The Birth Story of Josephine Grace Mallia...
In the months leading up to us becoming pregnant, as my mind and body began to crave becoming a Mama, I followed many pregnancies and read plenty of the birth stories from the blogging community. My desire to experience the same only increased with every account of positive, natural labour I read. When our time came, and a baby grew in my belly, I can honestly say I looked forward to the final stage of my pregnancy; giving birth. I felt at harmony with my body, trusted it entirely to do what it had to and knew that ultimately I would let go, surrender and embrace bringing our child into the world.
Before Josephine was born, I wrote this post. Whilst a home birth had initially appealed to us, our intentions were to birth at home for as long as possible before heading to our nearest birthing centre 25 minutes away. However 4 weeks before our due date, at our ante-natal class, we changed our plans. I count us very lucky to live in an area that positively promotes labouring at home or in a birthing centre. From our first appointment at 8 weeks pregnant we were given details of talks and classes we could attend if we were interested in taking this route and given plenty of information to help us make a decision we felt was right for us. At our ante-natal group, when asked about their forthcoming labours, more than half of the couples spoke of their home birth plans. Such support gave us the confidence to home birth too, so we quickly arranged a midwife appointment to discuss the details and we ordered our pool.
As expected our due date (Monday Jan, 9) came and went with no signs of Baby deciding to make an entrance. We were both pretty calm about that as we'd anticipated it being at least a week late, so I spent the days relaxing, reading over my favourite birth stories for inspiration and my favourite extracts from this book while Ben was at work. I continued knitting away at the baby blanket I had started weeks before and added the finishing touches to the nursery.
My Braxton Hicks had been coming more regularly over the week and on Sunday morning I got out of bed hopeful that something might happen soon so we wouldn't have to consider a Stretch and Sweep at our 41 week midwife appointment the following day. I remembered reading this awesome birthing story and agreed that the best thing to do was focus on the here and now rather than worry about the prospect of procedures. I then went for a wee and was greeted with my bloody show. I gently woke Ben to tell him the good news. Reading that this signified the beginning or very early stages of labour we remained laid back, knowing it could still be days before we met our little one. Still, Ben was definitely hoping he wouldn't be heading to work the following day.
The rest of Sunday came and went without much development, just the occasional BH. On Monday lunchtime we headed to our midwife appointment, were told that as everything seemed to be kicking off, a Stretch and Sweep was unnecessary at this point (phew!) and were sent away with a "good luck" for all that was to come. As the afternoon progressed my BH got stronger with every hour that passed and we soon started to wonder if they had gently become contractions. Then at 9pm they stopped dead. Completely disappeared. We went off for a walk in the dark to try and get them re-started but to no avail. Ben thought an early night would be a good idea in case it all started up again, so by 10pm we were tucked up wondering what the night would bring.
At bang on midnight I was awoken by a contraction that was so strong I had to use the breathing techniques I'd read about so many times to work through it. Aware that, once again, they could suddenly stop I decided against waking Ben and getting his hopes up. Instead I breathed deeply in the dark, rubbing my belly, whispering to Baby that it would be awesome to meet it soon. I felt calm and relaxed and excited by every contraction. Never scared of the pain. Never fighting what my body was built to do.
After what seemed like 20 minutes, I checked the time before waking up Ben. To my amazement it was 1.30am. I'd been so focused on surrendering to each contraction that time had melted away. I woke Ben and explained what had been happening and before long he was witnessing it for himself. Still aware that Baby could be a long way off, Ben dozed while I continued to relax and let go. But by 3am I was out of bed and leaning over the gym ball, needing it's support to feel comfortable. Between each rush I would curl up on the floor at the foot of the bed to rest. Soon I knew this was really it and I needed Ben. He encouraged me through the contractions and by 4am we decided to call the midwife as they were coming thick and fast. She told Ben that until the length of the contractions were so exact you could set your watch by them, we had a while to go, but to keep her informed and to call if we had any questions.
The next few hours came and went with Ben timing every rush. They were sporadic to say the least. Lasting for anything between 30 seconds and 3 minutes, and arriving between 2 and 7 minutes apart. As night turned to day, I knew that I had to get moving so I spent hours walking around the living room, leaning over a dining chair to breath through each rush. At around 2pm, one of the lovely midwives dropped in to see how we were doing and promised to come back when her afternoon appointments were over. By 5pm, we had moved to the kitchen for a change of scenery and I spent hours bouncing away on the gym ball. Nicky returned, checked me over and revealed I was 4cm dilated. It was good to know things were heading in the right direction, but I have to admit, after around 18 hours of contractions, I was a little disheartened to hear it wasn't more.
By this point, the rushes were really strong and before she left Nicky recommended Ben fill up the pool to give me some relief. While I felt a little tired, the excitement of getting closer to meeting our baby kept me going and I was urging every contraction to increase in strength and open me up more. I bopped in the pool while Ben sat next to it; encouraging me, taking care of me.
At 11pm our midwife Laura rang to see how we were doing and to let us know she was on her way. Soon after she arrived she checked me over again and we were more than a little disappointed to find out I was only 5cms dilated. 9 hours and only 1cm. I knew I had to stay focused and positive though, so I carried on bouncing on the gym ball and soaking in the pool. Ben there, every step of the way. Making me laugh, stroking my hair and fetching me drinks. The night went on with contractions a-plenty but I kept breathing steadily and deeply, visualising our baby moving down and remembering that soon we would meet our son or daughter.
As the early hours of Wednesday morning came and went I started to feel tired. Really tired. The contractions were strong and sometimes there seemed only seconds between the end of one and the beginning of the next. Laura force fed me banana (I had refused it from Ben, but felt I couldn't get away with that with Laura!) and drank too quickly a few swigs of Lucozade. Which I then promptly threw up in the bath. Meanwhile Ben and Laura continued to be amazing. Encouraging me all the way and lightening the mood with laughs and general conversation that was a welcome distraction from the still ever-increasing contractions.
At around 5.30am Laura checked me once more. 'I must be nearly there, nearly dilated' I thought as I clambered onto the bed once more. But we were in for a shock. Another 5 hours and no progress. Nothing. Before we could really talk about what was happening I had to get up. Lying on my back seriously increased the strength of my contractions and for the first time I started to loose a bit of control. Over the next couple of hours having a wee and lying down were avoided at all costs because of the pain and Ben was now having to guide me through the first 10 seconds of each contraction, reminding me to breath long and deep through soft lips.
Until this point I had been the breathing queen. Never faltering, no matter how strong the rush. I had also not seen the contractions as painful until now. They hurt, sure, but I could control it and I knew that I had to surrender to my body as it pushed my baby down and opened up. But now I could only yelp during those first seconds of every rush, feeling for the first time that maybe I couldn't do this. The joy of being in the pool (the freedom to move so effortlessly onto all fours as I worked through each rush was bliss) had began to fade and I started to feel like I was loosing touch with my body. That I was somehow becoming detached from what was happening.
7am. I remember being slumped in the kitchen, over the gym ball. I was so tired. Exhaustion that I had never known, and I didn't know how I was going to continue. Ben sat next to me, as he had for all those hours, with his eyes closed. He had so immersed himself in being with me, he was just as drained. Sure, I had been the one going through the physical side of labour, but he had been through the mental side with me. Keeping me going when I started to falter. Remaining positive when I started to panic. I could see the 'get up and go' look that had been steady on his face, slowly fade away and I started to wonder how we were going to continue. I looked at Ben and told him how I could see now why people took the drugs and gave into the healing relief of an epidural. As we talked, revealing to each other how tired we really were, Laura listened from the hallway. The whole night she was there when we had questions and needed reassurance but slipped away and gave us time alone too, allowing us to focus on the techniques we had read about and discussed before this point and to share intimate moments, just us. For this we were so grateful. As she came back into the kitchen she told us that she thought it was time to check me again. She knew that we needed to get things moving and soon, before my body gave into a lack of sleep and energy.
At about 8.15am Laura's face told me everything. I was around 6cms. Nearly three hours and only 1 more cm. If I had the energy I could have cried. Laura knelt on the floor beside our bed and explained that it appeared my cervix had stopped dilating on one side. That she thought I needed Oxytoxin to get it open and that I'd have to go to the hospital to have it administered. It was our choice though. She would stick with our decision to birth at home if we wanted to keep going, but that she could see I was tired and she wanted us to know all the options. Once again she left Ben and I to chat about what we wanted to do. But we didn't know. Ben said that he thought I could keep going if I believed it, but that he could understand how the exhaustion was taking over. I didn't know what to do. I felt more detached from what was happening than ever and, honestly, just wanted it all to stop. To close my eyes and sleep for weeks. We went back and forth, unable to make a decision. Which is when Laura stepped in. She said that she was going to call the ambulance, and we didn't fight her actions. We needed her to use her experience and make the call for us. Over the last 9 hours she had got to know us, had read and re-read our birth plan and knew what we hoped from our labour. We knew she was making the decision she thought was best for all three of us. Still, as I looked at Ben and he looked at me, our faces were a picture of disappointment. Between them, Ben and Laura dressed me, gathered any last minute bits for the hospital bag and before we knew it the ambulance was outside. As we walked into the crisp early morning, the cold air hit me and I told Ben how disappointed I was. As I laid down on the ambulance bed my contractions, which had strangely stopped for the last 10 minutes, came back with avengence and the journey was a blur of sirens and pain. I was wheeled into the hospital and our private room. It was about 8.45am and as we met our new midwife Saskia (Laura's shift had ended at 8 but she wanted to see us into the hospital and make sure we were with a great midwife before she left us) I told her that I wanted to be home that day, no matter what. Despite having barely enough energy to walk I was still determined that our first night as a family would be spent in our own bed and I confidently told Saskia that I still wanted no pain relief at all.
Soon I was hooked up to an IV, through which they administered the Oxytoxin, had an uncomfortable strap round my belly that was monitoring Baby's heart rate and was trying to maneuver round a narrow and uncomfortable hospital bed. This is everything we wanted to avoid, I thought. As the Oxytoxin made it's way into my body my contractions seemed harder than ever to work through, but the change of scenery and hit of fresh air had restored some of my determination and I managed my breathing once again. Deep, long, slow breaths, through which I remember hearing the midwives comment on how controlled I was given that I had now been in labour for so long. Quickly it seemed like I was experiencing one long contraction. Any rest bite between rushes had disappeared and soon I was sick again. Afterwards Ben told me that I should have had 3 contractions in 10 minutes and I'd had 6 so they turned down the dosage of Oxytoxin. Those 10 minutes drained the last bit of energy I had remaining and it was during the next, excruciating contraction that Ben told me that I was going to have gas and air for the next one. Until now I had refused it, believing that it would rid me of my natural birth, but as I came out of the haze that contraction had surrounded me in I knew I had to trust in Ben and do what he thought was best.
I was told afterwards that gas and air had in no way taken away my natural birth. All I know is that I couldn't have survived the rest of the labour without that hour of gas and air. While the contractions remained as strong as ever, it took me to a level where I could mentally recover from the last hours of labour; it gave me back my attitude. I got my breathing back on track, I talked to Ben during each rush (apparently it was a lot of rubbish, but that's the joy of gas and air) and with every minute that passed, I knew I was becoming myself once more. I was back in tune with my body and I was going to be able to do this.
Soon, I started to feel the urge to push during the last seconds of each contraction. Saskia and Ben kept me breathing, rather than pushing, while Saskia checked to see if I was fully dilated. She told me that I had one last bit to go before I could fully push, so when the next contraction arrived not to fight the urge, but not to help it along either. That was enough, and I was fully dilated. Ben hung up the pipe feeding me gas and air (you're not allowed it when it comes to pushing time) and we got ready to push.
I was back and ready to go. Centered and determined; excited to finally meet our little one.
The pushing part was my favourite. Baby moved down quickly and steadily and soon, with every round of pushing, Ben was seeing more and more of its head. Soon he could see the top of a head full of hair and, reaching down, I felt Baby too. I put all my energy into pushing into my bottom as hard and for as long as I could. No noise escaped my lips. I wasn't go to waste an ounce of my newly returned umph on unnecessary screaming. Looking back, I think I rocked the pushing part. I was focused and determined and soon it was time to get that Baby's head out, but despite all my efforts it was just too big. Saskia explained that an episiotomy would probably be the best option but gave me one more attempt to get the head out on my own. I pushed with all my might, Ben cheering me on, but to no avail. So I had a local anaesthetic and a small cut was made. Ben said that was the worst bit of the whole thing. Apparently the noise was horrendous - I was distracted with other things so was barely aware of what was happening. With the next push Baby's head was out. Ben and the midwives all tried to get a peek of it's face and Ben reported back to me that the dark brown hair I'd hoped for was there a-plenty. Saskia and Mary, a more experienced midwife who had popped in and out during our time at the hospital and who asked if she could stay and see this baby born, guessed from it's squished up face that it was a girl, while Ben was still sure it was a boy. Ha! Those midwives know their stuff.
After another round of pushing, Mary told me to keep my eyes open next time I felt the urge to push so I could see our baby be born. I pushed harder than ever, knowing we would be meeting our baby in a matter of moments. And then there she was. Saskia pulled her straight onto my naked tummy and chest and I asked Ben if it was a boy or girl.
"It's a girl!! Oh my God, it's girl!!" We beamed surprised smiles at each other, laughing at how wrong we, and everyone else, had been with their predictions. The three of us kissed and squeezed each other, knowing that our lives had changed forever in those seconds. It was 1.08pm on Wednesday January 18, nearly 40 hours after my first contraction. Ben sweetly told me how amazing I had been and we both whispered to our baby girl that she'd done an amazing job too. As I was telling Ben how awesome he had been Saskia looked up and agreed, offering him a job as a midwife if he ever fancied a career change, so impressed had they been at his attitude, encouragement and all round brilliance as a birth partner. Something I never doubted would be true.
As we snuggled together Saskia delivered my placenta and stitched up my small cut and a little natural tear that had occurred and when we were ready she quickly took our little one, wiped her down and weighed her. Saskia had guessed at 7 1/2 lbs, so was surprised to see she was 8lbs 1 and 54cms long. She wrapped her in a soft clean towel and popped on a hat before handing her back and leaving us alone. And there we sat. A new family. We named her Josephine Grace. The only girl's name we had truly considered.
Later the breastfeeding midwife came to visit us (we weren't allowed to leave hospital until they had seen Baby latch on and feed a couple of times) and then Ben rang our parents. I heard their shrieks of delight on Baby's safe arrival, and the fact she was a girl!
A few hours later, I was helped into a warm bath to clean off, while Ben stripped off his t-shirt and held his tiny daughter inside his hoody. When I emerged I found my two favourite people snoozing together in the chair. Their bond was so strong already, it was clear to see, and my heart swelled with happiness. We left the hospital at 4.30pm, just over 3 hours after Josephine came into the world, and were tucked in bed together that night as we'd always hoped and planned.
So that was our story. It didn't go how we thought, and while we were initially disappointed to be heading to the hospital, it still turned out to be a beautiful experience. We were blessed with midwives who understood and respected our hopes for labour during the whole process, and who ensured we got the calm and natural labour we wanted, despite a change of location.
During those 37 hours there were times I wondered if I would be able to do it but deep inside I knew that my body was capable of doing what it was built to do. And Ben was there to remind me of that whenever I needed it. As I always knew, it took 3 people to deliver our baby safely into the world; Ben, Baby and I. Ben has never been more amazing than he was during those hours. He showed strength and confidence in me when I doubted my capablility, and his kindness and soft words during these moments urged me to keep going. Sharing that experience with him has made me love him more than I thought I could and I'll never forget those quiet moments when the squeeze of his hand around mine and the stroke of his fingers on my face reminded me of his love and pride when I needed it most.
And our little girl, Josephine. From the first examination all those days before, her heart rate stayed steady and strong despite the long hours, the Oxytoxin and my heightened stress levels on the journey to hospital. Just as she had been during my entire pregancy she was as laid back as ever and when she was born she barely let out a cry. Just laid on my chest staring at her Mama and Papa with wide, beautiful eyes. Taking it all in.
I have written and re-written our story time and again, hence why it's taken so long to post it here. I was so inspired and encouraged by positive birthing stories throughout my pregnancy that I hoped to give something back to the blogging community in submitting my own; an account of a positive labour yet one that didn't go according to plan. And because of this I wanted to get it just right. I hope that someone out there will read this and be given comfort in the knowlegde that even if things vere off the course you hope and plan for, labour is still the most beautiful and enlightening of experiences.