Labour is one of those things that you can try to explain to people, but until you’ve been through it yourself you really don’t know what to expect. I realise that now! You can do all the research and get all the advise you like, but the process will happen as it happens, and there’s only so much you can prepare.
Pre-Labour and Disappointment
So there’s a thing known as pre-labour – it’s basically the stage you’re in before you’re ‘really’ in labour. My neonatal nurse aunt says that it’s a false term, because as soon as you’re having contractions you’re technically in labour, but this is the term they give to the stage before your contractions are regular.
My pre-labour started around midday on Monday. I had a midwife appointment that morning, and all my vitals were fine, bub was head down ready to go. Everyone commented on how big my belly was, and how well I looked. We discussed options for induction in case I went over my due date, and laughed at the fact that only 5% of babies are born on their due date. My midwife joked that she had two babies due to deliver late that week, so if I could jump the gun and get in ahead of them that’d be great.
I went home in good spirits, tired as usual and feeling him shuffling around a lot as usual. Soon after midday I noticed I was having more Braxton Hick’s contractions than usual, and that they were a bit more painful than usual. After a while I decided to start timing them, thinking it’d be funny if I was starting labour so soon after seeing my midwife. The contractions were coming about 10-15 minutes apart, but weren’t getting any closer together so I stopped timing and did what everyone suggested I do at this stage – ignore the contractions and carry on.
I carried on this way all afternoon and into the evening. When my husband came home from work, I told him what had been happening and he got so excited! He was well ready to meet our bub, but he tried to play it down. I was preparing myself mentally to be woken during the night with my waters breaking or the contractions getting stronger, and we both went through our hospital plan just in case. We continued with our evening as normally as we could, though husband kept asking how the contractions were going and if it was time yet. I reassured him that I’d let him know!
We went to bed as normal. I mostly slept through the night, waking only a few times to more painful contractions. Each time I woke husband woke too, fully expecting this time to be it. But it wasn’t, and we’d both go back to sleep a little disappointed.
The next morning he went to work as normal, telling me to call him as soon as something happened. Again, we both expected today to be the day. I almost asked him to stay home just in case, but realised that was silly because even if I was in pre-labour (which I didn’t know at the time if I was or not), it could still be days before anything happened.
I went about my morning as usual, but noticed my contractions were fairly regular and getting more painful. At lunch time I decided to try timing again, and found that they weren’t as regular as I had thought – coming between 5-10 mins apart.
These contractions were different to the ones I’d had the day before though. They were more painful, with the pain spreading to my lower back and pelvis each time. There was also a lot of heavy downward pressure, which I then realised hadn’t been there the day before.
I decided to call my midwife to let her know what was going on. She said it sounded like I was in the early stages of labour and advised me to rest, take panadol if I needed it, and keep her informed. I got pretty excited at that!
I took a nap in the afternoon because I was so tired, but woke a couple of times because of the contractions.
Husband came home from work mid-afternoon, and again I filled him in. I’d decided not to call him at work, because the contractions weren’t regular enough and I knew he’d be home soon anyway. All throughout the afternoon the contractions got much more intense, and we were both convinced that we’d be in hospital that night. I found having a warm shower eased the pains, and for some reason I was craving a chocolate thick shake so husband made me one.
About half an hour later I noticed that the contractions were easing off, and within an hour they were almost non-existent. For the rest of Tuesday evening I only got sporadic contractions – some were painful, some weren’t, and there was no regularity any more.
To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I was so convinced that I’d be in active labour soon that I was all but heart broken when I realised it’d all stopped. I cried.
Husband was crushed too, but tried his best to lift both our spirits. He ordered in some pizza for dinner (my favourite food), and we watched some TV to distract ourselves and played a game – he made the evening as normal as possible so we wouldn’t sit there wallowing in disappointment. It was the best thing we could have done in hindsight.
I went back to ignoring the contractions as much as I could, and we went to bed as normal.
Active Labour, The Waters, and Hospital
Husband woke early the next morning for work, and I was up at about 4.30 am with more painful contractions. We had a discussion and decided he should go to work, because it was likely that today would be a repeat of the day before and there was no guarantee anything would progress.
So off to work he went, with a comment that I might be calling him back later. I went back to bed, which worked for a little while, but the contractions were back in full force so sleeping wasn’t very successful.
At about 6.30 am I went to the toilet and felt my waters break. It was the strangest feeling! If it might seem like too much information, skip to the next paragraph now! Basically, I weed as normal, but then felt fluid gush, something like the feeling of a super heavy period moment. I realised I definitely wasn’t weeing any more, so it must be my waters breaking! I checked and the fluid wasn’t coloured, which was reassuring because if it was green or brown it could signal that bub was in distress. Clear waters meant everything was likely normal. So I put a maternity pad on (your waters don’t all gush out at once and stop, they keep going! For me they kept leaking until his birth, and I had to change the pad once or twice) and started to get very excited. Even if it dragged out to the max, it would be only a day or two before bub was born!
I called the midwife right away, apologising for the early hour. She was quite excited, and mentioned that today was his due date (I had been going with the date from the latest scan, which would put his due date on the next day, but the midwives wanted to go by the date from the previous scan as it was more accurate in their eyes).
Midwife said to take painkillers as needed, rest as much as possible, and to keep in touch over the next hour to see how I was progressing.
I called husband and told him the exciting news, and he was over the moon. He’d been at work all of an hour, but rushed straight out the door as soon as he could – everyone kept stopping him to congratulate him and wish us luck.
My contractions felt similar to the day before – painful across my belly, lower back, and pelvis, with a lot of downward pressure. I spent some time in the shower at the midwife’s suggestion, and it was absolutely lovely. I probably spent 45 minutes standing and sitting under the running hot water – it was a good distraction and worked nicely to ease some of the pain, especially in my back.
The contractions started to get more regular, so mid-morning we decided to start timing them properly. We called the midwife just before midday, when they were regularly under 5 minutes apart. The midwife wanted me to stay home a little longer if I could, but I knew I wanted to go into hospital at that point. I didn’t want to risk delivering at home, and both sides of our families have a history of progressing very quickly at the end. Besides, I just felt like I’d be more comfortable at the hospital.
So I got dressed in a gown I’d got for the hospital. I didn’t set out to buy one specifically, but it came in a two-pack with a nursing nightie that I wanted, so I figured I’d use it! (If you’re interested, this is the two-pack I bought here – I am currently rotating between the two as nighties to sleep and feed in, they are so comfortable and breastfeeding friendly!)
I knew people would be seeing me in the gown between home and the birth suite, but I also didn’t care at all. I was in pain, in labour, and delivering my baby soon – who cared what I looked like!
The car ride to the hospital was definitely not the most comfortable ride of my life. Each contraction seemed so much more worse because of the movement. It only took us 15 minutes to get to the hospital, but it felt like a lot longer! We parked in the designated zone and went in to the reception desk. People stared at me, especially when I had a very painful contraction right there at the counter. Thankfully I was dealing with them quite well and just breathed through it, leaning on the counter for support while we waited for my midwife to come down.
She took us straight into the birth suite and got us settled in. I know a lot of women found walking to be more comfortable and helped them deal with their contractions, but for me it just made them worse! I had previously though I’d like quite an active labour; walking around, playing some music, etc; but it quickly because very clear to me that it wasn’t going to happen like that.
The midwife checked my dilation soon after we were settled, and I was at 6cm. Only 4cm to go, surely that would pass quickly!
I decided I wanted to use the gas as my pain relief, wanting to avoid an epidural as much as possible. I knew going in that my ‘birth plan’ was simply to try avoid an epidural and try to avoid an episiotomy. I’m not exactly sure why I wanted to avoid those two things above all else (I was even more comfortable with the thought of a caesarian section than an episiotomy), but there you go. The midwife showed me how to use the gas, and for the next few hours I sucked on that with each contraction, praising modern medicine.
Contrary to all my previous thoughts, it turned out all I wanted during that stage of my labour was quiet and calm. The midwife asked if I was comfortable with a midwife student coming in, and I politely declined. I simply didn’t want anyone else in the room except her and my husband. I even refused my mum’s offer to be in the room, even though I knew how much it would upset her. All I knew was that I wanted absolute quiet and calm, and to be able to focus on my body.
I surprised myself a bit through those hours. I didn’t yell or scream at any point, not even at my husband. He tried to tell me how to breathe a couple of times, but I quietened him with a look and a finger, just like I would have done to my students! I didn’t talk beyond what was necessary, and the midwife and my husband took their cue from that and followed suit.
I tried using a birthing ball and sitting down, but the most comfortable position for me was simply standing up, leaning on the raised bed. I wonder if my time as a teacher had an impact on this – I stand for the vast majority of the day, so perhaps my body was just more comfortable that way.
I didn’t eat anything throughout the whole day (except for a small bowl of cereal that morning), so my husband made me eat a few lolly snakes for energy mid afternoon. I kept drinking water though – the gas made my mouth and throat so dry and painful. Little did I know that my husband wasn’t following his own advise and also hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast. The extra problem was he didn’t even remember to drink water himself! But more on that later.
With help from the gas, I didn’t find the contractions particularly painful, but they were extremely uncomfortable. I tried to rest between them, and sometimes I dozed off (I even remember slipping straight into a dream-like state a few times). At some point in the later afternoon, the midwife said she thought I was almost at transition and she could help me through actively beginning to push. I got so excited at this! It was almost over, and I could meet my baby soon! I knew I was starting to tire, and I didn’t know how much longer I could keep going, so this news was very welcome.
Unfortunately, when she checked my dilation this time I was only at 9cm – not quite there yet. I was so disheartened by this I wanted to cry again. I was just so tired!
It took another hour and a half for me to dilate that last centimetre. That was such a long hour and a half. All throughout the afternoon I was losing fluid with each contraction, and now it seemed to come in gushes instead of trickles. I applaud midwives for being able to deal with so much bodily fluid – I barely knew what was going on but husband said the midwife kept cleaning everything up and trying to not let him or me see any of the mess.
Transition – The ‘Shortest’ Stage
Eventually, finally, we got to the stage where I could start pushing!
I knew I was there because the urge to push just came over me. It really is involuntary, such a strange feeling.
At this point I stopped using the gas. It wasn’t a conscious decision I made, I just stopped wanting it at some point then. The midwife convinced me after a few minutes to try kneeling on the bed with the back fully upright, as that would be easier on my body than trying to push while standing. I liked this idea a lot – it meant that if he suddenly slipped out he’d land on the bed instead of the floor, and it would also allow me to rest better between contractions, and I was getting more and more tired.
Pushing was very difficult for me. The midwife described it as I should be pushing back and down into my bottom, but for some reason I just couldn’t do it properly. I could feel I was doing it wrong, the midwife could see I was doing it wrong, but I had no idea how to fix it. I don’t know if part of the problem was my exhaustion levels perhaps, or maybe his position, who knows.
I stayed kneeling like that, pushing with each contraction, for over an hour. I thought I was tired before, but by this point I knew I was struggling. I told the midwife and my husband this, feeling so disappointed in myself but knowing I needed to listen to my body.
The midwife suggested I try lying down on my side, with her or my husband supporting my upper leg. This was a lot easier to push, because I wasn’t supporting my whole body any more – I could happily let the bed do that. I tried so hard, but bubba’s head just wouldn’t stay where it needed to stay. The midwife said babies heads will essentially slip in and out of the vagina, and when they slip in and stay there, that’s when they’re about to be born. Our bubba’s head just wouldn’t stay, he kept slipping back after each contraction.
We then moved to me lying on my back, with the midwife supporting one leg while my husband supported the other. With each contraction they would push against my raised legs, I assume in an effort to provide resistance for me to push against. Alas, still no luck.
At some point in this side-lying position, the midwife attached a heart rate monitor to my belly to keep an eye on bubba. We’d been through a lot this day already, and she was concerned about the affect it might have on him. I’m so glad she made that move, because it turns out his heart rate had dropped significantly.
At this point the midwife decided to call in the doctor. I had been pushing for an hour and a half without success and I was nearing the end of my stamina, strength, and ability to go on. I could feel my pushes becoming much weaker, and she could see it too.
I opened my eyes when the doctor came in to see that there were suddenly half a dozen more people in the room than before. I must have dozed off between contractions again because I didn’t hear any of them come in.
The doctor had a registrar with him, and they worked together to check me over and check bub’s position. I can tell you, their hands inside me, trying to feel where my bubba’s head and spine were positioned, were much more painful than any of the contractions so far.
They made the discovery that bubba wasn’t in the correct position – his head was twisted to the side so the correct part of his skull wasn’t presenting to the opening.
At this stage they decided to put a cannula in my hand to give me fluids and sugar. The person who tried to get it into my hand struggled so much – apparently my veins had turned to ‘cotton wool’ and were extremely difficult to put the needle into. They tried one point down on my wrist, and all of a sudden my hand was on fire. If ever I was going to scream, it was at that point. I have never felt such intense pain in my life! She had obviously got a nerve, but I was too out of it to verbalise properly. All I could do was cry out in pain and indicate that the cause of it was the cannula. They didn’t really get the point though, because she kept trying that same spot, sending white-hot flames up my hand from my wrist into my index finger. Eventually she gave up on that spot and chose a different one, but the pain lingered. Still to this day I have numbness along that nerve line – it is slowly regaining feeling, but she did some serious damage to that poor nerve!
By this stage I was in the typical Hollywood-birth-position – lying on my back, legs up in stirrups. They had decided that the only way forward was to cut me open and vacuum him out. I was quite sad at this, as it meant an episiotomy, and I had wanted to much to avoid one. But a born baby is better than not, and they weren’t giving me a choice anyway.
The doc and registrar both had a go at each step it seemed, so I was in for some more painful feeling around before they got down to business. Doc said they were going to put local anaesthetic around where they needed to cut. He said it would feel like ‘a needle at the dentist’ like it would be a reassuring thing, but needles at the dentist are the worst needles in my opinion. I think they did 4 needles, but by the second one I couldn’t really feel them any more anyway. It was such a strange feeling when it all went numb, especially because they kept telling me to push with each contraction even though I could no longer really feel where I was pushing to.
Birthing My Baby
It turns out the episiotomy cut they made was quite long, but I suppose it needs to be to widen the opening enough for what they had to do. They attached the vacuum equipment to bubba’s head (more pain, despite the anaesthetic), and said that within the next few contractions he would be born but that they had to wait for the vacuum to be suctioned on properly first. This meant a contraction passed without me really pushing, and that was odd after so long of pushing all the time.
If you’ve not come across this birth method before, technically called ‘ventouse’, basically they suction a cup to his head, and use this to gently pull at the same time as the mother pushing, so that the baby doesn’t have a chance to slip backwards.
Eventually they were ready, and with the next contraction I pushed as hard as I possibly could. On the first push nothing really happened. But with the second push his head was born! I was so excited, nervous, and exhausted when I realised what was happening right now. He was actually being born!
Then, at 6:27 pm, a full 12 hours after my waters broke and a couple of days after the beginning of my pre-labour, the third push got his entire body out and our baby was born!
And what a strange feeling of physical relief that was! I didn’t realise how much intense pressure had build up in my pelvis and back until it was released. I remember seeing him, but not really seeing him. I was so exhausted and out of it that I don’t think it really hit me that this was my baby, but my husband said as soon as I saw him my whole face lit up.
They clamped his cord straight away, and husband got to cut it. He was so happy and nervous! I was a bit upset at the speed of this – I’d wanted a delayed clamp and cut so he could get as much from the placenta and cord as possible. The paediatric doc needed to look him over straight away though; because of the intensity of the day, his drop in heart rate, and the method of delivery, they were very worried about him.
While the doc was doing his thing, the midwife asked if I wanted to deliver the placenta naturally, which could take up to half an hour, or if I wanted to have a shot that would allow it to be released and delivered immediately. Of course I chose the immediate option! She put a needle in my leg, and within a couple of minutes the nurse gently pulled the whole placenta out, and it was done.
After confirming that he was fine and healthy, they finally brought my baby over to me and lay him on my chest. Husband was crying openly at this point. I think I was too exhausted to cry, and I felt like he was being emotional for the both of us. I just stared down at my baby, filled with such happiness and relief.
After a short while, they took him away again for a full check and a bit of a clean up. Husband went over with them and took photos of this process, enjoying every moment of it.
I, on the other hand, got to have a discussion with the nurse or registrar (I don’t quite remember who) about my episiotomy and the stitches I needed. It seemed like such a long process, but then it was a long cut. I didn’t need any more anaesthetic though which was a relief; the ones they’d put in before were still effective at this stage. I felt a few tugging sensations at various points, but didn’t feel any pain. The hardest part was forcing myself not to look – I couldn’t see down there obviously, but I could see her needles and stitches and equipment as she used them. I couldn’t see my baby either, so I opted for closed eyes once again.
Finally, finally, they lowered my legs onto the bed and handed me my baby. I almost did cry at this point, but I think I was still to exhausted for it all to sink in properly. We had our first breastfeed then, bubba taking to it like the natural he is. That was such a special moment, bonding together with husband cuddling us both. Even with all the other people in the room, it was a special, loving moment.
I looked up at one point to find the room empty again except for my midwife. I remember thanking her for staying with us the whole day, and her praising me and my husband for our incredible teamwork and absolute calm throughout the entire day. As I mentioned before, it turns out husband hadn’t had anything to eat or drink since breakfast at 4.30 that morning, so he was as exhausted and dehydrated as I was. The midwife was kind enough to grab us each a sandwich and cup of tea, which revived us both a bit.
We rested in the birth suite for a while, and eventually husband went out to collect our families. My parents had been waiting in the hospital since mid afternoon, and his family had arrived early in the evening. They were all very eager to see us and meet their new family member. We all cried at some point during that first visit, and I was surprisingly awake. I thought I’d be all but falling asleep at this point, but I just wanted to talk with everyone and cuddle my new baby.
At about 8.30 pm the families were asked to leave so we could be moved to the ward to rest. It turned out a single room was free, so we had the luxury of our own space, including a day-bed for husband to sleep on. I was so very grateful for that, because it meant he could spend the night with us and we could be a family.
And a family we now are ❤