Writing this post makes me feel a little conflicted.

On one hand, my main requisite for this blog was honesty. I wanted to write about pregnancy and everything that came with it, without sugar coating anything. After all, my first expectant mum post focused on how lonely the glut of pregnancy positivity made me feel. There are plenty of websites, blogs and magazines that glorify pregnancy and new mum life. These are fine- and once I started to enjoy pregnancy, gleefully embraced them- but they’re not really my kind of writing.

On the other, I also don’t want to share horror stories. Towards the end of my pregnancy I wrote about dumb things people say to expectant mums. Labour oversharing played a big part of this. No one who has yet to go through labour wants to hear how horrific it is. All mums to be have to go through it, and additional anxiety really doesn’t help. With that being said, there’s no getting away from it. This second part of Lucas’s birth story focuses on the actual *gulp* birth part- take that as a disclaimer if you wish.

In all honesty, labour is kind of a blur. I remember most of it- not the specifics, mind you, but overall. Looking back doesn’t seem anywhere near as long as it actually was. Most of it was spent floating in and out of consciousness in some glorious diamorphine dream. Yeah, it hurt. I can’t really lie about that part. It’s not pleasant. It’s pretty much common knowledge anyway. What I will say is that Lucas’s birth was about as straightforward as it could’ve been. Apart from a minor incident with a wrong entrance…

When we rocked up at the hospital we’d already battled through early morning commuters and a severe bout of car sickness (I always get that though, I’m a terrible passenger). We got confused about which entrance to use and ended up at A&E. This was when things started to get hazy but I remember a paramedic jumping into the driver’s seat and driving us round to the maternity entrance.

“I’ll take you straight in. I’ve got gas and air in my ambulance”

This woman was a straight up angel.

She walked me into the assessment ward, giving me a puffer of gas and air to help me make the walk. In all honesty it was probably the only thing that helped me make it. The whole way in, she chatted to me and Ally, trying to put our minds at ease, and walked me straight to a bed- with a final puff for good measure. I never saw her afterwards to thank her but I don’t know if I can ever really thank her enough. All I remember was that her name was Angela, and she didn’t have to help us but went out of her way to make us feel safe. When you’re going through a stressful or vulnerable time, a small act of kindness can mean so much. It really, really did.

Heads up. After all the excitement of getting to the hospital it can feel kind of anticlimactic once you’re there. The assessment part feels like it takes forever. I remember going for a check up before and being relieved to be sent home. At that moment I couldn’t think of anything worse. A nurse took my name and date of birth. When she told me it was for a bracelet because “you’re not going anywhere” I could’ve cried with relief. I was 5cm dilated and we were ready to go. This could only mean one thing though- I was going to the labour suite.

I don’t know what expectations people have about labour suites. I thought they’d be brightly lit, stark and sterile. By contrast, the first room was fine (other than the terrible radio station). There was a bed and my beloved gas and air, as well as natural light. As much as birth plans can go off track, it can be helpful to bring some home comforts. Even if the room isn’t what you expected you can always add some personal flourishes. I took our sofa blanket, my gym ball and some of the teddies we’d bought for l’il bean. The blanket was a godsend on the ward more than the suite, but the teddies were a nice touch. It helped me focus on why we were there. Alas, we weren’t in there long enough to decorate as the first room wasn’t to be. In my birth plan I’d asked for a birthing pool and thankfully one was available (birthing pools are generally first come, first served if it’s something you’re considering). The pool room was huge. I don’t know what I expected- something the size of my bath, maybe- but this thing could fully submerge me and the water was lovely and toasty. In case my dignity hadn’t gone far enough out of the window the day before, I also had a contraction while climbing into it. Ah, well.

My plan the whole way along had been the pool with gas and air for help. Not for bragging rights- I’ve mentioned before that’s something I can’t stand. Not taking additional relief doesn’t mean you coped with birth better, in the same way that getting a section doesn’t lessen your birthing experience. I just thought it’d mean a shorter recovery. We’d been told that being on the bed delayed labour too, so I thought the pool might ease things along. It didn’t work out that way. It was hard to stay submerged as contractions came on faster. The midwife kept asking if I wanted any additional help and the only thing putting me off was a fifteen minute wait for diamorphine to kick in. You had to get out of the bath then wait for it to work. It seemed a long wait and anyway, what if it didn’t work? Eventually I took it. It was for the best- the contractions were getting pretty gnarly. For the remainder of my labour I floated in and out of consciousness, waking up when a contraction came on to sook every ounce out of the gas and air then passing out again. It. Was. Awesome. Apart from my attempts to maintain normal conversation, that is. Know how when you try and talk to your mum when you’re drunk to cover up the fact that you’ve been drinking? It was like that, but way more intense.

The worst part about labour is not knowing when the end will be. Our midwife examined me when I came in at 8am and said she’d do so again at 1pm. For the rest of the morning I kept a hazy eye one the clock, feeling like 1pm was the longest time. I was clearly in pain. Couldn’t they just do it early? As it turns out, they didn’t have to. Shortly before one, the wee man was ready to make an appearance. I was only pushing for 17 minutes but it felt like an age. The thing they don’t tell you in antenatal classes is how you can feel them moving. It’s sooooo weird. Like you can feel them going in and out. My biggest concern had been keeping Ally away from the business end. No one wants to see that, and I wanted to retain at least some dignity and mystery in our relationship. When the time came to push I couldn’t have cared less if he’d been inspecting it himself with spelunking gear and a torch. I just wanted him out but it felt like I just couldn’t push hard enough. I gritted my teeth and prepared to bear down for the long run.

Until, all of a sudden, out he popped.

Usually in birth a head appears, then shoulders, then a pause before the rest. Not so in our case. In one (albeit mighty) push our baby went from being a li’l bean to a real, live little being. I mean, I didn’t see it myself but my source was pretty reliable. In Ally’s words, he “florped” out and rolled around the bed. I think that might be onomatopoeia. I don’t know, but it’s been the best word that we can think of. I just remember thinking that he was absolutely definitely a boy. The midwife scooped him up to wipe, weigh and measure him then placed him into my arms. And there he was, our baby son.

A lot of mums will have you believe that the first time you see your baby you get the instantaneous rush of love. Maybe they do, I’m not saying they’re lying about it. However it makes the rest of us worry. Like, what if I don’t feel it? Am I a terrible mum? What if I never feel it? Don’t worry. My first thought wasn’t “oh my god, I’m so in love”. I just watched him in amazement as the midwife did her thang, trying my best to comprehend his existence. It was the single most overwhelming emotion I’ve ever felt but it largely comprised of confusion and bewilderment. Even when she gave him to me I couldn’t quite make a connection between my bump- which I’d grown to love so much- and this baby. I felt extremely protective, but it was only hours later- when we were finally alone- that I realised the extremities of my feelings for him. They came from a place of love, but I couldn’t understand them. The diamorphine was working its way out and my hormones were creeping up on me. I couldn’t articulate to myself what it was that I felt, so I cried. It didn’t stop. I didn’t try to make it.

I don’t want to portray too much of the gory details of labour. Everyone’s birth story is different. If you’re an expectant mum, even the same steps as mine could yield totally different results. My birth story was personal to me and my family- if you’ve been through it, I’m guessing yours was too. If it’s impending, don’t worry. It’ll happen as it’s supposed to for you. Having a birth plan is a great way to rationalise what’s about to happen and gives you an anchor. However, don’t stress too much if it goes off track. It might be that you need a little extra help. What I will say is- don’t be a hero. If you need the drugs, take ’em. That’s why there are professionals on hand. Listen to your body. It sounds clichéd but try not to stress. If your baby needs some help to come out it’s not a failing on your behalf. Labour is tough on your body. It’s tiring, painful, uncomfortable and- in terms of time- unpredictable. Focusing on the end result helped me to stay calm (well, that and the drugs). Speak to the staff who are there to help you- they can advise you on what’s best and listen to any concerns. I cannot say enough about how wonderful our nursing staff were throughout our entire birth journey. People are quick to complain about the NHS but the staff at the Princess Royal Maternity couldn’t have done enough to help me and my new family. They got me through one of the most intense experiences of my life and ensured the safe delivery of the most precious present I’ve ever had.

We were in for three days while they monitored Lucas’s progress, observed him feeding and taught us the basics of bathing and changing. It was all so new, but felt totally safe. The ward was an impenetrable little bubble that existed only for us. When Sunday afternoon came, they told us we were free to go. We hung around a while to have some lunch, get washed up and say goodbye to our baby’s first home. My mum came to pick us up and we packed up our lives and prepared to set off into our new one.

“This is where your lives change forever” she said, as we walked outside to my dad’s waiting car.

We had no idea how right she was.

 

My last blog post ended on a somewhat optimistic note, as I mused over my impending maternity leave and preparedness for birth.

“I’ve written out my birth plan, we’ve packed mine and the baby’s hospital bags, Ally’s achieved the impossible and constructed IKEA drawers for the baby’s stuff in the time between him finishing work and me getting home. We’ve got a little rocker all set up in the corner, a cot, a pram and a car seat all ready to collect and a stockpile of nappies we’re adding to every week.

All we need is a li’l bean to fill them. I just hope we’re not waiting too long”

Less than 48 hours later, I was sitting in the maternity ward of the Princess Royal Maternity Hospital with my newborn son in my arms.

Everyone, meet Lucas.

baby-boy-lucas-james-birth

I know, I know. It was a pretty big shock to us, too. When I’d said I hoped we wouldn’t wait too long, I meant ‘after my due date’. My last day of work was supposed to be the 9th of December, after which we’d have ten days to prepare ourselves for parenthood. I had so many plans: birth plans to finalise, playlists to make up, forms to fill in, a flat to clean, a breastfeeding DVD to watch, one last aquanatal class to go to and maybe- if I had time- hair to dye and nails to do.

It’s fitting that it didn’t turn out that way, really. My pregnancy was an unexpected surprise so why should the birth have been different? Much like that fateful day when I took a positive test, the birth saga itself feels like something I watched out of body. It’s hard to articulate without being matter-of-fact. I’ve already retold the story so many times that it feels like I’m running through the plot of something. I worried that it came across detached when the reality as quite the opposite. It was all I could do to keep my emotions intact to stop me feeling scared and overwhelmed. In order for me to do so, I had to treat it like any other day.

In the end up, I don’t know if going the full ten days would’ve made me any more prepared. I’d probably have sat at home, frustrated that I couldn’t do as much as I wanted. Yeah, some time off would’ve been nice. The way things ended up, it was for the best that li’l bean came out when he did.

I had a half day on the Thursday to go for my 38 week midwife appointment when I had the weirdest feeling. Walking up from the stairs from the train, I felt a sensation that was altogether warm and cold.

“Shit”, I thought. “I’ve pissed myself”.

Pregnancy is a pretty undignified process at the best of times. You lie in clinical rooms while strangers poke and prod you, ask intimate questions about your health and have a feel of your bones and muscles. You swell in areas you didn’t know you could and bloat beyond recognition. Still, though. Pissing myself? That was a new one. I’d drank a lot of water in order to take a sample to my appointment and figured I’d left it too long. It briefly crossed my mind that it might be my waters but honestly, I had NO IDEA what that entailed. In the early stages of labour you generally have your show first, then your waters break, then you get contractions. There’d been no sign of the first stage, which meant to me that I was in the clear. I thought your waters erupted in a gush, like The Shining’s elevators but with amniotic fluid. In any case I toddled to my appointment and was sure they’d let me know otherwise. I got there, they took some bloods, listened to the baby’s heartbeat and felt my tummy.

“His head’s engaged”, one of them said. “How have you been feeling?”

“Well, I actually thought my waters had broken”- she winced- “but it turned out I’d just peed myself”

Apparently this is a really common occurrence, so they didn’t second guess. I didn’t even realise it was still going. I told them I was finishing work the following day, they both wished me well and hoped I’d get some rest before baby came along. I made my appointment for 39 weeks, went into town to pick up some Christmas shopping and realised the pee was still going. It continued the whole way around town. I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s ever had a little accident in The Disney Store but I’m sure the overwhelming majority are of single-digit age. By the time I got home, I had what felt like pretty gnarly menstrual cramps too. A bath didn’t help, and neither did a bounce on my gym ball. The li’l bean had given a few grumbles but nothing to suggest that he was on his way. The constant dull cramp had given way to sporadic bursts but it was nothing that a couple of paracetamol, peppermint tea and an early night couldn’t fix. Or so I thought.

As the night went on so too did the ‘bursts’, but due to a lack of show I chalked it up to Braxton Hicks. Ally kept insisting that I phone the midwife. It was only an hour later, when I realised that I was still- umm- leaking, that I took him up on it. When she asked if my waters had broken, I detailed the peeing myself debacle. She told me that it was a continuous process and I explained that it had been going on for about ten hours.

“It does sound like you’re in the early stages of labour. Keep timing your contractions and contact us when they’re about 3-4 minutes apart”

Ffffffuuuuuuucccckkkk. This couldn’t be happening. We weren’t ready. I had playlists to make up. Forms to fill. A week’s worth of me time to catch up on. It was ten days early. But no, contractions were coming on heavy and before I knew it, it was 4am and I was bouncing around on my ball while we double and triple checked our hospital bags.

Even looking back at it all now feels like I’m watching someone else. I don’t remember feeling scared or apprehensive as long as things kept ticking along. I felt very matter of fact. We busied ourselves with organising and tidying, pushing away the thought that every contraction as following closer than the last. Time seemed to stand still and tick away all at once. A follow-up call to the midwife confirmed that things were on track and I should go for a bath. I sat in it for almost two hours. It was gross.

The standard advice for mums to be is to stay home as long as possible before going into hospital. It’s supposed to be that your home is a familiar environment, it’s where you feel safe. That’s all good in theory but being at home was starting to have the opposite effect on me. I’d messaged my friends, my mum was on her way, my bags where packed. I’d started to normalise as much as I could but it was running out fast. I wanted to be where there were professionals and equipment to monitor my baby. I could only ration so much. It suddenly seemed ridiculous when my biggest concern was making my mum wait outside while I wrapped myself in a towel while still in the bath.

In the end, when she came to get us, we didn’t even phone the hospital. We just left. We piled out and the fresh air burst our little bubble. I thrust my phone at Ally, insistent that he phone my manager to say I wouldn’t be in for my last day. After that last piece of life admin was taken care of, I finally felt like this was it. I was in labour. Nothing was going to make it go away, other than actually having my baby.

But that’s a story for another day.