It was a very strange feeling, leaving our house for the last time as a two. I distinctly remember feeling a real sense of change. I watched Matt lock the front door and felt an acute awareness of just how different our lives would be when we returned. The next time I would step through that front door, I would have been through labour and more importantly, I would be a mum. It felt surreal … like it wasn't really happening to me. From the very moment that faint pink link appeared in the test strip, everything changed. What I thought was 'my life' definitely wasn't 'my life' anymore. My pregnancy experience at times felt like an out of body experience. Sometimes I really didn't know who I was, what I was doing or what was happening to me - and the journey to the hospital felt a lot like that too. We had to detour to my mums house as I'd left my maternity notes in her car from our eventful trip to M&S (see Part 1.) I was conscious to get in and get out as fast as I could to avoid having to cope with too many contractions in front of everyone. As one came, I turned away and leaned all my weight against the counter and prayed that I would make it to the hospital in time. There was now so little time between each contraction that I was beginning to struggle to keep my composure and deal with the ever increasing pain. I just wanted to be at the hospital.
We arrived at Craigavon Area Hospital at around 11pm on Monday 15th December, 2014. The doors to the Maternity Ward were locked after 9pm so we made our way through A&E, stopping each time a contraction came. They were now strong enough to halt me in my tracks, forcing me to find some way of dealing with the surge of pain coursing from my back and through my belly. At this stage, leaning against a nearby wall was sufficient and I truly felt every inch like a 'woman in labour.' I had flashbacks of episodes of 'One Born Every Minute,' watching the women pacing the floor of the hospital, screaming in pain as they waddled back and forth; I knew that this was me now. I had waited for this to happen for so long and here I was, completely in the thick of it. Yet, I had absolutely no idea what was still to come. After a fairly unpleasant pregnancy, I knew that my labour experience was bound to have it's own set of challenges; but nothing prepared me for the struggle that lay ahead. How can any woman know what to expect from her labour? Every individual's body and experience is totally unique. The incredible midwives have seen it all, yet, even they can't predict how any one woman's labour will progress or how she will cope. As I entered the Admissions Room, I was still coping well. The adrenaline was pumping; but underneath, I was a bag of nerves.
Thankfully, Admissions was empty - so much for being told they were busy! After a short wait, we were told that a room was available (an answer to my many unspoken prayers!) and were guided up to the Midwifery Led Unit (MLU.) Already I began to feel more at ease. It was warm, homely and quiet, and as we were shown into our room I felt relaxed and excited that our baby would be born into this calm environment. I took in every aspect of the room. In my mind, my baby was going to be born here … the reality was hitting home hard and I tried not to get too emotional. A lovely midwife made her introductions and began to examine my notes. I took one look at the bed and having been contracting all day, felt like a little lie down wouldn't be too out of the question. WRONG! Contractions whilst laying on the bed were awful! The pain felt like it had tripled in force and I instantly manoeuvred myself off the bed and back to a standing/leaning position. I write 'manoeuvre' rather than 'jumped' here as that is really about all I could manage. As mentioned in Part 1, my pelvic pain was excruciating and hoisting oneself on and/or off a hospital bed was incredibly painful and EVERYTHING was just plain awkward. I was huge. My bump was huge. My feet and ankles were huge. I wasn't in control of this alien body of mine and every movement I made was uncomfortable and awkward.
I was asked what pain relief I had been taking - nothing up until this point. In the previous days and weeks, I was chomping down the paracetamol to relieve my pelvic pain. Yet, today was different. Today was labour day. I really wanted to make sure that I didn't numb the pain of my labour in case I mistook it for more Braxton Hicks and stayed home under false pretences. I was certainly not prepared to have an unexpected home birth!! I wanted to ensure that I knew this truly was labour. Thankfully, it was! I was given some codeine tablets for the pain and I was happy enough with that. I waited anxiously as the midwife examined me to see how dilated I was. I had visions of being a measly 1 or 2cm and being told to go home, embarrassed and disappointed. But I was 4cm! I was actually ecstatic. It was such an energy and mood booster to hear those words and I remember inwardly telling myself 'come on girl, you've got this!' However, my brief celebrations were cut short as we were shipped off to a nearby Ward because I wasn't yet in 'active labour.' I can tell you now, I sure felt like I was in the throes of 'active labour.' We were ensured that I would be closely monitored and as soon as I was ready, I could come back to the MLU. This slight change in events really knocked me off sorts. We were directed into a dimly lit, small bay on the Ward and told in hushed voices that I should stay here and continue to labour. I was advised to go walking up and down the stairs, bounce on the ball, basically keep moving to try and speed things along. It was now about 1.30am and it was clear that the other bays on my Ward were occupied with sleeping mamas. I could feel myself begin to panic. Up until this point I hadn't been loud or vocal while dealing with my contractions, but they were increasing in strength by the minute and I wasn't sure how much longer I could keep controlled and quiet!
I was now hyper aware of my surroundings and this only made the pain seem worse. Stay quiet. Stay controlled. I could do this, I kept telling myself. I looked at the bed - no good. I tried the exercise ball - it only made me feel nauseated. The only other option in our little bay was a tall, hard backed chair. I positioned myself on the edge of the seat and gripped the handles as wave, after wave hit. Matt sat facing me and I found myself beginning to grab onto him with each contraction. I was starting to feel claustrophobic and beginning to lose my self control. The longer we sat, the stronger the pain became and the more I was beginning to struggle. As I focused on NOT making noise, I found myself making MORE noise. Those wee hours of the morning were beginning to feel like years and I was losing it. I tried walking the quiet corridors but needed something to grip onto with each contraction. Stupidly, we had left some of our hospital bags in the car and I really wanted a drink. Matt was going to have to leave and go and get them. At that moment, Matt having to leave was terrifying for me. I did NOT want him to go, but he had to. I began to calculate. My contractions were every 4 minutes and there was no way he would get down to the car and back up in that time. I would have to endure at least 2 contractions while he would be gone and I genuinely didn't think I could do it. I had my mind so convinced that I needed him with me that every time he suggested going I would beg him to stay. After each contraction he would look to get up and run I would grab a hold of him and shake my head. But, it had to be done and suddenly, as a wave of pain began to ebb away I told him 'GO.' Dear love him, off he ran dutifully, leaving me to my contractions. At that point it was absolutely mind over matter. I had been doing a terrible job of it up until now so I resolved that this was it - I would take control of myself from here on out.
I nervously watched the timer on my iphone tick over; the seconds became minutes and I knew it would soon be time. This felt like my first real test of character. You mamas out there know the drill … the slow, dull wave of pain appeared and as the intensity increased, I told a firm hold of the chair handles, took a deep breath in and braced myself. As the wave reached it's peak of intensity I gripped those handles like my life depended on it and began to slowly breathe out, teeth clenched, making a 'ssssssssh' noise through my teeth. As I made the 'ssssssssh' noise I concentrated on getting rid of the pain through the exhalation of breath. Unbelievably, it worked. I came out the other side of that momentous contraction like a new woman. I truly felt like a small victory had been won. I COULD do this. I WOULD do this. As I waited for the next wave, I psyched myself up to do the same. I did. It worked again. Rather than focusing on the pain and trying to stay in control and stay quiet - I focused on my breathing, letting the exhale of breath take the full force of the pain. Matt returned and I filled him in on the new technique. I was suitably impressed with myself and found that the technique really worked, for the most part. It wasn't as effective when using the bathroom unfortunately. Continuing with the theme of my pregnancy - I still had to pee, a lot. Peeing while in labour however, is no picnic. Enduring a contraction while sitting on the toilet was horrendous. Couple this with the vast amount of blood, mucus and other 'insides' making their escape; my frequent trips to the loo were highly unpleasant. The breathing did little to help.
We spent about 3 hours in that sleepy Ward, all the while praying that things would continue to move their merry way along. During those long middle of the night hours I was offered more codeine and when I was FINALLY checked, I was 7cm dilated. Thankfully the midwife could see that I was really struggling and phoned the MLU, insisting that I was to be offered my room back. Back to the MLU we hobbled...