Six months ago, on Sunday 19th January 2020, at 12:44pm we welcomed our baby boy, Finleigh Winston Westlake into the world.
I started writing Fin’s birth story back in February, but you know, life with a newborn… I didn’t post it. Then Covid-19 happened and it didn’t feel right to post it. You see, my experience wasn’t 100% positive (it wasn’t 100% negative either); but I felt so grateful that I didn’t face the extra worry or restrictions that women giving birth during lockdown have done that even a slight moan seemed unfounded.
That said, I really do believe it’s important to talk about birth experiences – the good, the bad and the in-between. We need to demystify birth because I think most first time mum’s will agree that there’s a lot of apprehension about labour. What does a contraction feel like? How does a baby fit through there!? ….Will I tear and just how painful is the whole thing going to be?
As I started out by being slightly terrified at the prospect of giving birth I decided to do some research and came across The Positive Birth Company. Their online hypnobirthing course wasn’t nearly as hippy-dippy as it sounds. It dived right into the science of birth and clearly explained how hormones can help or hinder labour. Armed with some knowledge I attended pregnancy yoga classes, practiced my breathing and wrote out my birth preferences…
Here’s how it went down:
Following in his father’s punctual footsteps, I went into labour at exactly 39 weeks. Pregnancy up until that week had gone fairly smoothly. Apart from the extreme tiredness and rollercoaster hormones, I’d had no major complaints. However towards the end of the second trimester, despite lathering myself in bio oil daily, I got stretch marks… then my stretch marks got stretch marks. I was big! And measuring over the 90th centile. Anyway, during that final week my stretch marks became insanely itchy… to ease the itch I put a cold flannel on my tummy – big mistake!
Finleigh clearly did not appreciate the cold flannel and flipped over, and that evening I noticed a dip in my bump. At my routine midwife appointment on Friday 17th the midwife thought he had turned back to back and told me to get cleaning the skirting boards. That evening I gave the cleaning a miss but did lots of yoga… unfortunately not enough to turn him though…
On Saturday 18th January I woke up with cramps. I tried to sleep through them until contractions started, at which point I ran a bath. I knew the best thing to do at the early stage of labour was to rest so after my bath I got back into bed and thought contractions had worn off… At around midday I felt the infamous pop and quickly went to the loo. There was quite a bit of blood which made me panic. I rang Ben who was on his way back from work and then rang triage at Birmingham Women’s Hospital who told me to come in. Cue gathering our final bits together, throwing everything in the car and heading to the hospital.
Once at the hospital I was monitored for around an hour, which was a really uncomfortable experience. I was lying on my back in a small stuffy room with bright lights. No one told me I’d be monitored for so long and had I known I’d of asked to be sat upright and have the lights dimmed. At the end of being monitored I was examined and was 4cm dilated. Good news, I didn’t have to go home. Bad news, due to the blood loss I wasn’t able to use a birthing pool and was admitted to the delivery suite for continuous monitoring.
I had my birth preferences typed up… I didn’t want to be cannulated or continuously monitored – but that’s what was happening. I had a wobble and said I needed some air – against the midwife’s wishes, Ben and I went outside and I had a cry… Nothing was going how I hoped, but I knew I needed to try and stay positive and not let fear take over.
At 4:22pm I was hooked up to the monitor. We did our best to get the atmosphere calm and cosy – dimming the lights, putting tea lights out and playing our playlist which started with the soundtrack to 500 days of summer.
The rest of my labour although quite long, went by in a blur. As I suspected Fin was back to back I wanted to stay mobile and keep in an upright and forward position. I used the ball and Ben as a support to keep me propped up. The continuous monitoring was a pain, as every time I moved the belt slipped and up popped a midwife readjusting it. Apparently I was being monitored because when I had a contraction Fin’s heart rate was dropping, although this wasn’t explained to me at the time. My biggest complaint of my whole experience was how little explanation and choice I was given… there was no “we recommend doing this because”, it was just “okay we need to do this”.
Despite the continuous monitoring, the cannula, and the lack of explanations, I didn’t find labour that painful. One thing I really wanted to know whilst pregnant was what labour would feel like. Contractions come in waves and one of the benefits of the monitor was that I could see a contraction building so I could prepare myself for it. When it hit it was a bit like cramp. Some contractions lasted longer than others and they got stronger and closer together towards the end. To manage the discomfort I visualised my muscles working, used a tens machine, breathing techniques and positive affirmations…
I remember when it hit midnight, thinking the end has to be in sight now… well it took another 12hrs and 44 minutes from that point! My labour progressed slowly. I think I was in active labour for 22hrs. I’m sure the stuffy room and my inability to move away from the monitor didn’t help. Clock watching was happening be the medical team too. I was expected to reach a certain dilation by a certain time. I remember at one point about 5 people entering the room and being told that if I hadn’t progressed by so much at a certain time I’d be started on the hormone drip. When I questioned why if both I and baby were okay this was necessary the consultant barked at me, “because it’s failure to progress!” Again, the lack of explanation and opportunity to make an informed choice did not contribute positively to my experience.