In three days, Bug will be 2 years old...I can't help but think how at different times these two years have both dragged and flown by. As I've been told by many an experienced parent, 'the days are long but the years are short' - and I can certainly vouch for that. Coming up on her birthday, and the impending birth of her soon-to-be sibling, has had me reminiscing about that first pregnancy and all the preparation for our first arrival.
My little Bug was a stubborn one. She was apparently pretty comfortable in there, and had no interest in making her appearance early. One of the hardest things about pregnancy for me was that last month. In reality, a 'due date' feels like a somewhat arbitrary date they pick because it's in the middle of a multiple week period where most babies are born. From the time you're 37 weeks pregnant, you're considered 'full term' and could effectively have the baby at any point. A week to two weeks 'late' from your due date is completely normal - especially for first babies. But this is not what a first time pregnant lady thinks....you think only of THE DATE on which you expect to meet your baby. When that day comes and goes, the disappointment and frustration is real, folks!
By the time Bug's due date of the 7th Feb rolled around, I had fully anticipated having her already. I had also been off of work for a month already because I was sick of the 90 minute commute on the train, and figured it would be good to rest for a week or two before baby arrived. I had it in my head that this kiddo would come early. (Perhaps because I was so big!!) There were a lot of days of watching movies, bouncing on my birthing ball, and being frustrated at both the lack of action and the constant checking in by well-meaning family and friends. ("Any signs yet??" "Still pregnant??") In the UK a natural approach to birthing is more common and so it's not unheard of to be 42 weeks pregnant before being induced...I couldn't bear the thought of going that far overdue, and I also wanted to avoid induction if possible, given the increased likelihood of an epidural and a more difficult labor. So after a few days of on and off light cramps and upset stomach, but no progress, when the 11th arrived and I had a late afternoon midwife check and they offered me a membrane sweep, I jumped on it. I'd heard that a sweep/scrape will often kickstart labor if all conditions are agreeable and the midwife said I was a perfect candidate. In fact after the sweep was done, she told me that she had no doubt this baby would be born by the next day...! (Btw - a membrane 'sweep' is nowhere near as innocuous as it sounds - OUCH!!) And within an hour of leaving the midwives, I was having contractions!
They were not very frequent but were different to Braxton Hicks so I definitely suspected labor was coming on. I bounced on my ball and thought about the breathing techniques we learned. Throughout the evening they started becoming more regular and consistent. I didn't really want dinner, and later I couldn’t sleep – I’d lay down and try to relax and then I’d have a contraction and have to get up – I felt best sitting in the bathroom actually. Around midnight I finally got up altogether and went downstairs to bounce on my ball and watch telly to distract myself. By around 1:30am they were already only 3.5 to 4 minutes apart and lasting about 45 seconds each. They were painful..! M called the midwifery unit and talked to Amanda, the midwife who taught us our active birth course – she was so lovely. She spoke with him and then talked to me through a contraction (they can tell how your labor is progressing by how you sound during the contractions...amazing!) and then she told him they had a couple of women in labor already but she was nearly finished with one so if we came in about an hour, we should be ok to get into a room. She suggested taking some paracetamol (Tylenol) for now to help with the pain. (HA) So he started getting everything together and I kept puttering about, periodically clinging to the kitchen counter, bent over and moaning whenever a contraction would come. I’ve never felt such a pain.
It happened to be the one day in several years that had snowed by us so the drive was apparently a very harrowing one, although I had no idea as I was sort of squatting on the floor in the backseat, unable to get comfortable at all. We got to the birthing unit just before 3am on the morning of the 12th, and had about an hour to ourselves whilst the midwives tended to women in active labor. Amanda came and did an internal exam and I was only 3 cm dilated!! The contractions, as frequent and painful as they were, were not being productive. I wanted to cry. She watched me and talked to me through a few of them and suggested that we try a bit of pain relief. Given how much pain I was in, and how the contractions were nearly every 2 minutes and I wasn’t getting any rest in between them, she was concerned because I had several hours ahead of me of this and needed to reserve my strength. Gas and air wasn’t an option until I was much further along in labor because it tires you out, and I was keen to stay in the midwife-led birthing unit and have a water birth, so an epidural was out. The options left were an injection or an oral version of something a bit like morphine / Demerol. I wouldn’t be able to get into the birthing pool for 4 hours after taking the medication but there was no chance of needing to anyway at this point. I really didn’t know what to do, I felt so overwhelmed and exhausted and in pain and tears, I looked to M and he said let’s just try to get you some rest. So I agreed to the injection – it took half an hour to get it; meanwhile I was pacing and climbing the walls whenever contractions set in. I know I was incredibly loud during this whole thing and I don’t even care. Finally it kicked in and I was able to lay down and rest. I think I slept on and off for about 3 hours, in an out because nothing actually stops the feeling of the contractions and they didn't let up - and then I was wide awake again because I could feel it wearing off and the full contraction pain was there. M thankfully had a little rest, sitting in the chair next to me on the bed. We had all the lights in the room really low, the iphone plugged into speakers and listening to my birth playlists. If I'm being honest, I vaguely remember the music - it wasn't a distraction, but it was nice to have something familiar playing in the background rather than just the hush of the maternity ward and the occasional sounds of other women in labor. I didn't exactly sing along and dance, but in between contractions I would recognize a song and be glad it was on.
The next 12 hours or so went a bit the same - horrible, painful contractions, very regularly and frequently. Occasionally they would slow down some but they never got more than 3 or 4 minutes apart. I bounced on my ball, walked all around the room, tried to eat toast and tea periodically to keep my strength up. M ate all the snacks we brought to keep his strength up - he was awake just as much as I was through this whole thing - and I had no interest in the chocolate and candy I had packed thinking a sugar rush would be what I needed. The midwife on the ward at the time (the shift changed 4 times while I was there, I can't remember which one this was) ran me a bath in a private bathroom and I soaked in the tub for a while, with the warm water helping a bit with the insane pain. Turns out Bug had turned around in the last day, putting the back of her head and her spine in line with mine...the dreaded "back labor." Let's just say that during contractions I felt like my lower back and hips were about to shatter into a thousand tiny pieces and I wouldn't survive it. Very melodramatic sounding now, but it is exactly how I felt throughout the whole thing. :( At one point another woman further along in active labor arrived, and I had to move to the labor & delivery ward in the actual hospital - a short walk down a number of hallways, but I felt like such failure to be doing this. I wanted so badly to have this baby in the midwife unit, not in the hospital rooms, and I had been laboring for hours and hours with absolutely NO progress. Zilch. Hours after these intense, frequent contractions, I was still ONLY 3 CM DILATED. Argh!!!
So M and I moved to the labor ward where thank GOD they had an empty private room that they let me have. We walked past dozens of rooms of 4-5 women separated by curtains, waiting for inductions or in the very early stages of labor...I was so thankful we didn't have to share our space at the very least. Again we spent a few hours laboring on our own - now in a very bright, white hospital room (which felt so strange after leaving our dim, warm, quiet birthing room.) I was still rocking on my ball, holding up the walls, and walking the hallways trying to get this baby to push down. At one point a midwife popped in to recommend that we grab one of the hospital meals to keep strength up and I did try to take a few bites but food was the last thing on my mind. I tried another warm bath but this bathroom was less like a home bathroom and more like a tiled hospital room with too much light and not enough privacy, so I got out shortly after getting in. Finally someone came and checked on my progress and saw how frequent the contractions were now, and determined I should be pretty far along at this point. Beautiful luck would have it that the room in the birthing unit in which we had been laboring, was free again (what a lucky birth that woman had!!) so we went back to our cozy nest and set up shop again. Our new midwife came in shortly after and checked progress...would you believe I was still at 3cm...??? It was nearly 9pm now and I had just about had it. She said I was dilating more during contractions but afterwards I'd go back to 3. I briefly considered throwing something at the walls but decided against it. I asked about our options - could she not break my waters? She agreed somewhat reluctantly and went in search of the proper tool. (This midwife was not as pleasant as the others - she was a labor ward midwife and rarely in the birthing unit but was subbing for someone who hadn't made it into work. I think our experience would have been a bit better had this one been different...) She broke my waters - and I felt like she nicked me slightly with the tool in doing so, yeesh - and left the room again.
And all of a sudden things started progressing rapidly. Contractions were soon insane, so close together and intense, and I was in a ridiculous amount of pain. I said to M that I didn't think I could do this without an epidural now and he reassured me and told me I was a trooper, I was being amazing and soon we'd see our little baby. In fact, he had been telling me this all day long - he was the best cheerleader I could have asked for, constantly rubbing my back, my shoulders, my feet, holding me when I was standing and letting me brace myself against him when I was in pain. He told me over and over again how incredible I was to be doing this and how strong I was. He helped me breathe through contractions, reminding me to count and focus rather than get distracted by the pain. I would never have remembered anything from our prenatal course had he not been there. He was a trooper, keeping calm and communicating my wishes to everyone the entire time.
When the midwife came in next we asked if we could run the bath now for the birth. She seemed put off and said she hadn't done a water birth since 1983 and M - ever my advocate - told her that this was why we were here and that I was having my water birth! She ran the water and then kept coming in and out of the room periodically, leaving us to continue to labor on. Luckily it wasn't much longer... I did find the water a small help with the pain, as it took a lot of the weight of the baby and my stomach off of my body. It was a very, very large whirlpool tub - M could have gotten in with me in his swim togs but he stayed outside - so I had space to move around, shift position, and try to get comfortable with every contraction. I spent a good amount of time bent over the side of the tub, clinging to M's hands and squeezing when I was in pain. I tried the gas and air once I was in the tub - a small dose of nitrous oxide - but it was more a distraction than anything else. You had to breathe a certain way to get any of the gas out, and it was something to squeeze and bite down on. When I did get a tiny bit of gas it made my mouth dry but it did not take away the pain...
Eventually I felt this incessant need to push. I can't describe it any other way. I just felt like I had to push and right then. I asked M if I should as the midwife wasn't in the room at that moment and he said um sure? I think at that point he ran to the door and alerted the midwives that I wanted to push. Pushing was HARD WORK. The hardest work ever! (Contractions are the worst pain ever, but you don't do anything - they happen to you, regardless of whether you want them to. But pushing you *have* to do the work. It felt like nothing was happening but I was trying to 'push down' with all my might...and then all of a sudden, out came the head! I will tell you, that was the strangest sensation ever - after the head comes out, you cannot push until the next contraction. You have to sit and wait, with a head literally dangling out between your legs...can't even explain! But shortly that next contraction was happening and I had to bear down and push, push, push...and then, at 11:54pm on the 12th of February, 21 hours of contractions after entering the hospital, she was finally here!! I was dazed and a bit out of it but I remember looking down at the water and seeing that little body I had just worked so hard to get out to meet the world and she was beautiful! The midwife reached down and picked her up and put her in my hands, still holding her just beneath the surface so that I could be the one to raise her out of the water and watch her take her first breath - it was incredible! She opened her eyes and we both just stared at her with our own wide eyes...the midwife asked us what the sex was and M said, "it's a boy!" I think he was eyeing the umbilical cord - ha! - I corrected him and then we spent a blissful few minutes just resting in the water, with Bug against my chest staring at me, both of us neck deep in warm water and with M's arms around us.
After our skin-to-skin contact wonderfulness, I had to get out of the tub so I could deliver the placenta. (Yup - it doesn't come out on its own folks...there's more pushing after the main event!) M took Bug and wrapped her up tight, and two midwives helped me step up and out of the tub and as soon as I climbed to the top step, I hemorrhaged. In hindsight it had to be a bit frightening, as I heard the blood hit the ground and there was bright red absolutely everywhere. I had to lay on a bed as I got very faint and they prepared to move me down to the delivery ward in the hospital where the doctors are. I got to hold Bug as I was wheeled over there, and then the rest is a blur of extremely painful stitches (I had a few tears), our first amazing breastfeeding moments, watching her getting weighed (8 lbs 5 oz!) and checked over, calling our parents and sharing the news and her name, eating what tasted like the world's most divine buttered toast, and soaking up our first brilliant moments as a little family.
It was the most amazing, difficult, intense, miraculous, wondrous 24 hours of our lives! And I am so grateful to God for giving us this beautiful gift in our lives. She has changed everything - and all of it has been for the better! I can't believe how much our life has become everything I wanted and more...we are truly, truly blessed.
Joining the fabulous Emily at Ember Grey for Grateful Heart Monday.