On 14th November 2017 we welcomed little Zachary James into the world. Weighing 6lbs 11oz, he arrived exactly 2 hours before his due date at 10pm through a fairly straight forward natural birth.
Now, no birth is ‘straight forward’ but I feel incredibly lucky that things went well and he was delivered safely! My contractions started at around 6am on the Tuesday morning – or at least this was when it dawned on me that the stomach pains I’d been having during the night might actually be the start of this whole thing kicking off. I started to time the strong period pain like cramps that came and went, lasting around 30 seconds each time. They were sporadic and seemed to have no pattern, some 8 minutes apart, then 12, then 10… At one point I got in the bath to try and relax and I didn’t get another contraction for 17 minutes. Although it was nice to have a bit of a break I was concerned I was slowing down my labour so got out the bath and soon enough the gaps between shortened. A pattern of between 6 and 8 minutes started to develop at around midday, and by 4pm they were gaining a steady rhythm and were really quite painful. It’s true what they say, it’s incredibly difficult to describe what a contraction feels like, but I’ll give it my best shot. For me personally it was a tightening at the bottom of my bump from one side to the other. I had a little bit of back pain with these tightenings although in general everything was happening at the front of my body. My Braxton Hicks were fairly impressive through out pregnancy and I spent many nights pacing the landing thinking they might be the the real deal only for them to ease and finally disappear. But when I had Braxton Hicks they were always over my right hand side, over his back. When I was actually contracting the pains were much lower and from one side to the other, and to state the obvious, weren’t as easy to manage! But for any mums-to-be reading this or anyone wondering how anyone gets through hours and hours of contractions, somehow the time went very quickly and before I knew it I’d got to midday (6 hours in) at which point I made a sandwich for lunch, loaded the dishwasher, put away the laundry and asked my partner to pack the car with the overnight bags. It’s surprising how in between contractions you feel suddenly very human again and having just gripped onto the edge of the bed/kitchen worktop for dear life, you quickly go back to being able to breath and function normally! Then another one comes…and they get closer together…at some point you surrender and concentrate solely on recovering for when the next one greets you like a sucker punch to womb.
After roughly 10 hours of coping fairly well at home, the contractions started to get much closer together around 3/4 minutes apart and increasingly more intense. This was when I felt I couldn’t go any longer without some help so we called the midwives in the labour ward to give them the heads up we’d be coming into hospital fairly sharpish. It took like what felt like forever just to get in the car – we live in a 3 storey terrace house and the stairs seemed to set off the contractions like you would not believe. It appears that despite trying to be super organised, there are always a few little things that you remember last minute, which of course are scattered in all sorts of places men can’t seem to find even with detailed instruction!
So after we’d ticked off the checklist of things we needed to take, we made our way to hospital. Luckily we are only 5 minutes (if that) drive away, but even that was challenging. I had 2 contractions in the car and all I wanted to do was curl up into a ball, quite tricky with a safely belt on. Nevertheless we got to labour ward and they checked us in pretty rapidly. The lovely midwife hooked me up to various monitors to keep track of babies heart rate, and then I was examined to see where we were with things. At 5pm when we arrived I was 3cm dilated. The relief to hear that yes, my body had started the process and we were on our way to delivering a baby was amazing. I honestly thought that she would say to me I wasn’t dilated at all (I’d heard about women contracting for days at home and feared that might be happening to me) so to know I was making progress was music to my ears. Antenatal classes explained that it can take roughly 1 hour per 1cm dilation, and with your first baby could take more like 2 hours per cm, but by this time all my attention was going on getting through each contraction that I didn’t think about time scale, I just closed my eyes and tried to get through each tightening. I started to feel very sick, so received an anti-sickness injection followed by Gas & Air to relieve the pain. This made so much difference I suddenly felt like I might actually be able to make do this without dying! I was offered more pain relief at that point, but decided I needed to keep something up my sleeve in case the pain stepped up a notch – and it did. To quote the NHS website on pain relief in labour…’An injection of the drug pethidine into your thigh or buttock can relieve pain. It can also help you to relax. Sometimes, less commonly, a drug called diamorphine is used’. Now I’m not 100% sure why I didn’t go with pethidine, I was struggling to concentrate and I feel like perhaps the midwife weighed up the options and I opted for Diamorphine. But once I had that injection I was able to get through each contraction still sitting on the bed. Previously I had been on all fours gripping onto the bed grunting like a pig. With both the gas and air and the diamorphine I was able to breath through it and manage the pain.
So, at 10.03pm our little boy was delivered after some fairly impressive pushing on my part – yes I know I sound vain but my god I am proud of this part of the story! His heart rate had started to drop and whilst I had my eyes closed, the room filled with medical staff including a doctor and pediatrician on stand by. “One last push and then we’ll need to use the suction cup” was I believe the doctors famous last words…so I did the best I could to make it count and amazingly it worked. The cord was wrapped round his neck but the team were quick to sort that out and our baby’s heart rate picked up once the cord was out the way. A decision was made in a matter of seconds to give me an episiotomy – a small cut to avoid tearing and to speed up delivery – and although the thought might fill you with dread, I can promise you that in the moment if that’s what needs to be done you go with it. I was numbed and didn’t feel it happen, and am happy that this was done because it meant that in the final push he came into this world less stressed out and there was no need for further intervention.
Once he was delivered, they put him straight into my chest and gave him a rub down to get him to cry. Seeing this little baby I’d been nurturing as a bump for 9 months for the first time was overwhelming. Surprisingly he didn’t wail like you see on One Born, he just made little yelps of a cry to let us know he was ok, and very quickly settled. He was super alert with his eyes open and wiggling around like a worm getting to know his new surroundings. They talk about the importance of the ‘Golden Hour’ following birth, and if you’re not sure what it’s about it’s worth a Google, but essentially it refers to the benefits of skin to skin contact and how high oxytocin levels at this time will help to create that extra special bond between mother and baby.
The time seemed to fly by, and at some point in all of this I delivered the placenta. It was painless, I barely felt it and now I understand why people don’t really concentrate on this part of birth as much as they do with everything else. I know people have different experiences so perhaps I was just lucky, but if that is something you’re concerned about I hope this has put your mind at ease. For the curious, no I haven’t had it freeze-dried and no I’m not sprinkling it on my cornflakes – I’ll leave that to the earth loving free spiriters!
My amazing boyfriend cut the cord, something we hadn’t even talked about but when handed the scissors I’m not sure he had any other option! It’s funny because when I was at the birth of my godaughter, having watched my best friend go through labour and then deliver her beautiful girl, the cutting of the cord was a very special moment – something she had asked her sister if she would like to do, and what an honour to be part of that moment to talk about in years to come (like I am now). I can’t speak for the entire male population, but the look on my other half’s face as he held the scissors and cut through what we have later described as a tough shoe lace was a picture. Not quite the ‘special moment’ I had experienced 5 years ago, more one to look back on and laugh – oh the trials and tribulations of labour.
Despite the pain, giving birth to Zachary James was the best experience of my life and only have positive things to say about the staff and the hospital. Would I do it again – absolutely.