I arrived home last night and asked N whether he’d seen my new blog post.  He said that he had and remarked, rather huffily, that he felt he warranted more than a brief mention at the end.  I said that he would be the subject of the next post.  I don’t think he believed me, so here I am, proving him wrong.

It must be a peculiar thing, being the partner of a pregnant woman.  You’re part of the pregnancy, and yet you’re not.  From the moment that I knew that I was pregnant, I felt both mentally and physically different.  It was impossible not to.  And yet for N, life continued much as normal.  He said to me that the turning point was our first scan.  I thought that it would take several minutes for the sonographer to find the baby, but she put the wand on my stomach and bang, there she was.  A grainy but distinct face on the screen.  N grabbed my hand.  He said that was the moment when it all became real.

Our little monkey, however, wasn’t interested in inviting her Daddy to the party.  As time went on she began to move around and kick.  I would point to the strange lumps and bumps she made, and they’d instantly disappear.  I’d grab his hand to place it where she was kicking, and she’d become perfectly still.  She was not prepared to perform for anyone.  We laughed about it but I wished that he could have been able to join in a bit more.

That said, he did have a free chauffeur for nine months.

It was when we went to our series of ante-natal classes (we did hospital ones as well as NCT ones) that it became clear just how vital a role he could play in the late stages of the pregnancy, the labour and the birth itself.  Not for him the ‘sit in the pub and have a cigar when it’s all over’ scenario of our own fathers and grandfathers.  I think it’s a credit to both the NHS and the NCT that they were both so keen to inform and involve the partners.  He was the one busily taking notes about contraction timings, hospital bags, pain relief options and potential complications, because he knew that he’d be the person best placed to deal with all of those things as and when the time came.  I was both amused and delighted when he came home one day with several copies of our birth plan, illustrated and laminated, for us to take to the hospital with us (I didn’t want to think too hard about why the lamination might be necessary, to be honest!).

When it came to the crunch, he swung into action like a trooper.  The bags were packed, the car was full of petrol and he orchestrated the to-ing and fro-ing from the hospital without a hitch (he also paid the eye-watering parking charges at the hospital, but that’s another story).  He knew what our preferences were, he knew what options should be available to me and, importantly, he kept my head high and a smile on my face when our carefully constructed plans took a 180 degree turn.  I think that, secretly, he was a little disappointed that everyone in the hospital was so fabulously accommodating because he’d wanted to play the role of Superhero Husband a little more, but I could be wrong.

He bought lots of food for me, only to discover that I wasn’t allowed to eat any of it.  Undeterred, he stocked up on jelly babies and tactfully ate his own lunch in a corner when I wasn’t looking.  He breathed with me.  He held me steady while they put needles into my spine.  He cracked jokes.  He lifted me into the bathroom when I couldn’t walk any more.  He spurred me on with encouraging words when I was at the absolute end of my tether.  He got closer to a lot more gore than he really wanted to.  He told me that he loved me when M was finally born.

And, of course, he got to do all of that wonderful father-y stuff.  He cut the cord (tougher than he thought it would be, apparently) and, while I was busily dispensing of the placenta, he took off his t-shirt and hugged his little baby girl to his chest.  I’d been a bit worried about how he’d bond with the baby (having been told how one of his friends had really struggled to do so) but knew in that moment that he was smitten.

I’m also obliged to say that as soon as the midwife was out of the room he was begging to have a go on the gas and air.  Which, of course, he did.

In the blissful calm after the birth, while I munched on a warm scotch egg (don’t ask … I was ravenous) and contemplated a nice hot shower, I felt immensely proud of him.  I genuinely couldn’t have done it without him, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Well, it’s been just over a year since my last post, and several months since I sat down to start this one, which gives you some idea of how time consuming a baby can be!

Baby M arrived, slap bang on her due date, on Friday 3rd August.  Here she is, not very long after she was born.

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So … how did it go?  Well, the first thing I should say is that absolutely all of our plans went straight out of the window.  We’d said all along that we were prepared to be flexible, but it was still difficult to let some things go.  I’ll walk through the labour and birth step by step (so those of a sensitive disposition should definitely look away now!).

My waters broke at 1am on Wednesday morning.  Not the crazy torrent I’d been expecting, just a weird trickle.  At my most recent check, the midwife had told me that the baby’s head wasn’t engaged so I should get in touch with them if this happened.  So, after a couple of phone calls, we found ourselves at St. Thomas’ at 3 in the morning.  They alerted me to three things.  Part of the waters had indeed broken (I didn’t realise they don’t always break all in one go), I had 24-36 hours to go into labour naturally before they would want to induce me (there is a risk of infection once waters break) and I was measuring very large, indicating that the baby would be big.  They couldn’t agree on the measurement, bizarrely (44cm – 48cm depending who you asked), but all agreed she was likely to be a whopper.  Clearly it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear, and I wasn’t entirely sure what I was supposed to do with that information.  They then sent us home and told us to encourage labour (no sex, though, not with broken waters!).

So, slowly, our plans evaporated.  I wouldn’t be able to attempt a waterbirth, would have to be in the hospital birth centre not the home-from-home, would need constant monitoring of the baby’s heartbeat and would be placed on an antibiotic drip.  All this in addition to the likely induction.  I have to be honest, I struggled to get my head around this. I’d become more wedded to my plan than I’d realised.

My labour encouragement activities included a long walk on the Common, a Thai curry and a large G&T.  By about 1am Thursday morning I was starting to contract (like mild period pains) and was optimistic about labour.  While my husband slept, I bounced on my Swiss ball, watched crappy TV, and waited. I started to make progress.  However, when we arrived at the hospital at 9am as requested, everything ground to a halt.  It was incredibly frustrating. I was admitted, and told that they could give me until 1pm before inducing me.

So we waited. If ever a woman willed labour to start by sheer force of the mind, it was me.  I didn’t want to be induced.  But, no joy.  Shortly before lunchtime the midwife, Jess, came and told me that we needed to get going.  She also asked me whether I was considering having an epidural.  I was quite surprised by this, given midwives’ general antipathy towards epidurals.  She explained that an induction will bring on labour very quickly (from 0 to 60, if you like) and it can be quite overwhelming.  Because of the baby’s size, I was also warned about something called shoulder dystocia.  This is when the baby’s head is delivered but one of the shoulders gets stuck behind the pelvic bone, and can lead to some fairly extreme measures being taken in order to get the baby out.  For all of those reasons, an epidural would be a good idea. We agreed. The hippy-dippy waterbirth dream was well and truly over.

I was hooked up to the induction and antibiotic drip, via a very uncomfortable canula in my hand.  I remember complaining about that bloody canula all the way through the ensuing hours.  I think it gave me something to focus on!  The anaesthetist came shortly afterwards and administered the epidural.  That was a very strange experience.  As they inserted the needle, I felt a powerful electric shock down my left leg.  Not very helpful when you’ve been instructed to remain absolutely motionless, I can tell you. I was connected to the heart monitor, and we were off.

I’d been told by many women that I would forget about the labour and, to a certain extent, it’s true.  It’s not that I don’t remember it, but that it seems to be condensed into a series of events.  If I think about it now it’s like I’m watching it on fast-forward and pausing for the important bits!  I’ll try and share those with you.

We had fun and games with the heart monitor.  During the pregnancy, M would wriggle away and hide if you tried to get someone to feel her kick, or scan her, or listen to her heart.  She was no different in labour.  Every time I got into a position where we could hear the reassuring ‘tick…tick…tick’ of her heart, she moved.  Jess told me that they would rather attach a monitor internally, via a clip on the baby’s scalp, so that this didn’t become a real problem later in labour.  I was horrified by the idea of this, and it took considerable reassurance (and some tears) before I agreed.  Thinking back now, had we not done this, it would have been a nightmare trying to monitor her later in labour.

The epidural didn’t work.  Well, it half worked.  I found that it would take effect in certain areas, so at one point I was numb down my left side but could feel everything on my right.  It was most peculiar.  Bear in mind, I had no idea what a contraction was supposed to be like, so I couldn’t measure its effectiveness very accurately.  However, having watched enough episodes of One Born Every Minute to see women sleeping through labour after an epidural, I knew that something wasn’t quite right.  I was given a local anaesthetic in my back, the dose of the epidural was altered, and we were up and running.  The whole dosing procedure of the epidural was weird.  It wears off, and I could press a button to release more anaesthetic (only effective once every twenty minutes). However, it’s also cumulative, so over time the lower part of my body became increasingly numb.  Within a few hours my legs were totally dead.  Being bloody minded, I didn’t believe this was true and it took quite a severe tumble in the bathroom before I conceded that I could no longer walk unaided.

My immobility meant I had to have a catheter.  By this point I had so many tubes attached to me that I was ceasing to care.  As it turned out, the catheter did me a favour.  Despite the induction and the broken water and the general poking and prodding, our little monkey was in no hurry to arrive.  After several hours I was barely dilated and was told not to expect much to happen before the early hours of the following morning.  Then, just before midnight, I felt a strange liquid sensation. A quick check showed that M had suddenly decided that she wanted to arrive and had descended in a hurry.  She’d pushed the catheter out on her way.  I was told to rest as much as I could and that in roughly an hour we would be going for The Big Push.

Jess had finished her shift and Sylvia, another one of our local midwives, had taken over.  She came in around 1am with a steely look on her face and said, ‘Right, we’re going to get this baby OUT’.  I didn’t know this at the time, but the team were fairly certain that this labour would end in a caesarean section, based on the size of the baby and the fact that epidurals can make pushing quite difficult.  Sylvia had other ideas, and came armed with a plan to get me into every position imaginable in order to facilitate a natural delivery.  I’d read a very useful book that suggested visualising pushing down the plunger in a cafetiere, and that’s exactly what I did.  The three of us in the room were going to make it happen.

I don’t remember pushing for an extraordinary length of time, when in fact it was around two hours.  I do remember becoming increasingly tired.  Stupidly I’d not had anything to eat that morning, and on arrival had been told not to eat (with the possible caesarian in mind) which meant I’d existed for the entire day and most of the night on jelly babies.  The sugar was making me jittery and nauseous (in fact, I don’t think I’ve had a jelly baby since).  I remember very clearly getting to a point where I just thought ‘enough is enough’.  Sylvia assured me that I was almost there and told me not to have any more epidural.  For some reason my husband had hold of the drip and there was a comic moment where he decided that it was better to go against her wishes than mine.  He gave me one final shot and I mustered all of my strength.  Sylvia kept asking me if I wanted to touch the baby’s head, and I really didn’t, so N had to oblige (so much for staying away from the ‘business end’ of things).  I remember another midwife coming in (in case of shoulder dystocia) which was my signal that it was almost over, remember her barking at N to take hold of one of my knees and jerk my legs backwards, then remember something warm and slippery being placed on my chest.

For months I had wanted to meet her and been desperate to see her face.  I’d expected a crinkly newborn, eyes closed, sleepy and curled up.  Not M.  She was staring straight at me with big blue eyes in a great round, chubby face and yelling the place down.  It was a truly amazing, unbelievably emotional moment.  We were no longer two, we were three.

Well, we’ve got to that stage where the baby’s arrival feels very close indeed, so much so that we packed our hospital bags at the weekend.  We’ve had loads of advice about what to take, from the sublime (‘biscuits and big knickers’) to the ridiculous (‘plenty of booze’), so I thought I’d share it.

I’ll start with the star of the show … the baby.  I’ve not had a particularly weepy pregnancy, but I have to confess that packing stuff for her did bring a lump to my throat.  I picked up this tiny babygrow and thought ‘we’re going to bring that back with little person inside it’.  Strange, magical, emotional and slightly scary all at the same time!  So, for her, we have some babygrows (in a couple of sizes, some full-length and some short); scratch mitts; socks; a hat (we were told they like a newborn to wear one for about the first four hours); a sleeping bag and cellular blanket (who knows how hot it’s going to be?); cotton wool and a bag of nappies; a hooded towel (we’re hoping for a waterbirth so I’d like to have something soft to wrap her in).

Then there’s me.  Clearly I’m much easier to cater for in the clothing department!  It does make me laugh, however, that all the recommendations say ‘comfy clothes’, the implication being that you might accidentally turn up in a corseted balldress and six-inch heels.  I discovered several weeks ago that maternity yoga trousers are a pregnant woman’s best friend, so that’s what I’m taking.  Then there’s the whole issue of what to wear during labour itself.  From what I can tell, most people just strip off (especially because it can be incredibly hot in a maternity department).  Given that I might actually want to walk around the hospital without terrifying anyone, I have a nightshirt and a set of nursing pyjamas.  That should cover all eventualities.  I also have some socks because apparently your temperature drops after the birth, and I’m not a slippers kind of a girl.  For the waterbirth, rather than opting for a bikini/tankini or similar I’m just planning to go in as nature intended.  Something tells me I really won’t care by that point.

For managing the labour itself, we have a tens machine (apparently brilliant for the early stages, but do remember to take spare sticky pads as they lose their stick quickly); hot water bottle; aromatherapy oils (lavender, clary sage and peppermint to be precise … apparently the hospital keep some too); a wooden back massager.  Sadly we’re not allowed candles.  The hospital have swiss balls, so we won’t be attempting to pack one of those, but apparently can be short of pillows so we have some on standby.  Comfort, as we know, is going to be key.  Again, given the warnings about the temperature on the ward, we’ll probably take a handheld electric fan and some water spritzers (but only if I manage to purchase them in time!).

Absolutely everyone has mentioned food and drink.  The recommendation is high-energy foods, and plenty of liquids (preferably in a sports bottle or with a bendy straw because you may be in a strange position for most of the time).  I’m planning to take some powerade-type still energy drinks (a very dry mouth can make eating difficult, apparently), some snack bars and fruit, and maybe some biscuits.  There is food available in the M&S at the hospital, but not around the clock, so we’ll have some change for vending machines too in case it’s needed.

Then there’s the whole host of other things you’re told to take for use after the birth: nursing bra and breast pads; paper pants (although with hindsight I wish I’d just bought cheap cotton ones); maternity towels (the less said about those the better); nipple balm; toothbrush, lip balm and toiletries (a good idea to do this in advance … a friend described decanting shampoo into minature bottles during full-on contractions  at 2am and doesn’t recommend it).  This is too much information, really, but I’ve also been advised to take some Fybogel immediately after the birth to make any subsequent, er, ‘movements’ as easy as possible.  Sound advice, I think!  And while we’re in the toilet, a couple of friends have suggested taking toilet cleaner or cleaning wipes because cleanliness can be an issue.

I think that’s about it.  My husband, N, is taking shorts and t-shirts (again, conscious of the heat) and a spare change of clothes in case I throw up on him.  Now there’s a lovely thought.  It sounds like we’re packing for a month, but I can assure you that all of this fits into one small wheelie case and one equally small holdall.  OK, except the pillows!

So now we really are ready and the waiting game continues.  The midwife came to visit me this morning and confirmed what I thought … the baby has moved down, her head is in my pelvis (although not fully engaged) and everything is as it should be.  Tick tock, tick tock!