Monday, 5 February 2018

Oliver's arrival

On December 11th, just minutes after 3pm on a Monday afternoon, we welcomed little Oliver James Lucas into the world. It was beginning to feel every inch like Christmas outside with a down pour of snow in the days before, but it had finally stopped. And as the snow melted outside, the most gorgeous sunlight shone through the window of delivery room no.3 as we met our boy for the very first time. The little boy that kept us waiting, and waiting, but was every single bit worth the wait and more. 
He was instantly forgiven.

It had felt like a long time coming. At our 40 week appointment I was told to make another one for exactly one weeks time. I let out a (borderline psychotic) nervous laugh.
 'hahaha, hopefully I won't make it to that one!' 
...and I was so sure that I wouldn't.
With my first pregnancy I had went into spontaneous labour at exactly 41 weeks and I have honestly no idea why, but I never doubted that this time around would be any different, despite being told a thousand times 'There are no two births the same!'
 I was perhaps in hindsight a bit naive and had it in my head that it would be another straight forward labour, a natural birth in the Home From Home; perhaps in the pool this time. I had been reading a hypnobirthing book and had maybe got too carried away with the idea of a natural birth- I think it's always good to have a preference, just not to get obsessed with it in case it doesn't go to plan.
I was a second timer and had been there and done that and although I knew it wasn't going to be a walk in the park (understatement of the year alert) I did take a considerable amount of comfort in knowing that I had lived through it and kind of knew what to expect, which was why my hospital bag was stocked with enough Lucozade Sport to supply half the ward and I remembered a hair brush this time!

...But 41 weeks came and went and I felt nothing. No signs or symptoms, no twinges. 
Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
 I begrudgingly attended my appointment in the same old trusty stripey top and maternity jeans that had been on repeat for the two months; the last remaining clothes that could just about stretch over my pretty sizable bump (and 8 weeks post birth I might still be wearing.....)
The midwife I spoke with was really upbeat and supportive and when I told her that I really wanted to go into labour naturally she was completely on board with my decision as baby and I were healthy. So without any cause for concern it was decided that we would just wait it out, but an induction was booked on the off chance that labour didn't start to progress.
 'It's always good to have a date to aim towards' she said, and I didn't disagree. If you've ever went over your estimated due date you'll know that every day seems like an eternity and becomes a bit of mental and physical torture. I was feeling so drained and deflated when people messaged me asking where the baby was that I left them unopened in my mailbox, still sitting there unopened to this very day.

Although I really, really didn't want to be induced, I also knew that we had to balance up the risks as well. I was aware that the risk of stillbirth went up gradually every week after 40, a very small risk, but a risk to consider all the same.
There's also the heightened risk of infections, problems with the placenta and having to be passed on to consultant led care had I went over the 42 week mark, ruling out all chances of  being midwife led.  A Home From Home birth would be out the window, and  the risk of a more medicalised delivery increased. As much as it didn't seem like it at the time, an induction was and would be the safest route to go down.

We had five days before the supposed induction date and so the pursuit of trying to get the baby out began. I'm usually always that highly annoying person who says 'Baby will come when baby is ready' but now I was all about the eviction.
 I ordered all the spicy food, became obsessive over cleaning all the floor tiles on my hands and knees and started bouncing on my birthing ball which had been collecting dust for the last few months. But nothing was happening. This is when I started to become anxious, really anxious. Up until this point I had every belief in my body. I had trusted that it knew what it was doing, but being twelve days over my due date and time passing at an alarming rate, I started to doubt it's capabilities and I genuinely started to panic. Every day that came and went ended in a pity party, and I'll admit I was a broken record to listen to. I decided to phone the girls in the midwife led unit for a bit of advice and was told to come on down.

There I was lucky enough to chat with one of the senior midwives who was the human version of a fairy god mother. Working in the midwife led birthing center specialising in low risk births with little or no pain relief, she completely reassured me that my body was in control, it knew exactly what it was doing, it was all just a matter of time. She talked me through some breathing exercises and helped me visualise a relaxed birth (dimmed lights, aromatherapy oils, controlled breathing, relaxing music etc) 
 Even though none of these were applicable to me in the end, the breathing techniques I can honestly say were invaluable to me and i'm so glad that I went down for a chat that evening, she was the calming influence I needed all along.

It was only when she performed a membrane sweep that the realisation hit home that I wouldn't be giving birth there. "The head still isn't down, but don't be discouraged there's still time for that" 
But the sweep turned out to be unsuccessful with the cervix still too high up.
'.. But I will say you are more favourable than unfavourable'
What I took from that was basically a polite way of saying 'Not a chance are you going into labour any time soon'  but of course in the most encouraging way.
 She explained to me about the hormones needed to kick off labour, and that the more uptight and anxious you are, the longer they take to release. I learnt that this is why hospitals tend to send you home if you aren't dilated enough or tell you to stay at home as long as possible (not always to do with the lack of beds!) Apparently when you are in your own environment, your body tends to relax and in turn your labour progresses quicker. In a clinical setting like a hospital we can become more anxious, tensing up and it is proven that labour can slow down and contractions can even stop.
It made sense. The more time that passed, the more stressed I was getting and perhaps, the more I was preventing labour from starting. 

Unfortunately nothing changed in the days after. No tightenings, no pressure, no twinges. On Sunday evening, two days after the failed sweep we said our goodbyes to Eva at my mum's and headed to the hospital. We had waited all day for the call that a bed was available, and when we finally got the heads up we were more than ready. I didn't think I would be so emotional about it, but I couldn't help having a cry on the car journey that we were leaving behind our little girl, who was still so oblivious as to how much her life was about to change. I felt guilty enough that her favourite activities had taken a back seat over the last few months, but I was equally excited to be giving her the gift of a sibling, even if she had been telling us for the last few months that she didn't want a brother, but rather demanded a puppy instead..

We arrived just before 5pm and were given a bed straight away on the induction bay. With one midwife for six women, I instantly knew this wasn't going to be the relaxing experience I had hoped for, but I did feel relieved that we were finally going to meet our baby.
I had been in the Home From Home the first time. It had been a large spacious room with it's own birthing pool, toilet, ipod dock and tv. A sofa, a nice view out of the window (well, if you looked past the Mc Donalds directly opposite there was some greenery!) but most importantly privacy- A luxury in labour when you're feeling like you're loosing all your dignity.
Here we were in a crowded induction bay with a communal bathroom for six women with the constant bleep of monitors.  People had told me these kinds of wards are reminiscent of a cattle market, and there is an aspect of truth in it. There we were, all in the same situation just waiting to meet our babies, dropping like flies when every so often someone would be wheeled off to delivery suite and another would come in to start off the process. On reflection, it really wasn't too bad, when you're in that much pain you tend to zone out from everything around you and the two midwives I encountered here were nothing but kind, compassionate and supportive and I 100% felt cared for, and not just regarded as another number.
More so these women do not get enough credit or praise for looking after six labouring women on their own. Most men will tell you, one woman is bad enough.

After being monitored for half an hour, the pessary was inserted. I asked how long it would take to 'kick in' expecting to hear the infamous 'how long is a piece of string?'  but was told it could be anything from an hour up to 24 hours. 
Luckily, within half an hour contractions started to kick in. It's amazing how quickly you forget the pain after you've got the final product in your arms, but remarkable how quickly the memory comes flooding back once you're going through it again. 

One of my initial worries about being induced was that I had been lucky that my first labour was slow and steady. Don't get me wrong, it was hard- it's not called 'labour' for nothing, but it was gradual, and therefore mangeable. When you're induced, your body is jump started as it were, into labour and I was worried that I wouldn't cope with the intensity.
I began having six contractions within ten minutes with no resting time in between. Once one ended, another would start and I knew something wasn't quite right. My midwife wrote in my notes that I was distressed, and I do remember having an emotional outburst, but I think the gas and air high as a kite effect helped contribute to that! 
After being monitored , the midwife decided it was best to remove the propress 'in view of hyperstimulation'. With the horrific pain that accompanied the contractions I was certain I was edging 8-9cms, ready to push out a baby.
 I can now completely understand the logic behind some birthing books stating that you are completely within your means to say no to being examined if it's not absolutely necessary. If it's not the outcome you're expecting it can completely knock your confidence. I can totally see how it can lead you to make decisions on a whim about pain relief and perhaps against birth preferences you were so certain on.
'2cms' she said.
And with that I could have cried. I had quite calmly walked into the hospital the last time at 5cms, and here I was 2cms dilated unable to hold a conversation. I was still having constant contractions so after consulting with whoever was in charge, my midwife gave me an injection of terbutaline to try and stop them altogether.
'We'll see if that gave your body the push to bring labour on itself and if not we'll try the propress again in the morning'
And with that decided, Stuart was sent home just before 1am and I used my gas and air throughout the night, attempting to sleep and trying not to curse him for having the house to himself and a night of undisturbed sleep ahead of him!

From the moment I was examined I convinced myself that my pain threshold had changed, I felt embarrassed that I wasn't coping as well as I thought so I kept quiet, shut my eyes and tried to zone everything out, making the most of the gas and air.
I had been advised to mobilise and get up for some breakfast but once I made it out into the corridor, I had to turn back. 
 Stuart was sitting in the chair next to me in and out of sleep and I put my earphones in and really tried to focus on my breathing and finding a comfortable position.

This is when it got a little hazy. Things started to intensify, and I could feel a lot of pressure, just as though I was near the end. The midwife had to leave to attend to someone else and said she would  examine me when she got back and if I was 5cms I could go to the Home from Home, but moments after she left I told Stuart to ring for help as the pressure was getting stronger. I vaguely remember another midwife coming in and and there was a lot of talk about decelerations in the babies heart rate, I was quickly put on my left hand side and when I was examined was told I was 8cms dilated. (Cue the hallelujahs) 
With the decelerations still occurring I was wheeled around to the delivery suite. I hope its the closest to a Holby City like experience i'll ever have, but I remember it all being very fast paced. The student midwife who was there (an angel in disguise) told me to close my eyes, and talked me through my breathing. She was a Godsend, massaging my back between contractions, making me laugh and offering the best advice. If anyone was born to do this job, it was Janette.

When we got into the delivery room, everything seemed to calm down. I used the gas and air and experienced so much relief in between contractions, that I was able to have conversations and even laugh. Janette stopped me from using the gas and air constantly so that it was more effective when I was having a contraction. Common sense perhaps, but those simple suggestions helped massively when I wasn't thinking straight and that honestly made all the difference this time around. 
Having an amazing support team around us made such a positive impact that in that moment it wouldn't have made a difference if I had been in Home From Home, the labour ward or even the car park.. just having the right people around saying the right things was imperative.

After 12 minutes of 'pushing' Oliver arrived. I had been guided into a good birthing position and talked through what I was going to feel and when I was going to feel it. 
Birth is certainly no competition, there are no prizes for using or not using pain relief, for going natural or receiving help, the baby at the end is of course, the prize.
 But I do feel so empowered that I gave birth using gas and air and I can't help but put that down to the midwives guidance and support.

Oliver was lifted up on to my chest and it was a truly unforgettable moment. It had felt like a lifetime to get to this stage, but now he was finally here we couldn't wait to introduce him to his big sister.
It's the strangest feeling to describe. You spend nine months baffled at how you're ever going to love another human as much as your little one, you perhaps feel guilty that the love will be divided between the two. You're told that the love isn't divided, in fact if anything it'll multiply, but there's always that worry, that niggling doubt in the back of your mind that it won't come quite as naturally as that. But then you meet your baby, and they fill a void you didn't know even existed, and you get it. You finally understand what everyone means. 

Oliver Lucas, you are so loved.


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