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How did you know labour had started?
The pains became intense
‘I woke up in the night with stomach pain and assumed I had trapped wind – I didn’t even wake my husband. After I had a bath, the pain was much more intense and I knew my contractions had started.’ABBI HANKIN, 26, FROM HAMPSHIRE, MUM TO RUBY, FOUR MONTHS
'I was a week overdue when the midwife gave me a cervical sweep, joking that she was on call that night and I’d probably see her later. She was right. At 10pm I began having regular, cramping pains. Suzie was born three hours later.’GINA MAYBURY, 41, FROM BURY ST EDMUNDS, MUM TO SUZIE, EIGHT MONTHS
I heard it!
'I had an inkling something was stirring, but things truly kicked off when my waters broke in the loo, with a loud POP!’GINA GRAYSON, 22, FROM EDINBURGH, MUM TO JOSH, FOUR WEEKS
It woke me up
‘I woke up – bing – in the middle of the night and just knew these were proper contractions, regular and quite strong (though not unbearable), so I got up and did the ironing.’
What does it feel like?
‘It felt like the muscles inside were slowly twisting harder and harder until it became unbearable, then it would slowly subside.’
Pain with a purpose
‘Labour feels amazing – intense, purposeful pain that your body is designed to handle. I felt I was on a rollercoaster, riding the scary bits and the quiet bits, and I could either panic or go with it.’DEBS STAINFORTH, 37, FROM BRIGHTON, MUM TO FLO, SIX, AND OZZY, 11 MONTHS
I can't remember!
‘I practised hypnobirthing – it completely blocked pain and memory, which was fantastic!’ CATHY DOWN, 34, FROM BATH, MUM TO FRANKIE, SIX MONTHS
‘The last stages of labour feel like a whole different world of pain that you didn’t know existed’ SUE GRAFTON, 28, FROM LIVERPOOL, MUM TO LILY, TWO, AND JACK, THREE MONTHS
‘It’s like a juggernaut that’s gathering momentum and there’s no way you can stop it.’KATH LAMBERT, 38, FROM SUSSEX, MUM TO JOE, 10 MONTHS
‘I actually thought, “Wow, it’s not so bad, I can cope with this!”
How do you stay positive?
I held on for dear life
‘I gripped my partner so tightly when I was in the birth pool. He got up to make a coffee and moaned, “Bloody hell, my back hurts.” I glared at him. He apologised pretty sharpish!’DEBS STAINFORTH, 37, FROM BRIGHTON, MUM TO FLO, SIX, AND OZZY, 11 MONTHS
The right birth partner
‘My husband was brilliant – he held my hand and kept me calm.’ ABBIE MARTIN, 34, FROM BRISTOL, MUM TO JAYNE, SIX MONTHS
‘I kept thinking of the platter of runny Brie and cured meats and the big glass of chilled white wine I’d have when I got home’FRAN WATERS, 32, FROM CORNWALL, MUM TO ROSE, NINE MONTHS
A supportive midwife
‘We asked one midwife to leave as she was too pushy. We said we had a rapport with the first midwife and wanted her back!’
What's the toughest part?
‘It’s hard not to panic as the pain gets worse and you start doubting that you’ll be able to cope with further contractions.’KATH LAMBERT, 38, FROM SUSSEX, MUM TO JOE, 10 MONTHS
Knowing it'll be ages
‘When midwives say things like “You’ve got hours to go yet”.’TRACY LYONS, 37, FROM MANCHESTER, MUM TO GARVEY, EIGHT MONTHS
‘I was devastated after the second push when I felt the head go back up! But with two more pushes my baby was out.’DIANE WESTCOTT, 29, FROM ABERDEEN, MUM TO BILLY, SIX MONTHS
Being stitched up
‘I needed stitches afterwards. I had an unsympathetic doctor and it seemed to take ages.’MIRANDA JEPSON, 31, FROM MANCHESTER, MUM TO HONOR, TWO MONTHS
Not moving about
‘Being on the high dependency unit – I was asked not to move at all when I had contractions because it disturbed the monitors.’MEGAN POST, 35, FROM LINCOL
How long does it last?
‘It was two days of feeling like I had food poisoning, and in the end I had to have a caesarean as my baby was breech.’MARY JANE GREENHALGH (LEFT), 32, FROM CHESTER, MUM TO WILLIAM, 12 MONTHS
‘From my waters breaking on Wednesday morning until Saturday lunchtime. It was looong, but not unpleasant. I remember hearing newborns crying and almost weeping with anticipation. I was like, “Goddamnit, isn’t it my turn already?!”’ANNE BOOTY, 31, FROM WORTHING, MUM TO NOAH, SEVEN MONTHS
‘I had a home birth and was happily breathing through my contractions for two hours before I rang the midwife. She arrived 45 minutes later and hadn’t even unpacked her bag when I shouted, “The baby’s coming!” My husband was making the midwife a cup of coffee so he missed the birth.’
How do you keep going?
‘Have a relaxing bath or a massage from your birth partner.’ANNE BOOTY, 31, FROM WORTHING, MUM TO NOAH, SEVEN MONTHS
‘At home in the birth pool, with candles and jazz playing, it wasn’t hard – I was having fun.’CLAIRE SHORTER, 36, FROM WEST SUSSEX, MUM TO MILES, TWO MONTHS
‘Sucking glucose tablets and drinking loads of water’
What does it feel like straight after birth?
‘My baby was plonked on my chest and I felt like saying, “What the hell do I do now?”’ ANGELA EVANS, 36, FROM MANCHESTER, MUM TO JORJA, 12 MONTHS
Sleepy but happy
‘I was pretty drowsy, but also euphoric. I couldn’t get enough of kissing my baby’s forehead.’ REBECCA WILLIS, 25, FROM BIRMINGHAM, MUM TO HOLLY, SEVEN MONTHS
Proud of myself
‘More exhausted than I ever have or ever will feel again. But I also felt a real sense of peacefulness and awe at what I had just achieved.’CAROLINE HENDRIKS, 37, FROM BRIGHTON, MUM TO GEORGE, TWO, AND OTTO, FOUR WEEKS
‘Elated, surreal, sore scar and very stiff tummy muscles'
What does it teach you about the next one?
Keep an open mind
‘I was disappointed I couldn’t have a home birth with George. Next time I felt good about what I’d achieved, though that didn’t go to plan, either!’CAROLINE HENDRIKS, 37, FROM BRIGHTON, MUM TO GEORGE, TWO, AND OTTO, FOUR WEEKS
You can do it
'It made me feel more confident in the capabilities of my body.’JO SIMONS, 24, FROM THE ISLE OF WIGHT, MUM TO JACK, FIVE MONTHS
‘I would totally listen to my body above the doctors next time’LOU CHAMBERS, 32, FROM MANCHESTER, MUM TO IMOGEN, TWO MONTHS
It's thirsty work!
'I’d pack a big bottle of water. I was parched from shouting so much during the birth.’
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