At a slightly more respectable hour of the day, I'm completing the second half of my birth story.

I wanted to write about my birth because overall it was such a positive experience for me, not to mention something that I feel so very lucky to have experienced at all. So, where was I?

We were admitted to ward 73 at St Michael's Hospital and shown to our private room around 3.45pm. A midwife called Rachel came by to explain the process and at around 5pm we were having our Covid 19 tests. For me, this was one of the most nerve wracking parts of our time at the hospital. Tom wouldn't be allowed to stay if he tested positive and I just couldn't bear the thought of doing it all without him. My mum was my back up birth partner which would have been great, but imagine if Tom couldn't be there for the birth of his own son? The results would take about 30-40 minutes to come back. (Obviously Tom tested negative and was allowed to remain with me throughout, for which I am so grateful. My heart really does ache for all the women who had to experience additional anxiety with their births due to Covid).

In the meantime, I was to have my first cervical examination to determine if I would need the pessary. I'm not sure if you (the reader) have ever had a cervical exam but it's quite uncomfortable and it's way further back than you think! Rachel even joked that she was sorry because she had such short fingers 🤮 The exam confirmed I was 1cm dilated but my cervix was like a traffic cone shape, open at the front but closed at the back so I was to have the pessary to get things moving.

The pessary looked a bit like a tampon. It had a much longer string and the tampon end was a lot smaller and flatter. It had to be put quite far back to reach my cervix so another uncomfortable moment whilst she 'popped' it in. Once there, I couldn't feel it, much like a tampon, I was just a bit paranoid that I would pull the string out when I went to the bathroom so was extra careful (the last thing I wanted was them to re-insert it)! The pessary was to remain there for 24 hours before they examined me again, the whole purpose being to dilate my cervix enough that my waters could be broken medically on the delivery suite.

By midnight that evening, I had started to get very mild contractions. The only way to describe them was like twinges of period pain in my lower abdomen. They were really hit and miss, some stronger than others, some lasting 10 seconds and some lasting more like 30 seconds. Either way, none of them long or consistent enough to get excited about. Still, it felt good to know that the pessary might be working 🤞 I found a heat pack kept the pain at bay and I managed to get to sleep.

By morning the contractions had completely disappeared 😟 and I managed to shower on the ward without an issue, ate breakfast, watched some TV with Tom and just passed the time. There was the occasional twinge but nothing more. During the night we had started to track the contractions on an app so we could see how I was progressing but by this time there was no point. I found it a bit disheartening and when we spoke to our new midwife in the morning she explained that it can be a case of animal instinct... we prefer to labour and give birth under the cover of darkness where we feel safe and protected, rather than in broad daylight. An interesting notion, but I was disappointed none-the-less.

6pm rolled around that evening so it had been 24 hours with the pessary. At 7.30pm, I was examined by another midwife to see if the pessary had achieved anything. My cervix was still in a cone shape but 2cm dilated at the front and still closed at the back 😤 Little Freddie was just too darn cosy in there! You think that being induced is a fast way to bring baby along, but the more you discover through chatting to the midwives, the more you realise that most induced pregnancies can take up to 4 days to get things moving before they recommend a c section to get the baby out. So although frustrating, it felt like we had lots more time to try and make a difference. One day down, who knows how many to go? It was at this examination that the midwife administered the prostaglandin gel - the next step after the pessary.

I had been wondering why they didn't just use the gel right away, why bother with a pessary first? The reason being is all risk-related. The gel is a lot stronger and once inserted it can't be removed, so if you react badly or things get a bit too intense, you're sort of stuck with it and would require some more serious medical intervention. With the pessary being on a string, if anything happened, they can take it out a lot easier.

This time, things moved along a lot more quickly. Contractions picked up again (whether it was the gel or just being nightfall, we will never know!) and I decided to do a lot more moving around to get things going. I bounced on a birthing ball provided by the hospital, walked the halls of the ward (albeit in a face mask) and found that circulating my hips helped to relieve the pain. Tom also hooked me up to a TENs machine which we'd bought from Amazon a few months before. It sends little electric pulses into your muscles and I found the sensation distracting enough to get to sleep.

At 4am on Sunday morning, I was to be examined by a doctor on the ward before they decided if I needed another dose of the gel (they can give up to 3 doses of the gel before they decide it hasn't worked). Now, call me old fashioned, but I felt a bit more uncomfortable with a male doctor performing this examination. Particularly as Tom was sat in the chair next to me the whole time 😂 I'm not sure any of us knew where to look and the midwife even asked me what I did for a job... ummmm can't think about that right now love. It was also much more painful this time. Nothing had been happening so I had my second dose of gel.

By 8am that morning, I felt like I was getting very regular contractions, we started to track them and they were a lot longer, more like 1 minute long and at least 3-4 every 10 minutes. I used some breathing techniques that I had learnt through the Positive Birth Company even if they weren't excruciating I figured it was good to start practising. At around 12.30pm, I was sat in bed and felt something pop in my abdomen, it wasn't painful and I didn't feel much else. I buzzed the midwife to tell her and she asked if I had any fluid 'down below' and I didn't so she decided it must have been nothing. She offered to get me some lunch so I scoffed that (cheese and onion quiche with mashed potato and tinned vegetables... YUM 😂). My contractions were pretty intense by this point so I was eating for survival and energy rather than anything else. At 2.30pm, I stood up out of the bed to go for a wee and there was somewhat of a gush. I actually thought I had wet myself initially but when I looked there was a bit of blood in clear liquid on the floor and on the bed sheets. And just like the movies, I looked at Tom and said "it's time" and started crying 😂 whilst he looked dead chuffed.

We buzzed for the midwife and she was delighted too. Since all of the hormone treatment (pessary and gels) had been to eventually have my waters broken medically, I was relieved they had broken on their own. And like all good cliches, the midwife said "Let's go and have a baby!" I was soooo excited! She went to call delivery suite to see if there was a room for me to labour in whilst Tom packed up our bags ready to move. They asked if I wanted to be wheeled down in the bed or in a wheelchair but I decided to walk... looking back I'm not sure why... but I felt like I wanted to be on my feet. I waddled all the way to the lift and even had to stop for a contraction and breathe through it in the hallway.

We arrived on central delivery suite and were shown to our room. A very surreal feeling looking around and realising this is where Freddie was going to be born. It looked clinical for obvious reasons, very different to the midwife-led unit that I had listed in my birth preferences and not a water bath in sight for me to birth in. I quickly made my peace with it given the contractions were starting to take over. I remember we had some really big windows overlooking the back of the hospital onto a residential street of Bristol and I remember seeing some people on their daily walk and thinking how strange it was that they were out there for a walk and I was in here about to have a baby...

I was examined by Sharon - our midwife for the evening until 8pm when there would be a shift change who was accompanied by a student called Zoya. I was 3cm dilated at around 5.30pm which wasn't great considering the pain and I was quickly hooked up to an Oxytocin drip. Oxytocin is designed to move labour along much faster and to stimulate much stronger contractions. They start with a small dose and are able to crank it up or down as labour progresses. After 2 attempts to insert a cannula into my right hand, an anaesthetist was called 'to do it properly' in my left hand 🙄. I wanted to do as much as I could to get things moving myself so I tried different positions for the contractions, birthing ball, leaning over the bed and even scrummaging into Tom's chest with my head causing him to almost fall off his stool! It was at this time that I asked for some pain relief and was hooked up with some gas and air. It took me a while to get the hang of it, taking a big breath just before the contraction started rather than waiting for it for it to begin and remembering to take a deep breath inwards rather than deep breaths out. It sort of made me feel slightly woozy but I didn't really feel like it was helping with the pain or the pressure that I could feel.

It got to 7.30pm and I was in agony. For me, the pain can only be described as immense pressure. It felt like I needed to go for the biggest poo of my life, so much so, I was convinced that Freddie was going to be born through my asshole, not vaginally. It felt like I hadn't pooed for about 2 weeks and the whole world was going to fall out of my bum. I had started to beg for something stronger. Anything to take the pain away please! I remember my concern being that if things were going to take a while I didn't have the stamina to last through the night. I was already exhausted and doubting my own strength and capabilities. I asked for an epidural, I think I even asked Sharon to just take the baby out now! Sharon was a bit confused. She had expected me to be in labour for some time and I think because her shift was finishing at 8pm, she was pretty relaxed about the whole thing. She even said to Tom: "I don't want to tell her but she's not even in labour yet..."

I am so relieved Tom was there to fight my corner. They had planned to examine me again at 9pm but he asked Sharon to do it now (at 7.30pm) just to check the progress. Even if it was a centimetre or two, it might just give me the mental boost I needed to get through. She reluctantly agreed. But we're all glad that she did!

"Oh, you're 10cm dilated and I can feel the baby's head." THANKS SHAZZA! She then had to explain to me that it was too late for an epidural and it was time to push. She even said that she might be there to see baby being born before her shift ended. What the actual fuck??? I was so frustrated at this point, I couldn't get the epidural that I so desperately wanted at this point, especially as Sharon had previously told me it would make everything go numb and all of the pain would disappear. But I was also equally excited that it had progressed so quickly and that I might be meeting baby soon.

No offence to Sharon, but her relaxed attitude so far actually made me feel quite uneasy. She seemed laid back and I wanted someone to take control of the situation. Luckily, the shift change at 8pm brought about the most amazing midwife called Sara who INSTANTLY made me feel safe, secure and like she knew exactly what she was doing. She walked in, had a handover with Sharon, introduced herself to myself and Tom, started prepping the room for baby's arrival and then set about helping me labour and trying to push. She had all the techniques up her sleeve, helping me change position to find something effective and comfortable and even basic assistance like making me pull on a towel with every push whilst she held the other end. She was full of motivational encouragement like reminding me that when I feel I'm at breaking point, just give it 2-3 more seconds and that's when baby will start to appear.

By this point, I feel like it's important to acknowledge that I had no pain relief... I had ditched the gas and air and literally thrown the mouth piece across the room declaring it ineffective and just getting in the way of me concentrating on pushing. Sara later told me she was amazed, she kept telling me how strong I was and that my body was made for doing it. I bloody love Sara!

They has inserted a small pin into the top of Freddie's head so they could monitor his heartbeat now that his head was crowning and honestly it was the best and worst thing about pushing! With every push, I looked down between my legs and could see the little pin gradually moving outwards down the bed and then my contraction would end and I would see it move slowly back inwards. It really did not do much for motivation!! But at least I could see it. Sara reminded me that with every push, things were moving along nicely and that baby wasn't going too far back inside - every push was progress.

It got to 9.30pm (so 2 hours of pushing) and another midwife entered the room as they felt baby was going to be born with any one of the next contractions. It was here that things got serious. They were determined to get baby here quickly and his head was now firmly sat between my legs which was causing some distress so he had to come out now. With every push, I felt pure exhaustion - all breathing went out of the window and I was basically straining and holding my breath to get him to come out. I was even falling asleep between contractions and had to be roused by everyone to keep going. At this point they were even telling me to push between contractions just to get things moving.

Sara suggested they might need to make a small cut to help get the baby out as it was clear I was struggling (this is called an episiotomy). She gave me a local anaesthetic injection which I didn't feel at all and I saw her pick up the tool to make the incision and it was like that was all I needed to get Freddie to arrive! I gave the biggest, most almighty push of my life and his head was born and it felt just like the relief you get after a big poo! Another big push and the rest of his body came out and I'm pretty sure I fell asleep instantly (9.56pm). I remember Tom's massive gasp and his pure joy as he screamed 'Freddie's here!' and apparently I exclaimed 'I've got a baby' which I don't remember saying. They gave Freddie a wipe down and popped him on my chest for skin-to-skin and it was the most surreal feeling in the world. I can't say I felt intense love or an overwhelming sense of emotion. It was more complete bewilderment that I had managed to get him here safely and I think a little bit of shock too. It probably took me a good 20 minutes for the emotions to take over and the admiration and support from Tom that brought along the tears and the 'Oh my god, I'm a mummy' feels.

I then had to birth the placenta. I was offered the injection to speed things along which I gladly accepted. I was totally done and just wanted everything to be over. I had a jab in my thigh, quickly followed by Sara tugging on the cord to release the placenta. She asked if I wanted to see it and I politely declined but did manage to see her lift it and drop it into a bucket anyway! Tom said it was loads bigger than he thought too.

It was then at this time that Sara started to get to work on the stitches. I may have escaped an episiotomy but I still had a 2nd degree tear and a graze on my labia. I promise you 100% that I didn't feel it at all, I had around 3 injections to numb the area for stitches but didn't feel a thing. I could only feel the slight tug as the stitches were pulled tighter. There was too much relief that the pressure and the pain had left my body for me to care about anything else that happened from this point. Someone could have shot me in the leg and I swear I wouldn't have felt it. This time allowed Tom to have his own skin-to-skin time too which honestly was the most wondrous thing I have ever seen. My husband, finally a father and relishing every second.

The second midwife then took Freddie to weigh him and put on some clothes. Confirming he was 6lb 7oz. A respectable weight given he was a couple of weeks early.

We were then left alone as a family of 3 temporarily whilst paperwork was filled in. Both just in total awe of this new human that we had to protect from the world. Tom gave me a card exclaiming how proud he was of me and thanking me for everything I had put my body through with IVF and throughout the pregnancy and it was really all I needed to hear. We spent the next hour or so in total disbelief that this had happened to us.

Finally, I was offered a bath or shower. I accepted a bath in our little en-suite. Just plain water. It felt amazing. I wanted to stay there forever but also desperate to get back to my boys. I had some minor blood loss, all totally normal. The beginnings of the 6 week bleeding period. My body making up for the fact that it hadn't had a period for almost 9 months! Sara said I had lost half a litre of blood during the birth which was normal, but to keep an eye on things over the next few days, particularly with the stitches.

It was at this point that Tom had to leave. He wasn't allowed to come back with Freddie and I onto the ward and it was the worst part of our whole experience. We were finally a family, a team of 3 and one of our musketeers had to leave. It was completely emotional and all consuming. I was bundled into a wheelchair with Freddie and our bags, whilst Tom followed us out but headed for the exit and not to accompany us back to the ward. His natural protector instincts not even allowed to come to fruition. It was around 12.30am when he left and he wasn't able to return until visiting hours later that day starting at 3pm. Brutal.

I didn't sleep a wink on the ward, I stayed up all night watching Freddie, he slept so peacefully. I had already managed my first breast feed in the delivery suite and was offered so much help and support from the nurses and midwives on the ward that I honestly think it wouldn't be going as well as it is now if it wasn't for them. Tom had managed to get home safely, high on adrenaline and slept until around 9am. He woke up to a barrage of messages and photos from me of my first night with Freddie. Most of which made no sense at the bewilderment of what had happened to us all. I then spent the morning on the phone to him, my family, watching Freddie, eating as much food as I could get my hands on and generally feeling on top of the world. All the while knowing I would crash as soon as we got home.

Tom came at 3pm on the dot, dressed in plastic gloves, an overall and face mask 🙄 but we were quickly discharged following all of Freddie's health checks, my blood test and my first wee after birth. This was it. The start of everything that we had wanted for so long, the start of our new lives together. The start of our family.

I can't and am not sure I will ever believe that we have made it. I write this with Freddie at almost 2 weeks old. My body still aches in places that I didn't know existed. My belly is a bit of a pot belly but I've managed to escape stretch marks, my pelvic floor is getting stronger everyday (haven't weed myself yet!), my stitches are almost healed and dissolved, my nipples don't know what's hit them and leak milk at the slightest touch, my skin is the result of hormone overload and I'm lucky if I get a chance to wash my hair every other day. But my heart... my heart is so full and it continues to swell with each day that passes.

I am all too aware at how lucky we have been to get pregnant with IVF from our first go. I am sure we are the envy of those who will try harder, longer and suffer losses. To those reading this in that situation, my thoughts are always with you.

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