Delilah was born on the morning of Monday 18th July, a week ago today. I wrote this birth story that night in the urge to debrief. I have gently edited it since.
I’d been having lots of little surges (the hypnobirthing term for contractions) from 36 weeks so I knew my body was gearing up to have my baby, whether that meant at 40 weeks or beyond. Either way, Delilah was extremely low down, grinding her head on my cervix and had been since week 38. I felt sure that whenever it happened, this labour would be my shortest. At just over six hours from first surge to finish, it was.
At 40+1, I felt lots of smaller surges throughout the day as I cleaned the bathroom and picked raspberries from the garden. Laurence and the girls had gone to church without me as I couldn’t face being asked about a due date that had now officially passed.
I walked up the stairs at one point and caught my breath. I felt the baby had slipped down even further. The shape of my bump had noticeably changed. I felt sure it would happen today or tonight but also knew that could be wishful thinking so didn’t entertain it too much. Laurence had got used to me musing that each night could be the night.
I was usually high spirits that day, feeling more energetic than I had in the entire pregnancy. So I did lots of rushing about while my in-laws and my mum were over, not thinking that the energy might be needed later.
Suddenly, that evening, I got extremely emotional and stressed about a lot of different, unrelated things. All of them were real issues but none warranted the explosion that took place. I ended up turning off my phone, sipping a glass of prosecco and sticking on Chalet Girl while chatting on the sofa with Laurence about all sorts. I do think that’s the only way to watch that film, by the way, especially if you’re with someone who actually snowboards. It was the best “date night” we’d had in a long time. I felt insanely connected to him and felt sure that this was all leading somewhere soon.
Sure enough, at 1:30, after about an hour’s sleep, I heard something pop so jumped up and ran to the toilet, where waters gushed out of me. It wasn’t enough to be the full waters and didn’t continue to leak but I reckoned something as happening. As soon as I got back into bed, proper, intense surges started.
I got up and went downstairs, thinking I’d hang out on my birth ball for a bit before waking Laurence up but discomfort was building quickly and a look at the clock said surges were about five minutes apart. I woke him up and told him we needed to get the pool ready. I actually had to tell him a few times. I’m not sure he sensed my urgency.
Once he was up, though, he snapped into action, covering our living room in builder’s plastic, shower curtains, towels and incontinence pads. He inflated and filled the pool, getting the temperature and level right and set my hypnobirthing tracks to play. Between surges, I tidied a few toys that had been left around, mixed ylang ylang and frankincense in the essential oil diffuser, lit a few candles and tuned in to the tracks. I constantly felt the need to rock and sway. When a surge came, kneeling felt most effective. It made it super intense but it just felt so right.
I went up to the loo, feeling like I needed to poo but after having a quick succession of surges there, I knew what I was really feeling was her head. I considered spending time in the shower and on the loo like I had with Ophelia but it felt like I might as well get in the pool. I asked Laurence what he thought and he reckoned I might as well. The pool felt gloriously comforting. I instantly relaxed. My surges slowed but they became increasingly effective. I could actually feel the baby move further down with each one as I breathed into it and visualised the sunrise, floating, bubbles and hot air balloons.
By this time, Laurence had called the midwives. We had a disagreement over it as having them too soon was a real fear of mine. In both my previous labours, everything slowed as soon as someone different entered the situation. I worried about this so much last time that I didn’t let him call until quite late. The midwives had got lost on the way and arrived when I’d already started pushing! So I told him he could decide when it was right to call and I think the fact that I’d been hanging off him during surges, squatting was probably pretty convincing!
In retrospect, my body was getting my baby into position for birth. Still, before I agreed it was time to call, I suggested we go lie for a bit in bed and cuddle through some surges. The minute I got into bed, I leapt up, went back downstairs and declared that I didn’t know what I’d been thinking – of course I was in active labour. There was no way I could have lain there.
I stripped off my tunic and knickers and got in the pool. Getting naked always seems a big sign for me that things are happening. I kept my eyes closed when each midwife arrived to give Laurence time to explain that I was hypnobirthing, trying to stay in the zone. But things slowed right down and lost intensity. Worse yet, the first midwife, though lovely and gentle, was a bit too chatty. She kept making small talk and asking me questions that took me out of my primal brain and lose my concentration. She insisted on sitting next to the pool, watching me. The second also sat in the room and I felt increasingly irritated with their presence.
Laurence had asked them to be in the dining room, to keep monitoring to a minimum and not to talk to me. In the end, the monitoring was fine (despite continuing to talk to me unnecessarily, though my birth plan made it clear I wanted it done silently and quickly) as I was convinced throughout that everything would be fine, which luckily it was. Delilah and I were both find throughout.
My plan stated that I didn’t want internal examinations and I didn’t want one offered unless it was deemed absolutely necessary. That she offered me one made me desperate to give birth because I felt they were watching the clock. Aloud I just said no but in my head, I said, “I know this baby is coming and we know all is fine. A number won’t change that.”
On one hand, all of this made me feel a little annoyed that we’d called them so soon. They were following protocol but this was my body, my baby and my home. I had already been through all my plans with my community midwife and she’d felt everything I suggested made sense.
On the other, I realised they might not realise how far along I was so I tuned further into my instincts. When one suggested I go use the loo since I wasn’t managing to wee in a jug, I ended up hiding out in the bathroom where things became fast and furious again.
When I returned to the pool, I found it really difficult to relax into the surges and let them do their work. I kept pushing myself against Laurence and raising myself out of the water. I realised I was getting pushy but my muscles all felt tense. I was getting tired and impatient.
That’s when I asked for gas and air. The first item on my plan was that I didn’t want to be offered pain relief. Having practised hypnobirthing, I do not think of labour as pain but as work. Laurence had accidentally passed on to me that it was being offered just when the midwife arrived (before they’d gone through my plan) and from then, the idea of it was stuck in my head though I kept trying to ignore it.
The sensation of fighting the surges made me think I needed something to override my conscious brain so I could let the muscles work. I agonised over it because gas and air with my first labour (an induction) had taken me out of the room, out of the experience. I couldn’t even get into an upright position to push, I was so out of it. I blamed it as one of the factors that made bonding with my first baby difficult. But I felt sure that I could control it this time and hoped I would stop if it was overwhelming me or that Laurence would help me see that I needed to.
So I discussed it with the first midwife. She warned that her supply was limited. I decided to go for it and make do if we ran out but I really didn’t think it would be much longer. Unhelpfully, the second midwife said, “So I guess we’re throwing away the birth plan.” That totally pissed me off and made me determined to get this over with. What a disempowering thing to say! Laurence replied, “Only this part.”
When I started taking it, I found myself stopping before the surges were finished so I didn’t dull the whole sensation. I also found (and was a little disappointed!) that it didn’t offer as much relief I’d expected – I should have remembered this from five years ago. I was too far along for that. I still felt the surges but the entonox helped me to go with them instead of fighting against them. I wasn’t trying to push myself out of the water with each surge but could instead breathe.
We never did decide what we’d do with the girls. It seemed for a while that it might all happen with them asleep. But when 5am approached, we started discussing what to do because Ophelia would likely be up at 6.30 and I needed Laurence too much for him to be able to attend to her. We also knew that with an hour’s sleep and hours of labour there was no way we wanted to be looking after them that day! So he called his father who came to pick them up. While they sorted car seats, I held the first midwife’s hand through my surges. By now I was finding her encouragement to breathe slowly very helpful.
The first midwife suggested I get out of the pool for a bit and I decided I’d stay out. For some reason, I’ve felt throughout this pregnancy that I wouldn’t give birth in water. In fact, I asked Laurence to set up an area in the playroom because I felt it might happen there. At her suggestion, I sat on my birth bill for a bit. Moving around on it, everything quickened. She suggested I sit on a chair. I decided to kneel and hold on to it instead. It was the position that had felt the most right throughout the labour. It felt like the way this baby was going to be born.
At this point, I was breathing in the entonox but only half breathing, half growling it out. She told me to save the energy I was spending making noise. But I knew I didn’t want the gas and air anymore. She must have sensed this because she said, “You can just push if you like.” My body had been pushing but I needed to just go with it.
I stopped using the entonox, started breathing down through my nose as best I could while growling and to my surprise, the hypnobirthing image of ripples came to me. In three minutes and two massive pushes, Delilah slipped out into the midwife’s hands and she was handed to me. It was 7.50am. I’d planned to catch her myself as I had Ophelia but I actually couldn’t have done it as I wasn’t in the zone or position.
Instantly, I was overwhelmed by how much she looked like Ophelia and how surprised I was that she was really here. A real baby. When the cord stopped pulsating, the midwife cut the cord and despite uncertainty about using the cord tie I’d crocheted instead of a hospital clamp, she went with with it in the end.
I’d had stuff in my plan about delaying baby checks and letting us be quietly together but I think the gas and air had made me little more “let’s get on with this” and less “rush of love” than I’d been with Ophelia. But I also think it may have helped speed things along by helping me to relax and keep my focus.
The placenta took almost an hour to come and we were all getting impatient. With Talitha I’d had the syntometrine injection so it came away quickly. With Ophelia, breastfeeding and standing had made it slip out easily. I ended up accepting the offer of having my bladder catheterised, which didn’t make much difference.
I said I’d consider syntometrine as I might as well throw away the birth plan (the second midwife’s words were still with me). Laurence reminded me that I had had a lovely, straightforward, calm home birth, which absolutely was my plan. When the next surge came, with mind over matter I forcefully pushed the placenta out while the first midwife put pressure on my tummy. It was such a relief. And it was the first time I’d seen a placenta properly, this being our first daytime birth. It was fascinating but neither beautiful nor revolting. It just was.
Both midwives were extremely competent and I always felt that we were in safe hands. The first gushed about how well I’d done pushing Delilah out gently which made me feel really good. It had been a serious concern of mine as Ophelia had shot out like a cannonball and they couldn’t work out how serious my tear was, so I was transferred to hospital, which I was desperate to avoid. As it was, I tore again this time but it was straightforward and easily stitched upstairs on our bed, after which I snuggled into bed with my baby and Laurence. We stayed there for most of the rest of the day, getting up to have a shower and the just enjoying being in and out of sleep and feeding with newborn Delilah.
All in all, it was the easiest of our births and we kept noting how amazing it was to just be at home this time. I loved not eating hospital food for lunch and Laurence marvelled at being able to hang out with a baby this young. It was lovely having this time just the three of us to recover and enjoy getting acquainted before the older girls came home with Laurence’s parents and my mother at supper time, extremely excited to meet their new sister.
I think my take away from all of my births is that an experience doesn’t have to be perfect to be good. Talitha’s ended up with induction and I found it traumatic in a lot of ways but looking back, I now mostly see the bits I am grateful for, like stopping to touch her hair. Ophelia’s carried the shadow of Group B Strep which I’d refused antibiotics for, choosing to birth at home. It ended with transfer to hospital and a two-night stay after the birth. But it was such a calm, utterly empowering birth. Delilah’s could have benefited from me knowing my midwife beforehand, unfortunately not currently possible on the NHS in Bristol. It would probably have been a good idea to have a doula this time. But, there were no concerns at any point and it all happened swiftly and relatively easily. I always felt safe in the midwives’ excellent care. And we got to do it all here, in our home!
She’s quietly joined our lives in a birth that really was just part of normal life. Sitting up in bed, cuddling her and breathing through after pains while I write this all down, I just can’t stop thanking God for these three children he has given me and for the man sleeping beside us who is absolutely the best birth partner I could have had.