I’m aware that some people found my account of my daughter’s birth a touch traumatic (although not, I promise you, as traumatic as the actual experience!).
In order to try and redress the balance, I thought I’d write a bit about my second experience of childbirth, which was a very different story.
Approaching giving birth for the second time, I was a lot more worried. First time round, I figured it couldn’t really be that bad and anyway what’s one sucky day against a lifetime of parenthood? During my second pregnancy, I tried to take more positive steps to prepare. The trouble was, none of the approaches I tried seemed like a good fit. I read up on hypnobirthing but couldn’t get behind some of the militant feminist stuff that goes with it, nor the idea that people who don’t expect to find birth painful won’t (because I’d already had the exact opposite experience myself!). Pregnancy yoga just left me feeling a bit weird, and I’m not a believer in alternative medicine which rules out a lot of
By the time I was into my third trimester, I was feeling really nervous, but I was confident that with my menfolk beside me I could get through it again.
As it turned out, between my first and second pregnancies the NHS in my area have introduced an extra diagnostic test, an additional ultrasound scan in the third trimester (the exact timing is based on various factors, I had mine at 36 weeks). It was a lucky thing for me, too – this scan is supposed to pick up on anything which might cause trouble during the birth, and mine revealed that not only was this baby going to be very large, he was also the wrong way up!
I did some research and discovered that having breach babies of this size vaginally is not recommended, and tried to make my peace with the idea of a planned Caesarean (which I found more distressing than I would have expected). However, there was another option to be explored first – External Cephalic Version.
In this non-invasive procedure, a senior clinician manipulates the baby from the outside (through your belly) and tries to turn them round. I was initially sceptical about it, but it’s actually very safe – there’s lots of monitoring before, during and after, and the research shows that the babies are not harmed. So, I duly turned up at the clinic with my bag packed in case anything went wrong (in which case they perform an immediate C-section).
After 30 minutes sitting and reading while they monitored the baby’s heartbeat, three midwives came in. One was a student, who with my consent spent some time finding various bits of the baby under my skin (the midwives all agreed that they wouldn’t have been able to tell he was breech without the scan). They then double-checked his position with ultrasound, and warned me to brace for some discomfort. Then the more-senior of the midwives fiddled with my belly for a minute, and just as I was expecting her to say they were starting she announced that she’d done it and he was round.
Not everyone has an easy time with ECV – it can be very painful, and only 50% of babies will turn (and even then, some will turn back again). But for me, it was very easy and completely effective, so no Caesarean needed!
With that hurdle cleared, it was time for the waiting game. My due date came and went without so much as a quiver of Braxton-Hicks. A week later, I had a membrane sweep with my midwife, and still nothing.
I had got as far as having my appointment booked at the hospital for an induction when, 10 days after I was due, I woke up at about 1230am on 19th November in the middle of a contraction.
The contractions were painful and close together, but since they’d only just started I assumed I still had the hours and hours of sitting around and waiting to get through. Even after I rang the hospital and they told me to come in, I still assumed we were a good day or two from baby o’clock. Dan had been unwell, so I popped my head round his door and told him I was in labour, and we agreed he would come round to the hospital in the morning after a proper night’s sleep.
JTA and I drove to the hospital on empty roads while I had contractions in the car – the experience I’d always assumed I would have first time round, in fact.
When we got to the John Radcliffe hospital Women’s Centre, we were informed that the Spires midwifery centre (where I’d spent most of my labour first-time round) was full, and sent to the hospital birthing centre instead. The midwife there examined me and said I was already in active labour and needed to be admitted (which was quite a surprise – I was still expecting to be on roughly the same schedule as last time). Luckily, the only birthing pool on the ward was available, so I huffed some gas and air while they filled it and then clambered in.
For a few hours, I laboured quite peacefully in the darkened birthing room. I had a drink to hand, and the combination of the pool and the gas and air made the pain quite bearable. JTA and I chatted and enjoyed a round of toast, while our attendant midwife caught up on some paperwork.
After about 3 hours, I started to feel that I was really having more pain than I would like, so I requested an epidural. At that point, the pain was still within what I could handle, but I figured I should get the epidural before we got to the “so much pain I’d rather die” stage.
I had to get out of the pool and move to a different room (boo), and then there was more monitoring while they sent someone off to find an anesthesiologist. It turned out the women’s centre anesthesiologist was in surgery, so they sent to borrow one from the main hospital. Based on her performance, I’m pretty sure the hospital sent whoever was nearest the phone when the call came in, possibly a cleaner or maybe even a bored patient in borrowed scrubs…
I was instructed to sit very still on the edge of the bed (no easy task when having contractions every couple of minutes), while the anesthesiologist fiddled around behind me and the student midwife in charge of passing me my gas and air kept forgetting because she was trying to watch what was happening on my back. 14 holes in my back later, and still no pain relief, the “anesthesiologist” declared that she couldn’t get the needle into the right position and went off to find someone else.
While she was gone, I was lying back on the bed huffing more gas and air and feeling a bit fed up when my waters suddenly broke. Contrary to what I’d been led to believe, I didn’t feel like I was wetting myself – there was a distinct popping feeling and then a load of liquid came out of me. It was as if a fluid-filled sack inside me had burst (I guess I’m not great at similes).
The moment that happened, the baby started to come. I felt a very strong urge to push, and unlike with Annabel, I could feel the baby moving each time I did it. The midwives were so good, guiding me and encouraging me, that I found myself trusting them completely. At some point, a new anesthesiologist appeared and was sent away by one of the midwives who said “change of plan, we’re having the baby instead!”. Later, they became concerned because the baby’s heartbeat wasn’t picking up again as quickly as it should after each contraction, and told me we had to get him out as soon as possible. I found a new burst of strength knowing that my baby was in trouble, and was even able to stop taking the gas and air when the midwife told me I needed an extra edge to help me push.
My son was born completely naturally at 0734, I had the alarming experience as he was coming out of looking up and discovering that lots of extra equipment and doctors had appeared because they were worried about him, but pretty much as soon as he was out they all dispersed again and everything was fine. Little John weighed in at 10lbs 6oz, the midwives were all very pleased that we’d managed to get him out without needing any extra interventions. This time round, I was still sufficiently with it to be aware when the placenta came out a short while later and have a little look at it. It was gross.
This time, I got what the fuss was about. Giving birth to my son without the hard drugs, even though it wasn’t my original plan, was an amazing experience. I could feel my body doing what it was supposed to, I felt strong and I felt instantly connected with my beautiful baby. I would say I recommend going drug free, so long as you know in advance you’re not going to have a horrifically long and painful labour.