Ceri's story - Paddington's birth

It started with a dodgy tum. I had had venison burgers for tea and then retired for an early night to bed around 9pm. At around 11pm I felt what I could only associate as stomach cramps that you get before a spate of the runs, so I rushed off to the toilet, where I spent the best part of half an hour. I thought nothing more of it as I was already 9 days late and had given up on thinking every stomach movement or sensation was the onset of labour. We had been booked in to be induced in 3 days time so I had just resigned myself to that being that.

We had a birthing plan in place that I was happy with, I had been heavily discouraged/told that I would not be having my elective c-section here in Wales, which was what I was going to have had, had we stayed in London for the birth as originally planned. I had wanted a c-section because I was absolutely terrified of giving birth, it gave me cold sweats and the thought of it made me physically shake. To find out so close to my due date that everything I had been gearing up towards was not going to happen felt like someone had pulled the rug from beneath me.

I could have appealed and insisted to see another consultant and demanded a c- section of course, but that would have been really stressful and I didn’t want to put myself or my baby through that at the time, so after a very wobbly tear-stained few days, and a visit to the hospital to talk very practically about giving vaginal birth a go with a lovely midwife, I started to come around to the idea. She advised on us different ‘safety nets’ that we could put in place to make me feel less anxious and more in control.  It would be nice to have at least tried to give birth vaginally I thought and if I just couldn’t do it, as I was so convinced I couldn’t as I believed I had a really low pain threshold, then we worked out a plan of action to then have a Caesarean, so really there was nothing to lose.

I had started doing daily hypno-birthing CDs in the 2 weeks leading up to the due date, on the recommendation of some friends, to try and calm myself down and prepare mentally for what was to come. At first, I wasn’t convinced that just working on my breathing and listening to affirmations, visualising waves etc.. with somebody telling me that everything was going to be fine and that my body was amazing and would know what to do, was going to do any good. But I found the CDs instantly relaxing and soothing so I persevered. The hypno-birthing techniques were keeping me calm and positive, which was a surprise to me so I listened to the CDS at least once, often twice a day in the lead up to the birth and felt that they were preparing me for a birth that I hadn’t thought I needed to prepare for. If I knew then what I know now I would have started preparing months before, as it really did build up my confidence and help me to understand birth better. I wouldn’t know how much the breathing techniques and calm and controlled mindset would really end up helping, until later on however.

The new birthing plan was simple: get to hospital when already in labour using the hypno-birthing techniques to get to this stage, have an immediate epidural on arrival, along with gas and air and try and give birth vaginally. If after an agreed time, I just couldn’t do it, then I would go to theatre and have the c- section I had originally wanted. It was a fair compromise. I didn’t want any pethidine, and definitely not an episiotomy, or forceps, or ventouse to be used to aid the delivery. So those three things were definitely not going to happen…

I went back to bed but I just couldn’t settle as those pesky stomach cramps were getting a bit stronger and I felt like I still needed the loo all the time, so back to the toilet for me where I sat, gripping the towel rail as the cramps intensified quite quickly. You may think by now I had cottoned on to the fact that this may not be the burger’s fault, but I hadn’t. I still honestly thought this was a dodgy tum, as I do get them a lot and that’s what it felt like, just a really intense version. Almost an hour passed by and that towel rail was being tested as I used it to hang some of my upper body weight on as I rode what I now know were the surges of early labour.

Tired and fed up of sitting on the loo, I came back to bed and thought the worst of my food bug had to be over now. Jon, my husband, woke up at this point and said, ‘are you ok? What’s wrong with your breathing? Are you in labour?’. It was probably around 1am and I hadn’t even noticed that I was breathing really deeply and slowly as it was helping with the stomach cramps. I had just started doing it naturally and instinctively (thanks to my accelerated hypno-birthing training). I still insisted that it wasn’t labour as I would surely know when that was starting, mother’s intuition and all that, but Jon switched the light on and made me sit up and look at him.

It was then that I admitted that I was really in pain and the surges were coming more frequently and lasting longer. Suddenly, it was very clear that this wasn’t food poisoning. This was it. I was in labour. Jon called the midwives at the hospital to get their advice and they asked for me to be put on the phone where they enquired about my contractions; how frequent, how long, how intense etc…I was still able to talk quite coherently to them through the waves and they were a good few minutes apart still and only lasting around 10 seconds, so they said to keep timing them and try and get some sleep if I could and call back when we thought they were more regular, longer and more intense.

I was determined to get as far along as possible on my own so that when we went to hospital, that would be it and I could have my epidural straight away – that was my endgame. Jon wanted to get us to the hospital there and then as he was sure the contractions were getting more frequent but I dug my swollen heels in.

The next few hours sort of passed by in a bit of a blur really. I tried sitting on the birthing ball to relieve some of the pain and heaviness but the second I sat on it, the pain increased so that plan was aborted. I tried pacing around the house which helped keep me distracted for a bit but I gradually got slower and my steps less certain as the contractions got more intense. Jon tried to give me back rubs and gentle massages that we had practiced but I literally bit his head off snapping ‘don’t touch me!’, so was clearly not in the mood for that!

I drank water, nibbled on a biscuit, put some relaxing and familiar music on in the background to divert my attention from what was happening and just focused on my breathing and repeating the birth affirmations I had learnt to myself quietly. I certainly couldn’t sleep as the hospital midwife had suggested.

I just wanted to stay calm and positive and go with whatever was coming next and trust my body and my instincts, and that’s when the hypno-birthing techniques really came into their own and they would continue to get me through the whole birth. Amazing what a bit of controlled and steady breathing and positive mindset can do.

Cut to around about 5.30am and the contractions were now just minutes apart and lasting for a good 45 seconds, some longer. Jon got the midwife on the phone again and I tried to talk to them but I was so lost in the surges, the intensity just taking over my consciousness, and so focused on my breathing and the sheer frequency of the contractions that I could barely get any words out, mostly just giving guttural murmurs down the line. It didn’t take them long to say, ‘I think you had better get down here right away!’

Getting to the car was a struggle as I could hardly put any weight on one of my legs as it sent pain into my pelvis and I was so focused on riding my waves of labour, with barely any recovery time to catch my breath and prepare for the next one, so Jon had to basically drag me and lower me into the car seat. No mean feat! He drove really steadily all the way as I writhed about in discomfort, and pulled at the seat belt which was making me feel really confined, and kept making my ‘argh’ and ‘ooh’ sounds and breathing deeply to distract myself. It felt like the longest and bumpiest journey in the world.

We got there by about 6am I think, and were ushered in and taken to a small assessment room. The midwife could see that I was experiencing a lot of intensity with each surge so she went to sort out some gas and air, whilst I waddled off to the loo where I promptly had my show. She then said ‘let’s take a look and see how far along you are…’, and started to examine me, she looked at me almost instantly and said ‘well done you, we better get you into the big room, you are nearly 10cms dilated’, which I have since learnt was quite an achievement and most definitely a sign of being in real, active labour (in-fact I was between 8-9cm dilated according to the birth notes) Excellent. So far, so on plan.

She asked if I still wanted the epidural as I would have to be sited for it right now or it would be too late for it to be administered and take effect. I tripped over my words saying ‘yes please, let’s get it done!’, as that was the plan.

I was taken to the birthing room and the midwife tried to site the drips for my epidural a couple of times but was struggling to get a good vein. I had blood dripping down my arms but I didn’t care as I was about to get the ultimate in pain relief and keep this birth on plan. Except, I wasn’t and that’s not what happened.

Like a hammer to a stone, the midwife came back in after a few minutes after urgently sending for the anaesthetist, looking very serious. She said the words I had not wanted to hear. ‘He has been called to an emergency in theatre and is the only one in this morning. I’m sorry but there will be no epidural’. And just like that another rug was pulled from beneath me. I had two choices. Panic and put my baby and myself under unnecessary stress, or let it go, believe in myself, use my hypno-birthing techniques and trust in my support team. Luckily, I found the strength to chose the 2nd option and decided to make my breathing my main concern and leave Jon to manage the room and be my spokesperson. He would know what was best for me and our baby as we had discussed what we wanted in all possible outcomes at length together. And he really did us both proud.

From here on in, time became irrelevant and everything just sort of happened around me. Jon was my rock and my absolute pillar of strength, I could not have done it without him. He was administer of gas, air and weak orange squash to keep my energy levels up and hydrate me, and kept my sweaty brow cool with a cold flannel and gave me constant words of soft encouragement throughout the whole experience, telling me to dig deep when it really mattered. He believed in me and helped me believe in myself. He stood up for the whole time and never took his eyes off me, or off the ball. He is my hero.

I know that the contractions just seemed to run into one another for what felt like forever, and I had seconds to try and catch my breath and prepare mentally and physically for the next rolling sensation. I had a system whereby I would ride out one contraction just by focusing on my breath and letting out whatever sounds I needed to, then for the next one I allowed myself a big suck of gas and air, then for the next one a big glug of squash before I went into it, and so on. This pattern just seemed to help me deal with the constant surges and kept me focused.

The midwife was exceptional. Keeping my flannel cold and wet, as this was also the hottest day of that year. She was calm and controlled and patient and I trusted her totally.

I know that suddenly my waters broke and I felt like I had covered the whole room in liquid, so much so that I apologised to everyone for making such a mess! (I hadn’t covered the room at all!). I know that my waters breaking was the most intense and incredible feeling of force and release I have ever experienced and I was not expecting that - so not how it happens in the movies!

I know that I started needing to push after a while, and that I ran out of gas and air and this nearly sent me into a panic until I managed to calm myself down with my breathing again and just sort of fall into the feelings and embrace the sensations. 

I know that they replaced the gas and air canister and that I started pushing and it was intense. I know that I couldn’t quite get my breathing right when pushing and was holding my breath and turning a shocking shade of scarlet.

I know that I was exhausted and struggling to find any extra energy and that I had refused every bit of food we had so lovingly packed in our hospital bag as the last thing I wanted was to eat. I know that I wasn’t pushing as hard and as often as I needed to and I was really trying. Trying harder than I have ever tried at anything before in my life. I know that I heard Jon and the midwife saying something about Pethidine and how it may help me as I was so tired and I know that I said ‘OK, whatever you think’, even though it had been an absolute no on my birthing plan because by this point I just didn’t care. I just wanted to deliver my baby safely and I was so so so beyond tired. (And quite high from the gas and air too!).

I know there was an injection and then I know very little from this point on as I faded off into my own little birth bubble. It didn’t help me with the pain unfortunately, it just made me feel a bit removed from myself though a bit more relaxed I suppose. Thankfully Jon was with me to hold my sweaty hand and be my voice, ears and eyes as I was just breathing, pushing and trying to stay afloat and not let the intensity take me down into a panic or a route of self-doubt.

What I didn’t know was I had now been properly pushing for almost 2 hours full on and my body was struggling to give anymore. Also I didn’t know that Paddington’s heart rate was slowing as he was getting stuck in the birthing canal, as I kept giving one really good, strong push that pushed him forward then not having the energy to keep that level of force up for the next 2 pushes, so he was then slipping backwards again each time.

I didn’t know that they were discussing the very real option of taking me to theatre next as they didn’t want our baby to be put under anymore distress sliding in and out of the birthing canal for much longer.

I do know that the midwife asked me if I used to be a horse rider or practiced a lot of yoga, both of which I did and do, as she was concerned how tough my pelvic floor muscles and perineum were. Basically there wasn’t enough stretching happening to get my baby out, so a decision was quickly made to give me another absolute no from my birthing plan – an episiotomy - as a last attempt to help me deliver my baby out the front door before the last resort that anyone wanted to take at this stage: Caesarean. Ironically, the very thing I had wanted in the first place was now something that I absolutely didn’t want after all of this effort to birth vaginally, unless absolutely necessary.

Jon declared our final decision after consulting with the midwife and the doctor, who had now become involved in the birth because of the time it was taking and for the welfare of our baby. I gave a mumbled ‘yeah ok, whatever is best’ as my consent and I really was ok with it because I just wanted my baby out now and I put my trust wholeheartedly into my husband and the experts around me. So what if this wasn’t going to plan?! It was going and was the best decision for me and my baby at that time, which is all I needed to know.

Jon distracted me as the doctor carried over his tools and one of the most painful bits of the whole birth was something I hadn’t expected, an injection to numb the area ready for the incision. It was a sharp and instant shock and I yelped and lifted my body off the bed in reaction. But it was over quickly and that was all I felt of what was happening down there, so it was worth it!

One quick clean cut later and I was told to give the 3 best, strongest pushes of my life. I tried. I mean I really tried and my baby was crowning. Everyone was excited and urging me on as there was a head at last! A baby’s head! This bit then went so fast. We were at the final hurdle and our baby had to come out now and quickly because air flow was restricted in there and the heartbeat wasn’t as strong as they would’ve liked it to be at that moment due to the stress my baby was under slipping backwards and forwards in the birthing canal.

I heard the words ‘kiwi ventouse’, and that it would really help me if I could give it one more triage of pushes, just to pull my baby past the exit and out into the world. That was another no from my plan but we had decided if push came to shove (ha!), we would take the kiwi version of the ventouse option as it was operated by the doctor’s strength only and not mechanical.

With a frantic and determined look, we all nodded, ‘just do it’, and with that the contraption was torn from its sealed sterile package, placed on our baby’s head and with a 1,2,3 I pushed with everything I had left in me. Salt n Pepa’s immortal lyrics of ‘p p push it real good!’ were whirring around my sleep-deprived brain and suddenly there was that feeling of immense force and release and instant relief as our baby shot out at quite a speed into the waiting arms of the midwife. Paddington was born! It was all over. Well apart from the small matter of birthing the placenta, which I took an injection to ensure happened quickly and then getting sewn back up – this all happened while I was feeding and cradling my newborn baby in my arms however so I didn’t notice it happening and frankly couldn’t give a damn by this point. My baby was safe and born and that was all that mattered.

The moment Paddington popped out, quite literally, and at 11.48am exactly, will be forever etched on my brain. I screamed with exertion and might, so the first words I said to my Pads as he entered the world were ‘I’m sorry baby! Sorry I screamed!’. Jon had the biggest smile on his face and said ‘well done baby. You are my hero’, quickly followed by ‘do you want to know who it is?’ I had completely forgotten that we didn’t know what gender we were having, I was just happy to have a healthy baby that was finally out!

Pads was quickly checked over, then placed into my waiting arms, where Jon and I just soaked in his perfect features, tiny fragility and amazingness. How was this incredible child ours?! We were so lucky and continue to be the luckiest people alive to have him in our lives.

So my birth didn’t go at all ‘to plan’ did it? It was pretty much the opposite of what I had wanted in the first place and all of the things I insisted I didn’t want to happen, did in the end for the sake of me and my baby, through informed choice, and that’s the whole point. Birth doesn’t go to plan, so know your options and be prepared to change and adapt your ‘plan’ as your birth journey unfolds.

My biggest piece of advice to any new mum anxious about giving birth is to just trust in yourself and your body’s abilities, it will honestly amaze you whatever happens. The only thing that matters is your baby coming out safely andyou being in one piece (albeit with a few stitches to patch you up if needs be!), and both of you being healthy. That’s it.

Prepare as much as you can before the birth and find what works for you in terms of coping and comfort strategies, whether its music, low light, breathing, active birth positions, affirmations, whatever… and have someone you trust with yours and your baby’s life by your side to hold your hand, mop your brow, keep you hydrated, tell you that you are amazing and that you can do it when you feel like you can’t, and to speak up and listen for you when you are lost in the sensations of labour. I am very happy with my birth story and I can’t thank my husband and the midwife and doctor team enough for giving us the best care and helping to bring Paddington in to the world as safely as possible.