December 26, 2010

The Birth Story (or How A Tummy Ache Became A Baby Before Tea Time)

Right then, so where was I? Oh yes, the birth story. Good Lord, has it really been three weeks since Francesca bungee-jumped into the world on her umbilical cord?

But wait, I'm rushing to the end when I'm sure what you really want to know is stuff like how excruciating the labour was, whether my obstetrician made it on time, which bodily functions did I embarrass myself with and how many stitches I needed.

No? You don't want to know all those things? Rubbish. We all want to know those things. We just don't want to admit that we want to know those things. (Answers: Fairly. No. All of them. None)

I should probably state right now that this is a 'warts and all' account of childbirth. No punches will be pulled. Any queasy gents who would prefer the fully-clothed, lights-off, sanitised version of childbirth (particularly if I'm your sister or daughter or step-mother) I believe there's a very good horse called Blissful Ignorance running in the fifth at Randwick today so go get your form guide and we'll see you back here for the flowers and chocolates bit at the end of the story.

It all started on the Thursday night, which I spent sleeping on the sofa due to some supersonic snoring coming from the marital bed and a handsome, muscle-bound 20 year old lad in the spare bed (because that's where I like to keep them, along with my Manolo collection and fridge full of Bollinger).

I woke up half a dozen times with mild tummy cramps. In my half-asleep state it felt suspiciously like indigestion and the resultant, shall we say, 'passing of wind' (if my husband tells you they are whopping great thundering farts, please ignore him) through the night corroborated this suspicion. When I woke up, I thought perhaps they might have been Braxton Hicks contractions as they weren't regular or painful. In fact, they stopped altogether in the early morning and I didn't even bother mentioning it to John.

Throughout the morning, I felt them again - a painless tightening similar to period cramps, but still irregular, perhaps once every half hour, and not lasting any regular length of time.

At about 9.30 I walked around to the local coffee shop and, sitting there with my mate Rachel, I continued to feel these 'tightenings' which, being women, we began to over-analyse. It MIGHT be the start of labour, but COULD just be Braxton Hicks which could go on for days. I had 'loose motions' which MIGHT be a sign of going into labour, but I'd had that on and off for days alternating with constipation, so it COULD have just been something I ate or a symptom of late pregnancy.

I walked home at 11.00am and sat down to do some work at the computer, still not convinced I was in labour due to the infrequency of the contractions. I also had the distraction of the handsome, muscle-bound 20 year old (oh alright, it was my stepson Ryan - fantasy's over ladies, move along) who had stayed the night due to being unwell with migraines. I had been planning to take him to his MRI appointment at midday. We were very worried about him.

I sent John a Skype message and our exchange went as follows:

M: Ryan has woken up feeling very unwell with a headache again so I've just been feeding him, given him a cold pack for his forehead and making sure he keeps his fluids up.

J: Thanks Darling - I'll do the doctor run / I will be home at midday to take him to MRI

M: Probably a good idea if you take him as I have been having mild contraction thingies for 12 hours now

J: And when were you going to share that with me?????????

M: I thought I was just constipated through the night but went to loo twice this morn and am still getting them. But they are very mild, inconsistent and short - possibly just Braxton Hicks - and could therefore go on for days. Trust me, I will tell you when they get serious xx

J: Ta xx

(Note the use of the technical term 'contraction thingies' - I still didn't think it was serious)

Rachel called me at about 1pm and, as we chatted on the phone for about 45 minutes, we decided to time the contractions, which were starting to feel less like 'thingies' and more like fair dinkum labour. At the start of our chat they were coming every 15 minutes and by the end of the call they were about 5 minutes apart. "I think you're in labour," said Rachel. "Mmmmmbblllllmmlllbbbssssaaabbbmmm . . ." I replied, suddenly unable to speak during them.

My next call was to John. He was due home at 2pm. I told him it was really happening and we would probably need to go to hospital. When I called the hospital and told them contractions were every 5 minutes, this was my second baby and I was at least 40 minutes drive away, they told me to come in pronto.

During the next 80 minutes, I parked myself on the birth ball in the bedroom, my head resting forward on the edge of the bed, and went into my calmbirth bubble. This is it, I thought calmly. It starts now, I thought calmly. Here we go, I thought calmly.

Then "Bloody hell, this is it!! It's starting!! Here we go!! What do I do again??!!" in a slightly less-than-calm manner, but that moment only lasted a millisecond. Oh yes, breathing, I thought. In for four, out for six for between contractions oops, I mean 'waves', then in for four and out for four during the 'waves' just like I'd been been practicing nearly every day for the last four weeks.

So far so good. As I rocked from side to side on my ball, focusing on the breathing, I began to visualise my cervix softening and opening. I smiled as I remembered John, Jack and I sitting around at the end of dinner one night a few weeks back, making donuts out of pink play doh, moulding them into ever-widening circles. (Hopefully Jack will never discover that we were making replicas of Mummy's cervix that night. Hello therapy couch!)

I remembered to keep smiling as I thought about welcoming our new baby into the world, and to keep my jaw loose because a relaxed jaw equals a relaxed uterus, a fact you should bear in mind if your uterus ever gets upset and throws a tantrum.

I tried my best to block out the sounds of John racing around the house packing a bag for himself and making phone calls to organise Jack and Ryan in our absence.

And then I threw a spanner in the works. I decided that it was suddenly vitally important for me to see Jack. It was an intense motherly urge to see my first born, to kiss him, to reassure him. I don't know what drove it (perhaps  I was acting upon some primal instinct about child birth being potentially life-threatening to mothers) but I did not want to leave without seeing him. So John raced up the hill to the school and eventually brought my boy home for a quick cuddle with me.

By this stage the waves were becoming more intense and coming every 3 minutes. When John pulled out of our street and asked me whether we should go via the beaches or the forest, I could only shake my head and murmur something that hopefully resembled the words "I don't mind darling, whatever you think best" and not "Dontfuckingcarejustdrive".

I kept my head down and focused on the clock on the dashboard, ignoring red lights and anything else that had the potential to distract me from my breathing. For by now the pain during those waves had become my whole world. The waves were coming every 2 minutes and I just wanted to get to the hospital and sit on a toilet. I'm sure these urges to wee and poo and vomit all at the same time are not uncommon to labouring women, but when you're trapped in a car, sitting on a flimsy folded beach towel with several litres of amniotic fluid being kept at bay by the equivalent of an elastic band with a bit of clingfilm across it, the need to 'go' is almost overwhelming. At that stage I would have been happy with a good sized bowel movement and a decent chuck, forget about the 8 pound human I'd been lovingly waiting on for the best part of a year!

Finally we were there. John dropped me at the entrance to the hospital where I had (oh stuff it) not just a wave but a BLOODY GREAT CONTRACTION in the foyer, another in the lift and another at the entrance to the delivery ward. I greeted the midwife Ronnie with another contraction and fell in love with her immediately when she said "Well done. Lovely control. Keep going that way and you'll be fine." I mumbled thanks and hello and made my way as fast as my quivering legs would take me to the loo.

When I came out, I felt much better and the contractions slowed a little to a more manageable 3 minutes apart. Ronnie performed all the usual checks. The foetal heart monitor indicated the baby was fine and after giving me an internal she told me I was 4cm dilated. This was good news as it meant that I was now in the active stage of labour, either a big dash or long marathon to 10cm. Now that I was in the safe environment of the hospital where I was supported and comfortable, I felt more in control. I was even able to talk to Ronnie about our calmbirth preferences between waves, relieved to hear that she was familiar with the techniques and would assist in any way she could to facilitate our wishes.

It was about 4.30pm by this time. I asked Ronnie what time her shift ended. She told me 9.30pm and that she thought I would probably have the baby just before then. I wondered briefly if I should mentally prepare myself for another 4 or 5 hours of labour, but I decided not to think in terms of time, and instead just let my body set the pace. I knew from my calmbirth lessons that if I wanted to get through this stage of labour more quickly, it was important to remain as relaxed as possible to enable my uterus to contract naturally, unhindered by the tension that can prolong a labour. This meant continuing my breathing exercises at all costs so that the oxygen and oxytocin and endorphins (our natural painkillers) would continue to flow.

Now this all sounds great in theory, but continuing to breathe through those contractions was quite possibly the most intense and mentally taxing thing I have ever done. Almost as bad as having a Brazillian wax (something I will NEVER do again - all the pain of childbirth but no sweet little baby at the end of it - eeekk!)

John asked me if I wanted to get in the bath and I thought I would try it. I probably stayed in there for about 20 minutes. In the beginning it felt quite good but it wasn't a huge bath and I eventually felt a bit cold and uncomfortable so got out.

There were times during the next hour when the temptation to clench my teeth and hold my breath at the peak of those contractions was almost overwhelming, but I just kept forcing those breaths in and out, in and out. I remember at least twice giving a little gasp of surprise at just how intense it was. At some point, I started making a noise on the 'out' breaths. Not a groan or a wail I hasten to add (well not to my ears anyway) but more of a low drone. The first time it came out, it was completely involuntary but because it helped make the pain more manageable, I continued making the noise through the contractions.

The other thing that helped was having a mantra that I could repeat in my head at the height of the contractions. I didn't know what that would be until I needed it. Louise, the calmbirth teacher, had given us around 30 ideas for affirmations but in the weeks leading up to the birth nothing really jumped out at me. When the words came to me, they meant everything I needed at that moment. Release and surrender. I suddenly knew with absolute clarity that they were the two things I needed to do to progress the labour. Release all tension. Release all control. Surrender to the process. Surrender to my body. By the end of my labour, I was whispering these two words over and over into the pillow.

Throughout the whole time, I stayed on my feet. A week before giving birth I'd had a chat to my aunt Andrea who is a midwife. We discussed the whole calmbirth thing and I remember her saying, no matter what happens, keep moving. What great advice! I am convinced that continuing to move and stay upright made the whole thing move along so much faster.

Mid-contraction and standing on a towel because I'd just got out of the bath. I'd parked my thongs under the bed in case a fast getaway was needed!
 At 5.30pm, about 90 minutes after getting to the hospital, I found myself alone in the room. John had just stepped out to talk to Ronnie the midwife. I was mid-contraction exactly as in the above picture when I heard a loud pop and a flood of amniotic fluid whooshed onto the floor. I remember saying "Oh!" It was all just so surprising.

I had no idea where the call button was and couldn't move anyway because it felt like a bowling ball had just landed on my pelvic floor and all I wanted to do was push. I called out "Help!" but much to my surprise it came out as a quivery whisper. I'd lost my voice?! In hindsight, I think I was in a little bit of shock. I hadn't expected my waters to break, despite the fact that I was in labour, a condition in which waters have been known to break!

The urge to push was overwhelming and it was the thought of delivering my precious baby daughter onto a small hand towel and a pair of thongs that prompted me to find my voice and yell "Help! Hello?? Can someone please come!"

John and Ronnie both raced in and I told Ronnie I needed to push. She helped me onto the bed where, in some subconscious throwback to my neanderthal forebears (or maybe I'd just been watching too many David Attenborough documentaries), I immediately assumed the all-fours position. I heard Ronnie call in another midwife and tell her to call the doctor. "Quickly," she ordered "She wants to push!"

As the next contraction came on, I felt the baby's head bear down. "Can you stop pushing?" asked Ronnie. I'm not sure why. I immediately thought the cord might be caught around the baby's neck and stopped pushing. I think it was just that she was unprepared and needed to get her gloves on!

A minute later, the next contraction came and I said "The baby's comiiiiiiiiiiing!" as the most unearthly moan escaped my lips. I felt an enormous wellspring of pressure on my perineum and whole lower half. I had no option but to push. Then I felt a slippery slither between my legs and she was out, caught by John and the midwife behind me. I heard the breaking emotion in John's voice as he said "Oh darling . . . oh . . . " and a gulpy noise that was a cross between a sob and a laugh.

I looked behind me. The little purple bundle attached to the end of a long milky cord was my baby girl, Francesca, our little Cesca-Luna and I couldn't believe she was here already. My first emotion was one of utter relief. Relief that labour was over. Relief that she was safely out and breathing. Ronnie carefully passed her back between my legs as I swung over onto my back and felt Francesca's warm soggy body as she was placed onto my chest.

The poor little thing had come out so fast she'd swallowed some amniotic fluid and it was catching in her throat. She coughed and cried and made little choking sounds but I knew she was alright. Ronnie brought over a little suction machine to clear the mucous out of her mouth and passed a little oxygen over her face. John and I grinned at each other. He had grabbed the camera and was already filming the whole thing, standing there with his shirt drenched in the rest of the amniotic fluid that had gushed out with Francesca.

Five minutes old and having her first wee on Mum (so proud)
So around 90 minutes after arriving at the hospital, I had a tiny pink body on my chest and was feeling the warm trickle of baby urine seeping over my stomach. Heaven!

She lay on my chest for about 20 minutes before she began bobbing her head and stepping her legs up and down looking for milk. We gave her a little help finding the nipple and she latched on beautifully, helping herself to her first meal of colustrum.

At some point, the obstetrician turned up. My ob was on holidays so I had a replacement. He seemed pleasant enough but there was nothing for him to do apart from a quick inspection of my lady-garden and the placenta, both of which were 'intact' I'm relieved to say. No stitches and frozen condoms in the knickers for me thank goodness! The midwives had handled everything beautifully.

After an hour and a half, Francesca was weighed and measured (8lb1oz and 52.5cm long), then while I got up to have a shower, John stripped off his shirt and Francesca had some skin time with Dad, curling her fingers into his prolific chest hair and sucking on another tuft. The look on John's face says it all. He was besotted from the first minute and this special time alone with his new daughter was a fitting reward for his amazing support throughout the birth. Not only did he help catch Francesca in the slips as she shot out, but his gentle suggestions and encouragement throughout the process made it all so much better for me. I can't emphasise enough how important it was to feel supported unconditionally.

And THAT'S why he will never visit the laser clinic
So that's it folks. The story of Francesca's entry to the big scary world we live in. I can't even begin to tell you how grateful I feel at being able to experience this amazing birth.

It wasn't a walk in the park that's for sure, and to be honest, I can't even be confident that I would have been able to continue labouring at that level of intensity for too much longer. That being said, the intensity was obviously due to progressing from 4cm to 10cm in only 90 minutes! I don't know. They say second babies often come more quickly, but even so, I wasn't prepared to have such a short active phase of labour and I do believe that the breathing and visualisations, and the subsequent releasing of fear and tension, resulted in a birth experience that was calmer, faster and easier than I ever could have imagined. Soooo very different from Jack's birth, but that's a whole other story - one involving drugs and a catheter and a frozen condom in my knickers!

I would love to hear your birth story and, with your permission, publish it here on Bump. I think it's important to share our stories honestly with others, even though every experience is so different. Or perhaps because of that. Calmbirth, epidurals, caesarians (planned or unplanned), what surprised you, what got you through, was the food in the hospital any good, the good, the bad, the downright messy - we want to hear it all.

Write your story and email it to me at mbarraclough68 [at] gmail [dot] com. And don't forget pictures if you have any!

Okay gents, it's safe to come back but sorry there aren't any chocolates. When you have a girl, it's a sea of pink and frills and not a chocolate in sight. But you're more than welcome to eat my jelly cup from last night's dinner tray.

Merry Christmas everyone! xx

PS. If you're interested in why I decided to use calmbirth techniques for this birth, all is revealed in this post - Calm Birth. Are You Crazy?


  1. Wow, not sure how I missed reading this the first time round, but so glad I did. This is an amazing account; a beautiful story. So evocative. Good job, man. Good job! What a record for Cesca-Luna to have. Congratulations.

  2. I'm glad you did too Mama M! Inspired to head down the Baby Number 3 path??

  3. Loved the honesty and fun in this story! Congratulations! Strong and powerful Mama. And what a beautiful baby girl.

  4. How generous of you to share the link to your story on Thank you! I am expecting my second. My "plan" was to have my first using the calm method (hypnobirthing) but sounds more like your first experience. This gives me hope that I can try again for the second. Thanks!
    -Jean, Minneapolis, MN USA

  5. What a beautiful story—brought a tear to my eye! Makes me actually EXCITED to give birth :-)

  6. What a wonderful story! Thank you so much for sharing.

  7. Thanks everyone for your warm comments. And love and luck for the imminent arrivals! I look forward to reading about your stories too xo

  8. Thank you for the encouragement I found in this story. I'm preparing for my first and using the hypnobabies techniques. It was nice to read someone's account who uses the same terminology I keep hearing in the audio CD's. Congratulations!

  9. I loved reading your birthing story, and am happy to say, I can relate to some of your positive experiences. The biggest one being that unconditional support. I know this isn't fact, but it feels to me like I couldn't have given birth to our children if my man hadn't been there for me.


  10. What an incredible story. Thanks for sharing!

  11. I so so much enjoyed reading your birth story!!! You are very talented with words and describing emotions. I can read it again and again. A calm birth is the best thing for both mummy and baby. My second baby is really cool dude and I am pretty sure it's because of his birth (painful but calm). Oh, and the precious picture of Francesca with dad, that's what Dr. Sears would call it a "warm fuzzy" in his books :)
    Enjoy life with your angels!

  12. I loved reading this birth story. I always tear up... softie.

    1. Thank you so much Melting Moments! I'm the same. A baby could be born on the worst TV show or movie and I still tear up. Gulp! x


I love hearing from you (and by the way, you're looking lovely today) x

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