If there’s one word I would use to describe my birth experience, well, let’s just say it was a bit of a whirlwind to meet Miss Lana Say!
If you know me or have been following me for a while, you will have gathered that overall, I had a very healthy pregnancy. My due date was set to be the 16th of April, but as we know this is very much a guideline and only around 3–5% of women give birth on their actual due date.
Up until my due date the last midwife appointment I had was my 36-week ‘birth plan’ appointment. I should add here that birth partners had not been allowed at any midwife appointments at Chelsea & Westminster, though he had been allowed at both of my ultrasound appointments at 12 and 20 weeks. At the 36-week appointment I went through my birth plan with my midwife as well as going through the usual health checks — baby’s movements, measurement of my bump and the heartbeat of baby. I was recommended by many of my mum friends to label the birth plan as a ‘birth wish list’, as birth plans never go to, well, plan! I wasn’t wedded to my birth plan anyway, but what was important to me was to as much as possible have complete autonomy of my body and decisions made during the birth. A vaginal birth was top of my list and for that birth to take place in the birth centre. My mum had me via emergency c-section and she had quite a traumatic birth experience, so I was keen to make my experience as stress-free as possible. A caesarean was a last resort on my plan, mainly because I was keen on Lana adopting my gut microbiome via passing through the vaginal tract, which for obvious reasons does not happen in an abdominal birth. But I also believed in putting faith in the medical staff that ultimately when ‘push comes to shove’ (excuse the pun), whatever the best way to deliver Lana to us safely would be the way for her to enter the world.
At the end of the 36-week appointment I asked my midwife whether I would next be seen at the 38-week GP appointment, and she replied ‘no, we are not doing the GP 38-week appointments during COVID, so the next appointment you’ll have is on your due date unless baby makes an arrival before then.’ I found this to be slightly odd to not have any appointments between 36 and 40 weeks, and so did many of my pregnant and mum friends. I later found out that I actually should have had and requested to be seen regularly in the last few weeks of my pregnancy (technically you are ‘full term’ anywhere between 37 and 42 weeks).
In the weeks between 36 and 40 weeks I felt pretty good. Yes, my bump was getting bigger and bigger, sleeping was becoming very uncomfortable by this stage and my movements were becoming slower, but I was confident that baby was healthy as I was regularly feeling her wriggles and somersaults (clue for later) in my tummy. Never did I have a concern that anything was unusual or felt odd and so didn’t feel the need to call the midwives or GP.
My mum had arrived from Germany a week before baby’s due date to stay with us, which we were so looking forward to. She, too, was excited to be a grandmother for the first time and to welcome Lana into the world and spend the first weeks with her. So as planned, I went for my 40-week appointment at Chelsea & Westminster hospital. This time I saw a midwife I hadn’t seen previously. She asked me all the usual questions and then proceeded to measure my bump. She checked my records and tracked the bump measurement on the graph and noticed that the size had tailed off ever so slightly. She assured me that it might be down to human error and that this was the first time she had measured me (since I had had other midwives at the previous appointments). In any case she wanted to book me a growth scan on the following Monday, as well as book an induction at 41 weeks if I hadn’t gone into labour before then. I told her I was prepared to go to 42 weeks, but I agreed to the induction at 41 weeks to push things along if need be. I was now going into ‘overdue’ territory and baby was starting to feel very tight in my tummy.
Monday came and Ryan and I had just popped into Chiswick to run some errands before my ultrasound at 1pm at the hospital. I had packed my labour bags and placed them by the door a week prior just in case, and I thought it might be a good idea to do a ‘run-through’ of the hospital dash that day since we were driving in for the scan appointment. As we walked home to pick up the car and leave, I said to Ryan, ‘you know what? Let’s leave the bags at home. We won’t be long, and I don’t think anything’s going to happen today.’ I definitely jinxed it! As I said goodbye to my mum and she kissed my bump, I told her we’d be back in time for dinner. Little did I know that wasn’t going to be the case at all.
I went into the ultrasound room with Ryan and lay on the bed. The sonographer pulled up the screen for us and the first words that came out of her mouth were, ‘you do know that your baby is breech, yes?’. I think the first word that came out of my mouth was ‘what?!’. Ryan was speechless and looked understandably concerned. I said that I had absolutely no idea and was repeatedly told at every appointment that my baby was ‘head down’. The sonographer was surprised to hear I had not had any appointments to check the baby’s position between 36 and 40 weeks and all I could say was that I was under the impression there was never a cause for concern. With it being my first pregnancy, I ultimately didn’t know how to detect if anything was unusual or odd, and nor did I know what exact appointments I was entitled to or what was deemed a ‘normal’ number of appointments to have! All I knew was that I trusted what the midwives had said at each appointment, I felt healthy, and my baby’s movements were very normal for me.
This is when things started to get slightly more worrying. The sonographer stated that because I was overdue by this point (40+3 days), that we would need to get the baby out sooner rather than later, and most likely via c-section. She escorted us up to the maternity assessment ward where I waited to be seen by one of the senior midwives who would explain the course of action from that point. I remember waiting in the waiting room and texting my parents and my friends and thinking to myself, ‘I should have packed those damn labour bags!!’.
The senior midwife took us into one of the birth centre rooms and it was at this point I looked at the lush birth ‘spa room’ before us and knew immediately I wouldn’t be getting the birth I wanted. But it was also at this point I just wanted to know what the hell was about to happen over the next 24 hours.
The midwife was very empathetic and aware of how apprehensive we were about our situation. She explained all the options before us — the first option being an ECV. An external cephalic version, or ECV, is a manoeuvre your doctor may use when your baby is breech (set up to come out bottom first or feet first). With an ECV, your doctor turns the baby into a headfirst, or cephalic, position toward the opening of the birth canal.
If the ECV failed we were looking at two further options — either a caesarean birth or if I wished to have a vaginal birth, I would go home and wait to go into labour naturally. Of course, as with everything, there are pros and cons to both of these methods. There are risks to both baby and mother, but it seemed as though the caesarean option would be the safest and most straightforward option to deliver Lana.
I was taken to the labour ward where I was hooked up to a monitor to check on the baby’s heart rate whilst I waited for the senior midwife to arrive and attempt the ECV. I was told that it was lucky I was in the hospital on the Monday as the senior midwife, Laura, that performs the ECVs on the ward has a high success record in turning babies. I was feeling hopeful but knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task and consequently very uncomfortable for me.
Once Laura arrived, she checked on the ultrasound to confirm that Lana was indeed breech. What was also interesting to see was Lana’s leg positioning; her legs were up by her head and her bottom was firmly lodged into my pelvis. I realised then that it had in fact been her feet and legs I had been feeling at the top of my bump, but what I thought was her head at the base of my bump was actually her bottom I was communicating with for a few weeks!
I was given a muscle relaxant through an IV to relax my uterus and the muscles in my shoulders. My bump was slowly reduced to a sponge-like jelly at the surface and Ryan witnessing this said he had never seen something so strange in his life! My bump definitely felt very weird to touch. It was at this point that Laura asked me to take a deep breath in and then fully exhale as she proceeded to press down into my pelvis to try and scoop Lana’s bottom out. The first time proved to be unsuccessful, so Laura told me she would wait another 10 minutes before calling her colleague to give it one last go. Second attempt was unsuccessful, too. There simply was no space for Lana to move easily and this was due to there being only small gaps of amniotic fluid left in the womb because I was now overdue. Laura said if I had come to her a few weeks prior she would have more easily been able to move Lana around.
Laura was also surprised that I had not been seen at any point in the last 4 weeks and that Lana would have turned during that time. She also mentioned that I was meant to have the 38-week GP appointment, as all GPs are paid to provide that appointment during a woman’s pregnancy. As much as I was beginning to feel slightly frustrated by these failings within the NHS system, we were too late in the day to dwell on them, so I made peace with the fact we were where we were and moved on to what the next steps would be.
An Obstetrician came in an hour later to explain our options from there on in. He explained that we still had the two main options — a caesarean or a vaginal breech birth. Ultimately the decision was ours, but we could tell that in our case the favoured option was obvious — it was going to be a caesarean. I remember thinking to myself that I was about to take the same birth trajectory as my mother, albeit the difference being mine wasn’t an emergency and was booked for the following morning!
Ryan had to leave late that evening since COVID rules disallowed him to stay out of visitor hours. Remember those labour bags I said we shouldn’t pack in the car that day? Ryan had to drive home to get them and bring them back to the hospital that night as I was staying in the labour ward overnight.
That night I barely slept. The ward I was in wasn’t very busy, but there was a poor lady opposite me who was already experiencing early contractions and was in so much pain overnight. I offered her some comfort in the form of a friendly chat and an energy drink! We both weren’t getting much rest anyway, as we could hear the distant cries of babies having just been born down the hall as well as the ghostly shrieks of other mums in labour.
Morning came on Tuesday the 20th of April and Ryan arrived around 7.30am. He hadn’t slept either, understandably. We both felt a mixture of apprehension and excitement of meeting our baby girl that morning!
At around 10.30am I was wheeled into the operating theatre where suddenly everything became very real. I was assured by the obstetrician and anaesthetist involved that they would grant me as much of my original birth plan as they could, which I appreciated. As much as the environment was very different to what I had hoped — bright lights, very clinical, all the medical equipment and hooked up to machines — I knew I was in very safe hands judging by how many medical staff were in the room!
First on the menu was an IV to receive medicine and fluids. I then had a catheter (a thin tube) put into place to keep my bladder empty during the surgery. Next was the epidural, which was administered by the anaesthetist. Most women who have planned C-sections get local anaesthesia, either an epidural or a spinal block. This will numb you from the waist down, so you won’t feel any pain. I have to say, the sensation in my legs as the anaesthetic started to take effect was very strange!
I was then lifted and placed on the operating table where a curtain screen was positioned across my waist. Ryan was sitting by the side of my head holding my hand as the incision was made and we were getting ever closer to meeting our baby girl!
At this point I forgot about the birth playlist that I had carefully curated a month before, totalling around 3.5 hours in length! We couldn’t connect to the hospital bluetooth, so Ryan started playing it from his phone. Hilariously we got through exactly two and a half songs, before the Obstetrician announced that Lana had entered the world not only doing a wee but a poo at the same time! What a lady!
Other than the playlist I had no other way of gauging how much time had passed by this point. As much as the anaesthetic had numbed the pain of the operation, there was quite a lot of pressure in my abdomen from the tugging and pulling of Lana in the womb. I genuinely thought we had another 10 minutes before she was fully out of my tummy, but before I knew it the curtain was pulled down and we were introduced to Miss Lana. It almost felt like the finale of a musical show as I reached out to touch her hand and was suddenly overcome with emotion.
A side point here: you don’t really have any preconceptions of what your baby will look like, although bit of parenting folklore holds that babies tend to look more like their fathers than their mothers. Apparently human evolution showed children to resemble their fathers, at least early on, as a way of confirming paternity. Though when Lana was held up over the curtain, both Ryan and I admitted to each other later on that we thought Lana didn’t look like either of us, haha!
It was around this time that Lana was brought over to the side table across the room for Ryan to cut the umbilical cord as we had requested on my birth plan. Ryan recalls this as physically being quite a tough thing to cut through, although he said it was just nerves at the time and being cautious of whether he was doing it right or not! Following this Lana was passed back to me for immediate skin-to-skin. Ryan and I had to wear masks up until this point, but it was a relief to be able to take them off so that I could give Lana a kiss and properly look at her. We were completely in love.
That evening I spent the first night alone with Lana in the hospital ward. COVID rules did not allow partners to stay overnight past 7.30pm. Crazy, I know. Looking back now, that was probably one of the most daunting nights of my entire life. I was fuelled by a mixture of emotions — tiredness, pain, adrenalin, joy, love — but had no idea how to look after a newborn! Luckily the midwifery staff were very supportive throughout the night and once Lana fell into some deep sleeps, I’d just find myself staring at her lovingly. Suffice to say I didn’t get much sleep that night!
If you’ve followed my story for a while, or have read my fertility story prior to this, the safe delivery of our baby girl was the biggest priority for us. It may not have been the birth I wanted, but I would have gone through it all again (including the relatively long recovery ahead of me) for the safe delivery of our little Lana.
Huge thanks go out to the extremely professional and compassionate Labour Ward staff at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.
Miss Lana King Say. Born 20.04.21 at 11.17am and a healthy 3.38kgs.
Well, those of you who may have guessed the link to one of our favourite singers, yes, she is in part named after Lana Del Rey (Lana Del Say?). We chose the name at 12 weeks and it pretty much stuck as we kept on referring to her as Lana. Keeping that a secret for so long was super hard! Lana also has Gaelic origins, meaning ‘little rock’ and Hawaiian origins meaning ‘calm as still waters’.
Why ‘King’ for a middle name?
‘King’ is a fitting tribute to Ryan’s mother Jan King, who we sadly lost to cancer in 2016. It is also a tribute to Ryan’s grandpa, Charles King, who is 92 years old and Lana’s great grandpa.