I’ve been wanting to write Eleanor’s birth story for months now, and her turning one has definitely been the push to finally get it down. There really is something so special about a birth story. Even before I was pregnant, I was drawn to reading how other mothers laboured and birthed their children. Every journey was different, but so incredibly awe-inspiring. I knew that, when my time came, becoming a mother would be my greatest achievement.
For me, birth was (and is) the most incredible experience of my life. It required all of my courage and determination and showed me a deep inner strength I didn’t know I had. Being our first baby, we attended antenatal classes to help us understand what to expect from labour and birth. When we realised there wasn’t a whole lot we could do to predict or control the birthing process, Pete and I adopted quite a relaxed mindset. We had no official birth plan, only that we were opting for a natural birth if possible. We were open to me using pain relief if I needed it and to also having a c-section if it was required. Whatever was going to provide the safest way of welcoming our baby into the world.
I was blessed with a very stress-free pregnancy. Up until 16 weeks I experienced mild morning sickness, but other than that everything progressed like a textbook. At my 36 week check-up we did encounter a slight complication. The midwife had trouble trying to hear a consistent heartbeat, and decided to perform an ultrasound on the spot. The machine wasn’t particularly precise, but she was able to get a good enough picture of how our baby was positioned in the womb. It didn’t take her long to conclude the baby was almost certainly in the breech position and it was likely she wouldn’t move this late in the pregnancy. The midwife explained that breech babies are usually delivered by cesarean section at our hospital and that I should begin to prepare myself for this being a high possibility.
I must admit, I left that appointment feeling quite discouraged and overwhelmed. I thought up until that point that I didn’t mind how our baby was birthed, but clearly the longing in my heart for a natural birth was far greater than I realised. As any worried mum-to-be would do, I started Googling all about breech babies and births as soon as I got home. I found out a lot of information about particular exercises and stretches I could be doing to help encourage our baby to get into the head-down position. I remember doing all sorts of weird pelvic rotations and head-first leans over our bed to try and get her to move. It would have looked hilarious! But in the end, I gave up on the exercises and just trusted that whatever way our baby was going to come into the world, whether naturally or via cesarean, everything would be okay.
Much to our joy, the next scan at 37 weeks revealed that our baby wasn’t in the breech position and was head-down ready for birth. It really was such a relief to know we could opt for a natural birth again. But importantly, preparing for the possibility I would be having a c-section really helped me to understand that there is no ‘lesser’ or ‘right’ way to birth a child. Whether naturally, via cesarean, in a hospital or at home. Babies are delivered healthily and thriving in so many different circumstances.
Two more weeks passed and I think I had cleaned almost every nook and cranny in our home. In fact, the day before I went into labour I had a crazy nesting frenzy. Scrubbing the bathrooms, vacuuming, mopping and washing every last towel. My body definitely knew I wouldn’t have the chance to do this for weeks to come. I woke up around 3am the next morning to go to the toilet and noticed a popping sensation and a large amount of mucus. They had talked to us about ‘bloody shows’ in antenatal classes, so I recognised this might be my mucus plug dislodging. I had also developed slight period-like cramps but nothing overly painful, so I decided to head back to bed and get as much rest as possible. I woke again at 6am with slightly more intense period-like pain and by 8am, it was coming in waves every 10-15 minutes. I rang the hospital to them know that I was having what I thought were contractions, just so they were aware of how I was progressing. The sweet midwife on the other end told me to rest, watch some TV and have a cup of tea to keep my mind off things. So I took her advice and just pottered around the house for the morning, relaxing as much as I could.
The contractions remained steady every 10 minutes and at 2pm I was feeling quite tired and lay down to try and sleep. I think I nodded off for half an hour, but woke needing to go to the toilet. As I rolled over to get out of bed a huge gush of water came flowing out onto the mattress and carpet. My waters had broken. I was already aware from previous ultrasounds that I had extra amniotic fluid, but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how much extra. I was leaking absolutely everywhere!
I quickly rang Pete to let him know that my waters had broken and we needed to head to the hospital. It was 2:45pm, almost the end of the school day, and I could just imagine the excitement of his high school students in the background. They had all been hoping it would be their class that got ‘the call’. While Pete was driving home I rang the hospital to let them know that my waters had broken and we would be on our way soon. I hopped in the shower and then got dressed in my comfiest grandma undies and loose fitting dress. I had to wear three giant sized pads to help absorb all the leaking and it still wasn’t enough!
The drive to the hospital was equal parts exciting and terrifying. We had practised the route so many times beforehand and knew it was the quickest way. We made our way into the maternity ward and all of the memories from our tour during antenatal classes came flashing back. Ringing the midwives to keep them updated about my progress proved to be immensely helpful, as someone was already waiting to assist me upon arrival.
We were whisked into an examination room where I lay down and the midwife placed a heartbeat monitor around my stomach to see how our baby was going. My contractions were definitely strengthening. After a few minutes the midwife said everything was looking fine and if I was coping well enough with the pain we could go home to continue labouring there until things progressed further. She did an internal examination and confirmed I was 2cm dilated. I got up off the bed and had a walk around while we waited for the midwife to have our baby’s heartbeat information cross-checked.
In the time it took for the midwife to come back, which felt like forever but was only about 10 minutes, the pain had increased significantly and my contractions were getting closer. I was hunched over and unable to stand. I knew in my heart there was no way I would be going back home, and as soon as the midwife saw me she knew it too. She asked me to hop back up on the table so she could examine how far along I was, and sure enough I was now 7cm dilated.
Seeing how quickly things had progressed, we headed straight to the birthing suites. My midwife asked me if there was any particular way I wanted to continue labouring (on a bed, in the bathtub, standing up etc.). I really had no idea which option would be best, so she suggested hopping on a birthing ball under the warm shower water. I will be forever grateful to my midwife for her guidance, as this decision was absolutely pivotal in helping me have a calm and effective labour. The warm water running on my back relaxed me instantly and ended up being the only pain relief I needed. I must give a huge shout out to my amazing husband who stood for the entire duration of my active labour, back bent over, watering me like a pot plant. He was a champion.
I didn’t know what I would be like in labour. Whether I was going to be loud, talkative, emotional or really quiet. But the moment I hopped on that birthing ball my mind and body shut out every distraction and focused all of its available energy into breathing and moving through every contraction. I was totally ‘in the zone’ and didn’t feel the need for people to talk or fuss. In fact, I don’t think I even spoke a word for the first couple of hours of active labour. What I did find the most comforting was just having my husband and midwife in close proximity to me. I remember as I was getting nearer to birth, my midwife had to duck out of the room for a moment and I really began to panic inside. I needed her and what if she wasn’t going to be there? Just having her close by was such a necessary security for me.
After 4 hours of intense active labour I began to feel the contractions getting extremely close. I let me midwife know and she had me get down on my hands and knees to check where our baby’s head was. I was hopeful it might be time to push, but unfortunately we needed to wait a little longer. It was at this point that I got a bit teary and I remember looking at Pete and saying “I’m so, so tired”.
But sheer determination kicked in and I kept breathing through the contractions as best as I could. After another 45 minutes had passed I began to feel the overwhelming need to push. I couldn’t control the surges and my whole body began to shake. Our midwife had me get down on my knees again to help position the baby for birth. After a few big pushes I could feel our baby’s head crowning. I was struggling a little to coordinate my pushing with the contractions as my body was so physically exhausted. But with lots of guidance from my midwife I gave two more almighty pushes, and within seconds our baby girl was born. I will never forget the feeling of relief that came over my body to know she was here. That first cry was music to our ears! As I was on my hands and knees I didn’t get to see the moment Eleanor was born, but Peter did and he was absolutely overwhelmed with emotion. I remember turning around and seeing our baby in the midwife’s arms and my jaw physically dropped. I couldn’t even move or speak I was so in awe.
After I was up and steady on my feet, we moved to the bed where Eleanor had her first breastfeed and the placenta was delivered. It was the most beautiful moment. I ended up having second degree tearing which needed to be stitched and honestly, I think the stitching hurt more than labour! But having Eleanor to hold was the best pain relief in the world.
I could not have asked for a better birth and am so grateful to God every single day for the way he protected both Ellie and I. Nothing will ever compare to the moment we first met our baby girl. Labour and birth truly is a team effort. Without the support of my husband and the guidance of wonderful midwives (or ‘angels’ as I call them!), I know it would have been a far more difficult experience. It still amazes me, the way our bodies work as women. That we can grow and nurture and birth another human being is nothing short of miraculous. How blessed are we? I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes. It so perfectly sums up how I feel about being a mother.
‘Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.’ Elizabeth Stone