I wanted to share the time leading up to, including and after Aurelia’s birth firstly because I’m like many other mums who wants to share their story, secondly because I want to express to others what a peaceful and beautiful experience it was and finally because I want to document it for myself. Those days, despite so much sadness, hold some of my most precious memories of my entire life.
I also want to share this story for other couples perhaps about to go through a similar experience. Often accounts of births like Aurelia’s come from America which can provide a very different birth experience including very different decisions on care of the mother and baby. This is why, for the more squeamish of you I go into detail at some points.
It feels like everything properly started on the day before we went into hospital, Monday the 18th. We spent much of the day in preparation- ensuring the hospital bags were packed, giving the house a good clean and tidy, making a labour playlist and other tasks. By late afternoon when all was ready we headed off with a our lovely lab, Lottie, for a walk in a place that’s become special to us in recent weeks for some final time as our family of four. After then dropping Lottie off on her holidays for a week, Gerard and I stopped for dinner at a lovely country pub. It’d been one of the hottest days of the year thus far, and we sat and toasted our little girl, reminiscing on all the happy memories of the pregnancy whilst watching the sun sleepily drop behind the surrounding trees. It was a perfect evening.
The next morning we headed off to Frimley Park hospital to begin my induction into labour, and were quickly ushered into the Rowan Suite. This suite became such a wonderful place of safety, comfort and care over the next few days. To explain, this suite was designed to be used specifically by couples like ourselves going through a late miscarriage, stillbirth or baby that is known will not, or is unlikely to, survive. It’s situated slightly off the labour ward meaning you’re away from all the “normal” births. It has three rooms- a clinical room for labour and delivery, an inter-joining bathroom and a very comfortable double bedroom. We had the run of these three rooms the whole time we were there and it was part of what we can only describe as five star care.
The first task however was to try and turn Aurelia from breech to head down through an ECV. After a quick scan by the consultant to check she still was breeched (and at which it was noted she is a real cutey with rosebud lips!), and a quick injection dans mon derriere, my ‘massage’ began. Because Aurelia’s head was sat so high it was very very difficult for the consultant to move her head and she had to try and use some force (indeed her fingernail marks remained imprinted on my tummy for a few days!). Whilst Aurelia’s bottom could be swung this way and that, she had clearly decided her head wasn’t for the budging (she gets her stubborness from her father’s side of the family!).
With the ECV unsuccessful we’d already decided we would continue with induction knowing it would result in a breech birth. So pessary inserted – the waiting began. We hung around the hospital for an hour or so just to check my body wasn’t really really happy to go into labour, which it wasn’t, and then went home for the afternoon and evening.
Returning home felt very surreal. I suppose it felt the calm before the storm. And whilst outside it was the hottest day of the year, we rested in our cool living room watching films and playing scrabble. By late evening I was starting to feel uncomfortable and have mild contractions, and then after a not so great nights sleep I eventually got up at 4.30. By 6.00 I had to shout for Gerard to come down, contractions were getting quite strong, and I was feeling an increasing sense of pressure with at one point even a sensation like I wanted to push. On reflection I think this sensation was simply due to Aurelia having dropped down after she’d been sat so high for so many weeks, but with breech births one of the risks is that you’ll feel the need to push before you’re dilated. So off we trotted back to hospital.
It turned out, whilst my body was responding, I was a lllllooooooong way off at this point. So the next step was to put in the gel. Initially my body responded beautifully. The contractions gradually increased in number and intensity and by shortly after lunch I was needing gas and air to get through the contractions. Up until then I’d been bouncing away on a birthing ball, but I suddenly lapsed in energy and decided to lie down for a bit. Unfortunately, this meant Aurelia’s bottom wasn’t pressing so hard down on my cervix and frustratingly the contractions quickly died out to almost nothing (A side note here- I felt very annoyed with myself after this for lying down but as the midwives pointed out my body also needed rest so other ladies please don’t feel if you’re exhausted and in a similar position you can’t stop for a rest!!!)
By mid-afternoon with nothing happening I was getting cabin fever and we asked my Dad, who was staying nearby, to pop round. We spent a lovely hour in the hospital’s Time Garden, a private garden for those going through bereavement or perhaps patients near to passing away, enjoying the evening sun, talking and chatting, and just enjoying the knowledge that Aurelia was close and near, still kicking away. This was after a second insertion of gel, but instead of getting closer to labour we seemed to be getting further away.
After a final insertion of gel at around 10pm nothing was happening so Gerard and I settled down in our room for a good night’s rest.
The following morning it was time for the last ditch attempt at getting my body into labour through putting me on a drip. There was a palpable sense of pessimism by all at this point that my body was going to get into labour. We’d come so far through this journey, and then we seemed to be getting ever closer to what we’d tried to avoid, a caesarean. After inserting the drip they had thought I’d probably need an epidural due to the intensity of the pain (contractions on the drip come on very quickly and intensely on this drip) within a couple of hours.
However my body was being stubborn, and whilst my body was regularly contracting four hours after the drip had gone in and I’d spent all that time either bouncing on my birthing ball (much to Gerard’s amusement who said I looking like I was riding a horse) or standing and swaying to encourage Aurelia to drop, they certainly weren’t painful. Furthermore an internal examination revealed whilst things were changing they hadn’t changed much. The midwife having discussed with the consultant how to proceed, we agreed to persevere on. I was still feeling determined.
By early evening I was on the gas and air but coping ok. Even though the contractions were painful, it somehow felt good. It felt like my body was doing something for Aurelia, and in a strange way I enjoyed this time.
Around 7ish our consultant came in at the end of her shift, by which time I was pumping pretty hard on the old laughing gas. She was pleased to see I was clearly progressing and she must have had some magic effect, as during the time she was in the room suddenly my body ramped it up a notch, and it became very clear I needed my epidural sharpish.
The anaethatist arrived super quick, and all I remember in waiting for her was Gerard getting me to look into his eyes when I was mid-contraction. He could see how tired I suddenly was and I was losing a bit of control, but he kept me so calm and I felt safe just knowing he was there.
The epidural seemed to be in in no time, and relatively painlessly, and oh me, oh my, as it kicked in- I hadn’t felt so comfortable in months!!! Suddenly all the contractions, the sore hips, the achey back were all gone and I could lay down in bed without spending 10 minutes jiffling about with pillows in order to get comfortable enough to settle.Hence much of the evening was then spent in an epidural bliss- letting my body do it’s work without me even feeling it (the best type of work in my view!).
Very late in the evening the consultant on call did come in to clairfy a few points. The first thing she set out was that Aurelia was very likely to be born, either natually or though caesarean section the next morning. Of course we knew this was coming (and had actually hoped labour had happened a bit quicker) but it seemed to add a bit of electricity to the air. Despite what we knew was going to happen we were finally going to get to see our little girls face and to hold her. I was excited.
To set the context here we’d decided as part of the birth plan to only very occasionally monitor Aurelia’s heartbeat. If she started to slip away we were going to let her and had opted we wouldn’t have an emergency c-section in these circumstances, so why keep bothering her with the monitor. During the induction process though we’d really not monitored her heart rate at all, and whilst I’d felt a few kicks occasionally that day we didn’t really know if she was still with us.
The consultant therefore encouraged us to maybe think about having a listen in, and to continue doing so every four hours up until she was born. Gerard’s concern at this point was if we knew she’d slipped away already how would that affect me labouring? Would it make it tougher for me? I felt it was better to know, and not have the shock at birth and instead just be able to enjoy those precious first moments of seeing her for the first time. So we agreed to listen in.
When we listened in it was around midnight. The room was quite dark, the hospital was quiet and as the midwife put the monitor on my tummy we were all very still. It was as if we’d all taken in a deep breath as it suddenly seemed so unlikely we were going to hear her heartbeat galloping away. But then after what seemed an era finding her heartbeat, there it was, at a healthy and strong 163 bpm. We all quietly smiled at this little girl defiantly fighting on, and clearly quite happy despite being squished away by my contractions. The midwife then asked if we’d ever recorded the sound of her heartbeat, which we hadn’t, so in the still of the night we recorded, what for me, is the most precious sound I have ever heard.
I cannot tell you how peaceful that room felt to me at that point and indeed the whole of the next day. After the midwife left, and Gerard moved to get some sleep in the other room, I put my phone to my belly to play a song to Aurelia called a Mother’s Prayer which has really become the soundtrack to the later stages of our pregnancy. As the song gently played I’d never felt as close to my little girl as I did then- she was on her way and still striving on to meet us.
It was also at this time I remembered a friend had text me the night before with a Bible reference which had come to her mind. What jumped out was the phrase God will protect her at the breaking of the dawn. It seemed like that promise was being made directly to us, she would be protected that morning, and indeed she was as my body kicked into labour at the breaking of the dawn.
At 4 the midwife came in to have a listen in to Aurelia’s heartbeat again. And after a quick (and friendly) telling off that I’d not got much sleep (I was too excited!!!), and waking up a very bleary eyed Gerard we listened in again to that beautiful heart. It also turned out by this point I’d had a ‘show’- finally a sign that my body was moving into labour.
It’s funny, both Gerard and I have reflected, that you can know someone for years and never form an emotional attachment to them, yet by the end of each shift with our various midwives, they somehow felt like old friends. I suppose they share in such an intimately special time with you, and indeed are so very gifted in their bedside manner, it’s hard not to feel like a special bond has been created. Indeed after listening in to Aurelia’s heartbeat and Gerard had stumbled back to bed, the midwife sat with me in that quiet, dark room and let me share Aurelia’s story. It was a precious moment to me.
Anyway at 7 it was time for my most favourite of things (not) with a quick internal examination, but finally some good news- I was in active labour! Hurrah! I cannot tell you how relieved we felt after all our perseverance.
At this point I get pretty mixed up on the time scale of things but after three days of being induced everything seemed to happen pretty quickly. The morning seemed to turn into a bit of a blur of waters breaking, being sick (sorry!) and being scanned- at which point we realised Aurelia had for once got into the best position possible in the context of a breeched birth anyway. I think it was about 10.30 in the morning however after the consultant realised my waters had broken, and about to do an internal when she suddenly realised Aurelia was well on her way with her foot suddenly being there for all to see! I think it was one of the strangest and most marvelous moments of our lives! Suddenly those tiny tipee toes were a reality to be seen.
It was decided at that point to just let my body’s contractions and Aurelia do as much work as possible for a few hours before we even thought about pushing. And indeed that worked beautifully. In the next few hours suddenly there was a leg, and then two legs and a bottom. During that time her little legs and feet often wiggled and waved letting us know she was perfectly happy and still very much with us.
Early afternoon, Gerard had been out to let parents know it was probably going to be a few hours before Aurelia made her full appearance, but on coming into the room suddenly everything started to happen. I promptly started to bring up everything I’d eaten and drunk that morning (again, sorry!) which helped Aurelia to swiftly come along as far as her chest which meant the midwives had to quickly get ready for the ‘finale’ as such. Now Call the Midwife fans might remember the way breeched babies are born which is that the bodies are wrapped up to keep them warm (so they don’t try and gasp for air due to the shock of cold air) and then their bodies are allowed to hang down as such to let gravity do some of the work at getting the head out which can be difficult as the last thing to come out. I thought this was an old technique but this is exactly what was done with Aurelia, and after a few pushes (and a quick snip) there she was at 1.23 pm after what the midwives later referred to as a textbook breech birth! After all that worry and concern she’d arrived with relatively few problems.
I think Gerard and I were in complete shock as to how quickly she had arrived, but she was swiftly moved onto my chest. I remember so many things going through my head at that point- a sense of bewilderment as to who/what this little thing was on my chest, a willingness that she’d make one little cry or take one little breath, a panic that I wouldn’t say all I’d planned to say to her whilst she was still alive.
She never did start to breathe, but we know, because the midwife listened into her heartbeat that she was alive when she was born. With her heartbeat growing gradually fainter Gerard and I simply told her how much we loved her again and again. Gerard cut her cord and she peacefully slipped away.
Yes we wanted more time with her, we’d wanted those couple of hours the consultant thought we MIGHT get. But on reflection she couldn’t have had a better death. She never struggled or suffered but simply fell asleep in her mummy and daddy’s arms.
The midwives then quickly got me decent as the hospital photographer was there ready to get some pictures of Gerard, Aurelia and I as a family. And here are some of them…
The story doesn’t end at this point as I want to tell you about how we said goodbye. This may sound morbid or strange, but the time we were then with Aurelia for the next day and a half were incredibly healing in the grief process. However at nearly 3000 words into a blog post I think that’s for another post. For now I hope you’ll look at those pictures and perhaps marvel at our beautiful daughter for a brief moment.