My Little Duke


A Labour of Love - Part 2

Matt DukeComment

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...

A Labour of Love - Part 1

Steph DukeComment

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 

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.