I am not ashamed to admit that I was pretty nervous about labour. For some considerable time, Phoebe had been measuring above the 90th centile for size and weight and I was beginning to panic. Not to mention that I was gigantic! (My weight gain and loss will be another blog post entirely!!) I knew that my baby was going to be big ... I felt her weight in those last few weeks as I struggled to move and find any sort of comfortable position. So naturally I was beginning to panic about how I would be pushing this big, bruiser of a baby out of, well - me!
My due date was December 14th, 2014. With Phoebe being 'above average,' my consultant had scheduled me in for a last growth scan on December 16th if she hadn't already arrived. Everyone suspected I would go early, on account of me being enormous. Sadly, this was not the case! I was informed that at this scheduled scan, if baby measured more than 9lbs, 9oz, I would automatically be booked in to have a C-section. I never questioned this decision, as I was as convinced as everyone else that my baby would arrive well before this date. So I guess it was never something I truly believed would happen and I put it out of my mind.
Let's be clear from the outset; having a C-section was not something that bothered me. I would have been happy to get baby out in whatever way meant that she was most safe and healthy. I was not one of those mamas that wanted an 'all natural' and 'drug free' birthing experience. I was pretty open to whatever pain relief I thought I would need in the moment! What I was keen on however, was being able to use water as a form of pain relief. Preferably a water birth, if a birthing room was available. I wasn't putting all my eggs in one basket, but I was secretly hoping and praying for the use of water. No matter how many episodes of 'One born every minute' I watched, I simply couldn't picture myself lying up, legs and arms flying!! Oh, how wrong I was!
Just a month or so before I got pregnant with Phoebe, I was told by my doctor that I tested positive for carriage of a bacteria called Group B Strep. I had provided a swab to be tested for thrush and received a phone call into work from my doctor, telling me that she had detected Group B Strep (GBS) but that it was very common and nothing to worry about. However, as she knew I was trying to conceive, she made sure to inform me that although GBS causes no problems or visible symptoms in day to day life, it is extremely dangerous to babies during and after labour - an undiagnosed mum can result in her babies death. Yet, I was told not to stress as a dose of antibiotics during labour would ensure that baby would be fine. A big yellow sticker was stuck on the top of my maternity notes and I checked if a water birth would still be a possibility. Thankfully it was, as long as I got to the hospital in time to have antibiotics administered before my waters broke and labour really kicked in. Although having GBS played on the back of my mind, I felt fairly happy that both me and my baby would be looked after during labour.
It was only when we entered those final few weeks, that I began to ask the consultants more questions about labour and GBS. I was horrified after one discussion with a female consultant who dismissed GBS like it wasn't anything serious and actually said, 'Are you sure you even have it now? It can come and go, so you probably don't.' To which I replied, 'Maybe I should get a test done to just double check, as you wouldn't like to take the risk?' Her response shocked me, 'We don't test for Group B Strep here.' What?! They don't test for a bacteria that can cause babies to become seriously ill, and even die?! I was outraged. Campaigners like the amazing Group B Strep Support are currently trying to get all hospitals to routinely test pregnant women for GBS as many, like Craigavon Area Hospital still don't. After my experience, I too, want to try and raise awareness because so many mums-to-be aren't being provided with the information that they deserve. For more information on everything you could want to know about GBS go to www.gbss.org.uk.
GBS aside, I wrote my birth plan for the preference of a water birth if possible and to have my baby in the Midwifery Led Unit (MLU.) I knew I would feel most comfortable in the MLU as it was more of a homely atmosphere; much less clinical and cold than the Delivery Suites. Those big double doors leading into the suites actually scared me a little! (Little did I know, that I would be wheeled out of those very same doors with my new baby in my arms.) On my plan I also specified that I was open to all forms of pain relief but I was keen to mainly try and use gas and air and see how I got on from there. I knew that water would help and I never wanted to rush in and get anything stronger. If I could avoid an epidural, I would, but I certainly wasn't planning on being a hero; if I felt like I wanted and/or needed an epidural - I would get it.
I had my hospital bags packed and sitting ready to go weeks before I needed them. They were a strange sort of comfort to me. The inevitable was coming and I knew at least the bags were ready, even if I wasn't! I wasn't quite sure how I was supposed to get myself 'ready' for labour. Yes, I practised the breathing techniques and the positions. I read the research and watched countless episodes of OBEM, but every woman's experience of labour is so different. I truly didn't know what to expect, how I was REALLY going to feel or if/how I would cope with the pain. It was a daunting few weeks of feeling a weird mix of excitement, fear and nerves. The more uncomfortable I got, the more I wanted my baby to make her appearance. I had the most horrendous pelvic pain on my left side and fluid like you wouldn't even believe. By my due date, I had swollen up like a balloon. My face, hands, feet and ankles were unrecognisable and I felt like I might actually burst at any given moment! Looking in the mirror I didn't know who I was .. All I knew was that I wanted my pregnancy to be over.
My prayers came true on Monday 15th December, while hobbling around Marks and Spencer with my mum. I had been having on and off Braxton Hicks contractions for a few weeks, so had learned not to get into a tizz about them. As I leaned over my trolley for extra support, I quickly began to realise that these pains were slightly different. The placement was different and the pain was different. It was ever so slightly more intense and I found myself inhaling sharply and gripping the trolley handle tighter every time they came. These contractions kept on coming too. My poor mum kept looking at me strangely and asking if I was ok. I convinced her I was fine and convinced myself that this was not the real deal. I had had so many false alarms that I honestly believed that this one was too. I believed I was going to see the consultant the very next morning to get my scan, my baby would be over 9.9 and I'd be scheduled in for my section. EASY.
Not so. This baby of mine had other ideas and decided she would quite like to make her grand entrance. I remember perfectly my mum asking if I wanted to grab a bite to eat before we headed home. There is the cutest wee cafe on the Hillhall road and I was starving (as usual!) so we journeyed there for lunch. On route I texted my husband, Matt, 'I think I could be going into labour!' He told me to time my contractions on my iPhone App and to keep him in the loop. This wasn't the first time I'd used my contraction timer so I still wasn't believing this was really it. Sitting across the table from my mum, we tucked into sausage rolls and salad in between timing my contractions. She was growing visibly more and more concerned. Every time a contraction came, my neck and face would flush bright red and I'd take careful control of my breathing ... The cafe was small and I sure didn't want to startle anyone out enjoying their lunch! I remember going into the bathroom with my phone, sitting on the toilet and hitting the START button thinking 'this is really it.' The contractions were only 5 minutes apart and ever increasing in strength and intensity. I made my way back to our table and declared to mum 'all systems are go. I gotta get home!'
I continued to time each contraction until I reached home. According to my App I was in the early stages of labour, so I phoned Matt and told him he'd better leave work early. By the time I got home I was in no doubt; labour really was happening. I wasn't panicked, just focused on getting through each contraction. I assured my mum that I was going to be ok, she was getting her protective mother hat on, asking a million questions about what I was going to do: Was I going to phone the hospital? When was I going to phone the hospital? When was I going to go over to the hospital? I wasn't quite sure myself what to do. My waters definitely hadn't broken, I was managing the pain ok and I knew that if I phoned the hospital, they would probably tell me to stay at home as long as possible. I was in no rush to head in as I knew I would be better off in my home environment for as long as I could manage it.
At 6.30pm I phoned the Admissions Unit, explained what had been happening and that my contractions were now regularly 4 minutes apart and lasting longer each time one came. As predicted, I was told to stay at home, have a bath and to see if my contractions were still as strong in a few hours; they were super busy (as always) so I'd best 'keep that in mind.' Unless I was desperate, there was no chance I was going over to Admissions to have to sit for hours in the early stages of my labour! During my pregnancy I wasted too many hours of my life in that place - waiting. So I stayed home and took a bath as advised. If I truly was in labour, the bath would help soothe, but not stop the increasing contractions, if they began to decrease, then it wasn't time. As I lay in the bath, my huge belly protruding, I tried to relax and focus on breathing. Every time a contraction came, I shouted 'NOW!!' to Matt who would hit the start button on my timer and we would wait to see if the bath would make any difference. Secretly I prayed that it wouldn't. I wanted this to be the time, I felt as ready as I ever possibly could and boy were those contractions getting painful...
Thankfully the contractions were remaining steady and strong and I knew tonight (at some point) I'd be making my way to the hospital. I felt vulnerable in those moments lying there, bare bellied, while my amazing husband shaved my legs in preparation for giving birth. I had gotten so huge that I simply couldn't manage to shave anywhere below my belly so my poor husband had to do the honours for me! I felt so self conscious in those last few months. Having been a dieter for years before getting pregnant I really struggled with my new body. Pregnancy simply did NOT look good on me. I was a swollen mess by the end and I hated the way that I looked. I also hated that I hated how I looked. Yet I tried to savour those last moments with Matt as we both knew they would be the last of 'just us.' Very soon we would be more than a married couple; we would be a family.