It’s difficult to know where to even begin.
Just over four months down the line it’s a surreal struggle to piece together what even happened to bring Theo into the world. Every mum in my life from my own, to my late nan and sister told me your mind glosses over labour and birth like a twinkling white cloud of blissful ignorance. I guess it’s also hormones encouraging you to have more kids.
But here goes.
If you’re looking for a serene, smooth birth story this ain’t it. But guess what? Very few of them are.
My labour began around 2am on 23rd May 2019, with rushes of infrequent achy pain as I tried to continue sleeping before getting ready for work.
Because baby’s tummy had been measuring on the larger (colossal) side at our scans and I had suspected gestational diabetes, I was due to be induced two days later. But one thing that’s consistent across all births is that the baby is in charge.
Around 6am the pain hadn’t gone. I knew it was at least the Braxton Hicks which I’d experienced a couple of weeks before during a wonderfully relaxing spa day, so I called in sick. I had been due to start maternity leave the next day, so I’d imagine it wasn’t a massive surprise.
As my fiancé Oli headed off to work, I stayed in bed dozing on and off for a few hours. Then I went to the loo and my mucus plug made a gooey appearance. For those of you not labour and baby-growing lingo aware, this a bunch of chunky jelly that sits inside a heavily pregnant woman’s cervix to keep it protected until the baby is ready to be born.
I then rang my mum to let her know what was happening. She was very calm and let me know she’d be round in an hour or so. She’s since told me she could tell I was in labour already.
By the time Mum arrived though I was glad she’d been able to be there. The pain was still coming and going despite following the hospital’s advice to take paracetamol as much I could and make a note of how often my pains were coming and how long they were lasting. And I managed to pick at a bowl of cereal. Win!
As my contractions got closer together and more regular though, doing anything was pretty much impossible. We sat down to watch (would you believe it) One Born Every Minute, and by the time the next contraction came around, I couldn’t sit, stand, pee or do anything comfortably anymore. This was definitely a sign of things to come!
At this point, it was a mixture of leaning on the tops of doors, walking around, sitting down when I could and chatting to Mum. I’d also called Oli to keep hm updated as well as the hospital. They advised me to come in for some pain relief once my contractions were lasting between 30 and 40 seconds and coming every five minutes.
This happened around 5pm, and an hour later, Mum and I heard Oli thundering up the stairs after rushing home in an Uber.
As we weren’t expecting to go into hospital until the next day though, we hadn’t finished packing our bag. So, Oli helped me finish that off as a breathed as best I could, and we then headed off in Mum’s car.
The journey to Kingston Hospital was…bizarre. It was a combination of clinging to Oli’s hand for physical and emotional support, the grand old sport of dog-spotting (yes, it’s a thing!) and shouting at Mum to slow down over speed bumps.
I also vaguely remember screaming at them both that I felt sick and wanted to get out of the car. Right now!
We arrived at the hospital by around 7pm, and while Mum found a parking spot, I stumbled with Oli into the maternity wing. I sat down in reception sobbing and making what I remember to be grunting and panting noises while Oli got me checked in.
After this, we were led to a ward to talk about pain relief, which I was keen to have. Several fellow new mums have told me how much hypnobirthing and non-medical pain relief helped them, but those things just aren’t my bag.
The midwife checked how dilated my cervix was (two centimetres of 10 at this point), and I chose to start with pethidine, which can make some women feel out of control, sick or woozy, and is given through injection into your thigh or bum.
It was about as pleasant as it sounds. In fact, I could feel the drug moving around in my thigh as it worked its way through me. The pethidine worked like an absolute dream though; it was bloody wonderful, and meant I was able to gulp down a load of water and even eat an orange.
When it was time to move to a second ward, a midwife asked if I’d like to walk or would prefer a wheelchair.
“I can walk there, no problem,” I insisted.
But the choice was made for me.
The pethidine had worked its magic and I simply couldn’t put one foot in front of the other. Oli also tells me I went to stand up and nearly collapsed in a heap on the floor, and was caught by him and a midwife.
I was sure I napped at this stage, but my mum and Oli have since told me I laid on the bed chatting absolute rubbish to them both.
Seeing I was much more relaxed, my mum headed back home.
A few more hours went by and the pethidine had stopped doing its thing. The trickles of pain built back up into rushes of agony as I struggled to sit still or move around again. I went for a wee (make that several) and had a tonne of bleeding and more mucus make its way out of me.
The midwife told us that was nothing to worry about but checked how dilated I was in between contractions. I was eight centimetres and it was time to be escorted to a delivery suite.
I screeched and wailed my way there in a wheelchair while Oli gathered our belongings. It was the worst, most intense pain I’ve ever felt.
We then met our delivery midwife in an unexpectedly huge and private room. She was nothing short of incredible, and one of the calmest, and most patient and straight-talking people I’ve ever met.
She pushed me to relax by focusing on taking in the gas and air, and so the anaesthetist could eventually give me the epidural. This came after dozily signing a consent form confirming I understood its risks. It meant I couldn’t feel what was happening anymore, and it was exactly what I needed.
I cried at the poor midwife during one contraction to close the curtains, and she let me know we were on a top floor and no one could see. But that wasn’t the problem. I was terrified of seeing myself on my knees on a bed pushing a human out. That was not something I wanted to see, and it conflicted with the whole ‘this isn’t actually happening to me’ thing I had going thus far.
The midwife also talked through everything clearly and kept me as calm as possible while guiding me through the contractions as they got more and more intense. She and Oli made a fantastic team.
I was given a cannula in my hand, was hooked up to machines to measure baby’s heart rate, and had a catheter installed to keep the lower part of my body numb thanks to the epidural.
Then it was time to start pushing.
“Here it is,” I thought, “Our baby boy is on his way. I’ll be a mum soon.”
This is when things stopped being so straight forward. My waters finally broke (turns out it’s not the first sign of labour), but I was so out of it I wasn’t even sure it had happened.
Somehow the cannula my hand was also yanked out at some stage, leading to a warm fountain of blood spouting its way out, all over the floor, the bed and me. It was like being in a horror movie, and I think if it wasn’t for being heavily medicated I would’ve found it incredibly scary.
Two hours later there was still no baby, and it was time for some additional help.
There’s very few mums who have their ideal labour, but the thought of forceps terrified me.
In my wobbly state, thanks to the epidural being continually topped up, I was told we would be heading to theatre to get the baby out with forceps. If that didn’t work, a C-section it would be.
The miwdife advised us both to nap while we waited for a theatre to become available. We weren’t an emergency case, so it was a waiting game.
Oli and I woke up in the very early hours of the next day to the midwife explaining it was time for her to clock off and for one of her colleagues to take over. At the same time, other medical staff handed me a consent form outlining that I understood the risks of an instrumental delivery. Yikes.
Oli was asked to prepare an outfit for the baby and I was wheeled to the operating floor. I barely had time to think about how immensely scared I was, and simply said I was nervous when an anaesthetist asked if I was ok.
Following Oli trying to comically stuff his long hair into a surgical hair net with the help of a handful of midwives and surgeons, I was taken into theatre by around 7.30am.
My legs and entire lower half were still entirely numb and felt…fluffy. Cold water was sprayed on them to check how well the anaesthetic was working, and turns out, very well indeed.
In fact, when I had to be transferred from my bed to the operating table, I needed a few of the medical team to lift me onto it because I couldn’t even shuffle. And at one stage I asked the anaesthetist what I was touching when I had my own hand on my leg.
In what felt like a flash, baby Theo had arrived at 8.25am. But, as they say, it wasn’t like it is in the movies.
The very first picture of Theo
He didn’t cry.
It may have only been a few seconds, but it felt a day. I heard Oli ask whether he was supposed to cry or not, but no one seemed concerned.
It was a very out of body experience, so much so that I felt it was happening to someone else, and almost entirely detached from the whole thing.
Theo was popped on my chest for our first cuddle after having had a quick mop up. His eyes were closed, and his hair looked pretty dark thanks to all the blood and other gunk. But when he was taken to be weighed, properly cleaned and for Oli to cut the umbilical cord, he came back looking like a different baby. He was blond-haired and blue eyed – not the brown hair and brown eyed little one we were expecting.
My first cuddle with Theo
There was another surprise as well. And no, Theo didn’t turn out to be Thea.
Having been told time and time again that our son would be on the larger side (around 10lb), one of the medical team let us know he was 3.3kg. After Googling when I came around later that day, we realised he was 7.5lb and one of the smallest babies in both of our families.
I was stitched up – which was an exceptionally weird sensation given that I could just about feel it happening but couldn’t feel any pain – while Oli and Theo had their first cuddle.
I insisted they sat right next to me so I could see them both. My little family. There wasn’t space in my head to think about the gang of strangers sealing up my episiotomy (cut) and second-degree tear in that moment.
Theo and I were wheeled into recovery and it crossed my mind that I should be at work at that time.
Before Theo became Theo
I find it tricky to remember the rest of that day. I vaguely recall Baby T having his first taste of milk and lots of cuddles and naps. I assume Oli helped me get changed into my ridiculously baggy maternity top because I hauled myself out of bed by the evening to shuffle down the corridor with the strength of an 85-year-old with one leg, as nurses and midwives smiled and cheered me on like some sort of bizarre race.
I was also sporting some divine navy blue socks designed to help your blood circulate. Basically, I looked like a damn catwalk model ok.
Theo and I stayed in hospital while I recovered for another few days, but my post-natal recovery is another story for another time.
A few months down the line, my brain is telling me I could do the whole thing again. I’m in one piece, right? Well, just about.
Baby T and I had amazing medical staff and I’ll tell you something – the NHS is true gift. And Oli and I now have a healthy, chubby and smiley baby boy we can’t imagine our lives without. So cliché as it is, it was all worth it and he’s the best birthday pressie I could ever wish for.