Having returned from a lovely weekend up at my parents in Norfolk (a three hour drive away from our hometown which, at 34 weeks pregnant is no mean feat - even as a passenger!) the night before, we had collapsed exhausted into bed around 9pm. Of course, as a matter of course I was up several times during the night for bathroom trips and the rest of the time was spent shifting about uncomfortably, trying to turn over in bed (and resembling a overturned tortoise in the process) and being increasingly distracted by a tummy ache. I assumed I needed the toilet (things had been a bit... sparse in that department for a few days) but then I gradually noticed that these pains kept coming and going so I woke David.
"What's the matter?"
"I've got a tummy ache that keeps coming and going.... do you think we should worry?"
He suggested that I ring the delivery suite and ask their advice so we dug out the number and I called them. They told me to take some paracetamol and call them back if there was no improvement in an hour. When there was no improvement I rang them back and told them that the painkillers hadn't made any difference at all, at which point they told me that I had to come in and be checked. Being the super organized kind of girl that I am, we grabbed the hospital bag that I'd packed the weekend before (with absolutely NO intention of using for at least another four weeks!) and made the 10 minute trip to the hospital. We went to the maternity department (and how familiar those two floors became over the next 10 days, almost like home!) and straight to the delivery suite where we were taken to a room and hooked up to a machine that monitored baby's heart rate and any uterine activity going on. I should mention that during all this, the cramps (as I'd now come to realise they actually were) continued at about the same rate and intensity as before. They were showing up on the monitor as 'tightenings' and I was having to breathe through them but all in all they were very manageable and when I was given an internal examination the midwife pronounced my cervix nice and shut and my waters still intact. At this point I remember thinking "I knew there was nothing to worry about, I knew we were just being silly!" and thought they'd send me home then and there - I had no idea that my baby would be born three days later! However, as they had no idea why the contractions were happening or if they would lead to anything, they decided to give me steroid injections to help mature baby's lungs in case things did progress into labour. They also did another test which involved taking a swab from 'down there' and testing it for hormones. Apparently, if these hormones were present then imminent labour was extremely likely but if it came back negative, the chances of going into labour in the next 14 days was less than 1% - of course mine came back negative (just goes to show how accurate these tests are!)
By this time it's about 4am and, due to the steroid injections being given in two doses 12 hours apart, I'm told that I'll be staying in for another night in order for them to administer the second dose and David is told that he might as well go home for now. I"m going to skip quickly through the next couple of days as they're extremely boring and pretty much consist of me staying in the hospital and continuing to have these 'Braxton Hicks' around every 5 to 10 minutes, lasting about a minute each and being painful enough to breath through - not to mention the painkillers they kept offering me (codeine and paracetamol) that I only bothered to accept once before realising they did absolutely nothing (I wonder why!). I do remember wondering how on earth I was going to cope with real labour contractions if these were just 'strong Braxton Hicks' as the midwives kept insisting (with a rather annoying smirk on their faces - you could just see them exchanging glances that said "My goodness what a fuss this girl is making - what on earth will she be like during proper labour - bagsy I don't deal with this one when the time comes!". I have to say, I was quite happy when only about 12 hours later I proved them all WRONG.
Wednesday 14th September 2011 - 7am
So. This brings us to Wednesday, by which point I'm feeling pretty cheesed off that nothing has improved and I'm now cheerfully being told that this could just carry on until I give birth around my due date (six weeks away!!!). I remember somewhat grumpily asking a midwife how I was supposed to 'put up with this' for another six weeks when.. hello?... no painkillers are doing anything and I have to physically stop whatever I am doing every 10 minutes to try and bear the pain. I don't remember ever being given a sensible answer. I decided at about 7 o'clock that morning that I was going to run myself a bath, in hopes that it would calm my uterus down as one of the midwives had suggested. I've always been a bit of a water baby and was planning to have a water birth if I made it to term without complications so it seemed like a good idea. Fast forward by about 15 minutes and I'm hanging over the side of the bath crying and thinking "Braxton Hicks my *&@£$!!!" I managed to get myself dried and decent (during which I noticed blood on my towel) before calling the midwife and telling her that things had suddenly gotten a LOT worse so they hooked me back up to that horrible monitor (I'd grown rather contemptuous of this monitor over the course of my stay as every time I told them I thought things had gotten worse, the evil monitor showed them to be exactly the same as they were before which did nothing to dispel the opinion of those smirky midwives that I was making a big fuss about nothing). However, this time around the monitor must have been on my side as whatever it showed encouraged the midwife to do another internal examination, after which she pronounced me to be 7cm dilated (!!!) and arranged for me to be taken up to delivery, just as David walked in for the start of visiting hours at 9am!
Once we were up in the delivery room, I noticed that at some point I'd ditched the fleecy pink robe I'd put on after the bath (in a fit of angry rage and hot flushes I think!) and been put into one of those oh-so-attractive hospital robes and then I was up on a bed and being offered gas and air ("...about bloody time too!!!" I remember saying) which I am convinced is the greatest invention of all time. I'd heard stories about it making people sick but it just made me feel lovely and drunk but still completely aware of everything that was going on... perfect in my opinion! Before I knew it, that whole 'urge to push' kicked right in and my baby was on his way! Disgusting though it may be, everything I'd be told was completely true - it really did just feel like going to the toilet for a really big...you know.... and if I'm honest, I don't even remember the pushing part hurting that much. The room was full of doctors, midwives and paediatricians due to him being born so very early but I never really noticed them either, I was just in a zone and got on with it. The most exciting (and embarrassing!!!) part of the whole thing was my waters breaking, which hadn't happened up to this point. The lovely doctor was just letting me do my thing and get on with the pushing during contractions as I obviously didn't need any help getting things going when suddenly, with an almighty push, I felt my waters literally burst in a projectile fashion (I swear some must have hit the back wall) and right into my lovely doctor's face. I kept apologising, even between pushes as I was so completely mortified but she just laughed at me and said I was the most polite woman in labour she'd ever met. Anyway, at 9:55am (roughly a mere 4 hours after the midwives decided that 'true' labour had actually begun), I pushed little 5lb 2oz Oliver Richard James into the world. He entered with the most gorgeous squeaky little cry I ever heard (he still hasn't quite found his lungs yet even at 4 weeks old) but of course was immediately taken off to special care to be checked over and David went with him. The delivery of the placenta took a little longer (in fact longer than the baby!) and they tried every drug going to get it out but it wasn't having any of it! About an hour after the birth of Oliver they were just about to give up and give me an epidural for getting it out manually in theatre (I was so upset by the idea that I might have to have an epidural after all that!) but then another wonderful doctor came in, at my lovely doctors request, and managed to pull it out with the help of my good friend gas and air.
And that is Oliver's birth story! As birth stories go, I think it's a pretty nice one (and very short for a first labour - I feel lucky!). As soon as I felt my little boy come out into the world, despite all the stories I'd been told that led me to believe otherwise, my first thought (in absolute honesty!) was "Was that it? Well that wasn't so bad, I'd do that again no problem!". See, I really was lucky :-) and Oliver was absolutely fine, with no need for any help or intervention in the special care unit apart from some temperature monitoring and phototherapy for slight jaundice so he came up onto the ward with me after only 2 days.