At 7:53pm on Sunday 26th February 2017, Arlo was born.
Overall labour was super quick – only 1 hour 33 minutes. We were so lucky to have a natural birth with no drugs. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat just to be in that moment when we first made eye contact again. It was incredible. It will forever be the very best thing I have ever done.
To begin, I’m going to rewind to my 37th week of pregnancy. After various scares of reduced fetal movement and a growth scan, I was diagnosed with a polyhydramnious uterus (an excessive amount of amniotic fluid). Apparently a common ‘complication’ in pregnancy… The doctors worry you with possible issues like gestational diabetes, a gigantic baby, inductions, stillborn, and other frightening words. We tested for gestational diabetes but the tests came back clear, so we were closely monitored and discussed the possibility of induction. From what we could see on the scan, baby himself ticked all the boxes and measured a good size.
Now fast forward to my 39th week of pregnancy, with the due date and an induction looming ever closer, the community midwife suggested that I had a sweep to give my body a chance to go into labour of its own accord. My body had been showing signs that it was preparing itself for labour anyway, so we were eager to give it a shot. I was nervous and it was uncomfortable, however it turned out I was 1cm dilated, my cervix was soft and my ‘bishops’ score’ was very good (I’m still not sure how it has anything to do with a bishop…)
The following few days were equipped with exercise ball bouncing, dog walks, spicy curries, raspberry leaf tea, pineapple, pineapple juice, hot bubble baths, music playlists, meditation, breathing exercises and hypnobirthing books. I had period pains, cramping and insomnia. I also lost a lot of mucus plug (do not google it) and braxton hicks contractions. All good signs, but not established labour. We were booked in to hospital on Sunday morning to be monitored and the induction card was face up on our table.
Sunday 26th February 2017, the big bright due date. After a night of bizarre dreams, I woke up to Bob Marley – Three Little Birds, a surprise alarm set up by Michael. We were expected to be at the hospital at 8am to be hooked up to the monitor, with bags packed and ready for anything and everything.
Don’t worry, about a thing, because every little thing is going to be alright. Rise up this morning, smiled with the rising sun, three little birds pitch by my doorstep. Singing sweet songs of melodies pure and true, saying this is my message to you. Singing, don’t worry about a thing because every little thing going to be alright.
The journey to the hospital seemed to take twice as long, the road stretched on further and further. My mind was completely serene yet deep down I was full of anticipation. We listened to Mumford and Sons’ latest album. If my life was a movie – this would be the point the camera panned out above the car, whilst I narrated my feelings about plunging into the unknown ahead of me.
Moving on to 10am-ish, with good monitor readings of the baby’s heartbeat, we dived into the initial stages of induction. We listened, talked and questioned the process with the midwife and jumped right in.
We went over the phases of induction and the midwife gave us the worst case scenarios. Stage 1 is a controlled-released pessary, which basically looks like a shoelace, it pumps a hormone into your cervix to begin softening it up. This alone takes about 24 hours. Stage 2, two more hormone tablets or a gel inserted into your cervix 6 hours apart. Then stage 3 is a hormone drip, which is really quite brutal. We were told that as I’m a first time mum, we shouldn’t expect anything exciting to happen for a couple of days. One woman in the same ward had been there 4 days already… Safe to say we were expecting a March baby and a long hospital stay.
It didn’t take long to feel the uncomfortable sensation of the pessary working its magic, but to refrain from slowing anything down and getting cabin fever, Michael and I walked around the hospital. Particularly up stairs sideways and around the car park. I bounced on a birth ball next to my bed and tried my hardest not to get grumpy and impatient. After a few hours, the sensation slipped away.
It was around 5pm when I sat on the edge of my hospital bed. I put on Michael’s big headphones and started listening to one of the playlists I had prepared for labour. Full of calming, dreamy and romantic songs, I closed my eyes and let my mind wonder. Michael ended up lying down behind me, whilst he massaged and tickled my back and shoulders.
We were both stuck in a daydream completely at peace, when suddenly I felt a deep pop in my pelvis. I jumped straight up and bent over the bed.
After a few seconds of dancing around in shock, Michael got the midwife as my waters began to gush down my leg and flood the floor. Within seconds the first contraction crashed over me, completely unaware of it coming, I was crippled with waves of pain pressure. I asked the midwife to help me – I needed to regain some control, so she asked me to sway my hips and focus on my breathing. Meanwhile, Michael mopped the floor with paper towels and redressed me in a nightie.
Immediately I had visualisations of standing on a beach, blowing a feather out to sea. The contraction was the feather, and the further it drifted out towards the horizon, the contraction would ease away.Whilst the ward called through to the delivery suite – our midwife needed to check the baby was happy, so I reclined back on the bed to be monitored.
Michael put the tens machine on my back to relieve some of the pressure from the contractions. They were rushing over me constantly, consuming my entire body in rippling tension.Our tens machine has various settings, spread out in three phases designed to be used throughout the stages of labour. Within each phase there is a scale of intensity. I put it straight on the third phase with maximum intensity. Michael noticed, and stole the controller. He knew we needed to cut back otherwise I’d have nothing to help me later in labour. So he used the monitor to see when I was contracting (as I was constantly climbing and falling down peaks of contraction after contraction.) It really helped to have Michael coach me through each one.
Looking back, we reckon the midwives in the ward didn’t realise how fast things were going and just how regular my contractions were. They probably thought I was being a drama queen – shocked that my waters had broken and wanted to make a show out of it all. In fact, the contractions were pretty much non-stop. I could hardly communicate with anyone, I’d have 5 to 10 seconds in between them, if that. I just remember focusing on my breathing, making ‘mmmm’ noises and visualising the feather.
Fortunately the monitor readings were fine. I was examined around this point and I was 3cm dilated. “Hannah this is it! It’s happening”A new midwife, Lorna, came along and took us to delivery suite. She asked if I wanted a wheelchair but the 2 minute wait for one felt too long. Michael had to carry my ‘little’ suitcase, a sports bag full of other stuff, a backpack full of baby’s stuff, a bag of snacks, a pillow and the tens machine controller. Safe to say we were way over prepared. Thanks to Michael and his bag lady skills, I just had to focus on walking to the delivery suite.
On the way I had another contraction and had to stop in the hallway to hold onto the wall. The tens machine really helped in those few moments – I can still remember the hyper pins and needles sensation from the tens machine battling the jarring wave of the contraction, whilst I held on to the wall railing with all my might. The double doors to the delivery ward were incredibly welcoming after that. I waddled a little faster, aiming to get to our room before another contraction hit.
Our delivery room was the high risk birth pool room on the delivery suite. Despite wanting to be on the midwifery led unit whilst I was pregnant, this room was actually much nicer than the rest. It was very spacious, equipped with a birth pool, various floor mats, beanbags and a bed tucked in the corner. The views from the windows spanned across the town, local landmarks and familiar rooftops. It was dark at this point – but the glowing lights in the night gave me some comfort.
As the birth pool filled up with luscious water, the lights were dimmed, Michael swiftly put on our bluetooth speaker and Thompkins Square Park – Mumford & Sons started dancing around the room, lifting my spirits and momentarily easing the tension in my body. I reached up to his shoulders and hugged him, managing to mutter a thank you. I have never loved the man so much. He was reading my mind, made me feel safe, secure and he wouldn’t let me go.
Within a few minutes I was given gas and air, had my nightie stripped off and I climbed into the pool. The water felt amazing. It lifted the weight from my bump and gave me a new chance to reach some sort of relaxation. I had Michael behind me to hold on to, coaching me through breathing and taking in the gas and air. I closed my eyes and the tension in my body eased a little.
I had a mobile monitor on but it wasn’t picking up a smooth reading. A huge pressure in my bum swelled up and the ‘mmm’ noises I had made began to change. Lorna the midwife picked up on this and examined me. I was about 9.5cm dilated. She asked me if I had an urge to push and requested that we moved to the bed – she needed a consistent reading of the baby’s heartbeat from the monitor and the pool was obstructing this.
The contractions were still coming thick and fast, I actually had one as I was climbing out of the pool. I had to stop and stand on the step out. I remember holding onto Michael, staring into the water as it rushed through me, down through my legs and up through my arms. The reputation water has during labour – that it may slow things down – didn’t work on me at all.
Once I made it onto the bed, I felt some relief. I had a solid surface to hold on to and it was easier to channel my strength with the contractions. After fearing ‘the bed’ during labour whilst I was pregnant, this was a little surprising. I remember around this point Ed Sheeran was echoing around the room.
My visualisations had changed by this point. With each contraction I was rowing a boat, digging the oars deep into the sea and pushing them through the water. It was getting harder and I was getting nowhere. The Baby’s heart rate on the monitor was inconsistent, the gas and air was taken away, the music was turned off and I was asked to fully focus on pushing. I was fully dilated and Michael could see the top of his head “I can see his head Hannah! He has so much hair! Come on, this is it!”
Around this point, Lorna called for emergency assistance as Baby’s heart rate kept dropping. I didn’t pick up on any of the panic or worry though. When I looked up and saw five or so Drs and midwives at the foot of the bed, I actually felt comforted – I recognised everyone from our various appointments during pregnancy and from earlier that day on the other ward. Michael even greeted the registrar.
Each of them told me that I had to push the baby out, as quickly as I could. A couple of midwives told me to stop making so much noise too – the animalistic grunting wasn’t constructive to pushing at all. At one point I had a few seconds rest between contractions, I heard a lady down the corridor let out an admirable horror movie style screech. I joked we were competing, we all had a giggle then the contractions came back non-stop again. Drifting over me in continuous waves like I was washed up on the seashore.
I pushed with all that I had. I roared, I groaned, I squealed. The ring of fire began burning but it only lasted a moment. One second I felt sheer white pain wash over me and I was bellowing out a high pitched howl, the next second my baby was born and placed on my tummy.
“Oh my god he’s here! Hannah we did it! Oh my god I’m crying!”
I pulled him up into my arms and we stared into each other’s eyes “Hi baby”
At 7:53pm Arlo was born. As we held onto each other, looking into each other’s eyes, the midwives were concerned that Arlo was shocked. “Hi baby, it’s okay, you’re okay, you are so beautiful. It’s okay” They cut his cord, gave me an injection to initiate the delivery of the placenta and were just about to step in and take him away when he started blinking and let out a big cry. After such a quick delivery I think Arlo, Michael and I were absolutely shocked, and all three of us needed those couple of seconds.
I asked what day it was, and how long it had been. I looked up at the clock and expected it to be 8am on Monday morning. Michael told me it was still Sunday, that it had all happened within a couple of hours. I couldn’t believe it. I’d managed to have such a quick delivery with no drugs. I felt like super woman.
After the placenta had been delivered, Lorna told us how beautiful it was, don’t worry we didn’t eat it, but Michael and Lorna spent a good few minutes admiring it. The chord was blue and curly like a telephone wire. We have photos of it to cherish forever. Lovely.
Lorna then checked me over and inspected the damage. I hadn’t teared at all, my perineum was fully intact but I had a couple of cuts on each side which she felt could benefit from stitches. Another lady came through to do these – so Lorna said goodbye. I kept thanking her, I couldn’t thank her enough. I’d actually managed to have the birth I wished for with her help. All of my ‘birth preferences’ had been fulfilled and I was so proud of myself, of all of us.
When I was pregnant I practiced various hynobirthing techniques. Admittedly I didn’t follow a course intensively – and I’m sure it would have helped further. I used the techniques I did know extensively in labour. Visualising, breathing and music all helped to keep me calm in a protected euphoric labour bubble.
I cannot thank the the delivery suite staff and midwives at The Royal Surrey Hospital enough for their support, facilities and efficiency.
Michael was man of the hour – gosh, I love him more than I thought I ever could. The euphoria that hits you after birth is indescribable.
Arlo is a lovely baby. We are besotted, totally in love. He has gorgeous blue eyes and he has a good head of dark hair. He has squidgy arms and legs, and the cutest little spade shaped tootsies. He looks like me, but I see a lot of Michael in his expressions. He has an amazing bond with us, especially with his daddy. Life has irrevocably changed forever and we love our new life with Arlo.