Elliot Michael Cundall
25th April 2013
Giving birth to Elliot was the most amazing, incredible and positive experience of my life. I keep replaying it in my mind because it continues to delight me. Granted – as I write this birth story – it is only 11 days since he was born but I think this will stay with me forever.
Our second baby was due on the 16 April and as that day, and the 9 that followed it came and went I began to despair. I so didn’t want to be induced. That had happened with our daughter, who we had planned a hypno home birth for. I felt I had already had my compromise – I felt I was owed the birth I wanted this time! Whilst Imogen’s birth was actually fine, and we had great care and sensitive attention from our midwives, it was highly medicalised. We were planning to be in the birth centre and to use the pool this time round.
So on Wednesday 24 April, when I woke up after having felt some twinges in the night I didn’t want to get my hopes up. This is a theme that runs through the whole labour. I decided to go into town as I was sick of waiting around for nothing and I was bored. I headed in but a miscommunication messed up plans to meet a friend for lunch so I just wandered around aimlessly being grumpy. I came home and had a nap. My husband came home with Imogen at 6pm and I told him that I had thought something was happening but now it didn’t seem to be. Secretly I still wondered. But I didn’t want to jinx it by actually saying it out loud. By 8.30 I was a bit more certain so I called my parents to put them on standby. We went to bed at 10pm and I was confident enough of what was happening to download a contraction app for my phone. They were every 10 mins and I rated them as mild, because I didn’t think it was right to start off with ‘strong’ as I would have nowhere to graduate to and then I’d be screwed!
At 11, after umming and ahhing, we called my parents to get them to come over and stay in case we did need to go off in the middle of the night. We all went to bed. I thought Matt would be on high alert but he rolled over and started snoring. I continued to have contractions every ten minutes but I think I went to sleep between each one. At 5am Matt came to and was surprised to find out the time, and that it was definitely happening. I figured he’d at least had a bit of rest ready for the fun to come. Imogen was up at 7 and she came into our bed. She seemed to understand because instead of clambering all over me, she rubbed my back, face and arm. We got her sorted for nursery and she went off with her grandparents.
Then the monotonous, boring bit started. Matt and I wandered around the house wondering what to do. I had a TENS machine and that seemed to help a bit, not least because it was something to do when a contraction came – the boost button was well used! I was so tired but every time I sat or lay the contractions went down to 20 mins and I was terrified of making it all stop! This went on till 4pm when I asked Matt to call the birthing centre again to ask if we could come in to be assessed and maybe get a stronger painkiller. I knew they would send me home but it was something to do – a change of scenery!
When we got there they said that I was only 2cm but that my cervix was forward and paper thin. I was disappointed but they gave me some codeine and, crucially, permission to go home and rest for a bit. I know it was stupid but I needed the reassurance that I wouldn’t make it stop by having a lie down.
When we got home Matt took the contraction counter off me and told me to just rest. I think I had an hour and a half. It was broken by the contractions, but I felt like a new woman when I got up at 7pm.
Matt made me some pasta and I ate half of it. The One Show was on the TV and Andrew Lloyd Webber was on it. I looked at the TV and was violently sick. We never watch this shit- I have no idea why it was on and am quite perturbed that ALW now features in my birth story. Anyway, as I was sick I felt fluid and so assumed my waters had gone. We saved some of the discharge on a pad and rang the centre who told us to come in. I wanted Matt to first eat his pie that he’d just got out of the oven but he just wanted to get to the hospital. We wrapped it up and put it next to the wrapped up pad – making a mental note that we mustn’t get them muddled!
On arrival at the birthing centre we were shown to an assessment room. There was a bit of a wait as it was shift changeover. Our midwife Michelle and a student Debbie came through and assessed me. The contractions were still only every 10 mins or so, so they weren’t convinced I was in established labour. I was desperate not to be sent back home. It turned out my waters hadn’t gone but Debbie thought I was 4cm. I prayed that she was right (she was third year after all!) Michelle confirmed that I was and said I could move to a pool room but that she would hold off formally booking me in or putting me in the pool because she felt I wasn’t quite established and she didn’t want me to be in the system and therefore in need of assessing and intervening every 4 hours. When we got to the room Matt was amazed at how lovely it was and I had a huge surge of relief that I was here, in this calm, peaceful environment instead of upstairs.
And then it kicked off! The examinations had obviously stimulated something because the contractions were coming thick and fast. It felt like I just had one, then there was something to be checked (blood pressure or baby’s heart rate etc) and then another came. I had long since abandoned my app but they would definitely have been rated as intense. I didn’t want to ask in case I jinxed it but it felt like I was really progressing. When they suggested I get in the pool I summoned up the nerve to check that we shouldn’t wait like they had originally suggested but they said I was definitely there now! I took off the TENS and got in. It was blissful. I loved it. It was 9pm on the dot.
I found I wanted to be on all fours, holding on to the handles with each contraction. I noticed Debbie and Michelle bustling about getting things ready but I was just focussing on breathing through each contraction. I was expecting them to examine me to tell me when I had got to fully dilated. I think this was because of my experience of being induced, where every centimetre was marked and acknowledged. When they told me I should do what my body wanted I told them I felt I wanted to push and was amazed when they said I should. I didn’t dare ask the vital question ‘am I actually going to have the baby soon?’ and was still mentally preparing myself for the long haul. So I pushed and screamed and then apologised for screaming. I’d like to think I am a quiet, serene birthing mother. But the evidence is that I am a screamer. I knew Matt was laughing at me……I still didn’t really let myself believe that it was happening, even as the stinging sensation returned that I instantly recognised from first time around.
When they told me to do little pushes I distinctly remembered thinking that that’s what they say on One Born when the head is coming. They were putting on their plastic aprons too, but it couldn’t be that straightforward. Could it?! Then the head was out and I could feel it there. I was told to move back so I could catch my baby with the next contraction. And then I think I let myself believe it. I had a moment of absolute clarity that I was glad I didn’t know what sex the baby was because I was looking forward to finding out after all the hard work. My membranes hadn’t gone so the baby was still in its sac. Matt said it made him look like a robber with tights over his head. As I manouvoured backwards it seemed an age as we waited for the next contraction. I panicked that it had stopped but was reassured that it was just my body resting ready for the final stretch. And then it came, and our baby was there. He unfurled and broke his membranes and I scooped him up into my arms. I looked at the clock, which said 10.24 but I couldn’t believe it so I (repeatedly) asked the time. We looked down together and saw that we had a boy. As we were both convinced it was going to be another girl we were genuinely quite surprised.
But of course as soon as we looked at him it seemed obvious that it was always going to be him, that he was our boy, Elliot.
I wanted to deliver the placenta without the injection, and to delay cutting the cord so there followed a slightly bizarre situation where I had to get out of the pool and on to the birthing bed with Elliot still attached, and the membrane sac dangling out too! I am rhesus negative so they needed to get a blood sample, otherwise I would have stayed in the water.
We lay on the bed and Elliot made his way towards my boob for a feed. Calls were made, texts sent and Facebook informed of Elliot’s arrival. I was euphoric. I’d got the perfect birth and a perfect boy. And I’d done it without any pain relief (in all honesty I kept wondering when I would be offered it but I now realise that it said on my birth plan that I didn’t want to be offered it and would ask if I felt I needed it!) The placenta was delivered easily and I didn’t need any stitches, although Debbie did have to push my cervix back up which was really painful. Elliot was feeding at the time though and my delight that that seemed to have got off to a good start overided the discomfort.
We moved across the hall to another room at midnight and had a relatively calm night. Then the next day it was time to start life as a family of four. Seeing Imogen and introducing her to her baby brother will forever be one of my most treasured memories.
The thing that made this experience so positive for me was that I felt in control of it throughout. The birthing centre is an amazing place. Compared to Imogen’s induced birth, it felt so hands off. And yet I felt absolutely safe, secure and informed. Having said that, although my two birth experiences are opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of detail, the affirming, ‘actually it doesn’t matter now you’re here’ bit is identical. We are lucky – and privileged – to live in a society that allows us a variety of safe choices for how we want to birth our babies.