I remember waking sometime after midnight, with a sense that something was shifting. I was almost 42 weeks pregnant, so the inevitable had obviously been in my consciousness for some time – but the strange thing about birth is that, even when it could begin at any moment, it always feels so far away. Unimaginable.
So I just lay in bed and waited, with Nick sleeping soundly next to me, and I thought to myself – ‘I’ll just see if that happens again.’ And it did. It wasn’t a pain, or even a physical sensation at all, it was just a sense. Like moving within a gentle wave, something shifting; or like something I needed to pull into focus, but was still blurry.
So I thought it best to get up and use the loo… and I remember sitting there for a while, the sense still coming and going, but it now felt as though I had eaten something dodgy. I leaned back, gently placing my hands onto the wall on either side of me, and tried to let go of all tension. I just sat there and tried to let go.
I remember not wanting to wake Nick, but not wanting to go back to bed. So I went into the living room and checked the time – it was somewhere around 12.15am – and then I knelt over some large cushions on the sofa. I remember rocking my hips and breathing, slowly and deeply. I thought I was just pretending, practicing, just trying to imagine…
What felt like 5 minutes later… I decided to get my phone and send a text message to my mum and dad, who were to look after Beau when birthing began. Looking at my message history, this was actually a whole hour later, at 1.15am.
At the time, I remember thinking I was jumping the gun a bit, but that it was better they came sooner rather than later – so that they wouldn’t need to drive in the middle of the night, and Beau would already be taken care of once things did get underway. I was even thinking that if labour didn’t establish, then Nick and I could simply enjoy the next day together, relaxing, patiently waiting for things to begin… my parents live a 30 minute drive away and it was lucky I messaged exactly when I did.
I remember my dad replying to my ‘are you awake’ text immediately, as he was still awake, and how he simply asked “are you starting?”
“I think so.”
“Shall we come now?”
Then the rest becomes a blur. After sending the texts, it was literally as though I had flicked a switch and all was on. It was now more than apparent that labour had started.
I started to make low, deep groaning noises with every exhalation during a surge. I remember doing this, not only because it helped, but also because I thought it might wake Nick or Beau up – I wanted someone to come to me, but at the same time I didn’t want to move or to wake them.
Eventually I had to – I went into our bedroom and told Nick ‘I’m in labour and mum and dad are on their way.’ I must have sounded urgent, as I just remember him startling and jumping straight out of bed and asking if he should call Sue, as I went back to the loo. I wasn’t sure if we needed Sue yet, I just knew I needed to be breathing on the loo.
From now my story is pieced together from the birthing notes Sue kept in my clinical record, along with the fragmented memories I have of my own experience. They replay almost like a staccato of images in my mind – surreal moments where I lost myself within the surges, wedged alongside memories of strange lucidity between the contractions.
It was 1.45am when Nick had called Sue, just 90 minutes after I had woken up, and my surges were already established in a solid 2-3 minute rhythm. There was barely any time after the last had ebbed away, before the next one had started to build. The surges were really slamming me; Sue heard this over the phone and thought it best to come straight away.
“Arrived at Hayley’s house. Hayley is working really hard to relax her body between surges. Getting little breaks between them as some shorter surges between the stronger ones.”
Everything happened so quickly!
There had been 30 minutes in between Nick calling Sue and her arriving, and in that time my Mum and Dad arrived. Mum stayed with me as I laboured in the bedroom, whilst Nick busied himself putting the last bits and pieces in my hospital bag. I’m not sure where Dad was, and I hardly even thought about Beau, bless him! But that’s because I knew he had people there to take care of him, of course – I could relax into labour knowing he was OK, which is likely why things began in earnest once I’d made those arrangements.
Later on I was told that Nick had taken Beau from his bed and put him into Mum and Dad’s car, and all he could say was ‘wow, look at all the stars!”, before being taken to their home in the countryside. What an adventure!
So it had been just after 2.15am when Sue arrived to assess me, and by her notes it was 2.50am when we left for the hospital! Labour was well and truly established.
I remember the cool night air when we stepped outside, and how the whole world felt asleep; I remember touching the cool dark surface of the car and wondering how I would get in; I remember Nick driving us up our steep driveway and quietly repeating “I long for these surges”; I remember just how much I had longed for my surges, before labour had began, and thought what a fool I was now; I remember I’d made a music playlist, but wanted silence; I remember thinking we were the only ones on the roads, even though we couldn’t have been; and I remember having such intense contractions as we drove down The Avenue, passed my old university, once we got on the motorway, and in the carpark at the hospital. I remember having no idea what to expect, but also knowing exactly what I needed to do – to just breathe. To surrender.
These surges really gripped me, I have to say, and I did everything I could to relax into them. But it was hard. I felt as though the rug had been pulled out from under me – there was no gentle, gradual build up, it had seemed as though labour had begun suddenly and abruptly and I hadn’t a chance to get my head around it. So I just tried to focus on filling my lungs and exhaling deeply through each surge – pushing the energy down into my pelvic floor, letting go, feeling the full force of each wave.
I wouldn’t say I was riding the waves, as much as I was trying not to drown under them. When each surge ebbed away, I opened my eyes, took stock, and waited for the next one. They kept coming, over and over, relentlessly. This was all so sudden and intense – but, at the same time, it felt so productive and progressive so I didn’t fight it. I just kept breathing and pushing that energy down – opening myself to them.
It took a while to get into the hospital, as I had to keep stopping – by the pay machine, on the zebra crossing, up the steps… we went through the emergency department and the waiting room was full of people, big wide eyes, and bright lights. Someone asked if I wanted a wheelchair, I declined. I stopped to breathe through a surge over the back of a chair in the middle of everyone. I took a few hobbled steps, and asked for that wheelchair… we went through some double doors, people stepped aside, we were in a lift, then I read “labour suite.” My clinical notes say it was 3.30am when we were admitted.
Once in our room, Sue was there again. She put a cannula into my right forearm, for in case of an emergency, and strapped a CTG belt around my waist, to continuously monitor baby’s heart rate. This is standard hospital procedure for a birthing mother with a previous c-section – but still requires your informed consent. I had given mine prior to labour beginning and can honestly say that the IV leur (strapped down with a bandage) and the tummy belt did not hinder me or my mobility in any way – I barely noticed they were there, and the belt was water-proof, meaning I could still get into a pool.
Once the necessary things were done, Sue went straight to fill the birth pool, whilst we waited awkwardly in the birthing room, trying to settle in. I continued with the surges, I think I may have mentioned to Nick how intense they were for me, and I distinctly remember faffing around looking for my togs, in the bag I had packed and repacked several times over the previous weeks – before eventually finding them, wondering how to put them on, and Nick questioning why I needed them anyway.
“Hayley is into the pool…”
“Hayley is requesting entonox – same given.”
I remember wishing I had asked for gas and air sooner. On getting into the pool, my expectations that it would ease my discomfort were quickly redefined. It did not ease the intensity of those contractions. Not at all. But the water did enable me to squat deeply, without toppling over or my legs getting tired, so that in itself was a huge benefit, as labour continued to race along.
NB: Sitting and leaning back, into Nick, was not an option for me. I tried and quickly asked him to propel me forward, as the pain was too much and being upright and forwards felt entirely more manageable to me. It was almost as though I was welcoming labour this way, not collapsing under it. I remember this was just the same the first time.
The experience itself, of getting into a birthing pool – something denied to me with my first birth, due to premature rupture of membranes and risk of infection – was divine, to me. I had wanted and fought for this and it was at this very moment I realised that my baby could come however they needed to, without me feeling a sense of loss or birth trauma, because I had achieved all that I had set out to do – no elective surgery, no unnecessary interventions, spontaneous labour, natural progression, and letting it all happen in its own time. I had been fighting to be left alone. Fighting for my opportunity to VBAC. Now I had reached the point of the transition phase, and I had made it into the birthing pool, so now I could surrender and welcome the course it would take.
At one point in the pool, I remember resting my cheek on the side, staring intently at the tubes coming in and out of the gas canister, and hearing Nick – who was sitting in the pool behind me – affectionately comment on my hips moving in time to the music. I had no idea he had even put any on.
Eventually there was an intensity that felt greater than me. A pressure that felt like my very own life force being pushed out. At the end of every exhalation, there was an urge to exhale further still, far beyond any breath I had left. I was pushing and groaning and banging my hand on the side of the tub, almost begging for release. It seemed an odd but very necessary thing for me to do. Sue kept reminding me to inhale. But I just felt this internal force trying to push itself out of me. It felt like being squeezed. And then I would get the release, and wonder what was happening. It just simply felt greater than me – as though this energy surging through me was no longer mine. And it no longer felt productive. It felt as though I had hit a wall and was banging against it. Which is remarkable… because we would later learn that my baby had…
“Hayley out of the pool, back to room 8, on the bed kneeling – needing strong pressure on pressure points on her lower back…”
I remember Nick and Sue helping me out of the pool, drying me, putting me in a hospital gown, and then walking me through the corridor back to our designated birthing room. (Previous c-section mamas aren’t assigned to the rooms with the pools in them – because hospital policy is that we ‘aren’t permitted’ to use them. Having to leave my room in the throes of labour, to walk the length of an insanely bright corridor towards an unoccupied room with a birthing pool at the opposite end, was a small price to have paid to assert my right).
Back in the room I now continued to labour intensely – moving constantly, into any position that felt right or necessary to be in: kneeling over the pillows of the bed, with Nick and Sue pressing my hips on either side; standing beside the bed, leaning on Nick, with one leg raised and placed upon it; sitting on a swiss ball, legs wide apart, leaning over the bedside… all of these positions, with hindsight, were an attempt to open my pelvis as wide as I possibly could. The pressure and the intensity of these surges were off the chart…
And so the surges continued, relentlessly, with little to no break in-between them and I could no longer cope. I was starting to become quite overwhelmed and not only did I think ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ but I actually didn’t want to either.
I requested a vaginal exam to check on my progress, just to see I was heading in the right direction…
“Palp: LOL Ceph. VE: 7cm dilated, effaced. Head @ stn -1. LOL-OA. Bulging membranes esp w surges. Hayley reasurred and continues to use entonox and changing positions.”
“Hayley is desperate for an epidural. She feels the demand is too high with these intense, close contractions. Anaesthetist called.”
“IV plasmalyte now running. Hayley is working hard. Early decels <80bpm.”
I remember this so distinctly. I remember asking for the epidural and, despite not wanting one, knowing deep down this was the right decision for me. A necessary one. I just knew it. I remember reassuring Nick and Sue that I would not regret this decision later on.
And I didn’t.
I remember the anaesthetist arriving and being asked to sit on the edge of the bed, Sue giving me a pillow to lean over, Nick uttering soothing words. There was the intensity of the ongoing contractions, the ice cold disinfectant wiped over my back, and the fear of having a needle inserted into the most delicate of places during the most unyielding of surges. I remember all but screaming as a surge reached is peak, just as the epidural sent its electric shock into the socket of my left hip, then down behind my knee caps. It felt as though I was launching out of my seat as Nick’s hand on my shoulder grounded me. And then bliss.
I was helped to lay down, Sue busied herself with IV lines, the anaesthetist laughed at our birth music as ‘Mr Boombastic’ blared out of the speakers, and the gentle fizzing away of those powerful contractions. I could breathe, I could relax, I could glance at the clock…
“How long before this really kicks in?” I asked.
“By 6.20” I was promised.
And then I lay back and closed my eyes.
“Contractions continuing, with good relaxation between them.”
Over the next two hours, my had body continued to labour unassisted, whilst I relaxed in the hospital bed.
I chatted with Sue, I laughed and smiled with Nick, we even took the odd photo. I almost forgot about what was imminently ahead… but then I slowly started to regain my thoughts again and I realised – I either need to push this baby out, or I will be off to the theatre again. I kind of already knew what the outcome would be. I knew the moment I got out of the birth pool, to be honest. And at this point I started to get scared.
For the first time in both of my pregnancies, my two labours, and my first c-section with Beau – I genuinely felt scared. Nick told me I would be ok – and I knew I would be. But I was still scared. And I felt really alone. Like – it was easy for him to reassure me, given he didn’t have to embark on this monumental journey himself. And I was exhausted. I remember that I kept saying how glad I was I had asked for the epidural. I felt so empowered by that decision.
“VE: cervix continues to be @7cm dilated, with no descent. Whilst doing the examination the membranes ruptured with muddy brown meconium. FHR baseline has increased over the past hour or so from 135bpm > 145bm. Head feels deflexed and asynclitic OT-OA @ stn -1 to -2. Discussed findings with Hayley and Nick and advised Doctor is coming to see them asap.”
Three hours had gone by, since I reached 7cm dilation and had an epidural, and no further progress had been made despite my uterus having ongoing contractions. Baby was now showing some signs of distress and the head was presenting in the same way Beau’s had done – which had been an emergency/late stage c-section due to being obstructed. It was seeming quite apparent at this point that the same complication, and thus the same outcome, would occur.
I waited for the Doctor to come and tell me that she would need to prepare me for theatre. I nodded calmly to the expected news when it came. And I tried not to cry, whilst as the same time feeling the deepest sense of relief. An end point in sight. But more than that – I had done all that I could, and this time I knew it. A sense of peace over my first baby’s cesarean birth settled within in, for good. I had done all that I could then, and I had done all that I could now. Soon we will meet our second baby and life will move into a new chapter for us all.
“Hayley prep’d for theatre.”
The anaesthetist I had this time, Andy, was truly wonderful. I confessed my fear to him (especially when the first spinal block wasn’t as effective and I needed a second) and he looked me deeply in the eyes and told me all would be OK. I felt safe with him, and he stuck by my side the whole time. Sue was there for baby now; Fiona was the Doctor performing my c-section; Nick was there for baby and me both; but Andy was there just for me. His professionalism, expertise, and kindness, held me together throughout that surgery when I could feel myself falling apart.
There were three others in the theatre – a surgical nurse, a second anaesthetist, and another midwife – meaning we were a team of 8, with one more soon to join us… Far from being the private, dimly lit, and deeply relaxed environment I longed for to birth in – this was bright lights, many busy and excited faces, and wide open sharing. And you know what – it was perfect. It was a really defining moment in my life – I didn’t need to cope, to be calm, to hold it together or be brave, I could just be me. And all would be well.
“It’s a girl?”
Nick had been invited to take a look at baby – and I heard his disbelief and joy play out through his gentle words, as he discovered in that very first moment…
“She’s a girl!!!!”
Georgina Mae Greer, Georgie, was pulled from my tummy – crying before even her legs were out. Eyes wide open, wondering what all that was about, she weighed a squishy delishy 9lb 5oz and was- is! – the most beautiful wee darling. She, who we had dared not to wish for, had come to us.
I’d like to say that the moment was as beautiful as the picture, but it wasn’t quite. For me, the moment was incredibly challenging. There was a space left inside of me, when baby had been pulled out – and this void now felt like I was being suffocated as my lungs tried to stretch back into the space. My sinuses had completed blocked, so that I couldn’t draw any air in through my nose at all. And my mouth was as dry as cotton wool, making swallowing difficult. All of this whilst laying flat on my back was quite overwhelming – and not at all like my first c-section, which had been comfortable, fascinating, and enjoyable.
I remember wishing for it to be over. I remember Georgie being brought to me – noticing meconium in her creases; the lively pinkness of her; and feeling her skin, warm and soft, against my own. And then I remember asking Nick to take care of her until I could. I didn’t want to introduce myself to her this way.
There are photos I saw later, of the moments Nick then shared with Georgie – shirt off, skin-to-skin, welcoming his girl into his life – and I am so happy they had that time together. She has two parents, not just one mother. The team kept my mind occupied, whilst I did my best to keep myself together for the rest of the surgery – Sue gently stroked my sinuses, which helped greatly; Andy got me wet wash cloths to suck on, to moisten my cotton dry mouth; and Fiona told me she would be as quick as she could, but wanted to do a careful job, so asked if I’d prefer to be put to sleep. I most certainly did not – so I meditated for the duration of the surgery and soon it was over and I was sitting upright in recovery.
There was violent shaking post-op; someone helping me to drink through a straw; the tightness of the blood pressure cuff – on and off and on and off; the swift and gentle care of the post-op nurse, who was a young Asian man; the kindness of Fiona, who came to see me, reassuring me that I had done everything I could, that there was no way I would have birthed her vaginally; the warm feeling of pride and elation to have heard that; wondering where Sue and Andy had gone; feeding her for the first time and both knowing what to do; seeing my Nick quietly but intently watching us from the side; being wheeled to a ward; Nick there still, all the way; trying to remember how different or similar all this had been with Beau; not being able to keep my eyes open… drifting off… sleeping…
And then I woke and there was a kind nurse – Mandeep – but I had been bleeding too much, and so there was a red button and Fiona again and other people and weighing of blood loss and telling them I was scared and my stomach being palpated and various drips in my arm and other people coming in and Nick’s reassuring eyes and Fiona’s kind ones and being told I was OK but not believing it.
This was all a blur, and there would be several more hours of discomfort… and then Georgie.
Then I saw her. She was in my arms and I don’t know how long she had been there, but it didn’t matter – because she was there with me and now I could see her.
The sun was setting outside, so it must have been around 5 or 6pm, and the room had filled with a pink-hued golden light. She was stunning. She looked like her brother, only she was Georgie. She was simply Georgie. And she was beautiful and she was my girl and I stared at her for a very long time, whilst she slept in my arms.
I remembered the dream I had had, just when I was beginning my fertility treatment in order to conceive again, in which Sue had come to me. She had been sitting in the middle of our living room, as though we had been deep in conversation, and she had simply pointed to my stomach saying “honey, you have a girl in there. She’s just not ready yet, but she’s in there.”
And now here she was. Georgie Mae. Here in her own time.
I didn’t know my heart could expand anymore. This sweet soul came along and I thought my heart would need to make room; but instead she made it bigger. She fits right in. I fell in love with her instantly – I literally felt myself fall. It was like taking a step over the edge and flying.
And something seemed to lift within me too, as though I felt lighter… like she had picked me up and taken me to a place where I could leave heavy and unimportant stuff behind. Beau showed me that place existed, and Georgie took me by the hand and gently led us all in. It’s as though I was waiting for her all along. And now we can all take that next step, together.