Pushed To The Limit – What Giving Birth Is Really Like

Emma Victoria Stokes Birth

“With every contraction, just breathe and remember – you’re one minute closer to meeting your baby…”

On January 2, 2020 at 6:42PM – I pushed a baby out. I was in labour for 42 hours, most of the time spent at Birmingham Women’s Hospital. It happens every day to millions of women across the world. But until you experience it for yourself and the baby is placed on your chest for the first time, it never quite seems real. Like Donald Trump’s hair – and aliens. Before the big day arrives you get told things like: ‘Oh, the birth was awful… my vagina looked like the bloody predator’s face and I bled for 8 solid weeks and I haven’t been able to have sex in 6 months...’ Although this might be true for some, let’s just pause and remember that every single birth and every story is different.

This one is mine.

Emma Victoria Stokes Birth Photo Sebastian


The clock struck twelve and a bumbled rendition of auld lang syne blared on the TV. Jools Holland Hootenanny has faked bringing in the New Year for years. But that’s a whole other blog post. At this point in time, I was three days overdue. My son is a Pyzer after all and will not be rushed. The nagging voice in my head kept reminding me that Christmas had come and gone, so it could happen any time now.

January 1st 20201AM – I had this vision of giving birth to the first baby on the ward at the stroke of midnight. It didn’t happen that way, but something didn’t feel right. I was extremely tired but wanted to see in the new year. It would, of course, be the last one with just Josh and me. I waddled up the stairs to bed when I started to get weird cramping sensations in my lower stomach. I did have a big dinner after all. I also didn’t have that Hollywood-esque GUSH of water like you see in films. So I ignored it, put my head down and soon fell asleep.

5AM – Ouch. I opened my eyes to the movement of baby Pyzer kicking me. I rolled over like a fat Jabba the Hutt and whispered to a sleeping boyfriend, “Don’t panic, but I think it’s starting…” I grabbed my phone off the side and squinted. I’d only been asleep 4 hours. (This now equates to a good night’s sleep!) I began timing my contractions on an app I’d been told to download on one of those pissy, moany mommy forums. It’s called Contractions by the way and it’s free. 5:30AM soon rolled around, and in the excitement of it all, called Birmingham Women’s Hospital triage who simply told me to “wait it out” until my contractions became at least 2-3 minutes apart. NCT class really can’t and won’t prepare you for this kind of panic. Silly us, we’d already gotten dressed, made the bed, and packed ready to leave for the hospital. What utter, utter fools!

6AM – In the time I’d washed, dressed, cleaned my teeth and put on my labour clothes, Josh had already made me some porridge and coffee. I’d need it after all for my big day. Since we were told to stay at home for a bit, Josh helped by running me a warm bubble bath. I stayed in there for over an hour, sniffing at the bottle of Johnson’s Baby Bath Body Wash whilst riding out these small cramps that happened every 4-5 minutes. It wasn’t painful, just uncomfortable like someone was harshly prodding my insides. We did the sensible thing and slept through to the early afternoon.

7PM – Throughout the day, the pain ramped up. Contractions became progressively worse, more aggressive and consistent but I could still talk through them. If I learned anything from NCT class, it was that when you stop talking completely, that is when it’s about to level up. Prior to this I’d text my mom and dad (who live a 3 hour drive away) only for them to arrive to find me pacing around my living room. Breathing through each pain and standing on my tiptoes (somehow I thought this would help?) – the pains were now starting to last between 30-40 seconds, between 3-6 minutes apart. The only way to describe them would be like searing pain in my lower stomach, as though someone had lit a match and started a fire inside my belly.

7:30PM – Stage 1 is by far the longest stage of labor. The cervix starts to ‘dilate’ (open) with the aim to reach 10CM wide when the baby slippery slides out. It’s measured by a midwife inserting their hand into you and measuring by the number of fingers. By this time, I was getting tired and adamant to ring triage, again. I’d become that woman but I honestly didn’t care anymore. Paracetamol wasn’t doing anything and by this point I’d been in slow labour for 17 hours. As before, I was told to hold out until my contractions were at least 2-3 minutes apart. I wish she would stop saying that and just give me some pain relief, dammit! As much as I couldn’t understand it at the time, I now know it’s for a very good reason. They can’t administer pain relief until you’re so far along and at least 4CM dilated. Nonetheless it still pissed me off.

8:30PM – I’d hung on for another hour, breathing through the pain and told Josh I wanted to head into hospital. Despite what they said on the phone, it was getting extremely painful, ramping up another notch on the ouch-ahhhh-o-metre. I wanted reassurance. Upon arrival at Birmingham Women’s Hospital, I was whisked through into triage and seen by a midwife within minutes. I whipped off my knickers and lay on the bed ready to be examined. “OK, THIS IS IT” I thought. “I can’t believe this is it. I’m gonna have my baby soon…”

Emma, you’re 1CM dilated…’.

She means 10CM, surely? You have to be kidding me. This is not what happens on One Born Every Minute. A single pathetic tear escaped my tired eyes. I cried. There was literally nothing we could do but go home. I had to grit my teeth and ride it out. “I’ll expect you back around 11PM” the midwife said with positivity. I guess it was time for my fourth bath of the day.

January 2nd 2020 – 2AM – I tried to sleep. I even put on a sleeping mask. I thought I was strong enough to get through it but I couldn’t talk, let alone breathe through the contractions anymore. At the nauseating price of £5 parking charge per hour, we headed back to the hospital. It was dark outside and the roads were empty, thankfully. Feeling absolutely shattered like I’d just woken up from the worst hangover of my life, all I wanted was some form of pain relief. Josh pulled right outside the front door like something out of a bond film. Between contractions, I paused and slid a tiny bit further into the hospital. Pause. Slide. Pause. Slide – like some shit version of the cha-cha. Triage was empty, minus one or two people in the waiting room. I was whisked to the back again and I lay down on the bed for another examination.

3CM dilated.

By this point, it was coming up to 24 hours of labour. I begged to stay in the hospital if it meant not having to go back home. Suddenly I could see a light at the end of this dark, claustrophobic, pain-ridden tunnel. The words rang out like a holy chorus, “A bed has just become available on the ward and it’s yours. We can take you up, right now.”

I was taking that bed. Even if it meant fighting off another woman in my just my underpants. Josh parked the car for the third time and came back like a knight in shining armour with our bags. Pacing around the dark lit ward, it was still early morning and I could hear other women writhing in pain, enduring their very own personal hell of contractions. I begged for the pethidine injection in my right leg at first and the pain wore off slightly. It must’ve knocked me out for a solid hour as the next thing I knew, I woke up to Josh dozing in the chair next to me, embracing a neck pillow. I knew that would come in handy. By the time I woke up again, the midwife came back to exam me.


It’s time,” she said. “Let’s get you down to the birthing pool.

Emma Victoria Stokes Birth Blog Birmingham Women's Hospital Bath

7AM – I found out they had purposely kept me on the ward until 7AM as the maternity ward was rammed during the early hours. In reality, the midwives were doing me a huge favour as it meant I could now go into the birthing centre. Looking back, it felt like Christmas morning, again. I remember being full of beans. I have absolutely no idea why as I was completely and utterly exhausted by this point. I was wheeled down to my own room and honestly, it was fabulous. It was like a hotel room – one big open space with a comfortable bed in the corner. In the middle of the room was a rope for pulling on during contractions and the birthing pool in the side room. It was lovely that we had the entire thing to ourselves. Only then was I introduced to the woman who would deliver my baby. Sarah was tall, thin and had short hair. She had a soothing, likeable presence about her. She was reassuring and had a soft voice. I knew instantly I’d appreciate spending the next 12 hours with her and hopefully, she’d be the one delivering my baby.

7:15AM – We got straight to it. I pulled on my bikini top, not even bothering to put my bikini bottoms on. At this stage of labour all of my dignity went out of the window. I plunged into the warm water inside the birthing pool, lit dimly by side lights. Sarah checked baby’s heartbeat every 15 mins underwater and I was examined every 4 hours. I chowed down on the gas and air in the meantime which was truly one of the best sources of pain relief. It moved around the room with me and hooked up to different points so I was never without. I loved the sense of weightlessness in the birthing pool and after a few hours of calm, I tried to remember that with each minute, each breath, I was one step closer to meeting my baby. Hindsight is a funny thing because I was completely oblivious as to what was about to happen. If I knew then what I know now – I’d take the epidural in an instant. And more Lucozade.

Emma Victoria Stokes Birth Blog Birmingham Women's Hospital Bath Bed
Emma Victoria Stokes Birth Blog Birmingham Women's Hospital Gas and air
Emma Victoria Stokes Birth Blog Birmingham Women's Hospital Rope
Emma Victoria Stokes Birth Blog Birmingham Women's Hospital Gas and air

11AM – Josh was trying not to fall asleep next to me. He too was working on minimal sleep, but I desperately needed him for the final hurdle. I can easily say it now, in those 48 hours he was an absolute warrior. I told him to get his head down for a bit but instead he went for a walk around the hospital. I carried on in the pool with Sarah by my side, closing my eyes and trying not to fall asleep. I was told that I wasn’t allowed to give birth in the water as I’d had two pethidine injections, and it would be too dangerous because baby could be sleepy. 11:30AM soon came around and I was examined, again.

Almost 7CMS now and my waters still hadn’t broken.

1PM – Apparently, my waters were ‘bulging’ (gross) at this point which is why I was in so much pain. After climbing out of the pool for the final time, Sarah gave me a ‘sweep’ to help move things along. It felt as though someone had turned a washing machine on full of knives inside my lady parts. It really hurt. The idea is to stimulate the cervix (the neck of your womb) to help separate the membranes that surround the baby from the cervix. Very technical.

But as expected, nothing happened. This is one very stubborn baby.

The time had come for my waters to be broken. Sarah used some ‘long apparatus thing’. Instantly, my water came gushing out everywhere. All over the bed and the floor. Nearly all over Josh’s new shoes. There was meconium in my waters which meant baby had gone to the toilet in me. This is potentially dangerous so I was swiftly moved into the delivery suite next door. This room is more clinical without the luxuries but allows the midwife to monitor baby’s heartbeat. People were in and out of the room to check vitals (including a doctor) and the team quickly inserted an intravenous cannula into my hand. My body was in desperate need of fluids. From here, everything sped up rather dramatically.

3PM – My overall birthing experience is a little hazy but what came next I’ll remember for the rest of my life. The pain rocketed from 8/10 to a solid 15 but I think it was more to do with the tiredness. People were talking and buzzing around me, but I wasn’t listening or paying any attention. At one point I remember sitting up on the bed, in my black strappy night dress, my arse hanging out. My contractions were now lasting every two minutes (so this is what they were talking about?!) and I was squeezing Josh’s hand black and blue between each one. The room was spinning and I was still chugging on gas and air to get me through each surging pain. I must have zoned out but came around to hear myself screaming. I didn’t realise it was me making that hideous noise of a hyena.

3:15PM – I screamed bloody murder for an anaesthetist to help. I was knackered. I couldn’t lie back. I couldn’t sit forward. I couldn’t stand up. I couldn’t sit down. I was rooted to the position on the bed until the contractions passed. I then heard someone come in and say he was “going to be another 30 minutes.” Cue explicit language.

3:20PM – I watched Josh’s face with each contraction that consumed me. I wish I had just shut my eyes and closed my ears when I heard him say, “OH MY GOD THAT CONTRACTION WAS OFF THE CHART!?…”

3:25PM – I hadn’t eaten anything for the last 24 hours. As a positive – this did actually mean I didn’t end up shitting myself during labour. Silver lining and all that. Out of nowhere, I had the unexpected urge to push. This is when my midwife bolted out of the room to look for someone else who could come and administer the pain relief. But she was told the baby would “probably be here before the epidural even kicked in.

3:45PM – A young guy came bounding into the room, took one look at me, smiled and headed straight behind me. I was still chugging away at the gas and air that was doing absolutely sod all at this point. Without me realising he started to give me the epidural in my back. The poor bloke must’ve had a wonderful view of my arse. I felt a slight pinch in my spinal nerves in which this had to be done between contractions. He was indeed paralysing me after all. It seemed like seconds before this tsunami of relief just washed over me. For the first time since yesterday morning, I could finally breathe.

4PM – Once the epidural had been administered, let the waiting game of two more hours commence. It’s a procedure put in place to make sure the baby is low enough so there are no complications when pushing. This is also usually how most tears happen. Having the epidural seemed to drastically slow everything down. Contractions were no longer daggers and I was relieved to be in somewhat of a civilised state. I could talk. I could lie down. I could squeeze Josh’s hand with love instead of angst. An hour passed by and I started to feel small twinges in my right hip. It seemed as though the epidural hadn’t completely worked but I could still feel slight contractions enough to know what I had to do now.

6PMThis was it. This was the most important hour of my life. The baby is finally coming. I started pushing. I had three people watching. I really didn’t want to be on my back to give birth, but with the epidural you don’t really have a choice. Chin to chest, big breath and push. Many, many times. Of the entire two-day labour, pushing was by far my favourite bit. I wasn’t in pain. I felt like I was in total control. I couldn’t feel anything happening at all aside from the odd twinge. My midwife was guiding me every step of the way with a “push…push… stop” routine. Josh was to my left, holding the wonky leg stirrup so my leg would stay up throughout. He got to watch the entire show for free. The process of pushing felt like seconds but in reality it was 42 minutes long. It was the last bit of strength I had inside to get this baby out safely.

6:42PM – Sebastian arrived with no vagina tearing or rips, somewhat of a miracle. He weighed a healthy 7 pounds 3 oz. Ten fingers and ten toes were counted. He was most certainly a boy. It was a minute or two before he was placed on my chest and I almost cried myself. It’s a very surreal moment and I wasn’t quite sure how to react. It’s so corny but in that moment, my life really did change forever. Sebastian grabbed my finger with his tiny blue hand. He looked just like his daddy. It was extremely weird but after some guidance, he slowly went for my left boob. While this was happening, my placenta was being delivered. I’ll let you Google that one.

Emma Victoria Stokes Birth Blog Birmingham Women's Hospital Sebastian Born
Emma Victoria Stokes Birth Blog Birmingham Women's Hospital Sebby

Josh attempted to cut the cord and joked about wanting some left-handed scissors. The dad jokes had started early. It was drilled into us during NCT classes that 3/4 of the baby’s blood is still in the placenta when giving birth, so it’s essential to give enough time for it to make its way back to the body. Seb was cleaned up and promptly dressed in his first white outfit. He looked like the purest thing. A few hours later my mom and dad arrived to see us and I was starting to get movement back in my legs. Apparently I was trying to get up and walk normally as though nothing had happened – one of the lucky ones clearly. A short while after I was brought some tea and toast as a reward and it was the best meal of my life.

Emma Victoria Stokes Birth Blog Birmingham Women's Hospital First Outfit
Emma Victoria Stokes Birth Blog Birmingham Women's Hospital Sebastian first photo

11PM – Night time soon rolled around and I was kept on the Birmingham Women’s Ward for the night. Josh had to leave as men aren’t allowed to stay, but that was fine. I was a mom now and you have to learn to do things on your own, no matter how difficult. Throughout the night I was awoken in three hour intervals by other babies crying and the midwives doing routine checks. The team are wonderful and popped in to make sure we were all doing okay and that baby was breathing and happy. As my milk hadn’t come through yet, I was squeezing my boobs for colostrum in the dark using my phone torch and with the help of the staff. For the first 24 hours I was feeding Sebastian with a syringe. He was so quiet and seemed to be taking it all in. To be fair, he probably didn’t realise he’d been born yet…

Emma Victoria Stokes Birth Blog Birmingham Women's Hospital Blanket

Happy Birthday, Sebastian

Sebastian Frederick Pyzer came into the world on January 2, 2020 at 6:42PM. That day, Josh and I also celebrated our 13 year anniversary. Unlucky for some but lucky for most. In a funny little way, our world was now complete and had come full circle. The NHS and team at Birmingham Women’s were incredible and every day help to bring so many new lives into the world. We had so much support during this scary time, something a lot of us probably take for granted.

Thanks to them, Sebastian you’re here safe and sound. Welcome to the fallout, little one. You’re in for one hell of a ride.

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