I've been writing this in bits off and on ever since the Sweetpea was born and I should really finish it.
It's hard to know quite when to start because unlike my labour with the Peanut (which started at 5am on the day he was born) I had a few false starts with Sweetpea. They tell you that first children are often a bit late, and second children are often earlier. So I thought that the Sweetpea might be born closer to her due date than the Peanut was. He was eleven days late, so I was fairly calm as the due date approached and passed. She was breech up until about a week before my due date, so I'd been stressing a bit about that, and was just hoping she'd stay nicely in position.
A few days after my due date, I got a strong feeling that it wouldn't be long. It's hard to say why, now, because I wasn't having much in the way of Braxton Hicks contractions, unlike with the Peanut. I just thought she would probably turn up that weekend. I evidently carried conviction, because my poor in-laws decided to come up to see me that weekend (by then I was about a week over the date). Nothing happened.
Over the course of the next week, I had to go to see the midwife about booking an induction. For reasons which are more or less superstitious, I really did not want to have labour induced. My mother had an induction when I was born and subsequently had difficulty getting me to breastfeed (she never did succeed). I have heard various anecdotes about induced babies being harder to breastfeed, and also about induction causing long hard labours, and although this is not exactly scientific evidence it's enough to make me less than keen on the idea. Also I didn't relish the idea of being away from the Peanut for extra days in hospital while the induction got going.
I had come within one day of being induced with the Peanut, and had been told then that if I changed my mind at the last minute, that was fine; they wouldn't make me go through with it if the baby was still OK in there. This time around, for some reason, I got a midwife who clearly couldn't fathom why anyone who was nine and a half months pregnant wouldn't want the baby out of there ASAP, and she took the line that although they couldn't make me, she thought that the medical advice would be strongly in favour of going ahead with the induction. This threw me for a loop a bit. I did have a stretch and sweep at the doctor's office, but it didn't have any noticeable effect.
So I hung on for another week. The induction was booked for Sunday morning. I had to go to the hospital on Friday to get a pre-induction assessment (the clinic isn't open on Saturdays) and the midwife there did another stretch and sweep, and that was quite evidently more effective. By the time I got up to go home again, I was starting to feel labour pains. They weren't very strong or frequent, but they kept coming. I spent quite a bit of the rest of the day on the sofa or on my birth ball.
On Saturday, the pains continued to come, but still not very strong or very frequent. They weren't close enough together to make it worth timing them. When the Peanut was born, we called my mum quite soon and she spent the whole day with us, and she and J timed all the contractions, which was possibly a wasted effort since they never did become regular (just eventually intense enough that it was clear I should go in). This time, they stayed fairly faint, and we didn't call for the cavalry, though after a while I did get the TENS machine going. In the evening I decided to have a shower... and standing in the bath, with no TENS, the pains rapidly got going. I almost wondered whether we were going to have an inadvertent homebirth. So as soon as I got out, we called my parents and they came over to babysit, and J and I headed over to the hospital.
We were in the fancy new birthing centre this time, and I don't know whether we were lucky or what, but we didn't have to wait long at all for a room (last time we spent a considerable time waiting to be assessed and then to be moved to a room - or perhaps it only felt like it!) The rooms are set up to be less like a hospital ward and more welcoming. It's a little like a spa or a hairdressing salon or something, since the floors are vinyl and everything has to be easy to clean, but it is more comfortable. There's a bed, but other labour options are more to the fore and I had a room with a pool; while it filled, I sat on a sort of chaise longue thing. We had the same midwife throughout and she was very nice and friendly; I don't know whether labour was really easier this time, but I have a feeling that I talked a lot more.
The birthing pool was WONDERFUL. I have spoken to a lot of people (hi, Mum) who do not feel that birthing pools are an appealing option, but it was great for me. One of the hardest things about the Peanut's labour was that I got very tired physically, supporting myself to be able to labour. I had back pain and it was hard to find a comfortable position to stay in, but it hurt to move very much. The water really helped with that, and besides, it's warm and soothing - like a warm bath, only you can be in it right up to your neck, and it's easy to change position in the water and keep your body more vertical without getting so tired. I did take gas and air (as with the Peanut) but I didn't feel the need for any other pain relief.
I was in the hospital for maybe about an hour when I started to get the feeling I wanted to push, and my water broke at this stage (I have absolutely no idea when the Peanut's water broke, except that at some point it must have done). Weird feeling. Then the Sweetpea was born in three pushes, underwater. Her head was out after the second one, when I had a pause, which was very weird; I put my hand on her head and could feel her hair drifting around in the water, but she didn't need to breathe yet. Then she was properly out and I caught her, and she came to the surface and the cord was cut.
The Sweetpea disapproved of being born, or possibly just disapproved of having to get out of the water, because she yelled at the top of her voice for her first hour of life. She was scarlet and very loud. She was also the biggest baby in the birthing unit at the time, at nine pounds and eight ounces. We were told that she must have been in a really good position, possibly thanks to the water, since she was born with so little pushing and I didn't even have any tearing. I did, however, have a bit of difficulty delivering the placenta and had to have an injection to help the bleeding stop, but it was fine after a short while. Meanwhile the Sweetpea took to milk like a natural.
We were in the hospital only overnight, and then we got to come home, much to my relief.