Big babies: “I can probably do anything I ever wanted to do in the universe ever”
If you are interested in a story about overcoming birth trauma, positive birth, an unlikely homebirther and a rather large baby, grab a slice of cake and settle down. Easily offended look away now, there is swearing, gasp.
Let me ruin the end of the story by telling you the punchline at the beginning. Just in case you can’t be bothered to read to the end.
I gave birth to our gorgeous son Arlo, an 11lb 2oz baby, at HOME. With no drugs save a teeny whiff of gas and air and no tearing or stitches. BOOM!
And also the baby was what they like to call “compound presentation” which means that in addition to having to push out his massive head (no truly, the size of his head was in the 98th percentile) he also had his hand against his head which makes the whole thing, well, BIGGER.
Ok, bragging over. I promise. But the thing is, giving birth to Arlo made me feel so amazing. It was just that, if I could do this extreme birthing myself then I can probably do any fucking thing I ever wanted to do in the universe ever. And you know a little bragging is justified. I am proud of myself. Because this was my second labour and my first was the opposite in every way (aside from the truly awesome outcomes both times). If you had asked me any time up to about 38 weeks through this pregnancy I would have told you that I was going to go into hospital at the fist sign of contractions with a stack of magazines, ask for an epidural and wait calmly to be told when to push.
This was until a friend gently recommended I meet Rebecca. Our wonderful, life changing doula. Rebecca is like a cross between your best friend and your therapist only she’s seen as many vaginas as a gynaecologist. She is an awesome tea maker too. Though I’d like to say that isn’t her main skill. I’m pretty sure her main skills are listening and adapting to be whatever you need her to be. After our intro meeting to suss each other out, the first thing Rebecca did was listen as Dylan and I talked through the experience we had when I gave birth to Nate; the good (an amazing midwife called “Comfort” who rescued me in my hour of need), the bad (being shouted at by a less good midwife at another critical stage of my labour) and the ugly (you don’t need to know). She listened and made me feel, just, well, better about the whole thing. She made us realise that we had been the victims of bad luck and unfortunate circumstance like shift changes and hospital protocols and that my labour needn’t be like that again. Quickly she started highlighting some basic things we could do to make sure the experience would be more positive the second time around. After a few discussions with her I realised what I wanted was to feel relaxed and in control of my own labour. And I realised that my best chance of that happening would be at home. I am a private and self-conscious person, so being around as few people as possible and hidden away at home would put me in my most relaxed state. I understood that in this state I’d have a much greater shot at staying in control of my contractions.
I knew that some people might not approve of the idea of my homebirth, I didn’t think my midwife would be one of them. Because I was presenting with a “larger than average baby” they felt that I was high risk. There doesn’t seem to be any compelling evidence to suggest large baby automatically equals high risk and I knew that large babies were normal in our family (Nate was 9lb 8oz, and both my brother and I were 10lb babies.) Luckily I had Rebecca’s support and she helped me by pointing me in the direction of some good reading about giving birth to larger babies. We talked lots, she gave me some books to read about homebirth and put me in touch with the very supportive local Supervisor of Midwives. Soon I felt confident in a way I never had when I was pregnant with Nate. If I was relaxed through my labour and I felt calm and safe that my body would know what to do and I would be able to give birth to my son without drama or intervention.
I wasn’t expecting to go 2 weeks overdue and to say I was fucked off is a massive understatement especially as I had been having Braxton Hicks from about 37 weeks AND my first baby had been on time. But Rebecca talked me down, and reminded me that the baby just wasn’t ready yet and would arrive any day now. She supported us by explaining in more detail than I’d had from the midwife what we could expect from an induction and what our options were. In those final two weeks she gave me recommendations for treatments that I could have that could help bring labour on naturally (Acupuncture and Reflexology) and put me in touch with some brilliant practitioners. I liked doing these treatments because they made me feel like I was doing something productive (staying in control) whilst still relaxing. Everyday I practiced deep yogic breathing and tried to remain focussed on positive thoughts. This simply manifested itself as thinking excitedly about the arrival of our little boy rather than obsessing about the labour. I tried to focus on the labour as simply a means to the end.
Happily I went into labour naturally the day before my induction was booked in. 1 day shy of 42 weeks pregnant. I went to sleep on the Wednesday night saying to Dylan, “I don’t think these are Braxton Hicks you know.” We had a few hours of dreamy, cuddly sleep before contractions started to become painful and I asked Dylan to go and get my hot water bottle. For the next couple of hours I just lay on my side with my hot water bottle behind me on my lower back doing my deep breathing. Dylan lit a scented candle for me which smelled of lavender which I had become addicted to in my final weeks of pregnancy. At about 4am I asked Dylan to run me a bath as contractions were much more painful and frequent. I think they were probably about every 4 minutes at that stage but we never timed them so I can’t be sure. Getting into the bath was a massive relief. Dylan lit another candle and put my relaxing music on and sat with me chatting to me in between contractions (when I asked him to be quiet). I got out of the bath after about an hour and went back up to our cosy bedroom where I set myself up on the floor placing my head on a pillow and breathing deeply as the contractions came. At about 6am I asked Dylan to phone Rebecca to come, and also to let the team of midwives know that although I didn’t need them yet that I was definitely in labour. At 7am I realised things were slowing down, it was getting light outside so I went downstairs and had some tea and toast with honey. I apologised to Rebecca when she arrived because the frequency of my contractions had slowed right down. She told me not to be silly and it was perfectly normal to labour well through the night only for things to cool down a bit when the sun came up. She sat with me for a while quietly in my room allowing Dylan time to go and speak with Nate and my mum who were both in the house. This was very reassuring for 3 year old Nate who was (somewhat uncharacteristically) a complete angel throughout my labour. After an hour or two we agreed that Rebecca should go home for a bit as the action probably wouldn’t take place until later in the day. She recommended I take advantage of the break to get some sleep. On her way out our slightly over-eager midwife arrived to examine me even though we had explicitly said we didn’t need anyone yet and I was fine. After quietly checking with us first Rebecca very politely sent her away for me. I just wanted to be left alone to sleep.
I stayed in bed labouring, and breathing for a few hours though it didn’t seem like such a long time. About 11.30 I told Dylan I needed to get into the bath again as I felt I needed a change of scene from the bedroom and also because the pain was getting stronger. This time the bath had the opposite effect. Everything seemed to quicken and intensify in that hour or so that I was in there. The pain, which I had found difficult but manageable, was rapidly getting to be too much and I wanted Rebecca and the midwife there to help me with it, Dylan asked if he should tell them to come in half an hour. I “explained” (or maybe I shouted?!) that I would need them NOW. Looking back I realise now I was going through transition at this point. But at the time I had no idea. Based on my previous experience with Nate I didn’t think that there was any way that I would have been able to reach this stage of my labour just pottering around at home with some scented candles and a hot water bottle! I started to feel sick and dizzy so Dylan helped me out of the bath and once I was no longer in the comforting warm water the pain took over in waves. No sooner had I told Dylan that I’d changed my mind and to get me to hospital than I shut down and stopped being able to speak properly. Dylan rushed my mum and Nate out of the living room upstairs because we didn’t want them to see me in pain. I knelt on the bathroom floor breathing through the contractions until the midwife arrived and helped me through to the living room. Because we hadn’t realised how far along I was we hadn’t put the birthing pool out. It was too late. I was about to push. It felt like there was no break between contractions. I couldn’t bear anyone speaking, touching me or moving while I was having a contraction. The midwife who arrived to help me (a different one from that morning) was amazing, she just went with what I wanted. She didn’t try to examine me (I could not have laid on my back if you’d offered me £1 million to do it) and trusted me when I felt the need to push just giving me the gas and air when I wanted it and a hand to squeeze. I just had her and Dylan on either side of me as I knelt against our arm chair when Rebecca arrived. I was horrendous to them all telling everyone who moved or spoke to “shut up” as I couldn’t bear any sensory inputs whatsoever but was able to go into myself completely as the brilliant, wonderful people around me did everything I asked without complaint or question.
The pushing took just over an hour. Quite a long time I suppose but not unusual with such a big baby. As his head was coming out I could feel him come down a little and then go back. As I’d had an epidural with Nate I had no idea this sensation is normal. Then the midwife gently told me that the baby was showing slight signs of distress. She wasn’t overly concerned as we were making good steady progress and she expected him to be delivered shortly but I took this really, really badly. I started to cry, fearing that the baby’s head was getting stuck as Nate’s had and that they might have to do an episiotomy or worse take me to hospital in an ambulance. The latter of these options was the most terrifying as I couldn’t contemplate moving a muscle from the position I was in. So I sobbed. Rebecca had been respectfully waiting in the hall because she saw that I was managing really well with just Dylan and the midwife up to this point but as soon as she heard my distress she came right in because she knew exactly what I was thinking, she came up to me and gently laid a hand on me and told me how brilliantly I was doing. She said that what was happening now was completely normal and natural and that the baby was coming out perfectly and it wasn’t the same as what had happened with Nate at all. It was amazing. I hadn’t been able to speak to voice my fears but it was like she read my mind. At the next contraction I started pushing again with renewed effort, determined to get this baby out on my own. Four or five contractions and huge pushes later and Arlo our delicious chubby boy was born.
Unlike my first labour as soon as the placenta was delivered, baby Arlo and I were reclining on the sofa breastfeeding and I had a cup of hot sweet tea in my hand. Then, as the midwives cleared up the living room and performed checks on Arlo I had the best shower in the world before getting into my pyjamas. Mum and Nate finally came downstairs to have cuddles with us all on the sofa. Rebecca looked after everyone and then she and the midwife left leaving my little family in the warm glow of our cosy living room filled with joy on that December evening.
After I’d had Nate I felt traumatised and was afraid of childbirth and was disappointed in myself. This time I was exhausted and sore yes, relieved it was over of course, but exhilarated and on top of the world. Having that baby at home with my family around me was one of the best decisions I ever made. So I’d love for other women out there who are frightened because it is their first experience of labour, or who have had a bad experience in the past or who just don’t think they are strong and capable enough or who think their baby is too big, or not in the perfect position to know that if I can do it, anyone can.