A few weeks after being discharged from One to One Midwives I’ve had time to reflect on my experience, whilst getting used the wonderful demands of being a first time mum.
My introduction to One to One Midwives came to me from a colleague who urged me to sign up stating,
“You simply have to”. Easily persuaded, as I had nothing to lose, I rang up that day.
Registering my interest was as simple as a phone call and the next day I received a call back from a midwife named Karen who arranged to come and see us the following week, a time arranged at my convenience.
Being a girl who likes convenience this suited me down to a tee and I think that this is one of the reasons I’m such an advocate for the service. It was important that my partner Neil was involved during every step of the pregnancy and One to One enabled that through their flexible, convenient approach to my care.
During our first midwife appointment we felt immediately at ease thanks to Karen’s easy manner, great sense of humour and straight talking, and this is how we felt during every appointment thereafter. We began looking forward to seeing her and Neil felt very much part of the process, never having to take time off work to attend appointments. During our initial meetings Karen gave us our birthing options, and after much discussion and research we eventually chose a home birth. Karen was very honest with us about the pros and cons of a home birth, so we didn’t feel like we were going into anything blindly. She pragmatically helped us prepare our birth plans for all eventualities – home and hospital, which I was very grateful for, as you’ll soon discover.
I guess my birth story started a week and a day before the actual birth. I had a lovely pregnancy, very uneventful, and was kind of ignorant to the fact that a baby was actually going to be making an appearance. In my ignorance I worked up until 38 weeks and tried to carry on as normal as much as I could. When at nearly 40 weeks I had my show, I was stunned and in slight disbelief. I shakily rang Karen, as I knew she would reassure me as she had on countless other occasions when ringing her for advice (another convenience that I appreciated: her 24/7 availability!). The following week was filled with excitement, anticipation and processing of the fact that I was actually really going to have a baby, as well as coming to terms with the realisation that there was really no going back! This realisation came with contractions, mild at first and very sporadic, but then by the end of the week we knew that it was time to inflate the pool! At this point my well-thumbed hypnobirthing book was virtually attached to me, practising guided relaxations, along with up and down breathing, trying to remember all the hints and tips that Kelly had provided us in the excellent classes that we attended.
The day we finally got to fill up the birth pool, spread out the towels and shower curtains, light our candles and put on our carefully chosen playlist was a Thursday. Karen and Claire arrived late evening with their sleeves rolled up (metaphorically of course!) ready to help deliver our little one. However, at 2am it soon became apparent that this baby was not coming; the strong contractions that I had been experiencing when in my bedroom with my partner Neil watching a comedy film (to release the oxytocin!) earlier that evening, had virtually gone. It was impossible to tell whether this was to do with that feeling of being watched which made the contractions subside, or purely the fact that our baby was just not ready to come out, but early that morning at 2cm dilated, the midwives decided to go home. Slightly deflated (us not the pool!) and with a sense of disappointment, myself and Neil were advised to get to bed and get as much rest as we could. Baby Smith was definitely on its way, but not just yet!
The next day was much the same, contractions that came and went, broken sleep and the attempt to continue watching the film that we failed to finish the day before. Due to the pool still being up in the lounge we decided to stay in the bedroom, which happened also to be the only place I could get comfortable. To say that I was in discomfort was an understatement, my back, hips and pelvis were aching and there was not a single position I could get in that relieved the pain. I felt that this discomfort was suitably preparing me for the onset of labour, and as I managed the waves of contractions through the use of my hypnobirthing breathing techniques and the odd paracetamol, I felt like I was coping. I was in touch with Karen throughout the day and she reassured me that everything I was experiencing was normal and that I was progressing well. She advised me to contact her when there was a change in the regularity of my contractions and she would come out to the house.
Due to our ‘false alarm’ the night before I was reluctant to call her until we knew there was a change in frequency, strength and length, and this occurred early Saturday morning. The pain had become too much for a couple of paracetamols and deep focused breathing. With reflection I realise now how tired I must have been as leading up to this point the contractions had been coming along slowly for 7 days. Karen was called just after 5am and when she finally arrived I was very relieved to see her. She noticed a change in me straight away, as she said on the previous night that I was far too chatty and smiley to be in full labour! However, upon examining me her face dropped, I was still only 2-3cm dilated. We had all expected me to have progressed further, and to be honest I was gutted. 48 hours of contractions and extreme discomfort, which had resulted in barely being able to walk let alone sit, hadn’t progressed me any closer to meeting our baby. I was thankful when Karen said “we’re going to have to transfer you into hospital”, as there was no way I could summon up the energy to continue at that rate for much longer.
Just after 7am we arrived at Whiston hospital and met with a lovely midwife called Lesley who looked after myself and Neil for the rest of the day. A hospital birth was not our first choice, but we always knew there was a chance that a hospital birth could happen and therefore this did not come as much of a surprise to us. Luckily we had packed an overnight bag and had our pre-prepared birth plan to take with us. By the time I was examined at 8.30am I was 6cm dilated! Whether the increased dilation occurred as a result of the walk across from the car park to the hospital (which Karen had suggested I did!), or my body relaxing from knowing I was potentially hours from meeting my baby, we do not know, however it seemed like a positive sign.
Fast-forward to 5pm – 9 hours later, I had only dilated a further 2cm to 8cm. I was in considerable pain, had almost emptied the tanks of gas and air (at least that’s what it felt like anyway!) along with further pain relief and was exhausted. I was sleeping in between contractions that were coming every 2 minutes and lasting a minute and according to my partner I was talking even more gibberish than normal! When the registrar very sensitively told me I would have to have a C-section if I hadn’t dilated to 10cm by 7pm I felt a sense of disbelief. A C-section was so far from the home birth that I envisaged – listening to the best of Andrew Lloyd Webber by candlelight munching on home-baked oat cookies!
Nevertheless, I was prepared to do whatever was needed to ensure our baby was born safely, and frankly I was exhausted. If this was the result of a few days of labour then I could not perceive how my body could endure the physical demands of pushing out the baby. Alas at 7pm, I was still only 8cm, which meant only one thing. I could tell on Lesley my midwife’s face that she was disappointed for us, but after 11 hours of labouring we knew that this was the right decision.
My memories of the next few hours are blurry, probably due to the combination of exhaustion and pain relief but I can remember not feeling afraid, even though my only experience of an operation was having teeth extracted at 10 years old!
Throughout the whole procedure I felt remarkably calm, probably because I was being communicated to thoroughly at all times. I knew what was happening and why and we were consulted about everything. Lesley our midwife knew that we wanted delayed cord clamping, skin-to-skin contact and that I wanted to breastfeed, and this was all communicated to the rest of the staff that were caring for me at this time. At approximately 8.34pm behind the high green screen I heard “wow what a chunk” and heard the cries of my baby, a most surreal but amazing experience. The screen was lowered and our beautiful baby girl was presented to us, all 9lb 4oz and 53cm of her, in a Lion King kind of moment. A daughter! Just what I had ordered! Both myself and Neil through tears of joy attempted to comprehend the magnitude of what we had experienced.
The memories I have of the next few hours are wonderful, and I often wish I could return to that evening without the pain relief, just so I could notice the details of what was going on around me a bit more. The staff, every one of them, couldn’t do enough to help us and that included ensuring baby Catrin Jennifer latched on to breastfeed successfully in the recovery suite. My parents who had been waiting patiently in the reception area came in to our delivery suite upon our transfer, also expressed how well they had been looked after in the 2 and a half hours they had been waiting to see us and meet their granddaughter. In the delivery suite, the parents, the grandparents cuddling their little baby granddaughter, sat cosily under dimmed lights, drinking hot cups of tea. It was magical, and I can’t thank Whiston enough for enabling such a positive experience. Neil stayed with us that night, as it was too late to transfer me up the ward, and for that I am also grateful.
My return home was daunting with a 7inch scar and limited mobility, but luckily, along with the unconditional support of my parents and Neil, we also received weekly visits from Karen and Sarah the One to One MaMA (Mother and Midwife Assistant). We had met Sarah during a couple of antenatal home visits where she prepared us for basic baby care as well as breastfeeding. Karen had told us that Sarah was lovely and to make sure that we utilised her service as she had helped countless women in the past. Not one to refuse help especially when I was determined to succeed with breastfeeding I contacted Sarah the day I got home from hospital. We arranged a home visit by the end of that week, and I am very glad we did. I can honestly say that had Sarah not visited that week to help me with my breastfeeding I don’t know how it would have been physically possible for me to continue. I was in considerable pain and discomfort from a not so great latch and poor positioning having to brace myself, experiencing pain every time Catrin fed. Sarah spent a couple of hours with us on that first visit going through positions, ensuring the latch was correct, giving me lots of encouragement and many, many hints and tips about caring for a newborn. After that visit I had more knowledge and confidence about what I was doing, and since then breastfeeding has continued to be a positive experience for us both.
Upon my request Sarah continued to pop round every week for 6 weeks, supporting us with any questions that I had and merely to just chat about how things were going. As well as the obvious benefits of having a One to One designated midwife, for me having the MaMA support postnatally was invaluable. Having only received two visits from my health visitor, I am now able to reflect on how important having that additional support was for me.
A few months on and completely oblivious to where the time has gone, I will forever champion the One to One service. Whether you choose a hospital or a home birth, the unconditional support that is given by the staff, from midwives, the MaMA and the reception staff is exceptional. I am incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to use the service and will endeavour to support the service to ensure its growth in any way I can.