It's 8 o'clock in the evening and I'm trying to get some last minute work finished. My baby is due in another couple of weeks, although I suspect that he will be early. I am aware that I have been having what appear to be strong Braxton Hicks contractions, but as these have been going on for some days, I take no notice. Half an hour later, I become aware that these contractions have changed and instinctively I feel that these are the 'real' thing. I idly wonder about timing them, whilst working of course, just to see if there is any pattern to these dull aches. They appear to be 7 minutes apart, but I don't feel any fear, just a vague sense of excitement and irritation that my plans for the next week are about to be sent awry.
I wander about, go downstairs and rock in the rocking chair whilst watching television. I put on an appearance of normality, saying that my need to move is due to my large bump being uncomfortable. We go to bed, my husband and me and whilst he sleeps, I doze fitfully, aware of the contractions going on in my belly. I leave him to sleep. With our two previous children, he had had no sleep the night before their births and I feel no need to waken him yet. I let him sleep, knowing that he will need his energy for later.
I get out of bed in the early hours of the morning and go downstairs. I feel the need to be on the move again and decide to time the contractions again. By 3 am, they are coming every 3 minutes and feeling stronger. Strangely, though, they don't feel painful, just very uncomfortable to bear, but I find my own pattern of breathing and use it to help me relax through each one. I go back to bed after about an hour or so and fall into a tired sleep, surfacing every now and then when a contraction disturbs me.
At 6am, the alarm goes off. "You'd better ring your boss," I say. "I don't think you'll be going to work today." "Why?" he asks. "I went into labour last night." I reply. I ring my community midwife and tell her what has been happening. We've been planning a home birth for this baby and I start to feel the excitement mounting. This is it, our baby is on the way. I dress and wait for the midwife to arrive. We tell the children as they awake to get ready for school. They feel the excitement too. They want to know when the baby will be here. Will he or she have arrived when they come home from school. I can't tell them, but they get ready for school full of anticipation.
My midwife arrives and examines me. A quiet word - she can't feel the baby's head. That's impossible, I say, it was there earlier, I 'm sure. She decides to wait a while and see what happens. My husband prepares to take the children to school. They've already shown the midwife their own baby photographs and now wonder why I am catching my breath whilst saying goodbye. "Why is mummy hanging onto the banister like that?" "Silly, it's because the baby wants to come out and it makes her tummy hurt, isn't it mum?" I nod agreement and once the contraction has finished, wave them off from the front door, reassuring them about what is happening.
We wait, my midwife and I, wait for my husband to return, wait whilst each contraction comes and goes. I find it easiest to lean onto the settee and concentrate on breathing through each one. I feel that they are getting stronger and wonder whether I will be able to cope or not. But I find that with the next contraction, my body has summoned more resources to enable me to carry on. Labour progresses and a bit later on, the midwife examines me again. She is very concerned - she can't seem to feel anything there. I can't believe that I have got this far for it all to go wrong at the end. She talks about going to the hospital - just for a check up and if everything is all right, we'll come home again. I agree, but I know inside that once I am in the hospital, I will not be coming out again, except after the birth of the baby. She calls an ambulance and says that we will wait until my husband returns from school.
It's 11 o'clock in the morning. We try to pack a bag. I have got nothing ready yet - one of my jobs for this coming week. We raid sample bags for nappies and nappy cream, hunt for nursing bras and nighties. We have no baby clothes and no time to go in the loft and retrieve them - that will have to wait. I feel rushed and panicked by the unexpected turn of events. The ambulance arrives and we make our long and bumpy way to the hospital. The ambulance men are very solicitous, apologising for every bump in the road.
Once settled in the labour room at the hospital, the pressure begins to mount for me to have a caesarean section. I refuse initially, convinced that my baby will make his own way back down to enable the labour to continue. Various doctors make their way through the room. Two registrars explain the same thing - the baby has turned transverse, no they cannot explain why, but they will spend much time explaining how few options are left. Finally, the consultant on duty comes in and asks if I have made my mind up. When I say no, he is very affronted. He has a moustache which twitches as he talks and I watch it, fascinated by its movement. As he becomes more annoyed, the moustache moves more violently, almost appearing to have a life of its own. He reads and writes at the same time - "this lady has refused to take our advice". I feel the need to explain - I haven't refused the advice, I just wish to wait and hope. I can't believe that I had enough strength of mind to stand up for what I want against all the pressure for me to go with what the medical staff want. A mobile scanner is brought in, to scan the baby and to prove to me that they are telling the truth, not just trying to frighten me into the caesarean. I finally agree, through many tears, to have the section, but still feel backed into a corner. The atmosphere changes, the sense of urgency recedes - because I have agreed to what they want.
I am offered a spinal - I want to be awake for this birth. I walk down to theatre, feeling very strange. Usually operations mean a trip on a trolley, I can't believe I am walking down there as though I am going to do my shopping. The theatre doors open and a sense of the surreal descends over me. The local radio station is being played in the room and the theatre staff are dancing and singing along with the music - can these be the same people who were so insistent on a decision being made. I thought that this would be an emergency, full of staff rushing and hurrying to deliver the baby, but this seems more like a party. "Hello," they say. "Come on in, we'll soon be with you and your baby will be here before you know it." It is so laid back and relaxed, I can't believe it. My husband is taken away to be fitted with a gown, whilst the spinal is administered. It takes very quickly. Everything is explained and even though I know what to expect, I am grateful for their care and consideration. My husband comes in and is seated by my side. The operation starts and our baby son is born at 2.55pm, to the sound of the local radio station. He stays with us whilst I am stitched up and then the midwife takes him and my husband to the next room to weigh the baby and wrap him up. He looks small, the smallest of them all, even though he is a good weight at 7lbs 10oz.
I go to the recovery room and feel on a high, even though I am sad that the birth didn't work out as we planned. The baby feeds there and later on in the afternoon on the ward. I feel very peaceful and relaxed. I have regrets at not being able to give birth as I wanted to, my dream has always been to give birth at home. But the support of my husband and my midwife were fantastic - my husband enabled me to stay in control, not just of the events as they were happening, but also of my feelings, so that the panic didn't take over and overwhelm me. I would still like to have a home birth and maybe next time this will be possible. My baby is now growing fast, but has remained the peaceful, placid child I gave birth to in the midsummer of that year.
See Nikki's HBA4C report of the birth of her fifth child.