Our Birth Story
Before falling pregnant, our knowledge of what was to come was very limited.
The past few months have involved a steep learning curve, much of it focused on what to expect and do during pregnancy and labour. We’ve been back and forth a bit deciding whether we wanted to share our birth story. Reflecting on it all, Sam and I realised that what helped us immensely in the build-up to labour was having as much information as possible about what could happen. Our labour also started off with a bit of a bang and had some surprises, yet in the end, little George arrived perfectly healthy, safely and happy.
As some of you - like us - are completely new to this whole baby ride, I’ve first shared a bit about what we learned to expect of ‘straightforward’ labours. This is obviously quite the generalisation, but it helps to understand how our initial expectations formed.
So, here’s a quick recap of what our ante-natal classes taught us. There are three phases of labour: latent labour, active labour and the pushing phase. The latent phase can take a few hours up to a day or two or more, with intermittent contractions that tend to be fairly mild. You are advised to stay at home, do things like take paracetamol, a bath, even use a TENS machine to help coax the labour along in a place familiar to you. Only when your contractions are averaging three every ten minutes for over an hour should you head into hospital. You’ll only be admitted to hospital if you are 4cm dilated. Once in hospital, there’s the active phase of labour which usually takes several hours and a fair bit of painkiller like gas and air, a birthing pool, even an epidural. Then at 10cm dilation, the pushing phase starts and it tends to take another couple of hours before baby eventually arrives.
Our big shock during the labour was that there was no latent phase whatsoever, despite us naively trying to ‘ease’ ourselves into it. It all started at 10pm on a Sunday night, and for us, an old wives tale held true. We had curry for dinner, and two hours later my waters broke. This was not obvious for the first few minutes, but soon I had a mild contraction and there was quite a gush of water. In the UK they advise you come into hospital for a check-up once your waters have broken, as the baby needs to arrive within 72 hours due to risk of infection. Fun fact - only about 1 in 10 labours start with waters breaking, so we were fairly surprised at how things kicked off for us. We madly finished packing our hospital bags and within the hour were on our way to Chelsea and Westminster in an Uber, me sitting on a towel.
By the time we reached the hospital twenty minutes later, I’d probably had about four contractions and was needing to walk some of them out to manage the pain. We saw the midwife who was pleased that I was contracting, and after a quick check of me and baby we were sent back home to try and get some rest anticipating it would be several hours until needing to return. Back home, I tried getting into bed and lasted about fifteen minutes before the pain became a bit too much. I downed two paracetamol and Sam ran a hot bath. My contractions were now fairly steady, and probably averaging about one every five minutes.
I lasted about an hour in the bath, the contractions going from reasonably painful to full-on writhing around and screaming (sorry, Sam and neighbours). We started timing the contractions and realised they were already coming at three every ten minutes, and lasting well over a minute each. We called the hospital again who listened to me over the phone and after a bit of begging from me they agreed we should come back in. The urge to push was also lurking about, which freaked me out. Sam started to gather our things and some clothes for me as I got myself out. It was then that I realised I had passed some clots of fresh blood in the bath, and had a fair bit on myself too. One key thing we had learnt through our classes was that if there was ever a sign of a fresh blood, seek help immediately. The urge to push quickly strengthened to the point where I felt I could no longer stand. So we decided to call 999.
This is the part of the whole experience where I am so full of gratitude for Sam. The 999 operator sent an ambulance, and in the meantime, they told Sam to start getting ready to deliver our baby at home. His face was white, but he sprung into action, pulling towels together and getting me as comfortable as possible on the floor, with 999 in one ear and my screams in another. We were both a bit shocked, to say the very least.
The paramedics arrived quickly, and the three of them swung into action. Within ten minutes we were out the door, me hooked up to gas and air, a robe flung on and a mad dash to the ambulance in between contractions. The ride to the hospital took about ten minutes, me most likely waking all of Earlsfield and Chelsea with my screams and the colour returning to Sam’s face gradually as he gave our details to the paramedics.
With hindsight, as we were told time and time again, you will not have your baby at home. We had time to get to hospital before George was born. Reaching hospital was the biggest relief for both of us. We headed straight to our own room in the labour ward where we were examined and it turned out I was already fully dilated at 10cm. I had found the whole ordeal so painful, so it was a slight relief to know I hadn’t actually been a massive wuss. I had endured what can take a day in roughly three hours, going from 0 to 10cm on only paracetamol and a warm bath.
With bubba fully engaged and me fully dilated, I started to push, sucking ferociously onto gas and air. To fast-forward a bit here, this went on for about an hour and a half until I became exhausted and we realised he was stuck behind my pubic bone, quite content with where he was. I was starting to get really exhausted, struggling to form words and to keep my eyes open. I asked for an epidural and was given a very light dose given how close we were to delivering. The midwives were incredible. They worked with the anaesthetist to figure out the best option. Having the epidural was like night and day, I got back vast quantities of my personality and a renewed energy - even giving the midwives a bit of banter and cheeky backchat. We tried pushing again for another hour, but my contractions had slowed in their intensity and bubba was still stuck. He stubbornly wanted to enjoy his home of 9 months for a while longer.
The midwives then made the recommendation for a forceps-assisted delivery. The obstetrician came in and started off with ‘I’ll have your baby out in a minute and a half....’ I cut him off halfway way and told him (rather, screamed), ‘do it!’ to which he had a bit of a chuckle and seemed disappointed as he wanted to practise his ‘sales pitch’. He said usually he has to convince mothers it’s the right thing to do. Pfffffftttt. I was beyond ready. He got set up, and with the next contraction I pushed as hard as I could. A new type of pain took hold. Luckily the epidural took the edge off it, but I had to completely concentrate on breathing steadily with the whole room encouraging me to do so. My eyes were clamped shut, and then I heard Sam’s voice completely change. It lifted with sheer amazement and wonder as our little boy started to grace us with his presence. It filled me with energy and with one more contraction, he was out. George Oliver Howell eventually joined us at 7:44am on Monday the 10th of October, twenty days ahead of his due date.
When Sam and I look back and break down what felt like a chaotic and uncertain night we see now that we actually had a very smooth, safe and speedy labour. The level of care and treatment we received was top notch, despite the midwives having to deal with real emergencies outside of my room. Don’t get me wrong - the process was a surprise and not “according to our birth plan”, but that is the nature of giving birth and being prepared for the uncertainty is the biggest part.
There are too many people to thank. The team of midwives were incredible, and ran the show. The emotional and physical support throughout the night was a lifesaver, and I apologize profusely for probably breaking a hand or two. Dr. Styrios, who carried out the forceps delivery, is something of a legend and I now see why. We look forward to hand delivering cupcakes to the hospital in a couple of weeks to try and catch the same team to thank with buttercream and red velvet.
The biggest thanks, which I cannot adequately capture with words, goes to Sam. Throughout the whole thing it was his voice, his calm and his support by my side that carried me through. At times, I wasn’t hearing the medical staff, and Sam’s voice in my ear was all that would register. I could not have done this without him.
We are so utterly besotted with our little man. Thank you, Chelsea & Westminster Hospital for helping deliver him safely into the world.
With Love, Kate