Hazel was eight weeks old yesterday – where did the time go?! I can’t believe how quickly those eight weeks have passed, but at the same time life without her seems like a distant memory. Certainly, labour and our stay in hospital have started to fade into the background; forgotten in the daily chaos of new motherhood. So I thought I should record that story, before it becomes too hazy.
On Friday 11th November at noon, I was pottering around at home and went for a wee (so far, so pregnant). I thought it felt a bit different… ‘more’ is the word I’d use. I carried on with my pottering, faffing about in the kitchen until there definitely was ‘more’ – all over the floor. My waters had broken and there was no denying it!
Luckily, Rob was at home so we faffed about some more, watched in horror as the cat slowly licked my amniotic fluid off the floor, and eventually headed to hospital.
When we arrived at St James’s, we went up to the maternity day ward where the lovely midwife confirmed it was indeed my waters (and not just a massive wee… apparently those two things are often confused!). As contractions hadn’t started, I had 24 hours to go into labour naturally and if it hadn’t happened before then I’d be induced, as there’s a risk of infection if you’re left longer. So the induction was booked for midday on Saturday, and Rob and I went on our way.
We didn’t go home, though – that would’ve been too easy! We went to Mothercare to try get a TENS machine (out of stock), then to McDonald’s for a final Double Cheeseburger (delicious), then drove 20 mins to my friend Emma’s house to borrow her TENS machine (I sat on a plastic bag in the car). Of course, we got stuck in traffic on the way home and my contractions started with earnest. Luckily we made it back to Leeds!
At 6pm contractions were pretty manageable, so we ordered an Indian takeaway and I did a lot of bouncing on my birthing ball. Things stayed like that till 9pm when the whole thing ramped up – contractions were coming every few minutes and felt pretty strong. I relied on the TENS machine to manage the pain and after a phone conversation with the midwife at St James’s, we set off for the hospital.
It was the perfect trip – quiet roads, no traffic, a parking spot right outside the hospital and an easy walk to the ward. I was set up in a bay on the Maternity Assessment ward and waited to be examined… only to be told my cervix was still closed. When you’re experiencing labour for the first time you have no idea what to expect, so I really thought we were on and was absolutely gutted to be told I had to go back home. But, we packed up and headed out to continue labouring at home… and that’s when I overheard the midwife on the phone – “St James’s is now closed to labour. We have no beds.” Uh oh…
It was only 10pm, though. And I was a long way off labour, so by the time I was ready there’d definitely be a bed for me. Everything was fine, I told myself. We arrived back home and I spent the rest of the evening on all fours, huffing and grunting my way through contractions that were getting stronger and stronger.
At 3am my contractions were very powerful and about 3 mins apart, so we called the hospital again. The midwife agreed it was time to go in and then broke the news – they were still closed to labour, so I’d need to go to Leeds General Infirmary in the city. I was distraught and filled with anxiety – we hadn’t visited LGI, we didn’t know where to park or where the ward was or what the delivery suite looked like. Being turned away from hospital wasn’t in my birth plan! The midwife gave it to me straight – go to LGI or give birth at home alone. Tough love, but it stopped me spiralling and helped me focus. So we jumped in the car and drove into town (luckily only 15 mins away).
Honestly, getting to the maternity ward of LGI was the worst part of my labour. If you’ve ever visited you’ll know what I mean – it’s an absolute warren, nothing is signposted and the wings are miles away from each other. At one point, Rob ran in to the A&E reception and asked a couple of teenagers where to go! We eventually found the right wing but couldn’t find anywhere to park, so ended up dumping the car in a staff car park. Then followed an agonising 10 minute walk to the maternity ward, with me doubled over all the way and feeling very anxious.
But as soon as we arrived, everything was ok – I was whisked into a bay and reassured by a lovely team of midwives. Because my waters had broken and there was a risk of infection, I was examined with a speculum rather than a hand. The midwife told me they’d leave me to labour for about an hour then I could go in the water, so I hunkered down with my TENS machine and Rob for support. 10 minutes later the midwife was back – presumably my groaning and screaming alerted her – and said she’d ‘just check’ my progress with her hand, as the speculum isn’t always accurate. Sure enough, I was 8cm dilated and ready for the delivery suite!
There was no more mention of water after that – Hazel had a trace attached to monitor her heart rate and I was hooked up to a cannula, a blood pressure cuff and a catheter. I had wires all over me which made moving around difficult, so I ended up labouring in the position literally everyone tells you not to – on my back, on a bed.
I did try a stint draped over the raised head of the bed, but I was pushing too hard for the stage I was at and the midwife warned I’d get exhausted, so back to lying down it was! I was sucking on gas and air which really helped and I’d ditched the TENS machine by now. Everything felt manageable and under control until the bit they call ‘transition’ – they tell you about this in antenatal classes, as it’s the most common time for women to ask for epidurals. And that shit is real. I felt like I couldn’t go on, like it would never end. It was physically painful of course, but for me it was a mental struggle – I was exhausted, every push felt like her head was popping right out then going straight back in. Rob tells me this wasn’t the case but I just felt like I couldn’t do it, like she’d never make it out. I’d had no pain relief other than gas and air and by this point I wasn’t even using that – not out of some martyr goal to have a drug free birth, but because I was so out of it!
After almost three hours of active pushing, the midwife told me they were preparing for an episiotomy and started prepping scissors. That spurred me into action as I really didn’t want to be cut, so I found that extra energy and with a few more pushes, Hazel was born at 9.39am on Saturday 12th November. So not really that long a labour at all! I had a small perineum tear that was stitched up quickly, although the anaesthetic didn’t work properly so I felt it far more than I was supposed to. Fun.
Hazel was placed on my chest and we did some skin to skin for a while, then attempted a feed before Rob had a cuddle. I started feeling very woozy as I’d lost a bit more blood than usual, so was brought double portions of tea and toast and left to recover while Rob held Hazel. I had the injection to help me pass the placenta and after a while, a wonderful nurse took me to the loo and helped me wash my face and brush my teeth.
We had a few hours in the delivery room until there was a bed free on the maternity ward, so we welcomed our families in for short visits – there were lots of happy tears! Eventually all three of us were taken downstairs to our bay on the maternity ward, and there we stayed for five whole days.
Even though my labour was far from what I wanted – I’d planned for a water birth at a different hospital, after all! – I do feel quite positive about it. The only really traumatic part for me was the change in hospital and the anxious journey to an unfamiliar place, but once I was safely inside I felt in control and even when I lost it slightly during transition, it only lasted 20 mins and I didn’t ever feel like I needed further intervention. One thing that really helped me process the massive difference between what I had planned for my labour and how it actually turned out is the understanding that I’d do anything to get through it – if I’d felt I needed it, I’d have had an epidural or a caesarean in a heartbeat. So really it didn’t matter that my labour wasn’t to plan because I came through it relatively unscathed, with a healthy baby. I do know I’m really lucky to have had such a smooth experience, and I’m grateful to all the amazing staff – and Rob, of course – at LGI for coaching me through it with knowledge and care. All my midwives were young women and they were so supportive and nurturing.
I wanted this post to focus solely on my labour experience and not the aftermath, so I’ll save that for another time. When I was pregnant I found reading birth stories – both good and bad – really useful to help me prepare for labour, so I hope this is reassuring for you if you’re expecting. If you have any questions please shout up in the comments!
Hazel Rey Allison, born 9.39am on Saturday 12th November 2016 weighing 6lb 9oz.