Ashleigh is a beautiful new mum to a gorgeous baby girl. She's a part of my 'village', and we were due date buds, although our experiences couldn't have been more different, really! Ashleigh's strength, love and commitment to her baby really shine through in her endurance through a long hard birth, to achieve a waterbirth.

We found out we were expecting baby number 1 just after getting back from our honeymoon in April last year...it was a big year! I had a fairly textbook pregnancy really, and I would go through it all again in a heartbeat, I don’t remember ever getting to the stage where I was significantly uncomfortable. I just loved being pregnant, having a baby bump and feeling her move. For us it all started with great bloods at 4 weeks (doctor shook my husband’s hand and said 'good job mate' haha), followed by a perfect dating scan at 7 weeks, a bit of spotting at 8 weeks but a follow up scan at 10 weeks came back just fine. Throughout the first trimester, I had mild nausea, but no vomiting. At 12 weeks the NT test came back low risk. At 15 weeks we found out we were expecting a little girl…cue the hardest task trying not to spill the beans on that one! Our 20 week scan took 2 efforts, due to a non-compliant baby, but that also came back perfect. Around this time, some friends found out they had lost their baby at 31 weeks, and as a result, the remainder of the pregnancy was filled with quite a bit of anxiety. At 31 weeks we had our first go on the CTG machine for reduced fetal movement Everything was fine, she was kicking my placenta (which was also anterior) so I couldn’t feel her moving. At 34 weeks we had another scare, and so we were sent for a precautionary scan, which came back perfect. At 35 weeks we went on our last pre-baby holiday, camping in the Blue Mountains (brave or stupid? You decide). In true to me form (accident prone), I slipped on gravel while we were camping, landing heavily on my hip and scored us a trip to the local hospital for more CTG monitoring. At 38 weeks we had another episode of reduced fetal movement. At this point the consulting doctor said if it happened again, they would likely encourage induction. But little Miss came of her own accord, just a week later.

On Friday the 29th November, I received a message from my student midwife asking if I had any indication that labour might be imminent. I replied stating no. I was getting the odd Braxton Hicks, and my lower back had been sore, but being a physio, I figured that was just musculoskeletal in origin due to late stage pregnancy. I was 39 weeks and 1 day, and dead certain that I would go overdue. At 11pm that night, my waters broke in bed, no warning at all. Within 5 minutes I started getting contractions. They lasted up to a minute, and were 2 minutes apart. We called the midwife and she encouraged us to try and get some rest, but the contractions were too painful, so I spent the night sitting on my fitball. By 7am, after 8hours of contractions every 2 minutes, we headed into the birth centre. The midwife started the bath straight away, but I was checked and was only 1cm and so we were sent on our way. This was incredibly disheartening. I remember feeling so despondent because even though the midwife reassured me that my cervix was doing all the right things – softening and effacing – the focus is on the number. And after hours of pain, I was sitting at a lousy 1. 

On the way home we stopped in at the chemist and picked up a TENS machine. I needed something because living in our shower was racking up an almighty water bill. I was convinced the TENS machine wasn’t working until it cut off mid contraction. It definitely helped! At 12pm we headed back in to the birth centre, where I was again checked, and again still sitting at a 1. Cue more disappointment. Whilst completing the internal assessment, the midwife also did a stretch and sweep. It was really unpleasant, and I would have appreciated some education around the process, and evidence of benefits first (let alone consent!). At this point we were told we could go home or we could elect to stay. The midwife was encouraging us to go home, but with a half hour drive one way, we didn’t want to keep going 'is it time yet.' And with my waters already broken, we were on a bit of a deadline. We spent the next 4 hours pacing the room, and use a double breast pump for 15 minutes every hour to try and encourage some progression. 

At 4pm I was checked again and was stoked to have made progress, but I was still only 3cm. The doctors stepped in at this point and said that in terms of infection risk, they really want baby born within 18 hours of waters breaking. Whilst I was progressing, it wasn’t quick enough. We were transferred over to the birth suite and started on Pitocin (the hormone drip for contractions). The midwife went home to get some rest before delivery, expecting it to take hours. We were quite happy as a lovely, young midwife took over. She kept the mood light and bright, and we all relaxed into the swing of things. Contractions ramped up quickly on the Pitocin and I soon maxed out the TENS machine. At this point, they switched us to remote CTG monitors and let me get in the tub. The warmth was amazing pain relief, and enabled me to work through contractions for quite some time. I don’t remember when, but at some point, she hooked up the gas. I didn’t think it helped but my husband said he could see my body visibly relax with each breath. Cold compresses and ice chips also felt like heaven on earth! 

At one point the midwife turned the Pitocin down a notch, because I was well and truly on my way and I was not getting a break between contractions. Not too long after I remember breaking down, and in hindsight, this must have been the start of transition. I asked for an epidural. And after stalling for a bit, the midwife checked me. I was 8-9cm. So close! One contraction later and I felt the urge to push. The midwife had me hold off pushing through that contraction, which was probably the hardest thing about labour – how do you stop something that’s involuntary?! 30 minutes of pushing, 2.5hrs after starting Pitocin, our beautiful girl was born. 

Initially on reflection, I was disappointed in my body. I felt like I didn’t cope with the pain to be admitted at 1cm, and my body failed to progress quick enough without the aid of synthetic drugs. But in reality, I really did have a pretty darn good labour and delivery. We had a water birth, with my husband in the tub cradling both of us, and I ultimately managed with just gas and air, with the end prize being a pink healthy and crying baby girl.

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