Born 8:55am 26th March 2004 our living-room in London, after a fast and furious labour of around 90 minutes, including a 55 minute second stage.
Antonia had a tough, but beautiful, peaceful home waterbirth with her first baby, Hugo. However, she had problems with her third stage, and suffered a third-degree tear and an immensely difficult postnatal period. Her second labour was quite different; she describes it as a "storm of a labour"...
I'd been having stronger and stronger Braxton-hicks for several days - they had become quite strong around 36 weeks, and grew stronger and more frequent as the days went on, clustering in the evenings or when I was tired; waking me up by squeezing the air out of my lungs and pushing on my bladder at night.
I'd been feeling "any day now" for a few days, and the day before Beatrix's birth (Thursday March 25th) was just another of those days. One of my midwives visited me that morning and I got really upset, bursting into tears about what might happen if I went into labour in the middle of the night and my son Hugo (who was a fairly sound sleeper by this point) was to wake up. In hindsight this was a good sign that I was about to go into labour, but I chose to ignore it (I was also very emotional 24h or so before Hugo's birth).
I'd woken around 4am the few previous nights absolutely STARVING despite having eaten a big dinner/dessert/etc. the previous evening. That Thursday I really felt as though I was in 'pre-labour' but because it had sneaked up on me with increasing Braxton-Hicks I wasn't sure: maybe I was just more tired, so they felt stronger Maybe I was just being a wimp
On Thursday 25th March I decided to go to playgroup with Hugo, so I put him in the buggy and walked to the library. Hugo was (as usual) more fascinated by the books than by the activities, meanwhile I breathed through Braxton Hicks on all fours. We stayed for the story-time and singing, and were the last people there as Hugo wanted to look at every book in the place. I chatted with the librarian, who gave Hugo some stickers, and wished me well for the birth.
We got home and I lay down with Hugo for an after-lunch nap. I drifted in and out of sleep, Braxton-Hicks waking me periodically. Around 5pm I decided to go to Sainsbury's, the logic being that it wouldn't be too busy at that time, and that I needed to buy some pizza, in case I went into labour in the middle of the night and the pizza delivery companies were closed: after my last birth I had promised myself a normal labour followed by pizza in bed!
We got to Sainsbury's and I don't actually remember much about the shopping - I did remember to buy film for Paul's camera as well as my own. I was having great whacking Braxton-Hicks quite close together at the checkout as I was trying to unload the trolly: the woman at the checkout asked if I was OK, and I replied that early labour probably wasn't the best time to stock up on groceries, but that I was fine. Hugo rode on the little yellow coin-operated car at the Sainsbury's entrance, and we went home. There was nowhere to park near the house, so Paul came and took the car.
I don't remember much about the evening - I had a difficult and upsetting phone call from an insensitive family member, we ate gnocci with four-cheese sauce and salad, and cuddled Hugo to sleep. Paul went to bed around 10:30 and I stayed up and did some work on the computer - I felt a huge drive to tie-up unfinished business. I had just finished the work to accredit as a breastfeeding counsellor, and wrote to my supervisor to finalise things.
The Braxton-Hicks were strong but irregular: so irregular that I didn't even bother to call the midwives that evening. Around midnight I took a very hot bath - hoping to stave off the Braxton-Hicks for a few hours to let me sleep: the bath didn't give much relief. I got to bed around 00:30h on Friday morning. I looked at Hugo, so little and beautiful and angelic in his sleep and I felt sad that it wouldn't just be me and my little boy any more soon.
I was woken around 4am with strong contractions - I may have got up to take a paracetamol - and I tried to get back to sleep, with little luck. The Braxton-Hicks were too strong - really they were moving towards 'proper' labour at this point. I really wanted more sleep and was determined to stay in bed as long as I could. Unlike my first labour when I had hopped out of bed in eager anticipation, this time I tried to sleep as the irregular BH became more regular, stronger, impossible to ignore. I didn't manage to sleep through the contractions, but could rest between them, lying in a left lateral position.
By 4am I wasn't able to stay lying down during contractions, although they were still only every 20 minutes or so, lasting about one minute. I prayed that I'd be able to hold out until 6am - which was the earliest that I wanted to disturb Hugo's wonderful but pregnant and exhausted godmother, Angie, who had agreed to watch him while I laboured. By 5:30 - 06:15ish they were every 10 minutes. Paul woke up around 05:30 and I told him that he'd probably not be going to work, then changed my mind and said that maybe he should go, that these were probably only Braxton Hicks, and would probably go away. I decided to phone Angie just before 6 to give her a 'heads-up', and at 6 I rang my midwife, Tina, to let her know that things were 'starting'. at the time contractions were every 10 minutes lasting about 60 seconds and I was very hungry. Tina said that she'd ring at 9am if I hadn't called her by then.
I prepared Hugo's things for his day at Angie's house - clothes and toys, as Paul prepared to drive him to his godmother's (a journey which should take twenty minutes at that time of the morning). I went back downstairs, and sat on the sofa in the dining room and howled with an inexplicable, primal grief: I felt as though I was abandoning my first baby in order to birth my second. It felt so wrong to send Hugo away, yet I knew that there was no way that I'd be able to focus on this new baby's labour and entry into the world if he was there.
I pulled myself together and went back upstairs to wake my firstborn. I hugged him awake and asked if he would like to go and visit his friends Lee, Bobby, Tearlach and Angie - he was keen to go and I helped him get dressed. Whenever a contraction started I'd nip into the spare room or bathroom and move and breathe through it - then come back to him.
At 07:30 Paul and Hugo left: as soon as they walked out the door, I felt an enormous sense of relief: Hugo was OK, happy and safe, and I could get on with labour and meeting my new baby. I felt frighteningly focused on the task at hand and no longer felt able to eat or drink. Contractions at this point were every 6 minutes or so.
I rang a friend and left her a message on her answer-phone saying that things were starting to happen and that I'd ring her later. I then began to text another friend when my body tensed into one massive contraction that lasted nearly 10 minutes - wave after wave after wave without respite. The minute the contraction subsided I grabbed the phone and rang my midwife - she said that she'd be right over. My worry was that I wouldn't get the pool ready on time: it wasn't even fully set up, never mind filled. I didn't have much chance to brood on this as the contractions came one after another after another. It was the beginning of an avalanche of a labour.
I began to worry that Paul wasn't home. At 07:55 I phoned Paul's mobile: he was on the way home and about to stop to buy the paracetamol that I had asked him to pick up. "Just get here ASAP," I told him, "the baby's coming NOW!" I could feel the baby's head descending, and was starting to have clearly expulsive contractions. I couldn't even think of moving: I was on my knees in the living-room leaning against the outside of the empty birthpool. "I'm not going to get to use my pool" I thought, and felt enormously aggrieved. I had loved the pool that I used for Hugo's birth so much that I had bought it from the pool-hire company. Several friends had borrowed it and had lovely births in it, yet here I was with a baby imminent and no time to fill it.
Paul said that he was on his way home and in my minds eye I pictured him driving towards me, maybe 5 minutes away. In actual fact he was just leaving Eltham, a good 30 minutes in rush-hour traffic. I'm glad I didn't know this.
The time of this phone call allowed me to judge when my body started pushing: around 8am. I knelt in the living room, leaning my elbows up against the wooden edge of the birth pool, and resting my head on my arms. The same weird primal voice that sang from my body when I birthed my son, came once again from my mouth. I call it the goat-mother, as it reminds me of the call of a nanny-goat. I knew from this eerie vocalisation that the baby was descending, and I was unwillingly dragged back into the world of the conscious mind as I had to consider what would happen if I birthed my baby unassisted:
- should I ring the emergency services? (I was physically unable to pick up a phone, never mind speak)
- how was my midwife going to get into the house? I considered this problem, then stood up between contractions, leaned against a wall through the next contraction, lurched into the front hall and rested with my head against the front door for the following one, then in the short break between contractions flung the front door open. The cold air felt wonderfully exhilarating. I didn't care what any passers-by might think, and reckoned that if any chance burglar were to wander in through the open front door, the sight and sound of me on all fours would be enough to scare him off!
A few short minutes after I opened the door, Paul came home. He immediately began to set up and fill the birthing-pool, until, between contractions, I indicated that the baby was imminent and that I needed him with me. How good a backrub felt! The contractions with this labour were wilder and less controlled than with my first labour. I later described it as losing control on an icy ski slope and skiing into the snow-making machine. It was a storm of a labour, a helter-skelter, the contractions needing to be shouted into submission rather than calmly oooooommmm-ed through as they had with my first baby. At 8:30 my main midwife arrived. She started putting towels and inco-pads down beneath me (I was kneeling at the edge of a rug, on a wooden floor) until I made it clear that I didn't care what happened to the floor or the rug under the circumstances! She also explained that a midwife I hadn't met would be coming: I had only wanted known midwives to be present, but at this point I couldn't care less who came into the room as long as they left me alone. I just wanted to be left in peace to birth this baby.
"Could somebody please cut off my knickers?" I said once the midwife had been in the room a few minutes - for goodness sake, surely someone might have noticed this slight impediment to my baby's progress, and I certainly couldn't get them off (I'd tried unsuccessfully when getting up to open the door). The second midwife (who'd arrived 10 minutes after the first) came back with some scissors, and asked if I was sure that I didn't mind cutting them off (for goodness sake NO!). My primary midwife had a look (no VE, haven't had one with either labour) and said "Ohhh, I can see your baby!" (I wasn't surprised, I could certainly FEEL my baby - she had a very VERY round head). I am now grateful that my midwife didn't tell me that she could also see my baby's hands wrapped around her head. The compound presentation explained the long second stage, but had I known about it at the time I might have felt very disheartened.
I was still kneeling up, leaning against the (empty) birth pool. Tina, my midwife, suggested that I move my legs slightly wider apart and as I did, two huge contractions brought my baby's head out. I breathed and breathed and worked hard to control, control, control and not push voluntarily One extra little voluntary push and Beatrix's head was born, seconds later her body just slithered free (the only bonus of the arms-around-the-head compound presentation is that there are no shoulders to birth, so the baby slithers out like a foal) into Tina's hands and was deftly passed between my legs into my hands in seconds. I felt that I already knew that she was a girl, despite having had no scans or tests in pregnancy, and a glance confirmed this. The second midwife was amazed to discover that we didn't know the sex - she said that she'd never seen anyone appear to know like that before without having had a scan.
Beatrix was born! She was pink and round and solid and vigorous, with a round head and strong limbs. She let out one shout of protest at the indignity of the cold air on her skin, then snuggled happily into me. There was something very definite about Beatrix Daisy Avignon from her first moments - the avalanche of a birth, her vigour, her adamant latching on and delighted slurping at the breast moments after birth. The way she wriggled over and latched on later that evening in bed. I don't think this little girl will ever succumb to life's obstacles ..
My birthplan had stipulated that I wanted to catch my own baby -- I had planned to give birth in the pool. I hadn't even thought about what might happen if I birthed otherwise, and I had very strong feelings about being the first to hold my baby. My midwives were wonderful - they intuitively did the right thing, despite never having discussed other options. Yes, Tina caught my baby, but only for a fraction of a second before she passed her deftly to me. She gave me instinctive guidance that helped rather than hindered the birth. Despite the difficult presentation, I only sustained a second degree tear, which, having had a bad third-degree tear last time, I was pretty pleased with! We decided not to suture it.
Beatrix, my baby girl, latched on almost immediately, and the placenta came swiftly of its own accord. It was a neat, compact little placenta - it was in good condition, but went granular much more quickly in the fridge than Hugo's had done. I didn't eat it this time. I went into mild shock half an hour or so after the birth, then again a couple of times later on in the afternoon: It was the speed and violence of the labour - it felt as though my body was only still catching up. The afterpains were pretty horrible, and I was sick a couple of times that afternoon.
But I did get my pizza!
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