Going into labour while my husband was on holiday – Oonagh’s story

Oonagh gave birth to her son Oscar at 31 weeks. She shares her experience of going into labour while her husband was on holiday and how her friend Charleigh stepped in to be her birthing partner.

With two months to go before my due date I hadn’t given much thought to the birth itself - I was focusing on saving money and trying not to worry about what lay ahead of me. My mum was on a cruise - her last big holiday before the arrival of her first grandchild, my husband was on a stag do - his last “hoorah” as he called it, before the birth. The thought of going into labour so early had never crossed my mind.

As I stood in the kitchen alone at 31 weeks pregnant making my dinner I felt a sudden gush of water. It was only while running up the stairs and realising the gush was not stopping that it occurred to me I might be in labour.

As I sat on the toilet and tried to take deep breaths I started to cry. Dave wasn’t here. Neither was my mum. This wasn’t how it was meant to be.

I rang the hospital who asked me to come in but reassured me that I may not be in labour. I frantically searched round the house for things I thought I’d need and text a friend to give me a lift to the hospital. I didn’t phone Dave or my mum. I just wanted to wait and see what the hospital said. The last thing I wanted to do was worry anyone unnecessarily.

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On arrival at the hospital they confirmed, yes I was in labour, yes I was dilated and yes I was going to give birth rather soon. It was at this point I went into a state of shock. I felt very very cold and went very very quiet. All I remember feeling was slightly hysterical so I didn’t speak much as I was worried what nonsense would come out.

I rang my husband who was in the middle of a pub crawl in Bulgaria, where beer and vodka was extremely cheap. You can imagine how successful the phone call was. At first he thought it was a prank. Then there were so many questions about how this could happen so early that I had to put the phone down as I didn’t have the answers. Then, thanks to some supportive and slightly less drunk fellow stags, he rang me back and confirmed he was booking flights and he’d be there as soon as he could. He was so sorry he wasn’t there and I cried telling him how sorry I was that this had happened. I felt like I was to blame and my mind was racing thinking of things I might have done this week which brought on the labour.

It turns out there’s not many regular flights from Bulgaria to Manchester at 9.00pm on a Friday night. When he phoned to say the earliest he would arrive was 3.00pm the next day I went into a new element of shock. Never in my life did I ever imagine Dave wouldn’t be there for the birth. Surely this just couldn’t happen. In my weird state of calm – which was probably shock - I told him not to worry and it would probably be a very long labour so he wouldn’t miss the birth. I took a deep breath and realised I needed to choose a new birthing partner.

Oonagh And Charlie

My friend Charleigh had a premature baby five years ago and had been an absolute rock during my pregnancy. There was literally nobody who I wanted by my side at that moment more than her. After an opening text ‘hey wot u up2’ (she knew something was instantly wrong as we are grammar police), she was at the hospital with snacks within minutes, ordering me to start timing contractions.

Charleigh was incredible. At some points I felt the medical staff were talking to me in another language. Charleigh kindly translated lots of their language for me as she remembered it so well from her birth. She also calmly reminded them that I hadn’t had any birthing lessons, any antenatal sessions or anything to prepare me so I hadn’t considered things like birthing positions, pain relief and more. She also pushed me into taking gas and air with a wink that said she thought I would ‘really, really’ enjoy it. She was right!

The labour was roughly 12 hours long and happened naturally after an intense four hours of pushing. The baby was so small that every time I pushed, he didn’t have the strength to make his way out. He also turned at some point and therefore got stuck somewhere near my coccyx bone which eventually resulted in him coming out back-to-back.

I tried to give up at one point as I just didn’t believe the baby was nearly there. I was so, so tired of pushing and just wanted to sleep. Charleigh didn’t let me give up. She smiled, told me our friendship was going to new levels and went down the end of the bed and roared at me ‘the baby is right here, you are so close, go go go!’

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Oscar Charlie was born at 3lbs 11 on 13 January.

When my baby was placed in my arms he looked like an alien. I’ve never pretended I felt anything other than pure shock. He had an enormous haematoma on his head where he’d pushed against bone while facing the wrong way round. He was also a boy when I was convinced I was having a girl. There was no Dave to enjoy the moment with and I just felt very, very empty. If someone had given me the option to go home there and then I would have done. They took him down to neonatal and I sat in that hospital bed and felt nothing but tiredness.

When Dave arrived later that day I was clearly still in shock. Everyone kept commenting how calm I was. We went down to neonatal and looked at our little, teeny baby in a glass box with all his tubes and lights and held each other’s hands.

A nurse came over and took one look at me and asked me if I was ok. I started to cry and said I didn’t think so. She showed me a picture of a baby born at 1lb. He is now studying engineering at university and he is her son. I will never forget the understanding look she gave me every day in neonatal – her daily care and support was incredible.

Oscar was in neonatal for five weeks and the care he received was unbelievable. We are forever indebted to the team there. They cuddled him when we weren’t there, they wrapped him up in hilariously tiny knitwear at night and they showed us how to bond with our son when glass separated us.

Nobody is ever prepared for a premature baby, particularly not the first time they are pregnant. You are thrust into a neonatal world of sitting next to a glass box with your baby beeping next to you. None of the baby books mention this might happen. No one prepares you for the incredible sense of loss of bonding you might experience – both for mum and particularly a partner who misses the birth. Trust me – it takes time. But when it comes – for me, very ironically around his due date – it is incredible and worth the wait.

If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this post and would like support, you can call our helpline on 0808 801 0322 or view our online support pages.

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