My baby was due on Tuesday 3rd of June, but the day came and went and I began to worry as I had hardly felt a twinge. Sure, I realised most first births go beyond the estimated due dates, but I am an incredibly impatient girl and anticipation was high. I was having Braxton Hicks contractions but they were painless and pain was my way of gauging whether I was close to labour or not.
So on the 4th, I went to the antenatal clinic at University College London Hospital. Upon examination, the doctor discovered I was already 2cm dilated, that my cervix had shortened to half a centimetre and was soft, and that the baby's head was deeply engaged. Despite being confident full-on labour would start soon, he did a membrane sweep - the anticipation of which was more uncomfortable than the actual sweep itself. He also booked me in for an induction 10 days later as a matter of routine. M and I went out for coffee and cake on Tottenham Court Road and I immediately began to feel period-like twinges and cramps and had mild bleeding. This was a relief.
On the afternoon of Friday the 6th, I began feeling my first painful contractions at home. They came sporadically in waves and by 2am on Saturday morning, I left M alone to sleep in peace and continued to labour by myself downstairs on the sofa, breathing through each intensifying contraction and trying to use such natal hypnotherapy visualisations as the cervix opening up petal by petal as a flower, my baby moving downwards, and lowering a pain dial down towards 1. The breathing worked best for me - breathing oxygen into the muscle and remembering that I only had to cycle up to the peak of pain around 40 seconds in and then feel the release of the cycle downwards towards the end of the contraction. I was scared but excited, and felt quite powerful and womanly thinking about how each contraction was bringing me closer to meeting Little P. It also helped me knowing exactly what was going on physiologically.
At 9am, we were driven to the hospital by a very patient and calm taxi driver, and discovered I was 4cm dilated. I was admitted to the birthing unit. I continued to breathe deeply and visualise my way through the increasingly gripping, cramping contractions as I alternated hanging off a high rail, pacing the floor and sitting on a gliding chair. I didn't take any pain relief because somehow I was managing.
By 3pm, however, I was only 5cm dilated and I was becoming so exhausted I wasn't managing the pain very well. I entered the birthing pool and contracted through the blissfully warm water. The feeling of relief was amazing but the water slowed my contractions down completely and I requested an epidural.
For this, I had to move from the midwife-led birthing unit to the conventional delivery suite. Though just a hallway separated the two units, the difference in atmosphere was great: the birthing unit was calm and quiet, I was aided by just a single midwife and I was fully mobile; the delivery suite was busy with noise and consultants and several midwives and I was hooked up to a variety of drips and monitors and limited to the bed from the outset.
But I have no problem with conventional medicine and practices and as my labour was not turning out to be straightforward, I felt reassured that I was in the capable hands of a bigger team. Plus, the epidural was an immense relief and the relief from pain freed me to feel more like myself again. More importantly, it allowed me to doze and recoup my energy.
When it looked like my contractions were not becoming more frequent and they could see my baby was becoming distressed at the length of labour, I was given oxytocin to see if my labour could be speeded up. It couldn't. It took me several more hours to dilate to just 6cm. M had slipped out as I had requested more magazines and a book to read so he was in Borders bookstore on Charing Cross Road.
While he was out, my baby's heartbeat gave much cause for alarm among the staff. Suddenly a flurry of midwives and consultants rushed in, my legs were in stirrups and in hasty but meticulous detail I was being told that it looked like my baby was losing oxygen and that they had to take a pin-prick of blood from her scalp to see whether this really was the case. It took several attempts because, as the fantastic consultant doing the work told me at the time, "the baby has so much hair, it's incredible!"
Poor M returned in the middle of all this drama. He saw me in stirrups and heard the consultant confirm that Little P was indeed losing oxygen and that I should have a c-section immediately. Of course, I signed the consent form and within seconds M was in scrubs and we were both in theatre. 10 minutes later a very blue Little P was thrust over my face for a fleeting glimpse and then rushed to the resuscitation bay.
She was fine. And M had the rare and wonderful opportunity of bonding with her first for an hour while I was stitched up and recovering. Little P is always so instantly calmed by her daddy. I am positive this instant bonding between them amidst so much stress will be the reason they will always have a very special bond.
Phew, finished. This post took a longer than usual time to complete because I am typing with one hand and holding a fretful and gassy Little P with the other. My life now. We are thinking about buying a cradle swing very soon!