Warning: graphic content!
Last week, in the early hours of Thursday morning, Bebette FF came flying out of me and into the world. Our second baby in as many years. It was an experience I won’t forget (unsurprisingly) but what was surprising was that a mere few hours after the birth, I found myself describing it in a way I never imagined I would: it was empowering. Exhilarating. Bordering on joyous. I can’t quite go so far as to say pure joy as it was bloody painful but it was dangerously close.
I want to document the birth, and compare with my first. I want to be terribly honest. I hope for anyone preparing for birth this won’t scare you, but it should prepare you for a couple of scenarios out of the many, many permutations that labour can present. Like an episode of OBEM. You can stop reading at any time. If you’re not yet having a baby but contemplating it, I hope this gives you something to look forward to, as it truly is an unbelievable adventure. And if you will not give birth or have a penis and so avoid the whole birthing process then I hope it makes interesting reading nonetheless.
Giving birth is scary. It is gory. It is risky. There is no guarantee you will come out with what you went in with. That’s the terrible truth. Even more scary when you’ve done it once and you know what’s coming. I remember my sister telling me her second birth experience was “amazing” – I couldn’t understand how she could possibly say that – the result is amazing, sure, but actually going through a labour I couldn’t quite fathom how the intense pain and effect on your body could be described as ‘amazing’ … but now I understand; she was right.
In summary, I had Bebe FF (#1) at 39+5 after labouring for 2 days. That sounds like a long time but it really wasn’t. The first 24-36h was perfectly manageable, but towards the end quite uncomfortable and there was *some* moaning. As many people will confess, we went to the hospital too early the first time. It’s all new and a bit daunting and you genuinely can’t tell if you’re barely started or (you hope) if you’re in full blown labour and are just really hardcore. I was the former: I was 2cm dilated, and encouraged to go home to labour some more in peace – this was not welcomed at the time, especially with a 30 minute drive each way, but in hindsight very much appreciated. I had my bouncy ball, my Tens machine, my mum, and The Devil Wears Prada at home and in the end the day went quickly. I even had a bacon sarnie before we headed off for the second entry attempt. By that time I was uncomfortable and the drive was painful. Once I got to the hospital the second time they admitted me (I was 4-5 cm and my waters went when they were checking me so I was safe! This is established labour.) I immediately asked for the epidural. You should know I have no qualms about taking the drugs. All the drugs. Except pethidine. I don’t like the sound of it and I’ve heard stories of floppy babies, so I simply said no to that. I don’t feel the need to prove my tenacity in these circumstances: I’ve made a baby, I’ve carried it around for months, now let’s get it out as quickly and safely as possible. The epidural seemed to be a good call and as I went into active labour and started moooing I felt very self-conscious and needed to be muted. The epidural came relatively soon thereafter, mildly daunting having it put in between contractions but the medical staff obviously know what they are doing – and then followed a strange period of calm. Hours of calm. Just lying back and waiting for someone to tell me I was fully dilated. The epidural didn’t work entirely and one area of my body was less numb, but it was still doing the job. Once you have it you can’t move around so I was literally a beached whale. Or fluffball fat cat.
I couldn’t sleep so I just sat and waited whilst various midwives came in and out, writing notes and checking we were ok. Monsieur FF took the opportunity to snooze and was happily snoring away in the chair next to me, along with the Mothership, who came along for the ride and was dutifully working her way through the snack supplies because the waiting was long (compared to when she was the one in action (X4) I can quite imagine!). Finally after what felt like many hours someone confirmed I was fully dilated, but that we had to wait another hour or so for the epidural to wear off. I should note that whilst all this was happening my good friend was over in another nearby hospital in the process of giving birth to her first daughter. Not that we were racing or anything… but this delay was not ideal. In fact during the wait and push phase she pipped us to the post. Anyway we waited and waited some more and eventually I was told it was time to push. HURRAH! I started to compute I was about to have a baby. Alas, I hadn’t envisaged what the “push phase” would be like and 1hr of hard pushing later things were getting frustrating. I couldn’t feel a thing, despite waiting the extra time for the epidural to wear off. As such I was being told when my contractions were (on the screen) but could not work with them as I had no clue when they were actually coming. Also I genuinely didn’t understand how to push. Sounds stupid, but the more the midwives talked me through, considering I had no sensation (and seemingly no brain), the more confused I became: so am I doing a poo here or is it something else? Why am I pushing my (triple) chin to my neck? What does “push” actually mean? Where am I?! They told me to breathe down and then in and then take a quick breath out and do some other funky thing, and you know when you actually think about breathing it suddenly seems very complicated? well I pretty much started hyperventilating…
More medical staff were coming into the room and, thankfully, Bebe FF was remaining remarkably calm considering where he was trapped. They started talking about other options (scary) as I ramped up the pushing efforts. Everyone was observing me and kindly commenting: “she really is pushing hard look at her face” … but seemingly to no avail. Eventually I got the “push” right and then the midwife uttered the words you never want to hear … but equally do… “the baby is not going to come out, it’s too tight“. Cheers! But wait…. that’s when the knife comes out and the midwife asks me “are you happy for me to cut you?”. Erm no not really. Strangely I would rather you didn’t cut my vagina. Do I have any other options? The truth is as that point you don’t really, you are going to get sliced somewhere or other. With the medical staff staring at me I say “Ok”. Close eyes, push for my life, Bebe FF emerges, slightly shocked and with a major cone head. Try to open eyes, I have pushed so hard my eyes feel like they’ve popped out of the sockets. “I can’t see!” I squeal and then see a blurry, bloody little human with a curl of blonde hair being handed up to me. Unbelievable emotion. Shock. Legs akimbo, everyone sighing with relief, little yelps from the new Bebe. A wave of relief washes over me. Monsieur FF and the Mothership are taking pictures, preparing nappies and clothes and we are all cooing over the little miracle that just made it out of my belly.
Then the horrible part. The stitches. Actually my experience of this was truly horrible so much so I can barely bring myself to write about it. Suffice it to say the slice wasn’t the only injury suffered and the woman that was given the delightful task of repairing me was not in a great mood, and was not being particularly gentle. You’re probably clenching your teeth right now – rightly so. The epidural, which up until now had proved overly-powerful, suddenly wore off and I was acutely aware of what was happening to my nether region. Even the local anastethic jab was not pleasant. In the following weeks recovering from those stitches was the hardest part of my post partum recovery / new motherhood experience by far. I found the instruction to keep them dry just ridiculous. How can you possibly do that? I was not sufficiently gentle with myself and didn’t take it easy enough, and I absolutely should have. Your body goes through so much, you need to force yourself to take it easy those first days (ideally 10-15 days). Do not throw yourself down into chairs with stitches. Do not run up and down the stairs. Do not march around with tight trousers. Try not to cough. Be gentle. They need time to heal. Take comfort that the fact it does heal. But go easy…
So that was #1. Longer than I thought but might as well get into the details. #2 was remarkably different. First, she was overdue. Having spent all of week 39 waiting for any sign, teeing up support in case of emergency, largely led by the mothership, and preparing to hospital dash at any moment, no signs came. Having being told repeatedly second babies come sooner and quicker, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Bump was feeling bigger and bigger and my fear of The Stitches Part 2 was getting greater with every growing day in my belly. As you may have noticed I got a bit restless. But I tried to remind myself to enjoy the calm, enjoy my bebe #1 and enjoy sleep. And that was sensible. I was worried about leaving Bebe FF and when the mothership had to go home for a short period between week 39 and 40 I was slightly on edge. Unnecessarily it turned out as the little bebette had not made an appearance.
Finally, at 40+5 I went in to the hospital hoping to be induced (which was possible because of my blood condition (can’t remember if I mentioned already but I have a blood issue that makes me high risk and requires me to jab myself every day during pregnancy and for weeks after)). Our midwife was lovely and she explained the process – you start with a pessary, if it’s not working you have another after 24 hours and then if necessary you move on to the drip. If you’re already dilated they can break your waters. I was having mild contractions but wasn’t sufficiently dilated for a water break start, so I started with the pessary, sincerely hoping that was all the help I would need. We were told the next check would be 24 hours later, cue our jaws dropping, – We do not have enough food supplies!! – and Monsieur FF checking his watch as this was not part of the plan. I suspect he thought we could turnaround in an hour and save on car parking … luckily after about 3 hours of patient waiting, eating and wandering the hospital halls, including some crab walking action on the stairs (think it works!) the real contractions began. We were in a rather grim labour ward, complete with a couple that considered it acceptable to fart and burp ad infinitum and make comments such as “if a baby is born with teeth will they be removed?” And “you should get them to break your waters as that lubricates the way for the baby”… Headphones on I started to have regular contractions quickly and thanks to the Tens machine, candy kittens and some awesome Spotify work, powered through happily until late evening. By that time all our roommates had gone and we had a very peaceful space to hang out. It was actually quite pleasant. We knew Bebe FF was safe and tucked up with the Mothership. Monsieur FF even took a little snooze (common theme) and this time we both enjoyed all the snacks. Eventually I called the midwife and asked to find out where I was, as I was starting to get uncomfortable. When she checked she said I was 2-4 cm dilated which was rather confusing. One much closer to the epidural than the other. Ok, I’ll keep going but I need some paracetamol. And the epidural soon please. Paracetamol arrived and took the edge off.
Fast forward 2 hours later, more music, reading and a lot of leaning against the wall and rotating hips on the birthing ball and it’s really starting to hurt. I’m moaning a bit and starting to feel grumpy and nervous, as I still don’t have any real pain relief. The midwife then appears to monitor the bebette and whilst the monitor is on my waters break. Monsieur FF and I both heard a loud “pop” and then I felt a little stream of warmth. The midwife came back and we both exclaimed my waters had gone. Hurrah! Labour ward here we come! She looked at me like she didn’t believe me and asked me to show her. Maybe it was because she was covering her colleague who was on a break, and wanted some peace, but she was not amused. I was trying to prove that water had just leaked out of my body… Suddenly I feel more leaking and the pressure in my pelvis ramps up. Bebettes head is now pushing on my cervix and everything is going very quickly. “I want the epidural please” I remind the midwife, in between whimpers. “You just need to get to the labour ward first”. A small journey down a corridor but in practice it felt like a marathon distance. I had to stop twice to moan against a wall and when I eventually climbed onto the bed in my new room, back to my more friendly and believing midwife, I almost cried. “IT HURTS!” “Please can I have the EPIDURAL!!”. My midwife starts to prepare the various bits for the epidural and then, hearing my yelps, decides to check my status just in case… “Ok, I’m really sorry Rebecca, but you can’t have the epidural”. “WHAT THA F….” I start to scream and then the brain kicks in (rare at this time) and I realise that means I must be nearly there. “You’re 10 cm and ready to push. Try this gas and air” she says, grinning. Somehow I KNEW I wouldn’t get the epidural despite asking a zillion times. I’m glad I didnt. As I started to reply that the gas and air made me feel sick last time, a massive wave crashed over me and I snatched the mouthpiece and took the deepest breath ever in the history of life. I felt drunk. “Oh M G this is actually amazing! Everyone was right!” Turns out I probably didn’t breathe it right last time. Another brain fail. You have to go whole heartedly into that gas and air.
Then followed an almost out of body experience; around 8 contractions, each with about four waves of energy. I could feel bebette moving down the birth canal and with each contraction I could help her get further. By this time I wasn’t moaning I was absolutely Pavarotti- style bringing the house down. When she got to the exit, I screamed the loudest I will likely scream in my life. “I’m so sorry!” I whimpered as the contraction passed. It’s embarrassing to think about how much noise I was making but I needed to do it, animal instincts were taking over. “Don’t worry, her head is out!”. For Monsieur FF this was the most captivating part; our daughter had her head outside of me, but was just patiently waiting for the rest to be ejected. The image has stuck with him and each time I wear the bebette in the sling, with just her head showing he tells me it reminds him of the birth. Poor guy. Anyway the next contraction the little crevette was born and the pain immediately subsided. She was passed up to me, this little pink thing with a dark mop of hair and Monsieur FF and I looked at her, and each other and smiled. And then started searching for the source of the dark hair. He checked his watch again – it seems we didn’t keep him waiting too long in the end. You can see from our faces we were equally shocked and delighted.
So for the final hurdle, What’s the damage? I had to have stitches, but this time the midwife was very gentle and the damage was minimal. A mere 3 hours later I was showered and on the maternity ward and Monsieur FF was again checking the time – how long until we can go home? We wanted to get home and relieve the Mothership, share these momentous moments, and congratulate Bebe FF on becoming a big brother.
So. There we go. The full monty. (Great Sheffield film btw.) good luck on your journeys 💓