I was at least 11 and possibly 18 days overdue and had spent the whole weekend wishing I could go into labour as Mary, my independent midwife, had to go to RCM conference in Harrogate on the Monday.
I spent a restless night, not unusual for me, getting up to the loo every hour or so and aware that I had reasonably constant period pain but not daring to hope it was significant after so many previous "is this it" moments. At half past 6 I decided it was officially morning and got up to use the loo and perhaps have a bath. I realised as I went to the loo that I was having a strong twinge/contraction and had another one on the way back. My first thought was that these could only be Braxton Hicks as they were too close together to be early labour contractions. I pottered around the bedroom having more every 5 minutes and told Raymond that I didn't think he should go to work as this might be it. But I still didn't really believe it even though I knew the pains were really contractions now.
We got the kids up and started the getting them ready for school/breakfast/lunch boxes nightmare that is a Monday morning in our house. I had to keep ducking behind the fridge freezer to breathe through the pains which were holding at 5 mins apart and needed concentration to deal with. I decided I didn't want the kids to know I was in labour as Carys would have refused to go to school and Emma was starting her SATS that day and I wanted her to be able to concentrate on those and not on worrying about me. I had a bowl of cereal in the sitting room while Ray did the lunch boxes and I decided to phone Mary to let her know what was happening. I didn't expect her to come out to me, I was officially Andrya's responsibility now as Mary was due to go to conference on the 1pm train but I did want her to know. After that I rang Andrya and explained that I was almost sure this was only early labour but I was concerned that the contractions were so close together and quite strong. Andrya said she would liase with Sue and aim to be with me about 10:30.
Mary rang me again about 8am to say she was popping over to see a client in Brighton before she left and that if we needed her she would pop in on her way as she would be quicker than Andrea. I was starting to get concerned that things were hotting up a bit but still couldn't believe we were looking at a quick labour. My concern was only could I stand up to 12 hours plus of this!
By the time Raymond left to take the kids to school I was over the birthing ball and feeling a bit panicky about being on my own for half an hour so he stopped off at my friend Lesley's house, just round the corner, and she came to be with me. She's never had children but we go back a long way and I was just happy to have someone there as I said "ooooooooh" over the birthing ball. Ray got back just after nine o'clock, Lesley left and I got Ray to time how long the contractions were lasting as they seemed longer. They were lasting a minute and coming every four to five minutes. I decided to take Mary up on her offer and Ray rang her - she could hear me saying "oooooooh" which seemed to be my way of breathing through the contractions and luckily she still hadn't got past Worthing yet so was happy to divert to us.
Mary arrived at 9:55 and I was so happy to see her. Having sadly accepted that I was not going to be able have her at the birth, it was a real treat to see her familiar face. Meanwhile the contractions carried on inexorably and I discovered that walking about between them and then holding onto the mantelpiece while Raymond rubbed my back was the best way of dealing with them.
Andrya and Sue arrived at 10:30. I had met Andrya once before but Sue was a new face and I felt a bit shy initially. Mary I think sensing this, offered to cancel her Brighton visit and stay on as long as she could. Andrya asked if would I like to just carry on as I was or would I like a VE to assess progress. By this time I was desperate to know was this really it and was my cervix dilating, so we went upstairs. I was worried about having to lie down for a VE - I couldn't see how anyone could possibly labour lying down, I need to be up, up, up. I hung on the door aka NCT birth positions poster for a contraction while Andrya got ready then lunged for the bed at the last possible minute. Andrya was gentle and quick and gave me the best news ever - at least 3-4 cm dilated and effacing well. Wow! I had been dreading her saying "oh only 1 cm" and was delighted that I had gain in return for the pain.
By ten past eleven I was wondering about getting into the pool - I was concerned it might be too early and would slow things down. I was still convinced that I had hours and hours of this to go and asked Raymond to make arrangements for his mum to pick up the children from school and take them to her house overnight. I decided to get in the pool, encouraged by Andrya and Sue who were pottering about getting their equipment set up. Mary was calculating how late she could leave it and still catch her train!
The pool was like a welcoming old friend giving you a hug. I had used it so much during the wait for labour that it was a familiar, safe place, somewhere I associated with relief from aches and pains. I half knelt, half floated, arms and elbows on the side. Sue was near me, asking me if it helped, Raymond was issuing his mum with sleeping bags for children in the other room. As I aaahed and oohed my way through a contraction I hoped briefly that my mother in law wasn't too embarrassed.
By half eleven things were starting to really hurt. Mary gave me some coaching to encourage me to keep breathing through the pain "try to go saggy with it" I remember her saying.
All these timings are taken from Andrya's excellent record of the labour, I couldn't have told you what time it was, only that it seemed still very early to be in so much pain. By midday I was at the thinking I didn't want to give birth any more stage! Bits of me wondered if I was in transition. Other bits of me just wondered how I could possibly survive this pain. From all round the room voices of encouragement came. Yes, you can do this, you ARE doing this, you are fantastic, you are strong. Ray was by my head all the time, breathing with me, soothing me, putting a hand on my back. I got enormous solace just from his presence and by rubbing my face up and down his forearm like a cat!
I started to feel an urge to push but it was all mixed up with the awful overwhelming last contractions of first stage. I invoked my Maker a lot to get me through those. And throughout I had a really strong sense of the Lord being with me and of being surrounded by His love.
I think Mary had left by then but I could still hear her voice telling me I could do this, mixed with Andrya and Sue telling me the same thing. The mixture of female empathy and male strength was just amazing, I never really felt alone and I felt certainly that both Andrya and Sue knew just how I was feeling. I was on hands and knees in the pool through all this, rocking backwards and forwards through each rollercoaster, alternating outbreaths with moaning but mostly feeling I had control. There were a couple of really scary contractions where I felt they were winning and I was losing it, really crying out in panic. The voices soothed me and I began to find that pushing made the pain better.
I was not altogether sure what I should be pushing where. I did have a sense of the baby but was actually more aware of a need to poo. I decided to push the poo out first and then discovered it was helping me push baby too. At 12:35 Andrya records me saying "Oh Andrya, the baby moved" and it was a real revelation to feel this solid football thing actually shifting inside me, getting closer. I can remember thinking "I'm actually going to do this" and saying "Yes, yes, yes" with the pushes.
I heard myself begin to bellow and thought "this really does mean not long now" remembering Gina Lowdon saying you only get a few like that before the baby arrives. Andrya asked me a couple of times did I want to feel what was happening but by now I had braced myself horizontally across the pool hands pushing my head away from the side, legs apart but pushing from the other side. It worked wonderfully I could feel all my effort paying off and kept bearing down and letting the air out, grunting and breathing out, swallowing the occasional bit of water when I forgot to keep my head up!
I started to feel stinging down there. B***dy hell, was all I could think, I've talked about this so much in classes and now it's happening to ME! [Jenny is an antenatal teacher.] Blow, blow, blow Andrya was telling me. I was keen to listen to her, I desperately didn't want to tear. I blew for England and it really didn't hurt as much as I had expected it to as his head emerged. I was aware of Andrya helping the baby a little, she explained afterwards that his hips were a bit stuck and there was lots of meconium in the water. I didn't care, it felt like a good thing. He slithered out and she passed him through my legs to me and I managed to sit back and take my little boy. He looked a bit green and pale and wasn't breathing but his cord was pulsing. I just couldn't believe it. Ray came round to lean over and help keep baby's head out of the water while I supported his body. I checked he really was a boy like the scan had said. "Hello, little man" I remember saying over and over together with "We DID it".
Fergus gradually established his breathing and the cord stopped pulsing. Andrya showed Raymond what to do and he cut the cord almost exactly as I felt a contraction and pushed the placenta out into the pool. The pool was now so murky that Andrya and I had to go fishing for it! Raymond took Fergus while I got gingerly out of the pool and sat on a pile of covered cushions and pillows on the floor. He was born at 12:50, by 13.25 he was on the breast and I had a cheese and cucumber sandwich and a very welcome cup of tea.
After a while we weighed him, 8lbs 6 and I transferred to the sitting room. I knew I was intact perineally, it felt great. We sat for quite a while, talking in wonder about how quick and how powerful it had all been. Raymond managed to bang out an email which I dictated to him and we phoned a couple of close family members and friends and arranged for the children to be brought home to us after school. They came through the door like little bullets, desperate to see the new arrival and were completely thrilled by him and by the presents he had "brought" them.
By 10 o'clock we were all in bed. Fergus having defied all my usual predictions on baby behaviour and having fed most of the evening.
It was a fantastic experience, something I will never forget and something I am so glad I did.