Siobhán McGonigle, founder of the village, has three boys, all born in Belgium. This is story of Eamon, her first son, born in September 2007.
Were you having your baby when you expected? If not, was it earlier or later than your estimated due date? How did the timing affect your feelings leading up to the day? Were you more than ready to meet your baby, or did the whole event take you by surprise?
Eamon was due on Tuesday 11 September, but as the date approached, there was no sign of much movement. I was doing my best to keep as active as possible, walking lots, in the hope that he would come by himself and that I wouldn’t have to be induced. But we’d fixed the date of Thursday 20 September in case he hadn’t come before.
I wasn’t exactly feeling confident about my body’s ability to safely birth a baby – I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome which made it difficult to get pregnant; before this pregnancy I’d had an early miscarriage; I’d had a nerve-wracking amniocentesis at 16 weeks to rule out Down Syndrome after concerning blood test results at 12 weeks – so I was doing my best to keep busy and not think about it too much.
By the time the induction date came around, I started to feel a sense of relief that someone would at least have control over how and when my labour would start. I was just so eager to meet my baby, that it didn’t bother me anymore that he wouldn’t come in his own time.
How did the birth unfold?
My (then) husband and I arrived at the hospital at 08:00, and announced ourselves at the entrance to the labour ward. We were promptly shown into an examination room, where, once I’d changed into the hospital gown, the midwife performed an internal exam, then a pubic shave and finally gave me the little tube that was to be my self-administered enema.
I accepted these procedures without question or concern, as I did felt comfortable with both. Once the enema had taken effect, the midwife came back and placed the IV line – as I had tested positive for Group B Strep towards the end of the pregnancy, I was receiving both antibiotics and syntocinon.
For the first two hours or so, I wasn’t having any (recognisable) contractions, though the cardiotocograph (CTG) was showing some small ones. And so, the midwife would increase the dosage from time to time until they were happy with how the drug was working.
I was keen to keep walking up and down the corridor or moving on the birth ball as much as possible to help dilatation, and next time they checked dilation, I’d gone from just under 3cm to 5cm. Soon after, the contractions started to pick up and I really had to focus to get through them, either squatting or leaning over and holding onto the railings in the corridor.
I have trouble remembering the sequence of events around when my waters broke and when they measured and found I was at 7cm – I remember that we were told it was time to move me to the delivery room, and also vaguely remember someone asking me if I wanted them to call my physiotherapist yet, and me saying I thought it was surely too early (though looking back I was already quite far and in a lot of pain then).
I’m guessing that my physiotherapist must have arrived around 14:00. Though at one point, I’d been unsure if I wanted her there for the birth, I was very grateful to have her there as she immediately helped me find good positions to labour in, and knew just where to massage or apply pressure.
In the middle of a heavy contraction I remember looking up from my squat to see my own gynaecologist … which I took as a sign that the end was in sight. A few big contractions later, they measured me again and found I was fully dilated. The only problem with dilating fast was that Eamon was still quite ‘high’ so still had a fair but of work to make his way through the birth canal.
At one point, my physiotherapist and gynaecologist asked what position I wanted to be in to push, and, despite my initial plans to stay upright, I suddenly decided I wanted to be on my back with my legs in stirrups.
As my physiotherapist warned me, my contractions were getting weaker in that position, so they had to increase the dose of syntocinon to keep up the momentum. I have no idea how long I ended up pushing for, but I remember hearing the encouragement and advice of my physiotherapist, gynaecologist and the midwife present.
Although they were giving great advice with each contraction, I still ended up pushing ‘badly’, and could almost feel my eyes popping out of my head. Then someone asked if I wanted to see Eamon’s head crowning in a mirror and though I said I didn’t (no idea why I didn’t), they showed me anyway.
On the next push (or perhaps the one after), they took my hands and got me to feel Eamon’s head, and with the next one, I had a warm, slippery, squirming baby in my hands. They helped me bring him up onto my chest, and I think they gave my husband the choice of cutting the cord. He refused. After all the excitement of the birth, Eamon released meconium all over my belly once they put him on my chest.
We stayed in the delivery room for about an hour after the birth, with Eamon skin-to-skin on my chest. He tried to suckle a little, but our first attempt at breastfeeding didn’t amount to much.
Overall, was your birth experience different from what you imagined it to be? If yes, how was it different?
From about half-way through the pregnancy, I was adamant that I wouldn’t have an epidural, but this was more a result of my being stubborn than any deep-seated belief in my own body’s ability to do it without one.
My physiotherapist had also pointed out, during a birth preparation class, that when a mother receives such pain relief, the baby does not benefit from the mothers natural endorphins, and so I didn’t want my baby to experience any pain that I wasn’t prepared to experience. And I stuck to my guns on that!
One thing that was different to how I imagined was my wish to have music during active labour. I’d created a rather upbeat soundtrack, with the kind of songs more suited to a 20km run. And actually, in the intensity of active labour the music was really bothering me, but no-one in the room but me actually knew how to turn down the speaker, and with short gaps between contractions I wasn’t able to turn it off.
Had you done anything to prepare for labour and birth, e.g. prenatal classes, yoga, hypnobirthing, doula support? If yes, what did you do? Do you think it helped? Looking back, would you have made any different decisions about your care or birth preparation?
Apart from my prenatal physiotherapy classes from about six months onwards, I didn’t do any other preparation. I would have like to have done prenatal classes with the BCT but my husband wasn’t confident enough of his English to do such a class in English.
And I didn’t feel confortable enough in French to do something similar in French. So apart from one group session where my physio showed some massage techniques to partners, we didn’t do any joint preparation.
I think it would have helped to have talked more about what we were both expecting from the experience and from each other.
I also wish that I had read more birth stories. I saw that with my later pregnancies that it really helped me to have read about other people’s experiences, both the good and the less good. People often think that pregnant women shouldn’t hear ‘real’ birth stories, but actually, the unknown can be a lot scarier than hearing how a labouring mother coped with a difficult birth, or how health care professionals reacted etc.
How were the first hours and days after your baby’s birth?
Eamon was born around 16:00 and we were back in our room at about 17:30. We had both sets of grandparents come to visit us in hospital that same evening. Looking back, I didn’t feel up to having visitors, but I didn’t have the heart to ask them to wait until the next day, especially my own parents who were about to meet their first grandchild.
Eamon’s first night was not good. He hadn’t fed well since the birth, and was extremely agitated. Some time in the early hours of the morning, nurses took his temperature, and found it to be worryingly high. Although I had had antibiotics during labour to prevent Eamon catching the Group B strep infection from me, they worried that he could be infected and sure enough, results of a blood test quickly showed that this was indeed the case. So he was whisked off to NICU, where he stayed for a few days.
How would you describe your recovery? What support did you have during the first weeks after the birth? Is there anything you wish you had done differently / known about the early weeks?
I definitely wasn’t prepared for the bleeding after the birth – there’s where prenatal classes would surely have helped!! I remember being very scared to see clots of blood the day after the birth, and the nurses reassuring me that it was normal.
Once home, I had my parents come to visit every day for a few days – they’d come over from Ireland, but as Eamon was ten days late, they didn’t have much time to be with us after his birth.
My husband was self-employed, but managed to be quite present in the early weeks, so I felt well supported.
How was your experience of feeding your baby? Did you breastfeed? If yes, did you have the support you needed to get breastfeeding well established?
Because Eamon was in NICU for a few days after his birth, our breastfeeding relationship got off to a rocky start.
During that time – when I would go to the NICU every two hours or so, or more often if they called me because he was awakes – the neonatal nurses gave me a tremendous amount of support to properly initiate breastfeeding and encouraged me to express what little milk I had, especially after ‘feeds’ when Eamon didn’t appear to have taken much.
Eamon also had to battle against a short frenulum (i.e. ‘tongue-tie’), which the hospital paediatrician was reluctant to cut. In hindsight, I wish I had sought a second opinion about the tongue-tie, as it took us a long time to establish good breastfeeding, partly (I believe) due to this.
Once discharged from hospital, our breastfeeding journey continued well until Eamon was about six weeks old. At the point, I had a violent vomiting bug, and couldn’t keep any food or fluids down. I saw my milk supply plummet and was distraught to let my husband give Eamon his first bottle of formula milk. Determined not to give up, I contacted the BCT breastfeeding counsellors, who provided wonderful support and advice, and within days, Eamon was back to (almost) exclusive breastfeeding.