What’s labour actually like? It’s the million dollar question that all mums-to-be are simultaneously dying to find out and dreading in equal measures. The truth is, you can’t know what your labour will be like until you go through it because each labour is as different as each eyeliner application – it could go exactly as you planned or it could end up a holy shit show. All you know is that it’s got to be done, and unlike having your eyeliner on fleek, (where the best you can hope for is being chatted up by some gimp called Steve from Doncaster, in town for a stag do) at the end of it you’re gonna have something you will love more than anything else you’ve ever thought possible. Your baby. At which point you’ll become primally compelled to upload 40 pictures a day of said baby to any and all social media – you’ll tell yourself and others it’s just so that grandparents and other family members can keep up to date with little one’s progress, but really it’s just because you want the world to see how fantastic the thing that’s just come out your ladygarden is.
But anyway, labour. First of all, the midwives and pregnancy apps/books are mad keen on getting you to write a birth plan. Honestly, don’t bother, you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. By all means have a rough idea in your head about whether you’d like a home birth or a pool birth or an elective C-section but don’t get too attached to it – it’s just another trick to make you think you have some control over the situation. The labour is going to happen the way it happens.
Personally I had my heart set on a home birth. I had the birthing pool all hired, I was going to have Kiss on the telly and my husband bringing me cups of tea while I expertly breathed through every contraction, finally culminating in my baby daughter just sliding out like an oily fish and me being handed a chilled glass of prosecco. Lol. As my due date came and went and the thought of punching the next person who asked me if the baby was here yet became more and more appealing I saw my dreams of a home birth slipping away. It looked like I was going to have to be induced which is a hospital-only affair.
There are a couple of types of induction – one is the gentler form involving a slow release hormone that they give you and then send you home until labour starts and if that doesn’t work or you don’t meet the criteria then there’s a stronger method involving staying in hospital on a drip. Because they’re both introducing false hormones into your body rather than natural labour hormones the contractions can be that bit more intense. Ouch.
I went in at 9am to get the induction hormones with a plan that the midwife would call me at 6pm, 11pm and then the next morning to see whether anything was progressing. This baby had officially been served her eviction notice. At 10am we were in Circo having a nice full English breakfast and then headed to the office for 11am to pack all the outstanding orders and answer e-mails. By 12pm I was starting to get twinges and swearing at my fella to get a move on so I could go home and wiggle my hips on the birthing ball for a bit. By 1.30pm I was getting quite strong pains in my stomach and back, 30 seconds apart and lasting for 45 seconds each but I couldn’t feel my stomach hardening like the Braxton Hicks contractions so I wasn’t convinced it was labour. Mr B called the hospital for advice and they suggested a paracetamol and waiting 45 minutes to see what happened. Twenty minutes later I was crying with pain and vomiting up my breakfast. It was time to haul ass to the hospital.
I could barely stand by the time we pulled up to the womens (a journey which had involved me doing a lot of screaming and my husband praying he’d be stopped by the police so he could go “She’s in labour!” and get a blues and twos escort… which like my fantasies of my waters breaking in the middle of The Asda, didn’t happen because films and TV lie about labour). My husband half carried me to the lifts only to find the whole place was on lockdown because someone had set off a baby security bracelet. I had to contract and scream and swear in front of a crowd of people for what felt like ages but was probably only 5-10 minutes until the lockdown was lifted and they could get me a wheelchair. The first rule of labour is leave any inhibitions and embarrassment at the door.
When I was examined at 3pm I was 4cm dilated and officially in active labour. The gas and air made me vomit again (after nearly 10 months off the vodka my body was incredibly out of practice), so the midwife went to get anti sickness tablets only to be called off on an emergency in another room. When she came back 40 minutes later I told her she needed to check again because I was ready to push (I’d watched at least three series of One Born, I was practically a midwife myself) only to be told that they only check you every 4 hours. I begged her to check me and reluctantly she had a rummage in my woo and proclaimed “You know why you’re struggling so much? You’re 10cm, you’re ready to go.” WITHIN THE SPACE OF 40 MINUTES! That’s how much of a beast my contractions were at this point. I was hammered off the gas and air so all I could say was “Fucking told yer!” (Sorry Donna, I’m normally much nicer and less sweary to people I’ve only just met.)
Meanwhile Mr B was getting it in the neck, he kept trying to stroke me and be lovely and I was hitting him away telling him to ‘never fucking touch me again’ while also grasping at him and trying to claw his skin. I was pushing the bed away from the wall Regan-from-the-exorcist style and pulling the blinds down from the windows. Basically I just wanted to destroy things. I was begging for all the drugs and a C-section. So much for this tranquil natural home birth I’d envisaged. Shit was going down.
After a bit of expert pushing (even through the pain I can remember the midwife complimenting me on how efficient my pushes were) and me casually announcing that ‘I’ve shit myself, deal with it’, they realised that the baby was facing the wrong way. Not breech thank god but she was facing sideways instead of downwards meaning it was more painful to push her out. You don’t say.
They wheeled me off to an emergency room with stirrups to see if the doctor could turn her, meaning more painful rummaging around in my ladybits. By this point there was a party in my pants and literally everyone in the hospital seemed to have been invited, the room was packed.
The lady was not for turning (I hope that’s the only similarity she has to Margaret Thatcher…) so the decision was taken that it would have to be a forceps delivery. Because of how fast the dilation had happened there was no time for an epidural or any of the good drugs (even through between trying to batter my husband and destroy NHS fixtures and fittings I was begging for drugs and/or a C-section) so I was still only on gas and air which was doing sweet FA for me at this point. They ran me down to theatre and basically yanked my little girl out only to find the cord was wrapped round her neck, stomach and leg so every time I’d been pushing, the cord had been pulling her back in. Sound.
She was healthy, alert and absolutely gorgeous. Not even so much as a mark on her from the forceps. She was finally here and while it’s a total lie that you immediately forget about the pain, you’re not arsed because it’s all finally over and you’re suddenly, blissfully in love.
After a little bit of time on my chest, they took her away so that Mr B could cut the cord and they could weigh her. They finally managed to get some of the good drugs in me while they stitched me up (because yes girls, forceps equal an episiotomy) so I was high as a kite when they told me she only weighed 7lbs 3oz. All I could say was “Shurrup, you’re messin?!” – I come from a long line of massive babies and considering she was 11 days overdue I was expecting an absolute whopper.
My official active labour time was 3hrs and 11 minutes and the midwife hadn’t even had the chance to make her first phone call to see how the induction was progressing. If you have at one end of the scale a completely natural home birth and the other end of the scale an emergency C-section I pretty much ended up at the opposite end of the scale to the birth I wanted. By all means make a birth plan, but make sure you have a plan B, C, D, E and all the way through to Z as well. Just in case.
This is by no means designed to scare any mums to be. I had what would be considered to be a traumatic labour, it was almost worst case scenario and you know what? I got through it. Labour is what our bodies were designed for and I would go through it a miliion times over to have my little girl in my arms. The vast majority of labours go off without a hitch so the likelihood is you’ll have a boss one.
One thing people do tell you about giving birth that is absolutely 100% true, is that as soon as they put your baby in your arms and you look into his or her eyes that it’s absolutely magical and you know your world will never be the same again and you’d never want it to be.
Welcome to the world Cora Rose B