I should warn you that Elodie’s birth story is LONG! I wanted to recall every detail but you may not find every detail as captivating as I did. And if you are squeamish about the biological details that are part of the business of childbirth, you may want to skip around.
Pre-labour: Friday and Saturday
Elodie’s birth story begins on Friday, the 31st of March, when I was 40 weeks + 4 days. As I mentioned, I had that week off work and was increasingly feeling heavy and tired, but felt like I would start to “know” when labour was becoming more imminent. All day that Friday I felt a number of Braxton-Hicks contractions and had a sense that something might be coming, very slowly and uncertainly.
Contractions began overnight on Friday night, feeling like cramps in my lower back. They weren’t painful necessarily, but felt different from Braxton-Hicks contractions, and were coming in waves, building slowly and peaking. As I woke up with them during the night on Friday, I wondered if this would turn into something by morning.
But by Saturday morning, they had tapered off. Feeling some cabin fever after a week at home, Andy and I decided to head into central London and visit the Tate Modern. I felt heavy and tired and a bit anxious walking around, but I was also aware that it could still be several days before I was in active labour. It felt good to do something fun and cultural to enjoy the day together.
After leaving the museum, we had a late pub lunch at the historic George Inn and walked along South Bank, crossing the Thames at Blackfriars and stopping in a camera store for Andy and then stopping at a pub in Covent Garden to rest and read for a bit. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and while sitting in the pub, I began to feel the contractions start up again. They felt like a tightening sensation, similar to Braxton-Hicks, but also accompanied by cramps in my lower back, not painful but different. After about an hour, we decided to get on a bus home and see what would happen.
That evening, we had a spicy Indian takeaway and watched episodes of “The Crown” on the sofa, as my contractions continued off and on. We went to bed, with no real progress made.
Early Labour: Sunday
On Sunday morning, I couldn’t sleep and was up and out of bed by 7am. Contractions began to occur again off and on. At one point Andy asked me to rate them on a scale of 1 to 10, and I put them at a 3. They weren’t painful, but I was aware they were happening. I felt pretty tired after breakfast, so napped on the sofa, until we decided to go for a short walk around mid-day to buy some groceries to make dinner that night, still uncertain what our schedule might even look like for the next few days.
During our walk, contractions continued and began to ramp up slightly in intensity. I remember walking home and having to pause during one, and feeling like now it was time to go home and stay home.
I spent the afternoon reading and resting on the couch, and googling pre-labour and early labour symptoms. I read that pre-labour is characterized by inconsistent contractions and can last for hours and days, and so didn’t want to get ahead of myself. I knew the hospital wouldn’t let me come in until they lasted for 1 minute, spaced at least 3 to 4 minutes apart, consistently over an hour. I have friends who have had long labours lasting days and been sent home from the hospital and I certainly wanted to avoid that.
I began using an app to track contractions at 3pm to get a sense of where we were. At first, they were lasting anywhere from 20 to 40 seconds and came 5 to 10 minutes apart. They began to feel more intense, and at some point I bumped the pain threshold up to a 4 or 5. But I could still talk through the contractions.
After debating whether we’d still be home for a few more hours, Andy went ahead and made an excellent dinner (homemade pasta with pesto and purple sprouting broccoli).
Contractions began to feel more intense around 9pm, and I tried various yoga positions and things I’d learned in the NCT classes to make my back feel better. And just like everyone says, they do come in waves, building slowly and peaking, then declining. I got down on all fours and did hip circles which was nice. I was surprised to find that yoga didn’t help nearly as much as I thought it would, but some light massage from Andy did feel great. I also used some acupressure techniques to some success.
I called the birthing centre at UCLH to let them know I thought I was in labour as the midwife had instructed at my last appointment. The midwife I spoke with was very nice, advised me to give it a few more hours at home, and she let me know that there was space at the birth centre (I had this fear it would be full and I’d be sent to the labour ward).
I took a warm bath which felt great on my back. I also washed and dried my hair, thinking that we’d likely be going in sometime overnight. I put last minute items in the hospital bag and we texted Andy’s mom and my brother John to let them know things might be happening soon.
I tried out the TENS machine, which is a complicated little device that sends tiny electric shocks to alleviate the pain of contractions. The TENS machine created a new sensation that felt buzzy and weird on my back, but sort of helped. I used this for a while because I do think it helped, but the contraption kind of annoyed me; the main device hung from a cord around my neck and the long wires attached to my back seemed to always be in my way, especially when going to the bathroom which I had to do constantly. I remember also feeling annoyed that every time a contraction started I had to remember to both start my app timer and start the TENS machine, and then turn both off at the end of the contraction. I found it all a bit fiddly and annoying to have to deal with these devices, and wished the TENS machine was a little more modern and user-friendly (Apple should make them!). I also found the app annoying in that I kept hoping to see the numbers advancing to become longer contractions closer together and when that didn’t happen, I would just get more frustrated. For awhile Andy took my phone and timed the contractions for me so I wouldn’t be distracted and discouraged by it.
One thing that really helped was the hypnobirthing tracks. I listened to them over and over again throughout the night and the next day, and they were so incredibly helpful in reminding me to breathe and giving me confidence that my body was designed to do this. I am so glad I used the hypnobirthing approach and 10/10 would use that again. I found the mantras, music and positive outlook to be really empowering, calming and centering.
Finally we went to bed around 11pm or midnight, but I could not sleep. During contractions, laying or sitting down was impossible. I propped up pillows in bed and kind of lay sideways on them. With each contraction, I’d spring up and walk around. To our great amusement, the movement that made me feel best was this odd little dance move that involved bending my knees out to the side and swaying my hips as I slowly stepped around the room. I remember learning a move like that in our NCT classes and we cracked up, and I was convinced there was no way I was going to bother with that, I had yoga, thanks very much. But you just never know how you are going to feel, and that was just what my body wanted. I also found it helpful to lift my arms up in the air and hold them on top of my head, or reach above my head.
As each contraction came, I would hop out of bed and sway my way into the bathroom or the kitchen, as I found the cold tile floors on my bare feet to be really soothing. I’d start the TENS machine and the timer, and breathe through the pain. I also counted to four or six or eight, a technique I find useful in meditation and long-distance running, to help me calm my mind and slow my breathing. At some point I began crying out a bit. The pain by now was probably around a 6 or 7 on the 1 to 10 scale.
I was still frustrated that the contractions weren’t getting closer together. They did begin to get longer, averaging a minute or so in length by midnight, but frequency varied from 3 or 4 minutes to 8 or 10 minutes apart. I called the hospital again at 3am to say that they were really intense, but still too far apart. The midwife told me to call back in two hours, so at that point, I turned off both the app and the TENS machine and tried to truly rest.
Active Labour: Monday
I watched the room slowly lighten as the sun came up, disappointed that I wasn’t yet headed to hospital and unsure what the day would bring. Would this be the day our baby would be born? I told Andy that this was nothing like running a marathon: the pain of contractions was much more intense, and I had no idea how long this race would be or what mile marker I was at now.
I got out of bed and began tracking contractions again around 5:30am, calling the hospital but again being told to stay home. Perhaps around 7am or so Andy made me some toast and I could manage some bites of it here and there, along with some Lucozade to keep my energy up between contractions, as I was really thirsty. We turned on the morning news and Andy sent some work emails as we tried to stay calm. My waters still hadn’t broken, making me think there still could be a long time to go. Coming off basically no sleep we were worried about how I’d manage through a long labour.
At some point I got rid of the TENS machine; it was just too annoying. Andy took care of tracking the contractions on the app; when I felt one coming, I would yell “Incoming!” or “Coconut!” (our baby nickname) so I didn’t have to mess with it, and so I wouldn’t see the numbers and get discouraged.
Around 8:30am we had some decisions to make; I was scheduled for a 10:15am midwife appointment that day, my 41-week appointment. It seemed insane to actually show up for that appointment, given my state, but if this wasn’t yet labour, what was I supposed to do? (At the time, I had no idea if this was still pre-labour or what, although of course looking back I know better.) I called the birth centre again and this was the one time I spoke with a midwife who I wasn’t very happy with. She told me that my contractions were still not close enough together and I should stay home, even as I explained that they were quite strong and consistent, lasting a minute each. I even howled through one or two of them on the phone with her, and then explained I had a 10:15am appointment. She recommended that I come in for that appointment, but after we got off the phone I told Andy that if we were going in, I was going to the birth centre to have a baby, I was not going to the office for a normal midwife appointment like this. I could barely even stand still. I began to get more stressed about when we could call a taxi and how I would manage contractions through a taxi journey.
I took another shower and the warm water felt amazing. The contractions rose to at least a 7 or 8 on the scale, but I still had no sense of how much longer this could take or how much worse it could get. I felt such intense pain and pressure in my lower back, and continued to do my weird little swaying dance to ease the pain and lift my arms high in the air, like an interpretive dance almost. I felt like being upright and continuing to move was the only way to handle the intensity; I felt like I just wanted to crawl out of my body. It all felt very primal.
I also liked sitting backwards in a chair, leaning over a pillow on the chair back, and having Andy very lightly massage my back, using the “feather” motion down my back as we learned in the NCT course. I continued to try to use the hypnobirthing tracks and mantras, but found myself getting more and more scared and discouraged as time went on. I had never felt such intense pain. I tried to stay positive, empowered, focus on what my body was doing and that this wouldn’t last forever, and I’d have my baby to meet soon. But it was hard.
We switched to the playlist we had prepared for labour, and that was a great decision. We made a Spotify playlist with a lot of my favourite songs, especially soothing and relaxing tracks as well as many songs we played at our wedding or otherwise have meaning to us. That was really nice to listen to and distract me.
Probably around 11 or 11:30 am I ate a few crackers and drank some Lucozade and began to get quite antsy. By now, the contractions were lasting about 80 to 90 seconds each, ranging from 3 to 6 minutes apart. I was howling with pain and becoming more and more agitated. My waters still hadn’t broken and the contractions were still not the textbook four minutes apart, so I had no sense of where I was in the process, but I felt like things were getting more and more serious. The contractions were no longer building to a threshold but starting out very painful from the beginning, and I felt more and more pressure on my lower back and lower abdomen. Each contraction was also accompanied by a tightening sensation in my chest, similar to the shortness of breath I felt all throughout the third trimester. I began to get the chills and broke out in a cold sweat and on one round, I very faintly began to feel the urge to push. After an especially tough round, I burst into tears, telling Andy that I couldn’t do it anymore.
I called the hospital again around 12, and this time I got a lovely midwife who was very supportive. She did mention the 3 to 4 minute thing, but said that since I felt like they were so intense and I really felt like I needed to come in, that I should go ahead and make my way to the birth centre. Thank goodness! We rushed around the house grabbing last minute things while Andy booked a taxi online.
TMI alert! Right before we left I went to the bathroom, and much to my alarm, saw bright red blood. Up until now, I had had the bloody show and that was still continuing through the night and morning, manifesting as dark or brown blood, but this was different. All the recommendations say to go straight to hospital if there is fresh bright red blood. I completely panicked and Andy and I rushed out of the house, petrified something was wrong.
I had wanted to take one last photo of us as a family of two and one last bump photo, but there was no time. I snapped this photo in the mirror, knowing that I looked completely crazy but I was so scared, I honestly could not muster a smile.
We were so panicked that we both left our keys in the house, thinking the other had keys. So now we were on our way to the hospital and locked out. (Luckily, we were able to get a spare set later from our cat sitter.)
The taxi arrived and the driver was very nice and friendly about the havoc entering his cab. It was a warm sunny day and he made friendly small talk but I couldn’t really chat. He was also nice about going slowly over speed bumps and taking back roads to avoid traffic. I was petrified of having contractions in the taxi and not being able to get up and move around during them, and at the same time was completely freaking out that the blood might be a sign of a problem. I ended up having three contractions during the drive, which was about a 15 or 20-minute journey and I arched my back and moaned through them; it wasn’t fun, but I survived. We also texted Andy’s mom and my brother John to let them know we were going to hospital. In between contractions, Andy snapped this photo and I actually look surprisingly normal.
Arriving at the hospital I could not get out of the taxi fast enough and I stood on the street outside the entrance working through a contraction. We entered the building and I was glad I had had all my midwife appointments there plus a tour of the birth centre so I knew exactly where to go. The elevator ride to the third floor, full of people, lasted an eternity. There was no way I could hide my panicky, painful state from the strangers all around us and can only imagine what they thought.
Finally, we entered the birth centre and I said to the receptionist something silly like, “I’m here! I’m in labour!” I was introduced to Lucy Kaye, our midwife, with whom I had had my last appointment and really liked. She quickly ushered me into an assessment room as I told her about the blood. She checked me out and told me not to worry, and helped me work through several rounds of incredibly painful contractions. She applied counterpressure as a circular motion to the center of my lower back which helped, and showed Andy how do it. These contractions were even more intense by now, definitely an 8 or 9 on the 1 to 10 scale, and I could not help screaming through them, to my embarrassment.
During the most painful contraction yet, very nearly a 10 out of 10, I felt this huge pop and a flood in my trousers. I was sure it was more blood and something was terribly wrong, but then we looked down and saw a puddle of clear water. My water broke, finally! I had no idea that would happen during a contraction or that it would be so painful. It very nearly could have happened in the taxi!
Lucy set me up with gas and air to breathe in, and that helped a bit, and she helped me lie down for an exam between contractions. Once she examined me she asked if I wanted to know how dilated I was. Of course! My fear was that after all this, I would only be a few centimetres dilated and would still have hours to go. Her answer? NINE CENTIMETRES! I yelled, “shut up!!” All three of us laughed. I was so elated, it was almost go time! All that time labouring at home had been worth it and I was nearly there!
Looking back, I realise now that I was going through transition at home (transition is when you go from 7 to 10 centimetres and move from active labour into the pushing stage). I ticked a number of those boxes: strong pressure in back and lower abdomen, increased blood as capillaries in cervix rupture (had no idea about this), chills, nausea, tightening in throat or chest, urge to push, the crying breakdown. I can’t believe I went through transition at home, and it really scares me to think how close we were to actually delivering at home. I’m glad it all worked out fine and I was a lot more comfortable getting to do much of the labour at home, but it also scares me that the hospital was so stuck on the 3 to 4 minute rule. My contractions never were that close together for a full hour, but clearly they were strong and consistent. I think the midwife I spoke to at 8am should have told me to come in. Now I know for the future that when I get to that point, I am just going in. That is my one small criticism of my experience with UCLH – the rest of the experience was absolutely amazing.
Lucy got the birthing pool ready in the other room and helped us move into there. This room was huge, with a nice large tub, a bed, birthing balls and stools and an ensuite bathroom. I climbed into the tub and the warm water was amazing on my back. I had planned to labour in the pool but never really thought I would actually give birth there, but once I was in, and given how close I was, it became a strong possibility. I went through a number of rounds of contractions in the pool, still using the gas and air, and they were incredibly painful.
The Pushing Stage
By this point, I was screaming pretty loud and Lucy told me to start pushing on each contraction. I know that by then, I was saying things like “I can’t do this!” and I do wish I had remembered more of my hypnobirthing mantras at that point and been a little more positive. But I was really at my edge. Lucy and Andy were amazing in reassuring me and giving me confidence each time I despaired that the baby might never come out. Yet in between contractions, I felt pretty normal and we were able to make small talk about where we were from and things like that; she was lovely to chat with. We also turned on our playlist, using a portable Bluetooth speaker, and that really helped a lot. I definitely recommend having background music for labour.
The gas and air was helpful in distracting me a little and taking the edge off, but it also made me even more parched than I was already and the dry taste made me sick after a few rounds, but I was grateful for it and would definitely use it again. The pool was amazing but after awhile I felt quite warm; Lucy brought me cool flannels for my forehead which helped, but eventually I decided to climb out.
For my next move, I used the birthing stool. I remember asking Lucy how much longer it would be and what position would be best to get the baby to come out fastest. Silly questions, I know! She assured me that I was close but that I didn’t want to go too fast as that would be even more painful and as she put it “not good for your lady bits”. She explained that the baby has to make several moves in there, like going through a U-bend pipe, so it would take some time. I recall looking at the clock at 2:44 pm and wondering if I would have the baby by 3pm. After some rounds on the stool, I decided I wanted to squat on the ground, a position I had thought before birth would be my preference. That only lasted for one or two contractions before my legs hurt too much, so Lucy advised me to move to the bed on all fours. With each contraction, I felt discouraged as Lucy looked to see if the head was crowning and I knew each time there was nothing.
Next, I was back on the birthing stool, and that is when I felt the crowning! Lucy looked and confirmed what I already knew; the head was coming out! I’ve heard this referred to as the “ring of fire”. Indeed. But I didn’t even mind the pain because I was so excited our baby was nearly here. With that, Lucy had me move back to the bed (very slowly and carefully) and get on all fours again. With the next contraction, I pushed with all my might and I could feel the baby’s body inching its way out. As the contraction ended, Lucy said, “Just keep pushing!” Andy and Lucy told me later that the baby had already started crying and breathing in the birth canal, so there could be no more waiting!
I felt every inch of the baby move out of me, looked down on the bed, and there she was! A tiny, wriggling, crying, blue-skinned, blood-covered miracle. I was in absolute complete awe and that is an image I will never, ever forget. I’ve thought about that moment every day since then. I stared down at this baby who had miraculously emerged from me, and was pretty sure I was seeing a girl. But in my overwhelmed state, I couldn’t be sure until Andy announced, “It’s a girl!” followed by Lucy’s confirmation. “Are you sure?!” I asked. Yes!! Lucy later told us that she was born at exactly 3pm. Even though the pushing stage felt so difficult to me and I feared it would never end, looking back I know now that it was incredibly quick.
Lucy informed me then that I was losing a lot of blood and unfortunately, we wouldn’t be able to delay cord clamping as we hoped. I agreed to go ahead and clamp the cord now, as Lucy carefully handed our baby to us, clamped and cut the cord (Andy and I politely declined the option of cutting ourselves) and helped me to turn over and place the baby on my chest. It was all a bit fiddly with the placenta still inside and trying to disentangle me and the baby from the cord, whilst getting our heads around this completely overwhelming new reality.
Because of the blood loss, Lucy wanted to get the placenta out right away and I agreed to a shot to help deliver, and then she basically pulled it out of me. She warned that would hurt and gave me more gas and air, but it really didn’t bother me at all. Andy and I were far too distracted by our wonderful baby girl.
Lucy then said I didn’t tear too badly, but that two stitches were recommended, which I agreed to and she administered anesthesia and stitched me up. Despite the anesthesia that was still kind of painful and uncomfortable, but it was over quickly.
The First Hour
Lucy then dimmed the lights and left the three of us alone for an hour to get to know each other. This was absolutely amazing; it’s all a bit of a blur, but we did skin to skin, held and hugged and kissed the baby, told her over and over how beautiful and perfect she is, looked in absolute wonder at her tiny, tiny body, stroked her unbelievably soft skin. I commented on her beautiful long eyelashes, her tiny hands and fingernails, and we looked into her huge blue eyes. She had a tiny coating of fine hair on her back, just like I did when I was born, and a head of fine, soft brown hair. I love it when babies have hair so this made me happy. She was bright red at first and then her skin tone emerged to be beautifully fine and fair.
Her crying calmed down and after awhile, she breastfed for the first time. I kept saying I couldn’t believe she was here, couldn’t believe she was real. We talked about her name and tried it out, looking at her, asking what she wanted to be called. Even though it is a little blurry now, I know it was the most magical, unbelievable, happiest hour of my life.
The First Day and Night
Eventually, Lucy came back in to weigh and measure the baby (for some reason seeing her measure the baby’s head circumference cracked me up), perform some tests and administer the Vitamin K injection.
We discussed how unbelievably tiny she was and were very curious about her weight. She weighed in at 2.52 kilograms, just 5 pounds, 9 ounces! Her length was 48 centimetres, or 18.8 inches. We really had a tiny peanut on our hands, which explains my small bump all along. I don’t know why my 35-week scan estimated the baby to be 5 pounds, 2 ounces. Did she really not gain more than 7 ounces since then? Or were those estimates way off? Either way, the midwives at the hospital assured us that her proportions were good and she was vey healthy, especially since she ate well later that day and night. One midwife told me that with future pregnancies, I should take a baby aspirin every day, as that has shown to prevent small babies in women over 35. I don’t know why I never heard that before.
Lucy helped me get out of bed and take a quick shower to clean up. I felt very shaky but was able to hold it together, and we then packed up and moved from the birthing room to a recovery room right next door, where we would spend the night. We were given the option of going home after 9pm that night, but would have to return the next day for testing and we decided it would make much more sense to stay the night. We had a private room with a bed, a private bathroom with shower, a cot (aka bassinet) for the baby, and just a chair for Andy (poor Andy). We relaxed into the room in complete wonderment, stared at our beautiful baby and took some photos, and agreed on our choice for her name: Elodie Catherine.
We slowly began to contact family members, letting Andy’s parents and siblings know and calling my mom and brothers. It was all so amazing and unreal.
After a few hours Andy went out of buy dinner (we were both was absolutely starving and shaking, having barely eaten in 24 hours) and more Lucozade, as I was incredibly thirsty and dehydrated. Andy returned with dinner from Itsu which I wolfed down, and we slowly began to settle in for the night, learning to change Elodie’s nappies, continue breastfeeding, and quickly learned that our baby was not going to sleep alone that night. As the midwife on duty pointed out, girl had had a rough, rough day and just needed to be with me all night.
Andy and I both stayed up most the night, with him holding Elodie so I could nap for about an hour, and then me letting her breastfeed as much as she wanted, which was most the night.
I was so incredibly exhausted (hadn’t slept the night before, after all, and had just gone through an incredible physical feat) and this first night was quite the introduction to life with a newborn and sleep deprivation. In the depths of the night I was hallucinating a bit, swearing that I could see text and numbers written on her cheek. I knew this wasn’t real, but at the time, I could really see them.
The First Morning
Eventually, I watched the room lighten as the sun came up, Elodie’s first morning.
She had spit up a little in the night and we had only brought two outfits for her, which we quickly learned was not nearly enough, and the hospital couldn’t provide any. Andy went out in search of a nearby shop to buy clothing (shockingly, there were no shops near the hospital selling baby clothes, a huge missed business opportunity in my mind) and more nappies plus breakfast for us.
The rest of the morning passed with some health checks for Elodie, taking her blood, testing her hearing, checking for jaundice and moving her hips, and vital sign tests for me.
I continued to experience shortness of breath, as I had during pregnancy and labour, but other than that I was fine and recovering well and I was able to take a shower which helped a lot. A breastfeeding counselor came by to help with our latch and position, and gave me lots of information about a free breastfeeding support network in our neighborhood which was really helpful. We saw Lucy again and hugged her goodbye, and were discharged from the hospital around 12 or 12:30pm.
We very nervously strapped Elodie into her car seat and left the hospital via taxi.
It was such a surreal feeling to be leaving there with a baby, no longer pregnant, after having come and gone there so many times while I was pregnant, and even before I was pregnant when we were doing fertility testing. Now I was leaving with my own little baby, healthy and wonderful. Unbelievable.
Home, as Family of Three
The cab ride home was perfectly fine and uneventful, and next thing you know, we were home, with our beautiful baby, just 24 hours after leaving the day before.
We are so lucky, so grateful, so overjoyed, so bewildered. We were now a family of three (plus Leyva!).