The only thing I felt uncertain about leading up to my 36th week, is how I would know when to be ready to leave the comforts of my home and venture to hospital...just at the ‘right time’. I was confident in finding the flow and I so desperately wanted my wife and I to manage a smooth transition from home to hospital. The right book and hearing many beautiful positive birth stories turned out to give us all the answers we needed.
I was looking forward to the birth; it was going to be a new experience I was totally ready for. Despite not knowing what it felt like, I had learned about the physical and emotional journey that birth takes, as had both my birth partners. I knew I was safe, so I just had to remain calm and trust my body. Having a small build and supposedly low pain threshold is really no indication of what you’re capable of. Birth for me has been the most empowering experience of my life. And what’s so special is that my wife feels exactly the same way.
40 WEEKS TODAY
Our day had started off very relaxed, we felt we had plenty of time, and any which way, I knew Leoni would come when she was ready.
We had our 40 week midwife appointment a day before Leoni’s due date. Everything was looking very positive up to this point.
The night before I had started a very light bleed (like the day before a period would start) and was told that this is very normal, as it would be a sign of an imminent ‘show’. Needless to say I was excited, but tried to keep calm, as I had learnt that this is no guarantee for anything to progress any time soon.
At our appointment, the midwife went through the usual checks and finally asked whether we had seen a doctor at any point during the pregnancy due to the fact that we were having an IVF (ICSI to be precise) baby. “No” I responded, “why?” The midwife explained that although in a natural pregnancy 42 weeks is an ‘acceptable’ time frame for no intervention, when it comes to IVF/ICSI that time frame is at 40 weeks. The news of facing the decision of having an induction the same day put the frights in me; simply because I wasn’t prepared. Not helped by the doctor telling us that there had been a case of an IVF stillbirth at that hospital not so long ago. Being induced went so far against the plan/ preference/ belief we had in the natural process. It felt like a lot of information, all at once, with a certain level of pressure for decisions. We both wanted everything naturally, equally though, we both knew that we wouldn’t risk Leoni’s wellbeing no matter what. The pregnancy and the potential of having her in our lives was way more valuable than any plan or preference we might have had.
After much deliberation, a more agreeable option was handed to us, which was to have a sweep and this would hopefully get things started without the need for meds. We decided to go for it and upon doing the sweep, the doctor felt that I was already 1-2cm dilated.
So happy with this news, we finally left the hospital around 5pm and continued to go about our day with the little that was left of it. We decided to do our weekly supermarket shop but opted for a take-away pizza for dinner. Waddling through the supermarket I felt the same PGP pain I had felt for so many weeks, just maybe a little bit worse.
As we drove back home and pulled into our road, my arms suddenly grasped whatever was close, I screamed out loud, my face scrunched up and I shifted in my seat, trying to breathe through an enormous surge. In my head I thought “f%&$,if this is just the beginning, how
bad is it going to get?!”. It really took me by surprise how intense it was...but I soon gathered myself and just continued as if nothing had happened. In hindsight my first surge, on a scale of 1 to 10 was about a 7. And there was no slow build-up. I was right at the top of that wave, desperately trying to ride it and then slowly finding relief as it passed, which is honestly like heaven. And this turned out to be my main focus point. As with everything in life, focusing on the positive is far more productive and helpful than focusing on the negative and things that hurt.
I managed to eat a couple of slices of pizza and sat down to work on the business we were planning to launch imminently. I lasted about 10 minutes, when another huge surge hit me and I was pulled back to the reality that I was going to birth a baby soon. I then turned to TV to find some distraction. It kind of worked and eventually we even turned off the lights, hoping that I would get some rest in between surges. I continued to try to “keep going as normal, for as long as possible”.
Sleep became impossible as the surges became far less spaced out. The little ones I was having (in between the big ones) soon vanished and it turned into one big one after another, now about an 8 in severity. My wife Dani had gone downstairs to call the hospital; whilst on the phone, I had a surge I thought was going to make me throw up, but then also felt a sudden urge to run to the toilet. Relieved I had now emptied my bowels - I had worried far too much about doing a poop while pushing - I found a fair bit of blood as I wiped myself. The hospital advised us it was time to come in.
Every step of the way, both my wife and her mum did not intervene with my flow and kept a sense of normality throughout, despite clearly recognising what stages I was in. Even the call to the hospital was made away from me, ensuring the conversation didn’t distract me. The lack of panic and anxiety helped me so much to maintain my flow and not use my conscious analytical mind to question what was happening - rather just follow exactly what my body was feeling.
Struggling to walk and surges now coming what felt like every other minute, I made it to our front door and made sure the entire street knew I was going to give birth that night.
I had always wondered whether I would manage the pain silently or be loud and vocal...turns out I was certainly the latter, without making any conscious decision about it.
THE JOURNEY IN
What then followed was the most empowering, serene, intense and out of worldly experience, for all three of us.
I had put a playlist together; a mixture of, for want of a better word, eclectic music. Songs I had listened to week after week at our yoga birthing sessions with lovely Sophia and songs that make me feel good...in that way that I can drift off in thought about the beauty of life and the world we live in, or even go into a meditative state. Our journey to the hospital was around 00:30, the streets were empty, it was dark and quiet.
Dani describes the energy of the music, the surroundings, the sound that accompanied the surges and the anticipation of what was about to be, as the most positively overwhelming out of body experience that she was in no rush to end. So much so that Dani actually drove under the 30mph speed limit, taking in every moment. I was lying across the back seat on my side, working through each surge one at a time. I had asked Dani to turn up the music as it allowed me to go back to that calm state I had felt so many times before. I knew I just had to ride every wave through those surges and was feeling positive in the knowledge that Leoni was on her way.
I was unable to walk as we arrived at the hospital and urged Dani to get me a wheelchair; she placed a scarf over my head in order to help stay in the zone - it was too late for the noise cancelling headphones. As I arrived at the birth centre, I could smell each of my family and friends, who were there for support, without lifting my head to see any of them. I just knew they were there and that was enough. Conscious of how crucial keeping the flow uninterrupted was, Dani wheeled me straight past triage and into the birth centre, saying we had an appointment to anyone who asked (despite it being 00:50). Then she found the midwife who had the nicest aura and expressed how imperative it was for us to have the most natural birth journey. During all of this, I remained in darkness and in my flow. Although slightly against the usual rules, the midwife really connected with us and understood the importance of what was said and supported us wholehearted in what became the next and final stage.
THE FINAL STAGE
We were taken into a regular appointment room to have some privacy. Bridie, the midwife urged me to examine how far I was, as I was losing blood and wanted to figure out whether I needed to be taken to the labour ward. I had gotten it into my head that I would NOT be examined and so my response was instantly “no”. Bridie persisted and I agreed. I was 8cm dilated and due to the blood loss it was deemed unsafe for me to remain in the birth centre.
My body had already began to take over and I had started to experience the involuntary pushes I had read about. Best to be described as the stomach convulsions you experience when throwing up, but in reverse.
The news of having to move to the labour ward was made easier because instead of being ‘transferred’, Bridie stayed with us the entire time so the adjustment to the labour ward was minimal.
On my knees, leaning over the back of the bed, Bridie was telling me to breathe through the surges, without actively pushing. I could feel that my energy levels were dropping quickly. Having had temperatures of 38c degrees in London, I was beyond grateful for the fan we had ordered on amazon the same morning and my second birth partner who was holding the fan on the wet flannels that were placed on my back, to try to keep me from burning up.
I was offered gas & air, but I didn’t want anything - I felt I was too far ‘in the birthing process’ to introduce anything that would distract me - my mind felt strong. After 42 minutes my body needed me to push with everything I had left in me. Dani and I held each other so tightly; with her words and loud encouragement and my sheer determination, Leoni arrived in this world 8 minutes later...at 02:05.
I will never deny that the pain was immeasurable. However, being in the moment with the knowledge that labour is a tiny snippet in the life of a human, the pain becomes miniscule in gravitas when the miracle of life is finding its way through you. She is our biggest achievement.