Alice’s Birth Story – 2007
I really should have known when two mornings running I arrived at the office suffering from stomach flu symptoms that this was the start of the nine month long roller coaster. Each morning I took pain killers and distinctly remember telling a colleague to “stay away, you don’t want what I’ve got”. Ha, ha, it would have been some major medical breakthrough if he’d got what I’d got! Hey, I’ve always been in denial about both of my pregnancies.
On the third morning when the nausea had set in, Ian drove me to Boots in Chineham where I picked up one of their own brand pregnancy kits. Sure enough once we got home it clearly showed that I was pregnant with our second baby. Whilst I was obviously excited about the arrival of another little face in our family, I was somewhat full of dread that I may suffer the horrid nausea that I had faced last time. Little did I know that this time it would be an order of magnitude worse and last for far longer. Over the coming days and months the nausea became unbearable. I was compelled to be in the office by 8.15am, otherwise the nausea would slap me around the face at 8.16am and not subside until mid-morning. As a safety net I would carry around sick bags in my handbag just in case. One difference from my previous pregnancy was the fact that they had now removed all of the office bins in the name of being green and promoting central recycling. These had been my safety net last time in case I couldn’t dash to the toilet! I was never actually sick but experienced the most debilitating nausea most of the time. I remember one morning not being able to drive along the motorway just in case I needed to stop the car. Instead, I took the ambling route across country steadily trying to much on a muffin to quell the nausea. I was so debilitated by the nausea that I would try almost anything for relief. I had a course of accupuncture over the course of a few weeks and aside from the therapy of talking to someone else about how bad I was feeling, it didn’t seem to work. I also tried anti-nausea wrist bands that are used when travelling by sea, anything with ginger in it, anything with mint in it, eating toast whilst lying in bed before trying to sit up in the morning and therapeutic music. To my dismay, nothing seemed to work.
Some mornings I would sit in the car in the office car park wondering if I could make it from the car, through reception and up the stairs to my desk without retching. Sometimes I would sit in the car for a while until I reached a lull in the nausea. Until around 16 weeks we kept the pregnancy quiet and so I would try desperately hard to be happy and smiley on the outside whilst inside I felt dreadful. I almost find myself laughing now but I sat in the office restaurant one lunchtime munching on a dry baguette with cheese and tomato wondering which receptacle I could be sick into. The disabled toilet in the office became my friend. I often spent the odd half an hour sitting on the floor as it was cool and quiet but most importantly contained a toilet should I need it.
I was extremely nervous about an impending business trip for four days to the US. Would I have to own up to being pregnant much earlier than I wanted so that I could avoid the trip. Actually being in the US would probably be OK but the thought of being tied up inside a claustrophobic aircraft for around ten hours in each direction was simply frightening. Fortunately we flew with Virgin and I was able to spend airmiles on getting Upper Class seats in both directions. Brilliant, a bed where I could lie down whenever I wanted, space and privacy and food as and when I wanted it (or more to the point, if I wanted it). There were periods during the meetings and obligatory customer entertainment in the evenings when I felt very ill. Someone did make a comment that my main meal of a salad was very small but the truth was that I couldn’t manage to swallow much more than a few lettuce leaves. The huge advantage of working with mainly male colleagues (I guess there have to be some!) is that they didn’t think anything of my petit meals and the fact that I was very enthusiastic about driving everywhere so that I didn’t have to invent other excuses for not drinking. They also did not think it at all strange when they caught me at my desk munching away on ginger biscuits (something that I never usually do).
After weeks and months of feeling like this most days, I was truly exhausted. Most evenings I would get home and collapse straight into bed, often in tears because I felt useless. I felt unable to look after James properly and barely able to look after myself properly. Before I was half way through I truly did not know how I would cope with many more months of feeling so terrible. At this point the thought of a termination seemed like to only way out of the deep, dark hole that I was stuck in.
As the pregnancy progressed I had periods of relief from the nausea but they were often replaced by heart burn. In one case after a delicious Chinese meal (including my favourite crispy duck) the heartburn lasted for over a week. No amount of Gaviscon seemed to help. I also suffered rib rub on my right hand side in the latter months where it became very painful to sit down and no amount of hotching around or stretching seemed to offer relief. This was however minor compared to the horrid, horrid nausea.
I look back on this with some humility now but the truth is that it was a very dreadful time, full of emotion and a feeling that it would continue forever.
At the twelve week scan we saw you for the first time. Small and fragile but wonderful none the less. Wriggling a little but not quite doing the somersaults that we saw from your brother the first time we saw him on the scan screen. You looked perfect and your little heart was fluttering away in front of us. Although of course we were curious, we decided not to find out whether you were a boy or girl but instead wait for that surprise on the big day when you entered the world. Even though I felt so wretched I knew that it wasn’t your fault and I loved feeling you grow inside of me.
At the twenty week scan we could see more of your features. When we saw your brother at this point he was clearly brandishing a willy but with you we couldn’t see anything. I felt sure that you must be a girl but didn’t want to set my mind on that.
I attended a number of doctor and midwife appointments where they measured the bump, took blood samples, urine samples, blood pressure readings and checked the baby’s heart. All was progressing well. I felt sure that the trip to hospital and the fact that I had been made to lie down during the latter stages of labour last time had interrupted progress and lead to some of the complications that I experienced. I knew that I could cope with the pain of labour and so the option of a homebirth seemed appealing. I attended a local homebirth meeting really with the expectation that it would be attended by a group of hippies and very alternative thinking people. In fact they were a group of professional people just like me. Right, mind made up, this bump was going to be born at home. We busied ourselves with preparation, choosing a birthing pool, making sure we had towels on hand … oh and a couple of plastic sheets to catch any breaking waters.
This time (noticeably more than last time – although we did have a house crawling with builders and rubble then), I had an overwhelming urge to clean everything and I mean EVERYTHING. This baby could not arrive until every last spec of dust had been banished from the house. I remember with some relief at about eight months that it was OK for the baby to arrive after this point because I had tidied and organised every room, cleaned and hoovered (!) the attic, freecycled or charity shopped anything that was surplus to requirements and even dishwashered the nappy bucket and all the bins. Now I was really ready for this baby to arrive.
I finished work on the 15th December, the due date being 1st January 2008, expecting a couple of weeks of quiet time and pampering. I had a half day on the 15th and flung myself straight into the pampering by having a pedicure. After all, it was important for the baby to have pretty toes to look at as he/she entered the world. I busied myself with all of the last minute preparations.
The final meeting with the midwife involved a home visit so that she could drop off a few things in preparation for the homebirth. Useful and attractive things such as absorbent pads (lots of), the mouthpiece for the gas and air and a few drugs to store in the fridge. All of these were delivered in a large yellow bio-hazard bag. All was well until the midwife measured the bump and decided that I was measuring “small for dates” and that I would need an appointment with a specialist to investigate this further. After she left, the alarm bells starting ringing and paranoia set in. There was something wrong with my baby. The bump wasn’t growing. The amniotic fluid was low. There was some growth deformity. I scanned every bit of internet research on what “small for dates” could mean. This was all a plot to stop me having a homebirth and send me to that dreaded hospital. Nooooooooo. In the end we paid for a private scan in order to check measurements and measure amniotic fluid levels. Yes, the baby was measuring small and the amniotic fluid levels were reasonably low but not dangerously low and certainly nothing indicated that I should not go ahead with a homebirth. Yessssssss.
We made some low key preparations for Christmas Day. My Mum and Dad were due to arrive Christmas Eve and we planned to have our first ever Christmas Day at home – just Ian, James, Mum, Dad and I. As I walked around Tescos buying some things for Christmas dinner I did feel a little like John Wayne with a bowling ball between my legs. As far as we were concerned, Saturday 22nd December was going to be like any other. A few days of relaxation before the low key Christmas celebrations. How wrong could we be.
I awoke shortly after 6.00am with a few aches in my belly. By 7.00am, it was clear that these aches were coming and going every ten minutes or so. Surely this couldn’t be labour – the baby wasn’t due for another ten days. I felt the sudden urge to rush to the toilet. This was sure sign that something was happening as I remember exactly the same thing happening last time. By this time everyone was awake and I announced that I thought today could be the day. Ian strapped on the TENS machine for me. I mentally ticked off the things that we would need to do over the next few hours. Find somewhere for James to go … er kind of … we had made very loose arrangements the previous evening with Rosie and Kevin. More in jest really as my Mum and Dad would be here from Christmas Eve until after the baby was born and so we were unlikely to need any extra helping hands. OK, revert to plan B. We would call Rosie and Kevin shortly and alert them that they would need to be on call. In the meantime, Ian busied himself with getting the birth pool out of it’s box and installed in the dining room. As far as James was concerned this was just going to be a normal day with no major panics or stepping out of usual routine. Ian prepared him a bowl of porridge and he sat in the kitchen whilst life changing events were taking place just the other side of the wall.
7:30 am – Ian phoned Rosie and Kevin to let them know that things were happening and that we may well need a helping hand with James.
7:40 am – It is amazing how instinct kicks in during childbirth. The contractions were very manageable at this point. I felt the overwhelming need to do everything correctly. I lay a plastic sheet on the floor in the living room and lit a candle to concentrate on. During contractions I would fall to all fours and work through it whilst concentrating on the flicker of the flame. Between contractions it was as if nothing was happening. I went upstairs and got James’s clothes ready.
7:50 am – Ian phoned the hospital to let them know things were in progress and that a midwife would be needed at some point. They asked Ian for a few details and then asked to speak to me. They asked a whole lot of what seemed like meaningless questions … name, address, date of birth. The phone call seemed to last ages and I didn’t have a single contraction during the call. I must have seemed very calm and they said words to the effect of “you know how these things are, it could be several hours yet, take a couple of paracetamol and have a warm bath”.
8.00 am – Ian phoned Rosie and Kevin to let them know that he would pop James over soon. No rush though as he was still eating his breakfast and needed to get dressed.
Suddenly, I could no longer be on all fours during contractions. I had to walk during contractions and for some unknown reason I also had to point my chin upwards during the contraction and look at the ceiling making a deep grunting sound throughout the contraction. I can see flashbacks to this now, imagining looking at the lime plaster ceiling in our living room. I was wearing very little apart from my slippers and large over the belly black maternity pants.
8.10 am – Ian phoned the hospital and said that they needed to send a midwife as soon as possible.
8.15 am – Ian phoned the hospital again and said that seriously we did need a midwife. They were rather abrupt and said that she was on her way but travelling from Aldershot!
It was during on of these more serious contractions, that I lost my bowels on the living room floor. I felt embarrassed as I explained to Ian. Something suddenly changed and I felt an urge to hold onto something during “contractions” (I now know that these were pushes). I tried holding against the cabinet in the living room but this was not the right height to give me something to push my whole weight against. I bore down with my whole weight and screamed. I knew in my mind that I needed to find something stronger to hold onto during the next contraction. Something had happened during that last “contraction” and as I felt down I could feel a head protruding through my large black maternity pants. My exact words were “It’s coming out”.
I was the first human hand to touch you. Exactly as it should be.
In what seems like a simultaneous movement, I found myself at the bottom of the stairs holding onto the bannisters and removing my soiled pants.
Ian asked if we should phone an ambulance. I did not and could not answer as my natural instinct was just to get on with this by myself. If I had allowed myself to respond the answer would have been “NO”.
8.20 am – Ian dialled 999. After waiting for a few minutes he was able to get through.
I grasped onto the banisters with both hands and gave an almighty push whilst almost lifting my whole bodyweight off the ground. Throughout, I roared and screamed. I was almost oblivious to what Ian was doing in the background. I remember him behind me at one point explaining that the head was out. He also relayed the information from the phone “could I lie down”. Oh no the dreaded lying down. Wild horses would NOT have made me lie down at this point. It would have been so counter instinctive.
All I could think about was that this baby must not fall onto the floor. My requests for towels must have been lost in the drama because with two more pushes, you were born. We think somewhere between 8.25 – 8.30 am. In the mele, the last thing we were doing was observing the clock.
I could only see glimpses of you because your Daddy had held you as you slide out and was holding you behind me. As he held the phone under his chin I could hear him say “it has come out … she has come out and is covered in shit”. His voice was full of emotion. Unlike in the movies, there was silence, no immediate screams and gurgles. For a moment, I hoped that everything was OK. The paramedics on the phone advised him to tap your feet on the floor to encourage life into your little body. Soon I could hear your little screams and Daddy passed you round to me. Your cord was wrapped back between my legs and around my side but I could still hold you perfectly in my arms. You were tiny and so fragile.
My instinct was to protect you and keep you warm. I wanted towels, I asked for towels. Ian disappeared to open the door and I staggered across the hallway to get a towel to wrap you in.
The paramedics, Colin and Paula, appeared through our dining room. After doing an initial check, they untangled the cord and sat me down on the chair in the playroom. They covered us in towels and asked for a flannel so that they could clean us both.
I felt overjoyed, empowered and fortunate to have you born in the home that Daddy and I have built up together.
Ten minutes later, the midwife Holly, arrived. She did some checks and then we waited for the placenta to be delivered. I wanted to do this naturally rather than with the intervention of drugs – after all, that’s how it’s meant to be isn’t it? After fifteen or twenty minutes, Holly asked if I would like her to pull on the cord to release it. Slowly and a bit like delivering a jelly, the placenta was released.
Holly did some checks on my and I really hoped that I would not need to be transferred to hospital for any stitches. After all, the morning had been so calm and perfect and I really did not want it to end in a trip to hospital.
James, of course, was very intrigued by the midwife’s ‘tool kit’.
Your arrival in the world was absolutely perfect. If someone had asked the inner me for the ideal birth plan, your birth would have fitted it exactly (apart from the soiled pants and lack of towels of course). My inner voice and instinct would have wanted a birth without intervention, without spectators and in a place where I felt safe and protected. I was lucky enough to have all of these.