You would think that since I had been pregnant twice before and that I am a trained birth educator I would feel incredibly confident about birth. The stark reality is that I had one traumatic birth experience that I thought would be the only one and the next would heal me. The next didn’t heal me. In fact, it broke me. During my second labor with my son Elvis, my uterus ruptured. So, when I got pregnant for the third time there were so many more concerns than before.
Pregnancy after rupture and stillbirth leads to nine months of treading on eggshells.
Fast forward to 37.2 weeks of pregnancy with my daughter. I headed into the hospital for my last scan on Friday morning. There wasn’t really a reason for this scan other than routine growth due to a previous stillbirth. I was booked in for a c-section four days later so my consultant told me at my last appointment with him that it wasn’t really necessary. I said to Bernardo on Thursday night that I would go in anyway, why not? It was booked and if we missed something we could have picked up on that scan and things went wrong I would never forgive myself. But, I told Bernardo he didn’t need to come with me.
I had been feeling some tightenings overnight on Thursday and the early hours of Friday, along with mild back pain, but I had been having Braxton Hicks so didn’t get too concerned. Our plan was to completely avoid labor, even mild contractions, due to my uterus rupturing with Elvis. Confident they were just Braxton Hicks, I got Gus ready for school. He was particularly tricky that morning and I didn’t get the chance to clean the kitchen before leaving. (I have a thing about the kitchen being clean before leaving the house…more on this later). I rushed in late to my appointment. The sonographer and I have got to know each other so she is fine about it.
The scan went well, but she suggested I go round to the day assessment unit (DAU) because Winnie’s heart rate was a little on the high side.
Off I went to the DAU, and I started being monitored and the cardiotocography (CTG) was showing pretty significant tightenings. The midwife running the DAU that day came to have a look and said, “Ummm are you feeling those?” Meaning the tightening that was showing up. I could feel them but due to using breathing techniques to deal with uncomfortable sensations, they weren’t overwhelming. I still just thought they were Braxton Hicks, but they were regular contractions. At this point, Winnie’s heart rate was back to normal so nothing to worry about there.
I let Bernardo know what was going on which made him really anxious. This pregnancy was harder emotionally for him than me so I was prepared for that reaction. I told him to pop in to be there when the doctor came round just so he was around if we decided to head in for the c-section that day. It took a while for the doctor to come around, so Bernardo had already been in. He stuck around for a while and I sent him home to get me some stuff like my hospital bag and laptop, and I asked him to clean the kitchen. To which he replied, “I’m not cleaning the f!@king kitchen right now, I’m too anxious to breathe.” My irrational nesting brain put my foot down.
The doctor came around and did an internal ultrasound to measure my cervix. It was long so we calmed down as there wasn’t a mad rush. I was moved to the maternity ward. My consultant came to see me and we went over risks, benefits, etc. We decided I would stay in overnight to stay on the monitor and pick up any changes. What was really worrying me was that if she needed to be delivered over the weekend my core team was all off. That made me really anxious as we had such a clear idea of how it should be and they knew me so well.
While all of this was going on my friend had offered to get Gus from nursery. I was booking my Dad a ferry to come across and look after Gus for the next few days. Bernardo had come back in again just after our consultant left, and we kept ourselves distracted by ordering a new sofa (NESTING!!). I sent Bernardo home for the night so he was rested in case she would need to be delivered the next day. I was monitored closely overnight and there was definitely a change. The tightenings became stronger, longer, and closer together.
Hayley, the midwife that had been supporting us the day before, came back in on Saturday morning.
She was great, so supportive and understanding of what we had been through. She knew all about Elvis so we didn’t have to keep explaining things. Bernardo had come back in at this point and due to the significant change overnight we booked the c-section for 2 pm.
Hayley had called our consultant Mr. Kenny and midwives Sammie and Emma to let them know I would be going in. They both had a busy weekend Sammie was MOVING HOUSE, Emma was in Portsmouth, and Mr. Kenny was doing a 20K run. There was no guarantee they could be there so we met the team who would be doing it if our core team couldn’t come. They were lovely but I still had this feeling that it needed to be the people I knew so well, that knew Elvis. Them being there would somehow make it feel like Elvis was included.
Hayley told me she had contacted them all. Emma couldn’t make it, but Sammie and Mr. Kenny were making arrangements to come in. She asked if I would be happy to have a vaginal examination, which I was, and she noticed a change from the day before, confirming that things were definitely progressing. With that in mind, it didn’t make sense to wait any longer so the c-section was brought forward to 11 am. Mr. Kenny came to see me beforehand. I apologised that I requested he came in on his day off. He said it was actually really good timing, which was incredibly thoughtful because it obviously wasn’t considering he wasn’t supposed to be working.
I got my gown on, we headed into the theatre.
The team introduced themselves. Everyone including us was in high spirits. I was so happy and full of anticipation. I was given a spinal and that’s when Sammie arrived just after she and her partner had collected their rental van for their house move! I can’t explain how heartwarming it is to have a team around you who are so supportive that they give up their own free time in order to support my wishes.
Sammie was on my right-hand side explaining what was happening (I wanted to know). Mr. Kenny said my uterus actually looked good, a little thin but no more than any other person who has had two previous c-sections. I could hear the suction taking in the amniotic fluid and then started to hear little gurgles from Winnie.
The drapes were lowered so I could see her being born. She was guided out gently and slowly and once she was done making her way earthside, she was handed by Mr. Kenny straight over the drapes on into my chest.
I was overcome with happiness, relief, and in awe of my gorgeous baby girl. It was the most beautiful experience and every moment of it was so deeply healing.
She stayed on me having cuddles while we had delayed cord clamping. Bernardo cut her magnificent cord that everyone kept commenting on how beautifully thick it was. We spent the next 20 minutes or so while I was being stitched up having skin to skin and just watching her discover this new bright world and soaking up all that gorgeous oxytocin.
After moving to the makeshift recovery room, the actual recovery room was still in use from the family before us, we played some relaxing music. Winnie had her first feed and we just soaked up her awesomeness and my awesomeness and the team’s awesomeness. It was just so beautiful, healing, and happy, pure elation is the best way to describe it.
As the days have gone on I keep looking back and being so thankful to the amazing team and my family. We have been through so much, and while Winnie’s birth doesn’t erase the pain of Elvis’ death, it certainly highlights the possibility for happiness to walk alongside grief. Holding hands like old friends.
So welcome to the world, my darling girl. You’re so lucky to have the best big brothers. One to watch over you and one to walk beside you.
*A version of Winnie’s Birth Story was originally published on Instagram.