This is Helen’s second appearance on the blog she also wrote her first birth story which is featured in my book ‘How To Grow A Baby And Push It Out’. Helen writes and publishes the magazine Lionheart, lives with her partner and 2 children in Bristol.
I’m sitting here now with baby Soren right next to me, my rounded tummy still making for a good laptop perch, a yearning for chocolate digestives and a cup of Yorkshire tea. I’ll get up soon. I’m drinking in the various newborn faces and positions; milk drunk, yoga baby, pout squash cheeks, waving when asleep and dreaming arms.
There’s so much that’s the same as with my daughter, but he’s very much his own person with his own manner, energy and blossoming self. He frowns when he feeds, is utterly obsessed with the trees and the birds and is mesmerised by what’s happening around him – watching, learning. It’s amazing to see the difference in our home since he has arrived. Quite subtle I thought, but now I realise not at all. He has bought with him something that feels very centred, grounding and calming. A big wallop of spirit, that has floored me like his sister did before him. A boy of the earth and sweet like the kindness found in a homemade cherry pie (hungry), freshly delivered to tired newborn parents. He’s of that ilk – good folk.
This birth story was one that was highly anticipated. Giving birth once before did not make me feel more relaxed. The unknown had been a benefit to me in summer 2013. Lolling about in the park by my house with ice lollies, I said I didn’t have a plan, but of course, I did. And more importantly, so did my daughter. I very quickly realised that my labour and birth experience was more about remaining zen and the care of health professionals, who are all amazing, than having the right scented candles. Anyway, after having a tiny bit of a dramatic time, I found myself pacing the birth centre waiting room five days overdue with my second baby, palms clammy, feeling hot like a kettle left on a stove too long, whistling. And about to bubble over.
Having had a bit of a miserable first trimester, where I felt that I had no control and I couldn’t rationalise, or go without a packet of salt and vinegar crisps, I had a more jolly second and third trimester filled with yoga and contentedness. However, as the thought of induction put on its white jacket, I clammed up. And clamming up is probably not a good idea for birth, right? I felt reduced movements at 40+5. Nothing to worry about, nothing to worry about. “Go to the hospital,” said the midwife. Waiting for hours, enormous chocolate bar, hooked up and soon the baby was galloping about in there. That tug and pull of a baby having a party inside of you, so utterly not bizarre. But wild all the same.
The midwife had us in the following day and we had a scan that showed (the baby!!!) the baby’s stomach was a very tiny amount not as big as it perhaps should be. My partner questioned the graphs, the curve of the line, but this was no spreadsheet – this was our kid. I had a little anxiety creep up through me as I lay with jelly on my tummy, right from the tips of my toes, to the top of my head. Gahhhh. My heart beat hard, I could see it pounding under my top. The baby was snoozing. The news was induction. I had a wave of relief. The end was in sight.
Then that evening, in a complete turnaround filled with some unknown source of energy, I had an enormous surge of motivation and determination. NO! I wanted to try everything I could to flow (?) this baby right out. Stop clamming up, open up, think positive and calm thoughts, do some yoga, focus, eat some more chocolate. C’mon baby! I was like a wilde woman that night. And it felt great. I was given about 18 hours by the midwife that evening and I was going to do this. I WAS!
I have no idea if what I did caused the baby to start their great descent, or it was just time, OR the moon, but in the morning at around 9am, I had twinges. Then a show, then more twinges and more show. I called the induction ward who said they didn’t have any room for me anyway and were very happy for me that I was on the way to baby land. They were less happy about the show, which I thought may have some meconium in. So at 11am, we trotted off to the hospital. The twinges were much stronger, but nothing too crazy. I was dropped off at the hospital, while our daughter was delivered to friends. My partner found some parking he deemed acceptable, purchased a hefty amount of snacks and at length… he arrived.
By then my contractions were pretty regular and getting more intense. I was on the checking ward with the same midwife as I’d had the previous couple of days. Determined to create a spa (ahem) like zone for labour, I filled the curtained space with a large and very soft, deep blue blanket, excessively spritzed the air with Lush Breath of Fresh Air spray, breathed into a muslin with Bohobo aromatherapy oils soaked in (including clary sage) and opened a large bag – or two – of Maltesers. As I sat on the bed, the tightenings pushing harder and harder, I was in a mini trance. I was going places, ya know? Deeeep careeeervous plaaaaces. I was. I WAS. Please. However, I was still not quite moving anywhere fast enough according to the hospital, who told me I had until 2pm before I would have to really think about the drip.
“Can we go for a walk? To the hospital Costa?” I said.
“To Costa… well, OK. But you must NOT spend too long over there. Second babies do come quickly, you know. Hmmm. OK. Go now, then.”
My mantra, my mantra, my mantra: “I’m not having the drip, I’m not having the drip, I’m not having the drip.” Repeated continuously, all around the car park, in the Costa queue, looking at even more sandwiches for Charlie, chicken, chicken, not chicken, up the little hill. round the roundabout, in the little garden. I knew something was happening, it definitely was, but I wasn’t sure if this was it. Was it enough? Everything felt different to my daughter’s labour. The contractions were like surges, the pain more of a pull, the pressure felt like it was in a different place. Strange!
2pm. “Come on then! Ooh, I love that spray. What was that again? Lush, ooh I’ll have to get some.” We were on our way to the delivery suite. Noted to myself to get the midwife some spray. Loved her and how she got us a salad lunch when we’d been waiting ages the other day, and how she let us go to Costa and how she is excited for us, and – ahhhh, there it was again. Kind midwife: “Are you scared? Don’t be. It’s OK.” I wasn’t scared, but it was a really big contraction that stopped me. Head in the big blue blanket. OOOPH. We walked on and met our new midwife, while lovely midwife told us that her shift finished at 8pm, so hopefully she will get to meet our baby.
Lots of discussion over the drip. Pacing, wondering, powering, singing, humming. I asked the midwife to examine me, as I felt like I needed to know if I was moving at all. She is surprised and in a good way. YES! I was at 6cm. MASSIVE jubilation! But not too much. Breathe, breathe, breathe. She said they wouldn’t put me on the drip now anyway, as I was really contracting. Things were moving and though pretty catchy, my million repetitions of “not having the drip” were able to be replaced with something else now. Hooray!
The midwife left us to it and I took out YesMum Hollie De Cruz’s relaxation MP3. I had listened to this quite a few times in the last couple of months and it helped me to focus. I went into myself. I can still smell the clay sage and I think I heard: “Hello, my name is Hollie de Cruz,” about ten times. I kept hearing it again and again. My mind and body doing something together. I saw Charlie sitting on a chair, faffing around, eating a sandwich, reading the news. Eating another sandwich. Spinning, spinning, focus, focus – I was in this one place and it was cushioned and cosy and powerful. A central, nourishing and vibrant home, a heart beating and echoing out, my head in a pillow, my body some kind of buttttttttterflyyyyyyy.
“Toilet!” I went to the toilet aided by Charlie and then everything stepped up. It sped up, quicker and quicker. “Hello, my name is Hollie de Cruz,” breathe the air, iiiin and out. Gas. Gas. Gas. On all fours. Breathe. “The baby’s coming!” It was coming. How long had it been? A moment, a breath, the clock. An hour. An hour! An hour?
“Ahh, lovely,” she said. “I’ll get what we need, one minute!’
No time for minutes, or seconds, or “PRESS THE ALARRRRM!” I could feel the pressure really strongly, this baby was coming now, now, now! Suddenly she was there and with someone else and the pressure was so immense. I could feel the baby move down in a really big motion. And it was amazing – so low, so low, so lowwwww.
On the bed. I was. Gas. No more Hollie. Just me and – I remember shouting, “Make it stop!” Then some howls, the intensity of the WHOLE SITUATION.
A BABY WAS COMING OUT OF ME!
No more gas. Stop.
My baby was coming.
I was instructed to push with all my might. I did this and then again, and again. Then I was asked to stop when I was told: “Keep going, keep going, keep going and stop, pause,” the midwife said slowly. The pause, the moment, the moment when birth and life become so intertwined, it’s at once incredible and humbling and for me, a point of utter clarity. Maybe that’s what it was, but. For that moment the room became bright white, clear and still. Time stopped and there was nothing but the brightest white, soft light and total and complete peace.
Then in an instant, one massive push and before I could even take a second breath he was on my chest screaming, red, plump and beautiful. I couldn’t believe it. So fast, so startling, so gentle, such an avalanche, a flurry of emotions, a numbness, a shock. I stared at him, I looked into his eyes, he fed, he screamed, he slept.
I think I had expected him to be exactly like my daughter. She was all I had known afterall, but of course he was him. Calm and wanted to be close, to be able to look into the eyes of another, to hear my voice. That night on the ward, I stared at him, picked him up, popped him down, fell in and out of sleep, watched him, fed him, fretted over his lack of needing to feed, changed him, cuddled him. Then just stopped. I lay with him beside me and slowly the feeling I had expected to immediately arrive as it had with Alba, trickled and then flooded over me. It breathed life into my weary body and doubled my heart. A bag of Maltesers lay melting underneath me.
He came on a full moon in spring and his smile is a balm, a pure joy. Soren is a rocketful of energy, calm and love and we are honoured to have him in our family.
Ah the joys of having your second baby; your body and boobs knows what to do this time (hopefully), you’ve got the confidence and knowledge from the first baby (probably) and you’re word perfect on most nursery rhymes sung at the weekly music class. But alas! You now have an energetic toddler who demands to only eat his snacks out of the green bowl, will only wear shoes if he puts them on and regularly has full blown meltdowns in the park when he can’t walk any further. Only kidding it’s not that awful but the skills required to calm a fractious baby and entertain a 3 year old with the attention span of a gnat would make most SAS trained soldiers buckle at the first hurdle.
Just before my second daughter was born, we prepared my first born in every way possible to help soften the blow when she would discover she was no longer the centre of our universe. We bought her a doll and push chair in the hope that she would love this plastic baby as much as her own sister. Baby Annabelle made realistic crying sounds, which my daughter declared ‘really annoying’ and asked us to take the batteries out when she couldn’t handle the incessant noise anymore. So we decided to take the approach to be as brutally honest as possible without scaring her for life. We told her that although new born babies are very small and cute, they were also very boring and did a lot of sleeping, feeding and crying. Her new baby sister wouldn’t be able to play with her for quite some time so whenever the baby was asleep I simply ignored her and focussed my time and attention on a more fun and big girls activity (I would have preferred a child free lunch with friends but settled for sticker activity books and play dough). This allowed my older daughter to still have some very precious 1 to 1 time with me without having to wait whilst I tend to her baby sister first.
If you’ve previously been using some sort of childcare for your first born my number one tip to all mums is KEEP IT. It may feel wrong to send your child to nursery or off to the childminders as you’re not at work but I guarantee you will need a few days a week where you can just be with your new born baby and not have to watch Peppa Pig for the millionth time. Children love structure and routine and by keeping these things in place when their entire world has been turned upside down by this new baby will make things easier for you at home.
If finances mean that this isn’t always possible perhaps call upon grandparents or a good mum mate who can take your older child to the park or their house for a few hours to give you a bit of rest. Going back to bed with a new born when you’ve been up lots in the night can feel like a trip to the spa. My message is if people offer to help TAKE IT.
Remembering that small babies don’t need much if any stimulation (a jaunt around Sainsburys definitely counts) so save any form of entertainment for the older sibling. Local playgroups were my holy grail in those early days; I found that if I filled a morning with activities like drinking a 50p cup of tea in a church hall whilst my daughter played with toys the day went much quicker. Mum win right there. Plus to have other mums around meant I could vent about how tough I was finding it without feeling judged, after all everyone needs support from other women who just get it.
There were times when I definitely was not winning at motherhood at all and felt terrible for repeatedly saying ‘wait a minute, just hang on, your sister needs feeding and shall we put on the tv again.’ And there were times when my older daughter would say ‘I hate my baby sister she gets all your cuddles’ but I figured (after sobbing down the phone to my mum) that this is life and there isn’t always a right and wrong way of doing things. All children react differently when a new sibling comes into their family and will in some form show jealously and anger. But the love between my older daughters now is so special to witness, my younger daughter adores her big sister and will do anything to please her. And just like any stage of motherhood, it can feel really hard at that moment in time but you’ll look back in years to come and hardly remember it and say to yourself ‘did that really happen at all?’. You’ve got this Mama.
*This a taken from a piece I wrote for Tracey Blake Small Talk blog which can be found here*
I signed up for hynpobirthing, I was dead set on a home birth, no pain meds, extended cord clamping, breast feeding while still in the rented birthing pool… the whole bit. That’s what I wanted. My mother in law is a retired midwife and I was going to sail through birth (nope).
A community midwife came to our home to talk through my planned home birth and by talk through, I mean talk me out of. She followed every possible scenario with ‘and then you’ll have a dead baby’ that is NOT something you should be saying to a woman who is 6 months pregnant! Anyway, she scared me out of it and I grudgingly agreed to go to hospital.
I woke up at around 3am, 23rd of January 4 days past my due date feeling a bit ‘odd’. I was really, really looking forward to labour. I’d done my hypnobirthing lessons with Robert and I was genuinely looking forward to the experience.
We went downstairs and watched Harry Potter films back to back while timing the weird intermittent backache-y feeling I was sure were contractions. I called ahead to the hospital just to check when they thought I should head in and then settled down on the birthing ball with hot water bottles and low lighting all very chilled.
I called the hospital again a few hours later as, although the ‘contractions’ were now only a few minutes apart, I didn’t really feel like anything was progressing, the midwife I spoke to asked us to pop in for a check even though she said I didn’t sound like I was in labour, I assumed I was just coping really well because of the hypnobirthing!
We arrived at the hospital around 12:30 and I have a perfectly clear memory of saying I hoped they had a birthing pool free (so young, so naive…)
A midwife took us into one of the examination rooms, asked a few questions and then went to check how dilated I was and… I wasn’t. At all. Cervix completely closed, even though she could feel what I was calling contractions she said I definitely wasn’t in labour because contractions don’t count if your cervix is closed.
My BP was a little high so she asked that we stay while they ran a blood test (even though urine tests were clear). While they were waiting, they hooked me up to one of the foetal heart rate monitors with the clicker for each movement.
My blood tests came back clear but the midwife checked the heart rate read outs and said Tabitha’s heart rate was too steady. There was another hour of monitoring, sugar tablets, a suggestion that I may want to opt for a section since I was overdue and then they decided to give me a fluid drip, I should explain now, I have the worst veins in the world, 2 midwives failed to get a needle in so they called for an anaesthesiologist. 2 anaesthesiologists later they got the needle in and at the same time Tabitha’s heart rate halved.
I’ll say this for midwives, they don’t hang about! Her heart rate dropped at 16:26 and at 16:28 I was wheeled into theatre. It took them less than 2 minutes to haul me to my feet, undress me, get Robert into scrubs (including find him crocs in the right size), have me sign a consent form and wheel me to the next ward.
The rest is a bit blurry. I was in a bit of shock but was very, very calm. They asked if I had any jewellery on and somehow I remembered that I had a bit of metal on my hairband and they were asking about metal because it can burn if they need to resuscitate you.
The section itself was completely painless. I could feel hands and tugging inside me at one point but nothing hurt. It’s a completely bizarre feeling. I’m not about to have one by choice or anything but it wasn’t the horror show I had built it up to be.
Robert popped his head up over the screen (I’m so squeamish I didn’t want to see) just in time to see her being pulled out, she got cleaned up and handed to him for skin to skin… I wish I could say I said something meaningful or sweet as I looked upon my daughter (who we’d tried 2 years for) but actually my first words were ‘Is she ginger?!’
She passed her initial checks and they got on with sewing me up. Around 10 minutes after she was born, Robert noticed that every few breaths, Tabitha seems to stall and she was looking a little grey so he took her over to the midwife. She was placed on the resus table in the theatre and given oxygen through a (heartbreakingly) tiny mask but the O2 saturation levels in her blood were still below 80% (they should be high 90’s) so the midwife took her through to the special care unit (SCBU), she said we’d most likely have her back within the hour and some section babies just need a bit of a boost.
I was wheeled through to observation where all the other section mums had their babies with them and I just lay there in the corner shivering, waiting for an update.
Finally almost 3 hours after Tabitha was born a consultant from the SCBU came to see us. Tabitha had started having seizures, she wasn’t able to breathe on her own and they didn’t know what was causing it. I was brought an iPad linked to a webcam on the incubator so that I could see her and it was another 12 hours before I could actually get into the SCBU and see her for real. It was a week of beeping machines and sitting beside an incubator before she was able to keep her O2 levels up on her own. The morphine was dialled down and we were asked to stay in the family room as she’d probably get the intubation out over night. She actually pulled her own breathing tube out which I thought was quite hardcore for a 1 week old!
I finally got to hold her at 1 week & 1 hour old. We spent 3 weeks in the special care unit in the end (pneumonia, feeding tubes, MRI’s, off oxygen, back on oxygen, blood tests…) before we finally got her home.
The MRI showed an oxygen deprivation on her brain so we’ll be under the special care unit for regular checks until she’s 2 in case there’s any lasting damage but so far she’s hitting her milestones 1-2 months ahead (apart from walking/crawling because apparently she couldn’t get enough of blinking hospitals, was diagnosed with hip dysplasia at 8 weeks and spent 2 months in a harness the awkward sod, so she’s about 1 month behind on her legs! Oh, and she’s already had chicken pox. And had 8 teeth by 8 months. She may be trying to kill me.)
We are incredibly, ridiculously lucky* that she’s come through with no lasting damage.
We’re spending her first birthday with the neonatal nurses.
Stuff I’m probably not supposed to say:
I don’t generally say I ‘gave birth’. I say I ‘had a baby’ because I feel like I missed the actual birth process and saying I gave birth seems misleading? I feel a bit guilty if I say ‘gave birth’ even though I’ve never thought that when my friends had sections.
I gave up attempting to breast feed at 5 weeks because either the stress or hormones or shock or whatever messed with my milk production and it only came in on one side (believe me I tried, blood was spilled) and that wasn’t enough so after letting her try to latch, then bottle feeding her, I was going off to express and by the time I was finished, had sterilised the pump and started to nod off she wanted fed again. Robert came home one lunch time and I had been full on sobbing for 2 hours I was so tired and frustrated, lovely man that he is packed away the breast pump, bought a perfect prep and that was the end of that.
I didn’t really feel like I bonded with her until around the 3 month mark. I wasn’t cold or indifferent towards her, I just didn’t feel like she was any more ‘mine’ than my friends babies. I’m probably breaking some sort of mum code admitting it took that long to bond!
*I still want to toss her out the window during 2am screaming sessions
My son has just turned two and as I contemplate the birth of my second child in May 2017, I’ve found myself reflecting on labour number one and just how life changing it was…
Long before my husband and I even considered having children, labour to me was a dirty word; a horrific form of torture that could only feasibly be dealt with by a swift elective caesarean. I was well and truly birth phobic, due largely to that fact that all the women in my family have experienced terrible labours and only ever speak of them with looks of ashen fear. With gynaecological genetics like this, how could I possibly be any different?
Fast forward a couple of years and with a beautiful swelling belly, something switched in my brain. When you’re faced with the reality of actually growing your own wee babby and pushing it out, something primal and natural and hopeful genuinely does take over. Add to the mix my number one saviour and
Hypnobirthing Hero, Hollie de Cruz aka @theyesmummum, she miraculously helped to transport me from a place of fear to a place of positivity.
About a month before Ivor was born my midwife told that me that he was posterior, which would most likely cause a longer, more painful labour. She also asked if big heads run in my family? Nice; just what every expectant mother wants to hear. I’m not going lie, having to do a myriad of special exercises, sit bolt upright on the sofa / on a pilates ball when all I wanted to go was vegetate and have acupuncture session after session was a right royal pain. But unlike the old me, I didn’t panic and freak out. I used my newly learnt hypno tools to breathe through the spiking anxiety.
The midwife wasn’t wrong. My birth was long – 48 hours from waters breaking, spine shatteringly challenging and yes, to this day, Ivor has a massive head. But what I still can’t quite believe, over two years later, is that I managed it and still feel positive about the whole experience.
My waters broke at 2am and due to some discolouration we had to go to the hospital to get checked out. Fortunately all was fine and a couple hours later we were sent home again but with the explicit warning that if we weren’t in active labour within 24 hours I’d have to be induced. The next day was spent mostly relaxing at home, walking, resting, eating donuts and embracing my ‘surges’ (or contractions to non-hypnobirthers) in a surprisingly (to me) calm way. We shipped off to hospital again, now 24 hours after my waters had broken, because of reduced foetal movements and what we thought were 3:10 surges.
Disappointingly I was only 4cm dilated and the doctors were pushing me to be induced given the time that had already passed. I was adamant that I didn’t want this to happen and luckily a kind midwife took pity on me and explained that the impatient doctor wouldn’t be back for at least two hours and to see how I got on in that time. Luckily I had dilated another 2cm and the army of doctors let me continue to progress naturally. This part is all a real blur of sickness, pain that I increasingly felt I couldn’t cope with, delirium and exhaustion – at this point I’d been in labour for almost two days and was utterly exhausted. On a cheery note, and I’ve no memory of this, apparently I ate some fish and chips in the middle of it all (you can take the girl out of Glasgow…).
In the end, I was given some kind of induction. Was it a hormone drip? I have genuinely no idea. I was just too zoned out. I relented and agreed to any help possible to get this baby moving and thankfully within a couple of hours the drip had worked and I was pushing. No-one warns you quite how vigorous this part is! I thought I would breath Ivor out like I’d seen in all those wonderful hypnobirthing videos but no, this stage was something akin to running a never ending marathon. But bloody hell do you feel like a hero at the end of it!
And so bang on his due date and after almost 3 hours of pushing (during which time I was continually told that if it didn’t happen soon I’d be having a caesarean) my beautiful wee Ivor was born. My husband delivered him, put him on my chest and eventually cut the chord. Nothing, absolutely nothing, prepares you for that moment of complete and utter emotional euphoria. So consuming is it that I was only vaguely aware that at this point I was haemorrhaging quite badly and needed an injection to stop the bleeding. Oh and the stiches – what joy!
Recounting all these details initially filled me with utter fear about doing it all again in May. I was in hospital for a good 5 days in total and it really does take every fibre of your being to grow, deliver and nurture a baby. I may not have had a dreamy home water birth on half a paracetamol and a couple of oms but I did break the pattern of birth trauma in my family and coped with all the challenges in a calm and controlled way. I have reminded myself of just how incredible the female form is and once I have shrouded myself in hypnobirthing confidence, I know that delivering number two will be just as positive and empowering an experience.
And now to life beyond birth… There are a million ways in which having a baby transforms your life. For me, beyond the joy, chaos and exhaustion, it gave me the confidence to leave my demanding commercial fashion producing job – a highly stressful, round the clock environment – and set up the business I’d been dreaming of and was only able to dabble in part time for many years. Dress Yourself Well is a styling service for individuals in need of a confidence boost, particularly following periods of life change, ill health and body transformation. Before having Ivor I had no idea how many wonderful mums I would work with, all adjusting to their new lives and bodies at varying stages of motherhood. Having gone through that journey myself I completely understand how challenging it can be.
Every week I meet mothers who are impatient with their post-partum bodies, struggling to feel themselves again or grappling with how to transition their wardrobe from the playground to the work place. My advice is always to be very, very kind to yourself, embrace your new body and learn how to dress efficiently and for your new shape. Lusting after old clothes that make you feel rubbish is the worst thing you can do and investing in some mood and confidence boosting alternatives is a great step towards reclaiming your sense of self. Mums, just as our birth stories shape and inform our lives, so too does taking the time to look after ourselves and feel the best we possibly can at such an unquestionably tender time.
Lucy sent me her birth story last month during baby loss awareness week, she said
‘I emailed you about 6 months ago about sending you my birth story for our son, who was stillborn. It’s taken me this long to finish writing it but after pregnancy and infant loss awareness week, I wanted to send it on to you. I hope it’s ok.’ Here is her story of Jude’s birth.
Women in my family like to cook their babies as long as possible, so with number 3 I didn’t expect it to be any different. Having had my first at 42 weeks +1 day, my second 41 weeks +2 days, when number 3 would arrive was anyone’s guess. To compensate I’ve always had very easy pregnancies apart from the usual complaints and like the others, this one had gone pretty smoothly.
10th May 2014
Several sweeps later I was 10 days over my due-date and no sign of baby coming. On Saturday I went in for a routine post-date scan, 11 days over, and was told that everything was looking normal, baby was happy, fluid levels were good and was sent home to return either in labour or for induction in 3 days time (as per hospital policy).
11th May 11.30pm
We went to bed on Sunday night, having sent my mum home thinking we wouldn’t need her back until I was to be induced, and about 2 hours later my waters broke – in flood like fashion. Having never had my waters go before labour started I called the hospital and they told me to come in as soon as possible. I had hoped I’d be able to labour at home as I had the last time and was feeling a bit disappointed that I might have to spend it all at the hospital. We arrived into the hospital maybe an hour later and were set up for a trace – the midwife wasn’t managing to pick up a heartbeat and she got the scanning machine and although she wasn’t saying much when she went to fetch another midwife I began to worry. When 2 midwives were unsuccessful I realised something was terribly wrong. It was the middle of the night and we had to wait for a registrar to come out of an emergency section before we could find anything else out. Those 20 minutes wait were perhaps the longest of my life. My husband kept reassuring me but I knew deep down that this wasn’t normal and was preparing myself for the worst. When the midwives returned and asked us to come to a private room, that’s when I knew we’d lost our baby.
12th May 3.30am
The Dr scanned me and then we heard those words that no expectant parents ever want to hear, ‘I’m very sorry there’s no heartbeat’. It’s impossible to describe how I felt in that moment. I remember my husband, Ross, asking lots of questions and I don’t think I spoke for quite some time. The hours that followed are somewhat of a blur because in the dead of night none of it feels real. There were tears, questions, kind reassurances from the night staff and mostly just being held by my husband. We had to wait until after 8.00am to have an official scan in the fetal medicine unit, to confirm what we already knew. At this point I was having contractions maybe every 20 minutes, in that moment you don’t really believe that the baby you’ve carried for nearly 10 months, felt kick and move and squirm is actually dead and then you are faced with the realisation that you still have labour to go through.
After a sleepless night we were brought down to the fetal medicine unit for another scan. I remember staring at the screen willing it to not be true, for it to all have been a huge mistake. The sonographer was a gentle and kind woman, who fought back tears as she told us, again, that our baby’s heart had stopped beating and we returned to our room to see the midwife.
I was part of the community midwives scheme and when Kate, our midwife, entered the room that morning, I couldn’t have been more relieved to see her face. Kate had delivered our eldest daughter and the familiarity was something we really needed. Kate really was a gift sent from above, not just for the labour ahead but the days that followed. There aren’t enough words to express the gratitude we feel towards Kate and how she cared for us, but more on that later.
At this point our options were discussed. Kate explained to us that often in situations like these the body will try and resist labour and so it could be at least 24 hours before I would deliver the baby and that often delivering a stillborn can be difficult. They asked if I’d like to go home and wait to see what would happen or if I stayed in the hospital, after a few hours if things hadn’t progressed I could opt for an oxytocin drip to move things along. There was a lot of information to process and part of me wanted the decision to be taken out of my hands. Being asked what you want to do and I just wanted to shout I don’t know, I don’t want to do any of this. I felt an enormous burden to try and work out what to do in the midst of feeling so utterly devastated. Kate was incredibly helpful at taking time to sit with us, listen to us and give us space to work it all out.
I knew the last place I wanted to go was home, to my 2 little girls eagerly awaiting the arrival of a new sibling, to all the reminders of the baby we had prepared for, for the past few months so I decided to stay at the hospital and see what happened.
At this time Kate also spoke to us about considering taking the baby home with us after he or she was born. Our initial reaction was that this sounded like a crazy idea but in time we discovered that it was the most natural thing in the world to do.
My contractions were still only about 15 minutes apart and not lasting very long, at this point you are totally torn because you just want to get it over with but equally you know that once it’s over you have to face the reality that you don’t have your baby anymore. The idea of delaying labour and keeping him or her inside me for a little bit longer meant we had a little bit more time before I had to say goodbye. I decided to have a shower and then we planned to go for a walk and try and get labour going. After a chat with my aunt, who is also a midwife, I decided I wanted to try and labour naturally if I could. Although part of me just wanted to say give me an epidural as soon as possible I knew from previous experience that this would affect my recovery time and as frightened as I was I also knew I wanted to have the chance to deliver this baby in the way I had planned.
Before I got into the shower I said to Ross, just pray that this labour happens quickly and easily. I got out of the shower and after getting dressed suddenly my contractions were 5 minutes apart and growing in intensity. This was starting to happen. After having had no sleep the night before and I hadn’t eaten anything since dinner the previous night I suddenly became completely overwhelmed at what was ahead of me – I looked at Ross, broke down and said I don’t think I can do this. If someone had at that moment offered me a c -section I would have taken it. After Kate had examined me (I was only 1 cm) she suggested I take some pethadine, which might help me relax and get some rest and might also help bring on contractions – I was able to have a good dose of it as it wouldn’t affect the baby!
And it did just that. We played the music we’d planned on playing in labour, I lay on the bed and Ross held my hand as I breathed through the contractions, they were strong but not unbearable. Kate remained in the background, ready with heat packs, sips of water and when Ross needed a loo break she took his place, held my hand and encouraged me. It’s amazing how nature kicks in, despite the devastating outcome, my body knew it had one job to do, to deliver a baby and even though I knew that this wasn’t one of those – ‘the pain will be worth it moments’ – I wanted my baby’s entry into the world to be one that was calm and peaceful, perhaps because this was the last thing I would be able to do for him as his mum.
To the surprise of all the midwives within 2 hours I was ready to push – I’ve never had an easy time pushing out my babies but this time round we got to the delivery suite, I instinctively climbed onto the bed and after a few puffs of gas and air and what only seemed like a couple of minutes of pushing at 2.15pm, our beautiful, perfect little boy was born. He weighed 8pds 3ozs.
Kate had warned us about the strange silence that would follow delivery and as she placed his little body beside me – he looked so peaceful, as though he were just asleep and in that moment our hearts were both overwhelmed with love and completely and utterly broken. We named him Jude – which means praise/thanksgiving – because despite our loss we are so thankful for our little boy.
I’m so grateful for our incredible midwife, Kate, who went over and above in her care for us and without her support I don’t think I could have done it. We got to dress and hold our son and have him with us until the next day when we could take him home so his two big sisters (and the rest of our family) could meet him and say goodbye to him.
Having now delivered 4 babies I can say in all honestly this was by far my easiest birth, physically speaking – it doesn’t really make any sense but I think of it as my gift to him and his gift to me. Grief is an exhausting thing, emotionally and physically, and I’m so grateful that I had such an uncomplicated delivery, no stitches etc. allowing me to give myself to grieving our little boy and being available to our two little girls.
Although my memories from that time are still extremely difficult I genuinely cherish my memory of Jude’s birth. I still look back and often ask how did I do it and truthfully I don’t know – yet I found a strength and a grace to face the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do.
6 weeks later we got the results of Jude’s post-mortem – where we were told that Jude had an acute group B strep infection and my placenta had a condition called DVM of the placenta (which only occurs in 3rd trimester). I hadn’t been screened for group B strep (it isn’t routinely screened for here in Ireland as in the UK). We were told at that appointment that it isn’t considered ‘cost effective’ to screen mothers but since losing Jude I really believe that information and awareness on Group B strep is totally lacking in maternity services – women should be given the choice to screen for something that is so easily treated and could prevent such devastating outcomes.
We miss Jude every single day, I don’t think I’ll ever understand why it happened, but this is Jude’s story and I’ve realised that telling it is part of our healing. As I write this, almost 2 1/2 years to the day, I sit with my gorgeous 11 month old daughter on my knee – but that’s a story for another day.
For more information and support on any of the issues raised in Lucy’s birth story follow the links below
Happy 10 months old twins! We celebrated by going to a twin play group in a church hall, you know the type instant coffee in a polystyrene cup and a packet of custard creams. Lots of lovely smiling faces from fellow twin mums, who fetched my over enthusiastic daughter from an almost near fatal accident involving a much bigger toddler and a dolls pram. The kind of fellow twin mums who didn’t judge me for breaking mid conversation to retrieve my other twin from licking the biscuit crumbs from under the table after snack time. They just get it and what a breath of fresh air it was to be in the company of such great women.
After a rather tricky and exhausting time I’ve been having with it ‘all’ I decided today that actually I’ve come a long way, and learnt quite a fair bit about myself, the kids and my abilities to juggle a baby on each hip whilst being able to sign for a package; god knows what my postman must think of me.
So this is a list, and by no means is it finished because well let’s face it being a mother never really is over is it?
a cream cheese sandwich and a Petit Filou is perfectly acceptable to give the twins for lunch every day
I still hate baking, glitter and playdough
and Mr Tumble
and soft play
but nothing says ‘you’re almost there’ than the Cbeebies bedtime theme tune
there’s no such thing as a quick trip to the shops/park/cafe – its a full on military operation
I can fold the double buggy into the boot of the car quicker than the woman in the demo video on YouTube
an emotional 9 year old vs crying twins? Still not sure which is harder to deal with
pooing alone is now considered a luxury
and showering for that matter
buying the Sunday papers and reading them the following Friday is an achievement
the dishwasher is never empty
and I can never seem to get to the end of the washing pile
despite being identical by genetics, the twins personalities are as different from each other as their older sisters
the fascination with twins where ever we go never ceases to amaze me
no matter how many children you have, those first milestones like finding the sharp corner of one of the twins 1st tooth today still fills me with immense pride and joy
going out for a family lunch is a waste of time and money and at least 4/6 of us end up in tears
some days I really haven’t ‘got this mama’ shit together at all (despite reading it on my favourite mug in the morning) and that’s ok
and some days I’m bored, tired, unfulfilled and that’s ok too
and then there’s days were we have a GREAT day doing absolutely nothing but just hanging out and those are the days to remember
despite my concerns my lap is big enough to fit 4 daughters on it for a massive cuddle
I’m not necessarily the mother I thought I’d be, but I’m pretty happy with the mother I’ve turned out to be
and EVERYONE at some point is struggling with motherhood one way or another (even the woman who who looks like she’s got her shit together at rhyme time)
Tom and I were so excited about our first baby. She was due on 7 December, the anniversary of Pearl Harbour – “a date that will live in infamy”. So we were ready then – and every day after that….. Now that I am a midwife, I suggest to people that they lie about their due dates, as we’d been idiots and broadcast the EDD far and wide – and were than annoyed when people started ringing to ask why we hadn’t had that baby yet….
I’d left work at 38 weeks, so nearly 4 weeks later, I was getting a bit bored. I’d nested like mad, done loads of painting, and on a Friday morning, (after a sweep the day before) I woke up early and felt compelled to get out my blowtorch and start stripping the front door. Insane behaviour – it was 18th December, freezing and dark. And I was beginning to feel tightenings….. Anyway, quite enjoying myself when I got a call from work – would I come and help with a commentary record for a documentary we were just finishing – if I had nothing better to do. Didn’t really think the half-stripped door was a good enough excuse so I went in to Soho and got involved with the recording. All day I could feel more tightenings, and was sort of racing to get to the end of the programme, and then gloriously announced that I was in labour! Woo hoo. Came home in a rush in a taxi – beloved Tom extremely alarmed but I was calm.
Must say at this point that we were the sort of first-time parents that I now find quite annoying. We hadn’t done any antenatal classes – actually ran away from the NCT in terror after one session (and we’d PAID for the whole course!) – knew no one with a baby, nothing about what looking after babies does to you or indeed anything really about how they are born – but we did have a sort of blithe faith that everything would be OK.
So we pitched up at St Thomas’ about 8pm Friday night and I was in established labour. Good o, I thought, I can have my epidural now. At the time I was spending a lot of time with doctors, and my dad’s a doctor, so I thought that state-of-the-art pain relief was the thing to have. I hadn’t known that I’d need a cannula, and a catheter, and I’d be tied to a bed – and I did find that a bit off-putting, but was too polite to say no…. so before long I was tied up, but having Nancy Mitford read to me…. A very sweet midwife was with us all night (I’d never met her before) and she said it would now be like a long flight – we didn’t really know if there would be delays or turbulence along the way, but we’d be at our destination the following day. I was really excited but I think I slept. Tom went for a midnight walk along the South Bank, running into the dregs of people’s Christmas parties and wondering how much his life was going to change…
Morning was coming and I think the epidural wore off a lot (by design, I guess?) and I felt a real change – and then was encouraged to push my baby out. It really hurt. I thought my eyes would pop out. I was terribly shocked by that and thought I must surely die of this – but I didn’t, and actually I think the pushing was only 45 minutes (seemed like eternity to me though) and she was here! I felt magnificent.
The sun came up over the Houses of Parliament. It was 0730 on December 19th 1998. We sat about all day and went home about 6 that evening. We were so pleased with ourselves!
Now I am a midwife, and a caseloading midwife, looking after a group of women and their families before, during and after their babies’ births – I wonder about my experiences around Katy’s birth.
We didn’t know our midwife – and it was never suggested to me that I might try to do labour without major pain relief – or even have a home birth. Coming from my background and experience, I think I would have resisted that, but I wish I had been encouraged to consider it.
I think cheerful – if ill-informed – belief that everything was going to be OK was actually quite protective – I hadn’t heard loads of horror stories – I thought my body was pretty good at the things it was supposed to do – and I also thought that even if I had a grim day, I would have the baby for ever and that was what mattered. So I was very blinkered, but I think now that that confidence was fine. I felt the same way about breastfeeding – just assumed that I would be able to feed the baby we had made. I seem to remember thinking that it didn’t matter whether I fed her in the first three days, but I must have done…. (and she is now nearly 6 feet tall….)
When I talk to women about early labour, I suggest that they do a bit of gentle cooking, or walking around, but that they try not to get tired out and too excited. So my blowtorching at dawn followed by a long day at work was not ideal, but I have to say it did keep my mind off the contractions, and by the evening, I really was in labour. I think our lack of preparation meant that Tom and I hadn’t talked about how we might work together in the labour, and I think he felt powerless and afraid (he was in hospital as a child and was very fearful…). I remember being quite worried about him – and I think now that that was rather inhibiting for me. We’d have been better with a bit more preparation, or indeed another supporter with us to look after Tom….
I see in the pictures that Katy was wrapped immediately and given to me. I didn’t know about the benefits of skin-to-skin contact – although in fact my dad had done research in the early 70s about its importance, but funnily enough we’d never talked about it. So now that I help women to be really close to their babies, I’m a bit sad that I didn’t have that with Katy on that first day. Ho hum. We made up for it when we got home, by instinct though, rather than through any knowledge.
So overall, I wish I’d known my midwife – I think it would have made a great difference to have someone along with us who could have influenced us to be a bit more in tune with birth and what it could mean. On the other hand, I think the epidural was fine, and having a bit of sleep before the pushing probably made more difference than anything else to our eventual success. In those days, you didn’t stay overnight after an epidural and I was so glad to be able to go straight home. I remember the three of us in our enormous bed that first night, none of us asleep, full of excitement and joy that our Katy was here.
I finished stripping the front door about a year later.
Sadie is a Case Loading midwife and works in South East London.
Monday mornings are about to become even brighter with the return of Birth Story of The Week, so make sure you sign up to the blog and your inbox will never look so dull again. To kick off this week we have Emma aka Finlay Fox who writes a fab blog so check it out here.
So after going 9 days over my due date I was starting to lose it slightly, it felt like the longest pregnancy ever! An induction was booked in for a few days time so I had the weekend to pray that it all kicked off naturally. I had been trying all the classic old wives tips and advice from friends to help bring on labour – eating pineapple, prunes, positive affirmation mum to be cards, curry (even though my indigestion throughout pregnancy was shocking and this was the last thing I fancied), reflexology, massage (great but bloody expensive), stomping, a lot of walking (good excuse to go shopping), clara sage oil and had even considered… shock horror…sex (nope didn’t get round to that in the end!). I had a sweep but this didn’t seem to do anything apart from make my husband feel queasy. My parents were fed up of waiting around and went up to Norfolk for the weekend – maybe this would help bring it on?! Maybe she was determined to be a February baby?
On the evening of 29th January I finally started feeling different, Finn was back from nursery and I couldn’t do his bedtime as I felt sick with some period pains. I said to Liam I think we should eat early, just in case, to make sure we had energy for what was potentially a long night ahead if I went into labour, and yes dinner was in the form of a curry! I went to bed early and woke at 11.30pm (weirdly the same time as when contractions started with Finn) – to a massive kick in my tummy and I heard a ‘pop’ as my waters broke in bed. The contractions were on and off for the next hour, strong but not regular enough to head to the hospital. UCLH – my chosen hospital in Euston where we also had Finn – was up to a half hour drive away so getting the timing right was key. Liam helped me through each contraction as I held him in a strong grip! As things ramped up I told Liam to get his parents (who luckily only live 5 minutes away) over to look after Finn who was asleep upstairs and to call the taxi. As soon as his parents arrived the contractions were coming thick & fast as I was ushered into the taxi. As soon as I sat down I was in agony, as we drove down our road every speed bump was intense and unbearable and all I could think was how many speed bumps we still had to go over before we got there! At the end of our road I shouted that we had to stop and I had to get out. A strange claustrophobic feeling filled with a change in the pain and the sudden need to push meant I had to get out. Standing in the pouring rain, pretty much outside our local pub, with people coming home from their Friday night out, Liam held me and I told him we had to go home. There was no way in hell we were going to make it to the hospital! I couldn’t move for the pain, plus the fresh air and rain felt so refreshing, all I could hear was the cab driver calling an ambulance as I refused to let go of his car. Liam called his dad to come and pick us up in his car and I somehow climbed in and he took us all 500 metres back to the house.
Back at the house things were kicking off – a duvet was placed on the sitting room floor for me and I took up position on all fours (adamant I wasn’t going to be in a bad birthing position as I had been with Finn). Liam was nervously talking to the paramedics on the phone, now delayed as they had been called to a cardiac arrest. Told to ‘get down the business end and check for crowning’ he did what most men dread! I was well and truly in my birthing zone and could now only concentrate on my breathing and what was about to happen. Luckily for Liam another ambulance turned up and 2 paramedics – a guy and a gal -set up next to me and bought some much needed gas and air (although again having learnt from Finns birth not to have too much as it makes me high as a kite and very distracted!). They were incredibly calming and although I couldn’t make eye contact with them (as I was so much in the birthing zone) I knew I liked them and they created a relaxed atmosphere. They told stories and chatted away at ease, I think they were happy to not be dealing with a drunken call out on a Friday night (well Saturday morning by this point). I was adament they were going to tell me we had to go to the hospital and things weren’t happening as I thought they were. Liams parents were in the kitchen at this point, wisely staying out of it!
Over the next half hour I pushed with each contraction and the female paramedic delivered Violet at 2.38am on 30th January. It was a 3 hour birth in total. She weighed a healthy 9lb 6oz – 4 oz heavier than her bigger brother when he was born! Finn slept through the whole thing. The midwife then turned up! She delivered the placenta and then we all took the ambulance to Homerton hospital to go get me stitched up as I had suffered a second degree tear, ouch. I was desperate to do skin on skin with Violet but the shakes took over my body all the way to the hospital and it wasn’t so easy being strapped in on a stretcher! At the hospital (we were lucky enough to have a private room right up until we were discharged that afternoon) it suddenly dawned on me what had actually just happened! Elated and exhausted, high on adrenaline, our beautiful daughter was finally here and she certainly made a memorable entrance into the world born in our sitting room! Cuddles, boob and skin to skin contact were then made up for in abundance as we stared at our new bundle of joy in the hospital!
I have to say the whole experience was positive for me, I would highly recommend a home birth, especially if it’s your second baby,you live in London and have to experience an abundance of speed bumps on your journey to the hospital! We would have been able to stay at home after she arrived if we had been registered at Homerton Hospital which would have been perfect but actually being in hospital for the stitches and baby checks did make me feel a bit safer.
It’s been 8 whole months since my last blog post which is so weird because it feels like yesterday that I wrote that – I was so sleep deprived in a cycle of questioning my ability to parent the twins and giving the older girls enough time and attention and be a good wife And then there was tiny task of finishing my book. Well I can safely say we made it, and by we I mean us – my husband for supporting me through every tear, emotional breakdown, reassuring hugs when I woke up at 4am asking him if he thought anyone would even buy my book? I actually lost count of how many cups of tea (both hot and reheated) I drank and that’s not to mention the copious amount of chocolate I consumed.
But I did it, I wrote a bloody book and it’s even got a fancy cover and everything. It feels totally surreal that with really young babies I managed to put all the jumble in my head down on paper (well keyboard) and my editors promised me it didn’t read like a massive brain dump! I honestly don’t know how I did it; there were days where I would have one baby in a sling and my foot firmly on the bouncer so I could just finish a paragraph. Dark nights where I would stay up not knowing when the twins would wake for the next feed, I got really good at expressing and typing albeit with the odd bit of boob milk spray going everywhere.
I can’t even believe I’m 10 months into my maternity leave because just like that I’m now watching the twins pull themselves up, eat toast for breakfast in their highchairs, laugh hysterically at their big sisters and I’m having to plan childcare for when I return back to work in January. I’m not sure I can honestly say I’ve learnt anything new but all the cliche things people say to you when your maternity leave are 100% true;
it goes so fast
everything is just a phase
it doesn’t get easier, you just get better at it
try and enjoy it before it’s over
and sleep, sleep makes everything better
Anyway I digress, what I really want to say is THANK YOU to all the amazing women who contributed to my book and to my followers on here and Instagram who continued to support me through this crazy time.
You can pre order my book by clicking this link here it’s not out until February the 2nd so get in there early. Also (as I’ve been asked this a few times already) this book is for any pregnant woman, 1st or 4th baby, and not just for women how are having a ‘natural birth’ it’s got a whole chapter on c-sections. Also the weekly birth stories will be BACK as of Monday, send yours in if you would like to share it.
You know those lovely little Facebook memories that crop up on your feed, the ones where it says ‘on this day 4 years ago’ and some photo or status of how you felt/looked/did gives you a pang of nostalgic realisation that life is going really fast? I saw one the other day as I trawled through Facebook during the 3am feed that made me feel a bit sad. It said ‘shitty nights, shitty teething, shitty half term weather, shitty nappies, shitty bank balance, shitty 3 year old tantrums’. I felt sad because I thought how lonely I must have felt to voice all of that so publicly on my wall for all to see but more significantly, that I had no recollection of even doing it. And why is that? Why do we forget the dark times as a mother? Is there some kindness Mother Nature installed in us like forgetting the pain of labour so we reproduce again? There are a millions things I’ve forgotten when it comes to having a newborn baby, despite feeling like I should be an old hat at this mothering role by now, here a some of them;
that babies don’t eat, sleep, poo, repeat on a 3 hourly Gina Ford esque schedule
that babies cry for absolutely no reason even when you’ve fed them, winded them and changed them
that for those first few weeks of life they don’t give you anything back in the form of love or recognition for all your god dam hard work of nourishing them with your breast milk, a simple smile would be hugely appreciated during those darks hours at night
and that you will without a doubt question your ability to breastfeed them and always ask yourself ‘how do I know they’re getting enough?’
that waking up freezing cold in a pool of your own sweat is possibly the most unpleasant side to breastfeeding
and breast pads will always end up rolled up in a sticky ball at the bottom of your bra
that tea is only ever drunk tepid
that breakfast is eaten at noon and lunch at 4pm
that the washing machine is on constantly
and the dishwasher for that matter
that you never finish a conversation, emails are sat in your draft folder and attempting to make that new recipe you’ve been lusting over in the Hemsley and Hemsley cook book will never happen
that mum guilt no matter in what from, raises it’s ugly head when you’re at your most tired and makes you question EVERYTHING
that Googling ‘when do babies sleep through the night’ is not going to give you the answer you were hoping for
that you’ll find yourself reading every parenting forum (usually during the 3am feed) on the topic but end up getting distracted by a thread on the breast vs bottle feeding debate and wished you hadn’t
that it’s incredible how a cup of tea and a chocolate brownie can make everything seem ok again
that everything is a phase (dispite HATING this term) and things will get better
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