I have been a long-time reader of the forums, but rarely post. However, as I spent so much of my pregnancy reading other people's labour and birth stories, I wanted to share my own. It's a bit surreal to be able to finally be able to do this! Apologies for the very long post.
My son, Theodore (Teddy) Willow was born on 14 March 2012 at 10.18am at 41+1 weeks, and I was lucky enough to experience the natural, uncomplicated, un-medicated labour and birth I had hoped and prepared for. He's beautiful, healthy, starting to chub up nicely, and, thankfully, asleep right now!
For many years prior to falling pregnant, and during my pregnancy, I did a lot of reading and have been very interested in the discourse of giving birth in Australia, particularly the ‘natural vs medical’ debate. As I chose to go public with my care, I kept a very open mind, and knew much of how the labour and birth went would depend on my own frame of mind and level of knowledge and understanding about the process. I read a number of books and articles, with the stand-outs being JuJu Sundin’s ‘Birth Skills’ and Mary-Rose MacColl’s ‘Birth Wars’. I read SO many birth stories from other people. I felt as prepared as I could be, and was keen for an intervention-free birth, within reason, to take place within the medical system.
People started asking me if I'd had the baby yet from around 38 weeks onward... by 41 weeks, I was fairly sick of it, and most people had gotten the picture that I would definitely tell them when the baby came. At 40+4 weeks - early Sunday morning - I got up to go to the toilet in the early hours of the morning and had a small mucous (not bloody) show. I’d had a feeling things would start happening on Sunday night (I’m not sure why – perhaps the same feeling that told me I’d definitely be having a boy?). Not much happened on Sunday – just the same kind of occasional Braxton Hicks pains I’d been having for a long time, and the usual pelvic and pubic bone discomfort. It was difficult to tell by that stage whether the pain I had was just due to being heavily pregnant, or was actually the start of labour.
Sunday night I was having very very light period-type pains, and they were only very occasional – nothing to get excited about, and I remained cynical about whether labour would soon start or not. I slept through the night with no problems.
On Monday morning after breakfast, I went to the loo, and lost my mucous plug at the same time. I had to look carefully to make sure that’s what it was, and I was 99% certain. I dropped my DF at work at around 7am, and then went for a half-hour walk. By the end I was in a fair amount of SPD pain, but no real contraction-type pain, apart from what felt like continued light period pain.
I set myself up on the lounge for most of the day, and continued to feel period pains throughout the day. I eventually timed them – they were anywhere between 6 to 20 minutes apart and not lasting longer than 30 seconds. They certainly weren’t terrible, and at no point did I think ‘this is it! I’m in labour!’. Of course, after the whole thing was over, I did realise this was early labour.
I drove to pick up my DF from work, and the pains were still there. During the evening, they started to get closer together, but never closer than 6 minutes apart. I could easily talk through them, though they did start to get stronger. I got a pretty good night’s sleep on the Monday night, waking for some of the contractions, but otherwise sleeping pretty solidly. At around 4am I got up and went to the toilet, and noticed clear, thin fluid, but not much of it. There was a slight tinge of blood, so I assumed it was still loss of my mucous plug.
On Tuesday morning, my DF and I were pretty hopeful he wouldn’t have to go to work, and that we’d have the baby that day... but, the contractions which had been going relatively steady all night slowed right down when we got out of bed. I drove my DF to work again, and came home to do much the same thing as I’d done the day before, minus the walk due to discomfort. I also wanted to conserve my energy.
I had an appointment with the OB at the Royal Brisbane Hospital that afternoon. Up til then, the contractions were quite similar to the day before, ranging between 6 and 20 minutes apart and lasting up to a minute. They were gradually more uncomfortable, but not enough to stop me driving (!) or getting around. I drove myself to the hospital in the early afternoon. My DF wasn’t going to come to the appointment, but during the day I decided he should probably come – at the very least I was going to ask the OB to do a stretch and sweep. Something told me it probably wouldn’t be a short visit to the hospital.
We went in, and I asked the OB to do a S&S (bearing in mind I didn’t think labour had really started by this stage). She got the midwife, and she inserted a speculum. When she checked, she seemed surprised, and got the midwife to look as well. They then asked me to cough, and when I did, they said it looked like my waters had already broken. A heap of fluid came out on the examination table. The OB asked if I’d noticed any fluid previously, and I told her about the 4am trip to the loo that morning. The OB wouldn’t do a further examination, instead taking the speculum out and giving me a pad. She then referred me to the Birth Suite for obstetric observation.
We traipsed upstairs with one of the midwives, and waited for maybe half an hour to see another midwife. I kept having increasingly stronger contractions during this time, but still was able to easily speak through them. The midwife attached the monitors to me to check the baby’s heartbeat and monitor my contractions, which had to stay attached for half an hour – there were no problems. The midwife said because the OB had confirmed my waters had broken, they’d have to book me in for an induction in 72 hours just in case I didn’t go into labour earlier... but she told me she was pretty confident they’d see me back at the hospital well before then.
So my DF and I went home, fairly excited! The contractions continued to get stronger. On the way home we stopped at the chemist and bought some stress balls and massage oil, and I had several contractions in the pharmacy that I couldn’t really talk that well through, and where I needed to lean against the counter. We then hightailed it home, and DF got me some noodles for an early dinner. It was around 5pm on Tuesday afternoon, 13 March by this time.
After the noodles, the contractions heated up. They were still 6 minutes apart, but definitely stronger. We got on the bed, and hung out there for awhile. Every time a contraction hit, I got on my knees, grabbed the stress balls and pressed them with my hands into the bed. I was naked by this stage, and while the contractions were painful, they were also somewhat... enjoyable. I suppose every one brought the active labour closer. My partner was experiencing them as much as I was, giving me support just by being with me.
They weren’t really speeding up, just becoming more intense, so at around 9.30pm we decided to go to bed. My DF slept; I mostly just rested, and worked through the contractions. It helped to groan and make some noise, and work my legs against the sheets through each one. I eventually got up around midnight, as the hospital had asked I take my temperature and pulse every 4 hours. I then just leaned against the table and walked around the kitchen for a bit. When a contraction hit, I stomped my feet against the floor.
My partner got up not long after and worked with me through the contractions. Not long after, they were five minutes apart, so he insisted we go to the hospital (I’d been doing my best to hold out at home as long as possible... but he was right!). It was now around 1am on Wednesday 14 March. I tried phoning the Birth Suite, but it was busy, and stayed busy for the next five minutes. I was in considerable pain by this time, so we just decided to jump in the car and go. I got in the back seat – sitting upright was not really an option, with the preference either to be lying down or walking around. The hospital was only a five minute drive away, and I called again on the way. The midwife agreed I should come in (too late!! We’re coming!).
We had to go in through the Emergency department, and I was contracting pretty strongly by then – but knowing it would probably slow down having arrived at the hospital in an unfamiliar environment with lots of distractions.
We got up to the Birth Suite and had to sit in a waiting room for awhile, which wasn’t particularly fun. There were a couple of older women there waiting for their daughter / daughter in law to have a baby, and they tried making conversation with me, but I wasn’t really in the mood – by this stage, I was definitely in a zone and working from contraction to contraction. We were taken to a room, and the midwife set us up.
It was 1.30am by this stage, and the midwife examined me – NOT pleasant, as the sensation of her fingers in my cervix kept bringing on contractions. I was 3cm, which I’d expected. Then she told me she wasn’t sure my waters had broken after all, and that she could feel them. This was surprising. She then said that despite this, because the OB had confirmed the waters had broken – which meant I had ‘premature rupture of membranes’, it was hospital policy to hook me up to an IV and give me a great big dose of antibiotics.
Intervention was something I wanted to avoid where possible, and I was NOT thrilled about being cannulated and then attached to an IV drip when it looked as though my waters hadn’t broken after all. I argued about it, and the midwife then said if I didn’t have the antibiotics, the paediatrician would insist the baby have antibiotics at birth, which would mean being separated from the baby. Whether it was right or wrong, it made me capitulate and accept the cannula. I then had the monitors for the heartbeat and contractions strapped to me, so for around an hour the contractions slowed down, which was frustrating. The cannula was a distraction, but eventually my DF told me to basically get over it – which I needed, and which I did.
The OB wanted to examine me at 3.30am, and if I wasn’t 6cm dilated by then, he wanted to break my waters. Again, I wasn’t happy about this, knowing it was unlikely I’d dilate from 3cm to 6cm in the space of 2 hours, particularly with the IV and monitors restricting my movement and taking my focus away. The midwives said hospital policy was that a dilation of 2cm was expected every 4 hours, so clearly the OB was expecting a bit much. Knowing this, I declined the examination, and the midwives were very supportive, agreeing with my reasoning and advocating the next examination to occur at 5.30am. The midwives then gave me a bag of saline through the IV drip, which it turned out was very much needed by me, as I was quite dehydrated and it was affecting the baby’s heartbeat.
When all the gear came off (i.e. the IV drip and the monitors), the contractions picked up again. I moved around a lot, leaning on my partner with my arms around his neck during many of them. I spent a fair amount of time in the shower with a shower head on my belly and one on my lower back. I made a lot of groaning noises, which distracted me and helped me through them. My partner was fantastic – he rubbed my back for hours, reminded me to breathe through the contractions, advocated for me wherever needed, got me warm blankets, held my hand.
5.30am rolled around, and though I’d been not looking forward to the examination at all (the first one had hurt so much!), I got on the bed. As it turned out, the examination was completely pain-free, and as I was 5cm, the midwife broke my waters properly, which didn’t hurt at all.
After this, the contractions sped up and got stronger. The midwife had said the baby’s head wasn’t sitting entirely squarely on my cervix, so I got up and did lots of rocking, walking, bouncing, and inhaling clary sage oil from a cloth, which had been given to me by a midwife. Well – the clary sage worked!! I went from groaning through a contraction to squealing!! It really sped them up and made them quite strong, so I could only handle a small bit of clary sage now and then.
The midwives set the next examination for 9.30am – so four hours later. My contractions were starting to make me want to push. By this stage, I was pretty nauseous through each one, and shaking constantly. I had an overwhelming feeling between each that I just wanted to go to sleep, and was completely in the ‘zone’ – in my own world. The midwives and my DF were occasionally talking around me, and I was aware and knew what they were talking about, but not participating. They kept the room well-dimmed, and were nice and quiet most of the time.
I started watching the clock, and began feeling like it might go on forever. I wanted 9.30am to come. In my head, I had a plan – if I was 8cm or under at the next examination, I’d ask for the gas. The contractions were strong and lasting for a long time, which I was very happy about because it meant the baby’s head had moved and was in a better position. The urge to push was increasing with each contraction. At this stage, I was spending most of my time leaning over the top of the bed, which was upright, and this was a fantastic position – it meant I could rock my hips without tiring from standing up, and stay upright so the baby’s head could push straight on my cervix. The bed cushioned my knees, and my partner had great access to rub my back and talk to me. I was completely naked by this time, and of course, was pretty happy with this.
9am rolled around, and I finally caved and said, “I’m thinking about trying the gas”. The midwife jumped right to it and said no problem, but that it might make me feel a bit sick, so she’d put it on the lowest setting. I used the gas through the next contraction, and while it didn’t take the pain away, as many people say it gave me something else to focus on. It actually made the time between the contractions better (though I didn’t breathe it during those times – it was the residual 15 seconds or so after)... but really, after the first few contractions using the gas, it didn’t have a lot of impact.
The urge to push was becoming quite strong, but it still felt more like I wanted to do a poo rather than push a baby out. 9.30am finally arrived, and the midwife set me up for the examination. The student midwife also did an examination after (this had also happened for the 5.30am exam, with my permission of course), and after, the midwife sat in front of me while I was laying on my side on the bed. She told me I was 8cm dilated, but that my cervix had a small bit of swelling, so it was really important to try hard NOT to push.
So began the toughest part of the labour – trying NOT to push!! It was as though the midwife told me I couldn’t push anymore, and my body suddenly wanted to do nothing else but to push! I decided to stay laying on my side, and I focused everything on breathing through the gas mask and pulling my muscles UP. With every contraction, I pulled upward, but at the end, it inevitably ended in a big push. I remember saying ‘Aaaarggggh, it’s sooo harrrd not to puuuush!’ a few times, until it started to sound really guttural and removed from me.
I asked the midwife if she’d do another examination to see if I was 10cm yet, and she said she wouldn’t. I suppose she knew I was getting close.
Eventually I just couldn’t help it, and not long after, I could feel the head moving through my birth canal. I mentioned it to the midwives, and one asked me to just lift up my leg (I was still on my side). I knew she’d be able to see the head, and sure enough, she confirmed it. By this time there was the midwife, the student midwife, the head midwife and my partner in the room, and the ladies started rushing around preparing for delivery. I just kept contracting on bed.
During the next contraction, I could feel the head start make an appearance. It stung. Between contractions it was pretty uncomfortable with the baby obviously no longer in my uterus, but not yet out in the world. The midwife told me to breathe breathe breathe, that we were going to breathe the baby out, and I focused everything on the gas mask. One of the ladies held up a mirror so I could see, which was amazing. I could also feel the head when I put my hand down there – soft, squishy and hairy. The next contraction came and I am pretty sure I bellowed as the baby’s head came out, and then, pretty quickly after, I felt the full stretch and its whole body came squirming out after – and... oh my gosh.
It was the BEST feeling I have ever felt!!
Instant pain relief, total elation and euphoria, and they lifted my son’s purple, squirmy, totally clean body up onto my belly while he yelled and yelled. I think I said ‘it’s a real, live baby!’, and everyone laughed. There was no ‘it’s a boy’ announcement – the midwife just said ‘his cord’s a bit short, we can’t lift him up on your chest, so he’ll just have to stay on your tummy for a bit’. I had been so sure it was a boy, there was no surprise really.
So from being 8cm dilated at 9.30am, I gave birth at 10.18am – not bad!
I had a successful physiological third stage. My partner and I pretty much immediately agreed that Theodore was the right name, and he latched onto my breast almost right away. He fed for maybe an hour, and I didn’t really have any contractions during that time. I did end up saying to go ahead and give me the syntocin injection, but the midwife was great. She suggested I get off the bed and sit on the birthing stool, where she helped me to expel the placenta in one great big piece – that was the second best feeling in the world, it was a relief to get it out and finally feel totally empty.
They midwives examined me after for the collateral damage, and found I had a bit of internal and external grazing, but I did have a 2cm tear under my clitoris. They said they weren’t sure whether it would need sutures. The doctor eventually arrived 4 hours later to examine it, and by this stage I was fairly sure I didn’t want to go through the suturing process (clitoral stitches – OW. It possibly would have been fine if they could have stitched me right away, but after 4 hours, I was in no mood for injections and stitching in that part of my body). The doctor said the stitches would mainly be for cosmetic purposes and might speed up the healing, but I could get away without them. I opted out.
I was out of hospital in 2 days, and Teddy has successfully fed from the breast since then.
The recovery process has actually been a little more difficult – due to the huge course of antibiotics I was given during the labour, I contracted thrush about 3 days after leaving the hospital. Couple it with the 2cm clitoral tear, the muscular pain of everything trying to go back to normal, a haemorrhoid, a bit of constipation, bleeding, and the huge shock to the system that comes with trying to work out a new baby, it was fairly agonising. The thrush in the wound was definitely the worst thing! I went through about four courses of Canesten to treat it, and spent lots of time on a towel laying on the lounge letting everything air out.
Four weeks later, I am feeling pretty much back to normal, bar some nerve pain in my nether parts. I am sure by six weeks post-partum, all will be as it should.
Teddy is gorgeous, and the whole journey continues to teach me something new every day! All the best to anyone who is reading this and anxiously waiting to go through labour themselves.