T'was The Night Before Christmas...

25 Feb 2022

T'was The Night Before Christmas...

 …when all through the house not a creature was stirring…. Apart from Kate who was laughing hysterically having just finished a contraction to the sound of Bill Nighy loudly exclaiming oh fuck, wank, bugger, arsehead and hole. My thoughts exactly Bill. 

Yup, it’s Christmas Eve and I’m in labour. After a long, long time of saying that I did not mind when I had a baby as long as it wasn’t Christmas Day, I woke up on Christmas Eve morning, 11 days past my ‘due’ date, with mild period-like pains and the settling realisation that of course today would be the day it would start. 

My third trimester of pregnancy was pretty uneventful. The heartburn and incessant weeing continued in full force, the pregnancy hormones caused some delightful excessive salvia and snoring in the final couple of weeks (has anyone ever mentioned how glamorous pregnancy is…?) and unsolicited advice from random people began to rear its head but on the whole, it was definitely the trimester I enjoyed the most. I felt like I was more into the swing of the whole experience, I enjoyed my bump and all those gorgeous kicks and felt like I was appreciating those final few weeks just the two of us (despite the swollen ankles and fingers causing my shoes and wedding rings to regularly get stuck…). I never expected baby to arrive on my supposed due date so felt pretty casual about it all when the day came and went but I soon learnt why some people choose to keep this date secret from others. Just a heads up if you have a pregnant friend right now who has gone past that somewhat-unlikely ‘due’ date, she’s already dealing with being heavily pregnant, stressful induction conversations with healthcare professionals and an abundance of ‘any news’ type messages. Don’t add to the stress. She is not going to forget to tell you that she birthed a baby. Seriously, it’s really not something you neglect to mention.

Anyway, yes, Christmas Eve. I spent most of the day having period-like pains which weren’t exactly enjoyable but neither would I describe them as painful as such. I had a shower, lunch, a mosey around M&S for snacks I would never eat and watched a couple of Disney films (can’t believe I’d never seen Brave before) whilst chilling on the sofa and bouncing on the birth ball. Seeing no need to ruin Christmas plans until absolutely necessary, we headed over to my mum’s house in the evening for our traditional Christmas Eve picnic and Love Actually viewing. I continued bouncing on the ball whilst examining the presents under the tree (I am a child at Christmas) and my family all placed bets on what time baby would be born the next day (no one called it correctly although my mum wasn’t far off… mind you, she did used to be a midwife so you could claim she had an unfair advantage). I continued to do some bouncing, which then turned into swaying but it was only when the food was brought out and I realised that I didn’t want to eat any of it that I knew shit was about to get real. Me turn down food? Uh oh.  

I think this was about half 6 in the evening and whilst the rest of the gang all stuffed their faces, my mum and I began pacing up and down the hallway whilst she was timing my contractions on her watch. Apart from throwing up the one bite of food I had attempted, this was relatively chill. I listened to Love Actually, refused to stop hugging a particular wall at one point and got to enjoy the benefits of Gary giving me non-stop back massages. There came a point where I decided I wanted to be at home so, after face planting the stairs for a while (dunno how I ended up there but gotta do what you gotta do), my mum and step-dad eventually got me in the car and drove us back. It’s a five-minute journey but it’s true what they say about how moving out of a calm location can slow things down; my contractions definitely paused for a few minutes when we got in the car. 

When we made it to ours, I insisted that we only had the Christmas tree lights on and then draped myself across the sofa in a dramatic fashion. Things were really ramping up now and starting to get a little hazy for me but I remember my mum phoning my midwife and the birth centre, Gary giving my step-dad instructions about what needed putting in the car and my mum listening to baby’s heartbeat. At some point, my mum very gently suggested we needed to go and I insisted on going to the loo and changing into pyjamas which I did slower than the pace of a sloth whilst regularly pausing to grab the nearest wall and make strange mooing noises. I think it was probably obvious to everyone but me that we needed to get to the hospital now but I was physically incapable of moving any faster. It’s a forty-minute drive to our hospital but we knocked off a good ten minutes what with it being Christmas Eve and all. I can vaguely remember momentarily being aware of my surroundings and thinking how bloody surreal it was that I was on my knees in the back seat of a car that was speeding along a dark motorway in the pouring rain. Funnily enough, that is not normally how I spend Christmas Eve. 

The hour after arriving at the hospital is something I’m still processing and deciding how I feel about. In hindsight, I would have probably been better staying at home which frustrates me at times. I didn’t find being in hospital a relaxing environment at all. I don’t doubt that it’s a very good hospital but there was an unlucky culmination of things - from the passive aggressive security guard unnecessarily reminding us of covid rules, an orderly trying to get me to sit in a wheelchair when I was physically incapable of doing so and a midwife who seemingly failed to grasp how far along I was in my labour – that caused me to get pretty stressed which in turn, caused baby to get stressed. We ended up being rushed from the birth centre upstairs to the delivery unit because of a dipping heart rate and meconium-stained waters. The emergency buzzer ended up being pulled and I came very close to having an episiotomy and forceps. Luckily, I pushed him out just before they could inject me. It’s hard to know what might have happened regardless as some of these things aren’t uncommon for quick births but I have a strong sense that a lot of the drama would have been avoided if I’d never left my sofa (incidentally, given that he made his grand entrance just over an hour after we got there, I have been strongly advised to have a home birth should we decide to go for a next time. The implication was very much ‘not sure you’d have made it if it was your second’ and no one wants to give birth on the side of the M11 do they?).

I did a hypnobirthing course during pregnancy and I found the breathing exercises and information on what happens to our bodies to be useful during labour. It helped me feel calm and informed pre-birth, and was based in both science and logic which really appealed to us both. What it didn’t prepare either of us for is the stress healthcare professionals can unintentionally cause or a fast labour where there was literally no time to grasp what was going on, let alone think things through and make an informed decision. Now able to look at preparing for childbirth from the other side, it feels to me like we almost have two extremes. Birth horror stories/portrayals told with far too much relish that (unintentionally or not) terrify women and a positive birthing movement that perhaps doesn’t always get across the realities of childbirth and of an understaffed and underfunded NHS, both of which are out of our control no matter how well we prepare. I personally would like to see more of a middle ground. Terrifying women is damaging, but so is telling them everything will be purely positive.  

I’m lucky enough to live in an area where they do continuity of care which meant I had the same midwife throughout my whole pregnancy and I was even more lucky that she was on call on Christmas Eve. I was so relieved when she elbowed her way into the delivery room; not only was she a familiar face but she actually took the time to properly speak to me and it meant she was the one who caught baby boy which I loved. He came out making such a racket that the paediatrician and bloke-with-resuscitation-machine that had been called in when the emergency buzzer was pulled immediately vacated the room without so much as a hello or goodbye (I literally didn’t know they’d been there until Gary told me later). It had all been so fast that I was genuinely surprised when a baby was plonked on my chest and immediately dug his fingernails into my boob. One of my favourite moments is my midwife excitedly going KATE IT’S STILL CHRISTMAS EVE after 9 months of listening to me saying any day but Christmas day. He left it to the last possible moment (we’re talking minutes) but is in fact, our little Christmas Eve baby. 

He was put in a red hat which I, in my slightly delirious state, thought was Christmassy but was actually because he needed extra monitoring. However, the hospital gives little gifts to Christmas babies and so whilst he was having his first feed, I unwrapped a present that included a Christmas pudding hat and putting it on his little head may be the cutest thing I have ever seen. He had very dark hair and dark eyes so we thought my genes had won out but he has since turned into the absolute spitting image of his dad. Bloody cheek of it. You don’t need me to share pictures – imagine Gary’s mini-me and you’ve got it. 

I finally got acquainted with some pain relief whilst I had stiches and then after a very long feed, bubba was weighed and Gary put his first nappy on. Also, it’s true what they say: the crap white-sliced-bread toast they bring you after birth really does taste like the best toast you’ve ever had. We were able to go back down to the birthing centre which meant we could have a room with a double bed – a dream. They suggested we tried to go to sleep but the idea of sleeping with that much adrenaline in me – my legs were physically shaking for a good couple of hours – and a brand-new baby sat next to me (IS HE BREATHING) was laughable. We had to be kept in for 12 hours for observation but it ended up being closer to 18 because it took what felt like an age for someone to come and discharge us. Weirdest Christmas Day of my life. 

When we finally escaped, we ended up back at my mum’s at roughly the same time we’d arrived the night before just to complete the whole experience. My sister & her partner were waiting for us in the doorway grinning like Cheshire cats and Christmas dinner was in the oven.  

Leaving hospital