Birth Story - The beautiful birth of Ailbe Fox
My little Foxy turns one tomorrow and on the eve of his first birthday I have sat down to write his birth story. I cannot believe that a year has passed already and I know us Mums always say that but this past year has honestly flown by quicker than any before.
I always tell women that they should write their birth story down as soon as possible whilst all the memories are still clear. I think it's great to capture the way it felt to give birth when all the feelings are so fresh and then you have it down on paper / the internet to look back on whenever you want to remind yourself of that time.
I'm gutted I didn't take my own advice.
Life has been so busy since the birth of Fox in March last year, what with three children (two of them under 18 months), a relocation from London to Devon in September, a school appeal followed by another school move in January for my eldest, renovating a house (ongoing) and running a growing business and becoming the family breadwinner, there hasn't been much time to come up for air. Let alone write a birth story giving it the time and attention it deserved.
So for 12 solid months I've had this on my mental to do list but because Foxy's birth felt like such a big thing, such a special thing, I wanted to have the time to write it properly, not rush it and do it for the sake of getting it done in a 5 minute window I managed to find. But that time never came and even now - it's almost midnight, which is far from ideal but pretty much reflects how mental busy my life is at the moment.
But I am determined to have it done for his first birthday and I'm going to do my upmost to honour it as best I can. So here it is in full, the beautiful, calm, peaceful birth of Ailbe Fox...
Monday 28th March 2016 (Easter Monday)
Approx 10PM - I was sitting on the sofa watching something on the telly with James when I first felt a gentle surge. I'd love to say 'and then I just *knew* it was happening' but I didn't. Even though this was baby no3 I still thought it was just my body warming up. Fox was due on the 1st April - my April Fool's baby! James' birthday is on the 7th April and every single year something major seems to happen on his birthday. For example, on his 30th I was running the Paris Marathon, another year it was a best friend's wedding, another year it was a big deadline for me at Uni. It seems his birthday is never about him so he was convinced Foxy would arrive on the 7th and that would seal the deal forever.
I had finished work on Thursday 24th for the Easter weekend and the start of the Easter holidays, and was looking forward to doing some nice things with the boys. I had tickets to see The Witches at the theatre with Oisin for the next day so labour was not on the cards for me.
We went to bed however I did not sleep well as the gentle surges continued through the night. Not strong enough to warrant me waking James and telling him this was *it* but enough to prevent me from drifting off into deep sleep. I reckon I must have been drifting in and out of sleep throughout the night but I remember telling James in the morning that I had not slept at all!!
Tuesday 29th March 2016
In the morning James wanted to know whether he should go to work or stay home and we had the same dilemma as we did before Arlo was born. You'd think I'd know by no3 whether or not this was *it*. I wasn't 100% sure though and also didn't want the pressure of James taking the day off and then *it* not happening. So I told him exactly that. I said I didn't want him waiting around waiting for me to go into labour as that would make me feel stressed out. He said he would stay home as he thought it might be happening but would work downstairs and tell his work he'd be working from home so I didn't have to worry about him taking time off for nothing. I decided to stay in bed and try and get some sleep...
The kids were both at home as it was the Easter holidays so I could hear them watching TV downstairs so I didn't get any sleep but I felt tired so just rested upstairs in bed. James came up to check on me every now and again and suggested calling his brother over to mind the children incase this was *it*. My last labour was very quick so I think James was anxious that if things really picked it up it might all happen very fast so he wanted to have things in place like childcare organised. I on the other hand felt like I was not in labour and didn't want to waste people's time. I worried that if his brother came over and I didn't go into labour then we would have wasted his day and potentially ruined plans he might have had.
James called his brother and then informed me that his brother and girlfriend were both free all day so would come over anyway as they'd like to see the children. He assured me it didn't matter if labour didn't properly get going because I wouldn't be wasting anyone's time.
I continued resting bed and experiencing gentle irregular surges. I used an app timer and sometimes they were very spaced apart and sometimes I would get 3 in 10 minutes and the app would alarm and tell me I needed to go to hospital! It was all very gentle though so I didn't feel like I needed to go anywhere. I stopped using the timer.
11AM - My waters broke! Unlike last time when they caught me by complete surprise as I opened the fridge door (!), this time I felt them pop! In the middle of surge it felt like something hard grinded against something else (baby's head and pubic bone?!) and then I swear I heard an actual noise as they released! The water didn't gush but somehow I just knew they had broken. I stood up and slowly made my way downstairs whilst trying to quietly call for James without alerting everyone to what was happening!! He joined me on my way to the bathroom (ours was downstairs - very inconvenient when pregnant!) and I told him I thought my waters had broken. As soon as I got to the bathroom and pulled down my pants they started to trickle. It looked like I was just standing in the bathroom involuntarily wetting myself. It went on and on and on, leaving a big puddle of clear water on the floor. I realised at this point it probably really was *it*.
I spoke to midwife Natalie who was at the birth centre. Natalie was my midwife through my pregnancy with Arlo, after I signed up with the Home Birth team and she was there to catch him when he was born. I was really lucky to have been able to see her for all my antenatal appointments with Fox too. I was desperate for her to be with me for this birth. She made me feel calm and safe and I trusted her absolutely. She was keen for me to come in, knowing that last time had been so quick but I was still feeling really calm as the surges, although growing in intensity, were still really spaced out.
I decided to take a shower and get ready to go. I wanted to feel clean and fresh and ready to meet my baby. I had a shower and got dressed in my comfy clothes. My birth bag was packed and I think I put on some make up. James called an uber and I said my goodbyes to the boys. Ben, James' brother, kindly agreed to take Osh to the theatre. I'll admit I was a bit gutted to be missing it!!
The uber came and we loaded up the boot with our bags and baby carseat. When I waddled out of the house and confirmed we wanted to be taken straight to the maternity wing at West Middlesex Hospital, I'm pretty sure the uber driver had a small heart attack. He was so anxious to get us there, he drove as though I was about to give birth - including up a one-way street!! He then took a back route to avoid the traffic but it involved speed bump after speed bump. I was quite honestly the calmest person in the car. I only had one surge all the way there and I was pretty sure that once assessed, I would be sent home. I didn't feel like I was in active labour, just early labour. I listened to my relaxation tracks and felt very chilled out with James sat beside me holding my hand.
I have never had to travel to hospital before in labour. With my first I was induced for dates (oh what I know now!!) so I was not even close to being in labour when I went in for my induction. With my second I had a home birth so didn't need to worry about the journey in. When I had thought about travelling in to the birth centre I had always imagined I would be in established labour with surges coming thick and fast, potentially on all fours in the back of the uber! It was so different. I was so calm and didn't even feel / believe I was in labour.
1PM - We arrived at West Middlesex Hospital in the drizzly rain. As I got out of the uber another surge came. I stood by the wall, eyes closed, breathing in and out. James called and beckoned for me to come in but I just waved him away. The surge required all my focus. So instead of going inside, James stood beside me holding my hospital notes over my head as some sort of make-shift umbrella!!
As we went in we were greeted by Claire who was waiting for me. She took us straight to the birth centre which was a relief. I was dreading having to wait in triage! We walked down lots of corridors before reaching the peace and quiet of the birth centre. I was to be in the Daisy room. As soon as Claire opened the door I knew we had made the right decision about where to give birth. The place looked like a spa! The blind was down, the lights were dimmed, the pool was full. In fact the only light in the room was coming from the lighting in the pool, which made the water glow blue. It was magical and a calm haven in comparison to the noise and chaos back home.
Claire offered me an examination and I took it to see where we were at. I was approximately 3cm dilated but instead of being sent home, Claire said they would leave me have this room for a while to settle in and to see what would happen. She said she would return in 4 hours to assess if there had been progress but that if we needed her before she would be right outside. Not long after Natalie popped in to see me and I was so happy to know she would be there with me.
I wasn't disappointed about being 3cm at all because I didn't feel like I was in active labour. I was happy we had the place to ourselves to just relax and were able to make it our own space. James strung up our fairy lights, put our spa music on and took the tealights out (battery operated ones - I really recommend these!). Then I put on my tens machine and we just spent some time doing our relaxation exercises. This was a pretty blissful time. With Arlo there was no time for any of this so I was grateful for this. James did a reading for me, I had some light touch massage. It was really lovely. I remember needing to go to the loo quite a bit so I was in and out of the bathroom. There were beanbags on the floor so I tried using them to rest on but didn't find that so comfortable. I found I preferred walking about and standing up. Previously I have loved using the tens machine but this time I found it really annoying. I have no idea why but I soon removed it.
Last time I relied heavily on my visualisations when doing my breathing especially the golden thread when exhaling, but this time I came to rely on James counting for me. I don't know why that was... Perhaps last time I had to use my visualisations as James wasn't by my side throughout as he was busy attending to the birth pool, inflating it, filling it etc. This time because everything was done for us and we weren't 'hosting', James was able to be with me throughout. This is one of the reasons he says he preferred Foxy's birth at the birth centre to Arlo's birth at home! (I think I still preferred my home birth!!).
So eventually the surges got stronger to the point that they were no longer completely comfortable and they became more frequent and regular. They didn't become 3 in 10 though, they stayed at 2 in 10 but each one lasting quite a long time. I was keen to get in the pool now although remember thinking it was too soon as I should wait for things to be more established. Natalie told me to listen to my body and reminded me I could always get out if things slowed down.
Claire and Natalie had been in to check on me but until this point we had mostly been left alone which had been lovely. Both had reminded us that they were just outside should we need them but they had respected the fact we wanted to be by ourselves. Once in the pool though, they both stayed with me.
2.50PM - I got in the pool and my god, it was glorious. Complete relief. Utterly weightless. I had wanted a water birth with Arlo but ended up birthing him on the sofa, looking at my birth pool. I had dreamt of this feeling and now it was finally happening. I adopted the all fours position which I found so comfortable, and was able to rock back and forth in the water.
The surges were strong but didn't build in frequency. I got what I called the 'little brother' often though. I would have a big surge and then very soon after another mini one that wasn't as intense and didn't last as long. I was silent for the most part although I took to saying "that was the little brother" or "here comes the big brother". No idea where I got that from. I kept my eyes closed and occasionally had a sip of my coconut water. The room was pretty silent apart from the spa music playing away in the background. It was incredibly calm and peaceful.
At some point the surges changed and instead of feeling the muscles lifting up, I felt them pushing down and I began to feel Foxy's head descend. I wish I could remember the exact timings of when this stage of labour began but sadly I don't. It felt like the whole 'pushing' stage only lasted a few minutes though (last time it was 4 minutes! This time was a little longer as I just breathed and breathed).
I was now face to face with James and wholly focusing on breathing, in and out, in and out. I resisted the urge to push, which was tricky. When your body is pushing involuntarily and you feel something moving downwards (the baby), the urge to just try and expel what is coming out is immense. I resisted because last time I suffered tears and a big bleed and part of the reason for that I believe was the fast delivery. I was desperate to keep everything calm and controlled and slow, so I just breathed and breathed and breathed. I didn't actively push once!
The room was silent throughout this time (unlike last time when I made loud primal noises for all neighbours to hear!). The only time the silence was broken (which apparently everyone found very funny) was when I broke out of my zone for a split second and uttered "fuck me". James tells me he and Natalie looked at each other and raised their eyebrows but stifled any laughs. It was so out of character as I was the picture of zen and totally in the birthing zone at the time and then I finally broke my silence but what came out was so unexpected and so un-zen. I think it's a hilarious story. I wasn't even aware at the time that I'd said anything. I immediately returned to breathing silently, without having even opened my eyes, leaving everyone wondering if it hadn't even happened.
3.36PM - Foxy Bingo is born!! Calmly and gently he is born into the water and I am able to catch him myself and bring him up to my chest! The most incredible feeling. I feel very lucky to have a photo of the exact moment so I will never forget it. His cord was wrapped around his neck a few times so we had to unravel him. He was silent and a little floppy like he was still asleep. I think his birth had been so calm and into the water, that he didn't even realise he had been born for some time!! Oisin was dragged out screaming, Arlo came flying out screaming. I was a little shocked that Foxy appeared to be sleeping. I remember asking a few times if he was ok and was reassured that he was. I held him to me and it was bliss. I had finally got my water birth. Third time lucky!
My labour was recorded as 51 minutes which is probably about right. I felt established labour began just before I got in the pool. A PB compared to my previous births but also completely different. If you count from the first surge, my labour had been going since 10pm the previous night. There was a lot longer of a build up but as a result the whole labour felt less fast and furious and more gentle and peaceful.
The birth of Foxy was so straightforward and easy that it was almost uneventful. That's how it felt! I know that giving birth is pretty much the most eventful thing one can do; you're bringing a whole new human into the world via your vagina FFS (!!) but the whole thing from start to finish was so uncomplicated that it felt uneventful. I simply made my way to the birth centre, not even in established labour and then 2.5 hours later he was born and then a couple hours later I was home. Easy.
After Fox was born I stayed in the pool for a little while. I was conscious of doing what I could to stimulate the production of Oxytocin in order to make my uterus contract and to reduce the risk of bleeding like last time. We kept the environment after birth the same as beforehand; low lights, spa music, hushed voices, calm manner etc. I put Foxy to my breast as that is one way to get the oxytocin flowing and waited for him to get all of his blood from the placenta. Once the cord was empty, James was able to cut it. I then got out of the pool.
This was the first time I got to have a completely natural, physiological third stage. With my first, he was born in theatre and I think the cord was cut pretty quickly and I know I was given the injection to make the placenta come out. I don't remember having a choice in the matter. With my second I wanted a physiological third stage but I was losing too much blood so Arlo only got a few minutes of delayed cord clamping before I had to have the injection. With Fox it seemed to be a case of third time lucky again - or the prep finally paid off! There was such little blood loss. I think bleeding was the thing I was fearful of the most. I had a post partum haemorrhage with both Oisin and Arlo so I knew the stats were not in my favour; I was high risk for another bleed. It didn't help that I knew women died from blood loss and only 2 weeks beforehand one of my best friends had lost so much blood in childbirth she required multiple transfusions! As a consequence some part of me was expecting some degree of blood loss and for the water in the pool to turn red. However it remained totally clear.
Once the cord had been cut and I had been helped out of the pool, I sat on the birthing stool. This is a bit like a toilet seat but without a toilet bowl underneath. The placenta came away within a few moments. I felt it coming and the urge to push once more and it passed easily. James cut a little bit off for me to place against my gum should I need it (would help reduce blood loss) but I didn't need to use it. My placenta was then packed away and put in the fridge ready for collection (I was having it encapsulated).
I had a full hour of cuddles with Foxy before he was weighed and had his first nappy put on and before I was inspected for tears. Just as I had wished.
Once the golden hour was over, James got some skin to skin time whilst I was examined. Having torn relatively badly last time, this time there was only a very small tear that required just one or two stitches. I didn't want any drugs introduced to my body so I declined the local anaesthetic and just had the stitches done right there on the floor of the birth centre.
The reason I didn't want any pain relief was that I had gotten this far without any drugs being introduced to my system so I didn't want to start messing with anything now. This was massively influenced by the fact that after Arlo was born I developed a crazy serious allergy to paracetamol!!! I now have to carry an epi pen as I have anaphylaxis. I have had two anaphylactic reactions and they are the scariest thing. Not being able to breathe is horrific and makes me feel like I'm going to die. I know that nobody is allergic to paracetamol (or so say many people), but I am. I never was before, I took paracetamol in pregnancy even! Nobody knows how or why this has developed but after Arlo was born I was given paracetamol and BOOM! That was it. So I was super cautious and still am, about taking anything.
The sensation of having the stitches done was unpleasant but not dissimilar to having your ear pieced. The needle piercing the skin is over very quick, it's feeling the thread pull through that really gets me. What's amazing about this though, is that on any regular day the thought of having stitches through my perineum without any pain relief at all would make me scream. Doesn't even have to be an area as delicate as the perineum. Take my arm! The thought of having stitches through my arm without pain relief? NO WAY! Yet somehow, after giving birth, you're so full of oxytocin and endorphins that you can handle it! It's incredible. It's like you get real super-human strength.
After the stitches were done I was wrapped up in my fluffy dressing gown and had a little snuggle in the bed with my beautiful boy. James popped open the champagne but I decided to down a coke instead - haha! I'm nothing but classy.
The time passed quite quickly and my memory is hazy. I remember Natalie coming to say her goodbyes and then texting me to remind me to take my placenta! I remember Claire telling me it was an honour to be at my birth because it was such a lovely experience. I remember another midwife bringing me cups of tea and even giving me her own teabags after telling me the NHS ones were weak and tasteless! Everybody was so kind and lovely. After wanting a home birth for so long, the irony was that in the end I didn't even want to rush home! We were so well looked after at the birth centre and were loving being in our little bubble with our newborn baby. I knew once we got home it would be straight back to business with the boys so I wanted to enjoy this special time for as long as I could.
We did finally go home though after a few hours of relaxing! James walked through the door first and Oisin rushed to ask him if the baby had been born. James said not yet, and then I walked through the door casually swinging the car seat by my side with a little Ailbe Fox tucked up inside. Oisin was over the moon! We then lay little Foxy next to Arlo in his cot who immediately transformed from a baby himself into a fully grown child!
It was quite surreal returning home, having only been gone a few hours. Everything was simultaneously exactly the same yet completely and utterly different. We were all wearing the same clothes, everything was in the same place, just as when we had left earlier but this monumental thing had happened since. We were now a family of five! I was a Mum of THREE boys!! Life as we knew it had changed forever.
Reflecting on my birth, I feel incredibly lucky to have experienced a perfect, textbook natural birth. It has taken me three times but I finally did it, exactly as I had hoped, from start to finish. There are so many variables in birth and so many things that can go off plan. Ailbe Fox's birth was truly perfect throughout. There is nothing I wish I had done differently. I finally got my water birth, I felt calm and relaxed throughout, not just externally in my demeanour but internally in my mind also. I was in a completely relaxed state of mind and there was no internal noise or mental struggle about whether or not I could do this; I needed no convincing, I believed in myself entirely for the first time. I also got my physiological third stage and Foxy got all of his blood. Most amazing of all and the least expected, was that I had such minimal blood loss. The midwives estimated I lost 125mls in total, far below the average which is 500-1000mls. So many people told me I was likely to have another haemorrhage but I remember saying to James a number of times throughout the pregnancy that I just didn't feel like I would this time. Nothing tangible at all to go on, just a feeling but it was profound and reminds me that a woman's instinct is a powerful force.
The 'downside' of Foxy's birth was that I didn't get that huge rush of overwhelming love or the amazing high I experienced after giving birth to Arlo. This bothered me for some time. Why did I not get the amazing feeling this time when everything on paper had gone so much better than Arlo's birth at home, where I had to transfer to hospital afterwards due to losing too much blood?? I wonder if being at home contributed to the oxytocin? I wonder if the fact I was so consciously aware of the need to remain calm after birth, to reduce the risk of bleeding, meant I didn't allow myself to experience the rush and the high? I wonder if the fact that I didn't know if I could do it with Arlo, meant that when he arrived I was couldn't believe I had done it and so was full of feelings that overwhelmed me including pride and amazement. Perhaps this time because I knew I could do it, and believed in myself, that I was less amazed when I then did it?!
That aside, I will forever remember Foxy's birth as being the most profoundly peaceful and calm experience of my life. It was like time stopped and I was suspended in this little bubble in the birth pool. In contrast, Arlo's birth felt intense and fast and despite appearing calm on the outside, inside there was a storm going on! I had to remind myself that I could do it through each surge and had to consciously pull my mind back to positive thinking each time it wandered. My experience with Foxy's birth was so different. I didn't think of needing pain relief once. I didn't experience pain severe enough. My internal mind was calm and still and peaceful (which it never normally is!). My body was relaxed and I trusted in it completely and knew what I was doing (most importantly how to help and not hinder progress).
Hypnobirthing really has given me the most amazing experiences of my life and I feel privileged that teaching other women at such an important time in their lives, is now my job. It's the most rewarding job and I love it! If you would like to do a course with me then please have a look at my website for details of dates, locations and availability. I also run the Positive Birth Retreat which is a luxury babymoon mini break for expectant couples combined with the full hypnobirthing antenatal course. Details of the next retreat can be found here.
Finally I'd like to take the opportunity to thank Natalie Carter my midwife for going above and beyond, for creating an out of guidelines care plan and accommodating me in the birth centre and supporting me throughout two of my pregnancies and births. You are quite simply the best midwife I have ever met. Thank you also to Claire who supported me in the birth of Ailbe Fox and especially for taking the time to read my (very long) birth plan!! Thank you to James for being the best birth partner a mum-to-be could wish for an even more amazing Dad to our three boys. Thank you to the whole midwifery team at West Middlesex Hospital Natural Birth Centre who offer outstanding world class care. Thank you to Susie Fisher for being my birth photographer and capturing moments I will now be able to treasure forever, the most precious of memories preserved, thank you. Finally thank you to my little Foxy! Thank you for choosing me to be your Mama. It's the biggest honour. (And thank you also for looking like me. I was beginning to think I'd never have a child that looked like me).
To all the pregnant women out there reading this, KNOW THAT YOU CAN DO THIS TOO! Sign up for hypnobirthing classes! Get informed! Practice your relaxation exercises so they become second nature! And consider booking a birth photographer. You'll never regret the photos you had taken of this most special day but you may well regret not having any.
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