Grace Timothy is an ex-Vogue and Glamour writer and now founder of MOTHERS COLLECTIVE, a members group for new mothers in Sussex offering support, pampering and nourishment every new mother deserves!
I appreciate how lucky I was. In my NCT group alone we had a breach birth, a couple of lengthy inductions, two C-sections and a big bleed. My own mother went through hell during my birth. But all I can think is that my brain had been addled by the hypnobirthing MP3 I listened to all of 4 times. I had an innate sense of calm – most out of character for me – and a readiness to get this thing over with. I was terrified of being sick and the waiting was excruciating – thinking, at any moment I will be struck down with a body-splitting pain, the likes of which you can’t even imagine. Also, we had a whole series of Dexter to get through before there was a baby on the scene, so I was in no rush. But otherwise, I wasn’t that bothered.
I went to look around the local hospital a few weeks shook me up a bit – it smelt of illness and bleach, and the beds looked like the ones they put you in when you break your leg – but still, I did not enjoy being pregnant one bit, so I was excited about the moment labour kicked off and I knew the kiddo was on her way.
At 39 weeks I was absolutely massive and had PEP (Polymorphic Eruption of Pregnancy – itchy stretch marks) so I was being measured and scanned again, and I begged my gynae to perform a C-section there in her office. The next day I had a cup of raspberry leaf tea, a curry and a glass of red wine. It seemed to do the trick, as twenty-four hours later, shopping for yet another size up in Marks and Spencer’s, I suddenly felt a swoosh inside. I stood stock still, but nothing happened. We hung around for a bit – I heard that you get free shopping for a year if you go into labour in M&S – but I felt fairly normal again. At home, Rich rolled up the cream rug in the living room, but nothing happened. I didn’t fancy eating but otherwise I felt normal.
That night we went to bed, watched Celebrity Juice and I laughed so hard, something inside me popped. A vast gush of clear water came out and kept coming the more I giggled. I was surprised by the sheer volume, especially as our NCT tutor had assured us that kind of show only happened in the movies. My usually ridiculously chilled out husband, Rich ran around reading books and googling ‘flash flood in your pants’, shouting, “Stop bloody laughing, this is it!” We quickly realised we’d spent all our NCT classes not listening – he was wondering who we’d be friends and I was wondering if I could pull off Raybans. I sat on the loo, water still trickling out, thinking I probably had 36 hours of labour ahead if my mum’s experience was anything to go by, and Rich thundered downstairs to announce it was more like 12 according to the internet. We went back to bed and actually slept. This was the first thing that was entirely out of character for me. I am not a naturally laid back person, I am actually incredibly neurotic, so to be relaxed enough to sleep….well, it was a bit weird. At about 1.30am I started getting what felt a bit like IBS stomach spasms – nothing near as painful as those, I hasten to add, just a gentle churning and tightening. I popped a couple of paracetamol and followed Caitlin Moran’s advice: keep moving. I marched up and down the stairs. I did circuits of our miniscule living room and climbed in and out of the bath for a bit. Still, there was no proper pain. Just a rolling wave of period pain mixed with a tugging feeling. As the pain started to intensify I bounced on an exercise ball, but still with a sense of calm. Now, I know this sounds smug and possibly a little too good to be true. But I assure you, nobody is more flummoxed than I am about what happened that night. I don’t know how or why I felt so chilled out. Maybe it was some kind of twilight hysteria, a drug-free trip? I hadn’t yet dug out my hypnobirthing MP3s or thought about visualising the opening flower etc. etc. – I thought all that was hours, even days away. I just kept breathing, focusing, and shutting everything out. I didn’t clock-watch, which I think was a huge help. Suddenly it was 5am, and when Rich timed a few contractions it turned out there was only a minute between them. I told him it would still be hours and I was happy at home – the pain just wasn’t bad enough to even think about hospital yet, I was actually quite enjoying rolling about on the ball.
He got progressively more anxious and started looking up how to deliver a baby at home. At 5.30am he made me call the midwife so she could ‘judge how close I was’ by my voice. She told me it sounded like I was still a long way off, and to call back at 8am when the community midwife could come and check on me at home. I got back on my ball and kept swaying. A few minutes later he insisted on taking my temperature and sure enough, it was up a bit, so the midwife told us to pop in to the hospital (5 minutes up the road) just to check it out.
Poor Rich, for him that meant GO GO GO, but I was so in the zone (whatever that zone is), bouncing gently around the room, that it took a full hour to get me and all the stuff (I had 2 bags….ok, 3. and a ball. and two pillows…) into the car. When we got to the hospital I couldn’t get out the car as the contractions suddenly took hold of my legs. Rich then spent the next ten minutes running to the front doors, pressing the intercom to open them, racing back to me and trying to coax me out, only for the doors to shut tight again. He went back and forth about 10 times while I kept saying, “Just wait for this one to go,” still peaced out like some kind of bloody shaman, much to his annoyance.
Eventually he pulled me out, I hobbled in and we were directed to an exam room with two bays. It was 7am on a Sunday morning and the ‘skeleton’ staff was presumably with another lady – there wasn’t a single soul to be seen and everything was dead quiet. I paced round the room, climbed on and off the bed, bounced on the ball. Everything inside me seemed to be gathering in my vagina – there seemed to be a lot of things in there, heavy things, possibly bricks, dragging everything else downwards. I hung off Rich’s collar (kudos to River Island, it didn’t rip…), trying to ground myself but stay upright. Having sworn I wouldn’t do it, I started mooing and bossed Rich out into the hallway to find a midwife because I was concerned my womb was about to fall out. He couldn’t find one and came back with a receptionist, who asked me to wee in a pot. When he saw me getting cross, he asked me to remain polite if possible – he works at that very hospital and aforementioned receptionist was the mother of one of his colleagues, so he said swearing was out of the question. We hobbled to the loo and then suddenly it was like my labour started in earnest – the pain kicked in (still not an ‘I WANT TO DIE’ pain, just a real urge to writhe around, I felt this innate shudder course through my body which felt like the urge to vomit but in reverse, so that rather than everything shooting up from stomach to throat, it was like everything was careering down to my knees. Weeing seemed entirely out of the question and blood started to trickle out into the bowl Rich was trying to hold beneath me. A midwife heard me shouting, “I can’t wee, I can’t WEEEEEEE!” and helped Rich guide me back to the examination room, where I writhed around on the bed, now feeling pain pulsing around my cervix, and she checked me over.
To everyone’s surprise I was 10cm dilated, my baby’s head was crowning and it was time to push. Errrrr, what? I hadn’t got in a pool, or had a foot massage, or listened to my playlist, had an epidural, or even eaten a single jelly baby! I hadn’t spritzed my face with spring water! I hadn’t even got changed beyond whipping my knickers off. I wasn’t ready! Rich stepped in, taking his role as ‘advocate’ very seriously. “Grace would like a water birth,” he told the midwife. She replied that she’d start running a bath for afterwards if he liked but there wasn’t time to get to the birthing suite. The best we’d manage now was a delivery room. I bellowed “I’m not ******* moving!” and so the midwife wheeled a cot and other equipment into the exam room while out-patients started milling about in the corridor waiting for their check-ups.
I started pushing – stopping only to fling my very expensive t-shirt which I had NOT planned to give birth in across the room – and made good progress I think. At 8am the midwife’s shift ended but I held onto her for dear life (by the breast, poor woman) and despite it being her wedding anniversary, she agreed to stay, working alongside her replacement. Then the baby’s heart rate dropped and my energy levels with it. A registrar came in and performed an episiotomy (which, with no drugs definitely smarted a bit – I shouted two of the worst swear words there are at that moment) and after the initial sharp assault of the cut itself, I was no longer in pain, just under an intense pressure. One suck of the ventouse and the head was out, one more push later and my baby slipped and slithered out at 8.25am, onto my chest. A pink hat was snapped onto her red little head, and she started to suckle like she’d been reading ‘breastfeeding for beginners’ in the womb and was already a pro. Noémie Rae, all long fingers and big black eyes, was out.
I don’t remember delivering the placenta or being cleaned up, just the midwife offering me gas and air for the stitches. I didn’t see the point when I’D JUST PUSHED A BABY OUT WITHOUT BEING OFFERED ANY (I also have a fear of vomiting and didn’t fancy adding that to the mix), so I just fixed my eyes on the suckling baby, jerked around a little bit, and within minutes the registrar was done. And that was that. The midwife said I could leave after a quick bath. I asked them to let me stay so Rich could go home for some sleep and I could at least have a little of the hospital experience I’d been gearing up for (and had packed 3 bags for. ok it was 4), so Emie – as she became known – and I lay in bed all day, she asleep, me munching on jelly babies, until it was time to go home, just 12 hours after we’d arrived. It was a whirlwind, nowhere NEAR as bad as I’d imagined it would be, and all in all the most satisfying experience I’ve ever had to date – a strange word to choose perhaps, I know most use ‘beautiful’ and ‘magical’, but satisfying is what it was. All the more satisfying when I look at this awesome kid that popped out that morning. I keep thanking her for being so cool en route to the world – she got into position, wriggled down and perhaps knowing I was a bit of a wimp, did most of the hard work for me. What a little legend.
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