Leo: enter stage left

Leo: enter stage left

"And after the baby is 'birthed', he will instinctively crawl towards your breast and latch on. It is the most natural thing in the world" - unnamed NCT leader.


First things first: babies don't do that. At least, in no (real life) account of a baby being born that I've ever heard of has this happened. I get that the NCT breastfeeding warriors want to ensure you realise that breastfeeding is a very natural way to feed your baby but can we give it a rest with the references to newborns clamouring up your torso in search of the golden nectar?

Thanks. I'll come back to breastfeeding. In fact, it will get its own dedicated post, so I can properly air my grievances with all the different ways new mothers can be made to feel guilty and inadequate because of that topic.

So, giving birth is hard. Not, as I've often heard, like running a distance race, or doing a few rounds in a ring. Hard in a 'I think it's possible my body won't make it through this' kind of way. At least this was my experience - I realise it is not the same for everyone.

My birth troubles were plentiful and varied in nature. As the Clinical Director of my local hospital put it the day after Leo was born, I had pretty much worked my way through the entire obstetrician's handbook by the time he arrived.

 Like so many before me, I had a very zen vision of a birthing pool at home, some candles, my favourite music, my partner and my midwife. Best laid plans.

A week or so before my due date I noticed something had changed (aside from feeling as though I was lugging around a bowling ball with enormous limbs) and started to suspect my waters had broken. I say suspect because it was actually very difficult to tell. This is yet another common area of misconception: for one, waters don't often break before labour and two, when they do break it is usually a slow, intermittent trickle of fluid, not the tidal wave you see in the films.

I digress. 

I thought my waters might have broken but wasn't sure, so decided to sit on it (literally and figuratively) for a while and see how things progressed. A day went by and that suspicion turned into a bit of a worry...if they had broken and I didn't do anything about it, I could risk infection and problems for the baby, so we went to hospital. After a long wait and a brief chat with a skeptical midwife, I was examined. Much to the midwife's surprise, my waters had gone and the game had changed. All of a sudden there was talk of induction and admission to hospital, neither of which I was going to agree to without exhausting all other possibilities first... 

So, home I went, after telling the midwifery team that I wasn't prepared to be induced the next morning and that I wanted 24 hours to get this baby moving. We tried reflexology, more packs of dates than I can count and, of course, a long walk to get him out of the blocks. Whether it was down to any of those things, or it was just time, Leo started making waves at around 2am the following morning. 

Contractions started at around four or five minutes apart, then within an hour had shortened to every two minutes. Hang on a minute - this wasn't how it was meant to go! There was meant to be a warm-up; a period of time (hours not minutes) during which contractions gradually shortened and allowed your cervix to dilate and create room for your descending baby. Not this time. I was into 'call the midwife' territory sharpish. 

The midwife arrived a little while later, during which time my husband had started the 'simple' task of filling the birthing pool (more on this another time...). An hour later and I was in active labour. This had all gone unnervingly quickly. By this point I had only been in labour for about three hours. When the clock hit 5:30am, the midwife declared "I think we are going to have a sunrise baby!". A statement which, in hindsight, was a little misjudged.

Skip ahead a couple of hours and that baby wasn't going anywhere fast. Strong, pushing contractions had now been in full force for three hours. I was starting to doubt if he was ever going to make an appearance. Then the midwife found meconium and everything changed. Ambulance was called, blue lights on, hospital emergency delivery suite. 

What hadn't changed, however, was the progress my little bundle was making - which was not very much very fast. Over the course of the next four hours (without pain relief), the midwives and consultants all seemed to have differing opinions of why he wasn't progressing. He was corkscrewing; he had turned completely; he was stuck...you get the picture. Many, many pulls on the ventouse were tried (and failed). Eventually, the clinical director of the maternity unit was summoned because this was becoming an emergency situation. 

Eventually, they managed to pull out Leo's head using the ventouse (on the 7th pull!) but it then became apparent that we were dealing with shoulder dystocia (where the baby's shoulder gets trapped behind the mother's pubic bone and can't be delivered after the head). With the umbilical cord compressed inside my body and the baby unable to take breath outside my body, decisive action was needed. The clinical director (who was amazing, by the way) calmly explained to me that they were going to have to give me an episiotomy and go in and manually drag him out by the arm. Yeah, it's as unpleasant as it sounds. 

Out he finally came, by which point there must have been a dozen people in that delivery room. He was rushed off to the crash cart whilst I lay in complete exhaustion and disbelief at what had just unfolded. My husband, scarred for life!

And just when I thought it was all over, the consultant was attempting to deliver my placenta (by various means and injections) only to discover that it hadn't detached from my uterus, so I was going to have to be given a general anaesthetic to have it removed. Just to round off proceedings.

What's the lesson here? Don't get your heart set on a delivery plan. My heart wasn't even set - just notionally preferring the home birthing option - and still it was a huge psychological ordeal to get through, on top of the physical one.

Be prepared for things to change. Things to go wrong. Emergencies to happen. The team looking after you know what they are doing and they will call for senior staff to step in if necessary.

Leo and I were fine after both sets of our superficial wounds healed. Birth is a hugely physical and emotional event. Treat it with respect and prepare as best you can for every eventuality through antenatal courses, hypnobirthing, yoga and by talking to your midwife. You can and will birth your baby - you just might need a little help to do it.