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Kate's story of Phoebe's birth
Phoebe Violet Crofts came into the world weighing 7lb 14oz with a head circumference of 35cm and Apgar scores of 9 and 10 on Sunday 19th May 2002 at 12.44pm (just in time for lunch) - here's how.
Phil and I had devoured every book, TV programme and website we could find about pregnancy, labour and delivery. To augment this knowledge we also attended both NCT and NHS antenatal classes and felt about as informed about what might happen and our choices throughout the labour process as we could be. OK, so we were swots and bores on the subject but it made me feel as though I had some kind of handle on something that was about to happen over which I was going to have very little control.
Based upon our research I drew up a birth plan, in which I stated a preference for minimal intervention and as such labour and delivery in our local midwife unit (which has a birth pool) rather than the needle and scalpel happy main hospital which I hadn't liked at all when we'd toured it. I planned to have Phil and my Mum as birth partners.
3 weeks before my due date we had a 6 hour excitement of regular and painful Braxton Hicks contractions, which we thought might be the onset of labour so got everything (including the midwife) ready, only to discover it was a false alarm when it all stopped, most disappointing.
Then a further 4 weeks passed and I was overdue ,first the scan date of 10th May passed, then the LMP date of 15th May and still no baby. I was getting frustrated but the "lightening" I'd experienced meant I wasn't in much discomfort and I was pleased that I'd had time to get the house so well organised and tidy (thanks to my strong nesting urges). I went to aquanatal classes and raised a laugh by leaping across the pool with much gusto in an attempt to prompt labour, but still nothing.
In those last couple of weeks we tried everything we'd heard might prompt labour: curry, pineapple juice, dancing, copious quantities of sex and even a stiff gin in a warm bath, but nothing. I'd been taking Raspberry Leaf tea since week 36 so thought that might make it all happen on time and with purpose, but no.
On the 17th May I was booked in for my weekly antenatal appointment and had been told my the midwife that she'd also do a stretch & sweep that day so I had high hopes that labour would get going that afternoon. However, to my horror she discovered that I had dangerously high blood pressure (it had been great all the way through pregnancy) so she had to send me into the big hospital (St. John's at Chelmsford). I still had the stretch & sweep and she tried to reassure me that they would just monitor my BP and I could be home again that evening, but being overdue I didn't hold out much hope. As I left I said (with a smile of sorts) "I hate you, its all going to go wrong and I'll be induced, have to have loads of intervention and will end up with a c-section"…
After stopping at home for some late lunch and to collect my bags "just in case" we set off for the hospital. I wasn't in the least bit happy.
At the hospital I had all the usual BP, urine and blood tests and was left waiting for several hours. My BP was still high and the doctor came over to my bed and said "You'll stay in overnight and we'll induce you in the morning" with no more consultation that that! I argued with this, requested complete justification and then informed them that (against their advice) I was going home for the night and would be back in the morning to see how my BP was and then perhaps consider an induction.
I didn't sleep at all that night and lay in bed wanting to talk it through with Phil but not wanting to deprive him of sleep he would almost certainly need as it could be his last uninterrupted night for a very long time. I wished labour would just start on its own.
At 3am I had a show and got very excited, but no contractions followed so at 7.30am (by which time I had a bad headache) we set off back to the big, scary hospital.
Mum & Dad had zoomed down the motorway to get Mum to me in time to be the second birth partner and met us there at 8am. My BP had come down a bit, but not enough so I was advised that induction was the best course of action. Whilst this was the last thing I'd ever wanted I did want a healthy baby and I had already waited for what felt like forever so I consented to the most minimal intervention; prostin gel pesaries.
The first of these was administered at about 9am and didn't seem to do much so we all just hung around the hospital playing cards, trying to concentrate on a new novel ("The Stars Tennis Balls" by Stephen Fry) or attempting to sleep in order to revitalise ourselves and lower my BP a bit.
I had lunch and was pleased to discover afterwards that my BP had come down to a lower level than it had been throughout the pregnancy (but not dangerously low) - too late, induction was now underway. In the mid-afternoon I was given a second pesarie and started to have long dull abdominal pains which I was informed were "prostin pains" caused by the hormones themselves and not actually contractions yet.
At 9pm we made preparations for the night, Mum left but the hospital were kind enough to allow Phil to stay in the next bed to me as I felt that contractions were starting (despite no trace from the belt monitor) and that I didn't want to have to be guided around the hospital by a nurse or midwife with no experience of my visual impairment.
We managed to get a few hours sleep but at around 1am (Sunday 19th May 2002) I became too uncomfortable to remain lying down and walked to the window of the ward to get some fresh air whilst standing up and leaning. Soon after this I discovered the only way to alleviate the discomfort of contractions was to march up and down on the spot and flap my arms - which Phil (who was just waking) said made me look like a chicken!
I told the nurse on night duty that I thought I was now in labour and was told "go back to bed, I'll give you a couple of Codridomol and the doctor will see you at 8am" that was 6 hours away! About half an hour later, when I had started rousing the rest of the antenatal ward's residents with my groans, she decided to come and give Phil and I a hand and suggested that I might find a warm bath beneficial. The sitting posture really didn't work for me (as I was experiencing back labour) so I was only in the bath for about one contraction and was then transported (damp and wrapped in towels) to the labour ward - this journey, in a wheelchair, was agony as not only did I have to sit but I had to undergo a bumpy lift ride.
By the time I was installed in a room in which to labour Mum had arrived along with Phil and a large quantity of equipment and homeopathic remedies that I hoped would help (smelly candles, didgeridoo music, bean bag, bucket and a variety of oral and topical potions) it was 3am and I was about 3cm dilated. I tried gas & air for the first time and took too much, sending me up to the ceiling briefly and teaching me that I needed to be a bit more careful with it if I wanted to remain in control.
Phil coached me through my contractions beautifully, telling me when one was due, when I'd reached the hardest point, and when it was due to stop. Mum kept my brow mopped and my thirst quenched and I even managed to catch an hour or two of sleep between contractions (waking every few minutes, blowing a few raspberries and moaning a bit then going back to snoozing). During all this I was on my hands and knees on the bed with my head buried in the beanbag, TENS machine control in my right hand and gas & air mouthpiece in my left.
At 8am the midwives had changed shift and I was fully dilated. I felt the urge to push and was advised I could try a few gentle squeezes which I chose to do sitting on a folded towel on top of a builder's bucket (minus the handle). This position seemed to work well for me although I needed to rest my back so we moved the bucket up against one of the closed doors to the corridor. A few pushes later "Look !" I cried, pointing to a bulge I'd pushed out - it wasn't a baby, it was an intact bag of waters!
The sun now well up, Mum, Phil, Norwegian midwife and I were chatting cheerily between contractions (when I yelled and huffed about for a while) and all expected the baby to appear during the next couple of contractions. I changed position and prepared to deliver standing up, leaning on the bed. I pushed in this position but only managed to burst the bubble of waters, leaving myself with a two foot dangling "tail" of membrane (to which I never bade farewell).
By 10.30am we were getting concerned that there was still no baby and my contractions were spacing apart a little but we persuaded the midwife to let me continue trying. Mum and Phil started speculating about whether the baby would be born in the morning or afternoon and I changed positions many times and pushed like crazy but Phoebe's head was coming down and popping right back up again.
Whilst considering the possibilities of epidural, sintosin and/or assisted delivery at around noon the midwife felt she had to summon the doctor (who'd decreed my induction was necessary in the first place) who performed an internal examination that was more painful than any of the contractions I'd been through. She announced that Phoebe was OP and in a brow presentation and that she doubted I'd be able to deliver naturally. We desperately begged her to try anything other than a c-section and she went out to call the consultant obstetrician for a second opinion. During her absence the midwife encouraged me to try one or two more really good pushes but I was exhausted and losing hope so they weren't as good as my earlier efforts and yielded nothing.
Mum had also popped out at this point to appraise Dad of the situation. By the time she returned Phil and I had accepted with much disappointment that I was going to have to have an emergency caesarean section. At first Mum thought I was only being transferred to theatre for an assisted delivery (forceps) so reassured me that this was how I was born only to be told the news that not only was her baby about to have her first major operation but that she wouldn't be allowed to witness the birth of her first grandchild.
All my strength and control drained away as I was wheeled into pre-op where I had 5 excruciating contractions during which I had to lie on my back (one of the worst positions for me at the time) with no TENS or gas & air. All that and I was expected to understand and agree to the disclaimer form that was being read to me!
I recall being wheeled down the corridor stark naked but am assured by Phil I had a sheet over me. Upon arrival in theatre I was immensely relieved to be talking to the anaesthetist but was insistent that he ensure the spinal block had worked fully before the operation began: - I have a friend who screamed in response to the first incision, was immediately given a general anaesthetic and missed the birth of her child. This had occurred only a month earlier in the same hospital so I was most paranoid.
I experienced the odd feeling of someone "washing up inside me" in a haze of relief and anticipation and then out came a purple Phoebe, providing us with one reassuring squeak before silently gazing at the world for the next few hours.
Phil held her at my shoulder momentarily then he and she left the theatre whilst I was put back together again.
I had my first proper meeting with her some 45 minutes later in the recovery room, where she latched on for her first breast feed.
The next few hours I recall in clear detail (despite the two doses of morphine) and they included feelings of hunger, pain, and regret at the outcome of the labour alongside indescribable delight at the result of the entire process. Phoebe peacefully drifted from wonder to sleep without a complaint and was happy to be settled down in bed for the night by her Daddy at around 9pm. I didn't sleep a wink that night, elated by the presence of my new arrival and disturbed by the hubbub of the rest of the post-natal ward. Phoebe dozed contentedly until 7.30am - just before Phil returned to us so I had had no difficult "mummy" duties to attend to overnight without his support.
After an intrusive and irrelevant interview about eyesight with a paediatrician I chose to discharge myself from this large hospital and Phil very cautiously drove Phoebe and I to the midwife run unit we'd always hoped to first meet in. Phoebe and I bonded and learned about each other there for another 4 days during which time Phil spent every possible minute he was permitted to (and many he wasn't) with us until our arrival home on Thursday 23rd May 2002.
This has been a long description of an amazing (and very biological) experience yet I've omitted many details that will always remain with me when I recall this time. I cannot say that it was the birth I'd hoped for and I will always have some regrets about that but the joy of Phoebe is more than compensation and she has certainly exceeded any expectations or hopes I ever had and continues to do so.
Phil's story of Phoebe's Birth
Kate went into the hospital on Friday 17th May 2002 with an elevated blood pressure and they recommended induction the next morning. We wanted as natural a birth as possible so we wanted to avoid this sort of thing, but she was 7 days over her scan date so we felt that it was best to not take the risk of pre-eclampsia.
Induction started on Saturday morning at 8AM. Nothing happened until 1:30AM Sunday. She went up to the labour ward at 3AM and contractions were going apace. By 8:30 she was fully dilated having used only TENS, entonox (Gas and Air) and a bucket full of willpower the size of the Titanic. No heavy drugs, just good practice and lots of education on the subject.
At 9:30 she started pushing and her waters went at about 10:30 (after we had resisted breaking them because we were VERY keen to avoid any intervention if possible). We were all expecting a great, short 2nd stage but, no matter how much Kate put into it, baby wouldn't come. At about 12:00 the doctor was called in because Kate had absolutely nothing left to give (I can't praise her highly enough. Before hand I thought "I wish that I could go through labour because I think that I would handle it better than Kate". I now have another reason to respect this great lady. She never folded until there was literally nothing left).
The Doctor did an exam and determined that baby was posterior (face forwards, less trouble than upside down (breech), but a problem nonetheless), and that the head wasn't tucked (this position is called 'brow' presentation). She said that it was impossible for baby to go any lower because baby's heads simply doesn't flex in the way that they would need to. As such the only option was an epidural and probably a C-section. We tried in vain to find a different answer (Ventousse was out, Kate had nothing left to push with, Forceps wouldn't work in this position) but quickly realised that our plan to avoid a C-section at all costs had reached the point where 'At all costs' reached its limit.
Kate was rushed off to theatre and given a spinal block, all the time suffering in ways that I can only imagine, since once her resolve was gone, her will couldn't resist the pain anymore. She only had 5 contractions in that time thanks to the very efficient medical staff, but those were the worst. Then, I got scrubbed and joined her in theatre. Minutes later, out baby came and I realised what the best sound imaginable sounds like, that first cry. My first thought on determining her sex was "Oh, great it's a girl. Now we don't have to worry about sorting out a boy's name anymore (we had settled on Phoebe early on, but still had no real clue for boys)." Phoebe was fine (Apgars of 9 and 10 on the first inspection) and Kate was as good as could be expected for the ordeal that she had undergone.
We were disappointed to have had to undergo what is probably the most extreme intervention that you can get, but we realised something. The goal of a natural childbirth is to avoid unnecessary medical intervention. Avoiding necessary and life saving intervention is not 'natural childbirth' it is bloody stupid. Necessary intervention is one of the big bonuses of living in the 21st century rather than the 14th.
Oh, and one more thing. Midwives are a seriously under-rated bunch.
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