Having had a quick and fairly traumatic natural first labour at over 41 weeks, I was dreading having to head to the delivery suite a second time despite wanting more children. Having been unable to access a delivery suite until transition the first time, I had seen about 10 different faces during my holding time at A&E, labouring hard and fast from 3cm to 10cm. The lack of continuity of care, of a familiar face, of someone to keep me focused amid the chaos, was very much responsible for the loss of control I felt during that labour. I was doing spectacularly well under those circumstances, yet ended up feeling like a total failure. Perfect first vaginal birth on paper, very swift dilation and no pain relief, but in reality it left us both reeling for a long time.
The second time around, I spent 9 months anticipating an even faster labour and delivery and bracing for the chaos, just thankful that Cormac and I would have Jen, our doula, at our side to soften the experience. Nature had other plans, however. At my 39 week scan, despite my body being nowhere near ready to birth, it was recommended that I induce labour immediately as my placenta was failing and had stopped producing amniotic fluid. The combination of low fluids and lack of foetal movement was red flag for the safety of the baby, who would likely survive to full term but be unable to face labour.
As a result, I ended up in a bed in the pre-natal ward a few hours later, receiving my first intervention of an intervention heavy birth: Propess. Mentally I was crushed. Having birthed so naturally the first time around I knew my body could do the job if left alone to reach full term and struggled to accept the new reality of induction. Thankfully my husband and doula, Jen, were by my side as I made the final decision to induce, but the shock was so great that I ended up giving myself a temperature out of sheer anxiety during that first night on the ward, once left alone with my thoughts. Little sleep and hours to worry. It didn't help that the baby had decided to pull a few heart rate drop stunts during the afternoon, which made me even more anxious to get it all over and done with.
But my cervix was slammed shut and hard, my Bishop score was shockingly bad and it felt like everyone around me was just going through the motions of trying to tease an unwilling baby out, ticking a few boxes along the way, before the inevitable emergency section. I was not at the races at all, mentally, my husband and doula tag teamed to keep my eye on the prize but I had stopped eating through sheer stress. So many times, I came close to requesting a section to end the wait. I was paralysed with fear and mentally exhausted before it had even started.
The following evening, the bad news was that the Propess had softened the cervix but not enough to break my waters and had caused a grand total of zero contractions. Natural labour was not on the cards. I had to wait for a doctor to administer a 6 hour action prostin gel, in the hopes of kick-starting some action. At that point, I was told to fast as my cervix was just not co-operating and that it was unlikely that anyone would be able to break my waters the next morning, which meant I was headed for theatre. I'd resigned myself to a section. In the morning however, after some extremely hard work by the doctor on call, numbed by the sweet oblivion of gas and air, my membranes were pierced and the lack of waters was evident. I skipped off to the delivery suite!
We settled into the suite and met our wonderful midwife Amy. I hopped onto the bed and demanded the epidural before any further interventions. I certainly wasn't in the mood for sampling oxytocin contractions without drugs at that point. The drip was switched on and the clock started ticking at 12 noon. Jen our doula arrived and we settled in for the final leg of the journey.
The epidural was placed slightly to the left, which left my right leg partially mobile and gave me some idea of where the contractions were at as I could feel the tail end of them. It took about an hour for my body to adjust to the epidural, which made me quite sick, but once that was sorted we were able to try various positions including a sitting position with the bed raised like an armchair. Very effective for forcing the cervix open. The peanut ball that my husband picked up in Argos also came in very handy. Chats and banter in the room eventually died down as darkness descended outside the window and the contractions picked up. I stuck on the GentleBirth tracks and zoned out, working through the surges.
Suddenly, an almighty permanent contraction pierced through all the pain relief and amidst the searing pain I felt my baby's head fall into the pelvis with a 'clunk'. I started to panic at the amount of pain I was feeling at that point but Jen kept me focused and the midwife hurried back in to confirm that I had hit 10cm! The contraction eased and we agreed to give the baby an hour of passive descent as she was doing really well. She, however had other ideas.
The pushing contractions were coming thick and fast and I just breathed through them using gas and air to relax, as the epidural had long been switched off at that point. Jen barely had time to grab the phone to commit her birth to memory, within about 10 minutes she had birthed herself as the midwife rolled out a 'landing strip' to catch her as she flew out. Out she popped at 18:15, without giving me so much as a scratch, warm and crying, for delayed cord clamping and nursing. The relief was amazing. We had made it through, safe baby, safe mammy. We named her Anouk.
I drank about 4 litres of tea and ate a loaf of bread in the form of toast, as we chilled and chatted for a few hours before being brought up to the ward. Boy was I starving. There was so very little that was natural about this birth, a veritable cocktail of interventions, yet it was the most peaceful and healing experience. Our delivery midwife, Amy, was outstanding. And having Jen with us helped me find the courage to give this birth a shot despite it not looking like anything I recognised or wanted. I'd do it all again but maybe not tomorrow.