Picture this: I’m in the back of the car kneeling on the seat facing backwards and hanging onto the headrests, hubby is driving and trying his best to stay calm and keep me calm while trying to remember which exits he needs to be taking. On the way, we called my parents who live about 10mins away on bluetooth speaker (with me vocalising loudly in the background of course) to see if they could come pick up our car from the drop-off area at the hospital. I’m not entirely sure why we didn’t think to organize that earlier, but baby brain is definitely a thing and our focus was elsewhere. The hope was that Garrett could come right up to the Birth Centre with me rather than dropping me off and parking in one of the underground carparks (and also because I’m way too stingy to pay for hospital parking!).
We arrived at the hospital after what seemed like half an hour but was actually 10 minutes, missed the initial turn into the hospital, swung back around the round-about and then did one and a half laps around the drop-off area to park on the furthermost side away from the entrance. Poor hubby wasn’t winning any driving awards but might have been a little distracted by my loudness in the back seat ;)
As soon as I got out of the car, another contraction hit - I leaned on the car and did my swaying and vocalizing, using the boost button of my TENS until it finally subsided and then we made our way toward the hospital entrance. I only got about halfway before another contraction arrived and so I was holding on to one of the large posts about 20m from the front doors, swaying and loudly vocalizing and snapping at Garrett that “No, I don't need a wheel-chair!” I found out later that I was getting lots of curious looks from passers-by who were coming and going from the hospital or just sitting outside getting some fresh air; at the time I didn’t notice or care as I was really starting to fall into my own zone and focusing inwards, not to mention feeling a little delirious and sleep deprived from staying awake for the last 26hrs.
The next minute, an angel of a nurse who was heading home after finishing a night shift approached us with a smile and a wheelchair. She encouraged me to hop in (which of course I did gratefully) and carried our bags while Garrett pushed the chair through the front doors (over the seemingly most bumpy floor in existence), and into the elevator which stopped at every single floor from Ground to Level 5!
Note to anyone getting on an elevator with a mum-to-be in labour, take the stairs if you're only going up 1 floor. ;)
I couldn’t really sit in the wheelchair however, mostly I was arching my back off to one side and gripping the armrests for dear life. It may have looked a bit like my currently 10-week baby when he’s squirming around… must be where he gets it!
We finally checked in at the Birth Centre and headed down to the room where my wonderful midwife Karen from My Midwives was waiting and had already started filling up the birthing pool. I’m pretty sure my first words between vocalizing were “Karen, I don’t feel like a birthing goddess!” to which she replied “Oh, but you are!”.
I was actually pretty sick of the TENS machine by this point - I’d had it turned up so high that it was really irritating and almost as painful as the contractions so it was a big relief to get it off and hop in the pool. The warm water was absolute bliss and finally allowed me to relax and rest.
The next few hours of labouring are a bit of a blur for me, I was dozing between contractions in the pool, totally submerged except for my head and keeping my eyes closed most of the time. My darling husband was helping me sip water with a cup and straw and hand-feeding me grapes, so perhaps I was a bit of a goddess if only for a few moments.
The Birth Centre room was a large homey space with a double bed, couch, big bathtub and separate bathroom, and with plenty of space on the floor for mats to rest and labour on. We had the lights dimmed and while I was in my zone, hubby had also hung up my birthing affirmations and mandalas on the wall, arranged LED tea light candles around the edges of the pool and put my birth playlist on - with a mix of hypnobirthing meditations and fun jazzy-funk mixes (specifically from the soundtracks of Samurai Champloo and Cowboy Bebop - we had listened to them a lot during the pregnancy and while travelling overseas which were associated with some really good memories :D). Feeling safe with a few pieces of home really helped get me through the hard stages of the labour.
Some of my birthing affirmations
The vocalizing continued but I did also find myself unintentionally bearing down during contractions which helped to relieve the intensity of the back pain, and gripping and pulling with my arms on the bars of the bathtub. Apparently, I had some entertaining comments as I drifted in and out of my labour zone, including “I can’t believe people do this more than once!” Every now and then, I was aware of the midwives checking on babe’s position and heart rate and my vitals too, and of course, very subtly scooping out any poop that came out during contractions (yes this happens, totally normal and nothing to worry about). Time was quite a blur for me, but at some stage Karen did an internal vaginal exam to check the dilation of my cervix which at that point was 8cm.
The midwives were also using a mirror in the water and a torch to see what was going on. We didn’t see much progress, however, so after a little while Karen did another check and found that there was an anterior lip of the cervix - meaning a bit of it was stuck at the front, not allowing full dilation for babe to come down. This had to be manually pushed back by Karen during a contraction and holy smokes it was probably the most intense pain so far!
After another hour or so, we weren’t seeing a whole lot more progress so I got out of the pool very carefully as my legs were feeling a little shaky. I think I ended up trying ALL of the possible positions to birth a baby by the end but as it turned out, being able to move and change the angle of my pelvis when pushing was quite necessary for babe to make his way down.
I started out sitting on the birth stool, leaning forward onto Garrett, trying to breathe through my contractions but experiencing some involuntary bearing down. We then migrated to the mat on the floor and I leaned over the bean bag on all fours, then to sitting and reclining against my hubby again and gripping onto his shirt. Still, we weren’t getting any effective pushing or sign of baby’s head so Karen checked my cervix again and discovered that the anterior lip had slipped and was still restricting baby’s movement. She was able to push it back again and thank GOODness this time it stayed back! Now we were really ready to start pushing!
It's hard to imagine what pushing will be like before it happens, but for me, there was definitely no ‘breathing my baby out’! I wasn’t able to generate enough of a push while exhaling and so had to hold my breath instead of vocalizing and really direct the push downwards - kind of like doing a big poo! - but I could definitely feel when the push became effective beyond just bearing down.
The midwives held a mirror up for me so that I could see what was going on, and gradually (so gradually), we started to get a glimpse of baby’s head! I found it really helpful to be able to see what was going on, but it was occasionally disheartening as I’d see a bit of his head and then a little more, but then he would slip right back which lead to me crying out “don’t go baby, don’t go!”. At this point it looked like he was totally bald as we couldn’t see any hair, however as we found out later, its because his head was tilted backwards and at an angle and he was trying to come out forehead first (instead of the top and back of his head, much easier) which was why our progress was so very slow!
I changed position several more times over the next hour while pushing - back onto the birthing stool, hands and knees, standing and leaning over the edge of the pool and squatting but progress was still very, very slow. The midwives were constantly checking in with baby's heart rate for any signs of distress, but thankfully his heart rate remained strong and steady throughout the whole labour.
After an hour of pushing, the midwives had to contact the obstetrician and inform them of our progress. Often after pushing for this long, women are transferred to the Birth Suites under the care of an obstetrician and with continuous monitoring. I am all too familiar with the risks to pelvic floor health associated with prolonged pushing during labour, however, since babe’s heart rate was still going strong I made the decision to stay in the Birth Centre and keep going as long as I felt able.
At one stage, feeling exhausted and disheartened at the slow progress, I began doubting myself and my body's ability. I asked Karen “Do you actually think I can do this?” to which she responded "yes, but it's going to be really hard work" she believed I could but it was going to be hard work to get this bubba out. This show of belief was exactly what I needed and restored my confidence to keep going, along with my husband’s unwavering calm and encouragement with a running dialogue of “You can do this” and “You’re almost there!” (he was lying though - he ended up saying that for at least 5 hours before baby came!)
Once the baby’s head was close enough on my perineum, Karen was able to actually tilt his head forward (chin down to chest) and finally we were able to see some more movement! I pushed for while longer in standing and then squatting and eventually returned back to the blissfully warm water in the pool.
Again, things were a bit hazy, I have no idea how frequent my contractions were but kept giving it my all with the pushes, and was alternating between hands and knees and squatting in the bath. I was so tired and felt like I was ready to sleep for days that I honestly couldn’t wait for babe to arrive - if only just so I could finally rest!
I was still checking on babe’s progress in the mirror and seeing more and more of his head which kept me motivated. He was still tending to slip back a little between contractions but I was too stubborn and ended up continuing to bear down between contractions to hold him there!
Touching babe's head - such a surreal experience!
I found myself talking to baby, encouraging him to keep coming on down, and telling him that I couldn't wait to hold him and feed him. I felt that he was so close and I was SO ready to give a few more really strong pushes but just when I really wanted them, it felt like my contractions were slowing down. This was one of the clearest moments of my labour, I felt surprisingly so alert and awake and was just waiting and waiting for the next contraction. I was in a deep squat in the pool, holding on tightly with one hand on Garrett’s shoulder and the other on the rail of the tub and just WILLING the next contraction to come. I used some clary sage and did some clitoral stimulation to help bring on the next few contractions, and after another massive effortful push, his head came out!
My first words were “Karen, what do I do?! Are you going to catch him??” and of course, calm as ever, she smiled and said, “No, you are.” So I took several deep breaths and just repositioned myself a little, and with the next contraction and big push, out he came - into my hands and then swiftly brought up out of the water and onto my chest!
My bikini top came off so we could have skin-to-skin cuddles and stayed in the water a while longer (with me promptly crossing my legs with a whimpered "ouch"). One of the midwives suggested Garrett join us for a photo and the darling man was ready to hop right in the bath with babe and I until I suggested he just come stand behind us, much to his relief. Let's be honest, who wants to get in the water with all the extra various fluids that were in there by then, but he was totally willing to do whatever I needed him to ;) what a dreamboat!
Babe had a big ol' cry and we noticed immediately when he came out of the water that he had a large lump on his head - likely from having such a long pushing phase with a good deal of pressure on my perineum for so long! Garrett asked if his head was going to stay like that, and the Midwives assured us it wouldn't.
We stayed in the water until the umbilical cord stopped pulsing (it stopped pretty quickly, seemed like just a few minutes) and then slowly and carefully got out of the bath and got wrapped in some warm towels with babe in my exhausted arms (still with the cord attached) and walked with jelly-like legs over toward the bed 2 metres away. Hubby was helping me on one side with the midwife on the other, then half-way there I felt a heaviness on my perineum and so I told them "I think I can feel something..." and before anyone could take a breath - SPLAT! - my placenta fell out and hit the floor with a bloody splash all over everyone's legs! I could only laugh, poor Garrett was a bit shocked and trying his best not to throw up or drop me, and Renee our other beautiful midwife just said: "Ah well, this is why we wear black pants!"
Bless her! Sorry about your pants Renee.
Finally, we made it to the bed and I gingerly sank into it with such relief, holding babe on my chest and stayed just like that for the next few hours with hubby next to me (I think he actually fell asleep first), before he was eventually weighed and checked by the midwife and paediatrician. I had a long but superficial (first degree) perineal tear which was carefully sutured by my midwife and to be honest, I was more nervous about the anaesthetic needles and the stitches than any part of the labour or birth!
Garrett also got to cut what was left of the umbilical cord (the cord actually tore halfway when the placenta fell out). Our first breastfeed was gently guided by Karen, and I chose to do it while lying on my side because I didn't feel strong enough to lift or hold him.
In the end, Baby Nash Callum Hay was born at 2pm on Valentine's Day 2018, 3.126kg and 51cm long, safe and healthy.
"Hello world, I'm here!"
I've never felt so physically spent or weak before in my life; I showered a little while after breastfeeding bub and I could barely get my hands high enough to wash my hair (and then wished I didn't wash my hair because once it was wet, my head was too heavy for my neck muscles to hold up!). I couldn't believe how many muscles felt so tired! I think I used every muscle in my body, from my neck and shoulders to my calves and feet.
We left the Birth Centre and hospital that evening, 7 hours after he was born... and then the really hard work began! But that's another story entirely and this one is long enough as it is ;)
For Mamas near Brisbane who want to learn more about preparing for labour, birth and postpartum recovery, get in touch with our fabulous team at Body & Birth Physiotherapy.