By Kate McArthur
Arran’s story begins a week before he was born. Arran was large and grew noticeably by the day in the final weeks and I was very uncomfortable at night and getting little sleep. I decided to take things into my own hands and I went for a lie down to try some nipple stimulation. Everything I had read told me this was the most successful way to bring on labour as long as the stimulation continued for several hours. I figured a do-it-myself approach might be the most fruitful method.
After an hour I started to have a feeling like the onset of my period which soon became a rhythmic tightening in my womb. I got up. While on my feet the tightenings continued, quite far apart but regular and they carried on while I cooked dinner and baked a cake. I started to feel excited that my baby might soon be born, but by 8:30pm I was tired and needed to lie down. All the action stopped and I was disappointed the following day when there was no sign of baby coming.
After a day or two I was relaxed and happy to let things happen in their own time, but taking a good brisk walk everyday to encourage baby in the right direction. I started to have strong Braxton Hicks contractions and then my uterus went hard as a rock for more than an hour with no let up. This was frightening and not something I had experienced or heard of as being ‘normal’ pre-labour activity so I called my midwife and on her advice took a bath. Perhaps I should have rung my mother because talking it over with her later she said “Oh yes that’s how labour started for me with both you and your sister”. I had had no experience of pre-labour activity during the birth of my daughter (now 10 years) as her labour began with my waters breaking in the middle of the night in a great gush and then a slow progression until her arrival some 14 hours later.
With my uterus still contracted hard after a bath I was feeling very anxious (not helped by lack of sleep) so my midwife suggested I come up to the hospital and meet her for a check-up. I had never been to the hospital birthing unit, having had my daughter at home; I found it daunting. After foetal monitoring, which showed regular small contractions and a healthy response from baby, I asked my midwife for an examination. I really needed to know what was happening. I was 2 cm dilated and 80% effaced – at last real progress! So we all went home feeling that baby would be coming in the night. Once again the action stopped and nothing the next day either although by now I was 4 cm dilated and 100% effaced – how frustrating.
Arran’s due date arrived and I had some induction and relaxation acupuncture. After a rest my Mother-in-law took me shopping, with instructions from my husband not to bring me home until I was in labour. I got a good hour’s walk around the supermarket, my husband and I had another go at nipple stimulation in the evening and I spent plenty of time rocking on my Swiss ball. But other than two large contractions nothing else happened so I went to bed to get some rest.
At 2:30am I woke up feeling refreshed and turned on the TV. I felt resolute – the time had come for baby to be born! So I started nipple stimulation again while watching TV and after an hour I felt a popping sensation low in my belly, which was just a little painful. My waters had broken! To be sure I leapt out of bed and switched on the light, sure enough a few drips appeared. I woke Rob and before 30 seconds were up I got a painful, strong contraction which lasted about 20 seconds. We both waited to make sure this really was labour and sure enough within 90 seconds another short, sharp contraction came: “ring the midwife and fill the birth-pool!”
As I moved into the lounge another contraction hit, they were painful, short but very close together. In retrospect we should have had a practice run with the birth-pool. Labouring alone was a little stressful, while Rob tried to find the pool instructions that I had tidied away and forgotten. I rang Mum to let her know we were at ‘action stations’. The contractions increased in sharpness and started to spread into my back while I talked on the phone. Each time a contraction came I dropped the phone and groaned my way through it before picking up again. Mum timed me and after the third contraction in two minutes she urged me to call my midwife back and make sure she was on the way. Rob started acupressure on my lower back at each contraction and the relief was incredible. After that I felt like I couldn’t handle any contractions without the sacral counter-pressure as the pain was intense. By this time the pool was filling, the contractions were coming one after the other (but still short) and I felt scared by the intensity and the lack of any break between. I called Julie back and asked her to come straight away.
My friend and birth-coach Aileen arrived and Zyanya awoke and came out to see if I was OK. She wanted to be at the birth but I was anxious that she would be frightened watching me labour so I asked her to stay in her room for a while with the radio on. Aileen began reminding me to keep breathing and reassuring me. The lights were dimmed and music was playing quietly.
Finally I felt the endorphins kick in and I started to feel ‘out of it’ and more able to focus on going with the flow. Not as frightened of the contractions my anxiety lessened and my breathing improved. Negative thoughts were going through my mind like “I can’t do this” and “everything is too fast and painful”. But I had practised letting those thoughts come and go without taking them on or panicking. Looking back, I think I was probably in transition not long into my labour, a difficult starting point mentally. Our student midwife Bridgette arrived and Julie soon followed. I was feeling the need to bear down at the end of each contraction by now, Arran was not far away.
My daughter came out of her room and sat quietly in an armchair, she was not frightened as long as she could see what was happening; 10 year olds cope remarkably well. Julie set up her gear and Bridgette and Rob stepped-up efforts to get the pool full and to the right temperature while Aileen stayed with me on the floor. Finally I could move into the pool, which was cool and wonderful relief. Aileen remained by my side applying pressure to my sacrum and reminding me to keep breathing through each contraction and not to hold my breath when the pushing sensations came, just to go with the flow and let my body do the work on its own. Rob stayed at my head, stroking my arms and applying acupressure to my shoulders to remind me to keep my focus up and on breathing while I laboured on hands and knees in the pool. Between the contractions Aileen washed water over my lower back, which was magic. At this point the pool was too cool and shallow for the arrival of baby; Bridgette did a great job of getting it heated up and full just in time.
I was determined not to hold my breath or physically push with the contractions. I could feel Arran’s descent into and through the birth canal and the opening and stretching of my pelvis as he moved and turned. It was an amazing feeling and though the contractions were strong and overwhelming at times I kept allowing the negative thoughts to come and go and visualised that I was riding waves in the ocean. Aileen was my constant reminder when the going got tough that we had a plan and the plan was to keep breathing through each contraction; I wanted to “breathe the baby out”. This method slowed Arran’s descent and helped me to relax after the whirlwind intensity of my earlier labour. Julie had to remind herself not to tell me to push. I touched my son’s head and felt his hair – not long now!
With each contraction I simply let my uterus do all the work and the sensations of Arran and I working together to bring him into the world were amazing. I knew when his head was going to crown and I took a deep breath in readiness. His head was birthed with some easing from Julie and I panted hard to stop myself from pushing him straight out. While we waited for the next contraction to bring his shoulders and body out Zyanya came to the pool to see Arran for the first time – that wait seemed to take forever. One more strong contraction and he was free with Julie passing him through my legs and into my arms. At last you were here Arran, sleeping in my arms, contented and very chubby! We all sat around the pool looking at Arran while he slept on, stirred a little and finally opened his eyes. I couldn’t believe how big he was (9lbs 14oz) or how quickly he was born in the end, only two hours and ten minutes from start to birth.
Eventually we left the pool to birth the placenta. Rob cut Arran’s cord and I only had a small tear so no stitches were needed thanks to the slowed second stage. Arran was swaddled on my chest skin-to-skin wearing only a hat (the newborn one I had chosen for the occasion was too small!) and although he was alert and looking around he had little inclination to feed then. We cuddled up together on the couch for tea and toast, Aileen and the midwives drank tea and chatted and I called Mum back to let her know everything had gone well. We named him sometime around dawn. After a clean up we were all tucked up into our bed for a well-earned sleep and for Arran’s first feed once he woke in the afternoon: homebirth bliss!