I always felt like birth was a really private, personal thing between mum, dad and baby but birth stories helped me so much during pregnancy I found that I couldn’t wait to write mine up and share it.
I always imagined I’d be posting this immediately, but newborn life is a whirlwind and there were parts that I still needed to process, and I wasn’t ready to write it while feeling like an emotional cocktail of hormones!
Buckle up, grab a cup of tea, it’s a long post…! I’ve included subtitles so you can skip parts you’re less interested in.
First of all it must be said that all along our goal was the right birth for us, and as smooth and safe as possible – not necessarily a “natural” or “hormone/drug free” birth, and we considered preferences for all scenarios, which served us well! Hopefully this goes to show you can have a really positive birth experience even with 1) things not following your first preference and 2) some parts being difficult.
Also, despite all the horror stories about sections, mine hopefully shows they can be positive, and while recovery is so individual and depends on all kinds of factors (you, how the op went, was it elective or emergency, your health, maybe luck…) I had (/am having!) such an amazingly fast and not painful recovery, I was discharged in just under 24 hours and off pain meds entirely by day 5 – better and smoother than some mums I’ve followed who had vaginal deliveries and had issues with stitches weeks later, so it really is different for everyone ❤
Our birth story
🤱🏻First time parents
👶🏻 Known baby girl
📆 born 41 weeks
💊 Gas & air, up breathing, combined epidural-spinal block
💧first preference (all being well) was water birth at birth centre attached to our hospital
🏩 actually born via elective c-section after issues trying in-patient induction for reduced movement
🌠 discharged within 24 hours of op. Time in hospital – 2 nights before section, 1 night after
🗺 London, UK
🧿 born during COVID-19
⚠️ possible triggers – mention of difficult personal circumstances, use of the word contractions as it wasn’t a negative for us, failed attempts to insert pessary for induction.
So it wasn’t quite the ‘kicking off with early labour, Gavin & Stacey and pizza while bouncing on my birth ball in our living room ready for vaginal labour in water at the birth centre’ that we’d prepped for as our first choice…
But luckily we’d prepped for various scenarios and we made the right decisions as we needed to for baby & for my mental health & I’m proud of my birth. It was just past difficult personal circumstances that made it more challenging really but in the end we had a wonderful birth overall.
I could NOT have coped without my husband who was AMAZING… it absolutely took the two of us to give birth to our little Cub.
Let’s start at the beginning…
My pregnancy was pretty straightforward – I found out on Valentines Day this year (I think 4 weeks pregnant?) just before my period was due, and we had an early scan at 6/7 weeks to see the gorgeous heartbeat and I sailed through the rest of pregnancy with barely any symptoms and no sickness at all! Felt super lucky.
I also was very active before pregnancy (lots of boxing and plyometrics) & remained active throughout which really helped it be a smooth ride to the end (although I had to stop running at 31 weeks as it flared up my PGP/SPD), and as I didn’t get any sickness I was able to continue 5-10 portions of veg & fruit a day (I’m really into nutrition) along with my supplements which I think helped a lot too.
We found out early on I had a low lying placenta & we knew if it didn’t move we’d need a c-section but we were fine about this as long as our Cub was ok, even though our first preference (not ‘plan’ as I don’t believe you can plan something as variable as birth…!) was for vaginal birth.
I didn’t pay attention to the due date as the calculation is so outdated, and also as less than 5% of babies are born on that day, plus knew I had a longer cycle than the 28 day average which can apparently impact it, and I didn’t want « is she here yet?! » messages 24/7 so we just went by a « due time » of 37-42 weeks (although I knew I personally wouldn’t let us get to 42 weeks). I told people when they asked us that she would come mid – late October / early November (except work who need the actual date on your matb1 for mat leave purposes!) I really recommend this approach so you don’t stress about going overdue or get spammed with messages the night before an arbitrary date!
As we’d known for ages we’d try for a baby in early 2020 (we’d just assumed it would take the average 6 months, not be immediate…!) well before we were even trying I’d read loads about birth, pregnancy and hypnobirthing (I’m an OTT planner 🤣)
Once pregnant I also did the Positive Birth Company Digital Pack (hypnobirthing course) & Post-partum Pack, and the Maternity Collective Antenatal course plus the Lucy Flow Yoga for Birth prep course. I also used lots of Dream Birth Company audio to relax. They were all really useful in different ways and I really recommend them. Transformed my mindset totally from a lifetime fear of birth to being excited for it. I didn’t go to any face to face things due to Covid sadly.
I read a million positive birth stories, from the smoothest to the most complex intervention filled ones and it really helped. I also read some less positive ones for balance, to understand better what I could do to make our experience as positive as possible.
I also spent time imagining/visualising my birth 1) in the birth centre, with a pool and without just incase, 2) on the labour ward and 3) in theatre as a c section so that I felt calm and positive about all of the possibilities.
🔵Books I recommend:
▫️For being informed & knowing your options
🔴Books I’d suggest not bothering with (v personal though so no shade if you loved them!):
🔻Ina May Gaskin’s stuff – too weird & spiritual for me, just really not my thing! If you’re more earth mama / hippy / crunchy inclined you might feel differently though!
🔻while Milli Hill’s Give Birth Like a Feminist is so interesting, maybe read it after pregnancy not during as reading everything that’s been wrong with women’s maternity care over the years is a bit stressful!
🔻Clemmie Hooper How to Grow a Baby & Push it out – was a bit meh for me really, and the other books I recommend above cover all the same material and more in a better format with better detail.
Together we did tonnes of research, we discussed what we wanted and we adapted the Positive Birth Company template and wrote preferences for all scenarios including caesarean so we felt prepared and happy with our choices for any eventuality (e.g. skin to skin in all scenarios with me or my husband if not possible with me; delayed cord clamping, vitamin K injection, I definitely wanted the injection to deliver the placenta etc etc). The ideal option for us if things were simple and safe to do so was a birth centre water birth.
How her birth actually went down…!
The lead up…
I had my 36 week scan to check the placenta situation & see if we definitely needed a caesarean or if we’d be trying vaginal birth first, and……. it had moved! We knew this was likely as 90% of the time they do move, but we were convinced she was transverse due to her movements so we thought we’d need a c-sec anyway (we both wanted to decline an ECV if offered) & she wasn’t – she was head down and ready to go (back to bump) like she had been at 20 weeks ☺️… It seemed we’d get our first preference (or an attempt at it!) after all!
Then the waiting game began… it was amazing to hit 37 weeks and for us to be able to tell her she was technically fully baked and it was now definitely safe to come any time she wanted now we were in the 37-42 week window, even though I wasn’t keen to go much past 41 weeks (i know the risk increase is small but I hate risk…!)
I started getting sporadic pretty mild period-like cramps from I think week 37 (not many though and not strong so it was nice to think my body was gently gearing up for labour but I felt like it was going to be ages as I didn’t get any obvious pre-labour signs or strong Braxton Hicks – at least if I had them I couldn’t feel them!) It’s so funny to be so excited about and desperate for any signs of pain! Also I knew my due date was probably wrong as I have longer cycles than 28 days which is the standard they use to calculate it so it really was a waiting game and sure enough, 40 weeks came and went (had my appointment at 40+1) and I was gearing up for my 41 week appointment at the birth centre where we’d be discussing induction.
At 40+5 around 10pmish I was worried about reduced movement as baby had a fairly quiet day and then missed her usual night wriggling session so we went for a routine check at hospital. Monitoring showed all was fine thankfully, I was told just to see the doctor and then I assumed I could go home.
At 40+6 (as it had gone midnight at this point!) a doctor came to discuss our options (I was alone due to Covid) and they recommended induction on balance as reduced movement can be a warning sign so waiting may carry some risk, and at 40+6 it’s very safe for baby to be born. The doctor was lovely and very measured, not pressuring, answered all my questions and made it clear it was my choice. I used BRAIN framework (benefits, risks, alternatives, instinct, nothing), and although induction was my nightmare scenario due to past personal circumstances which we won’t go into, on balance it seemed better for baby and my husband and my recovery. I also had never wanted to go much over 41 weeks anyway due to increased risk (I know a lot of people are happy to go to 42, but from my reading and research – check out Evidence Based Birth – I didn’t want to) so I’d been trying to mentally prepare for the possibility of induction at 41+3 / 41+5.
A bit of me struggled with this choice after as I did it thinking it was best for baby and my husband. Instinctively I knew it probably wasn’t right for me with past personal circumstances etc, but I tried to just gloss over that and crack on anyway. Now, I can’t regret it as everything that happened brought me here to a healthy, beautiful baby, but part of me has taken a while to adjust to my failure to opt for caesarean straight away.
The induction suggestion was so unexpected that night as the monitoring turned out fine and I thought I’d be going home to bed with my husband and not staying in hospital alone so I was super emotional and cried A LOT, and as I had to be admitted to a ward I had to have a Covid test which was hard with the crying…!
Because of the past stuff which I hadn’t expected to affect me this badly, being alone and being knackered at 1am, the induction reality (even though I was choosing to do it for baby) really hit me and I had a real panic/meltdown having to explain it on the phone and send my husband home for my hospital bag…!
I used the up breathing to try to calm down and it helped to chat to my husband (probs pissing off everyone on the ward trying to sleep at 1.30am!) as he packed the last items he hadn’t been able to in advance in my bag like charger etc… and he was really excited which helped me feel more positive.
My husband was allowed to drop my bags off just outside the ward and we had an emotional goodbye, and I got settled in my ward by 2.30am and told that as the labour ward was busy it would likely be a 6.00am kick off for the induction.
I listened to Dream Birth Company and Positive Birth Company affirmations to help me relax and looked at the Pinterest boards I’d made of positive affirmations and pictures of the ocean I find relaxing.
One of my faves that really helped was “I am prepared for whatever kind of birth my baby needs”.
The induction… attempts
This is the only section that is hard for me to write and I’m still processing a bit. I barely managed to get an hour’s sleep when they woke me up at 5.50am to monitor baby’s heart rate and start the induction (so thankful they let my husband in at 6am which was out of Covid restricted hours due to my previous personal circumstances to help me which I was super grateful for).
I really thought I was more over my past experience than I was, and despite heavy use of gas and air (which basically felt a bit like being tipsy on a couple of big glasses of wine), it was very hard for me. They tried to examine me which didn’t work then tried several times to insert the pessary but because of my history and involuntary seizing up, even feeling drunk on gas and air they couldn’t get it in (my issue was panic and flashbacks more than pain, so gas and air really didn’t do very much for me to be honest). The midwife was nice about it and I kept apologising, we took a few breaks and I forced myself to try again about 4 times but it wasn’t happening and my husband helped me call a stop to it.
She looked at the monitor which showed I was having contractions every so often anyway even though I couldn’t feel them at all, so she said to wait for the doctor and we could discuss. Baby was healthy and her heart rate was good, but given we were 40+6 now and she’d been quiet the previous day we didn’t want to take any chances so getting her out was still their recommendation, which I agreed with especially given my feelings about not going over 41 weeks.
Because of the failed pessary attempts I was in so much distress I couldn’t go through with any more internal exams. My husband understood and was so lovely to me as I felt a bit like I’d let baby down and him down not being able to do it even after trying really hard. I also felt embarassed as the doctor initially thought I just wasn’t coping with the pain, which wasn’t the issue.
Thank god for the doctor Helen who came to see me, she was so so understanding and really sensitive to how distressed I was and once we’d talked it all out she was so open to tailoring to suit us not putting me in a box and insisting on a set route that was ‘typical’, and made me cry more for being so nice!
We discussed all the options at length, I took some time with my husband to discuss (I honestly really don’t know what I’d have done without him!) and I ended up with an elective c-section decision having used the BRAIN framework to analyse everything.
My husband was amazing at asking all the questions to get more info so we could make the best decision for us and as reluctant as we were for a major op, it became clear it was the best choice for us and my mental well-being as well as for baby.
Positive c-section prep…
I was asked not to eat and drink except for water, as they planned to squeeze me in that afternoon after 5 womens’ electives, so we couldn’t eat the yummy seashell chocolates or terrys chocolate orange, dates, satsumas, apples and flapjack we’d lovingly amassed for labour snacks and we waited for the consultant.
A bit later some midwives came and did my bloods and MRSA swab.
A few hours later after my husband and I chatted and watched Gavin & Stacey for while, happy to get in some of the oxytocin inducing stuff we’d planned. I had a quick shower to freshen up, another doctor came to get me to sign the consent form and run through all the risks etc. The risks sound scary, but they’re pretty remote and as they were risks to me and not baby, I was fine with them.
Around lunch time they put me back on the CTG monitor to check her heartbeat. It also showed I was still having sporadic contractions I couldn’t feel.
I was starting to get really bloody hungry and not enjoying the pre theatre starvation!
My husband popped home to get my colostrum that I’d expressed out of the freezer while I was still hooked up to the monitor and waiting.
The consultant came and explained they were super busy, and as they were happy with baby’s monitoring and there wasn’t major urgency they booked me in for a section mid morning the next day which would also mean my Covid test would be back negative and my husband could come in with me (they hadn’t said before that otherwise they have to assume you have Covid and don’t let partners in). I got excited for a moment thinking I could go home, but was advised that it was totally my decision but they’d say it was best for me to stay in overnight to keep baby monitored which I of course agreed to if that was the advice for her safety despite being desperate to go home. At least I got to finally eat some seashell chocolates as my new nil by mouth bar water deadline was midnight.
I managed to sleep for a couple of hours as I hadn’t the night before, and woke up around 4pm really glad my husband was still there as I just felt really anxious after the morning’s induction stuff. I used up breathing and talking to him to try to stay calm. We went for a walk outside a bit later after a long nap and I had more monitoring in the evening, my husband went home & I cried a bit and then settled down for the night ready to meet our baby the next day!
My last snack was a nakd bar at 10pm and as I was meant to have my section in the morning I figured it wouldn’t be too bad only being allowed little sips of water til then.
Sleep was hard even after having only 1 hour the night before because of noise on the ward, lights etc and I woke up quite a bit. Luckily I couldn’t sleep much past 4am as they woke me up for monitoring at 5.50am anyway!
I prepped by reading c sec recovery articles as I’d forgotten some of the info on the PBC post partum pack which I planned to rewatch at home, and used positive stories by amazing mamas – their insta details are @helenderbs @londonpaleogirl @lucyjessicacarter and @sophieloutaylor – to feel ready and positive about birthing my baby abdominally!
At 7am I had some pre surgery meds and they tidied the shave on my bikini line up ready for the incision. I was quite stressed because they said Covid tests come back in 24 hours and mine still hadn’t in 36+ which meant if it was not back before I go into theatre my husband wouldn’t allowed to come in for the birth. I was just trying to stay positive and have a nap until he arrived at 9am.
The doctors came to discuss the procedure with me again and also let me know my Covid test was negative so my husband would definitely be allowed in theatre – woo! I was so relieved and now properly excited again.
The anaesthetist came an hour or so later to discuss the anaesthetic and review my medication and run through the rare risks – we were getting there!
At 12.25 someone came by to say “are you ready?” And 2 minutes later we were moved to the labour ward, I was strapped into compression stockings and my husband got into his scrubs, rush rush rush. But then an emergency happened so they said we’d be next in the queue but we had to wait for a bit longer. Then we got pushed back for ANOTHER emergency just before 2pm which I understood but also was getting anxious about as I didn’t want to be pushed back another day again and I made my husband go and check and confirm we would definitely be done that day which they assured him we would – we heard they sent the other electives home but I was in. I was feeling a bit weak at this point only being allowed water and not having eaten at all since the day before. I was also starting to potentially feel my contractions (they couldn’t have been more than early labour as they weren’t frequent enough but they did feel just like period cramps and then more intense at the peak).
An amazing caesarean birth
Eventually we were told go time! I felt really teary and emotional and had my cannula fitted. We were taken into surgery which was overwhelming – lots of people (although I knew to expect this) and bright lights, and quite a few people talking at once asking me questions.
We established my preferences for having the screen up (too squeamish), immediate skin to skin (but I agreed for them to quickly towel off baby as theatre was so cold), delayed cord clamping etc.
I was scared about the epidural hurting and not being able to stay still as I felt a bit shaky, and also was feeling my contractions slightly more (I was being given a combined epidural-spinal block – not sure how its different from the separate things but there we go!) but they were so nice and reassuring, my husband was there and also another doctor held my other hand and stroked my arm.
We had epidural & spinal issues in that after the local anaesthetic, they thought they put it in, tested me, and it wasn’t right. We all joked about it though and I wasn’t in any pain. Eventually they asked if I did a lot of pilates or something as what was happening is my ligaments were so tough they’d thought it had gone into the spine but it was just a ligament!
We got there in the end and it was not painful at all.
They tested me with cold spray, and lay me down, we waited for it to spread up my legs which took a while, and tested my tummy with pinches. It seemed to take ages to work – I could still feel them – and I got a bit nervous they’d start the operation and I’d feel it.
At this point it’s a bit blurry but I was talking to my husband and a doctor, and then felt someone pushing on my tummy quite hard – I assumed they were palpating it before starting the op like they did at midwife exams! – but it was quite strong pushing so I was worried they’d hurt baby before getting her out, and asked my husband to look over the curtain to see what was happening (genuinely had no idea the op was in progress!)
Poor husband got an eyeful more than he bargained for!! They’d tested me without telling me and got the ball rolling 🙂
It was all painless – just lots of tugging and pushing, genuinely as everyone says like ‘washing up in your tummy’.
When it all stopped, no sooner had I asked “Is she out?” she opened her beautiful little lungs and scream/cried for dear life so I knew she was breathing, and I asked if she was okay and burst into floods of tears. My husband followed as they took her to dry her quickly (as theatre was cold) before immediate skin to skin.
I could hear her crying at the top of her voice, and the drying took a little bit longer than I’d have liked. They were then about to weigh her but my husband stepped in and said she needed to go straight to me for skin to skin, and I got to see and hold my beautiful baby girl. It was completely magical. She was the most perfect thing (and the most vocal!)
I held her while they finished me off behind the screen, tried to latch baby but the position was hard with the screen up in the way, and then she went to daddy for cuddles and to get her vitamin K jab while they did a few last bits to my stitches, moved my body onto a stretcher slidey thing and slid me onto a bed to be wheeled to recovery where we had several hours of skin to skin cuddles and she breastfed straight away. ❤
It was honestly an incredible experience, nothing about the caesarean was painful in the least, and it ended up being the perfect birth for us and our baby.
Afterwards in hospital…
I was told I’d lost a bit more blood in the procedure than normal, but otherwise it was all very uncomplicated and that resolved itself with no issue and I didn’t even need iron supplements.
They let my husband stay a bit past Covid visiting times, but when I was moved to the post natal ward he did have to go home. Staying alone that night was hard as I couldn’t twist to pick up little one from her cot, and the midwives were rushed off their feet and couldn’t always get to your buzzer instantly so I kept baby on me all night and forced myself to stay awake which was tough! She cried so much, and I knocked out my cannula and got blood everywhere, then she projectile vomited, and needed a nappy change and I had to have two midwives help me…
I was grateful I’d expressed some colostrum before birth to settle her, as while breastfeeding was working pretty well, sometimes she’d be too distressed to latch.
My husband had left me with loads of nice treats – chocolate, dates, satsumas, seashell chocolates we’d brought for labour – but I couldn’t reach them myself on the table next to my bed with baby in my arms and didn’t want to ask the midwives!
While that night was hard, I had my beautiful baby safe with me in cuddles, and then my husband was back to help the next day and seeing him and baby together just made me melt. ❤
I was told I could go within 24 hours if I did certain things, so I was on a mission to get up, walk, get my catheter out, wee twice, all of that jazz as quick as I could and prove I could do it! In non-covid times I’d not have been as worried and would have stayed a day longer for extra breast feeding checks and support if needed, but I absolutely didn’t want a fourth night in hospital alone, without being mobile enough to fully care for my little Cub, she was feeding fine, and I figured we could see a lactation consultant if any issues arose.
I’d been told standing up was agony so as I used my arms to haul myself awkwardly to the end of the bed, I was nervous… but it was fine! I just had to be a bit careful.
I was discharged in slightly less than 24 hours after my section and then tired, emotional, but so in love with our baby, we all went home, and I couldn’t be more grateful for our brilliant birth and the midwives, doctors and anaesthetist who looked after us on the labour ward, in theatre and in recovery afterwards. ❤
Mammoth birth story haha but I wanted to capture everything and wrote some notes of it while in hospital so I wouldn’t forget.
C-section recovery post to follow sometime 🙂