Arthur’s birth story

Thursday 28 February

I’d had Braxton Hicks for a few weeks, and was fairly sure that over the previous couple of days they were getting a bit more persistent and regular. But the first real contraction came at 10.00am on Thursday while I was still in the chiropractor’s office post-adjustment. It was the first chiro appointment in nearly three years where my sacrum hadn’t needed much adjusting – perhaps my body had already optimised itself for the imminent birth..? And when I used their loo it turned out I also had a bit of a show. So I said my goodbyes, told the receptionist I wouldn’t make a new appointment as I thought things might happen soon, and set off to Richmond town centre for a wander round the shops because I was feeling unusually energised, and Fred was in nursery so I had a bit of time to myself.

I walked around town for the next two and a half hours, with a very minor contraction every so often. I was feeling quietly excited – maybe I was actually in labour, and nobody knew except me! I hadn’t contacted Antony yet because I wanted to be sure before calling him home. At 11.30 I had my eyebrows threaded on a whim – I never get my eyebrows threaded, as anyone who spends any time in close proximity with me will attest – and tried (unsuccessfully) to practise my hypnobirthing breathing while it was being done. At noon I had lunch alone in Pret, and the contractions then faded for a while. Or maybe I just didn’t notice; I was distracted by having to collect Fred and our usual post-nursery playing with trains session in the living room. But at 1.45pm he had a quick breastfeed and I had another contraction.

At this point I quickly read up on clary sage oil and acupressure to see if I could get things moving a bit more efficiently. I gave myself a hand massage with clary sage at 2pm and although nothing much happened, I did notice that – unusually for this time in the afternoon – I wasn’t feeling at all sleepy, just lightly energised. I noticed that pressure was building in my hips and bottom, but wondered if that was because of the position I was sitting in on the floor. Still, I decided to call Antony as I knew he had a big meeting 3-6pm at work which I did not want him to go to, and I thought about calling the midwife but decided to wait until the contractions were closer together (at this point they were every four and a half minutes, but soon slowed down again). I was pretty sure by now that they were real contractions as they felt like dull aches in my lower abdomen, very unlike the painless tightening you get in Braxton Hicks.

At 3pm the contractions stopped again. By now I was inhaling pure clary sage from a tissue, but with no obvious effect. At 4pm I took caulophyllum 200c and had an immediate contraction, then – again – nothing. Antony arrived home at 4.30pm, and at 5pm I took a clary sage bath, with Fred entertaining himself in the bathroom. I got into bed with Fred straight after the bath and he breastfed again; the contractions started again immediately – then, after ten or fifteen minutes they stopped again.

My mum and sister arrived at 7pm. I’d asked them to be available in case things ramped up and Fred needed distracting, but again, nothing much was happening in my uterus. Antony made a red Thai curry for us although like the clary sage, it had no obvious effect. We all played with Fred for a couple of hours, then he willingly went to bed. I had a quick wee (which revealed a definite show!) and then breastfed Fred to sleep.

Fred falls asleep at 8.50pm. At 8.51pm I feel a little ‘pop’ as my waters break. They are clear but with a slight pink tinge. I am excited; this labour is definitely going to be different from last time. (I’ve always harboured a worry, even though Angela, my midwife says it doesn’t have to be so, that if my waters broke they would have meconium in again, and that this would inevitably lead to hospital birth and a cascade of interventions). Immediately, the contractions start to get stronger, so I call Angela. She tells me to call again when I’m concentrating more on each contraction. (I’m still not sure what this entails, having only ever been induced, with artificial contractions that were full-on almost from the word go).

At 9.15pm the contractions are 1 minute long and 2 – 3 minutes apart, so Antony starts to fill the pool and calls Angela who says she will head straight over. I hang the laundry out, try on my new make-up (!) and send my sister home; I assume she won’t be needed as the baby will probably be born while Fred is asleep. Angela arrives at 9.45pm and checks my vitals – all is fine. The contractions slow again and then stop, although I am WILLING them to get stronger! Angela says that I can’t will the baby out, even though she knows I want to, but it will be here soon (she guesses early hours of Friday). She then says I should try and get some rest and she will go home and wait for us to call her again when the contractions ramp up again. Antony, my mum and I half-watch some crap telly with a glass of Rioja before all heading to bed at 10.30pm for some rest. When I lie down, the contractions start back a little.

Friday 1 March

Midnight: I wake up with slightly stronger contractions. I notice they’re stronger when I’m standing and moving, weaker when I’m sitting or kneeling. I go downstairs and watch a completely bizarre E4 show called ‘My Little Princess’, giving Antony the chance to sleep a bit longer, before getting an overwhelming urge to go out for a walk.

1.15am: We summon my mum to sit with Fred while we go for a walk up Richmond Hill to The Richmond View above Terrace Gardens, then back down Hill Rise, through the town centre and back to Grosvenor Road via Eton Street. Every so often I have to stop and lean on something (an art gallery on Hill Rise, a cash machine at NatWest) while I have a surge. It’s the perfect time of the small hours to look as though I am in fact paralytically drunk and throwing up, but thankfully the police don’t stop us to ask.

2.20am: we arrive home. Fred is half awake, crying ‘I want mummy’, so I lie down with him and my contractions stop again. Fred falls asleep after 15 minutes and Antony and I go to sleep too.

4.00am: after a couple of intense, but spaced out (16 – 20 minutes apart) contractions, between which I doze, I realise I am cold and want a shower. The shower TOTALLY hits the spot and furthermore, brings on more evenly spaced contractions (every 3 minutes). But then I get out of the shower and Fred is sleep-asking for me, and the contractions slow down again.

By this point I have realised that I basically need to be a) upright, b) swaying my hips and c) ideally in a very hot shower in order for anything to happen. So over the next hour I have two or three hot showers while Antony tries to get some more sleep. Contractions are still stop-start but at least when they do happen, they are intense.

4.50am: I call Angela again and she comes straight over. In the silent, dark minutes while I’m waiting for her to arrive, I look in the mirror and notice that there is something different about my face – I look strange and serene and possibly beautiful. (But maybe it’s just the make-up).

5.30am: Angela checks me again. The contractions have slowed YET AGAIN but she says she will now stay. She asks whether I want to try and get things ramped up now by doing some crawling exercises, or whether I’d prefer to get some rest while I can. As my legs are exhausted from being upright so much, I opt for the latter – but actually don’t sleep at all.

6.00am: I have another shower. Antony starts to fill the pool again. Angela is asleep on the sofa. The contractions are a bit more regular now.

6.50am: Fred wakes up. I am kneeling down, leaning on the bed. Fred is happy that we’re there, and regularly checks that I am okay. (When I told him earlier in the week that I would have a sore tummy before the baby arrived, he was rather concerned and told me I must not have a sore tummy).

7.15am: Angela checks my blood pressure etc again. Everything still fine; contractions are strong but not too intense. We get Fred dressed for nursery as I feel I’ll be able to concentrate better if the ‘noise’ around me is limited. However, Fred has other plans. He will not go to nursery unless I walk him there. Although nursery is only a 20-second walk from our house, I don’t think I am able to do it, so we decide not to make him go; it will be what it will be and we will cope somehow! The weird thing is that I always wanted Fred there at the birth but suddenly got last-minute cold feet about it. He obviously knew better!

8.20am: Mum tells us she is going home and we should call her if needed. Clearly, I have been feeling slightly uptight about her presence because at 8.25am I have my first proper contraction in the bedroom. This one is different: intense, deep pain. It means business. It is also different because for the first time I am completely closed off from everything happening around me. I get in the shower again because it feels so darn great.

8.47am: Surges are strong and sometimes double peaking. Angela talks me through a surge and then suggests that I can either do some of those crawling movements, or get into the pool to enter a quiet space and allow my labour to settle. I opt for the pool as it sounds like less work, and am in the water three minutes later.

9.15am: Contractions are coming about every two and a half to three minutes, lasting a minimum of 50 seconds. The feel is different, less intense than when I was out of the water, but increasingly hard to bear. It’s a deep dark ache, like a bowling ball being swung slowly around a dungeon. I am on my knees, leaning over the side of the pool. I have cold coconut water to sip, which is minging but somehow the right drink. Antony is doing an amazing job of managing Fred (who insists on climbing on Antony’s shoulders), timing the contractions on my iPhone app, and pouring water on my back during contractions. Nobody talks much; Antony later tells me he didn’t feel it appropriate, and I am glad of that as I am in my own little world by now. We have homemade oat, date and pecan biscuits for energy and I nibble on them halfheartedly between surges. There is lavender oil in the pool, a ginger-scented candle burning on the table, and my labour playlist is playing in the background; the second movement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G is the first piece I hear, and it’s perfectly right for the moment, instilling a complete calmness in me.

9.25am: I feel sleepy. The warmth of the pool combined with the darkened room, quiet music and smell of lavender is so soothing I think I might just drift off. Even the surges feel peaceful. (Later I realise this is the ‘rest and be thankful’ phase that I’ve read about). Fred is quietly playing with his trains on the dining room table next to the pool. I have absolutely no concept of time; it could be 10am or 4pm and I wouldn’t be surprised. Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 is playing.

9.45am: Transition. I know this because I’d quite like to just go to hospital now and have at least an epidural, if not a c-section – this is the hardest work my body has ever done. I say ‘I can’t do this!’. Even as I say it (and believe me, I really mean it!) I know that it is a classic sign of transition – but maybe I can’t dare to believe I might be approaching the end of labour. Mozart piano concertos are playing.

10.00am: I think I need to push. This is when I realise that I am actually doing this. I am actually going through a real, not artificial, labour, with all its real sensations. My urge to push isn’t strong – I almost doubt it’s there at all – but I go with it. It doesn’t feel like the baby moves down at all. My contractions are now following a bit of a pattern: one big (sometimes double-peaking) painful surge, in which I need to hold Antony’s hand, followed by one or two smaller surges that are not as painful. They are still quite spaced out – four to five minutes apart.

Barber’s Piano Concerto is playing – it is a bit too twisty for my needs, so I ignore it.

10.10am: Fred decides to get in the pool with me. I wasn’t expecting this to be fine with me, but it is! He seems to know intuitively that I am unable to focus much on him but that I am also okay despite the moaning during surges! He just wants to walk around in the pool and chat. Antony gets in fully clothed shortly after.

Brahms’ Intermezzo Op. 118, No. 6 is playing.

10.15am: A definite urge to push – it’s like a surge of downward power. This one is more productive and I can really feel my pelvis opening up as the baby descends. It is uncomfortable but I can sense that it will be over soon. At no point has Angela done an internal exam of me, but she tells Antony (out of my earshot) that she can tell from other signs that I’m 8cm dilated. The surges are still irregular but strong.

Schumann’s Piano Concerto is playing.

10.30am: HUGE urge to push! The baby moves down again and starts to crown. Angela shows me with a mirror what it looks like: lots of vernix! I can feel the ring of fire and I say ‘ it really hurts!’. I can barely move, but after the contraction Angela and Antony help me into a semi-sitting position; I’m holding myself up with the handles on the pool, left leg bent under me, right leg sticking out. We tell Fred that the baby is almost out and that he can touch it if he likes; he is first to touch Arthur’s head. Arthur stays put, head half-out, for another nine minutes. I somehow manage to move into a kneeling position.

Martha Argerich plays Ginastera’s Danza de la moza donosa and Daniel Barenboim plays Liszt’s Consolation No. 3.

10.39am: Arthur comes out all in one push, to Offenbach’s Belle nuit, o nuit d’amour (Barcarolle) from Les Contes d’Hoffmann. (It couldn’t be more appropriate: a barcarolle is a song associated with boats and water, and the lyrics mean ‘Lovely night, oh night of love, smile upon our joys!’). The pain disappears immediately. I hear Angela saying ‘pick up your baby! pick up your baby!’. Antony lifts him out of the water and gives him to me. I’m first to see that he’s a boy! He has a full head of dark hair and is tiny and purple and slippery. He cries as he comes out of the water; he’s cold, so I hold him half-in, half-out of the water to keep him warm.

10.45am: he breastfeeds for the first time. Latches on like a pro.

I have opted for a physiological third stage and delayed cord clamping so we stay in the water, chatting and joking while we wait for the placenta to be delivered. I have a few afterpains while waiting, nothing compared to the contractions though!

11.15am: the placenta is delivered. Angela ties the cord and Antony cuts it. Arthur is now a deep pink colour – apparently this is because he has so much more blood and stem cells in him than if he’d had his cord clamped immediately after birth.

11.20am: I get out of the pool, and Angela and Antony help me upstairs to the bedroom. I feel wobbly but amazing. We are tucked up together in bed by 11.30am. I still can’t believe I’ve really done it. I have a couple of small tears down below, which Angela stitches so they’ll heal a little more quickly than leaving them to heal themselves. Antony makes lunch: smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. Mum returns – she didn’t know I’d had the baby as the text arrived while she was on her way over. She is first apart from me, Antony and Fred to hold him.

4.45pm: everyone asleep. (Except me, taking the photo).

So, I did it. I didn’t think I could, but I bloody well did. Prior to today, the hardest test of physical endurance I have ever done was my first half marathon. Established labour lasted less time than that run, but was way harder work. And although I didn’t get a medal for this, I got a sense of achievement and wellbeing that will last me and Arthur a lifetime.