Tuesday was work as usual. I loved my wriggly bump and was excited the birth could happen any time. Due date was the following Monday and I intended working ‘til the end of the week. I’d loved being pregnant and wanted a natural birth. Anthony hoped to be there. I really wanted him there and he wanted to be there too. Mummy was going to be involved whatever. I’d decided to go to St John’s in Livingston. On Monday and Tuesday the baby poked at my bottom several times as if knocking at the door. And my nipples felt tingly. I felt different.
Around 4.30am that night I woke with crampy feelings in my lower abdomen. Quite calm and a bit curious, I didn’t know if this was labour. I pottered about the flat checking things in my almost-packed bags. It was pitch dark outside. Sitting on the end of the bed – something felt pleasantly hot and wet…some blood and fluid. I knew this was the show! Now I was getting excited! 5.40am was too early to phone Mummy. She needed a good night’s sleep as it might be a big day. I couldn’t reach Anthony on his mobile. He was supposed to be back from America, in Denmark, ready to come over. He’d promised he’d be contactable. But then being reliable was never his thing. I was disappointed but I’d known he might not make it. I had a lovely warm bath.
Jessie (the midwifery sister at St John’s) said contractions would be like being hit in the stomach with a pillow and we’d all be sick, so I didn’t think this was contractions. It was like mild period cramps, at the front, no back pain. At 8.15am I phoned Mummy. She wasn’t packed and had to work out her journey from St Andrews. I was quite calm; she was flapping. Katya, my youngest sister, said she’d come until Mummy arrived. I called work to say I was taking a day’s holiday. Then I paid attention to what was happening inside.
The cramps became bigger and gripping. I held on to a table, chairs, sink rim, whatever was near as I walked about the flat. Muesli for breakfast. Katya arrived about 11.30am. Her pregnancy book-in appointment was at 1.15pm so we decided she’d go when Mummy came and we’d let her know when we needed her. Luckily Katya wasn’t working that day. She could drive us to St John’s later. The pains were quite frequent and intense but they passed quickly. Sometimes I leaned on the birthing ball. Mostly I went on all fours. Mummy phoned several times en route; not knowing how to charge her mobile, having missed her train, being driven by my step-father who doesn’t really do urgent – she was desperate to get here.
The baby still wriggled a bit. Katya and I chatted between contractions. Mummy arrived excited, eyes shining. I was very happy to see her. She took photos of me with the bump for Anthony. The baby looked beautiful all round and smoothly contained before being born. Anthony hadn’t seen me pregnant.
With each contraction I went into another world, then quickly came back into the room where everything was familiar. Mummy kept saying the baby could come any time but I liked being at home and wasn’t ready for hospital yet. Between contractions I forgot the pain. I felt very alive. Every time a contraction came I went on hands and knees, dropped my head, shut my eyes and breathed. I felt exhilarated as each contraction disappeared. When I phoned St John’s the first time they said to stay at home as long as I could bear it. When I couldn’t cope any more then I should go in. That way, I told them, I’d probably have the baby at home which wasn’t the plan. It could take 40 minutes to get to Livingston but somehow I knew what I was doing.
Mummy felt which way the baby was lying. She was sure it was head down. She was very professional as she felt my tummy and I felt reassured and proud that she could do that for me. Besides having four of us, she’d delivered about 20 babies during her training as a nurse. She fixed me an omelette and we had lunch. The contractions gripped more intensely and came more often. Mummy asked if that one just passed was agony – I said it was gone and I’d forgotten it. They now came every five minutes, sometimes sooner. About 1.30pm Mummy phoned Katya (in the middle of her appointment) and asked her to come soon. When she arrived she started organising things down to the car. I had several bags; ‘labour’, ‘in hospital’, ‘coming home’, a bag of food for labour and for afterwards so as not to starve on hospital food! When I phoned St John’s again they still thought I wasn’t ready to come in as contractions weren’t absolutely regular: I decided it was time to go.
Katya wanted to get there as quickly as possible, but I wanted to buy some apples. Then Mummy realised she’d left her mobile in the flat… Finally, we headed for Livingston. I lay on my side in the back. The contractions squeezed hard and were sharp and raw. I sort of whistled and curled up…then it was peaceful until another came. I remember sunshine, brightness, and a big sky. It was 30th January. There was a whole world in my tummy. When we arrived at St John’s around 4pm – I wasn’t ready to go in. We waited 20 minutes or so in the car until I gave the OK. We booked in and moved in, bags and all. Karen, the midwife, was pretty and kind and I immediately liked her. The room quickly became warm and friendly and I felt safe.
We were on our own for ages – the labour unit was busy with six caesarean sections. I leaned on the ball and felt hot – in my big pink jersey. Mummy took some photos. Things had quietened down a little since we came in. I drank water – room temperature, not cold. We were all quite relaxed in an excited kind of way. I liked the floor but had to get on the bed to be monitored for 20 minutes. Everything was fine. About two hours after we’d arrived Karen came back in. She read my birth plan carefully and was very accepting even though some of it was unusual to her. She asked if she could examine me. I wasn’t keen but she persuaded me it would help to know what stage I was at. Mummy and Katya shot out to get something to eat. I put on my long sleeve T-shirt. Karen was sensitive and gentle and the examination was alright: ‘5cms dilated and nice and soft’. She left again and I was on my own for about 45 minutes. Contractions were quite intense. I wanted my pink bed socks and wished Mummy would come back and pass them to me. Laughing, I got up – easily – and got them myself. I liked those bedsocks. I liked warm feet.
It was early evening when Mummy and Katya came back from the canteen. I was quite happy on the narrow bed on my side. Karen wasn’t there much of the time and that was ok. It was relaxing and we were managing fine ourselves. Another midwife and student came in sometimes. At one point the student couldn’t find the baby’s pulse with the monitor and Mummy got alarmed. I didn’t. I was feeling everything and that took all my attention. With each contraction I closed my eyes and breathed. ‘Blow it away’, Katya kept saying and I let each contraction go. Jessie came in, bless her. She didn’t do births anymore so it was nice that she stayed with me through two contractions. I’d really enjoyed her antenatal classes and it had helped me overcome a horror of hospitals.
Everything became faster, more urgent. I kneeled almost upright against the end of the bed, arms over some pillows. I don’t remember seeing much apart from Mummy, her hands, her face, the bottle of water. Karen was there quietly. Katya was there: ‘blow it away, fantastic, just blow it away’. Mummy asked if I wanted gas and air – I didn’t. Karen was kind. People kept saying how well I was doing. Everyone encouraged me. Mummy’s hands were soft, warm, relaxed and familiar with her wedding ring all smooth.
Contractions now grabbed me round the whole of my abdomen. The force was tremendous. My body wanted to push or I would choke. Something bore down and pushed against my bottom. I kept saying ‘that’s not the baby, it’s my bottom’. The head seemed a long time coming but it was quicker than they expected. Someone said ‘brilliant – it won’t be long now’. I’d wanted to breathe the baby out. I remember panting and then Karen saying I could push and it was nearly there. She asked if she could turn the baby’s head a little – I let her.
Katya asked ‘has it got any hair?’ ‘No, it’s bald’, Karen said then changed her mind. What she thought was bald scalp was the membranes. My waters had never broken. Being born with a caul reputedly protects you from drowning! The head felt hard, huge, so much pressure. I was still kneeling up against the bed end. I pushed several times when encouraged to otherwise I might have kept breathing the baby out as I’d wanted to. Part of me wanted the baby to be born soon. It seemed ages… then suddenly the head was out! There was excitement behind me, then the body came out like a string of sausages. I loved that feeling. It was soft, slippy, easy, wet – arms, legs body. I heard crying before it was all out. It took me a while to turn around on the bed with the cord and sheets and excitement. Karen handed me my baby. ‘Hello darling’, I said – amazed to see her.
There was bright blood, and bits everywhere but no mucus. The baby was slippy and warm. The cord wasn’t long enough for her to feed so I held her in my hands and on my tummy until the cord stopped pulsating then cut it – with incredibly blunt scissors. She pushed her little face up, latched on immediately and fed for about 15 minutes. The animal in her amazed me. She knew exactly what to do. Mummy and Katya sparkled in the dim light. Francesca was all plump with fat little hands and feet. We all looked at her in amazement and held her. Mummy held her. She was bundled into a towel. I had a shower. I don’t remember the order. Mummy steadied me as I went into the shower. It was 9.41pm. The baby weighed 6lbs 4oz and was 47cms long. Her lightish hair was matted with blood. She had busy little legs.
When the placenta hadn’t come after half an hour they started thinking what to do next. I was lying on my back, slightly sitting up. I tried blowing on a bottle. Nothing was happening so another midwife came in and gently pushed my tummy. The placenta slipped out all hot. I had torn slightly but didn’t have stitches. I was on top of the world and Mummy and Katya had been fabulous. Anthony hadn’t a clue it was even happening. Francesca was beautiful and plump.
In the wheelchair going up to the ward I felt I was flying in a magic chair. I had a fruit and nut bar on the way upstairs. Mummy and Katya came too. We were in a room with other mummies and babies and stayed cocooned there for four wonderful days.
A very big thank you to everyone who helped give Francesca her wonderful birth.