Birth story - Emma and baby Callum

I had a fairly uncomplicated pregnancy until about 36ish weeks, where I ended up being called in for several extra appointments due to elevated blood pressure. This eventually resolved itself, and I suspect was down mainly to my decision to return to my job as a primary school teacher at 37 weeks after the summer holidays rather than beginning my maternity leave - I had rather optimistically declared that I would work up until 39 weeks without realising how knackered I would be, not to mention stressed with our kitchen extension being massively delayed and builders being generally useless. On the positive side, I got many opportunities to practise up breathing to calm myself down! Anyway, I had an appointment at 37+3 where I was told that they were less concerned about the blood pressure, but did have some further concerns about the size of the baby, as they didn’t appear to have grown much since a growth scan we’d had at 32 weeks. So we were booked in for a further growth scan at 37+5, where they took some further measurements and started talking about the possibility of induction. We used BRAIN and requested an appointment with a consultant, which took place two days later at 38 weeks exactly. They were brilliant at reassuring us and also sought out the opinion of a second consultant, who agreed that we would be well within our rights to request induction, otherwise we would be looking at a further scan at 39+5 and immediate induction if there had been no further growth.

Using BRAIN again, we accepted a sweep that day and learned that my cervix was actually looking very favourable and they ‘wouldn’t be surprised’ if I went into labour naturally over the next few days. My husband and I talked about it over the following 24 hours and ultimately decided that we wanted to go ahead with the induction starting on 38+3 because we were both fairly anxious and didn’t feel comfortable waiting another two weeks. We acknowledged that the measurements taken could never be fully accurate but considering our anxiety, two weeks felt too long to wait when they were unable to guarantee that everything would be ok. Plus I felt far more comfortable opting for induction knowing that following the sweep, things looked pretty ready to get going soon anyway. They had said we would unfortunately have to be consultant led rather than going to the MLU, which meant no pool birth, but I explained that I wanted to remain as upright and mobile as possible and not be confined to a bed, and they agreed that this would be a preferable option and that they would be able to monitor me off the bed, which was very reassuring. So the induction was booked for the following Monday September 10th and we had the weekend to get ourselves sorted. I threw a fit at our builder and insisted that he finish off the plastering over that weekend, dropped in at work to let them know I would be finishing that day, a week earlier than planned, then went home for a weekend of tidying, packing hospital bags, practising my up breathing and batch cooking spaghetti bolognaise for the following week.

We headed into hospital on the Monday at 38+3 and had the pessary put in just after midday. My husband stayed with me until 9pm when he was sent home, and shortly afterwards I started having cramps. I was in a shared room with two other women also being induced, and had a momentary wobble at 1am when I couldn’t sleep at all, paracetamol and codeine had made very little difference and a midwife I spoke to was quite dismissive and said ‘it’s always like this, those other ladies in your room have been here for two days waiting for a space on the labour ward, plus you’re a first time mum, you’ll probably be here a while longer’. This was very disheartening as the other women were both sleeping soundly and I didn’t even want to be on the bed, I just had to keep walking up and down the corridor all night with frequent loo breaks - I was worried at this stage that I was being a bit of a baby about things when the midwife had indicated she didn’t think there was anything to make a fuss about. At 4am, another midwife came to chat to me and she was lovely - she examined me and said that I was 4cm dilated so took out the pessary and said they would wait for a space on labour ward to open up. She could only offer me more paracetamol and codeine, and suggested I take a bath, which I did - I was in there for nearly two hours doing my up breathing and it really helped calm me down, I think I nearly fell asleep at one point!

At 6am, I got out of the bath and went back to my bed, where my waters promptly went quite excessively all over the sheets and floor. I buzzed for the nice midwife, who confirmed that they were my waters, and agreed that I could get back in the bath where I felt happiest, and that I could call Alex, my husband, back in a bit early. I rang Alex and asked him to come in via Tesco with a packed lunch, and headed back to the bathroom. Once I was back in the water, I started having quite intense surges every 2-3 minutes, which I timed using an app on my phone, but I stupidly didn’t realise they were surges because the first midwife had told me the night before that I would be taking much longer to get this far (sounds stupid, but I really didn’t believe they were real!). Alex arrived shortly afterwards, took one look at me and the app on my phone and went for a midwife, who asked me to get out of the bath so they could examine me again, to find out I’d already got to 7cm! Things were a bit of a blur after that while they tried to find space for me on the labour ward, it only took half an hour or so but I got quite impatient and angry during this time, I hated being in the shared room with all the noise and bustle and the TV on and just wanted everyone to go away.

I barely remember being transferred to the labour ward, but when we arrived we had a quiet room waiting for us and the most amazing midwife, Kay, who told me that she’d looked at my birth plan and saw no reason why we needed any further intervention as I’d managed very well on my own so far, and that ‘no one’s coming into this room without my say so!’ I was a bit stressed at this stage because of all the hustle and bustle on the previous ward, so requested some diamorphine to help me calm down. Over the following two hours, I just focused on up breathing with gas and air, and was able to get myself properly back in the zone. By midday, I was 9cm dilated and we didn’t think it would be much longer.

Except...it was. Shortly after midday something felt different, and I suddenly couldn’t bear to be upright, I wanted to be on the bed, which was a big surprise to me. The midwife thought the baby may have turned back to back at the 11th hour, so asked if they could put me on the drip to increase the intensity and frequency of surges to help the baby along. I declined using BRAIN and proceeded to continue with up breathing and gas and air for several more hours until it became clear that I wasn’t progressing, and I was becoming uncomfortable to the point where I couldn’t urinate and accepted being catheterised to help ease my discomfort (this really wasn’t bad at all, I barely noticed it). We used BRAIN again and accepted the drip, starting on a low setting but eventually creeping all the way up, and this was how we spent the next few hours - quite intense surges lasting a minute, a minute and a half break during which Alex fed me Lucozade and fizzy strawberry lace sweets, then repeat. However, it still felt very manageable. I didn’t speak to Alex for about seven hours, I was completely in the zone and focusing on nothing but my up breathing, counting in and out and telling myself over and over ‘I can do anything for one minute’. Kay, our midwife, had to go at 7pm, but she told us that she had personally handpicked ‘a really good one’ to replace us - along with a midwifery student who was only nineteen but completely brilliant. I remember being dimly aware of Kay showing her my birth plan and saying ‘take a good look, that’s a really good example of a well thought out birth plan’ and feeling really proud!

At about 8pm, I started to get a sense that there was something wrong, and that there was a reason things weren’t moving along. At this point, baby’s heart rate dropped and I had to get on my side - they examined me again and found that the baby’s head was pushed into an awkward position with the chin up, and they were well and truly wedged in - and yes they were back to back, after being in a perfect position from 28 weeks right up until I was in active labour. We saw a consultant who recommended theatre for an assisted delivery or c section if that wasn’t possible - something that we completely agreed with as I had an overwhelming sense that this felt safest for both me and the baby. The entire conversation was calm and measured, we weren’t left feeling scared or worried and actually felt completely in control. Half an hour later, we were in theatre with our midwife, the student and the most brilliant theatre team who I was laughing and chatting with as soon as they put the spinal in. They quickly ascertained that assisted delivery wasn’t an option as he was so wedged in, so a c section it was. At 9.39pm, our baby boy Callum Alexander was born weighing 6 pounds 15.5 ounces. Alex and I both cried and I had immediate skin to skin with him, although had to pass him over to Alex when I started shaking uncontrollably as I’d lost quite a bit of blood and ended up needing a transfusion - I can honestly say that I barely noticed this though, as I couldn’t stop staring at Callum.

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We had to stay in hospital for a few days while I recovered but we’re now all home safe and getting used to life as a family of three. A lot of friends and family heard my birth story and said ‘oh wow, that sounds full on/awful/traumatic’ and I was very quick to correct them - no, it wasn’t traumatic at all. Alex and I actually both agreed that it had been an incredibly positive experience, because Siobhan’s online package equipped us with the knowledge we needed to make informed choices about our birth experience, and also because the midwives and theatre staff all listened, and gave us what we needed in order to labour the way we wanted. Yes the surges were intense, but the up breathing and visualisations got me through it all calmly - I would have really struggled without those. At no point did I feel scared or overwhelmed. I felt calm, in control and able to trust my instincts from the moment we got to the labour ward. So we are both incredibly glad that we used the online package, because Callum’s birth would have been incredibly different without it - thanks to Siobhan, I can genuinely look back on the experience and feel proud of myself and my body for what it was capable of.

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