We were blessed to get pregnant quickly but at three months, I was diagnosed with gestational hypertension, so I was asked to measure my blood pressure every day and was put on medication.
Monitoring was ramped up and I had regular visits to the hospital, where I was repeatedly told how high-risk I was because of my BMI and hypertension and reminded of all the possible bad outcomes. My birth choices of a water birth were taken away and eventually I lost belief in my ability to birth my baby. At 32 weeks I had low amniotic fluid and was gearing up for an early induction, which eventually improved, but by this time my anxiety was through the roof. Knowing I was heading for an induction and because of better visiting hours at Kings College, I transferred hospitals on Christmas Eve with just 3 weeks to go. Although the visiting hours got reduced right down again, it was the best decision I made as I was placed with the most brilliant midwife who took over my entire care.
The reason I start with all this negative stuff will become more obvious later on (and partly because it is cathartic for me to be dramatic about my pregnancy!)
At the same time, I got some antenatal support from a doula. By now, I had lost all confidence in my body and was being treated for major anxiety around birth, so this was a real help. After a few sessions, I felt so positive and calmer about birth and also started exploring homeopathic therapies to counteract the impending induction.
At 37 weeks, I developed pre-eclampsia and was booked in for my induction and with the support of my midwife and doula Natalie, I pushed my induction back as far as possible to the following Tuesday. The week before I filled full of acupuncture, chiropractor appointments, long walks, raspberry leaf tea and clary sage baths.
Come Friday night, having had two sweeps and knowing I was 1cm dilated with baby's head very low, my husband and I had some fish and chips. I then took a careful single dessertspoon-full of castor oil and took some homeopathic caullophyllum in the hope of getting things going. We wanted to throw everything we possibly could at my body to encourage a natural birth ahead of the impending induction.
Dec and I repacked the hospital bags and we practised with the TENS machine on the birthing ball. Well....the TENS machine never came off! After texting my friends a picture of me on the loo with the TENS machine joking saying it was for a 'difficult poo' - I later realised labour had already started! This was around 8pm.
I was in total denial for the first few hours, believing these were just Braxton Hicks or 'sweep cramps' before calling our doula (she was only going to be supporting on the phone) at midnight from the bath when contractions were thick and fast. Dec had measured them on the Freya app and they already said 'go into hospital' so we immediately stopped timing them. Natalie told us this was labour and reassured us to stay at home as long as possible and took Dec off to the kitchen to instil calm and reassurance in him to support me staying at home.
We moved from the bath to the bedroom with a million pillows and yoga balls, it was totally dark and with no distractions. We had prepared so much for induction with playlists, essential oils and affirmation cards, that in the end we just needed the dark and each other and total peace.
Contractions rolled around for the next 12 hours, using just the TENS machine and some clary sage. Sometimes I would get a 5 minute break to sleep between contractions then I would have 3 back-to-back. Time seemed to stand still but we knew we had to stay at home. We called Natalie again and asked about hospital, my contractions were strong and painful by this point and Natalie reassured us to stay at home as long as we could. This was the best advice we could have had. At about 7am we called the hospital as thought my waters had broken and they asked me to come in, we ignored this for a couple of hours as we didn't want to arrive and find we were only a few centimetres dilated and had to go home. A couple of hours later, and we thought we'd better go in. It seemed an insurmountable challenge getting showered and into the car but somehow your body is on autopilot. We arrived and Dec was sent away whilst I was put into triage. At this point I was pushing through my bottom and knew the baby was near but I suspect the midwives didn't believe me! They sent in a student midwife to put me on CTG, with me mooing and panting and unable to sit or stand still. At one point I had to be forcibly removed from the sink, where my head was pushing against the soap dispenser with liquid soap pouring down my face! Eventually an hour and a half later, a midwife came in and examined me and shocked exclaimed 'she's 8cm!' and I was rushed on a wheelchair with gas and air to a labour room! My husband burst through the reception doors in hysterical tears of relief and I shouted 'I'm 8cm' and high fived him!
I entered the labour room and climbed onto the bed on all fours. My contractions at this point didn't hurt, the sensation was an uncontrollable urge to push in my bottom and it felt like relief rather than the earlier contraction pain I had experienced. The golden morning sun was peeping through the blinds onto my face and I remember feeling so clear and calm and contented, not tired or in pain at all.
My contractions slowed at this point to one every eight minutes and after 2 hours of pushing it wasn't enough to get her out, even though her head was right there ready to emerge. We got out some clary sage and started some nipple tweaking to get the oxytocin flowing. A senior midwife had come in once before and threatened the Syntocinon drip and I knew I had to get her out by hook or crook! She came in again after we had asked for as much time as possible and mentioned we'd need to start thinking about the drip or potential instrumental delivery and I thought 'EFF THAT!' and started pushing with all my might! There weren't any contractions to push against, so I just pushed and pushed whilst my husband shouted PUSH and the midwifes shouted PUSH! Eventually I built up enough tension down there to push against and I could make progress. I felt no pain at this point, but I had to push right to the edge of what felt like common sense and past the feeling of bursting! I felt calm knowing that she was going to come out naturally and this was it!
Her head came out and I vaguely remember the midwives telling me to pant, but again I thought I'm not leaving anything to chance, so just carried on pushing with all my might! Out came her body in one satisfyingly slippery relief. She was here! She was placed on my chest, all vernixy and crying so loudly I just thought it was perfect. My husband cried uncontrollable tears of joy and in that moment everything felt right.
The placenta was delivered with minimal bleeding and I had a few stitches, whilst my husband had skin to skin with our daughter and she made the most amazing cooing noises whilst the sun burst through the blinds. I felt like the most incredible woman, I was so proud of my body and what it had achieved. I felt absolutely jubilant, a feeling I can barely describe.
Rebel Hardy, born 9th January 2021 during the Covid pandemic at Kings College Hospital. With huge love and thanks to my husband Dec, my midwife Polly and my amazing doula Natalie.
The moral of the story - I couldn't have been more scared about birth. I cried every day, I obsessively read every study about birth, books about induction and catastrophised the whole experience. I was told I was at high risk for multiple things - postpartum bleeding, shoulder dystocia, instrumental delivery and even still birth. None of these things ended up happening. Birth ended up being the most incredible experiences of my life. It wasn't scary or difficult, your body takes over in the most beautiful way and with the support of someone you love it becomes an overwhelming moment of joy! Believe in yourself and you can do incredible things.
And my one top bit of advice, and to aptly coin an overused phrase from the pandemic...'Stay at Home!' It is far better if you can labour in your own environment, and I'm certain this is what made our birth so successful.
Good luck Mamas!