It’s taken me 6 months to sit down and write this, because even though I see our story as a positive one, my body still went through a trauma and I think it was important to let myself come to terms with that. Rosalie’s birth was everything I didn’t want on paper, but even during our moments of panic Tom and I were quickly able to bring ourselves back to a state of calm using a range of relaxation techniques we’d learnt and practiced together in the lead up to our due date. We did it together – all three of us – and I owe my positive experience entirely to hypnobirthing, my hypnobirthing teacher Emma of ‘Own Your Birth’ in Norwich, and The Positive Birth Company app, ‘Freya‘.
From about 6 months pregnant, I spent hours upon hours sprawling the internet reading birth stories, watching birth vlogs and devouring every intimate detail of other people’s accounts in preparation for my own. A lot of what I sought out was intentionally positive, because reading horror stories whilst gearing up for giving birth is not unlike training for a marathon by breaking both of your legs first. ‘Ain’t nobody got time for that’.
That’s not to say that mothers and fathers aren’t entitled to share their own stories, however distressing they may have been. I just chose not to read them. So I’m giving back to the internet for all those nights of research by sharing my own positive birth story. Grab a cuppa, it’s a long one. And if you’re pregnant – congratulations, it’s going to be amazing.
My waters broke at 10pm on Sunday 5th May. At first I thought I was peeing myself because I was super glamorous at 9 months pregnant, but then my brain clicked into gear and I got up, ran into the bathroom and climbed into the bath. I whipped off my pants and pyjama bottoms and stood there as the fluid just kept on coming. Luckily our hypnobirthing course had taught us that Hollywood should not be relied upon when it comes to an accurate representation of the onset of labour. My waters did not break dramatically in the World Foods aisle of Sainsbury’s. In reality, it was about as big and dramatic as a the finale of Game of Thrones, AKA not dramatic at all.
Tom and I exchanged glances and we realised, this is it. Only it wasn’t, because my surges (contractions) wouldn’t start for another 19 hours and there’d be at least a thousand plays of my hypnobirthing track between now and then. We phoned the hospital to let them know my waters had broken but that I wasn’t in active labour. They booked us in for an examination the following morning. We went to bed equal parts nervous and excited, knowing it would be our last full night’s sleep for a while.
By Monday morning (6th May – our due date) I still wasn’t having any surges. It had now been 12 hours since my waters broke and we knew our dream of being in the MLBU (Midwife Led Birthing Unit) was fading away. When the membranes are no longer intact (AKA your waters have ‘broken’) the risk of an infection increases because there’s no longer a barrier protecting your baby from potential bacteria. For that reason I was no longer a low risk birth, which ruled out the MBLU as an option.
We ate a good breakfast (I’d planned this way in advance – two butter croissants with lashing of jam) and went into the MLBU for our examination. Everything was checked, including the foetal heart rate – again due to my waters breaking more than 12 hours before. I was offered a vaginal sweep to get things moving, but I declined, confident in my body’s ability to get things going on its own. At this stage I was also booked in to be induced the following morning, which I desperately wanted to avoid. They sent us home with a green light and wished us luck – hoping they’d see us again before the 24 hour deadline ran out.
When we got home we went for a long walk in the woods, hoping that would do the trick. Turns out Little Lady was just chilling out, enjoying the food and the scenery and keeping us all on our toes.
At 5pm (19 hours after my waters broke) I finally started to feel something. It was dull and achy, a bit like period pain, and it was completely manageable. Shortly after, that sensation was replaced by what I knew was my first surge! It was a tightening feeling in the base of my spine, pelvis and abdomen all at once. It was exciting! This was it! And most importantly it meant I had avoided being induced, which I was thrilled about. The surges that followed were completely irregular with no real pattern. This was the start of the latent phase, which I knew from hypnobirthing could go on for a while, so I settled in to a comfortable chair, strapped on my TENS machine and tried to relax.
At around 7pm, my surges were about 6 minutes apart and really random in length. The TENS machine was on the lowest possible setting, because I still felt as though the discomfort was manageable. I was using the FREYA app to monitor my contractions and played the meditation over and over again until Tom had to leave the room for fear of throwing my iPhone into the wall. He went downstairs (we have an upstairs living room) and made a really awful tomato pasta that was two thirds garlic and one third panic, and we both attempted a few mouthfuls with Game of Thrones in the background.
By 8pm the surges were getting more intense and I couldn’t concentrate on anything. We knew that at 10pm, our 24 hour window would have closed and we were no longer going to be let into the MLBU. With that in mind, we rang the hospital to see whether they’d let us in. (At this stage I wasn’t ready to give up on my dream of a water birth and was prepared to wrestle my way in, bump first.)
They couldn’t tell us over the phone so we went in again for a second examination. In hindsight there was no point doing this, since I knew things were only just getting started and there was no way I was far enough along to be admitted. The examination confirmed what I suspected – I was only 1cm dilated and still not in active labour – so there was no way I was going to meet their 24 hour deadline. I don’t regret going in though, because our Hypnobirthing teacher Emma had just started her shift and came in to chat to us before we went home. I remember sitting next to her, the MLBU’s battery-operated candles flickering around us, breathing through my surges whilst Tom told her the whole story so far. Seeing her was the boost I needed to keep going.
On the drive home we really had to implement the strategies we had learnt with Emma to replace the disappointment that was setting in. Together, we accepted that our plan was changing. We reminded ourselves that we’d explored our options, asked all the right questions and done everything in our power to make things go faster. We reminded ourselves that our baby was healthy and that it was all going to be okay.
I had wanted to spend a lot of the latent phase of labour in the bath, but after your waters break it’s not recommended (again due to the risk of infection) so that was off the table as well. This was particularly difficult to come to terms with because I had grown so familiar with a relaxing, candlelit bath environment during my pregnancy that I was unconsciously relying on it to distract me during these early stages.
Worried that I wouldn’t be able to get into the right headspace without it, I took two paracetamol and we went up to bed. I convinced Tom to go to sleep, telling him I’d need him at his best when we eventually got to the hospital. I sat up in bed gradually cranking up the intensity of the TENS machine as my surges got stronger and stronger. I was still listening to my FREYA meditation, using the app to help me breath through every surge. By 3am, the surges were really strong and I felt that I couldn’t cope on my own anymore. I woke up Tom and we got our hypnobirthing on.
Tom lit candles everywhere, hooked up the bluetooth speaker to play my hypnobirthing tracks in the living room and I continued to focus on my breathing. I found a comfy position straddling a chair backwards – the angle was great for opening up my pelvis and we’d learned that forward and open was the optimum position for encouraging labour. The TENS machine was really helping to take the edge off each surge, but they were still so irregular, ranging from 9 minutes apart to 2 minutes apart and never being consistent. We knew we were aiming for 3 surges within 10 minutes, each one lasting for 1 minute. What we didn’t know at the time was that our little Rosalie was back to back, the LEAST favourable position for birth, and as a result of this my surges would NEVER be regular. They would also be more painful than regular ones. The curveballs just keep coming, huh?!
By 5am, I was really struggling to breathe through the surges, so I told Tom I wanted to go to the hospital and have an epidural. I was ready! But Tom did his hyponobirthing thing and convinced me to stay at home for a little bit longer. He encouraged me to switch positions, he massaged my lower back at the height of every surge, he repeated our birthing affirmations to me and reminded me that I was strong enough to cope with the pain. He was an absolute rockstar and I could not have done it without him.
I lasted another hour. By 6am, I really didn’t want to be at home anymore. We called the hospital and said we were coming in. My surges were on average 3 minutes apart, sometimes 1 minute, and sometimes back to 5 minutes. When we got to the delivery suite, I was examined and told I was 6cm dilated. I was SO HAPPY, because I’d got there all by myself at home just by using relaxation techniques. I felt really proud of myself for trusting in my body.
Sadly, that is where my progress completely stalled. I can’t say this surprised me at all because it was hypnobirthing 101; calm, dimly lit, safe environments encourage labour. Bright, clinical, loud environments do not. I changed my mind about the epidural and breathed through another 4 hours of surges, STILL completely irregular and getting increasingly more painful. Because Rosalie was back to back, it meant that her little head was scraping against my spine and tailbone, pressing on the nerves and causing me to feel the contractions deep into my bottom instead of around my tummy. I also had an anterior placenta, which meant my placenta was at the front rather than at the back, so that made it very difficult throughout my whole pregnancy to feel exactly where Rosalie was.
After 4 hours, at around 11am on Tuesday 7th May, they checked me again. To my utter horror I was still 6cm dilated. I was devastated. We proved it – the hospital environment had stalled my labour. I had been having surges for 18 hours straight and I was exhausted, so I asked for an epidural.
The epidural numbed me completely. The pain was gone and I was able to totally relax. I felt incredible and I could’ve cried from the relief. The relief meant I was able to eat something for the first time since Tom’s shitty pasta, and it gave me the time to refocus myself, hone in on what was really important and come completely back to my centre. When they checked me again a few hours later, I was 10cm dilated and ready to push. They left me for an hour after that – for the baby to ‘drop’ down into the pelvis, and then as the midwives changed shifts again, I was instructed to push. Even though I was numb, I could still feel the height of the contractions as a sort of tingling in my back, so I could feel when to push. After hours of pushing, nothing was happening, so I was given a scan to check on Rosalie’s position.
It was confirmed then that she had been back to back, and the long and painful labour was a result of each surge attempting to turn her around. Her head was stuck on one side, so I had been trying to push her out with the widest part of her head first, which is why she wasn’t budging!
At this point I was getting scared, because a C-section was the last thing I wanted to happen. A doctor came to talk to me and Tom about our options. The first – a manual turn in theatre, where he would attempt to turn Rosalie’s head into a more optimum position so that I could birth her naturally.
“That one,” I said. “I want that one.” But he wasn’t done.
Our second option, if the manual turn wasn’t successful, was a c-section. He had to tell us this because once we were in the theatre we wouldn’t have any time to discuss our options. Tom and I asked a lot of questions, including potential alternatives, and our questions were met with reason and compassion. We felt fully informed and confident that this was the best thing for our baby. I remember feeling scared down to my core at the thought of surgery and I begged the doctor to attempt the best manual turn he’d ever done in his life. He said he would.
Sadly Rosalie’s rather large head (90th percentile) wouldn’t budge! At 8pm, with Tom next to me wearing sexy blue scrubs and a ‘DAD’ sticker on his chest, I had an emergency caesarian to get my daughter out safely. We were told that because of all the pushing I’d done, her head was quite far down in my pelvis, so the procedure wasn’t completely straightforward. But they were never concerned about Rosalie’s wellbeing – her heart rate stayed strong and steady throughout the entire process. I was nervous, so my anaesthesiologist stayed next to me the entire time, explaining what was happening and keeping me calm. Tom came close to my head and held my hand whilst counting my ‘in’ and ‘out’ breaths over and over and over again.
At 10:15pm Rosalie was pulled from my tummy kicking her legs and screaming her little head off. I loved her instantly. She was taken away briefly to be checked before being placed safely in Tom’s arms, and then before long on to my chest for our first cuddle. I felt immediate relief and remember saying to Tom that I’d do every hour of the process all over again in a heartbeat. I stand by that. We had three names picked out, but without even speaking to each other first we both simultaneously knew she was our Rosalie.
It would have been really easy to panic and shut down during all the challenges we faced, but with our understanding of the birthing process and our confidence in the coping strategies, we were able to see things clearly and make decisions that felt right for all of us.
With our new baby wrapped up on my chest, eyes closed and dreaming, I was wheeled into the recovery room where my mum and dad were waiting — and we all cried as we gushed over how perfect she was. It was late so they didn’t stay for long — eager to let me rest, and at 2am Tom joined them in pursuit of a few hours sleep. For the rest of the night it was just Rosalie and me, snuggled up together in a nest of blankets whilst a midwife sent from heaven brought me two rounds of tea and some buttered toast. All I could do was think about how lucky I was to have a sweet, healthy, beautiful baby girl in my arms.
As I said, I wouldn’t change a thing.