This story starts in the sweet progression of days in November spanning between my due date and the date I actually gave birth, FIFTEEN days overdue.
I had always known – somehow, mysteriously – that this baby would not be early. I couldn’t have told you how late she would end up being, even in my wildest dreams I hadn’t quite thought that far, but I knew she wasn’t ready yet and I felt perfectly fine with that.
See, I never felt any hesitation about her from the moment I got pregnant. We tested early, expecting perhaps the faintest of positives, but there she was, strong and bright. We had a scan early, knowing we might not see her heart beat yet, but there she was, a rapid loud heartbeat. And so on, she was there, present within me from that very first moment two days after the frozen embryo transfer that my breasts suddenly grew and I knew it was her finding a home within me. So I had never doubted her and I wasn’t about to start now. She was happy in there, healthy, and strong, every test and scan and monitoring session said so.
As the days shifted on though, I was aware that my chances of delivering at home were starting to shrink. Legally the midwives could only help me until 42 weeks and I REALLY wanted to deliver at home, so eventually I tried to induce labour. I let the midwives ‘sweep’ (trying to widen the cervix to induce labour) me twice. On top of that we tried everything and anything under the sun at home. Teas and supplements, oils and massages and orgasms, anything! I also went to go see a cranial therapist, my yoga teacher, and a foot reflexologist.
But no baby.
I knew the risks were increasing as well. Going that overdue is not medically recommended, and all medical staff made sure to tell me that. A lot. At 41 weeks and 5 days the gynaecologist told me in gentle but no uncertain terms, that I was going against medical advice keeping this baby in and refusing an induction. I signed a form saying I was informed of the fact that my baby might die, which didn’t help my stress levels much! I went into the hospital for monitoring every other day as a compromise, but I did NOT want to be induced when baby was perfectly healthy and there was no reason to other than arbitrary dates.
If I wouldn’t have gone into labour at all I would have eventually consented to an induction, but only later that week. It turns out I didn’t need to though…
On Sunday the 17th of November, I was exactly 42 weeks pregnant.
There was one last thing that could possibly induce labour that I hadn’t tried, and seeing how I had nothing left to lose, I was set to do it. My midwife came in that morning to check in on the baby’s heartbeat, and as soon as she left I drank castor oil(!)
It didn’t work at all for a few hours.
And then it sort of, maybe, gave me the first of twinges.
We were instructed to go into hospital for another monitoring session once I felt that the castor oil was done working. I wasn’t fully confident that it was, but around 4.30pm that Sunday we set off on the tram to St. Lucas hospital. As Jo and I sat on the tram, I could feel the same ‘practice’ feelings return regularly. I checked my phone and I noticed it was happening around every five minutes.
I knew it might be the beginning of labour, but I was also way too far into pregnancy to think that it would mean anything for certain by then, so while I told Jo, I also thought it was probably just a bit of nothing.
Once inside the hospital I was tied to a monitor. As the minutes ticked on, Jo and I both watched – gleefully – as the machine picked up my ‘practice’ contractions perfectly, drawing them in long waves being spat out by the machine. It was really there!
The staff there treated us to another involved discussion on why they wanted me to be induced ASAP, but I was feeling confident in my decision not to be, armed with the facts, and secretly treasuring the feeling inside of me, the rhythm that wasn’t all that strong yet, but maybe… maybe?
Jo and I walked back out of the hospital into the old town of Ghent around 5.30pm. We had originally intended to go out for dinner, but as we walked in the cold air I realised everything looked especially beautiful. The way the old buildings were lit, the lights reflecting on the water, I could have cried with the sheer stunning gorgeousness of it all. We joked that it was typically me, when all the oxytocin inducing things in the world we thought of to do didn’t work, in the end it was architecture that made me go into labour.
I did feel like maybe I was, in labour?
I didn’t want to say it in so many words, I told Jo not to expect much but I didn’t feel like eating out, I wanted to go home. Jo agreed. The tram home was full, I just managed a seat, and I could feel the contractions getting stronger now. They were definitely there, strong enough that I needed to start breathing though them.
Jo picked us up fries as a quick dinner solution. I went home and found my yellow earth mother dress from Peru and wore it, as we had decided in advance to keep the good feelings in labour going with thinking of travel, and that dress felt right to me.
I sat on my yoga ball, moving my hips gently. I could barely eat any of the fries, feeling the tightening, wondering.
A while later, following some bizarre instinct, I went to stand in the kitchen, in the dark, leaning on the kitchen counter and swaying through my contractions.
After a bit, Jo gave me her ipad where we had installed a contraction timer app. As soon as I started using it and had logged some contractions, it blinked at me, telling me that I was in established labour.
I told Jo, and we both laughed, oh, oh my god, on the evening of 42 weeks! The chances!
We had talked about the possibility of this very scenario happening with the midwives. Technically they were allowed to do a home birth until the deadline of 42 weeks, so midnight. Or possibly a few hours beyond. I was very aware of it though, that deadline.
And I started watching the clock. I knew it was early labour still, but I also knew that if this was going to happen, I was going to have to call them in early so it would still count.
Jo and I had some indecision about that. How soon would we call them? She outfitted me with the TENS machine, knowing that it needed to be on early in labour in order to have the best effect. I leaned some more over the kitchen counter, and we agreed that if my contractions were still coming regularly by 9pm, we would call in the midwives.
I managed well on my cool kitchen counter, swaying through every contraction, letting the TENS machine and my breathing do all the work. I wasn’t in pain at all. I was in the zone, riding every wave, thinking ‘open’, and breathing the way I had learned.
What felt like no time at all later, Jo called, the midwives spilled into the living room, and I smiled at them. Oh, the joy that it was happening still, just then, right on the deadline! I could tell they were pleased for me, excited, they knew exactly how much it meant to me and we were all so happy at what was about to happen.
Jo installed them into the bedroom with WIFI and snacks, and I went on. I did well with staying in that dream-like state, feeling joy about birth and welcoming every contraction as I knew it would bring me closer to having my baby.
And then my legs started to hurt.
It was only a small thing, but I was aware that I had to be cautious of tiring myself out completely that early on. So I tried the yoga ball, but I hated sitting on it.
I asked one of the midwifes what to do, she mentioned that the time was getting on and recommended kneeling on a matrass, so I tried that, and hated it.
The next few contractions I leaned on the sofa, and hated it.
It all felt wrong, wrong, and suddenly I wasn’t feeling all right at all, the rhythm was broken and I couldn’t find it again, I was wavering on the edge and spinning, no no no…
My contractions stopped.
It was midnight exactly.
I told the midwives what I was feeling, and I requested some time to get back into the rhythm. I thought if only I had some more time to relax the contractions would come back. If I could just get it out of my head that there was time pressure, that the two midwives were right there waiting for me to perform, that I needed this to happen now, then it would be fine
I went up to my bed, and spent some time alone. I could feel a little gush of liquid that it thought for a second was maybe my waters that had broken, but when I checked it didn’t seem nearly enough.
I went back downstairs around 1am, told Jo, and then the midwives came in and that was it. My time was up. I had no more regular contractions, labour really had stopped. My dream had slipped through my fingers.
I leaned on Jo and cried, I leaned on the midwives and cried, I sobbed with the sheer disappointment of it.
It felt so deeply unfair to me that this one moment was all I had to make it, and I wasted it! I failed, my body failed, all of me ached with the pure misery of seeing my dream fade away. It felt like my heart broke at that point. I knew I would have to go into hospital, and that everything I had fought so very hard for was taken away from me.
The midwives left, and I could not stop sobbing, standing up in the middle of the living room, waving back and forth, arms wrapped around my middle and my baby.
I have never felt so heartbroken in my life.
After more tears, Jo convinced me to sit down at least, and to have some tea.
As soon as I sat down on the sofa did I felt a warm gush of liquid again. I told Jo, “Was that….?”
I went to the bathroom to check, and it was only a little, so again I wasn’t entirely sure whether it was my water breaking at all, as I had always imagined it a lot more dramatic than that.
We decided to go to bed. It was so late by then and I was exhausted, entirely done, both physically and emotionally. I imagined that I would crawl into my bed, cry some more, fall into an deep sleep for the rest of the night, and then deal with planning an induction later.
What happened instead is that I laid down into my bed, and within a minute of relaxing I had a clear, strong contraction, and I could feel a lot more liquid trickling out.
I’m pretty sure I cursed at that. Noooooo!
I dragged myself out of bed again, to the toilet, and I Whatsapped Jo, who had only barely gotten into bed herself.
“My water broke.”
Jo came upstairs to find me on the toilet, and then holding a towel under myself because we needed to see whether the water was clear. It was, or it seemed like that to me, but we weren’t entirely sure and it was too important to take a guess on, so with a heavy heart I agreed that Jo could ring the midwives again.
She sent them a picture of my soaked underwear, and talked it over with them.
I just wanted to inform them of what happened, get the confirmation that it sounded like my waters had really broken, and then go back to bed. I had no energy or emotion left to deal with any of it. But it was there, running down between my legs.
The midwife said we had to go into hospital.
I wanted to argue. I wanted to say no, let me have this baby at home. No, let’s not go yet. No, please please let me sleep.
But I agreed, because it felt like I had run out of options.
She was coming to pick us up and drive us there at 3am. At the point of the phone call there was still an hour and a half to go, so Jo set to packing our bags, and I insisted on taking a shower and washing my hair.
Showers have always been my happy place. I love the moment of peace, the warm water, relaxing under the spray. I wanted a shower so I could have some time to wrap my head around what was happening, to breathe a little, and to be with my body and self before I would have to go and deal with it all.
As I stood in my bathtub washing my hair, I got contractions again. Big ones. I had to take breaks to breathe through them rolling through me. As we were going to the hospital anyway, I didn’t really say anything to Jo, I just showered. I wore another travel dress, my green one. I packed some things, Jo made sure the cats had enough food, and we prepared.
I requested that she put the TENS machine on me again.
And then the midwife came to get us.
I had contractions on the stairs down out of our flat. Once inside the car, the roads blended into one as I focused on breathing.
When we arrived at the hospital through the emergency entrance, someone asked whether I needed a wheelchair. I strongly refused, I wanted to walk in on my own strength. That meant that every so many paces I would stop, lean against the wall, and sway my way through a contraction in an empty, dark hospital, but I did it.
Then the lift, and we arrived at the labour ward. I think I was the only woman in labour there at the time, or it felt like that anyway. I asked for room 4, with the ‘cosy’ setting and the birthing pool, and it was free luckily.
Once inside I stood by the bed, leaning and swaying my way through contractions. I refused to sit down again.
The midwife there wanted to check how far along I was. I had put in my birth plan that I didn’t want to be checked too often or without being asked explicitly. My midwife reminded me that I could say no, but I agreed to it. I wanted to know too.
She checked, and found that I was 6cm dilated. At the same time I was still dripping amniotic fluid, that they checked and found to be clear, so I was allowed to use the birthing pool.
They started filling it, and I was still following the rhythm of the contractions. Jo tried to get me something to eat, but all I managed was half a cracker. I wasn’t hungry at all, I felt like if I would have eaten any more I would have thrown it up.
I was impatient to get into the birthing pool though. It took an eternity to fill! In the end I insisted on going in when it was about a third filled. I took the TENS machine off, and that was a harder moment, as suddenly the sensation of the contractions was a lot more painful. Getting in the water did not immediately make it go away either.
But as I relaxed into the warm water, I found my stride.
The next seven hours went by in a dream-like state for me. I was lying back in the water, my belly out before me, legs opened. I would breathe through the contractions, and then I started making sounds. Before this, I thought it would be quiet in labour, but I wasn’t at all. Not screams though, just my voice carrying the feeling out of me. Oooooooooohhhhh. Ooooooooooohhh. It reverberated through the room.
All the yoga I had done, all the hypnobirthing preparation really paid off here, as I was so relaxed, so warm and heavy, that everything just moved through me and with me. I was not in pain. The pressure was there, heavy and deep and at times overwhelming, but never truly painful.
The midwives touched my belly with a the machine to check the baby’s heartbeat once every fifteen minutes, but as long as they did it when I wasn’t in the middle of a contraction I barely noticed. Jo made me drink, which was great because as soon as she did I was reminded of how parched I was.
And for the rest of the night, I drifted. In between each contraction I fell asleep.
Small clots of blood started floating in the water around me.
I touched my fingers between my legs and inside of me often, curiously feeling the hard shape of baby’s skull. For the first hours there was a bit of cervix left, meaning I hadn’t dilated fully.
Around 9am, I was fully dilated, and ready to push.
Through hypnobirthing I learned to breathe the baby out, so that is what I attempted, for about an hour.
I heard them talking about the gynaecologist, that they would try to call her in. And then – it only seemed like minutes later – I saw her face, by my bath, smiling at me. I was glad she was there.
Around 10am, I asked for suggestions on positions I could try. I moved to sit on my knees in the bath, and they gave me a mirror so I could see that the head was there already, a small sliver, but visible. I could wind my fingers through the baby’s hair! I tried to sit on my knees, one leg up, the other leg, then back the other way. None of it felt as good as the position I had been in for hours, floating on my back in the water, so I returned to that.
Around 11am, I really, truly felt it dragging.
I was so tired. So, so tired…
Where I had been moving and trying to push along with every contraction before, now I couldn’t find the energy for that anymore. I could feel my body giving up. I realised I had been trying to push for TWO HOURS already and that it wasn’t working. So I asked for more help.
The gynaecologist was wonderful in picking this up for me. She suggested I got out of the bath. I didn’t really want to, I had loved the water but I had been in there for hours at this point, and I knew something had to change. The baby was right there but not coming any further.
I even asked whether an episiotomy (cutting with a scalpel) would do it – something I had been deeply against before. Luckily everyone immediately told me no.
So I got out of the water, and I tried the birthing stool, but like the whole of my labour before it I absolutely hated the sitting down position, it felt wrong wrong wrong, and so eventually I stood up again saying no!
And then the doctor suggested I lie down on the bed, legs up in stirrups. This is what I had tried to avoid. It was my worst case scenario, the position I was warned against, what I never had wanted. But the doctor was there and she was nice, my midwife was by my side, and I was so tired. I couldn’t fight anymore, I could barely stand on my legs, I wanted nothing more than to lie down. So I did.
And then the coached pushing began. It was another thing I had not wanted at all. But I accepted it. The doctor put her fingers by my vagina so I would have something to push against, and then as the contraction started coached me with ‘and push, push, push….”
She said we would have the baby out in 15 minutes.
We did not.
15 minutes passed, then 15 more, then 15 more.
I asked again about whether an episiotomy would do it but no, the baby was still trying to turn from behind my pubic bone, so there was nothing else to do but push. So pushing I did!
I grunted, strained, groaned.
I had my eyes closed, my body was weak, every single bit of energy I had left went into the pushing, every contraction a breath and bear it down, down, DOWN.
And finally, we were close. Jo asked whether I wanted to see the baby’s head in the mirror – another thing I had requested beforehand. But I didn’t have the energy left to even open my eyes, all I could do was try to get the baby out.
And then, another wave of energy from I don’t even know where, and the head FINALLY made its way out, with quickly, right after I-couldn’t-have-stopped-it-if-I-tried all of her followed.
The doctor said ‘take her’, I reached out, and there was this heavy, plump baby, slippery like a fish, flopped onto my chest.
The first thing I realised was that she was big! And that she had pooped vigorously as she came out (thank you for waiting baby, any sooner and I wouldn’t have been able to use the bath). And that she, like I had felt, had a ton of hair. She didn’t cry as she came out, or afterwards.
She was calm, just looking at us.
We both looked back, at this baby, this thing that happened. She was absolutely covered in vernix. Chubby, strong. Beautiful.
It was two minutes before noon, on Monday the 18th of November. I had been in labour for nineteen and a half hours.
I was the one to cut her cord.
The gynaecologist started stitching me up – second degree tear in the perineum, ouch. It could have been much worse though, considering baby’s size.
They rubbed my stomach, feeling for the placenta. I could feel something shift inside of me, part of it releasing. But the rest didn’t just yet. They asked me if they could give me an injection to make it come faster, another thing I had not wanted. I asked whether they felt it was needed, and as they said yes, I consented.
Another contraction, and the placenta was born. It felt bigger than I thought it would, like an echo of the baby coming out.
The doctor was quite enthused watching my placenta. Apparently it was very big, two lobed, and had a velamentous insertion. It could go straight into a text book, she said. She examined it further, and found only a little calcification. Just like the vernix covering baby, it was another sign that my body had NOT been overdue and that I had been right all along that baby was still perfectly fine in there.
And then I didn’t stop bleeding.
The gynaecologist turned back towards me. She rubbed my belly, then pressed, hard.
In response there was an absolute river of blood and clots pouring out of me.
Someone rushed to stick me with an IV. Another medication was injected urgently. There was more hard painful pushing on my belly, a hand inside of me, and then pain, so much pain I feel like I screamed.
I still had the baby lying on top of me, and in that moment I realised that it was not going well, and that I couldn’t hold her through this anymore. In a decision I still remember perfectly, I told Jo to take her.
Jo took the baby from me and held her, and things started going fuzzy before my eyes.
I lost so much blood so quickly that my body couldn’t keep up. My blood pressure crashed.
I don’t know how long I was ‘gone’. Jo says maybe half an hour.
Later that day I would try to stand, and promptly pass out. The next time I tried it I did too. I received two bags of blood in a blood transfusion. I held baby, but I don’t remember much of it. All of that is a haze in my mind now.
Looking back now, I am proud that I pushed out a 53cm 4065gram baby without pain relief. I never asked for any, it didn’t even occur to me! I did not feel much pain at all really, not until the haemorrhage.
I am angry that the homebirth was taken from me. That I didn’t get the support there right when it mattered. That I had to consent to so many things I had not wanted before.
And I am sad at what came after, that I was so out of it that I do not remember much of the first days of Freya.
I did not feel the giant rush of happiness other mums talk about, I did not experience a golden hour, I did not count toes and fingers and all the other things I thought I would. I was floating through each moment, my body still stiff with the memory of trauma, with pain. Screaming with nightmares, lost.
I left the hospital much too soon (even though I myself insisted on leaving at the time). I cried endless tears. Breastfeeding did not go well. All of my dreams about birth and having a baby fell apart like a house of cards.
So no, not my dream delivery. I still curse that I didn’t try the castor oil earlier, that I didn’t try harder to convince the midwives to stay, that I didn’t recognise straight away it was my waters that broke, that… I am wrecked with regrets about the delivery and the first weeks of being a mother.
I have a lot to deal with still, and I imagine it will take a long time. But this was the story of what happened, how Freya came into the world, and we became mums <3