Monday, 7 August 2017

Baby Butterfly: The Birth Story

So it seems I start every single post with an apology for being absent, but in this instance I had a very genuine reason for the delay in writing any new content:

On 13th July 2017, Baby Butterfly arrived!

The past 25 days have been an utter whirlwind; who knew someone so tiny could quite literally turn your entire world upside down and inside out in such a monumental way? There have been wonderful moments and challenging moments in equal measure thus far, and it is true when they say absolutely NOTHING can prepare you for motherhood until it actually happens. But as Baby Butterfly currently lies cocooned in his GroBag and SleepyHead, snuffling away as he sleeps, I am finally getting round to sharing my birth story with you...

12th July 2017

I awoke to a multitude of messages and voice notes from my husband, who was 3 hours ahead of me in Dubai. Hurrying to open and listen to them, I was overcome with a rush of relief and delight upon hearing the news: 1. He had officially been graded Level 5 for military service (office-based, daily job rather than in the military camp), and 2. His services as a Level 5 recruit were not to be required for the August call-up date. A call-up could be received any time within the next 3 years. This was the best possible outcome after a month-long saga of distress and despair over his sudden call-up. The best possible news I could receive in my 37th week of pregnancy.

The news meant that we could revert to our original plan - the main basis of why we chose for me to give birth in the UK rather than the UAE - in that my husband would now be able to continue in his normal job and would therefore be based nearby in Europe for 25 days from 20th July onwards. With my due date set for 29th July, our plan (agreed with his manager) was that he would leave his colleagues as soon as I went into labour and take a short trip to London for 2 days, hopefully in time for the birth, or at least for the immediate aftermath.

But, once again, things soon deviated wildly from the plan.

As if by magic, my waters broke at 17:45 that very evening. It was as though the emotional relief of the morning's fantastic news had triggered a physical release of tension in my body, causing my waters to break. I went to Chelsea & Westminster Hospital at 20:30 after the midwife told me to come in over the phone, and they confirmed that it was indeed amniotic fluid, and that all was well with the baby inside.

As my waters had broken without any contractions or other signs of labour, it was classified as PROM - premature rupture of membranes. It is expected that labour will begin spontaneously within the next 12 hours after this occurring, but if labour does not begin within 24 hours it can cause a major risk of infection, and therefore all healthcare professionals are advised to advocate for labour to be induced at that point so as to minimise the chance of mother and baby contracting an infection. I was sent home from hospital and told to come back once contractions started, or by 14:30 the next day if nothing had happened.

Of course I was updating my husband all the way along, from the very moment I felt my waters go as I was taking my daily walk down by the river. Communicating by snapchat videos back and forth, I could see the emotion in his face at the thought that our baby would most likely be arriving within the next 24 hours, and that, thanks to the morning's good news, he would be able to travel to London and be with us.

13th July 2017

My waters were still leaking. Still no contractions. Husband booked himself on an Emirates flight from DXB-LHR.

I returned to the hospital at 14:30 for monitoring, where a truly lovely midwife massaged my hands with clary sage oil and wafted it round the room using her aromatherapy kit to try and encourage labour. Still nothing happened. I went home again, this time to get my hospital bag and head back to the Kensington Wing for 17:30, when the 24-hour window would expire and a decision would need to be made regarding induction.

Hooked up to the monitor in my private delivery room, three very minimal contractions were recorded by 18:30 but still nothing of note appeared to be happening. After an examination from the midwife, whereby she gleaned that the baby's head was still only 3/5 engaged, it was decided that I should plump for an induction. At 19:30 she inserted a tiny pea-sized dollop of Prostoglandin gel, which I was told would slowly soften my cervix and perhaps encourage contractions to develop over the next 24 hours, and then left me in my delivery room with my mother, and another examination due in 6 hours' time.

It would be slow, she said. Examination in 6 hours, she said. Possible delivery tomorrow or the day after, she said.

Not quite so, as it turned out!

Contractions started immediately. I mean literally within minutes. I somehow managed to stagger to the bathroom but spent most of my time in there doubled up in agony on the floor with the sudden intense contraction pains. I made it back to the bed and the midwife came rushing back in. Labour had well and truly begun. The contractions became so intense and so close together incredibly quickly, that I was soon cracking out the gas and air. But due to the incessant nature of the contractions I had absolutely no chance to give myself a break from the gas between each one; there was no respite from one contraction to the next.

I'm someone with an extremely high pain threshold, but this was like no pain I had ever experienced in my life. It was all-consuming. I couldn't stop gasping for the gas, and as a result I was becoming dazed and beginning to lose consciousness. I remember screaming and shouting; two things I've NEVER done in my life. I remember my mum trying to give me water to sip through a straw when I wasn't sucking the life out of the gas inhaler, but I could barely even control my mouth to have a drink. I could hear the voices of my mother and several midwives and was fully aware of what they were saying, but I wasn't capable of communicating back to them. I thought it would never end. I thought I was going to die!

Finally, after 2 hours, I gathered enough strength to wheezily beg for an epidural. I was slurring my words and (apparently) my eyes were rolling back in my head, but I knew exactly what I wanted (and I wanted it NOW). The midwives of course had to be sure that I really did know what I was asking for, and had to repeatedly request for me to confirm it. Each time I somehow mustered the strength to say 'epidural' and then slump back to sucking on the gas. When the anaesthetist came, all I remember was him telling me to curve my back 'like a prawn', and in my gas-guzzled spaced-out head I was thinking 'but I'm allergic to prawns'...! I must have made myself suitably prawn-like though, as the needle was inserted into my spine and suddenly I felt this velvety warmth enveloping the lower half of my body. It was heavenly; how I imagine it would feel to be dipped in smooth, warm chocolate.

My surroundings,, and people's faces, came back into focus. Apparently I had quite an audience in the delivery room by now. I started apologising profusely to everyone in earshot for being quite so vocal in my pain; I was enormously embarrassed for having allowed my dignity to slip as I shrieked with some of the most intense contractions. But I'm sure they'd heard it all before.

I looked at the clock and was horrified to see that less than 2 hours had passed. It had felt like an eternity. During those 2 hours, though, my husband had landed at Heathrow and had frantically been trying to contact me for updates. Clearly I had been in no fit state to be operating any kind of technology at that time, but thanks to the wonders of the epidural I was able to cheerfully ask my mum to pass me my phone so I could text him and tell him I was definitely in labour by now (!)

Unbeknownst to me, I hadn't been examined prior to having the epidural. I'm not quite sure how that happened, but I'm mightily glad it did, because had I been examined they would have told me it was too late to have one. As it was, the midwife decided to examine me AFTER the epidural, estimating that I would probably be about 3-4cm dilated following those 2 hours of contractions.

Imagine everyone's surprise when, at 21:30, I opened my legs and she could see the baby's head crowning.

I was ready to push, but I'd just had the epidural, so I couldn't. She advised me to collect my energy and wait for an hour to let the epidural wear off a bit so that I would be able to have some sensation to push.

At 22:00 the delivery room door opened and my beloved husband's head popped through the curtain at the foot of my bed. At 22:30, with him by my side (head end, of course...!) and squeezing my hands, I started pushing. And at 22:38, Baby Butterfly was delivered and placed on my chest. A little wiggly bundle of love, who would change our lives forever.

The timing and circumstances of Baby Buttefly's arrival - 16 days early - were quite extraordinary. In fact, I don't think I could have written the whole event more perfectly if I tried; not even for a movie script. That my husband made it in the nick of time, after all those days of separation and angst, to witness such a special moment as the birth of our first child... words can't explain how much of a blessing it was. And so, like a fairytale, with such serendipity, the Butterfly Free family became three. 

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