A POSITIVE TEST
When I found out I was pregnant for the second time it was hard to believe – our first pregnancy was through IVF, so discovering that we had conceived naturally was a shock to say the least. We were on holiday in Cyprus at the start of the year and I had felt nauseous at dinner, and then practically hoovered up a huge bowl of oranges – just like I did when I was pregnant the first time. When we got home, I took a test the next night and it was positive. I already knew it, but having undergone fertility treatment to get pregnant once before it was still a shock. Of course, we were overjoyed and it was the most welcome surprise but as the months went by and our due date approached, I began to feel apprehensive at the thought of actually having a baby again.
MY FIRST BIRTH AND WHAT IT TAUGHT ME
My first experience of giving birth was long, exhausting and made more difficult by the large blood loss I suffered post-delivery, so the recovery wasn’t easy either. You can probably imagine why I felt fear and worry whenever I thought about giving birth for a second time. My biggest concern was having a drawn-out experience again (I went into hospital on the Sunday morning and Nathan didn’t arrive until the Wednesday morning) so I was determined to have a natural, midwife-led birth in calm, peaceful and private surroundings with as little intervention as possible this time.
THE SECOND BIRTH – THE PLAN
Despite my hopeful plan for a spontaneous labour, at 38 weeks we were advised by more than one doctor to be induced early. After a lot of consideration and talking it over with our midwife, we decided it would be silly to ignore the medical advice so we went ahead with our booking date. Even though it looked like we were on the same path as last time, things actually turned out quite differently. As they say, every pregnancy, labour, birth and baby is different.
Why had I hoped not to be induced again? Because I didn’t want a repeat of last time. Let me explain: being induced means birthing in the labour suite (a medically-led, clinical environment) is most likely. It’s where labour is artificially ‘brought on’ by using drugs via a drip to start contractions, and these can seem more painful than a natural labour as the body’s own mechanisms for coping with pain don’t have time to prepare. Birthing in the labour suite also means recovery is on the post-natal ward.
This is exactly what happened with my first baby, and though my medical care was excellent I can’t say the same for my mental wellbeing. I felt very vulnerable and alone, like I was left to fend for myself after a fairly traumatic birth, and especially that first day and night. Coping with giving birth for the first time is hard enough for anyone, but when your baby is taken away to the specialist unit and you’re left separated at a time when you should be bonding, it’s even harder. (I’m not going to get into the way I felt because I’m not really ready for that, but you can read about my first experience of labour in this post.) In a nutshell, I didn’t want to repeat this experience (to which I associate the post-natal ward) because, subconsciously, the feeling of vulnerability and emotional turmoil left its mark on me.
I hope that this explains why the aftercare was a big issue for me. I was desperate to be able to deliver in the Dundee Midwifery Unit rather than the labour suite and ward, but I also knew I had to listen to the doctor’s advice. Going in to hospital to be induced again was a scary thought.
Sunday 4th November came around really quickly and in those days leading up to the induction I found myself cleaning and tidying and sorting anything and everything. Not nesting, distracting myself. That morning I felt a great sadness that Nathan would no longer have our undivided love and attention, but I was also excited to meet our new baby and see our family grow.
We arrived at the hospital at 8.45am and I was shown to my bed on the ward. As expected (we learned from last time) nothing much happened for an hour or so – the midwife checked over my notes and then came back to explain the plan. She reminded us of the process of Induction of Labour, which starts by inserting a hormonal pessary into the vagina for 24 hours in the hope that it tricks the body into kick-starting labour. I didn’t expect this to work – it didn’t last time, and that’s why I had to go to the labour suite to be hooked up to the drip and be monitored – but I was hopeful because if it did work it meant I would be able to go to the midwifery unit, as the drip wouldn’t be needed.
Lunchtime came and went without change, so eventually I told my husband to go home for a while. He left around 4pm and by 5pm I was feeling achey, and cramps similar to those when you’re pre-menstrual. My husband returned around 7pm with some beef stir fry for me, which I gobbled up while flinching at the more intense but still irregular cramps.
Soon after my delicious dinner (I’m not one to miss a meal if I can help it) things started to ramp up a bit. At 8pm we were walking the hospital corridors (movement encourages the baby downwards) during which I was having to stop and breath through each contraction. We decided to count them, and we returned to the ward to tell the midwife that they were now pretty regular. I asked for some paracetamol (I was given Co-codamol, a mixture of paracetamol and codeine) at 8.30pm and by 9pm I was in a lot of pain, and feeling dizzy and sick. The midwife examined me (beyond painful) and confirmed I was in ‘active’ labour and that they would prep me for delivery (I was given an IV line for medication post-birth that would help prevent another postpartum haemorrhage) before transferring me to the midwifery unit along the corridor. The midwives didn’t give away any sense of panic, but their urgency meant we understood that things were actually happening – I was taken along in a wheelchair in my Primark vest top and only a towel over my legs, so I knew we were in a (rather undignified) hurry.
A SPEEDY ENTRANCE
We arrived at the midwifery unit at 10pm and I was given gas and air immediately. It didn’t do much other than help regulate my breathing, and relax me ever so slightly now and then – but to be honest I think I was so close to giving birth that it really couldn’t have been much help at all. Within ten minutes, at 10.10pm I had the urgency to push, so I told the midwives I needed to get on the bed (they had filled the birthing pool for me but I just wanted to get out of the chair and lie down) and within twenty minutes and four or five lots of contractions/pushing, my waters broke and Kittie Rose Miller was born at 10.30pm. Just like that.
Our tiny, soggy, new baby was given to us immediately and placed on my chest for skin-to-skin contact. Although she looked funny, purple and covered in white goo, she was beautiful.
Despite all my worries about labour and birth, this second time around was the dream experience. We were very lucky.
The aftercare was a stark contrast to my first experience. In the midwifery unit we were moved quickly to our own room, where we were left to bond with our baby as a new family. We had access to midwives whenever we needed them, and our room was totally private. The care was professional and reassuring but relaxed and calming – exactly what women need at such an important time.
I feel lucky to have experienced what I would describe as a perfect labouring and birthing experience. I’m sure that if giving birth was guaranteed to be as simple and speedy, there would be no hesitation in doing it again and again. It’s sad that so many women have a such a bad experience that it can and does affect their decision to have more children.
One last second-pregnancy worry for me was how I could possibly love a second baby as much as my first. People told me that the babies don’t share the love – it just grows. And it’s true, somehow your heart just gets bigger. That’s something they don’t tell you about giving birth for the second time – the instant your family grows, so too does your heart.
Image: Kris Miller.