Updated: Apr 26
When I was pregnant first time round I have to admit I didn’t explore in much depth different scenarios for labour. I very briefly looked at pain relief options (and dismissed them) but never researched - or assisted delivery. In hindsight this wasn’t a very wise move as it meant I wasn’t particularly informed about much other than a serene no drug water birth! And that couldn’t be further from what I actually had.
Before diving in I want to give a pre-warning that I will go into detail on various aspects of my labour process because there are certain things that took me by surprise and I had no clue about. So, I’m going to assume this could happen to others too. I also want to give an honest account as I don’t believe in presenting false truths just because it may sound better.
My birth story is fairly long as my labour (although never classified as ”established“ labour) went on for 47 hours.
The first thing I was clueless about was my mucus plug. I’d never heard of it before so was shocked and worried when I lost mine in the early hours of the morning of 28th April 2016 (3 days after my due date).
The parenting website “what to expect” has some great info here which put my mind at ease that it was a normal and early sign of labour (although when I say early, it can still mean that labour is weeks away!).
It wasn’t until around 3am on Tuesday 3rd May 2016 that labour started when I woke to my waters breaking.
Waters Breaking and Early Contractions
Again, I was unprepared for this scenario as I was unaware that you could have a “slow leak” of your waters. Initially we therefore didn’t realise it was my waters as there wasn’t the huge rush of water that you hear about. So, I just put on a maternity pad and even after my contractions started at 4am we still didn’t know if it was my waters. The contractions were irregular but continued through the rest of the night until 2.30pm when they completely stopped.
Before going into labour I’d heard many stories about early contractions feeling just like period pains. This wasn’t quite true for me though - I’d had lots of period type pains in the couple of weeks prior and would think “is this it?” but as soon as I had my first contraction I 100% knew that was it. For me it was so distinctive - it was powerful but not hugely painful.
At 4pm on the 3rd May we decided to go to the hospital as I was still leaking slowly but continually so we wanted to check whether it was in fact my waters. At hospital the midwife confirmed that my waters had indeed broken and the clock was now ticking for me to deliver the baby as the risk of infection increases the longer the baby remains inside. Due to this, my hospital had a policy of starting induction if labour has not progressed within 36 hours. This was therefore booked in for 3pm the following day, but the hope was that I’d go into established labour before that. However, as at 4.45pm on Tuesday 3rd May, I was only 1cm dilated (approx 14 hours after waters initially broke).
As it had already been 14 hours with no progress and the threat of induction was looming I agreed with the midwife’s recommendation of having a sweep to try and move things along. This is something I’d previously said I would not have as I wanted my labour to be completely natural.
As per nhs.uk, during a membrane sweep “your midwife or doctor sweeps their finger around your cervix during an internal examination”. The aim is to separate the membranes of the amniotic space from your cervix. Some people say it’s painful but I personally did not think it was - I actually barely felt it. The sweep was carried out around 4.45pm and it initially seemed like it had worked as my contractions re-started around 5.30pm. However, these contractions were distinctly different to before.
I don’t know for sure but I strongly believe that the sweep encouraged the baby to move into a back to back position as my contractions were now in my back rather than stomach. They were accompanied by hot/cold sweats and nausea. I also developed a severe shooting pain in my right shoulder shot down to my left hip. It was absolute agony and was constant even in between contractions meaning I had no relief.
Once home, my contractions continued but were very inconsistent - anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes apart. I decided to have a bath to relax but the contractions slowed down around 10pm. By 11.30pm they picked up again and were 5-7 minutes apart, lasting 50-120 seconds. This seemed like positive progress. During this time I sat on my birthing ball and had a hot water bottle tied to my back.
The main thing making the pain so unbearable was the sharp shooting pain I was continuing to get down my left hand side and in my right shoulder - it was excruciating . The pain got worse laying down so I ended up having minimal sleep sitting on the birthing ball and leaning onto the side of the bed.
Back to hospital
The next morning (Thursday 4th May) my contractions had gone back to to being irregular, but the shooting pains continued. My waters still continued to leak slowly (they had not stopped since they first went) and at around 10.30am they were a bit discoloured so we went to the hospital to ensure there was no meconium (baby’s first bowel movement) as it can increase risks when it is released into the amniotic fluid. Luckily this had not occurred but I was still only 1cm dilated which was really disheartening. As it was now nearly 12pm, the midwife told me to stay at the hospital and they could admit me to the ward at 2pm to start the induction.
We therefore went to the hospital Costa for lunch but I was unable To stomach anything other than fruit (which had been the case since the evening before). I tried a toastie, a sandwich, crisps, chocolate and a couple of different cakes - but I just couldn’t bare more than a bite. I remember feeling bad that my husband was constantly up and down trying to see what else he could buy me to try. I also remember being gutted that all the chocolate snacks I’d packed for labour would go to waste and that I couldn’t take advantage of my one chance to eat lots of chocolate guilt free haha
Induction and Epirudal
Back to the labour ward at 2pm and I was admitted for induction. First of all I was checked over to ensure it was ok to proceed - blood pressure, urine sample, blood test, internal examination. I was also put on the monitor to check baby and an IV line was put in my hand ready for the drip induction.
I was only 1cm dilated but the baby was showing signs of distress - his heart rate was dropping during contractions so it was decided that I would move into a labour room for my induction as opposed to remaining on the post natal ward until labour was established, and then moving over.
I was offered paracetamol as the shooting pains I had were still so severe but this did nothing to help. Therefore, as soon as I was on the labour ward I opted to have an epidural even though I was still only 1cm dilated and had previously told myself I wouldn’t have one. But, in the moment I knew I needed it and my husband could see this too so he never tried to dissuade me even though I’d previously told him he must if I asked for one. The midwife had also advised us by now that there was a chance of needing a c-section and if that occurred then having already had an epidural would help as I’d already be numb and just need “topping up”.
A mixture of not knowing what to do with myself due to these shooting pains, and worry about the baby made me actually ask for a c-section there and then but I think the midwife could tell it was just fear talking and she reassured me that a natural labour would be best if possible.
The epidural was administered quickly, I sat on a birthing ball but stayed still while it was being given. Luckily the contractions were still quite far apart so I didn’t have one during the epidural process. I’ve heard stories that epidurals are painful to administer but I personally didn’t feel any pain (maybe I was too hung up on this shooting pain I had, I don’t know).
Once the epidural was in, the consultant came to break my waters. What, I hear you say - they’ve already gone?! Well it turns out you have fore and hind waters and my hind ones had the slow leak but the fore ones were still intact. I had to stop the consultant initially as she essentially just came at me with a big knitting needle type instrument and I didn’t know what she was about to do. So I said “wait, can you let me know what you are going to do” and this is when she explained about the waters to me. I then felt comfortable to proceed.
Soon after my induction was started via drip. I didn’t feel anything when the induction started and in fact the epidural had quickly got to work and I was now completely pain free. It felt amazing!!!! I was told to eat something as they did not want me to eat anything after that point in case a c-section was needed. I tried the (not so nice!) shepherds pie that was delivered to my room but I still couldn’t stomach much. I did however manage a packet of crisps that my husband went and got for me.
With the epidural I was given a button which allowed me to control when more was administered. I liked this control over my medication and there was the safety of an automatic shut off if you reach the limit of what you can have within each time period so there was no chance of overdose.
By now (around 9.30pm on Wednesday 4th May), I was pain free and the induction was slowly working - my contractions were regular although I couldn’t feel them and the baby was comfortable. The midwife was hopeful he or she would arrive before she clocked off at 6am and everything seemed to now be on track for a natural delivery.
The baby was being constantly monitored and the midwife came in every 30 minutes to check obs and increase the induction when needed. All was going so well she told us to get some sleep and she’d wake us up when it was time for me to push. Wow, this sounded pretty good!
My husband fell into a deep sleep (he’d been awake with me pretty much the whole time since my waters first went) but I only slept lightly and stirred every time the midwife came in. Each time everything was encouraging. That was, until she came in at 2am....
Raising the alarm and emergency c-section
....as soon as she checked the monitor she immediately pressed the red buzzer and started wheeling me out of the room. My husband woke wearily and was simply told to follow - baby was going to be delivered now. I remember looking at the clock and seeing that it was exactly 2am. Whilst being wheeled down the corridor we were met by a whole array of other staff and we were told that the baby’s heart rate was too low and it would be reassessed in the operating room when a decision would be made as to whether my epidural could be topped up so I could stay awake, or whether I’d need a general anesthetic (GA). My husband was taken off to scrub up in case I was able to stay awake, in which case he could be present. If a GA was needed, he would not be able to be present.
I’m not sure what my chain of thought was but I remember asking about signing the consent form but I was informed that the surgeon has the authority to proceed without it where the situation is deemed as a medical emergency.
Luckily, when we got into theatre, baby’s heart rate had stabilized so it was decided that there was time to top up the epidural and keep me awake. I was reunited with my husband in theatre (the epidural top up was given in a side room attached and he was not allowed in that room).
I don’t remember much about the room other than the screen being put up over my stomach, and I was asked if I could feel anything. All I could feel was slight tugging on my stomach.
The birth and immediate aftermath
Next thing, at 2.08am on Thursday 5th May 2016 our precious baby was safely delivered (10 days after his due date) It was only 8 minutes after the decision had been made to proceed with a c-section. It felt like a lifetime but clearly wasn’t!
The baby was taken over to the resuscitaire to be checked over and my husband was invited over to see if we had a boy or girl. Our midwife was with us the whole time and she remembered from my birth plan that we wanted my husband to announce the sex of the baby. We had a boy :)
My husband was able to hold our Son and brought him over to me. He was perfect but I have to admit I didn’t feel the huge rush of love I thought I would feel - I thought the feeling would overwhelm me but I think I was just unable to process what had happened and that he was finally here. They were taken into the recovery room to wait for me. I was then stitched up and cleaned up. I remember feeling really undignified and completely at the mercy of the staff. I couldn’t move and just had to lay there whilst they cleaned up the most intimate parts of me. It wasn’t a nice feeling but it was a necessity and everyone was so kind and professional. We engaged in small talk during this process. My main midwife was no longer with me and was with my husband and baby.
Recovery ward and post natal ward
Reunited on the recovery ward, the midwife weighed our son (7lb 10 oz) and then he was given to me for skin to skin and breastfeeding which he could not get the hang of (that’s a story for another day). At about 6.30am we were transferred to the post natal ward.
Once on that ward I was given a mixture of painkillers to take at regular intervals to help with the pain. I was told that I should get up and moving as soon as possible, and to shower.
It was so difficult to move and I needed my husband’s support to get out of bed, and to shuffle to the end of it. He had to help me to the toilet, onto the chair, and back into bed. When I felt able to shower later that day we took the baby with us and slowly made our way to the shower room. That shower felt just as un-dignifying as laying on the operating table as, I was only able to hang onto the hand rails while my husband washed me and changed my pads.
Something else I didn’t realise about the whole labour process was the level of the bleeding afterwards and the fact that it still occurred after a c-section - I thought it would only happen after a natural labour.
I was also given a daily injection to take for 10 days to help prevent any blood clots. It was given into the stomach and was small - like an insulin pen. The midwives gave it to me in hospital and then my husband did it once we were home. It was almost painless (just like a small prick).
We stayed in hospital for 5 days whilst we established breastfeeding. I won’t go into that here as my birth story has already been a complete essay! But what I will say, is that I had the support of wonderful midwives who were 100% supportive of my desire to breastfeed and as long as that’s what I wanted to do, they were with me until I achieved it.
A few months after birth I was invited for a “birth reflections” meeting at the hospital. I’d encourage anyone to go for this as it’s an opportunity to speak with a midwife who has your labour notes, and to go through what happened. What I learn during that meeting is that there are four categories of c-section which are:
Category 1 - Emergency (this is the what mine was classified as) - represents immediate threat to life (of mum or baby) and baby must be delivered as soon as possible after the decision is made, but not longer than 30 minutes
Category 2 - Urgent - maternal or foetal compromise that is not immediately life threatening. There is no time limit for delivery but it should aim to be carried out within 90 minutes
Category 3 - Scheduled - when early delivery is needed but there is no maternal or foetal compromise
Category 4 - Planned - an elective section at a planned date and time.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my birth story (I know I certainly love hearing everyone’s unique stories) and that found my honestly useful. I know some of it doesn’t sounds pleasant but I as I said at the start, I wanted to share my honest experience and talk about the things I did not know myself in the hope of helping other mothers.
My advice for anyone pregnant is to research different birth options, even ones you’re not planning for, just so you are armed with a bit of knowledge in case anything changes.
If you found this informative please share it and also save it for future reference. I wish you all the best in your own labour and please remember, everyone’s experience is different so try not to worry about what might happen and take things as they come.
If you learnt anything during your own labour experience that you hadn’t previously been aware of, drop me a message and let me know - it may be useful for other mums in the future.
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