Elsie’s Birth Story 

I was lying in bed, two days past my due date, awake after my husband Tony had gone to work. I was reading and suddenly got a really crippling gut cramp. I didn’t think much of this, because I’d had an upset tummy the night before, had spent a lot of time on the toilet, and had put it down to the pork we’d had for dinner not agreeing with my stomach (although Tony tells me that he had suspicions that it was more than that, even at that early point). I remember looking at the clock which read 8.38am, and thinking “I’m not getting out of bed, this will probably pass, and this book is really good”. A little later I got an even more urgently crippling gut cramp (like the worst sort of diarrhoea pain) and looked at the clock again – this time it said 8.46am. Interesting, I thought, that’s 8 minutes apart. Then I had to urgently go to the toilet and empty my bowels.

I sat on the toilet (still reading – I was determined to enjoy my book, and still didn’t think much of what was happening!) for ages, trying to focus on my book and rubbing my tummy. When the pain and diarrhoea passed, I decided that it was important that I ate breakfast (although I don’t remember being particularly hungry). So, I headed through to the kitchen to make porridge. I got some oats and water in the pot, then had to rush back to the bathroom with another bout of terrible tummy pains and diarrhoea. When that bout passed I thought perhaps I wouldn’t be able to manage actually cooking breakfast, so I poured a bowl of cereal, and then what-do-you-know, I headed back to the bathroom again. When that bout passed, I felt a bit better, and actually got my porridge cooking. I thought I’d better ring Tony and get him to come home, so phoned him and said, “You’d better come home, I’m feeling really unwell”. He said he’d come as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, just as my porridge came to the boil, I had another horrible cramping gut pain, so turned the element off and headed back to the bathroom. After that bout of toilet-sitting, I went back to the kitchen and poured my porridge into a bowl, grabbed a glass of juice, and took the lot back to the bathroom. My back was very sore by this stage, and I decided that I would feel better in the shower, but I was determined to eat my breakfast, so took it with me into the shower (which isn’t as wet and manky as it sounds, as our shower is over a big bath, so I could put my bowl and glass well out of the way of the water).

When Tony got home, I was bent over in the shower, with the water on the small of my back. I had eaten half my porridge and drunk half my juice, which was all I managed to get down until after the birth. I refused to stand up, because I could deal with the searing pain in my back, which felt like I was being scraped out from the inside with a hot blunt spoon, but I couldn’t deal with the pain in my tummy at the same time, and bending over seemed to neutralise the pain in my stomach and only allow the pain in my back to be felt. Tony told me I had to get out of the shower so that he could fill the birth pool. I was quite rude in my refusal, but as he pointed out, once he started filling the pool, there wasn’t going to be any water for me in the shower, so I had to get out. He brought me my bath robe (which I never put on) and I turned off the shower and got out and got dry.

Tony came back from setting up the filling of the pool and asked if we should phone the midwife (Margaret) yet. I said that I thought we were supposed to time things first, so that we could give her an indication of where things were at. Tony got his cell phone (neither of us have watches with second hands) and set it on stop watch for me as I had a contraction (not that I had realised that I was actually having contractions – I still just thought that I was having bouts of pain). Then he left the bathroom (yes, I was still doubled up over the edge of the bath, just not under the shower anymore). He said that he looked at the clock in the kitchen as he left the bathroom, and it said 10.36am. When he headed back into the bathroom (he’d been checking on the birth pool and associated set up) he looked at that clock again and it said 10.40am. He said to me as he came back into the bathroom “Tell me when you have the next one” I said, “I’ve already had it”! I had timed it and it had lasted for a minute. Tony had also grabbed the sheet of stages of labour with the picture of the faces to try to figure out where we were up to. He asked where I thought we were, and I was very short with him, so I think he figured that we were well past the happy chatting face! He phoned Margaret, and told her that I was in labour with contractions that were 3 minutes apart lasting for a minute (all the while in the background I was saying “Tell her it’s probably nothing” – I still hadn’t clicked that I was actually in labour). Margaret’s response was “You’re kidding?!” because she was on her way to another birth! So, she got Cecil to come around as the backup midwife instead (we knew her from our antenatal classes, so that was okay).

When Cecil arrived, I was back on the toilet with more diarrhoea, and what I thought might have been a show, as there was some thick mucus streaked with blood when I wiped. This time I couldn’t read my book (and I still haven’t finished it!!) as the pain was too intense. Tony told me I needed to come out of the bathroom so that Cecil could have a chat, so he got a t-shirt and pair of boxer shorts of his for me to wear. I struggled into the clothes, and dragged myself through to the lounge, where Tony had the fire going. I was still bent double to minimise the pain in my tummy. I bent over an office-style chair we had in the lounge, with my arms on the seat and my head mashed as hard as I could into the back of it, to deal with the pain, as I continued to feel as if I was being scraped out with that damn hot blunt spoon. I couldn’t do non-focused awareness as a relaxation technique, but I did focus on breathing through each contraction (or crippling bout of pain as I thought of them) and keeping my breathing out nice and slow as they finished. I managed to fill Cecil in a bit on what had been happening, and answer some questions between contractions, and then she asked the worst thing – for me to lie down on my back so she could listen to the baby. It was so hard to get unbent, and even harder to cope with the pain while lying flat on my back. Fortunately, she was really quick about it, and the baby was fine, so up I got and back to the chair to bend over again.

Cecil phoned Margaret to update her at some point, and I heard her saying that “labour was just getting established” – all I could think was “OH MY GOD! Only JUST ESTABLISHED?!! I CAN’T do this for 18 – 20 hours! I CANNOT do this until tomorrow – it’s too sore!!”. Because of course I was thinking that first time labours usually go for that long for the first stage, and then more time for the rest! I remember thinking also that I knew why people went to the hospital, because if you didn’t know what was happening, you’d think you were dying, it felt so SORE and uncontrollable. Shortly after this I had to start making noise to cope with each contraction, so I started making this low-pitched moaning sound. At one point I remember saying “Oh god, I sound like a dying warthog”, to which Cecil responded “No, you sound like the scenario” (she had played the part of a very vocal pregnant woman in a birth scenario as part of our antenatal classes, and I was quite shocked – and said so! – at the amount of noise she made – turns out she was a VERY accurate actor!). I remember thinking “Why on EARTH did I want this to start – I just wish it would stop!” I was starting to regret all the jumping down the stairs I had done the day before, as it obviously got things moving!

At some point after this Margaret arrived – apparently the other lady was still up and wandering around chatting when she got to her house, so Margaret decided that she better come and see how I was getting on. She was quite surprised at how far along things had got. I asked when I could get into the pool, and Cecil told me I should wait until massage on my back and hot towels weren’t helping anymore. Tony was diligently rubbing my back for me and giving me sips of water between contractions. After I’d asked about the pool, they decided to try the hot towels on my back. Somehow, I managed to communicate where the only pair of washing-up gloves that we own were to be located (in the camping gear for dishwashing) and Tony found them! I was right beside the fire in the lounge and had got too hot, so Tony went and got me a crop-top style bra to change into instead of his t-shirt. Then he put a hot towel on my back. I reacted VERY badly to this because it was too hot and felt horrible. I think I got really angry and accused him of trying to burn me.

All the while I kept making my low-pitched groans. I remembered reading somewhere that you have to keep the pitch low to stay relaxed, because if you get high-pitched you start to tense up, so I tried really hard to keep the groans low and deep. I also remembered reading that making your mouth into a smile shape helped relax you too, so I tried to do that as I groaned too. I suspect it was more of a grimace or a rictus than a smile, but I was trying! After each contraction I would concentrate on blowing out and trying to relax again. I do remember trying to think of my cervix opening, and thinking “open, open” through some of the contractions (like it suggests in the book Mind Over Labour) but eventually it got too hard to do more than just focus on my breathing and groaning.

Finally they told me I could get into the pool, so I headed to the bathroom one last time, and when I was getting up there was a drop of dark red blood on the seat – I remember anxiously telling Tony that he should tell Margaret about it, in case it was a bad thing, then I forgot all about it. I stepped out of the boxer-shorts, and wearing only my bra, staggered through the kitchen into the sunroom/dining room where the pool was set up. It turned out that we had actually set the pool up wrong – there was a clear plastic liner, all brand spanking new, that we had thought we didn’t need to use, because Tony mended the other liner – as it happened, every person who uses the pool gets their own liner, so the brand new liner was for us to use. Whoops. So, while I was in the bathroom, Tony, Margaret, and Cecil were desperately struggling to put the new liner into the pool, which was already full of water! They did a surprisingly good job, it was a bit like having a bath in a plastic bag, but most of the water was inside the clear liner, and only a wee bit around the edges.

It was absolute bliss to get into the pool. It did not stop the pain, but my tummy didn’t weigh anything, and it seemed to just make things a bit more bearable. Margaret had checked my backside for that line that goes up as you labour while I was still bent over the chair, and hadn’t been sure about how far through I was, but when I got in the pool she said it went nearly all the way to the top – indicating I was pretty much all the way through. I was too scared to ask how I was doing, because I thought I wouldn’t be able to cope if they told me I still had hours to go, so I never asked how I was getting on. I never had any internal examinations either (not during my pregnancy, and not during the labour), which I was pleased about.

While I was in the pool, Margaret would occasionally check my temperature in my ear, and the pool temperature. She also listened to the baby occasionally with the wee handheldultrasound thing (wrapped in a plastic bag I think). Tony kept mopping my head with a cool flannel and giving me sips of water, which was heavenly. Sometimes I leaned into his hand to keep the flannel on my face, and he would think I was pushing it away, and I didn’t have any energy to tell him that I wasn’t pushing it away. He was an absolute hero the whole way through (this is a guy who wasn’t that keen on home birth, or birth in general for that matter) and I just wish I could have expressed that at the time. I have told him how great he was since then, but I am not sure he believes me! Every so often he would tell me I was doing great, and that he was proud of me or that he loved me – pretty enormous stuff for a guy who doesn’t really convey his emotions verbally.

Also, while I was in the pool, they kept pouring more water in – sometimes cold and sometimes hot. I think they were boiling 2 stock pots, 1 large pot and the jug pretty much constantly. I could not work out why they could not leave well alone if they kept having to put cold in after the hot, but apparently the pool wasn’t full enough. In between contractions I rested with my head down – sometimes on the edge of the pool, but more often with my nose almost in the water. I found that the edge of the pool was really good to grip during the contractions too (Tony wisely kept his hands well out of harm’s way!). At one stage, while I was labouring away, we heard the gate beside the house close. I said, “Who the f**k’s that?!”, and Tony looked out the window and said, “Oh God, it’s mum!”. My response was not nice – “Tell her to F**K off!” (this was pretty much all I said during labour, and harsh, as I really like my mother-in-law!). He raced out the back door to head her off. She had popped around to drop off some baby clothes, but he had to let her know that it was NOT a good time for a visit, as we were a bit busy!

After I’d been in the pool for a while, the contractions got more and more painful, to the extent that I was screaming through some of them, (even though I was trying really hard to keep my noises low so that I would stay relaxed). I flailed around so much during one strong and painful contraction that I hit myself in the eye and burst some blood vessels. By this stage I really didn’t think I could do it for much longer, but I was trying really hard to keep that to myself. I was told later that I actually did say “I can’t do this anymore”, but I had thought I hadn’t said that out loud! I am not quite sure at what stage my waters broke, but I definitely felt them go – it was like a water balloon exploded out from between my legs. It still remains the coolest feeling of the entire labour – even at the time I remember thinking – “That felt really cool!”. When the contractions got really awful, Margaret applied pressure to some spots on my lower back, and when I got screamy, she would talk me back down as the contraction ended – reminding me to focus on my breathing, and to drop my shoulders so that I would relax.

Sometime after those horrible painful contractions, and after my waters breaking, I started to grunt involuntarily while contracting. Margaret said “If you can breathe instead of pushing, that would be good, but if you have to push that’s fine” – all I could think was “Oh my god, it’s too early, I’ve probably got an anterior lip or something!”. But I could not resist the pushing. It was like a freight train rushing through my body – there was NO way I could have stopped what was happening. With each push I gave these horrible low grunts which really hurt my throat. Eventually I could start to feel the baby pressing against my cervix (I figure that was what it was pressing against, because it was very tight and sore when it pressed against it). The baby would come down and press against the tight sore bit with each contraction, and then as the contraction passed, the baby would slide back up inside. It hurt so much when the baby pressed against the tight area that when it slid back up, I would think “Don’t come back down baby – just stay where you are”. Tony told me I had to move forward, because I was scooted so far back in the pool that he couldn’t reach me, and they couldn’t get behind me to see what was happening – it was SO hard to move forward, but I think I managed to a bit.

I remember Margaret saying something about feeling the baby come through “that ring of fire”, so of course the Johnny Cash song started going round and round in my head! Margaret kept checking how the baby was doing with the wee hand held ultrasound thingy, and at one point she said “you need to push your baby out now” – I’m not sure whether they were getting concerned about the baby’s heartbeat, or me, or what – certainly no panic was ever passed on to me – if anything it felt more like encouragement to move on to the next step. I pushed harder and harder when the baby pressed against the sore tight bit – at first I was thinking “Breathe through it, you don’t want to tear” but then I got frustrated at how much it hurt and how hard it was to push the baby out and thought “Bugger it, I don’t care if I tear, I want this baby OUT!”. I pushed and pushed, and it felt as if I was tearing in half. I had my legs as wide apart as I could, and would have quite liked an extra set of legs at right angles to my actual legs, so I could open them wide out too – it felt like I was making a long narrow opening, not a nice wide one! I think Margaret got Tony round behind me to catch the baby (I had my eyes shut pretty much the entire time I was in the pool, so I’m not sure) and eventually, the head started to come out. Margaret told me to put my hand down and I could feel the head. I had a wee feel, but what I felt was so small, soft and spongy feeling that I thought I was just feeling some part of my vagina all swollen up, so I stopped in case people thought I was just copping a feel! Margaret told me later I was actually feeling the baby’s head. I did do a couple of wee poos as I was pushing, but I didn’t say anything about them, because I didn’t want Tony to hassle me about pooing in the pool (which he had been doing while I was pregnant).

After what felt like heaps of pushing, and agonising stretchy, burning-feeling pain that felt like I was tearing apart, the head came out a bit, and Margaret said I needed to keep pushing to get the chin out. So, I pushed and pushed some more. Once the head was out the baby started wiggling around inside me as it eagerly tried to get the rest of itself born. It was the weirdest feeling – like swallowing a live fish (only up your vagina!). I just wanted the baby to hold still – it felt so strange. I pushed and pushed some more, and the baby came all the way out. I think Tony caught it, then Margaret passed it up between my legs to me, and Tony came round to sit beside my head again. I think I probably said some nutty stuff like “Oh, it’s a baby!”. I do remember that it was like a switch had been shut off from the labour, and I didn’t think or care about all the pain and pushing, all I could focus on was the wee pink squirming thing in my arms (I did remember all the pain and hideousness later, but at that time, it really just disappeared).

The baby gave a little cry which made everyone very happy, and Tony went and got a hat for its head so it wouldn’t get cold. The cord was quite short, so I could not lift the baby up very high. I asked, “Is it an Ethan or an Elsie?” (those were the names we had picked for a boy or a girl) and Margaret said, “Why don’t you have a look”. It was hard to lift the baby up to see because of the short cord, and at first I saw a wee wrinkled heel and thought it was a scrotum, and that we’d had a boy, but when I actually looked properly, I realised we’d had a girl. She looked up at us, blinked, looked distinctly unimpressed and then stopped breathing, and began to turn blue-grey around her face. Margaret and Cecil got out the oxygen and gave her some for a couple of minutes until she started breathing again. At no time was I stressed out or concerned for Elsie, as they were so calm and matter of fact about what they were doing – I didn’t even realise there was a problem. Soon she was all nicely pink again, and we had some photos, then I was helped out of the pool and through into the lounge which they had set up, ready for me.

I lay down on the couch, and Elsie was put skin to skin with me and started rooting around looking for a bit of bosom. I had to keep asking if she was really a girl, because we’d been convinced we were having a boy, and I had had such a fleeting look when I checked, but was reassured that she was very definitely a girl. While Elsie was having a look for the bosom, Margaret and Cecil checked to see if the placenta was coming free, as I had opted for an un-managed third stage. I remember at one stage being quite shocked and almost shrieking “Margaret!” as she gave the cord a wee tug which confirmed that the placenta was still attached – it HURT! Now that we were all settled, I had enough brain to think of other things, and all I could think was “MAN I’m HUNGRY!”, so Cecil went and made me some jam sandwiches – what a hero! At this point we also made some phone calls to let family know that Elsie had arrived safely.

After a while Elsie was sucking happily away on a bosom, and a bit later Margaret and Cecil got me to squat off the edge of the couch and give some pushes to deliver the placenta. While I did this, Tony cleaned Elsie up, put her in her first nappy and gave her a cuddle. Pushing out the placenta was really hard, because I didn’t really have any push left in me, and also, the same urge wasn’t there that I’d had when pushing Elsie out, and the placenta was a much less tangible thing to push out. After a couple of pushes it fell out into the bowl that Margaret was holding ready for it – it felt like pushing out a big dinner-plate sized piece of liver – quite gross, but I was pleased to be rid of it. What I wasn’t expecting was the continued contractions as Elsie was sucking – I couldn’t believe it, it was like getting a really bad period immediately after giving birth – and I thought my body had earned a rest!

Once she had her nappy on, and the placenta was delivered, Elsie went back skin to skin with me, and Margaret and Cecil had a look at my tail end to see if there was any damage. I had a bit of a nick up by my clitoris, and a tear inside my vagina. Margaret was happy to leave the nick alone to heal by itself (she knew my horror of having any sort of interventions “down there”) but the vaginal tear while not really bad, was such that she felt that it would be best to suture it. After a bit of consultation, I eventually decided that she knew my abhorrence of stitches in that region, so if she was saying that it needed to be done, it wasn’t for no reason, so I gave her the go ahead. Tony held my hand while they put in the injections, which were the worst bit, then they put in 5 or so stitches. The tear only went a tiny way into my perineum, which I was extremely glad about, so it didn’t need to be stitched. The worst part of all, was when Margaret had to check that the stitches hadn’t gone through the rectal wall (because the tear was on the side of my vagina that faces the rectum) and there was only one way for her to check that – think man’s prostate check and you’ll know what she had to do – NOT pleasant.

After making sure I was all sorted, Margaret had to rush away to the other lady who she’d been to first (whom I had beaten to the finish line), so Cecil, who had gone home, had to come back. She cleaned me up, helped me get into a clean t-shirt and then helped me to bed (which they had made up with waterproof sheets in case I bled badly – I didn’t, I think altogether I only lost 200ml). Cecil got us settled in the bedroom, helped me dress Elsie for the first time (I didn’t want her to get cold) and then headed away. Tony’s mum came around with dinner for us all, which was fantastic, then everyone left, and it was just the three of us.

Later in the evening, Margaret came back to do the weighing and measuring. Elsie weighed 7lb 7oz and was 51cm long. The entire labour took 6 hours until her delivery – she was born just after 2.30pm, and then another hour for the delivery of the placenta. Although it was painful and really intense, I couldn’t have asked for a more straight-forward labour and birth, or for better midwives or support person. Tony, Margaret, and Cecil were just fantastic.

We hadn’t planned for me to give birth in the pool, although it was always an option – we’d more been going to use it as pain relief – however now that I’ve been through labour and birth, I wouldn’t change a thing. I also know that there is no way anyone could have got me out of that pool once I was in it – the house could have burnt down around me and I would NOT have gotten out! I did find my memories of the birth quite overwhelming initially, but with time their intensity has faded, and they have become more bearable. As I write this, Elsie is only just 3 weeks old, so it’s definitely far too early to say whether we’d do it all again and have another baby (although if we did, it would DEFINITELY be a home birth). However, Elsie is just wonderful, and certainly her birth has profoundly changed me and my life.