29 May

Emma’s birth stories

Emma is a mum of two girls and juggles motherhood with running two small businesses with her husband.

The way you give birth to your baby has a profound influence on your experience of being a Mum. It shapes your relationship with your baby, your feelings towards him or her and your ability to physically do the things required to meet the baby’s needs. The events surrounding labour and delivery stay with you. In time the memories fade and are replaced by newer worries and experiences but they are always there in the distant recesses.

I have two beautiful daughters. My eldest, Alys is 4 and my youngest, Nansi is 10 months. I had two very different experiences during their deliveries. My feelings about Alys’s delivery were mainly negative and painful to recall for a long time afterwards. The negativity faded but I didn’t really put it behind me until the birth of Nansi. Nansi’s delivery was entirely positive and a very empowering experience. The only negative aspect was my sadness that this hadn’t been the case first time around. I felt that Alys had been cheated from a calm, positive start to life and that I’d let her down. I wondered if her clingyness and temperament as a baby was in part down to her first experience of the world and I felt angry that she had to endure this.

So, what went ‘wrong’ first time around? My first pregnancy at age 31, was normal. I enjoyed being pregnant and for the most part wasn’t in too much discomfort or pain apart from the usual kinds of moans and groans most pregnant women experience. We’d opted to have the baby in the Royal Glamorgan Hospital in Llantrisant an ‘out of area’ hospital slightly nearer our house as opposed to the Midwifery led unit the other side of the county. The nearerst hospital or birthing centre was at least a 25 minute drive away, if not more at rush hour. We had heard a couple of horror stories about women in labour being moved by ambulance from the MLU across Cardiff to the consultant unit in the University of Wales Hospital. Having no access to a consultant was a concern for my husband. We thought we’d be able to get the kind of delivery we wanted at the Royal Glamorgan in any case. As we were ‘out of area’, the hospital midwives were a different team to the community midwives. I saw my named community midwife once and seemed to see a different midwife every time I had an appointment. There was no continuity and no-one spoke to me about a birth plan or what I wanted the birth to be like. It was a good job we had signed up for private antenatal classes! After attending NCT classes, I diligently wrote a birth plan.

I had a stretch and sweep 7 days after my due date and the midwife had said I’d already started effacing so I was expecting things to move along fairly speedily afterwards. The following day I started feeling contractions in the middle of the night and the first stage started. I got up about 6.30am so I could move around and by about 8am I put my TENS machine on. I kept mobile, used the birthing ball and had a hot shower. By about 9.30am the contractions were 5 minutes apart, I’d had a ‘show’ and quite painful, so we phoned the hospital. They told me to take paracetemol and phone again when they were 2-3minutes apart. I packed my bag and walked around a lot and about 40mins to an hour later they were 2-3 minutes apart, so Mark phoned again. As we lived a good 35 min drive away they told us to come in. By the time we got to hospital, things had slowed down a bit but on examination I was 4cm dilated (not classed as established labour). Rather than send us home, we were sent for a walk and to find some lunch.

Needless to say, this brought on contractions again and we went back to the delivery room we’d been assigned. I was 6-7cm by this point so I asked to go in the birthing pool. I was convinced it would help with the pain I was getting in my back. I’m not really sure what happened after I got in the pool but I started feeling horrible. Perhaps the heat did something to my blood pressure but rather than relaxed and soothed as I’d hoped, I suddenly felt out of control and in a lot of pain. I’d been doing so well beforehand with the TENs and using positions and movement. We only had a student midwife in the room with us and I couldn’t seem to get the hang of the gas and air. I said I wanted to go home, retreated into my head and asked for something for the pain. Beforehand I had said (and in my birth plan) that I didn’t want pethidine or an epidural, so looking back, I would have expected the midwife to get in my head at this point and reason with me. Instead, she took me back to the delivery room (there was only one pool in the delivery unit) and spoke to the senior midwife.

Things are really hazy from here. I had pethidine although I think I was quite far along and as it kept being pointed out ‘I wasn’t following the normal pathway’ (I was quicker), goodness knows why I wasn’t discouraged more. Everything slowed down so I was given syntocinon in a drip to speed things back up again. I had to be monitored and somehow ended up lying on a bed on my back despite protestations. I then pushed for 2 hours but just couldn’t get the baby out. The baby’s heart rate dropped and the room seemed to get fuller. Eventually the senior midwife let me kneel on all fours on the bed and give it one last go. Nothing. It was decided that I needed an assisted delivery. The consultant favoured a Ventouse. He gave me a large episiotomy (a third degree cut right through my perenium) and the first attempt failed. On the second attempt, thankfully, Alys Rose was born, weighing a perfect 7lb 8oz. I was exhausted but we had a beautiful little girl. Alys came straight to my chest for cuddles but then spent a long time with a bare chested Mark as they sorted out the mess that was my bottom end. He describes it as harrowing as witnessing a car crash. He was holding his new baby daughter in his arms whilst his wife was bleeding profusely and being stitched, legs in stirrups before his eyes.

Finally I got to breastfeed Alys and after a bit of difficulty, we just about managed it. After not much time to be together and recover, I was moved to a ward. Mark was told to go home and I was along with our baby. I hadn’t even had a shower. I felt pretty lonely. Alys was quite sleepy thanks to the pethidine so feeding was a little tricky. I was really sore and woozy but was basically on my own. There was no-one to watch the baby when I had to go to toilet (at the end of the ward) and I had to wait until Mark came in for visiting the following day before I could clean myself up.

We were discharged after 2 days in hospital and we came home. I couldn’t walk properly for 2 weeks and my stitches didn’t heal properly – I had a little hole that took a while to heal and I got an infection. I found breastfeeding difficult. Alys had a very sore head and would only sleep on Mark or me. We were both traumatised and very, very tired. I blamed myself for losing mental control in the pool and cried a lot. Midwives visited and one in particular was lovely to me. She talked about how different it would have been in the MLU and how they would have let me labour differently.

28 days after Alys’s birth I was discharged by my ‘named’ midwife (only the second time I’d met her). I was deemed physically well enough it seems but at the point she actually walked out of my house to let herself out, I was breastfeeding Alys and was in tears, having just broken down about my experience of her delivery. Unbelievable. I didn’t have diagnosed PND but I really could have done with someone sitting down and talking through things – preferably one of the midwives who attended the birth. Instead, I was left to deal with my ‘grief’ and didn’t properly get over it until just before our second baby was born.

Fast forward three years. Strangely, pregnancy second time around was much more stressful than the first time. I had experienced an early miscarriage the previous year and the experience of giving birth the first time was imprinted on my memory. I also now work for myself, running two businesses with Mark. We can’t just leave work at the door and come home. I also had a very active toddler to care for. Around 20 weeks, I started getting SPD quite badly. Luckily it eased slightly as the baby grew inside me. I still kept active and did antenatal yoga classes and attending a yoga birthing workshop with Mark – highly recommended!

This time around we decided to deliver in the MLU at the University Hospital. Despite it being a 40 minute drive, it seemed to be the best place for us to have the kind of delivery we wanted, with little or no intervention (all being well this time). I saw the same two community midwives at every appointment and talked a lot with them about my experience with Alys and what I wanted this time.

The due date came and went again. I did lots of walking and yoga but still no movement. A stretch and sweep after 7 days wasn’t really possible as my cervix was so high. The midwife also had concerns that the baby seemed small as I’d started measuring small for dates. I got stressed. I didn’t want a consultant led birth and was determined to deliver in the MLU.

The following day, like her sister, the baby decided to come. I started getting pains in the early hours and got up to move around and try and bring things on a bit more. I laboured all day. I went for a walk to the shops with Alys and my Mum who’d come to help out. I did three loads of washing. I tidied up. I even did some work correspondence. All the while, I was standing up, being active. I put the TENS machine on after I’d put Alys to bed at 7pm and starting using the ball again.Things started to speed up and get quite painful so we phoned ahead to the hospital and they told us to come in.

Once again, things slowed down again on the journey and on examination in the hospital at about 9pm, I was gutted to find out I was only 2cm dilated! The midwife had a feeling things might move quickly though and didn’t want to send us home so sent us off round the hospital for a walk. It was dusk and we went outside for fresh air. Within half an hour I couldn’t walk with the pain and we were back again. Mark made a brew and I was kneeling on the floor using the ball as he just popped to the car to get our bag. The room was dark with just a lamp on and all was quiet and calm. My waters went. I called out to Mark as I heard him come back.

‘You need to come, my waters have gone. Get the midwife.’ He ran in.
‘I need the toilet!’ I said. He started to help me off the floor as he midwives came in.
‘No I need to push!’ I changed my mind.
‘OK’ said the senior midwife.
‘What?!’ said Mark.

They got me on the bed and lay me on my side. I started to push and Mark asked if they could fill the birth pool so I could deliver in water.

‘Hmmmn, we’ll try but I don’t think we’ll have time as it takes 20 mins’ they said.
‘What?!’ said Mark.

A few big pushes and about 10-15 minutes later at 10.50pm, along came Nansi May, weighing a teeny 6lb 2oz. She came to me for a little feed, then as I was sewn up (I’d tore along my old scar), Mark cuddled her on his bare chest. Then she came back for a lovely feed.

Shell shocked a the speed of things, we stayed in the delivery suite for a couple of hours talking and cuddling Nansi. The two lovely midwives made us tea and toast (we didn’t have time to drink the first brew Mark had made!) and popped in to check on us. After a while, I had a shower in the ensuite bathroom and we moved to another room. It had a double bed so Mark could stay, a cot for Nansi and an ensuite bathroom. We were too stoked to sleep much but we all had a nice rest together. After more tea and toast that Mark was able to make in the little kitchen and the necessary checks were performed on Nansi, we were discharged just after 9am.

It wasn’t quite the home birth I had thought about but it was a wonderful second experience. The midwives were amazing and despite the worry that Nansi was looking on the small side, they did everything they could to support us in our decision to delivery in the MLU. In the days following we had lots of support from my named midwife and the breastfeeding support counsellor. I couldn’t speak more highly about the post natal care I received. I was up and about and even managed the Mums race at Alys’s sports day 6 days after (I walked it!). Nansi and I have had a few difficulties breastfeeding mostly due to oversupply but she’s doing brilliantly.

Two very different experiences but the same outcome of a beautiful girl each time. I’ve been able to put behind me what happened with Alys and accept that was just what happened. What I did both times was no better or worse than the other. Just different. The important thing was that my children were born safely, and are happy and healthy. I now have two special little girls and what I do everyday as a Mother to them, really makes the most impact.

05 May

Graybo’s birth story

Graybo has six and a quarter years’ experience of being a dad. He is still learning

It’s strange, but after six-and-a-quarter years, most of what happened is still fresh in my mind…

Having almost got to due date with nothing happening, we decided to push matters along a bit and do something proactive to get things going. H (my wife) had been uncomfortable for a while – the bump was huge and was happily turning her over in bed without her say-so. Consequently, she was lacking sleep. She’d also had a few “funny turns” during pregnancy (as well as issues related to underlying health conditions) and we were already regular visitors to the maternity unit, both at the hospital where our baby was to be born and at the nearby cottage hospital.

So, to try and push things along, we did some of the things that the books don’t tell you. We went for a walk over fields, stiles and streams and followed that with a spicy curry. (We did something else too, but I’ll spare you the details).

By bedtime, things were starting to move and H’s waters broke. The contractions had started, which H found pretty uncomfortable. We phoned the maternity unit and, as it was pretty late in the evening, they suggested we went to them as the community midwife wouldn’t be able to get to us until morning. Plus, as H was considered a “mature mother”, they felt that a hospital birth would be preferred to home birth (and, before people argue about that, we agreed – sometimes, being in hospital provides comfort and assurance).

So we gathered the kit together (two bags – one for H, one for baby – all ready prepared) and got in the car. I think we were pretty tense. Being a Sunday night and approaching midnight, there was no traffic. I drove with some haste (we are 15 miles – more than half an hour – from the hospital, all on country roads and narrow lanes) and, for the first and only time in my life, jumped a red light.

As it turned out, the midwife team were pretty relaxed. Things had started but not much was going to happen imminently. However, H was finding the contractions pretty painful, so they suggested she stayed with them whilst I went back home for some sleep. As the midwife put it: “you’ll need your sleep, tomorrow is going to be pretty hectic”.

H was given some pethidine. We knew about this stuff from the ante-natal classes that the midwife team ran (and which were excellent) and knew what the risks and benefits were. So, with that, I drove back home (stopping for the red light), got back into bed and had a restless night trying to sleep with a cat on my head. (We normally shut the cats in the kitchen overnight, but that night I left the door open. Cats *know* (as any cat owner will tell you), so one sat behind my knees and the other, literally, on my head. I didn’t get much sleep).

At 5.30am, the phone rang. It was the midwife. “Hello, graybo. You’d better come in. H is back downstairs with us”. (The wards were upstairs, the birthing suite downstairs). So, I quickly dressed, fed the cats and drove the 30 minutes back to the hospital.

When I got there, after loading £200 in pound coins into the parking meter, I went straight to the birthing suite. H told me what had happened in the night. She hadn’t been able to sleep (the contractions kept her awake) and the nurses were of the opinion that she wasn’t coping well with pain or anxiety, so she’d been sitting in bed, chatting with the ward sister who was about to go off duty – sometimes company and chat are as effective as pills and rest. Just as the sister got up to leave, H threw up all over her – which was just about the only effect that the pethidine had on her (it’s a common side effect). The sister was very kind, under the circumstances, but H was mortified.

At the time I arrived, the midwife team were changing shifts. As no births were imminent, the current team were going home and the new team were coming on duty. H was rather keen on the midwife who had been with her, so she was sorry to see her go, but she made a point of coming and saying goodbye to us before she left. The new midwife promised us that she’d now stay until the baby arrived.

That turned out to be rather a long time.

One of things I spotted in the hospital was that the midwives sort the dads into three groups – those that are likely to be a liability (and friend’s partner passed out and had to be resuscitated when their baby was born), those who are good for hand-holding and those who can be asked to do something useful and will be trusted to get on with it. I’m not sure what the criteria are (attendance at ante-natal classes is probably a factor), but they put me in the last category. I was in charge of dials, monitors, sensors and general paraphernalia, which gave me a great sense of self-importance and allows me to take all the credit for standing there for 12 hours doing that, whilst H laid back in regal comfort on the bed. (Obviously, sitting in that position with her feet in stirrups was perfectly comfortable).

The labour was very long – in total, 17 hours from the time we arrived at the hospital to the time baby emerged. It was not all comfortable, in spite of epidural and “gas and air”. There was also periods when nothing happened (when H was too exhausted to push), when the midwife and I could leave H in the care of the junior nurse and grab a quick sandwich and fresh air.

H’s parents arrived around lunch time. I’d left a quick message to let them know that things were kicking off, and we had told them that the hospital had a strict mother+1 policy (the birthing suite was small – where would everyone go if a party descended?), but still they turned up. H’s mother was most put out that she couldn’t be in the room, and I ended up persuading them to go home, as the staff were getting a bit frustrated by bodies cluttering the place (although they would never let that show). It seems a little harsh, in retrospect, but actually I can totally understand it from the midwife’s point of view.

At one point , I stepped out for five minutes fresh air whilst H took a nap. My phone rang. A customer. Before I could say anything, he launched into a long ramble about some problem he had, whilst I kept saying “er” “um” “excuse me” in order to get him to stop. Eventually he paused for breath, so I said “can’t help you, I’m outside the maternity unit where my first child is being born right now. Bye!” Some people.

It was becoming clear that baby was not enthusiastic to leave his warm and comfy abode. The pushing had exhausted H and the midwife was pretty frazzled too (though exuding utter calm). Then things speeded up. The midwife was becoming concerned that both mother and baby were getting distressed. In addition, the umbilical cord was wrapped around baby’s head. On top of that, the baby was just huge. So she called a time out (as much as you can in these situations) and told us that she recommended an episiotomy, but that the decision was ours. Thankfully, the ante-natal classes had prepared us for this. The midwife clearly explained *why* she was recommending it and we told her (well, mostly I told her – H was just exhausted) that we understood the implications of the decision but she should go ahead.

So she carried out the episiotomy, loosened the cord and got H onto major pushing, with every ounce she could muster. It was always “one more push, please”. It was clear that baby needed to get out and soon.

This bit all became rather a blur. I know it was actually more than an hour long, but it seemed to happen quite quickly for me. Eventually, head emerged. Shoulders were a problem, and then hips and then “one more push, please” (for the umpteenth time) and baby literally flew out. The midwife caught him with a style that Jonny Wilkinson would have been proud of. Blood and goo literally flooded across the floor. And the midwife rushed out the door, carrying baby and yelling “THEATRE!! NOW!!!” at the top of her voice.

Cripes, I’m welling up just typing this.

We had no idea what was happening. The midwife had been alone with us at this point (three other births were going on in the unit at the same time, so midwives were working alone with a nurse moving between rooms to check and help), so once she ran out, we had no idea what was happening. H was utterly exhausted, gasping for breath and in some pain. I was bewildered. And then we realised that we were alone, baby was gone and so was midwife. What the hell was happening?

I think this period maybe lasted 20 seconds. Hardly any time at all. But it felt like an eternity and it was suddenly very quiet.

But then the nurse ran into the room, held the door open and said “Listen! Hear that?” – we could hear a baby screaming for all it was worth. “That’s your baby. He’s fine, he’s going to be ok.” Then she had to run and we were left alone again.

No more than a minute later, the midwife came back. She was clearly exhausted, covered in goo, but smiling. “Your baby wasn’t breathing, so we took him straight to theatre and got him onto a ventilator. He’s ok now, he’s the right colour and he’s breathing. You were lucky that you are in the room next to theatre and nobody else was in there.”

“Oh, and congratulations. You have a baby boy.”

I’m just about to leave my desk to walk to school to pick him up. We have a parent-teacher consultation this afternoon – he’s doing well at school, sitting at the top table with the brightest girls (the only boy at that table). He’s the tallest child in his class (he was 9lb 8oz – 4.31kg – at birth and is expected to grow to 6ft 6in – 2 metres). He wants to be trilingual (English, French and Dutch). He loves the countryside. He loves calamari. And, one day, perhaps, he’ll go through the same experience with his own first child.