Our birthing storying
So, my plan was to write this blog about the weeks and days leading up to our due date, and to look ahead to the arrival of our first child – who would, most likely, be born between me writing this and it going up here on MusicFootballFatherhood. That was the plan, but then, when do babies ever stick to the plan?! Instead, two days before our due date, our wonderful daughter Isabella was born. So I decided instead to write my next article as a two-parter. The first documenting my wife’s labour and Isabella’s birth, and the second documenting the first few days and weeks the birth – all from my perspective. So, here goes part one…
I woke up at 1am to find my wife sat on the side of our bed, saying that she had back and period-like pain. Thanks to all the insight and knowledge we gained from attending various NHS classes and an NCT course amongst other things, I instantly knew that this could be the sign of the early stages of labour.
Over the next half an hour or so my wife displayed one or two more signs of labour, before then starting to experience small contractions – or, as she described them, waves. As I’ve mentioned, we’ve attended various NHS and private parenting courses in preparation for the birth of our first child – and I really can’t recommend this enough! It has been so helpful, informative and enjoyable to learn so much about what to expect from pregnancy, labour, birth, and early parenthood. If you have the chance to do any sort of course or classes, I would say go to as many as you can – there will no doubt be a fair bit of overlap and repetition but, for me, if anything that just helped the information I was hearing to really sink in better.
Anyway, back to the labour! So, initially the waves my amazing wife was feeling were quite mild, and she could easily talk through them and generally go about her business without too much interruption. One thing we noticed fairly quickly though, was that where we had been told that the waves would gradually get stronger, longer, and closer together – this wasn’t really our experience. They certainly got gradually stronger, as my wife will be quick to confirm – but in terms of longer and closer together, that really wasn’t how it happened for us. My wife would have one wave that lasted a minute, then a minute’s gap, then the next wave would last five minutes, then another minute’s gap before the next wave which lasted seven minutes.
This is not something anyone told us might happen, so it made it quite hard to tell how quickly things were progressing, the only way we could judge that was by the intensity of each wave progressively getting stronger.
I made a few phone calls to the hospital’s triage number, but I think that the randomness of Harriet’s waves made it harder than usual for them to gauge how far in to her labour she actually was, and as such I think we probably ended up leaving it a little later than we should have to head in to the hospital.
At just before 5am Harriet’s waves were so strong that she was screaming through them now, and was telling me that she felt she had to start pushing. I’m not going to lie, that was pretty terrifying! I’ve not had any formal midwife training, nor have I had any informal midwife training, so the prospect of not making it to the hospital and having to deliver my own baby was, to put it mildly, somewhat concerning.
After another phone call to the hospital’s triage number, I was advised to try and bring Harriet in to hospital, but that if she got to the point en route where she felt she had to start pushing, that I should pull over and call for an ambulance directly. So, there we were, on our driveway outside our house in the cold and pitch dark at 5am. Harriet’s waves were now so strong (and had finally started getting closer together) that the only way she could be marginally ‘comfortable’ was to be on all four, on the tarmac of our driveway, screaming her head off!
In fact, the pain from the waves, and the now much shorter gap between them, was making it impossible to actually get Harriet in to our car. Eventually after quite a few failed attempts to get her in the car between waves, we managed to get her in to the back seats, but still having to be on all fours. About three quarters of the way in to the hospital Harriet’s screams were getting stronger, louder, and longer. At this point, she told me that she really didn’t think she could stop herself from pushing, so I pulled over and called for an ambulance. The ambulance then arrived about 10 minutes later, Harriet was loaded in (again having to go on all fours on the ambulance gurney) and I had to follow behind. I was told, somewhat less reassuringly than it was meant, that if she started having the baby the ambulance would pull over so that I could jump in and hopefully not miss the birth of my child! That was the scariest drive I’ve ever done – constantly hoping that the ambulance wouldn’t need to pull over!
Thankfully, it didn’t, and we arrived at the hospital still with a bump rather than a baby. After a brief, panic-filled few minutes, of having to park our car away from where the ambulance had pulled in – and subsequently losing track on Harriet within the hospital itself – I found the birthing room Harriet had been taken to and was able to rejoin her and our as-yet unborn child. In the rush of trying to make sure I rejoined my wife before our baby was born, I’d left our hospital bag and, more critically, my wife’s hospital notes folder in our car. Thankfully, one of the paramedics very kindly offered to go and get them for us so that I didn’t have to leave, which was incredibly helpful of him! So, at this point, I noticed that there was a birthing pool in our room, and a water birth had always been our preferred choice – but as my wife was being inspected on the bed, and I was under the impression that our baby could arrive any second, I thought the pool must’ve been out of the picture now with not enough time to get it sorted. So things continued progressing, and by this time Harriet was now being actively encouraged to push as much as she could. At one point, whilst the midwife was performing some checks, she mentioned that Harriet’s waters were still intact – which was news to us, as we assumed they had already broken at some point earlier!
After a little while Harriet asked if she could get up and walk around a bit, as one thing we had really had taken note of from all the courses we’d been on, was the benefits of the woman being in a more natural, upright, position when giving birth – to essentially make the process as smooth as possible (I use that term lightly) – with the acronym ‘UFO’ (‘Upright’, ‘Forward’ and ‘Open’) being lodged in our thoughts. As it turned out, things weren’t (quite) as far along as I had thought, and so when Harriet asked to stand up the midwife said “Of course, would you like to get in the pool?” – I think I can speak for both of us when I say that this was an amazing realisation to know that the birthing pool was in fact still an option, and so Harriet swiftly accepted the offer to use it. One small moment of achievement from myself here – Harriet was in such a rush to get in the pool once it was ready, and understandably so focused on what was happening with her body that she completely forgot that she had a Tens machine on, pretty much at full blast, stuck to her back. Thankfully I just about managed to switch it off and then whip off the sticky pads before she leapt (not literally) in to the birth pool with it all still pulsing away and attached to her! But anyway, back to the really important and impressive stuff… It’s safe to say that Harriet really enjoyed the birthing pool, although not as much as she enjoyed the gas and air, which she had been chugging away on like a chain smoker the entire time we were in the hospital (and apparently in the ambulance too). At one point I nearly said “leave some gas and air for the rest of the hospital, love” – but quickly decided that it really wasn’t funny enough of a joke to be worth getting punched for, and kept quiet! So back to the birthing pool – Harriet was basically sat squat in the water, leaning on the edge with me there helping support her and trying my best to reassure and encourage her to keep pushing. At this point it was very clear just how exhausted and drained Harriet was. Thankfully she had been sensible enough to pack some healthy, high-energy, snacks in our hospital bag – so I quickly suggested she make use of those, as it seemed she was close to passing out.
Once Harriet had got in the pool, the midwife was really encouraging her to focus all her energy on pushing (including not ‘wasting’ energy on straining or screaming which, understandably, was easier said than done!). By this time I’d completely lost track of time, and thought we’d been in the birthing room for hours. The midwife was regularly checking both the baby’s heart rate and also checking how things were progressing with a well-placed mirror! I was starting to think maybe things were taking longer than ‘normal’ (again, I had well and truly lost all track of time), and was worrying that at any moment the midwife would tell us that it wasn’t happening fast enough, and that Harriet would need to be whisked off. In fact, even when a short while later Harriet let out the loudest scream I’ve ever heard, and the midwife explained that the baby’s head was now out – I was still concerned that Harriet and the baby weren’t progressing as fast as they should be. I’ve no idea where those thoughts came from – we’d done a lot of reading up, and been to sone very helpful courses beforehand, so I knew how things “normally” go for a first time birth. I think it was just a combination of having been awake so long at this point, and nerves/adrenaline. Then my concerns were realised when the midwife instructed Harriet to stand up and head over to the steps of the birthing pool. Just as a thousand thoughts flashed through my mind as to what would happen next – Harriet had one more, much less screamy, contraction – and our beautiful, amazing, daughter instantly fell from her mum and splashed into the water! I can’t do any justice with words to that feeling I had of seeing my own child splashing in to this big crazy world, and make her much-anticipated appearance – but it genuinely was the best feeling I’ve ever had! The midwife checked her over and then handed her to Harriet who did her first session of skin-to-skin with our daughter. I’ll never forget the look on my wife’s face at that moment – pure joy and unfaltering love mixed with relief, tiredness, wonder and so many other emotions all at once! I should mention at this point – as you may have guessed, it turned out I was way off the mark with my concerns that things were going too slowly and that we were about to be told intervention was needed. In fact, the whole experience from arriving at the hospital, to our beautiful daughter being born, was only an hour and a half! Crazy! In fact, the midwife told us that it was so quick and straightforward that we shouldn’t bother coming in to hospital next time around.
All in all, from Harriet waking up in the middle of the night with early signs of labour, to our daughter being born was only six and a half hours – which is incredibly quick for a first time mum! Super proud of my wife for that! We were definitely very fortunate, and very blessed, to have such a quick and straightforward labour and birth – and I realise our experience is definitely not the norm for a first baby – and we are very grateful for that. Oh, I should mention her name at this point. We’d settled on our favourite pick for a boy’s and a girl’s name beforehand, not knowing what we were having, but said that we’d wait until the baby was born before finalising – just in case we ended up deciding the name wasn’t a good fit, or just if we changed our mind etc. So, when the midwife asked us if we had a name for her – before I could say “not yet” – Harriet just instantly said “Isabella Grace”. Luckily, I also agreed that it was a great fit for this tiny bundle of awesomeness, so that was that settled!
After some quick initial checks on Isabella and Harriet, we were then left on our own in the birthing room to start getting used to now being a family of three! I’d like to thank our midwife, ?, who expertly helped guide and encourage Harriet in bringing Isabella out in to the world – but most importantly I’d like to thank my amazing, beautiful wife, Harriet for absolutely bossing the whole birth process – and the pregnancy beforehand! I’m sure there’s stuff I’ve missed out but, if you’re reading this then well done for sticking with me to the end – I realise this has been very long, but I wanted to present our first birthing experience in as much detail as I could, and hopefully it’ll be of interest to someone out there…
In my next article I’m going to be detailing my experiences from when we left the hospital through the first few weeks of life as a Dad, so I hope you’ll join me then too.
By Dave Robson