped back, my only focus was on my baby, where he was, and how he was.
I was losing consciousness, I was throwing up, I was burning hot and sweating buckets, but I was oblivious to anything other than my boy. All I needed was to be told he was OK, over and over. And he was better than OK. He was getting weighed, swaddled, and cuddled by one of the midwives, wide-eyed and totally content.
It took three hours to stitch me up, due to some very complex and high tears, and I lost two litres of blood, which would cause me many serious health issues over the next few days. The emergency alarms were sounded more than once that morning, as the doctors struggled to bring me around to consciousness more than once, but I’ll save all that for another blog.
For now, let’s get back to my boy. He had a full head of dark hair, huge round eyes, a tiny button nose, chubby cheeks, miniscule ears, and perfect creamy skin. He was the most gorgeous thing I’d ever seen. “He’s amazing isn’t he?” Dan said. I nodded, too overwhelmed to get any words out.
His name was Wilbur, and I loved him instantly.
I missed my Independence Day deadline, but I couldn’t have cared less. Wilbur was born at 02:43AM on Sunday 5th July, and weighed 7lbs and 12oz. We gave him the middle name Philip, after my Grampy, one of my favourite people in the whole world.
That whole ‘the best things in life are worth waiting for’ saying had never been more true. Wilbur was the best thing, ever, and he was finally here, and he was all ours. Without knowing it, he was what I’d been waiting for all of my life.
So then there were three. Or six, counting we three ladies. Our club was complete.
Welcome to the family, Wilbur. We will love you always.