The Pregnancy Diaries: Week 41 (The BIRTH!)
Woop, woop! It's the final instalment of The Pregnancy Diaries! I've never stuck at a blog post series before, and I've definitely never found 800-1000 words as easy to write every single week. Okay. Sometimes I really had nowt to write about and other weeks I wrote WAY too much but either way, I wrote. Every week, without fail. And I took endless pictures of my bump too, watching it change and grow and move around like there was a wee alien inside. Which there was!
I wasn't going to write this post. I'd planned to just stop at week 41, and include a compilation shot of my bump throughout the weeks. But lots of people asked about the birth, whether my plans had matched the reality and how it all went, so I thought I may as well let you know how it went.
Warts and all. Gore and all....okay, maybe not gore - no need for that.
10 Days Late.....
Regular readers will remember that week 40 (aka my due date) was filled with too much stress, and lots of pressure from the NHS to do things I didn't want to. By week 41 I was sure it was never going to happen 'naturally' and I'd have to be induced, meaning my planned home birth would be out of the question.
I spent most of that week fending off the daily questions on whether the baby had arrived, reminding everyone I was going by my 'French due date' (which is a week later than the UK one & far more accurate) and trying to convince my midwife I was dutifully doing all the things I was supposed to be doing to 'move things along'.
And, for her part, the midwife gave me a couple of cervical sweeps.....which, for the uninitiated are less 'sweep', and more 'shovel'.
Natural Labour Inducers
No doubt you've heard the old wives tales about how to bring labour on naturally. I never thought I'd buy into all of that, but when you are under pressure you'll try anything.
That meant daily raspberry leaf tea, handfuls of dates (which I used to *love*), loads of walking (including finding every hill in west London), spicy food (I ate a vindaloo!), pineapple and....well, the rest you can leave to your imagination.
A 'TV Birth' Start
On the actual night of, we stayed in with steak and chips, some wine and the Night Manager (which, OMG, so good right?!) and presumed that yet again nothing was happening. There had been some weird signs during the day (the 'show' which, let me tell you is HIDEOUS and if it were a show, NOBODY would watch it) and some mild period pains. Given it could still be days before anything happened I didn't think about it too much and carried on as normal.
We went to bed early as I was pretty convinced, despite everyone telling me the opposite, that something was going to happen soon. And after about an hours sleep I was woken up by the most intense pain (a contraction) which threw me out of bed and onto the floor where my waters broke.
Your waters breaking at the start of labour doesn't actually happen very often (although it did for my friend Jo, who was told she'd had a 'tv birth') & what it means is that you have a little more of a time limit on how long you can go in labour before intervention -- due to the risk of infection. Also, once the waters break....they sort of don't stop. It's gross.
A LONG ASS Middle
After my waters broke I had regular contractions every 10-15 mins for a good few hours, every 5 minutes for a few more and every 3 minutes for even more hours.
Despite being told to rest (how the f@@k anyone could sleep through a contraction is beyond me) I didn't. I sort of chilled out on the yoga ball resting my head on the bed in-between contractions, but realistically I was active throughout this stage.
To cut a fairly long story short, I utilised the pool (which was set up in our living room) asap and spent a seriously long time in watery bliss. The lights were off, we had candles everywhere and the curtains were drawn so the atmosphere was quiet and chilled out.
I clung onto the fact every contraction was a little step closer to the end and everything was totally bearable........albeit tiring.
A Dramatic End
After 27 hours of labouring with paracetamol, breathing, and the pool as pain relief my heart rate was racing. And my as-yet-unnamed baby's was dropping. My midwife told me quietly and calmly she was calling an ambulance. I can't say I was 100% without fear -- I've never been in an ambulance before! -- I had my doula holding my hand and reminding me everything was fine, and it was all a precaution.
Unsurprisingly, it was all fine and ten minutes later I was puffing on gas and air as a kind paramedic rubbed my back and poor Oli tried to stay awake!
To cut a seriously long story slightly shorter, I ended up having an emergency c-section after having some monitoring whilst on a Syntocinon drip (to see if we could get Anaïs out any quicker!).
It was quick, painless and the happiest day of my life! Anaïs was born with the cord wrapped around her neck (adding to the difficulty birthing her naturally) at 8.30am. A little dream!
If you have any knowledge of labour you'll have heard the term 'active labour'. It's simply a style of managing the pain.....and it's pretty self explanatory. It is the opposite of what you see on TV, where ladies are lying on their back in a bed panting.
It's about 'matching the pain' with techniques like bouncing on the ball, walking or stomping around (as I did!) and being as loud as you like. Because my wonderful friend Kate recommended the amazing Birth Skills by Juju Sundin book to me ages ago I had a whole toolkit of skills I called on.
Birth Prep with Lulu
Lulu Winfield is a wizard. A total magic fairy. Lulu runs a great pregnancy yoga class at Lumi Yoga in Hammersmith I attended a few times, before Oli and I attended her birth prep class and LOVED it! It was genuinely the best preparation for birth, and I say this with hindsight.
I'd chosen not to do NCT classes as they were expensive and, as an introvert, I didn't want to be potentially stuck with a group of annoying yummy mummies (I live in west London after all!) I had to try and shake off after the birth.
Lulu's approach was amazing. She taught us, and more importantly our birth partners, what to do at every stage of labour, what not to do (ask mum a question during a contraction!) and how to cope when you need to get to the hospital (get a black cab, not an Uber.....).
She helped us with positions in labour, gave us practical tutorials on massage, various breath techniques.....the lot. The best thing, was the fact both Oli and I learned it together and that really shone through during labour when we acted as a total dream team.
I have to tell you the pool is insanely helpful for managing contractions -- you'd never believe warm water could transform a damn painful situation into a totally manageable one.
Yes, contractions can be painful. But they are manageable (at least, they were for me) using all the techniques I learned. The problem is that all those techniques were active, and after 12 hours of standing, stomping, walking and bouncing on a ball is tiring.
Sitting or lying down through a contraction wasn't an option for me as it was far too painful.So getting into the pool was an absolute dream. I could sit and snooze in the few minutes between contractions, and when a surge (the hypnobirthing term for a contraction) came I used the sides of the pool for support while squeezing Oli's hand and breathing through it.
My midwife recommended hypnobirthing, as did many others. So I bought the Calm Birth School online course, which was great value and easy to use -- a set of four modular style video's exploring different aspects of birth and the common fears associated with them. Plus hypnobirthing audiofiles you listen to as much as possible in the run up to birth.
The trouble I found was the lack of practical tools -- was I supposed to start playing the mp3's when I went into labour to get me back in the 'zone'? I genuinely had no idea. Which is where I think it's probably better to go to a'real-life' class.
I'm sure that if I'd committed to it early enough, and in a face to face course it would have made a difference. Maybe. I dunno....I'm sceptical.
For the uninitiated, a tens machine looks a little like one of those 1980s style muscle spasm machines for lazy people to attempt a six pack. You pop the pads on your back and start using it in early labour. The earlier the better as the effect is cumulative.
The issue for me was the wires and where to pop the machine -- I was naked most of the time, so it was a struggle wandering round the flat carrying this stupid little machine and fiddling with buttons when a contraction came. And obviously I had to take it off when I got in the pool.
I have very little to say about this other than it was useless.