My Birth Story - a baby in a hospital bed
A Christian Life

My Birth Story: Balloon Induction and Hospital Birth during Covid-19

Today’s blog post is a little different to usual, because I want to share my birth story. When I was pregnant, and especially when I learnt that my birth would likely look a little different than I had expected, I spent a lot of time looking at other people’s birth stories. Hearing other people’s experiences helped me to know a little of what to expect but also to appreciate the great variety in what childbirth might look like.

I hope that this story can help other people in the same way, or if nothing else that some of you find it interesting to read about! My birth wasn’t straightforward, although the main complications came after birth. So, I am also putting together a post-partum recovery story, to share all the ups and downs of that experience too. Look out for that coming soon!

My Pregnancy

My pregnancy overall was straightforward. Especially for the first two trimesters. I dealt with a whole lot of heartburn, but I was lucky enough to avoid morning sickness. From 23 weeks I also had bad pelvic girdle pain. You can hear more about my first and second trimesters in these update videos I filmed during my pregnancy.

Third Trimester

My third trimester was a little more complicated: I ended up in hospital for monitoring after experiencing reduced movements. I then consequently spent a night as an inpatient after my ECG resulted in the doctors wanting to do some extra checks on my heart. An echocardiogram and a consultation with the cardiologist later, I was discharged. It turns out my heart was a bit odd, but not in a problematic way. I also had low iron that wasn’t improved with tablets, so I had to have an infusion.

36 weeks

Then, at my 36-week midwife appointment, my midwife measured my bump and found that it hadn’t grown since my last appointment 2 weeks before. She had been measuring a little small for a few weeks, but this was a significant slowing in growth, so I was booked in for an ultrasound the same day. At this appointment I was told that my baby was indeed measuring small, particularly around the abdomen. I was booked in for a follow-up scan two weeks later, and told to keep a careful eye on baby’s movements and come back to the hospital if they changed.

Those two weeks were uneventful thankfully. I spent a lot of time thinking about whether my baby was moving enough but joyfully they kept up their wiggling just enough to keep me calm. I also had plenty to keep me busy making sure everything was tied up at work and home in case baby needed to come early.

38 weeks

So, when the next scan rolled around, I wasn’t feeling too worried. I was over 38 weeks pregnant already so she could be born anytime now anyway. Her continued movements also made me confident that there weren’t any major problems.

This scan told me that my baby had grown a little bit, although not a lot. But their abdomen circumference was now measuring below the 5th percentile. The more surprising issue, however, was that there had been a slight drop in my amniotic fluid. When I spoke with the doctor, she felt that I needed to have my baby before my due date. She told me my options:

  • Balloon induction
  • Pessary induction
  • Elective C-section
  • Simply waiting for baby to come naturally

Based on her advice I opted to have the balloon induction as this mechanical option would see my contractions build more gradually that the hormonal alternative. This would put less stress on my baby particularly as they were still very small. Due to the drop in fluid, the consultant wanted this to happen in the next 48 hours. So this was booked for just two days’ time.

We spent our one-day notice rushing around getting everything set up and ready, making sure everything was packed in the hospital bag. I submitted my assignment for my course a few days earlier than expected. I made sure my handover was all finished and tried to fit a bit of rest in too!

Induction day!

Induction day was booked for a Sunday, and I was instructed to call the ward at 9am to find out what time I needed to come in. There wasn’t a midwife available when I called so I was told they would call me back. Cue me staying very close to my phone to make sure I didn’t miss any calls! As they hadn’t called by the time church rolled around, we set off walking, only to get the call about 2 minutes away from church! Around we turned and headed back home to jump in the car and head to hospital. At this point I still wasn’t feeling too nervous and was mostly just excited to get everything started!

I got to the labour ward at about 11am and had lots of various blood tests and my covid swab taken. Then after quite a bit of waiting around the doctor came to insert the balloon at 2pm. I had heard this procedure described as much more uncomfortable rather than painful but as I have a history of vaginismus, I was a bit nervous that this would be quite painful for me. When I asked about this, they recommended that I use gas and air during the procedure – I hadn’t been expecting this but I did find it helpful, even just to have something else to focus on. Personally, I found the cervical exam more uncomfortable than the induction itself, so I was glad to have the gas and air for that bit!

So, what is a balloon induction?

It’s a mechanical form of inducing labour, where a catheter is inserted into the cervix and two small balloons filled with fluid – one on the inside, one on the inside. The pressure of these two balloons against each other causes the cervix to thin and the balloons and catheter should fall out when you reach 4cm dilation and your waters can be broken. I think there are a couple of different types of balloon induction, but this is the kind that I had.

After the balloon was inserted, I immediately started feeling some period-like cramps. Very, very managable, just a bit uncomfortable and even these died down again after the first hour or so. The balloon has up to 24 hours to work and to fall out – if it hasn’t fallen after that time, the doctor will remove it and either insert another one or move onto other induction methods.

As it takes this long, I was moved from the room on the labour ward down to the antenatal ward. This was actually the same ward that I stayed on when I was admitted earlier in my third trimester, so I already knew the ward, where everything was and how it all works which helped me feel much more relaxed about the whole situation, particularly as on the ward my husband had to leave by 8pm due to the visiting hours (visitors are allowed on the labour ward 24/7 but not the antenatal unit).

After the induction

After the initial cramping feelings and then these easing, they did then very gradually build up again. By about 6pm, they were not particularly consistent, but they were very noticeable and getting more intense – I definitely had to stop anything else I was doing and focus a little bit more on what I was feeling. Walking around was also becoming much more uncomfortable. To get through each contraction, I rotated between bouncing on the birthing ball, standing up and leaning on the bed, and lying back in the bed. I didn’t find any of these much better than the others, but changing positions was what I found most helpful.

The intensity continued to increase throughout the evening and overnight. They were still relatively mild compared to what I was expecting, and I was able to get some sleep overnight in between contractions and trips to the toilet. Because of this, I was assuming that I wasn’t very far along – there was another woman on the ward who was having a hormonal induction and was clearly in a lot more pain than me. Throughout the evening as our partners had both left, I heard her contractions getting more and more painful but when she was checked by the midwives, they told her that she was only 1cm dilated. I assumed I was even further behind her and that this was going to take a while longer.

However, it’s worth remembering that everyone’s experiences of labour and birth are so different. That woman did then progress quickly and was moved up to the labour ward in the middle of the night, and I was much further than I was thinking at that point.

12 hours later…

At 2am, I went to the toilet and thought I needed a poo. As I was pushing, I realised that I wasn’t doing a poo – it was the balloon coming out! This was 12 hours after it was inserted, so I was slightly nervous that my pushing made it come out too soon, but the midwives had reassured me that it couldn’t come out until I had reached 4cm dilation, so I let the midwives on the ward know and was excited to realise that I was progressing so much more quickly than I was expecting.

As it was the middle of the night, I was told that I would be moved up to the labour ward sometime after 6am, depending on when a bed and a midwife was available – so I settled back down to get some more rest! After the balloon came out, I did feel a lot more comfortable – I no longer had the discomfort of the balloon which was a bizarre feeling, and the contractions stopped for a little while once the balloon was out.

The next morning…

I had to wait quite a while to move up to the labour ward in the end, as Covid-19 was still impacting the hospital and leaving the wards short-staffed. I was getting a little inpatient as I was eager to get things moving as it had been quite a while since the balloon came out, but the midwives reassured me that my cervix couldn’t un-dilate!

As I was still on the antenatal ward by the time the doctors came to do their rounds, they did the cervix check then instead of waiting for me to be moved. At this stage they confirmed that I was 4cm dilated and ready to have my waters broken as soon as I could be moved up to the labour ward. I was so delighted to have this confirmed and to know that things were definitely happening.

Time to break my waters

Just before lunchtime I was finally able to move up to the labour ward and get settled into the room up there, before the doctor came in to break my waters at 12pm. Again, they suggested that I use gas and air for this, but it was much less uncomfortable than the induction and I barely felt anything at all.

My contractions had returned before my waters were broken but they definitely started to become more and more intense after this. I was needing to use the ball, lean on the bed and really focus on breathing through each one and counting which I found really helpful. One thing I had been hoping to be able to do during labour was to use a birthing pool, but this was looking less likely because of the higher risks of a small baby and an induction. Instead, I decided to try using the shower, with my husband spraying the water on my back to help relieve the pain.

The blood tests begin!

I was finding this really nice but sadly I had only been in the shower for less than five minutes before my midwife came in and told me that I needed to have some extra blood tests done quite urgently and needed to get back onto the bed. At the time I didn’t think much of this as I was distracted by the contractions but there was quite a lot going on. The midwives struggled to insert my cannula (I have bendy veins apparently), so an anaesthetist came to help out.

As my results did come back, another doctor came to tell me that my platelet count was considerably low and decreasing, and that if this trend continued then I would soon reach a point where it would not be safe for me to have either an epidural or a c-section. They therefore advised that if I was expecting to want either of these things, I should have them now rather than waiting.

Personally, I had been hoping to avoid both a c-section and an epidural if at all possible but of course it’s nice to know that they are an option if a situation arose where I needed them. However, as at this point I hadn’t been using any pain relief and was still able to breathe through my contractions, it didn’t make sense to me to jump all the way to an epidural so I continued as I was and simply prayed that everything would continue smoothly.

My memories of this stage of labour are a bit muddled and chaotic so I have no idea how long it all took, but once the doctors were finished I got back up off the bed and the midwife suggested I try sitting on the ball again. But first I needed the loo so headed to the toilet. Whilst my contractions had been continuing to get more intense, when I got back up from the toilet, I was quite shocked by just how intense they became and how much closer together they seemed to be. At this point I really struggled to walk the couple of steps back to my bed and just stood leaning against the paper towel dispenser in the bathroom for something to hold onto.

10cm and time to push

With some help I was able to get back to the bed and decided it was time for some more gas and air to help with the pain. The midwife was also surprised by how quickly this had come on so checked me again only to find that I had reached 10cm and was ready to push. This was 4pm, just 4 hours after my waters had been broken. I later found out that pre-eclampsia does tend to lead to quicker labours but I certainly hadn’t been expecting this.

The midwives whizzed around getting everything ready and it was finally time to start pushing. Honestly, I was surprised by just how much this felt like I was doing an extremely painful poo! But I actually found this quite helpful because it made it seem much more normal and doable if that makes any sense. I pushed for one hour in total, mostly on my side with one leg raised. Initially, they supported this leg with the stirrups, but I found this incredibly painful (I’m not sure whether this was because of the labour itself, or because of my pelvic girdle pain which I had had since 23 weeks pregnant) so instead my husband and the midwife supported this leg themselves.

Unsurprisingly, pushing was painful. I continued to use the gas and air and did find this very helpful even as simply something to focus on as I really had to concentrate on breathing into the mouthpiece. It got considerably more painful as baby’s head was crowning but the midwife suggested that I reach down and could feel the head. This gave me a real motivation boost that was I was doing was working and that she was nearly here if I just kept going.

My baby was born!

The sense of relief once her head was out was enormous. It was so encouraging to know that the hardest part was done and I just had to continue pushing to get her shoulders out so the rest of her body could follow.

So, at 5pm Georgia was born weighing 6lb 4oz and was placed on my chest. I was so delighted and so excited to finally see this tiny human who had been growing inside me and also so thrilled that I had really managed to give birth. Even though you know it’s possible and so many women have done it before you, it’s still absolutely crazy to think about!

Because of the complications that had been discovered during my labour, everything continued to be quite chaotic for a while longer… But you can read more about that in my postpartum recovery story coming next week…

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me@arnoldprays.co.uk

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