Something Just Like This

Disclaimer: you guys KNOW what I’m like. Anna calls me the Baby Loon…about sums me up. It’s long, it’s wordy, it’s two birth stories in one and you’ll need a cup of tea and a packet of biscuits to get through it…but here it is…

At the end of March in 2015 I was 39 weeks pregnant with a very wriggly little boy called Monty Bernard. A day of very little movement led me to pop to hospital to be monitored – just for reassurance, I was probably imagining it all - and from there everything went, not wrong, at all, but… off-course, I suppose? His heart rate was ok, he was ok. Pure relief. But I wasn’t imagining the lack of movement, he very simply was. not. moving. For anyone or anything. I was admitted to the antenatal ward overnight for constant monitoring and would be seen first thing to discuss induction. I didn’t know where my head was, I was alone and terrified and when Philip arrived at 7am the next day I thought I would die from crying. A scan was ordered, to check in on our wee boy and when the sonographer placed the wand just under my ribs, there, impossibly clear and beautiful, was a perfect round baby head. Very much NOT fully engaged in my pelvis as my midwife had been confidently telling me for months. (I never liked her anyway.)

This breech diagnosis led to a very resigned senior team of medics (and my very apprehensive husband) firmly talking me down from my plans to deliver vaginally regardless of Monty’s position. I was completely against trying to turn him, leaving a caesarean section as our delivery option. In all honesty I was heartbroken. I cried and I cried and I wished that everything was different. We were to return to the hospital 2 days later for pre-operative checks. As simple as that. However, when we did – by now fully on board with the idea of an elective caesarean (ELCS) after hours of soul-searching and, yes, more crying -  the little sod was head-down, prompting a bit of head-scratching but lots of smiles from doctors and midwives alike. We were sent on our merry way to wait for labour to begin naturally and with our heads spinning and aching from the dramas of the previous 72 hours. To sum up the following ten days, I felt excessive movement from Monty all hours of every day, growing more and more anxious and despite repeated attempts to contact my midwife and the consultant we’d seen, I was 41 weeks before I was seen again. Lo and behold, our boy was breech again. This time there was very little discussion, a diagnosis of unstable lie was mooted and Monty arrived 14 hours later by, according to our notes, ‘elective’ caesarean.

The surgery itself, the arrival of Master Monty, it was incredible. It was calm and exciting and fascinating and we were all looked after as though we were the only people in the world. I would never hesitate to extoll the virtues of an ELCS, when it is the way your baby needs to arrive. I will forever be thankful that Monty arrived safely and as beautifully as he did, but I was beside myself that the black and white breech diagnosis a fortnight before could have resulted in a very different outcome. Unstable lie can have dramatic and devastating consequences and we are lucky, so lucky, that we had the outcome we did. So, it was the right decision, if a little late in the day. Why am I wanging on about it 2 years later? Well, because, for me, the very worst thing about having the surgery was the effect it was going to have on any subsequent pregnancies. If I were to get pregnant again, I would have to venture into the confusing world of the VBAC – Vaginal Birth After Caesarean. And that is where Clara’s story begins.

At my first midwife appointment, just 7 weeks pregnant, I told my wonderful, incredible, magnificently intuitive and compassionate midwife (can you tell I liked this one?!) the story of Monty and she, well, she saved me. She understood my thankfulness went hand-in-hand with rage and confusion and that whilst I wouldn’t have changed the way Monty came earthside, I needed for this time to be different. She was inside my head from that first day and I will always be impossibly grateful for whatever juju led Vicki to my door. I set about devouring online resources about VBAC. I read everything I could get my hands on, from mumsnet forums to AIMS journals to obscure academic titles by Norwegian gynaecologists. At 21 weeks we had a consultant appointment to discuss whether I’d like to ‘attempt’ (red flag #1) a VBAC or elect to have another caesarean. The consultant turned out to be a very sweet registrar with possibly not a lot of experience doing these VBAC clinics. When I told her I was indeed going to have a VBAC she nodded and smiled benignly and gave me a leaflet that would ‘explain how your labour will go; time limits, that sort of thing’. Yeah… No. With Phil squeezing my hand I confidently and assuredly informed her that I would not be adhering to any time limits. I would not consent to continuous monitoring. I would not consent to a cannula being fitted ‘just in case’. I would not be going into hospital as soon as I had a contraction. I would not accept that I wasn’t ‘allowed’ a waterbirth. What I would do, basically, would prove to be a giant pain in the arse. YAY ME.

A few months and a lot more reading later, an appointment with the angel Vicki to discuss our birth plan. By this point I had gone a step further in my plans to make Clara’s arrival the polar opposite of Monty’s. Not only was I going to tell the hospital to stick their VBAC protocol, I wanted to avoid the hospital altogether so asked Vicki how I would go about booking in to the standalone birth centre 30 minutes from our home. We met with the Supervisor of Midwives for Hampshire and as she greeted me with a warm hug and a declaration that I possessed ‘that Ready Brek glow’, I gave her my heart. She was phenomenal. Her absolute acceptance of my plans and fervent admiration of them was exactly the assurance I needed that I wasn’t being hormonal, I wasn’t putting our baby in danger for my own benefit, I wasn’t a ‘drama queen’ (hi mum. I know you didn’t mean it.). A vague plan for post-40 weeks was formed, but – crucially – nothing was set in stone. I didn’t have to have early sweeps ‘to try and avoid a repeat caesarean’, I didn’t have to agree to induction at the Trust’s self-set deadline of 40+12, I didn’t have to book in an ELCS date ‘just in case’. My body, and decisions pertaining to it and our baby, were mine. I don’t for a second believe that I would have received this level of care from the hospital, and this is something I am looking into changing – starting with the shoddy excuse for the VBAC Clinics that they currently run.

40 weeks came and went, as  I was confident it would. I had bets on March 12th being her day, a solid 9 days past EDD. There was no adherence to an appointment schedule once I reached 40 weeks, I was able to pop to the birth centre whenever I wanted for a quick check which was wonderfully reassuring. I opted to have membrane sweeps every 48 hours from 40+4 – I made this decision after my first one yielded the pleasing result that I was 3cm dilated, baby low, waters bulging, all those things you want to hear after having a lovely middle-aged lady’s arm up your cervix. Clara wasn’t going to make life easy though, 3cm became 3-4, then 4-5, on March 12th, the midwife laughed and double-checked that I had a homebirth pack at home, ‘this baby is set to be sneezed out when she decides it’s time’,  said with a smile. I look back on the last few days of my pregnancy with such fondness, such warmth. And I owe it all to the midwives at the birth centre.

I left the centre and went into town to find a pirate outfit for Stella, nothing like a last minute preschool memo to keep a heavily pregnant mum busy. Stella and Monty were at my mum’s for the weekend so I stopped for a leisurely coffee and pastry, sitting in the window of the café just watching the world go by. It was there I had my first contraction, intense enough to have me staring into my latte like a woman slightly possessed, leaving me stratospherically excited. I mooched around town, another contraction 20 minutes later. And then another 20 minutes. I decided to take myself home, having never experienced my waters breaking I had a very real fear of them going in the middle of TKMaxx – if yours went in public WHAT DID YOU DO?! Is a morbid curiosity of mine…

The contractions continued, increasing in intensity but random in their occurrence. I called Phil home from work, arranged for the kids to stay with my ma and we set off to the birth centre around 5pm. Aaaaaaaand everything stopped. Completely. The 30 minute journey had ground everything to a halt and I was….actually ok. Initially gutted, but quickly calm and just further motivated to hunker down at home and trust myself. Plus, I got to experience a ‘false alarm’ so that’s another thing dotted off my gynaecological bingo card. We drove home, had a filthy KFC for dinner and watched some Sunday night dross on TV. Phil went to bed at 10, but I said I’d sleep downstairs on the sofa. I zonked out immediately, as did he. At 4am a huge contraction rolled over me and I was instantly awake (not my usual post-sleep state, to put it mildly). From that point they were frequent, regular and incredibly intense. I chose not to time them, as I really trusted that I would know what to do, now it was really happening I knew I could do this. I rocked and swayed and groaned into cushions with increasing regularity. I had a bath – the smell of lavender oil will forever transport me to those final few hours where my baby was mine, only mine – and, always nostalgic, I watched Harry Potter as I had done in my early labour with Stella.

It was 7am, I was completely in the zone, though I had vaguely registered that I was getting louder as I moaned and mooed through the contractions. A voice on the stairs, ‘um, that sounded like a big one?’ Phil had woken from 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep to find me in very firmly established labour and he was keen to get going – the 30 minute drive was going to be considerably more in Monday morning rush hour and he knew how desperate I was to birth in the centre. But as we gathered ourselves to get in the car, the contractions began to race in one on top of another with no break, no respite, no CHILL, man. I was kneeling in the grass beside the car and Phil very gently said that he wanted to take me to the hospital – a mere 5 minutes away. For the first time I felt a flash of fear and anxiety but I knew he was right, I felt he was right. I felt our baby and she was coming. He rang the hospital and we were off.

At 7.50am we entered the delivery ward and the first of many miracles happened. As I held on to Phil and howled my way through the relentless contractions, a maternity assistant quietly freed my notes from my clenched fist and disappeared with them. It took a further 10 minutes to stagger the length of the ward and when a midwife came into view and took my hand I summoned every last ounce of strength I had to launch into my VBAC speech, but I was silenced as she led me into the suite where Stella was born, with water already running into the pool that Stella arrived in. ‘Is that water for me?’ I managed, and when she gently said ‘yes’, I came undone. I sobbed into Phil’s shirt and when I looked up at him he had tears in his eyes, this was as perfectly perfect as could be. She had read my notes – read them and understood them – in the time it took me to get to the room and had transformed into everything I needed. The midwife’s superpower, I think.

8am. A quick examination tells us I am 8cm but as I try to stand to undress and get in the pool, agonising pressure and an audible POP! My waters had gone (bingo!) FUCK ME THERE’S A HEAD COMING. Calm but urgent questioning from Amy, the midwife. Where do I want this baby to be born because she is coming. Water, I want the water. But I simply cannot move, I cannot move, I cannot move. I WANT THE WATER. And in a manoeuvre so smooth you’d swear they’d rehearsed it, Amy whipped my jumper over my head and Phil picked me up and (rather unceremoniously) dropped me into the water. Instant, though short-lived, bliss. I leant over the side of the pool and without an ounce of intentional exertion from me, all 9lb of Clara made her way into the world at 8.14am.

It was without question, the most glorious 10 minutes of my life. Trust, peace, pride. Pain, yes, always pain. But controlled and calm and giving me everything I needed to heal the complex wounds that Monty’s arrival had left behind. And, of course, giving us our Clara. Stella is our hurricane, Monty our ray of sunshine… Clara seems to be the mist over the fields as the sun rises on a clear day.

 

Categories: Any Other Baby
12 interesting thoughts on this

12 Comments

  1. Sandie
    Posted July 5, 2017 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    All the tears.

    Loved it.

    Gonna read it again now.

    ❤️

  2. Diana (adizzygirl)
    Posted July 5, 2017 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    There’s some pesky dust in my eye. Or something.

    I am so over the moon that you got the birth you needed and wanted. I’m even more over the moon that you wrote about it so that people can see it is possible to have things your way (within reason).

    In the second half of my pregnancy, I started ticking the difficult boxes. Group B Strep, Gestational
    diabetes, big baby. My utterly useless community midwife kept telling me it would be fine because of all the things that would be done TO me and my hopes for a calm birth with minimum intervention went flying out of the window. I felt that I would have no say and no control.

    I was so overwhelmed with disappointment and that turned into fear. I obsessed over protocol documents, research publications and ALL the forums and then I pushed for additional clarity. I demanded meetings with midwives in the hospital I’d give birth in, not the midwife in my doctors surgery who would be no more involved in my delivery than the postman. With their help and understanding, I created a very detailed birth plan, with caveats to show that I was informed but reasonable.

    It didn’t quite go to plan, I was induced because I couldn’t breathe (huge baby) but after two days of induction (a mix of happy memories, Starbucks and rainy walks – and utter exhaustion, noisy ward mates) I was on the labour wars and in the care of the most wonderful midwife. She read my plan, discussed it with me, agreed with me and then followed it to the letter. She bandaged my cannula sites so I couldn’t see them. She encouraged me to to use visualisation techniques and didn’t mention pain relief because I’d asked her not to. She chatted to me, let me listen to my own body and helped me to stay active. Her shift ended and I cried. She handed me over to another lovely midwife and made sure they understood what I needed.

    She came back to look after me the night that Orla was born and I cried again. The delivery wasn’t perfect, Orla got stuck (huge baby…) and it was a pretty big emergency. But thanks to the attention and care of those midwives, I don’t have bad memories or mental scars. I don’t remember any pain and have such happy memories of labour.

    If you know what you want, medical emergencies aside, it is so worth pushing for.

  3. Fee
    Posted July 5, 2017 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    Oh this is glorious. As a fellow baby loon I couldn’t be more thrilled at how things turned out for both Sir Monty and Baby Clara.

    From my own experience I know how healing the right kind of birth (for each person) can be (whatever form that takes) and reading this, having known you through it all, is just joyous.

    So lush to read some of your writing again, more please from both you and Anna – no pressure, ha!

  4. Carly
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    Your birth stories kill me.

    This one has really got me (I make it sound like you have 100 kids!) as I had to have an emergency c-section, which was absolutely the right thing to do at the time (unable to find Henry’s heartbeat for five minutes. I still can’t think of it without hyperventilating) and although they were AMAZING I would love to try for a vagunal birth next time. Problem is, I don’t know if I’m brave enough after the horror show that was Henry’s Labour. Plenty of soul searching to be done before I get pregnant again I think.

    Well done Aisling, not only are you a birthing Queen, you had the courage to stick to your guns and it certainly paid off. X

    • Carly
      Posted July 6, 2017 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      Maybe I need to learn how to spell vaginal before I try and use it to give birth….

  5. Posted July 6, 2017 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    I love a good birth story! Love this. Just beautiful.

    I *must* do mine!

  6. Penny
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Loved it. That last line. TEARS.

    Your Stella story is the first birth story I remember reading, and certainly the first one that I’d ever read that wasn’t an absolute scarefest. The pure poetry of being back there for Clara is just perfection.

    My second birth was exactly the same on paper as my first (home water birth, 26 hours, back to back baby, waters broke just before crowning, ten tons of gas and air) and yet was so completely different. The first time left me with “A little bit of PTSD” (according to my psychiatrist), the second left me feeling empowered and incredible. The difference? Amazing support from my midwives and S, and knowing enough to know how to manage it this time. Plus, you know, the “path” having already been trodden by his older brother no doubt helped a bit…

    Px

  7. Fran
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    WAAAAH. You made me cry. So pleased that you were treated in the right way.

  8. Vivienne
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Another one quietly crying in to her cup of tea here…..

  9. Steff
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Howling. Literally howling. And with an impending arrival for myself, exactly what I needed to read. You gorgeous superwoman you. x

  10. Liz
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant storytelling.

    Query from someone completely clueless, do you think your midwives attitude to your VBAC wishes were better because you’d previously had a straightforward vaginal birth and the caesarean was elective rather than emergency, or were they just generally good people?

    I very nearly had Lucy in the same hospital suite as Tessa, but I got kicked out whilst the water for the pool was running as someone else who was struggling with pain relief and had been labouring for hours wanted the pool. So Lucy was born in a normal old bath. Not quite the same as a birthing pool!

  11. CMac
    Posted July 7, 2017 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    You know, this kind of wonderful writing really does inspire a kernel of confidence and hope in those of us too mortally terrified by the idea of birthing a human to ever risk getting pregnant in the first place. You are amazing.

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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image by Lucy Stendall Photography

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