What Childbirth is Really Like*

*(for one person out of approximately 353,000 individuals around the world who happened to give birth on 24th January 2016)


Before I gave birth, I was surrounded by gruesome stories of what would absolutely definitely happen to me and how abysmal I would feel both during and for around twelve years following the event.  In my head, I very much wanted not to believe these stories.  It surely couldn’t be so bad.  After all, many people go back for more!  But the overwhelming feeling was that it would be a catastrophically agonising experience and that everything that possibly could go wrong, would.  Damn.

I was booked in to be induced at 38 weeks due to my type 1 diabetes, so for the 1st February.  I get my kicks out of organisation so everything was geared towards that date.  It would give me 2 weeks of maternity leave to get everything sorted and then we would drive to the hospital peacefully, be induced, birds would chirp as our daughter passed peacefully into the world and we would all glow radiantly throughout.  Then I found myself, feet in stirrups and looking down at my doctor rummaging around in my nether regions, listening to him telling me we need to bring the induction forward.  My blood pressure was high, there was protein in my urine and besides, I was already 1cm dilated so it would all be fine.  That was the Wednesday and I was to now be induced the following Tuesday.  Slight change of plan, but we did our best not to panic.  I was to go to hospital every 2 days until then to be monitored.

On the Saturday evening I felt exhausted and just a bit ‘off’.  Perhaps being tired and ‘off’ shouldn’t have been too surprising at 9 months pregnant, but I felt like we should go to the hospital anyway just to be checked over.  I was annoyed – we had planned to go to Chilli’s.  Walking out of the apartment I was sure this wouldn’t be the night.  I was sure they’d check me over and send me home.

On the drive to the hospital we listened to the play list I had made for ‘the’ drive to the hospital just in case.  It was only 6 songs long but documented our relationship from the very beginning to the present day.  It consisted of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Freebird’ (our first kiss), Opeth’s ‘In My Time of Need’ (we listened to that album a lot early on in our relationship), M83 ‘Outro’ (I walked down the aisle to that), Ellie Goulding’s ‘How Long Will I Love You’ (our first dance), Charlie Puth’s ‘Marvin Gaye’ (the song means nothing to us, but it’s relevant to making a baby!) and finally the Lava song from Pixar – the song we had been singing to baby in the womb.  It was a fairly quiet car journey.  I noticed it was a full moon.

From my hospital bed I could see outside over to one of the parks.  It was night time so I couldn’t see anything within the park but suddenly a big firework display started.  I remember they used to have one every night during the Shopping Festival but wasn’t sure if they had continued it now Dubai is so much bigger.  We sat and watched the fireworks whilst my blood pressure and baby’s movements were monitored.  My doctor was called in to the hospital and appeared around the curtain.  In his usual calm manner, he told me to get comfy because I’d be staying.  I was going to be induced that night.  When the medical staff left the room, Ross and I just stared at each other.  I hadn’t even said bye to the cats!

I didn’t sleep a wink that night.  The induction process started at midnight and although I wasn’t in any pain, pressure started fairly quickly.  That wasn’t what kept me from sleeping though, my brain was racing so there was no chance of nodding off.  The same could not be said for my husband, who slept soundly on the sofa bed until breakfast arrived in the morning!  I was given a second dose of prostaglandin and we carried on waiting.  I was told my waters would be broken at 1pm.  Waiting in the room with Ross, I began to get upset.  I was sick of being attached to the blood pressure monitor (which went off every 15 minutes to remind me it was dangerously high), the straps to monitor baby’s heartbeat made her press upwards very uncomfortably and, most of all, I hated how medicalised everything was.  I had so wanted to have a natural birth but had accepted the fact I would more than likely have to be induced.  I guess I just wished I didn’t have the condition that meant the most natural process in the world had to become so sterile and forced.  I quickly got over myself though and when the nurse came in armed with her crochet hook (which, to my dismay, was not to be used for a part of the hospital’s arts and crafts program) I just about managed to hold it together.  When she saw I was getting upset she offered to stop.  I informed her that I wasn’t upset that she was wiggling a crochet hook about through my cervix, that in fact I was just being soft about the circumstances.  Before we could continue the conversation further there was a pop and amniotic fluid provided a satisfactory distraction.

Shortly after, at around 1:30, we were moved across the corridor into the labour room.  We set it up as we wanted it – lights off, electric candle flickering, relaxing music playing, birthing ball at the ready and the bed set up to allow me to get into a variety of gymnastic contortions.  I was hoping to be able to have a nice warm shower to help me relax further, but was soon told that once I was attached to the syntocinon drip I would be permanently attached to the monitors and if I so much as wanted to use the toilet I would have to be disconnected from all the contraptions by a nurse for as brief a period of time as possible.  Just like in the nativity…

We settled down to watch some Peter Kay on the ipad.  I had read that laughter speeds up early labour.  I clearly missed the part that said laughter doesn’t do shit compared to highly powerful synthetic hormone drips that are being ramped up at alarmingly frequent intervals and so Peter was turned off after half an hour.  As the contractions started to become more powerful I was able to move around a bit and get into positions that helped, along with the breathing we had been practicing with the hypnobirthing.  Ross also massaged my back, which helped a lot.  We continued like that for a few hours, interspersed with debates about whether or not I should be hooked up to an insulin drip.  I said not, doctor (not my doctor, some random) said I should.  We compromised and he said we could wait another hour and do a blood test then.  When the test showed my blood sugar was now too low, I was suitably smug.  It is worth pointing out at this stage that, from the time the drip was attached, I wasn’t allowed any food or drink.  Not even water.  As joyous as it was to be facing what was to be possibly the most physically demanding thing I had ever done without so much as an ice cube to suck on, I was now concerned that I was going hypo with no chance of fixing it myself.  I was hooked up to a glucose drip instead.  It wasn’t quite the nutella sandwich I’d have hoped for, but it got the job done.

As the time passed and the drip was ramped up, the contractions became much more frequent and intense.  I was struggling to stay focused on the hypnobirthing practices so decided to give the gas and air a go.  I am now a firm believer that soft club drugs are definitely the way forward.  Immediately I was able to relax and I could get my head back in the game.  Along with the low light, peaceful music and glowing orb lamp in the room, I felt like I was in a club and quite fancied a menthol cigarette (I haven’t smoked in a long time).  I sat on the sofa with Ross and chatted about how absolutely wonderful the gas and air was.  I demanded he took a photo of the metal bin which was on wheels, insisting that was the standard that private health care would get you.  The midwife, possibly angry that her sadistic ways were being combatted by the entonox, continued to turn up the drip quite dramatically (I kid, she was lovely aside from holding me completely at her mercy by the cannula in my hand).

After just over an hour of puffing away on the gas, I won’t lie, I was absolutely off my face.  The contractions had got to the point where I literally had seconds between them and so I was huffing away at the mask like a tramp on paint fumes.  I didn’t know where I was and I didn’t particularly care.  For some unknown reason, I was thinking about Macbeth.  My husband is an English teacher, although why I saw fit to discuss his year 10s’ coursework when in very active labour I will never know.  Bless him, he humoured me.  At one point I wanted to suggest that pregnant women are given a quick sample of the pain at the beginning of labour, to better aid their decisions on pain relief before they start.  Unfortunately, these thoughts did not materialise in words and the conversation went:

Me: They’ve got it all wrong

Ross: Who has?

Me: Scottish children

Ah well, close enough.

By 6pm I was unable to put the gas and air down and my contractions were constant.  I knew that I would not have the birth experience I wanted if I was completely off my tits, so said that I would ask for an epidural if I wasn’t at least 8cm dilated on my next examination.  The midwife came in, had a look and said I was 6cm.  She’d barely finished the sentence before I said I wanted an epidural, so off she went to get the anaesthetist.  Ross tells me it was around 15 minutes before he arrived, but it felt like hours.  When he came in he looked at the monitor and his words were ‘Oh my god, take her off the drip!’.  Quite pleased that I wasn’t just being soft, I let him set about his work whilst still chattering rubbish and, at one point, forgetting there was anyone other than Ross in the room.

I really hadn’t wanted an epidural.  As well as being completed grossed out by the idea of a needle in my back, I wanted to be able to move around for the birth.  The artificial nature of the induction had resulted in labour being so intense though I felt I just didn’t have a choice if I wanted to actually be mentally present for the delivery.  In the UAE they use the lowest dose of epidural possible, meaning the pain is taken away but the sensations are not.  This was great as I was still able to feel the pressure of the contractions, but also really uncomfortable because of the same reason.  As you are ‘not allowed’ to give birth without a doctor present here, I was 10cm dilated and ready to push for around half an hour before I could actually do anything.  Ever tried to hold in diarrhea for half an hour?  It’s not the most comfortable sensation.  I was able to stay focused though and think about how our baby would be here soon and this is what we had been waiting for for so long.  The only time I became slightly less zen was when Ross was staring at the monitor, eyes wide and face pale, enthusing ‘Oh my god! Oh my god!’ at the levels of the contractions I was having.  As my legs were quite heavy from the epidural I was unable to kick him in the shin, so informed him quite firmly that such exclamations were not helping the situation.

After what seemed like forever, but was in fact only about half an hour, a couple of midwives came in and started prepping the room for the arrival.  One of the midwives recognised us from the antenatal class and told us that my doctor was on his way but was coming from Abu Dhabi so would be about an hour.  Before the blood pressure machine exploded, she laughed and said she was just kidding and he was in fact outside ready to come in.  I politely informed her that, once I was able to get up, I would get my own back on her.  Shortly after, my doctor came in, calm as ever, and proceedings got under way.

As I started to push, one of the midwives said she could see hair.  I sent Ross down the other end to have a look – perhaps one of the best decisions I made throughout the whole process just for the expressions on his face.  I was so glad to be ‘allowed’ to be pushing that I didn’t really notice any discomfort.  The low dose of the epidural meant I could still feel when to push without being told and I could feel her moving down.  Everything was very calm.  My breathing got louder, but there was no shouting and screaming.

I hadn’t pushed for too long before my doctor let me know, again in a ridiculously zen manner, that my blood pressure was getting really quite high so he wanted to get baby out as quickly as possible.  He congratulated me on my pushing skills – even in such a bizarre situation I felt pleased to be teacher’s pet.  I heard him ask one of the midwives to prep the forceps.  Forceps!?  As in, the things they didn’t show us in the antenatal class because they were ‘too scary’?  They’d just whipped out a fresh placenta for us to look at and yet we weren’t allowed to see forceps, and now they were about to be inserted into me.  Still, I knew I had to stay calm and focused.  He knew what he was doing and he wasn’t panicking, so I shouldn’t either.  I wasn’t really paying much attention to what he was doing but when Ross twigged what he was going to do with the scissors he quickly looked away.  I didn’t feel a thing, of course, and soon the forceps were in and baby’s head was crowning.  I didn’t have to wait long between contractions and I could feel her progress with each push so I knew it was only a matter of time before she arrived.  Physically and mentally, I would say that final stage was the most demanding thing I’ve ever had to do, but when you know what you’ll get at the end of it, it didn’t even come into my mind to slow down.  Her head was out and with the next push her shoulders came out, followed by the rest of her tiny body.  Much to my disappointment, that crescendo that plays on One Born doesn’t actually happen when you give birth off the program.

Aoife Scarlett was born at 7:30pm on 24th January, just 6 hours after I had been put on the syntocinon drip.  Intense doesn’t even come close!

When she came out, it became clear the cord was wrapped around her neck.  I had spent nights wide awake worrying about what would happen if that happened.  I’d heard such horror stories, most of which included oxygen starvation and brain damage.  To have a child permanently disabled because of a split-second problem during birth, who can handle that thought?!  But the cord was around her neck, and it was quickly untangled.  That was that.  No problem.  Definitely not worth hours of worry.

Immediately after she came out she was placed on my stomach.  Unable to process the situation, my intellectual eloquence really shone through and I just blurted ‘Baby! Baby!’ as I tried to stop my hands shaking so I could hold her.  Eventually my brain slowly started to work again and I realised she was purple and not making any noise.  I spoke to her, asking her to give us a good scream, but nothing came out.  As quickly as she was put on me, she was taken off and put in the incubator.  Because the cord had been an obstruction, she was struggling to breathe properly and needed to go to NICU sooner than we had expected.  Despite it being quite a worrying situation, everyone felt very calm and, as a result, so did I.  Before she was taken off, she was monitored in the labour room so I could look at her side-on as I was being stitched up.  I asked Ross to go with her to NICU so she wasn’t on her own.

I delivered the placenta fairly quickly and it came away with no problems.  I had a look at it, which was sufficiently gross and interesting in equal measures.  I was soon stitched up and I was eager to get up and get to my little girl.  Another advantage of the low dose epidural was that I was able to get up and in to a wheelchair pretty much straight away.  Ross wheeled me down the corridor to NICU and I looked eagerly into the incubators, each containing a tiny baby covered in wires.  My eyes fell on another incubator – this one contained a larger baby, still covered in wires.  If my legs would’ve let me I would have run across the room to that incubator – this one was mine.

I cried.  I cried for a long time as I looked at her in amazement through the plastic.  She had sensors and wires stuck to her, machines around her beeping away, but she looked so peaceful.  She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen and every ounce of my being wanted to wrap her up in my arms.  I cried with joy, I cried with sorrow.  I apologised to her for putting her in that situation and cried some more.  A nurse came over, sympathetic to the bawling mess in the wheelchair, and opened the little porthole in the incubator so I could touch her.  Her skin was so warm and soft.  When the nurse asked if I wanted to hold her, my response was barely audible.  When she was placed in my arms I fell completely, utterly, entirely in love and I knew I would never love another living being on a scale even close to this.  My arms shook and my thoughts turned to marshmallow.  I could’ve stayed in that moment forever and I don’t think I’ll forget it for as long as I live.

She stayed in NICU for 24 hours and I fed her every 3 hours.  It seems strange now to think I didn’t actually have any alone time with her for the first day of her life, but when she was brought round to my room the day after I was elated.  Having to get up to see her regularly was actually a bit of a blessing in terms of my mobilisation.  I was walking around, albeit slowly and carefully, within a couple of hours.  Getting up from the bed was awkward – I felt like all my scaffolding had been taken out and was fairly sure my insides would fall out when I stood up.  I was very pleased I had been doing my kegel exercises! I was able to have a shower with Ross’s help the morning after Aoife was born and it felt fantastic.  Once the catheter was removed (around 12hrs after she was born) I was able to use the toilet somewhat normally with the use of a sitz bath.  If I could give one piece of advice to anyone preparing to give birth, it would be buy yourself a sitz bath!  The hospital gave me one but I don’t know if they’re a standard thing, but it made my recovery SO much easier and less painful.  A wonderful, cheap piece of plastic – don’t go to hospital without one!

Aoife was absolutely fine after her slightly shaky start, but the medical disaster that is her mother had very high blood pressure for a couple of days.  I was monitored every 15 minutes so didn’t get much continuous sleep in our time in hospital, but medication soon brought it down and we were allowed to be discharged 2 days after she was born.  I managed to only cry once on the journey home (it was half an hour on Dubai roads, I consider that a victory), when we drove over a particularly loud manhole cover and I had a bit of a meltdown.  Perhaps I had used up that day’s quota of serenity by that point.

So that was how Aoife’s birth went.  It was absolutely fine.  So many times I’d been told it’d be awful, so many times I’d hoped I could prove people wrong.  Aside from wishing it wasn’t as medical as it was and having it made very intense by the artificial nature of it, it was just fine.  It wasn’t how I would choose to do it if I had my own way, but it was medically necessary and we are both more than fine because of it.  It was a calm, quiet process and I felt completely confident (if not high as a kite) throughout.  Aoife has been such a calm baby in her first few weeks and I attribute that, at least in part, to the way she was brought in to the world.

On paper, a lot happened that I dreaded.  I didn’t want a medical birth, I didn’t want an epidural, I didn’t want an episiotomy, I didn’t want her to be taken straight to NICU – all of which happened and all of which was just fine.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to plan it with much detail, but the planning and preparation I had done really helped keep me calm and focused throughout.  I was aware of what my choices were and what the likely outcomes of different alternatives would be.  I kept an open mind and it paid off.  I didn’t panic and I definitely didn’t let the mockery of the ‘just you wait’ crew to put me off my plans for hypnobirthing.  Although I didn’t have a complete hypnobirth, I am happy that the practice and preparation using hypnobirthing methods allowed me to have a calm, confident, successful birth and I would fully recommend it to anyone who may be thinking about it.

I know I have a few friends who are due to give birth over the next few months and I really hope they hear more positive stories than I did in the run up to their birthing experiences.  I know I would do it all again, every day if necessary, if that’s what it took to have Aoife in our lives.  Every second of it is worth it and it is one of the best, most exciting things you will ever do.  You.  Will.  Be.  Fine.




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