I can’t quite believe that it has taken me a whole year to write Esme’s birth story. Maybe it was due to me finding those early months so incredibly overwhelming; maybe it was PND. Or maybe it was because I have found it difficult to reconcile my feelings towards birth since losing Orla.
The thing is, I was so prepared for Orla’s birth. Not only was I prepared, but I was excited. I had planned a home birth, had practiced hypnobirthing for months and every detail had been planned with love and hope. And whilst I am proud of how Orla’s birth unfolded, I mourned the birth I didn’t get, which has left me with many complex feelings. Anger. Shame. Guilt. I mean, how could I talk about feeling sad for not birthing in the way that I had hoped when really all I should feel sad about was the fact that my baby died?
But I did. And I continue to feel sad, because even if I ever feel brave enough to try for another baby, I don’t think I will ever get the birth that I had so dearly wished for. My anxiety will never allow me to wait for spontaneous labour, and my knowledge of what can go wrong will always prevent me from birthing in the comfort of my own home. And I’ll be honest and say that I always get a pang of envy when I hear these stories from others. I am happy for them – genuinely happy. But I am sad for me. And maybe that makes me selfish, but it is the truth.
It has also taken me time to resolve my anger regarding the preparation I had made prior to Orla’s birth. The overwhelmingly powerful discourse I surrounded myself with of birth being natural, safe and something that happens every single day. The ease with which you can seemingly control your birth experience with the right attitude and breathing. Yet no one talked about the risks and the times that it went wrong. The times that babies did not make it. I was encouraged to immerse myself in positive birth stories and not once did I consider that this was leaving me ill informed. Repeating statements such as ‘baby will come when baby is ready’ left me reeling after Orla died. Because my baby did not get that memo, despite me playing her that recording incessantly. She died before she arrived.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am in no way blaming anyone, least of all hypnobirthing for Orla’s death. But I think a collision of factors left me vulnerable to not seeking help sooner. And although I can just about allow myself to believe that this does not necessarily mean the outcome would have been any different, I will always wonder.
However, despite all of this, despite knowing that my birth would be saturated with anxiety and stress and potentially medicalised, I was determined to do what I could to have some form of reparation for what I felt I missed out on. I wanted my birth to be as drug and intervention free as possible. I wanted to see if I could do what I had hoped to just a few months before. And whilst I would have had all the drugs and interventions in a heartbeat if I needed them, I just truly wanted to see if it was feasible.
And do you know what, it was: Esme’s birth was everything I could have hoped for given the circumstances, and I would go through it again tomorrow. This is a story of an induced birth that was calm and empowering – and I hope anyone else facing induction can read this and know that they could potentially have this too. Induction and constant monitoring doesn’t necessarily mean lack of progression, forceps and tearing. It can be the birth you want it to be.
We had agreed that I would be induced at 37 weeks, as psychologically I knew that was as far as I could push myself; yet we were also aware of how closely this would mirror Orla’s arrival, so we delayed for one day. At 37+1 we packed ourselves off to hospital, made ourselves comfortable, had the pessary administered and waited. The ward was unusually quiet – even the midwives were spooked – and as such we were able to have one of the induction bays to ourselves. We sat, we walked around the hospital, we visited the M&S Foodhall multiple times, we read, we listened to podcasts and as day turned into night, not much had happened. Andy was kind enough to go and treat himself to Nando’s and send me a photo whilst I tucked into a soggy hospital imitation, and before we knew it, it was time for bed. I had CTG monitoring every few hours and this revealed little in the way of contractions and as a result, I felt somewhat defeated and disappointed that my prior activities aimed towards cervix ripening had been somewhat fruitless. But let’s face it, the gusto with which I threw myself into that was neither calm or relaxed, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it just clamped everything more tightly shut.
Through the night I felt my anxiety start to creep up. I was having some twinges, but I couldn’t trust my perception of baby’s movements. The thing with pregnancy after loss is that it robs you for any confidence in yourself. I couldn’t believe that what I was feeling was real or not. It is as though you step onto some form of parallel universe when you aren’t even sure if your body or your mind is your own any more. I pressed the buzzer at around 3am and said I was anxious and asked if I could be monitored. The midwife asked if I could feel the baby moving and I honestly couldn’t be sure. I just needed someone else to take that responsibility away from me, because in that moment I could bare the burden of it no more.
Everything was fine and I managed to get a couple more hours of sleep. Before we knew it, morning had arrived and I decided to have a shower and prepare myself for what I hoped would be the day. My midwife Michelle text me to say that she was on her way in and reassured me that I should be patient when I complained that I wasn’t feeling any progression. She arrived, we chatted and then the consultant did her round and checked me over. I had progressed enough not to require a second pessary and she suggested breaking my waters, which I was happy for her to do. She struggled, as baby kept squirming away, but she scratched the sack enough for me to leak. And with that, I started contracting. We packed up our stuff and moved next door to one of the delivery rooms and made ourselves comfortable. We turned on some music and Michelle helped to hook me up to the tens machine as I walked and swayed in time to the surges. Two hours later, at around 11, Michelle suggested giving my waters another go and this time they popped with force, followed swiftly by the mucus plug and more and more water with each contraction.
And for the next few hours I moved, bounced on the ball, breathed and rode the wave of each contraction. Despite being strapped to the CTG machine for constant monitoring, I was fully mobile, although at one point Andy and I sat silently together watching the monitor as though it were a boxset on Netflix. The reassuring thuds would sometimes change and with that my anxiety would peak. But luckily these moments were short-lived. I watched the paper slowly scroll out of the machine and concertina into a puddle on the floor and wondered how tall the pile would be before our baby arrived.
Minutes and hours passed with ease. Then everything seemed to suddenly ramp up a notch. Now I was really needing the tens machine and turning up the power with each go. I could no longer talk. All I could remember repeating to myself was ‘this cannot be more powerful than me, because it is me’, and ‘each surge is bringing me closer to my baby’. I visualised hills, knowing that each contraction had a peak and would taper off and I breathed (and groaned) my way through each one.
And then I lost it. I guess this must be transition, because suddenly my breathing wasn’t working. The tens machine wasn’t working. I leant on it and turned it on full blast at the wrong time and screamed at Michelle and Andy as if it were their fault! I decided to let go of that as a strategy and went back to basics. Breathing and claiming that I couldn’t do it.
But I was doing it. I was on the floor and I was pushing. I could feel my baby coming and I was scared. ‘What if something goes wrong?’ ‘What if she dies too?’ Michelle asked if I wanted to touch baby’s head. I did not. She told me to open my eyes. I refused. I had turned inward and was trying to ignore the intrusive thoughts that were entering my mind with at full throttle whilst convincing myself that I could do it when my mind was suddenly telling me I couldn’t.
Unexpectedly, there was a knock at the door and someone coming in without waiting for a response. Whilst I’m lying there grunting and crowning, one of the catering staff was stepping over me to bring in my dinner! She swiftly left when she realised what she had entered, only to return again a few seconds later with the forgotten lid (she must have realised that it was going to be a while before I would be ready to eat and wanted to keep it warm?!). And as if that wasn’t enough, she returned two minutes later with a different meal as she had delivered the wrong one. It was so unbelievable, it was comedy gold.
The second midwife was called in as was the paediatrician, and shortly after that, at 18.58, Esme was here. Screaming, grunting, covered in vernix and with a face exactly like her big sister. Michelle was the first to touch her as she was with Orla, and I will be forever grateful for that link.
We delayed cord clamping, which Andy took the pleasure of cutting. My placenta was delivered naturally and swiftly donated to the Anthony Nolan Trust for stem cell research. And apart from a small tear that didn’t require stiches, and the shock that I had actually done it, I was absolutely fine. I required no needles, no cannula and no drugs. It was absolutely everything I could have hoped and wished for. Esme and I had immediate skin to skin and whilst I was checked over, Andy took over and was promptly weed on. The paediatrician checked Esme over (due to her heart condition and the fact that she wouldn’t stop grunting – grunting baby syndrome is a thing!) and we had a few brief moments of calm.
Labour ward had suddenly become very busy and I could hear various conversations in the corridor regarding the desperate need for delivery rooms. I overheard ’20 weeks’ and ‘contracting hard’ and very swiftly, I was covered with my dressing gown and bundled into a wheelchair. Andy had to grab our bags, and before I could wash or have a drink, I was wheeled out through the waiting area, Esme in my arms covered in towels, down to the postnatal ward. I saw the pads on the floor, evidence of someone’s waters, and I could see midwives with worried faces. In that moment I knew that a woman and her partner were about to have their lives changed for all the wrong reasons. That just minutes after our baby was safely delivered, someone else was going to enter the exact same room and lose theirs. I turned to Michelle and said ‘that baby won’t make it will they?’ and she shook her head and held my shoulder. And with that, I was reminded of the fragility of life and how brutal it can be. I wanted to be able to go and see that woman and tell her that I had been her just 11 month before. I wanted to reassure her that she could do it and that one day she would feel okay. But I couldn’t. Yet I think of her often.
So, by 8pm, we were tucked into our miniscule bay that was hotter than the sun with our baby. Our live baby. She grunted non-stop for about six hours and was monitored closely as a result. I was petrified to put her down so spent the whole night just watching or holding her. She was here and she was ours. And despite the challenges, the tears and the rollercoaster of parenting that has ensued, I will always be grateful. Esme Hope, thank you for giving us hope and light when we needed it the most.