It was now obvious our baby was in a breech position
The birth of my first baby, although far from text book was a very positive experience for me. I was fortunate enough to have an ‘easy’ pregnancy, I had no morning sickness, no tiredness or no other side effects associated with being pregnant. I was running up until 33 weeks and walking seven km up until the day before I gave birth. I will say I am a big control freak so the thought of child birth freaked me out for the entire eight months I was pregnant.
It was the first Monday of lockdown and I was 36 weeks, pregnant due to have my 36 week midwife appointment the following day. Something I was looking forward to as up until this point we had not discussed labour or the birth at all, that was all due to occur on the Tuesday. At around 9am I started to feel some lower back pain and mild period cramps. They were about 10 – 15 mins apart, sometimes sporadic and nothing too intense. This continued throughout the day and midafternoon. Although I didn’t want to cause a fuss and kept telling myself it was just Braxton Hicks, I think subconsciously I knew our baby was on her way. I packed a hospital bag that afternoon, all the goodies you are told to have: wheat pack, massage ball, chocolate, snacks, swimwear for the bath… none of these items ever made it out of the bag again.
During dinner the cramps were getting pretty intense, just like a bad period, but enough that I was having to breathe through them. I had done an online hypnobirthing course and the best thing I got out of that was ‘up’ and ‘down’ breathing techniques. Breathing through the pain really helped me, along with being on all fours on the floor. The contractions felt like a surge that would build in intensity then completely go away, lasting about 45 seconds to one minute. My poor partner was given a crash course in breathing techniques that afternoon so he could help count me through them. In between contractions I felt great, I was relaxed and even managed to trim my nails and straighten my hair (priorities J).
At around 7:30 pm my mucus plug came out, and at that point I knew we weren’t far away from meeting our baby. We called the midwife and she said to call back if the contractions got closer and more intense. About an hour later around 8:30 pm my waters broke - there was a loud ‘pop’ and my waters gushed out. We called the midwife to update her and she said to head to the hospital, where she would meet us. My contractions were all over the show, they went from 6 minutes apart to 3 minutes, then a 10 min gap. At this point it was my belief that my baby was not head down and in a traverse position. This was a concern for the midwife as I hadn’t felt the baby move all afternoon and my waters had gone.
The hospital is only about ten minutes away, however my partner decided he would take the longest route with all the traffic lights and road works, earning him a telling off. At this point we were both very relaxed, although I had one contraction in the car, we were joking and very calm, which was nice.
We arrived at the hospital at 10:40 pm and due to Covid-19 had to go through security at the entrance then further questions once we got to the delivery suite.
My midwife took us into our room and wanted to get a monitor on the baby as soon as possible. I had one more contraction as she was doing this. She attached a monitor around my stomach and we all felt relief as we saw the little heartbeat. I needed to use the bathroom and whilst in there I had my final contraction and went through transition. I remember laughing in our antenatal class when I heard that some women roar during transition. Well, for me that is exactly what it was like. It was very primal and I had no control over the noise my body made. It was a strong contraction but then the feeling changed. I came out of the bathroom and told my midwife I needed to push, it felt like I needed to poop. She was surprised and wanted to do a quick exam to see how dilated I was.
I didn’t want to use any pain relief for the birth, but we decided to try the gas as she did the exam so I knew what it was like if I needed it. I had one puff and felt quite spaced out
At 11pm she started her exam then with a surprised look said “we are about to have this baby”. She pushed the call button for another midwife to come and assist her set up. I was fully dilated plus 2cm, the baby was on her way. At this point I told her I didn’t want to have the baby lying on my back, so given I was attached to the monitor my only option was on all fours on the bed, which was good for me - I wanted gravity to assist if possible. My midwife told me not to use any more gas as she needed me to be in control, I was happy with this.
As I got into position one foot then a second foot came out, I don’t really recall pushing for this. The midwife pushed the emergency button as it was now obvious our baby was in a breech position (footling breech).
The human body truly is amazing; my body told me when to push and when to take a break. I had a lot of support from nurses and midwives in the room, however I did get frustrated with everyone telling me to push constantly. I hadn’t read much about labour but what I had read led me to believe if I pushed too soon I could tear. In the midst of all the support and advice I sought my midwives voice to listen to her and do exactly what she told me. It felt unnatural to try and push when I didn’t have the urge, so I didn’t. Breathing and water helped me through this.
My baby made her way out but got stuck at her chest as her arms were above her head. The most uncomfortable feeling I had throughout my entire experience was when she moved. She was kicking her little legs trying to help, this moved her body, and seeing as I had no control over this, I found it uncomfortable. At about this point the midwife noticed that the cord had turned white meaning the baby was no longer getting oxygen, so we needed her to come out as soon as possible.
The nurses in the room assisted me into a ‘runners lunge’ position with my left leg forward to try and open up my pelvis. I believe this freed up one of her arms but her left arm was still up behind her head preventing her being born. Fortunately for me my midwife and the on-call consultant knew what to do. They helped me to turn on to my back, the consultant found the babies arm and moved it down from behind her head. Apparently at this point she asked the midwife to cut a large episiotomy, I didn’t hear this but fortunately I gave one last push and our baby girl was born at 11:25 pm weighing 2340g.
It is hard to describe the feeling of giving birth. I would not describe it as painful, I would rather say it was intense. It was like nothing I have ever felt and although there was pain it was for a reason, every push was getting me closer to meeting my baby.
My partner was so supportive and my biggest advocate throughout, he was so proud of me and so happy to briefly meet his baby girl. During the entire time he made sure I was ok whilst monitoring things with our baby. He knew all I wanted was to have skin on skin with her so he pushed for this. She was placed on my chest for a few seconds which went by in a blur before they took her to the side to help her start breathing.
The next part is quite a blur, I was given an injection and my placenta was delivered very easily. The staff were fantastic. When I looked around there were about 8 to 12 staff in the room. I had a nurse over my right shoulder showing me the placenta; in hindsight this was a distraction as over my left shoulder they were working on my baby. They then took my baby to the neonatal ward. All the staff left, my midwife went to make me some toast and my partner went to make a cup of tea… and just like that I was alone, not pregnant and without my baby, it was the saddest feeling.
After a quick shower I was able to go to the neonatal ward to see my little baby. Seeing her properly for the first time is something I can still not describe properly. I felt an overwhelming sense of helplessness as she was in an incubator, hooked up to machines, with an IV in and a breathing machine on, and all I could do was touch her little fingers. I felt an overwhelming sense of love as now all of my effort was going to go into helping her. We ended up staying 11 days in the neonatal ward while she was treated for a few things. Given that this was during level four lockdown it was not a pleasant journey for us as her dad couldn’t see her and didn’t get to meet her properly until we left the hospital. The staff in the neonatal ward were amazing though and helped our baby and helped me through those first 11 days.
The effects of Covid-19 for us were numerous. I wanted to have my sister and my partner with me for the birth but was limited to one person. After the birth and when I stayed two nights in the postnatal ward my treatment varied. Some nurses would ask from the door if I was ok, some would wear PPE, some wouldn’t and would enter the room to talk with me.
One nurse briefly showed me how to use a breast pump and suggested I try and use it every four hours, but that was it. There was no emphasis on me expressing, no one frequently checking on me to help me through the unknowns. This lack of expressing in the early days led to poor supply for quite some time. I had no idea how painful my cramps would be when I did express, I thought something was wrong with me. I had to ask for help and was given a hot towel and pain relief which was nice. Throughout my stay I only had my observations done once, which is probably not enough given what I had just been through.
I spent most of my day in the neonatal ward with my baby, so I asked if I could leave the postnatal ward and be with my baby after being there 36 hours. I guess effectively discharging myself. Fortunately, they had a parents room in the neonatal ward that I stayed in for the rest of our time in hospital. A small windowless room, it was great being near my baby but not ideal to spend nine nights alone going through baby blues and not being able to leave the ward.
Having no visitors and no physical support person was really tough. I had so many emotions that I was going through, trying to spend all my time out with my baby and be strong for her, but also feeling so alone and empty and having no one to talk to in person was hard. There were decisions about her care to be made, that I either made on my own or would call my partner for support.
The nurses in the neonatal ward were fantastic; during our 11 days in there we had a lot of different nurses, occasionally we had the same nurse, but we got to know many of them. They were very sympathetic of our situation and very supportive where they could be. My midwife was also fantastic and managed to visit most days, which was a highlight of my day, being able to talk with someone I knew in person. She bought in a ‘care package’ from my family one day which made my day.
Parents staying in the neonatal ward are not normally catered for at meal times, but due to Covid there were no other food options so they had to cater for me - the nurses were great but sometimes meals would be forgotten. A diet limited to hospital food is not ideal postpartum, although it was a quick way to get back to my pre pregnancy weight J.
I was fortunate that the hospital had a lactation consultant on staff, who worked with me to assist us in our breastfeeding journey. We definitely needed this, as I had no idea what I was doing. I had issues with this initially and was told that because my baby was taken from me straight away to neonatal, there were separation issues, so we needed to bond. Not something a new mum wants to hear (more tears alone in my room).
I was allowed to go down to the hospital pharmacy on day nine, so on my way I found the hospital garden, and being able to be out in the fresh air and sunshine for 10 minutes felt amazing.
Given that our baby was four weeks early we didn’t have everything we needed at home which added more challenges. We had a cot but after seeing how tiny our baby was I wanted her to sleep in our room with us initially once we got home. She spent her first couple of weeks sleeping in her pram and basinet attachment until we could get online deliveries.
The only real positive of Covid was that we couldn’t have any visitors. As much as we would have loved having people meet our baby girl, I felt she was so little and vulnerable being born early, and we really didn’t want to risk her getting sick.
Reading this story may sound like a horrific experience but I have nothing to compare it to, so for me it was what it was. The birth was very positive for me and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way and I could not influence all the Covid related issues so we just worked with them and accepted things as they were.