The Perfect Birth?

When I tell people I’m a midwife these are normally the responses I get (guaranteed every time) in no particular order.

  • As in delivering babies?
  • Wow what an amazing job
  • Midwifery, that is one of my favourite words
  • Do all women poo?
  • I had a great midwife
  • I had an awful midwife
  • I had a great birth
  • I had an awful birth
  • Do you want to hear my birth story?
  • Can you check my babies latch?
  • Can you check my episiotomy?
  • I’m pregnant can I eat mayonnaise/dye my hair/paint my living room/ride a bike/have sex?

Ok so the last few are slight exaggerations but the birth story one is a classic. Let me tell you about Monday.

Monday was wet, it rained all day so I went to the only place (other than soft play) guaranteed to be indoors and suitable for a 22 month old, Sainsburys. We wandered around; bought a load of stuff we didn’t really need but ended up in Starbucks. She ate a cheese and Marmite toastie whilst I drank a large Cappuccino. Heavs.

Then a noticed a Mum with a new born sitting close by who was smiling at my daughter. We struck up the usual conversation of ‘isn’t the weather awful, the jet streams are moving North according to the news.’ I congratulated her for getting out of the house with a baby and what a great job she is doing and it does get easier. She then started talking about her birth and before I knew it, my daughter and I were both being taken back 6 weeks to the night when she went into labour.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love a birth story and I think it’s a great way for women to de-brief after quite a big event in their lives. But one thing struck me about this birth story, a theme I notice when listening to a lot of birth stories. The guilt.

She had an epidural; ‘I really didn’t want one but I had been in labour for so long I was exhausted. My NCT teacher said it would lead to more interventions’.

She had a Ventouse delivery; ‘I pushed really hard but I could hardly feel where I was supposed to push’.

She had an episiotomy; ‘The doctor said it was necessary to make room for the baby’s head’.

She found breastfeeding difficult, developed Mastitis and is now mixed feeding ‘I’m only using formula for 2 feeds in the day mainly so my husband can feed the baby’.

And as I sat there listening intently whilst my daughter drank my cold coffee, I couldn’t help but wonder; isn’t the main thing that your baby is gorgeous and thriving and you’ve managed to make it to a coffee shop AND eat chocolate cake?

What is this culture about having a perfect birth? Aren’t women under enough pressure as it is with all the things we should/shouldn’t be doing? And that’s all before the baby is even born.

One of my best friends had a really difficult first birth that resulted in an emergency C-section. When she was pregnant with her second baby she said that she couldn’t go through with that again and chose to have an elective section. She would admit that it was a perfect for her. She bonded with her baby, breast fed with ease and healed much quicker physically and emotionally than she did with her first.

There is no bravery award at the end of it all but your baby is the best award you could ever have. So relish that, don’t beat yourself up because giving birth in reality a whole lot easier than being a Mum. Don’t you agree?

Snap Happy

I’ve recently had an amazing 2nd year student working with me on labour ward for a few weeks.  She reminds me so much of how I was at that stage in my training; excited, eager to learn , pro normality, interested in natural birth I have to say I’m going to really really miss her.  She was so great with the women and their partners and she taught me a lot too about my practice.  And she was a brilliant photographer.

I’m sure she would admit it was just luck or the type of camera but at many of the births we attended together she captured some amazing photos of the moment a new person was being born.  I have to say this pleased me immensely as I LOVE birth photos.  I’m always that midwife grabbing the camera and clicking away as the new parents wipe away their tears and look shocked adoringly at their new baby.

So today when I saw this article on the Daily Mail’s website it got me thinking.   Would you pay for a photographer to attend your birth?  You pay for a photographer to take pictures on you wedding day, so why not your birth?

I didn’t have a photographer at my birth well ok I had my husband who isn’t a professional photographer but he does take a mean photo (bit of Instagram and some nice 1970’s filter works wonders).

See, you can’t even see how tired I was

After my first daughter was born I was a little bit disappointed at the lack of photos we had of the labour/birth.  I think looking back we were just so overwhelmed with it all, (I say we, I mean me) that I kind of wish someone had taken more.  The birth becomes a bit of a blur but it would have been nice to look back at them and remember the hazy parts.

So when I was pregnant with my second daughter I made sure of one thing, Photos!  I wanted my husband to take loads of photos throughout the labour and birth.  I didn’t want to be aware of him taking them either.  But you know what, afterwards when we were back at home it was so special looking through them; it filled in the hazy gaps when the gas and air had kicked in.  I’ve managed to collect a few photos I took at the birth of these babies, and their parents have kindly given me permission to use them in this blog.  Feel free to add your own birth photos, they don’t have to be taken by a professional photographer, an amateur husband with a shaky hand will do.

Baby Harris

Baby Marni

Baby Art

Baby Jake

Baby Edith

Baby William

Baby Edith

Baby Eva

Baby Thisbe

The Unscratchable itch (part 2)

Pre induction CTG

We arrived on labour ward at around 9:30 to find a very busy labour ward; it was one of those shifts, the board was full and red.  No room at the inn for me!  I had pre-arranged for Lesley (a fellow midwife) to perform my sweep and give me the Propess (well if you’re going to have a sweep you might as well have one of Lesley’s sweeps!) so I called her and said we were waiting for a bed.

Luckily a bed was found for me in the induction bay and Lesley arrived grinning at me with an entonox mouth piece ‘You’ll need some of this’.  I don’t know who was more horrified me or my husband.  And she was right I did need some entonox!  After a lot of giggles the Propess was firmly inserted and the pain kicked in pretty much straight away.  So much so I didn’t even make it passed the doors to the reception area (we had planned to go for a walk and get some lunch).  My husband put my TENS machine on and I spent the next few hours bouncing on a birthing ball, texting family to keep them up to date and a lot of ‘I can’t do this’.  The thing with Propess is the pain never goes away, there is a horrible constant aching pain in your groin that no amount of walking, squatting, hot compresses can help.  I was getting pretty desperate, and it was only the beginning.

By 2pm it had all got too much and I begged the midwife in charge to find me a free room, it’s really hard being in early labour in the induction bay, no space to move around or privacy.  Room 10 was free and I did the walk I’d seen so many other women doing in labour from the induction bay, TENS machine in one hand and my pillow in the other (I’m pretty sure I was bare foot I didn’t care about anything at that point).  I really wanted to use the birthing pool but as I was being induced for OC I knew that once I was in established labour, I should have continuous monitoring.  I started the entonox again, but I wasn’t laughing anymore and my husband called my original home birth midwife Kate, to see if she could come in and look after me.  Thankfully she was free and arrived to find me in tears, taking off my make-up and begging for an epidural.  After a lot of reassurance she decided to examine me so I knew how I was progressing.  But unfortunately I was only 2cm dilated.

Propess is kicking in

Gas and Air is my best friend

So I continued to mobilise for a few more hours desperate for some form of change and progress.  At 6pm I was re examined and was found to be 5cm dilated and my Propess was finally taken out and my waters were broken (an ARM), which were clear!  Within 2 minutes the contractions felt completely different, like really strong but manageable waves.  We agreed that if I have a 20 minute trace on the CTG and it was reassuring I could use the pool.  Horary!  At last the one thing I had been focussing on was ready and I got into the warm water feeling completely relaxed.  It felt amaaazing.  Like the best bath you have ever go into post Glastonbury festival (but less mud) or after the longest day at work.

After an hour of really strong contractions and A LOT of gas and air I began to really lose control and begged for an epidural again!  In hind sight I was probably in transition but my midwife left the room to talk to Zoe (a good friend and fellow midwife) who was on shift to see if she could put me off and encourage me to keep going a bit longer.  But for some reason (and only my body knows why) at that moment when my midwife left the room, I suddenly had a huge contraction and felt the baby’s head beginning to crown and screamed at my poor husband ‘it’s coming!’ so he did what he thought was best, he pulled the emergency bell.  My calm, quiet birth suddenly turned into a bit of a drama and lots of people came running in only to see my beautiful baby girl being born in the pool at 20:35.  I decided to have a physiological 3rd stage, and delivered the placenta myself in the poll, 15 minutes later.  Total blood loss 150 mls, and a tiny graze.

Hello new person

  And we were all home 3 hours later having tea and peanut butter on toast in bed.

The sisters meet at last

The Unscratchable itch (part 1)

I’m always sharing other peoples birth stories and a few of my followers have asked about mine.  I have briefly mentioned my induction on here before, but now for the full story.   So here goes……

36 weeks & the itching starts

38+5 day before induction

In February of 2010 those two little pink lines appeared on the pregnancy test and hooray, I was indeed pregnant.  I had done this once already before, had a straight forward pregnancy and birth so I decided that I wanted to have a home birth this time.  But at 8 weeks pregnant as I was in the throes of all day nausea whilst at work, I started to have some bleeding.  Luckily I was in the right place and a lovely consultant quickly scanned me in EPU and there on the screen was a tiny bean shape with a heartbeat.  The benefits of being a member of staff!  I felt so relived and continued to battle through the days at work wanting to vomit every time a woman did; I got pretty nifty at nipping into the toilet just at the right time!

The rest of the pregnancy went smoothly and as my bump started to show I was interested to see how the women and their partners reacted when a pregnant midwife was caring for them.  I was offered the birthing ball by one man who insisted his wife and I should both be bouncing on them throughout her labour.  Bed pushing and equipment moving became a no no and as the pregnancy progressed night shifts became a struggle.  I enjoyed women asking me questions like ‘What is it like being pregnant and a midwife?’  And more bizarrely ‘Are you going to deliver your own baby?’ errr I hope not!

I was just beginning to count down the last few shifts at work before I was due to go on maternity leave when the next lot of my problems began.  I was working a long day and my hands were really itchy, so itchy in fact I was rubbing them on the corner of the desk to get some relief!  But being a typical pregnant woman my brain had sort of become a bit mushy ‘placenta brain’ a term I often hear and I put it down to the heat; it was the end of August after all.  Luckily I was surrounded by more sensible people and a colleague mentioned that maybe it was a good idea to do some bloods just in case I had Obstetric Cholestasis.  I reluctantly agreed but thought there is no chance I’ve got OC it’s just the heat.

Sadly the blood results came back with the diagnosis that yes in fact I had OC, off I trundled to the Consultants office clutching my results (still itching my hands and now feet) with the reality that my beloved home birth would probably not be happening.  It was at this point that I realised that being a midwife bore no resemblance to the kind of pregnancy and birth I was hoping for.  Any control I felt I had, had gone and I had now become ‘high risk’ with twice weekly visits to MAU and lots of extra scans.  This was quite difficult for to me grasp despite my daughter enjoying all the attention she received at my hospital appointments.  All my knowledge and thinking like a midwife went out of the window and suddenly all I wanted was to be treated like any other pregnant woman.  Finally at 38 weeks pregnant and with an increasing bile acid result my induction of labour was booked for 38+6/40.  To be honest at that point the itching was so unbearable I was glad that I had a date for this all to be over.  Night time buckets of my feet submerged in ice cold water and my poor husband having to rub Aloe Vera gel over my hands was beginning to take its toll on us all.

So my induction was booked in the labour ward diary, it was strange seeing my name there but the decision was made and I spent the next few days organising childcare for my daughter, washing white baby grows and deflating my pool (sob sob).  Finally September the 27th arrived and off my husband and I went on the 468 bus to the hospital, my notes under one arm and my pillow under the other (I wasn’t going to take any chances!)

The Marathon of Labour

As another day of endless rain descends on the UK during the height of Summer and I look desperately at my toddler hoping she won’t grow up and hate me for taking her to Sainsbury’s for the third time this week (look its indoors, it sells a great selection of flowers AND there’s a Starbucks), I have a small glimmer of hope that in 5 weeks we will be on holiday!!!! The blue skies and hot Mediterranean sun makes me happier than nothing else in this world (apologies if that’s sounds shallow) but my husband will agree. I’m a completely different person on holiday yes Vitamin D and me are the best of friends. But there is the small issue of bikinis, and with bikinis comes the 2babies/haven’t done exercise since last summer/always says yes to cake, tummy.

So I’ve started running.  Only once around my local park (it has a huge hill) and I hate it.  I really really hate it.  I know I could have joined the gym but I would have only sat in the sauna for 2 hours and to be honest I really dislike exercising in front of skinny people especially in confined spaces.  So the park seemed like the best option but when I reach that point (usually 10 minutes in) when I feel like I’m going to die, the stitch in my side is unbearable and that disgusting taste has developed in my mouth I think about labour.  Not just when I was in labour but when I’m with a woman helping her through the toughest points.  Let me tell you a little story of Zoe.

Zoe and Ben were having their first baby; she came into hospital at 39+5 weeks during one of my night shifts and was found to be 6cm dilated, membranes intact contracting strongly.  I suggested she should try the birthing pool and an available room was found.  As the pool was filling she started using gas and air and was finding the contractions really painful and difficult to cope with.  The pool was ready and she got in and immediately relaxed.  Her waters broke half an hour late and she started making involuntary pushing sounds with each contraction.  My student and I stood back and waited quietly as we observed this amazing stage of labour.  After about an hour of pushing, Zoe started getting really tired and fed up.  She couldn’t understand why her baby hadn’t been born yet and wanted to get out of the pool and have an epidural.  I reassured her that her baby would be here soon and she was doing such a fantastic job.  I suggested putting her finger inside her vagina to see if she could feel her baby’s head (I hadn’t examined her at this point) and she said she could and it didn’t feel that far away!  This gave her some encouragement that she really was close to meeting her baby.  But exhaustion had kicked in and the contractions had started to wear off.  I asked Ben what snacks they had in the bags and he produced some Flap Jacks and a bottle of Lucozade.  We fed this to Zoe and with a bit of nipple stimulation the contractions came back with a vengeance.  But Zoe still found it difficult to get through those last few pushes.  I asked Zoe if she had ever run a marathon which she said she had done a 10K a long time ago so I used this analogy to help her focus and visualise.

Labour is like running a marathon; it’s really hard, really physically painful and you will push your body in ways you never thought possible.  But you will do it, you can do it and there’s a finishing line, meeting your baby.  Zoe gave her absolute everything in those last few pushes and birthed a beautiful 8lb 5onz baby boy.

And that birth story isn’t the exception.  So many times I have heard (and also myself) women say ‘I can’t do it’ during labour.  Birth is probably the hardest thing your body has to go through but self-belief, a bit of preparation and support from your birth partner means you most definitely can do it.