I remember when I was pregnant I read a lot of blog entries documenting labour stories, and always wondered why it had taken them a month or so to post. Well, now I realise why it takes at least a month to do anything at all with a newborn baby, and it's taken me nearly 7 months to sit down and start to write mine. Hopefully it's a case of better late than never - the story, not the childbirth. I would definitely have preferred that to happen on time or even early.
As it was, Saturday 21 July came and went without so much as a glimmer of a contraction (bit of a surprise, as mum insisted I was born on my due date). Sunday was the same, but in the early hours of Monday morning I woke up with what felt like period pains. It took me a while to realise I hadn't had a period in nine months and the full implications of what my body was doing. I managed to doze between contractions until around 6am, when I told Ben that it had started. Excitement all round. Ben called work to let them know, we strapped on the TENS machine and tried to get on with daily life until the contractions were closer together and we were closer to meeting our baby.
I'd bought the final Harry Potter book which came out on my due date, and had been sitting uncomfortably with my nose in the book ever since. It's a pretty exciting read, and I think my brain decided it wanted to know how the story resolved before this baby emerged. And so contractions kind of stopped.
The action resumed later that night, when I was trying to get some sleep as I was so tired from the night before. Baby was clearly trying to let me know what I was in for over the next few weeks, but I was knackered. After very little sleep, it was Tuesday and once again the contractions stopped. Ben went to work. My parents and my brother came round, trying to keep me cheerful. We sat in the garden and drank tea. My dad asked the question: "Are contractions painful?". The rest of the family answered: "YES".
Then mum took me for a walk around Ashton Court. I was adamant that baby would make an arrival sooner rather than later and was furiously power-waddling round the rose garden. We discussed names. We sat on a bench with a memorial plaque to a Margo, and, convinced as I was that I was carrying a girl, I decided that would be a fitting name.
By the evening, once again, contractions resumed again, and I had a show. (A show is the coming away of the mucus plug that seals off the uterus from contact with the outside world, if you get my meaning. Nice.) I was also finding it really hard to pee, probably because the enormous baby head was squashing my bladder down like a bagpipe.
Wednesday morning I awoke with a determination to have a baby today, thank you very much. I bounced up an down on the birthing ball, listening to reggae, eating a croissant, wired up to both my TENS machine and contractionmaster.com (what a marvellous invention). This is where the squeamish may wish to stop. My waters broke and I shouted to Ben to come in from the other room. But something wasn't right - I could feel something coming out of me and had no idea what was going on. Was it the placenta? Was it the umbilical cord? Was it the baby? No. It looked like a ball made from the skin of a haggis but full of water. Ben called the delivery suite at the hospital and they asked if he could see the umbilical cord in the water. He couldn't. They said for us to come in straight away.
The journey to the hospital was terrifying. I knew that seeing the umbilical cord would have meant baby was a gonner so I was hoping and praying for the best. I don't remember much about the journey, other than Ben running red lights beeping the horn and me sitting on one buttock trying not to burst the ball.
At the hospital we made it to the delivery suite, into a room and up onto a bed. I was so scared that this weird thing was happening and that it meant the worst. The midwife found the baby's heartbeat and I nearly cried with relief. Alex, the midwife, explained that part of the amniotic sac had dropped down and hadn't burst, which is what usually happens (it's called being born in the caul, and apparently means the baby can never drown. Sailors used to buy parts of the amniotic sac as good luck talismans. Not sure what eBay category that would come under). She popped the sac with what looked like a crochet hook and huge amounts of warm water flooded out onto the bed. Then she left us alone, saying she would return in an hour or so.
The contractions got stronger and the TENS machine got a bit of a battering. The hour passed quickly, my parents brought pillows and towels, Ben cracked open the snack bag. Alex came back and asked how I was doing. I replied that I was ok, and NO, I didn't want any pain relief. She said that I probably wasn't very far along and that they might send me home. This wasn't what I wanted to hear and so I said that I didn't want to. She agreed to come back and check how dilated I was in an hour...
An hour later and Alex exclaimed with some surprise that I was 9cm dilated. She said that for the next hour I had to try not to push. Easier said than done. I was crossing my legs so much that they began to ache, and lovely Ben massaged my legs with lavender and rose oil, which made the room smell beautiful. That hour went a lot slower than the others, but pass it did and when the midwife came back she said I could begin to push.
I'd read a lot about the transition stage - the point of labour at which the contractions stop being about opening the uterus and start to push the baby out - and it can often be the stage when women shout and swear. That didn't happen to me. Instead I completely went the other way, very quiet and introspective, concentrating hard and (it felt like) I was alone with my baby. The pushing stage took 2 and a half hours, and was pretty intense. It was almost as though my body was slowly creaking open to allow this person to emerge into the world, and I felt very strongly that I'd done it before which was a very strange experience. I used the gas-and-air, which was great, as well as lots of yelling during the contractions and slow, quiet, contemplation when they went quiet.
Eventually, at 3.57pm, I gave birth to our son. It was incredible. Ben tells me that his head was born in one contraction and he quietly and patiently waited for another to come before his body emerged. He didn't cry and looked rather bloody and purple, but his Agpar scores were 9 and 10 - very good apparently - and the midwife rubbed him down with a towel and handed him to me. I think Ben saw that he was a boy before I did. He is perfect.