My story really starts on Wednesday the 23rd. I was due on Friday the 18th but for the first time in my pregnancy I was unable to get an appointment for the same week I called and thus my 40 week checkup was almost a 41 week checkup. My midwife looked me over and confirmed that there wasn't even the slightest sign of labour starting. She tried a "cervical sweep"* which sometimes can get things started, but my cervix hadn't come forward at all and was unreachable. Yay.
Thursday morning I woke up around a quarter to 6 on with a wet trickle between my legs. It doesn't feel anything like peeing (except for the warm wet running down your legs) but it does feel a lot like leaking while menstruating. That's the best description I have for what it's like to have one's water break. I'm told that outwith Hollywood, one's water breaking is the first symptom of labour for a relatively small percentage of women and in most cases it breaks or is broken by the midwife when the cervix is already several cm dilated. I am that stereotype.
Chris woke up when I turned the bathroom light on and immediately figured things had started. My waters were clear, no signs of Little Djinn having moved her bowls in utero which can be a sign of fetal distress. I had passed the mucus plug which I had imagined more as a gelatinous plug but clearly the emphasis is on mucus as it looked like something large had cleared its sinuses in my knickers. I cleaned up and changed into clean (dry) clothes and climbed back in bed for our regular morning routine, Chris bringing tea and a satsuma for me and coffee for himself, checking our phones and nattering away until we were ready to get up, only this time with mild but noticeable contractions approximately ever five minutes. The adrenaline of rushing around to get to the hospital can cause labour to halt** so we waited until 7 to call the labour ward (calling the maternity ward first by mistake) and the midwife on duty said to go ahead and come in for an exam. And my contractions magically stopped.
My mother, who is still jet-lagged and not sleeping through the night, saw our light was on and when she heard us get up rushed out to ask us to give her a chance to get ready before going to the hospital. I assured her that she had plenty of time, that we'd not yet called a taxi, and that we wouldn't be doing so until my contractions had established themselves again. Personally we would have preferred to sneak out, leaving the phone and a note with a number to call, but I recognize that sitting in someone else's house twiddling one's thumbs while one's baby has a baby is a much longer day than being there for it, so I let her come and even repeatedly requested (each time we changed rooms) that the one person in attendance rule be bent to allow both Chris and my mother to be present.
After half an hour my contractions started up again, again about 5 minutes apart, so we called a taxi and went to the labour ward where I was examined*** and pronounced to be a mere 2cm dilated. This didn't count as labour. Baring a pressing need they wouldn't examine me again until 12:30 (4 hours later) and not wanting to take taxis back and forth all day I opted to leave my bags (one with stuff for me, one with stuff for Little Djinn) in the room and go to the cantina and wander the hospital for a while. It became clear that my contractions, still five minutes apart, were significantly more painful when sitting than when standing (and that it wasn't possible to switch from sitting to standing when I felt one coming on) so I stood at our table, then paced around it, with frequent trips to the loo to urgently pee an ounce at a time.
We hung out in the cantina as long as we could (past the point when they'd closed after breakfast and hadn't yet opened for lunch) and then took to the halls. I mostly tried to keep walking through the contractions, though I stayed close to the wall and clung to the handrails or Chris' hands as needed. By noon I was exhausted from standing for almost 4 hours and I made the executive decision to return to the labour ward a little early. At this point I didn't realize the was a 4-hours between exams policy and thought the half noon timeline more of a suggestion, a round number, but they let us back into my room, had me pee in a bucket****, and eventually did another round of exams, this time hanging around so she could feel a contraction which was a lot less fun than it sounds. I was still only 2cm (!!!) and one is not considered to be in labour until 4cm so they gently kicked me off of the labour ward and down to the maternity ward and the pre-labour room.
They were serving lunch as we got there, but we'd had second breakfast not long before, and having just arrived I'd not ordered anything but they had me fill out a card for dinner and breakfast the next day, and we waited. My timeline gets a bit fuzzy around here as I wasn't looking at a clock, but not terribly much later my contractions got a lot closer and a lot stronger so that I was having contractions about a minute apart and didn't feel like I'd even relaxed between them before the next one started and they really hurt. I started crying out with the pain (I remember saying "Ow" and "Owie" a lot when trying to breath) and it put a noticeable damper on the ward. Sitting or lying curled up on my side (I can't lie stretched out on my side) hurt more than standing so I stood, braced against a chest of drawers, rising up on tiptoe with each contraction, urgently requesting that we explore my pain killing options. Turns out the only option on the pre-labour ward (and they wouldn't take me back upstairs for another exam until half four, four hours after my last one) after paracetamol/Tylenol is diamorphine but the midwife had to call upstairs to check with the sister on duty***** before she could administer it, and then she was going to explain how it wouldn't effect my being able to use the birthing tub but I cut her off and begged her just to give me the injection already.
It took the promised 10-15 minutes to kick in and here my timeline gets really fuzzy because I was able to lay on my back which reduced the frequency of my contractions and the drugs took the edge off just enough that I could handle it, and had the side effect of letting me fade in and out of consciousness between contractions. And as I faded in, I blurted whatever dream-thought had been in my head, and I knew I was saying things that made no sense such as "but the mice don't like the colour purple" and as soon as I said them I knew, in the small pause that always followed such ejaculations, that they made no sense and I tried to remember what I thought was going on (because that would make it better, right?) and explain but the dreams faded too quickly and I eventually gave up and just went with "sorry."
At the appropriate time I got another exam (almost 3cm but not quite there yet), and dinner showed up and it was a shame I wasn't in a position to do more than pick at it as it was the best meal I got on the ward, and at some point we tried letting me take a bath but the water was warm, not hot, and didn't cover enough of my belly to help so I gave up on that rather quickly. The diamorphine wore off almost exactly four hours after administered, shortly after I inquired how long it would last and could there be more please, but it took a good half an hour after it wore off to get more in me. It must have been around 8:30 when they did another exam and announced that I was 3cm (finally!) and that was far enough along to use the birthing tub so they were going to transfer me back to the labour ward.
That took until almost 10, which was just as well as around 10 is when my diamorphine wore off again and they didn't want me in the tub, even supervised, if I was still fading in and out of consciousness. My mother, up since the day before, and Chris since a bit before 6 that morning, opted to head home and get some sleep after seeing me safely transferred back to the labour ward. They tried to get me to pee in a bucket again but I couldn't unclench. My new midwife, with shift and ward changes I was on my fourth now, examined me again before sending me into the tub and announced that I was 8cm and we should probably call my husband to come back, which we did and he got there just after I got in the tub.
I don't know how long I spent in the tub. My timeline suggests it was somewhere around 11 when I went in and that I was out around 1am, but it doesn't feel like I spent two hours there. I was having trouble not pushing when my contractions came but the midwife said I was probably 10cm by then, she thought I might have been expanding to 9cm while she was examining me earlier, and that if I felt like pushing I could. Being in the tub was nice, it was warm and big and deep, but as I moved into the second stage of labour I didn't feel like I had anything to push against so I got out and we returned to "my" room.
At this point the only painkillers I was allowed, the diamorphine having worn off before going in the tub, was laughing gas which I didn't think was doing anything for me except make me hoarse, but kept using because it was something to do and sometimes you don't realize something was helping until you stop. Anything stronger could make my baby drowsy at birth and then they'd have to give her something to wake her up and possibly take her away for observation so I conceded the point. I was still unable to pee so they stuck a catheter in and drained me, which was I remember was uncomfortable but have no specific memories of. And having officially examined me and measured me at 10cm, I got to take a break and lie down and try and sleep between contractions again for an hour before they, my midwife would be joined by another, asked me to push starting at 2:20am.
It hurt. Worse, I knew it was going to hurt more so I really didn't want to push. I begged them to use the suction cup and pull her out and they just kept telling me I was doing fine. My mother says the worst thing I yelled was "oh, God!" which I remember and she and Chris agree that I occasionally cried when I don't. I started with kneeling and clinging to the back of the bed, then switched to lying on my side, then stood up for a while over the midwives' protests including the request that I at least stand in the middle of the floor (I wanted the rolling chest of drawers/fetal heart monitor to lean on, which they objected to in particular because of the rolling bit). Then I got stuck standing because, again standing made my contractions closer together and stronger and they wanted to check the baby's heartbeat while I was there and it took a fair amount of time before there was a pause in contractions long enough to let me climb back onto the bed and lay on my other side.
Eventually we were crowning (oh, how that hurt - and I got to hold it with her head starting to peak out of me while the midwives got ready, putting aprons on and doing who knows what while I lay there wanting her in or out, but not halfway in between. I did make them fetch a mirror so I could see what was happening a plan somewhat hampered by having taken my glasses off some hours before. But seeing her head helped, even if less was sticking out than I had imagined. They took the mirror away and I pushed and I pushed and my mother says she could see me split but going forward, not back, which isn't something I ever considered, and I felt her slither out and the dumped her slimy little body on my belly and at 4:05am Friday I had my baby.
* two fingers up my vagina, wiggling them around and because I was pregnant she couldn't even buy me a drink first.
** a very reasonable evolutionary precaution
*** see *
**** a cardboard bedpan placed over the toilet
***** is this an honourary title? Or is she also a nun?