[Long blog post alert! – this is a personal account of my own birth story]
I remember vividly being pregnant and having wonderful daydreams of how my life would be with my husband and baby. Lots of laughter, cuddles and the amazing feeling of being in a ‘family cocoon’. I would be an earth mother, have a natural birth, breastfeed immediately, and take to motherhood like a duck to water. Boy was I in for a shock.
On the day I finally went in to labour I woke up with a jolt at 5am with the first contraction. My husband sprung in to action and got me the tens machine. We called the hospital once the contractions had become every 5 minutes, which happened very quickly, and they said to come straight in. This was it! The day I was going to meet my gorgeous hiccupping baby.
By the time we had arrived at hospital (a 20 min drive) my tens machine was on full blast, but I seemed to be coping quite well the contractions. I had planned for a water birth, as natural as possible, so when we arrived at The Birth Centre and they started running the bath, I was relieved that it was going to plan. My sister had had a three hour labour so I was convinced I would be the same.
By 11am I was fully dilated and started pushing. Unfortunately, my waters still hadn’t broken so eventually they got me out of the pool to do it. There was meconium in there so they advised that I shouldn’t go back in the pool. That’s ok I thought, I obviously didn’t want to put the baby at risk. But what I didn’t expect was to then be pushing on the toilet for four hours....
I’d been attending ante-natal yoga classes since I was four months pregnant. They were run by a lovely dutch woman, who was very much an earth mother. Every Wednesday we spent two hours doing a few stretches, but more importantly talking about how we were all feeling. It’s one of the best things I ever did, as not only did it help me feel more prepared, but I also met three wonderful friends there, who would become my closest mum-allies.
Anyway, back to the birth story. Because of practicing yoga I had lots of positions for pushing in mind, which involved roaming around the room and leaning on various things. The midwife had other ideas though, and would not let me move off the toilet… She wouldn’t allow me gas and air either as she said I had to feel to push – believe me, I’m sure I could have felt it even with the gas and air!
After four hours I was exhausted. My poor husband would try and pass me one of the homeopathic remedies that I had instructed him to bring, but by that point I was just swearing and hitting his hand away, with pills flying everywhere.
I started to beg for an epidural, which was never in the plan but I had reached the point where I thought I really could not go on. My midwife then said she was going for a break, so I should see how I felt in half an hour’s time?!!
Luckily for us though, a new midwife came in to cover and one of the first things she did was give me the gas and air, although to be honest after 4 hours of pushing that didn’t even hit the sides. She then examined me – the first time I’d been examined since pushing – and she found that the baby had turned back to back and was wedged up high – there was no way he was coming out alone. Reading this back now, I’m sure you understand how angry I feel about this. Why hadn’t the first midwife examined me when after a few hours of pushing she said she still couldn’t see the head??
So then things got scary. I got rushed up to the medical floor of the hospital in a wheelchair, during which time I was having contractions every few seconds it felt like, and was screaming by head off. I remember the awful feeling of wanting to move during the contraction to try and relieve the pressure, but being confined to the chair.
At this point I want to share an experience I had had while at one of my antenatal check-ups. While the midwife was checking the position of the baby at my 30 week check-up, I could hear a poor woman screaming at the top of her voice in the labour room next door, and the only thing I could compare it to is what I imagine a banshee would sound like. She was making very animalistic noises. I looked worryingly at the midwife and asked if that’s what everyone did, and she said “oh no, only a few people do that, most people are a lot calmer during labour” (?!). I remember going back to my office and telling people about the ‘banshee woman’ screaming down the corridors, and we all had a good chuckle about it.
And now here I was, Banshee Number Two. I really feel for anyone who was having their antenatal check-up as I was being wheeled through screaming my head off.
The next couple of hours are a bit of a blur. I remember about 6 people at the end of the bed staring at my vagina, and I don’t remember my husband being there at all – he was probably quaking in his boots in the corner of the room. I remember a lovely warm grey-haired anaesthesiologist who was about to give me the epidural but then was got called away to an emergency. I remember yelling and begging him to please please not go and to just do this first. He smiled and told me he was just going behind the curtain to give the nurses some room, and of course then he dashed off to the emergency. He must be so used to frantic mothers screaming the place down in desperation for drugs. I didn’t know at the time, but he would then be the man to hold my hand in theatre later as my little boy came in to this world.
The doctors gathered around and told me that although the baby was fine at the moment, after so long pushing they were worried about him deteriorating, so they wanted to get me in to theatre. They would try forceps and if that didn’t work, I’d have to have an emergency caesarean.
I’m not sure what went through my mind at this point. This is what we’d talked about in our NCT classes as being ‘worst case’ scenario. It’s exactly what I wanted to avoid. But I knew that there was no other way this baby was coming out, and in a way I was just relieved to know that I didn’t have to do anything anymore, someone else would help my baby come out.
As I was wheeled in to theatre, I was still only on gas and air and was writhing in agony with each contraction. Another banshee moment pursued.
In the theatre a new anaesthesiologist tried to administer the epidural, I remember him saying that he was having trouble getting it in, and ended up having to do a double one. I didn’t care because all I knew is that suddenly I had no pain at all, I couldn’t feel a thing, and I actually felt like ‘me’ in my head again, not the screaming banshee woman. I did have a few moments of panic when I tried to wiggle my toes and realised of course that I couldn’t, but everything was moving so fast I didn’t have time to dwell on it.
The grey-haired anaesthesiologist was now by my side, holding one of my hands firmly, while my husband held my other. I’m not sure what he said to me, but I remember him making me feel so calm and safe. He asked my husband if he had bought his camera in to the theatre, and we realised in all the panic that we hadn’t. I’m not sure at which point in the process it was, but my husband dashed back to the room to get it.
First they tried forceps. I couldn’t see or feel anything, but it was only afterwards that my husband relayed the fact that they were yanking so hard that they may as well have put their foot up on the table when pulling backwards. Baby wasn’t going to budge. So within seconds they were cutting through all my layers of stomach muscles, and up came a blood covered screaming baby boy. I remember feeling relieved when I heard him cry as I knew that was the first hurdle.
My husband, through teary eyes, didn’t know whether to stay with me or go to our baby. I of course told him to go – at which point he managed to capture the most amazing picture of our baby about to be weighed, with the cord still attached.
I was shaking uncontrollably, apparently caused by the drugs, and was just laid there, numb, not really sure what would happen next. This wasn’t the perfect picture I had imagined of holding my baby for the first time, and putting him straight on my chest so he could be soothed by my heartbeat. In reality, I was shaking so much I was scared to hold him, so at first all I managed was to kiss him on the forehead.
At this point the lovely grey-haired man appeared at the door and asked if we had anxious relatives waiting outside. No, I don’t think we did. They were all waiting at home for news, the last update of which had been at 7am, and it was now 5pm.
I was wheeled out of theatre in to recovery, with my baby lying between my legs wrapped up in a blanket, as I was too scared I would drop him because of the shaking.
I’ll never forget seeing my mum and sister staring back at me through the glass doors. I had no idea that they had come to the hospital, and instead of giving them a reassuring smile, I just burst in to tears. I found out later that they had had an anxious time waiting for news, gleaming only snippets of information from hospital staff. They were finally told I had been taken in to theatre but had no idea why or what state I was in. It still makes me cry now even thinking about that moment.
Now in recovery, my mum and sister were allowed in to see us and meet our son. I was surprised that they were allowed in so quickly, but it was nice as they got to see him when he was only about 30 minutes old. I was wired up to lots of machines and had a catheter and a bag of fluid down by my feet. I’ve never had any kind of operation before so this was completely alien to me. The blood pressure monitor alarm kept going off, and the nurses would run over and check me. Bizarrely it was at this point that I thought maybe I would die, not while I was in theatre being cut open.
I was torn between worrying about myself, and remembering that my baby had just been born and I didn’t want to miss these first few special hours of bonding time.
The shaking had calmed down so we put the baby on my chest. He was so tiny, it was just crazy to think he had been inside the bump all this time, and now here he was, lying on me. For nine months I had wondered what he would look like, and had worried about whether he would have a deformity or a disability. And here he was – perfect. He had dark hair and deep blue eyes, and the most perfectly formed features. You’d never know the trauma he’d just been through.
I on the other hand, was a mess.
I couldn’t stop crying, and sadly they weren’t even tears of joy. I was completely traumatised by everything that had happened, and from very early on I felt robbed of the special birth experience, something which still haunts me now.
Something amazing happened though as he lay on me. Less than an hour old, he gradually found my breast and latched on, and began to feed. Incredible! I remember it did hurt then, even though I was still drugged up. I also remember feeling slightly conscious as I lay there topless in front of my family and in-laws! But then that’s what you do when you have a baby, isn’t it? It’s the most natural thing in the world...isn’t it?
So why then did I find breastfeeding the most excruciatingly painful thing I’ve ever done? Everyone says it hurts at first, but I didn’t expect to have black, cracked, bleeding nipples within 24 hours of having him…
Because of the caesarean I had to stay in hospital for four days, and I remember the breast-feeding counsellor coming round on day three, while I was still crying every ten minutes, and forcing the baby’s mouth on to my nipple, trying to show me how to get him to latch on. It was like torture every time he bit down – he obviously didn’t even have teeth, but the pressure of the gums and the sucking was agony. When he pulled away he would have a mixture of blood and milk around his mouth. It was horrendous.
Over the following weeks I kept trying to breastfeed, but unfortunately my milk never came in properly and I had to put him on the bottle. This compounded my feelings of ‘failing’ and I did feel very depressed about it, and envious of my friends who seemed to breastfeed without a problem.
As the months went on, we had new challenges to deal with like never ending sleep deprivation, hospital emergencies and food allergies. It was a very difficult time in our lives...
Nine years on from this traumatic experience, re-living it still brings me to tears. However, I am happy to tell you that 4 years after this, I had my second son and my childbirth this time was a whole different ball game.
I pleaded for a planned c-section as I wanted to feel in control of the birth, but on the day of the operation, my waters broke at 5am and by the time I got to hospital I was fully dilated, and it was too late for theatre (or for any drugs!!) and my second son was born naturally 3 hours later.
Not only was it amazing not to have the recovery of a c-section, but my care was so much better this time round. I chose a different hospital and was greeted with friendly midwives and supportive paediatricians, making my experience so much more positive and my recovery much smoother. Once again, I had problems breastfeeding, but there was a lot less pressure this time and I only beat myself up for a few weeks, rather than months, when I had to give up.
I remember my husband and I saying now we understood why other people had a shorter age gap, because if we had experienced such a positive birth the first-time round we wouldn’t have been so damn scared about going through it again!
For those of you who can relate to my first birth story, I would encourage you to talk about it and find some closure. Writing down your experience as I have here is incredibly cathartic (obviously you don’t have to publish it!). You should ask for a debrief with the hospital and your GP. Women who go through childbirth trauma are at higher risk of PND, so it’s important to get the support you need from your GP and health visitors. The Pandas Foundation is a charity which offers support for birth trauma.
You may want to seek some counselling to help you come to terms with your experience. I had counselling afterwards and if I hadn’t, I don’t think we would have been ready to have a second child. If you do feel that you experienced serious mistreatment by the hospital, do seek legal advice.
You don't need to face this alone.
This is a sponsored post as part of a campaign to encourage women to speak out about negative birth experiences. The views expressed are all my own.