Here I finally am with a birth story! Better late than never, which, incidentally, is how I felt about the arrival of all of my offspring. There’s no particular reason it’s taken me so long to write this, well, apart from the fact I have for kids now and barely time to use the facilities; but I have struggled to know how to word it. I want it to be a positive story, because it is. I’m fine, she’s fine. I gained a beautiful and perfect baby girl that day. The Little 9 dream finally became reality. But if I’m really super honest, I’m still feeling disappointed at how her birth turned out. It couldn’t have strayed further from what I’d hoped and planned for. Especially as I knew it would be my last chance to have the sort of birth I wanted. And after the emotional turmoil that was her pregnancy, I’d envisaged karma granting me a relatively drama free labour. Alas, I was wrong.
So where to begin? I guess, with the original plan. Home birth. Water. Twinkling lights. Pan pipes. Unicorns. You know the drill. I’ve always wanted a water a birth. It’s been at the top of every birth plan I’ve ever written. Yet it’s somehow always eluded me. You can find the birth stories for the other three somewhere on this blog, but in brief, Daisy was an emergency c-section when it was discovered (at 6cm) that she was breech. Ralph was a successful VBAC, 12 days overdue and arriving 2 hours after my waters were inadvertently broken by an overzealous midwife. Third degree tear, but an otherwise complication free delivery. And Rufus’ birth was probably the most seamless of all. Another one 12 days over. Planned homebirth. Utterly terrifying 27 minute labour. Delivered by the Spouse (sort of) on the floor next to the birth pool *eye roll*. No stitches required and therefore a bit glorious in the end anyway.
When we began trying for a fourth, despite my assertions after Rufus that I was “never doing that again”, I was fairly certain that I’d opt to have another homebirth. As frightening and as fast as it was, popping a baby out whilst the older kids were at school and crawling into the comfort of my own bed later that night, was pretty marvellous. The Spouse and I half heartedly prepared, both not bothering to put too much effort into our plans, assuming that baby would probably just drop out with an unusually large sneeze anyway. We were advised to watch birth videos in preparation and put a little bit of thought into childcare options, but we preferred to take a more “it’ll be alright on the night approach”. A birth pool, kindly given to us by an instafriend, sat in its bag in the corner. A pack of maternity pads tossed next to it. I replaced the batteries in the string of fairy lights. Downloaded some Enya. A few friends promised to be on hand, in case of emergency. The Spouse still opted to work hundreds of miles away, so confident was he in my seemingly unrelenting ability to gestate for almost as long as an elephant.
As with my previous two pregnancies, I was under consultant care and considered “high risk”. High risk due to my previous section. High risk due to my previous tear and, this time, high risk due to an emergency operation I’d had on my cervix (following a weird and rare complication from a LLETZ procedure) the year before. I was diagnosed with an “incompetent cervix” (bit harsh) at 14 weeks and spent the next few months, terrified that it might fail me and let the baby out at any moment. Close monitoring revealed a lot of scar tissue and damage, but an otherwise a-bit-more-competent-than-they-gave-it-credit-for cervix, holding firm. Of course, google didn’t let me down when I queried possible complications in birth, but my consultant assured me that the risks were minuscule.
And so we plodded on with pregnancy, with very loose plans in place, ambitiously assuming that baby would arrive late, quickly and ideally at home when the kids were asleep (we’d probably have to forgo the unicorn). At one of my routine consultant appointments at Leeds General Infirmary, we discussed the pros and cons of our plan. Pros being, I’d hopefully get the water birth I’d always wanted, but never achieved. Cons being that the likelihood of the midwives getting to us on time, were slim. As the pregnancy progressed, this little niggle became an increasing source of anxiety for me. Both Daisy & Ralph had passed meconium in utero and had resus teams present at birth. When I delivered Rufus, I spent the full 27 minutes convinced he would die because there was no one there to help him if he needed it. What if something went wrong this time? What if I was alone? The margin for error seemed increasingly great. For a baby we’d fought so long and so hard for, was I being crazy to risk our safety for the sake of birthing at home? But what were our other options in the case of precipitate labour? The consultant raised the possibility of planning a drug free (to minimise risks) induction. No earlier than 40 weeks to ensure baby was good and ready. This way, I could guarentee a controlled hospital environment. Medics would be present. And, if I was lucky, I might still get some time in the water. I (loosely) agreed to this plan with the hospital and with the home birth team, but at 38 weeks, I also decided to transfer my care over to Harrogate District Hospital. No particular reason for this, it’s just posher innit? Of course, I jest. Both of my LGI experiences weren’t something I’d ideally like to repeat and Harrogate is notoriously “quiet”, so less risk of a potential waiting room baby (a la Ralph). The team at Harrogate were fairly bemused by my request, “look, I don’t necessarily want to have my baby here, but if I decide that I do, will you induce me at 40 weeks ish? But if I go into labour before that, I’ll have it at home. Oh, and if I need to be transferred to hospital, I’ll go to Leeds. That ok with you?” They weren’t overly enamoured with the complexities of my request, but after a couple of appointments, I think they understood my reasons. When a blood test revealed that my iron levels were severely low (if the bald head hadn’t already given that game away), they suggested that I come in just before my due date to examine how “favourable” my cervix was looking. I went in on Monday 26th November, two days before my due date. The consultant said I was fully effaced and plenty of tightenings ensured that baby was firmly in position and ready to go, so I agreed to go back in on Wednesday for a membrane sweep. They wanted me to stay in afterwards, rather than be sent home to go into labour on the 40 minute drive back. I figured if I went in that evening and stayed the night, I could head home on Thursday morning to celebrate my birthday and eat cake with the kids. I didn’t account for the sweep actually working. I had zero faith that it would. I’ve had many a fanny wrangling and not one has managed to coerce a small human out of me before.
We booked the MiL to assist with child duties and she agreed to travel up from Hertfordshire on the big day. I spoke to the ward that Wednesday morning and they told me I could come in at any time. It was very quiet. So I waited until my biggest babies came home from school so I could say goodbye and ensure that the MiL was almost around. I drove myself to hospital, bag (finally) packed. On arrival, I was shown to a private room with ensuite. Swanky AF. A midwife promptly came in (how’s that for service?!), hands gloved and ready to go. And here’s where my water birth dreams began to shatter.
Ankles together. Knees apart. Deep breaths. “You’re aware of the lump in your vagina aren’t you?” Wtf?? “It’s quite large. It’s concerning. I’m going to get the registrar.” Ankles together. Knees apart. Deep breaths. “There’s a sizeable lump up there. It’s unusual. But we have other concerns right now. It’s unlikely to impede labour so let’s focus on getting that started first. We can address the other issue once baby’s here.” Ankles together. Knees apart. Deep breaths. And pain. “I can’t get through the cervix. It’s fully effaced. Ready to go. But I can’t get through. I’m going to call your consultant.” At that point, I asked if I could just go home. They weren’t able to perform the sweep. They’d found a scary lump. I was on my own. I just wanted to go home and write this episode off. Maybe just hold the baby in until after Christmas. But they’d done a lot of probing up there and the risks were now too great. So I stayed. The registrar returned, a determined look in his eye. He wanted to attempt the sweep once more. Fuck. Ankles together. Knees apart. Teeth gritted. Tears streaming. And still, it wouldn’t work. He couldn’t access the membranes. I felt broken and bruised and it was all for nothing. They left me then, said they’d see me in the morning. I watched some tv on my phone. Paced the room. Suddenly, cramping sent me racing to the toilet where lost a bloody glob of plug. Then the contractions began. I text the Spouse and told him to keep his phone on loud. I continued to pace. To sway. To nipple tweak. Anything to keep them from tapering off. After an hour or so though, I decided to try for some sleep (I was potentially in for a long night); but when I woke up, it was daylight and the contractions had stopped completely. Happy birthday to me. I got quickly dressed, ate a birthday breakfast of a mini Milky Way that I’d found lurking in my bag and waited to be discharged.
Soon after, my consultant arrived. She wanted to try the sweep herself. Well why not, everyone else had had a crack at it. Ankles together. Knees apart. Eyes watering. Fists clenched. “Something’s not right. I’m going to get my colleague for a second opinion.” Another consultant arrived and, by this point, I’m sure you know the score. My vagina felt like it’d already pushed the baby out. I’d racked up at least 5 fists in there now and honestly, I’ve had better birthdays. Seemingly, there was something wrong. Remember months before, when I’d finally made it through the first trimester, only to be told by Nige at LGI, that they were worried my cervix could open too soon. Well, as it turns out, it wouldn’t open at all. Stenosis they call it. So much scar tissue, it was damaged beyond repair. Farewell to my drama free birth. I literally had a baby stuck inside me. I called the Spouse and he dutifully made his way to the hospital. And then we made our way to the delivery suite where they were going to attempt to insert a catheter through the cervix, with a balloon on the end that they would then inflate to hopefully encourage it to open. Time was of the essence now. Labour was trying to start and my body would soon be trying to push the baby against a firmly closed cervix. We were both in danger.
I lay on a bed with my feet up in stirrups for the first time ever. A pool sat tauntingly in the room across the hall. The two consultants were sitting side by side between my open legs and I was flanked by Nick and a midwife. She handed me the gas & air, “you’re probably going to need this”. She. Was. Not. Kidding. They couldn’t get the catheter in. They needed to break through the cervix. A tray of instruments was brought over. The next hour was a haze of nitrous induced giggles, mingled with screams of pain. The midwife clutching my hand. The Spouse flinching as he watched them inserting metal implements down below. “This looks like it’s going to hurt”. And it did. A lot. Contractions began again, but still my cervix remained firmly closed. Two options remained and neither involved me having this baby in the water.
Option one: Theatre. Spinal. Cut the cervix open and attempt to push the baby out without damaging it further, with an emergency section as back up of it didn’t work.
Option two: Theatre. Spinal. C section.
Not exactly the birth choices I’d had in mind. I was hoping for more along the lines of “would you like pink ambient lighting, or blue?”. When I came down from the gas & air induced wooze, I asked them to help me decide. I didn’t want another section. It was the one birth method I had vehemently decided I wanted to avoid at all costs. But what I wanted even less, was to compromise the safety of this baby. When all was said and done, that was the only thing that really mattered. And so I was sent to prepare for option two.
It wasn’t what I wanted. It was so far from what I’d had planned, it was fairly unbelievable. But I didn’t want to be sad about it. I was about to meet my 4th and final child. My Little 9. However that happens, I was excited. I was ready. We laughed and joked as we changed into gown (me) & scrubs (him). We wrestled those hideous green stockings onto my legs. I repacked my bag. I paced the room once more. And then it was time to go. As they led me into theatre, I felt so so grateful that I’d never found out the sex. One final big surprise still awaited me. Something still to look forward to, despite the disappointment of now sitting on a gurney in a sterile room instead of languishing in a warm pool (with pan pipe playing unicorns). As I curled my body over a pillow, ready for the needle to enter my spine, I began to mutter nervously, “four is A LOT of kids…”
They lay me back as that familiar feeling of paralysis crept through my body. I wished I’d worn a hat. The Spouse appeared at my side. The screen went up. We waited. Minutes later, a gargled scream. A pink and writhing body slowly appearing above the screen. A tear escaping from the corner of my eye. They lifted it higher, ready for me to announce the sex. But I won’t lie, it was all very swollen and I thought I saw balls, but I couldn’t be sure. As I stared, bleary eyed in confusion, beside me the Spouse shouted “a girl!” and I couldn’t imagine ever feeling happier than I did in that moment. We were complete. Dotty Marlow, my beautiful daughter, was placed into my arms. All 8lb 11oz of her, my smallest, my fourth, my final baby. Little 9. Everything I’d dreamed of and more. An imperfect birthday, with the most perfect person to share it with.