Birth story - Sarah and baby Max

This is the story of my son Max’s birth. Thanks to amazing support from my husband, some really inspiring midwives as well as the confidence and knowledge which we got from the Positive Birth Company digital pack and a really helpful NHS run birth talk, I delivered Max, just as I had hoped, via a VBAC and in the water.

My first son was born via a Caesarean as he was breach. Although I had recovered well from the section, and overall found the experience far better than I hoped, I decided I really wanted a VBAC for my second son. Mainly because I thought the recovery period might be harder with a 3 year old to look after as well as a newborn, and also, if I’m completely honest with myself, a sense of curiosity about a vaginal birth and my body’s ability to birth that way.

I really had to advocate for myself to get the VBAC birth plan I wanted. I read up on the subject loads to make sure I knew what the evidence said, and pushed to get an appointment with a consultant midwife who had the seniority to assess my risk factors and approve a plan for me that was outside of the normal hospital policy. Kings, like a lot of hospitals, has a blanket policy for all VBACs to be done on the labour ward and using continuous foetal monitoring. I had a strong feeling that if I was going to have a vaginal birth, I would need the calming effect of water and the ability to move freely rather than having to lie down to accommodate the monitoring so I wanted to get their approval for a birth plan outside of this policy.

At around 35 weeks I finally got the appointment with the consultant midwife (after much chasing) and she confirmed that because all my other risk factors were low, I could in fact be accepted onto the midwife led suite and didn’t have to have continuous foetal monitoring, meaning that I could at least try for the water birth I wanted. At this point I started feeling much more positive about the birth and could see the possibility of the VBAC actually happening. At that stage, encouraged by a very wise and knowledgeable friend, my husband and I set about going through the digital pack and immersing ourselves in positive birth stories, videos and calming guided meditations. It’s fair to say I became slightly obsessed with reading and watching positive stories for a few weeks! But reflecting on it now, I know that they made such a difference to the way I approached the birth and were a crucial part of removing the fear and so helping us to have our own positive VBAC story to be telling now.

The day before I went into labour was lovely and calm and other than stronger twinges than normal and a very slight sense of period pain, I had no signs that things were about to kick off. I had friends over for dinner, who left about 10.30 and after pottering around I went to bed at 11.30, but couldn’t get comfy.

Just before midnight felt the definite pop of my waters breaking. At that point I woke my husband and called labour ward who said I had the choice of going in for an assessment now or in the morning. They told me if labour hadn’t started within 24 hours I would need to be induced which concerned me a bit. But I needn’t have worried as within half hour or so I’d felt my first strong surge. The tightness went down my right buttock and leg in a way that I hadn't imagined or experienced with my first labour (I laboured for around 8 hours with my first son, after spontaneously going into labour and waiting for the C-section). I tried to lay down and rest but the surges were quickly too strong and frequent for that, so I spent the next few hours in and out the bath with my candle, room spray and positive affirmations to help me. I’m not one of those people who can say that my surges were painless. But knowing what was happening to my muscles and why every surge was necessary to bring my baby out really helped to remove some of the fear and therefore keep things calm. The NHS birth talk we went to had some brilliant anatomical illustrations which I recalled during labour, and visualising what my muscles were doing definitely helped me to go with the surges and not fight against them.

We had not banked on labour progressing quickly and it's fair to say we were both taken by surprise by the speed things at which happened. The flaw in our birth prep was that we didn’t have a proper plan for what to do with Adam, our 3 year old, if we needed to go to hospital quickly during the night. We called my parents at about 4am as the contractions were either back to back or at least 3 in 10 minutes but they live some distance away. My son woke up at about 5.30 and was largely distracted by telly but did pop into the bathroom to see why mummy was making weird noises and ask why I was having a bath when I normally preferred showers?! My parents arrived at around 7 in the morning by which time I was really concerned about how I would get to hospital. I didn’t think I was about to give birth but my worry was how on earth I was going to leave the bath and make it out to the car given that every time I moved it set off a surge and the sensations were really intense. This was probably the low point for me and I lost my mind somewhere briefly in the midst of the discussions about how we would get me out of the flat. But thanks to my amazingly calm and positive husband, my lovely reassuring mum and some wise words from over the phone from my friend who's a doula, I got it together enough to leave the flat.

As soon as I got out into the fresh air, and passed a few of my neighbours going about their morning routine my body seemed to bring itself very quickly out of the back to back endless surging that it had been doing. Moving out of our private space into the public realm slowed things down immediately for which I was hugely grateful as it allowed me small breaks into between surges during which I could actually go down steps and walk to the car. I’ll never forget the speed bumps and traffic during the 10 min journey to the hospital but my husband was a complete super star and kept his cool to get us there as quickly as possible.

Getting out the car , I was spotted by a midwife coming off duty who could see I was struggling and helped me into a wheelchair and up to ward for assessment. She also told some poor people in the lift that they would have to get another lift or just wait as I needed to go straight to third floor, no delays. What a hero! In the assessment unit, they told me I had already got to 5cm so I could go onto the midwife led suite. I was so relieved I think I cried again at that point. Worth noting that initially they wanted me to go straight onto the ward for monitoring as per the hospital's VBAC policy until my husband reminded them to look in my notes and see that an alternative plan had already been agreed. I’m not sure I would have been aware or alert enough to do that so can’t stress enough how important the role of the birth partner is in advocating for what the woman wants. They also wanted me to do some urine samples which my mum questioned the need for and so they conceded and as per my wishes wheeled me straight to the suite.

By the time they wheeled me into the midwife led suite, I was desperate to get in the water. So keen that I didn’t wait for them to put the step in place and almost fell head first into the pool! The relief of the water was immense. At that point I was given gas and air too, although I can’t say it really helped. I found it got in the way of my up-breathing rhythm more than anything, and didn’t do much to take the edge off the surges. So rather than spend too much time on it, I focussed on facing each surge with my husbands steady counting and some back and forth rocking on all fours. I just went with whatever my body wanted to do which included, putting my head into the water for my out breaths and then after every surge slumping back into my husbands arms, sometimes managing to catch a 30 second nap before the next one started. Those micro sleeps were an amazing balm.

I had very little sense of time but after about 45 minutes I remember asking how much longer I’d be in labour, and how far I’d progressed. My husband just told me that I should be encouraged by the fact that the two midwives who had joined us as we arrived in the suite hadn’t left our side and so maybe the birth wasn’t that long away. I didn’t dare believe him that birth would be soon, but pretty quickly after that, I felt an uncontrollable urge to start pushing. I was so surprised that I was already in the down phase that I kept asking the midwife, should I go with it or slow down? She was amazingly reassuring and just kept reminding me to do whatever my body was telling me to do. I remember some fear at this stage as I didn’t want to push too hard and risk severe tearing. The midwife had an incredible ability to reassure and calm, using very few words and a lot of looks and gentle touch.

The down phase was short and after what can only have been 3 or 4 more surges, the midwives told me they could see his head and he had lots of hair! This gave me an incredible boost and the energy I needed to see the remaining surges through, all the while making noises I didn’t know I could make! Next thing I knew the midwives were asking me if I wanted to be the one to catch and bring him out of the water! I said I wanted them to do it, as I just wanted everything to go right and so they did. And then, there he was! A purpley, white, vernix covered chunky little bubba who didn’t cry for the first 10 seconds or so, but then opened his tiny lungs to let us know he was here and planning on making an impression! My overwhelming emotion was relief and gratitude, followed by a rush of pride and love a few minutes later once the initial shock had worn off. It was a high I’ll never forget. And the joy I felt when I slumped back into my husbands arms again, but this time holding our son Max, was pretty darn incredible.

By this time it was ten in the morning and we had the privilege of the use of the midwife led suite to relax and recover in all day until we were discharged that night. So we did just that. Still on a high, at around 10pm we then bundled up Max and took him home to meet his big brother who was waiting up, unable to sleep and literally fizzing with excitement! And then we were 4.

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