After two medicalised births, Annie Ridout went in to be induced with her third baby fairly clear on how the birth would unravel. But it took a surprising turn and ended up being the most empowering of all three births, despite an early induction…
My first two experiences of childbirth were fairly similar. The main difference was that one started naturally, at 10 days past my due date, while the other was induced the day before I hit 40 weeks, as they were worried that he was going to be even bigger than his 10lbs 7oz sister.
If I’d gone past my due date he would’ve been but as it was, he came out almost exactly the same size.
Each time, I ended up having my waters broken as a form of induction. This made the contractions come really fast and hard. It became unbearable so I had an epidural. The whole experience then switched to being chilled – I could sleep, talk. And then when fully dilated, I tried pushing but couldn’t feel anything and both ended with forceps deliveries.
I didn’t have any regrets about either birth – not about how medicalised they were, or having an epidural. I was damaged by tearing and an episiotomy both times but I’d gone into the birth with an open mind; and came out with two healthy babies. So all was good.
It meant that for my third birth, I assumed the experience would be similar. And in some ways it was, but it took a wild turn at the end and I got to experience something quite different.
It was decided I’d be induced at just over 38 weeks, as I had polyhydramnios (a lot of extra amniotic fluid) and they couldn’t see the cause. It can be associated with gestational diabetes, which I didn’t have, and various viruses – but all the tests came back clear. So we weren’t sure what the reason was.
But this fluid, which was four times the usual amount, combined with another big baby and obstetric cholestasis (intense itching caused by increased bile acids from liver) meant an early delivery looked like the safest option, in terms of delivering a healthy baby.
It’s quite a hard decision to make, as there are risks associated with induction – for instance, 25% of attempted inductions will end up as c-sections. There’s also a higher chance of assisted delivery (forceps, suction). And I was worried that my baby might just not be quite ready.
But the various complications, and the fact that I was told if my waters broke at home it couldn’t be done in a controlled way, which could lead to the umbilical chord coming out first – a big problem – made me agree to the induction.
We went into the Whittington Hospital, where my other two babies were born – and I was too, actually – on Saturday mid-morning and headed to the induction ward. It was empty so we had our own room, which made us feel like we were on holiday. The two kids were down the road, staying with my parents.
Early afternoon, they examined me and I was only 1cm dilated so they inserted a pessary to try to kickstart the labour. Soon, I was having mild contractions. We wandered around the hospital and headed up towards Highgate Village but then panicked in case my waters broke and turned back.
I felt heavy from the pregnancy and extra fluid and big baby so while I knew movement was good for getting the baby to engage, it was really nice to return to our room and lie on the (very comfortable) bed. I took two novels, which I didn’t touch. And I didn’t fancy going on social media; I wanted to disconnect.
We spent the next few hours chatting, listening to music while I bounced on a birthing ball, snoozing and Rich massaged me. Early evening, my dad dropped off a lamp and some slippers as we wanted to get comfy. I had a small pot of lavender and chamomile bath salts which I sniffed throughout the day.
I’d been told that the pessary would be in for 24 hours and may not work. This was really demoralising; the idea that it could take quite a few days. I was worried about being away from my older two and just didn’t want the whole thing to drag on, as hospitals are odd places to spend a lot of time.
By bedtime, the contractions were ramping up a bit and I needed to sleep so used a TENS machine – two patches on my lower back, two on my lower stomach; very unconventional, apparently – and it numbed the cramps. I slept off and on.
I think the contractions slowed down overnight as they weren’t so regular when I was monitored, every four hours. Again, a bit disheartening.
We went for a coffee in the morning, with the TENS machine still on – dangling out from under my dress – and after lunch, I was due for an examination that would determine whether they could break my water and move things along or if I’d need a six-hour gel to help me dilate more.
Thankfully, I was now two/three cms dilated. We’d been told that even if this was the case, we may still have to wait until the next day to get a bed on the labour ward where they’d break my waters. But suddenly, we were top of the list and would be heading down as soon as a bed and midwife became available.
An hour or two later, we were on the labour ward. I had be monitored for a while and then wait for a doctor to come and break my waters and make sure the umbilical chord didn’t come out. I ate some cheese and crackers and then when she arrived, I got on the gas and air for the procedure. I’d forgotten how fun it was.
The doctor made a little incision and the waters started gushing. It felt like a relief; to have some of that fluid leaking out. I soaked the bed multiple times. And after about half an hour, the contractions were coming on strong. I used the TENS machine – now all four patches on my back – and gas and air.
I kept needing the toilet and it reminded me of my second birth, where I didn’t have a TENS machine so time away from the gas and air to get to the loo and back made me really panic.
But this time, as well as the TENS machine on full blast, I was able to visualise the contractions like waves that I could ride. In my head, I referred to them as ‘surges’, which is a hypnobirthing idea – language makes a difference – and repeated mantras I learned from the YESMUM hypnobirthing affirmations (linked below).
We’d planned to have my lovely friend Nadya as our doula but she wasn’t allowed to join us on the induction ward and by the time we got to the labour ward, we’d been there a day and a half and couldn’t work out whether we needed extra support. So we decided to wait and see.
After a couple of hours, I was finding the contractions pretty intense and wasn’t sure I’d be able to cope much longer so started talking about having an epidural. I asked the midwife, Claire, if she thought it might take quite a while longer to be fully dilated and she said she’d examine me at 10pm (four hours after my waters had been broken).
As 10pm approached, I decided I definitely wanted an epidural. I was exhausted and I’d had enough. So the anaesthetist was called and Claire said she’d be 10 minutes. This felt like a very long time. I was sat on the bed, contracting every few minutes, pushing my body away from the bed with my hands, which helped a bit.
Rich asked Claire if the epidural would slow things down and she said not necessarily; it would just take the pain away. So we were set on having the drugs. The anaesthetist arrived and set up her station and we decided Claire would examine me once it had been administered.
But as I got into position, Claire was checking the monitor and said the baby’s heart was dipping in and out, along with my contractions getting closer together, and this could be sign that labour was progressing really well. She asked if I’d like to be examined before the epidural.
I agreed to this – the anaesthetist was not impressed; she said she couldn’t keep the equipment sterile – then she left the room and I was examined. I was seven/eight cms. I asked how much longer it would take to fully dilate and Claire said she couldn’t say. I felt like she thought it might be a while longer.
Then another woman came in – doctor or midwife, I’m not sure – and examined me. She said she could help me to dilate more and get the baby out, as they were a bit worried about him, but it would be painful. We decided I’d have the epidural then she could do her thing.
She was pleased. Another doctor was in the room and he said an epidural was a good idea.
So the anaesthetist returned, I got back into position on the bed, facing away from her, and she started to plaster my back with cling film to create a frame around the spot she’d insert the injection. But as she plastered it down, I felt an urge to do a poo. I told Claire and she said maybe I was getting ready to push. It took us all by surprise.
The anaesthetist hadn’t heard this conversation and continued pressing my back until I shouted: “get off me; don’t touch me!” And I tried to get off the bed. My body was doing something so beyond my control that I can’t quite describe it but suddenly there were lots of midwives telling me to get into position.
I didn’t know what position to get into so they made some suggestions and I got onto all fours – with their help – as my body started pushing. They gave me calm instructions to blow the baby out; not push. With each contraction, my body pushed him further out until his head was born.
But then the alarm was raised as his shoulders were stuck. I wasn’t aware of doctors rushing in or of there being a problem as I was mentally not in the room at all but they flipped me onto my back and did a mad manoeuvre to release his shoulders – and I pushed the rest of his body out. He weighed just over 9lbs 2ozs.
From the moment the epidural was about to be administered to the time he was handed to me to hold was about 10 minutes. The most wild 10 minutes of my life. I keep trying to find the words to describe that pushing bit because it didn’t hurt at all; it was just so primal and powerful.
Throughout the last part, I was making nosies I’ve never made before – low, guttural growls. I felt – and sounded – like a cow giving birth. I had no control over the noises. I think it was a bit high-pitched when they released his shoulders; that intervention was the only painful bit – but otherwise more like roars.
After a period of skin-to-skin, they had to take him to intensive care for a scan, to check his oesophagus and stomach were joined up – sometimes, extra fluid can be because there’s an issue with this – so Rich went with him and all was well. I went to the loo, Whatsapped some pals and then we were reunited for his first breastfeed.
The lovely midwife got us a pot of tea and I had a big mug of sugary milky tea, with some Garibaldi biscuits. Apparently, you’re not allowed post-birth toast any more, as the toasters kept setting on fire. But as I hadn’t had any dinner, the biscuits were delicious. And I had a pot of fruit too.
Around 2am, we were taken to postnatal, where we stayed the night and Rich slept on a chair, while I stared at our new baby. He slept through the night (the baby; not Rich) and I kept asking the midwife if he was ok. She assured me he’d wake to feed when he needed to.
But in the morning he still hadn’t fed since those first few suckles, so I had a shower then called her in. She lifted him up and woke him by giving him a little shake, then told me to tweak my nipple to make it hard and she rubbed it on his nose and mouth until he took it in. She then stroked his cheek and he started suckling. It was such a funny little method.
I ate all the hospital meals – I love hospital food; or perhaps just being handed a menu and have someone else cook the food – and drank loads of water to flush everything through. And I had a visit from a physiotherapist who gave me some pelvic floor and stomach exercises to do to avoid diastasic recti (which I had last time).
He had a few small feeds but it wasn’t until after his full check, just before being discharged, that he settled into a proper feed. I drank another big mug of steaming milky tea with sugar (I never normally have sugar but the sweetness was so delicious), ate some Bourbons and felt good.
Amazingly, my vagina wasn’t swollen at all. This was quite different to the other two postnatal periods, where it took a few days to go down. I think it was because the pushing was so quick. But I took Arnica tablets anyway and started doing pelvic floor exercises – it sounds ridiculous but it really does help to try doing these straight away.
And then, less than 24 hours after giving birth, we were discharged. We had a sunny drive back home to reunite with my older two and introduce them to their new sibling, then had a few sips of Champagne before going to bed.
Here are some quick tips for pre, during and post childbirth
- I used the YESMUM Birth Project hypnobirthing recordings, as well as The Positive Birth Company from around 20 weeks pregnant, on my morning walk. Knowing more about the science of birth helped, and I picked up some breathing techniques.
- Also, hypnobirthing helps with mindset; the idea that whatever happens in your childbirth experience is ok – there is no failure. Towards the end of pregnancy, I forgot to listen regularly but during my induction, I listened to Hollie’s (YESMUM) birth affirmations recording on repeat.
- After I had the pessary inserted, to start the induction, I listened to a YouTube video designed to help the cervix dilate – it told me to visualise a flower opening up. This is a fairly common visualisation but I enjoyed it at this time. I didn’t watch the video; just listened.
- I used the Squeezy app three times a day throughout the second half of my pregnancy – and will continue with it now. It’s a free NHS app that simply reminds you to do pelvic floor exercises throughout the day. I wonder if this helped with the pushing stage; it probably did, as I had a lot more control.
- Calling the contractions ‘surges’ can help, as does visualising each one as a wave you’re riding. Get a TENS machine and team it with gas and air when they ramp up. This was a winning combo for me.
- I downloaded the iPlayer app and watched Keeping Faith in early labour. This felt like a real treat, as I never have time for daytime TV at home.
- Take comfy slippers, a lamp with a lovely warm light, something that smells amazing – massage oil, bath salts – and anything else that will help to make the hospital room feel more homely. I didn’t do this for the first two births and it was so nice to have all that stuff this time. It probably got the oxytocin flowing.
- The ready-packed Earthy Birth Bag massage oil is heavenly. And there are lots of other lovely bits in the hospital bag (like chocolate), as well as useful stuff: babygrows, biodegradable nappies, eco maternity pads, reusable breast pads for leaking milk. All gentler on the planet.
- I was sent some post-birth hemp knickers from A Mother Place – they look a bit odd but they’re really soft and comfy and breathable.
- Once home, eat loads of fruit and fibre (All Bran is good) and get on the prune juice. It helps keep everything moving.