I’ve always been in two minds about writing down the details of MissE’s birth. In some ways it seems odd to share such an intimate and difficult story with whichever total strangers come across my blog. It is necessarily very long and I’m wary of producing a horror story or looking like I’m just fishing for sympathy. But her birth is also a huge part of why I write this blog and especially why I get so infuriated at stories that claim C section mums are weak or selfish. So, when I heard about a birth stories linky, I decided to have one more go at writing this down. Perhaps having a deadline is what finally got me through it. It’s not a very happy story, (though there are far worse) and it is very long so I don’t know if anyone will endure the whole thing. But if nothing else, putting it all down here has been cathartic and provides a record of events and perhaps an insight into why I write this blog.
|A few days before MissE was born
This isn’t the story I hoped I’d write, although if you roll the credits at just the right moment, they both end up sort of the same. There are all the expected superlatives for that moment when you see your baby for the first time. She was beautiful, amazing, perfect and I was instantly hit by love so strong that it crushed me and lifted me to the sky in the same moment. But in The Other Story, the one I planned before her birth, I would have been holding her in my arms, in the midwife unit, perhaps in a warm pool of water. In this story, the real one, my arms were trapped, I lay on an operating table and the tale of how I got there was a lot longer and more complicated than I had imagined.
Both stories do start out about the same though. I know, almost exactly when the contractions started. It was 5pm. A Lot of people are unsure if it’s the real thing, but I’d been having vague, uncomfortable tightenings for weeks and this was different, more focused and deliberate. I wasn’t afraid, if anything I was excited and relieved. At nine days overdue in the August heat I was obsessed with when this baby would finally arrive. The previous Wednesday I’d gone to the midwife and reluctantly discussed the induction that my NCT teacher had promised would lead to a cascade of medical interventions and the one thing I was actually afraid of – a C section. It would also bar me from the midwife led unit and I was feeling pretty miserable about it all. Then everything changed to delight when I was found to be three centimeters dilated already and told to go home and prepare for labour. But labour didn’t start on Wednesday night, or Thursday and by the weekend I was again resigning myself to the dreaded induction. So I welcomed those first contractions gratefully even as they got more and more painful.
I was also bleeding a little so I called the hospital who suggested I come in just to be checked. I knew I would probably be sent home again but it was only ten minutes away so we went along and after a short wait and a quick exam I was told all was fine and I could go home to get some food and rest. Disappointingly, I was still only three cm dilated but I felt good and couldn’t wait to meet my baby.
Back home we ate pizza and (as recommended by that NCT teacher) I had a large glass of wine. The sleep though was more of a problem. While MrSB slept soundly next to me I was jolted back to consciousness by a contraction every time I was about to drift off. After a while I gave up and, with help from poor woken up MrSB, got into the bath. He went back to bed and I lay in the warm water, listening to whatever was on Radio 4 and keeping track of my contractions on a little clock by my feet. Getting in the bath seemed to speed things up almost immediately, the contractions were soon five minutes apart and quite strong. But the warm water in our extra deep bath made it bearable and calm and after an hour I woke MrSB up again to say it was time to go back to hospital.
Monday Morning- The Midwife Led Birthing Center
It was odd driving though central London very early on a Monday morning, knowing that all around us millions of people were getting up, doing ordinary morning things and reluctantly preparing for another day at work, while we were about to have our whole lives changed. We had a longer wait in reception this time, I couldn’t sit on the plastic chairs and it just seemed too bright and exposed. I paced up and down, worrying that the midwife unit was full and I would be sent to the labour ward or across London to another hospital. But a head finally appeared around the door and I was taken to one of the birthing rooms.
It turned out I had arrived, inconveniently, during a shift change. Initially I was assigned to the head midwife and her new student. I was fine with the student examining me and delighted when she turned to her supervisor smiling and said “ooh I don’t want to say it!” I guessed what she was thinking, I was nearly there! All those hours, all those contractions, I was doing this, I could definitely do this!
But this is where The Other Story falls away.
The supervisor checked herself and shook her head. Three centimeters. Still only three.
In spite of that, they decided I could stay if I wanted as the contractions were clearly strong and frequent. I asked if I could use one of the birthing pools and was relieved to be told one was free but my senior midwife had gone elsewhere and the new one was dashing between me and another women who needed her more so I wasn’t allowed to use the pool unassisted.
I tried to cope by keeping active, bouncing on a ball and firing up the booster on the TENS machine but I desperately wanted to be back in the water. The room had a little bathroom with a tiny half bath and in desperation I wedged all six foot and nine months pregnant of me into it. When the midwife found me, much later, she took pity and agreed to me using the birthing pool with just my husband for a lifeguard.
The pool however, was a bit of a disappointment. Perhaps I was just too tall for it but I found it hard to get comfy. It was better than being on land though and I breathed through each contraction, eyes closed, just letting them crash over me. I even managed to eat a vegetarian moussaka that arrived at what I think was lunch time, although in the dark windowless room I had lost all track of time. At some point the midwife came in and was able to stay with me. She sat quietly in the corner making notes while I bobbed about, amused by the surreal oddness of the situation.
Eventually, reluctantly, and with quite a bit of help, I hauled myself out of the tank, feeling the unwelcome return of the heft of gravity. We went back to the birthing room and I knew this time, I was nearly there, nine cm at least? Surely? No, still three. Five days since the first examination, more then twenty hours of unremitting contractions and I had gone nowhere.
My birth plan said I didn’t want anything to speed up labour. But my birth plan was written by someone else. Someone who hadn’t been awake for almost 36 hours. Someone who wasn’t, even after all that, still excited to meet her baby and sure it would happen soon.
So I lay on my back as the midwife inserted a hook and broke my waters. I hadn’t minded all the other examinations but this time her head was right there between my legs as the amniotic fluid gushed out and I felt like I had wet myself right in her face. The indignity wasn’t the worst thing though. The increase in pain was instant and huge. I was encouraged to walk now. I desperately wanted to be back in the comforting water, to rest in the warm, dark room. But I knew I needed to try something new so moved painfully down the corridor, stopping to hang from the wall or my husband’s shoulders (oh thank heavens for those shoulders) with each contraction. In the little plastic garden at the end of the corridor some staff were eating their lunch, but quickly left as I bent over the window ledge for another contraction and the horrid gush of fluid that came with it. Outside people were sitting in the park, having normal days. How was that possible?
For two hours it got more and more intense. I’d been told that the pain went away completely in between contractions but it didn’t. It was always there, along with the fog of exhaustion. The contractions obliterated everything, any thought I had was smashed from my head every few minutes, over and over and over again. I wasn’t me anymore, the rational, sensible one, an educated women who rarely asks for help or gets emotional about things. I was an animal who knew only the sensation of pain and the desire to survive.
When I was examined again, I had only got to 5cm and I was defeated.
The obstetric unit was just down the corridor from the midwife unit, but it was the longest and hardest walk of my life. MrSB was ahead of me talking to the midwife and I lagged behind, stalled continually by the contractions. The midwife, shift number two or three at this point, had said that the next step was a syntocinon drip to speed things up and that meant I had failed. I knew I couldn’t keep going any longer and that to do so would be pointless anyway but I would have to leave the midwife unit, give up on my plans altogether and submit to all those scary things my NCT teacher had threatened. Having heard horror stories about syntocinon, I asked if I could have an epidural first. To my surprise the midwife seemed to be relieved when I said this and suggested I try some gas and air too so I could keep still for the epidural to be administered. Really, I’d wanted something for the pain for a long time, but in my confused state I hadn’t wanted to ask for the gas and air, feeling I should wait for it to be offered.
Monday Night – The Obstetric Unit
The room was surprisingly similar to the one in the midwife unit but larger. I was given the gas and air fairly quickly and oh my god it was wonderful. I felt drunk. I was uneasy with the knowledge that I wasn’t thinking straight, while everyone else was stone cold sober, but at least the pain was dampened enough that I could think at all. There was no anaesthetist available but with the new pain relief I was able to cope for another hour or so. When she was eventually free there were no drugs made up and so I waited some more while the ingredients were chased up with the pharmacy and carefully mixed.
Then they had to get the epidural in. This was where the really horrible experiences began. I was asked to sit sideways on the bed and bend forwards so the anaesthetist could put the epidural in my spine. But I couldn’t bend, my belly was huge and I simply couldn’t arch myelf into it. The doctor put the needle in, but missed the required spot. She had promised not to insert it during a contraction but instead she used that time to feel my bones and muscles, squeezing my back in a way that was absolute agony. I swore at her and she snapped back that she wasn’t putting the needle in, after that I didn’t dare complain again, there seemed no point anway. I cant remember how many more failed attempts there were but eventually she got it in and I was hooked up to the epidural along with a cannula in my hand for the syntocinon (much later I learned from my notes that my spine is slightly twisted which is way it was so difficult to get the epidural in ).
Mostly I was just thankful that the process was over but as my right side began to go numb I felt a wonderful sense of release. It didn’t actually bother me that my left side could still feel everything, I felt guilty about having the epidural at all and half the pain was still a lot better than all of it, so I didn’t say anything. In a weird way I wanted some of the pain to remain, to prove I hadn’t given in entirely. But after a while a midwife covering a break realised what was going on and moved me about until the drugs swept down my left side too.
It was bizarre, having been in so much pain, to suddenly feel tired but ok. I could tell from the monitor that the contractions were getting bigger and bigger but I couldn’t feel them. At some point MrSB popped out and bought sandwiches and magazines, then I think he may have fallen asleep in a chair. I was too tired to read and too hyped up to sleep but I flicked through the pictures for a while. I was also able to walk to the bathroom initially, gingerly towing my drips and tubes, but after a few hours, and a humiliating attempt to use a cardboard bedpan, I was catheterised.
Finally, at around 11pm I was examined again. By now I was being looked after by two lovely midwives. One seemed confident and experienced the other was a trainee on her last shift. She was herself a mother of three and if she “caught” my baby, her training was complete. If we failed, she faced extra shifts. Also in the room was a doctor or maybe several. I’m not actually sure now how many people examined me, I was well passed caring anyway but to my absolute delight I was finally found to be fully dilated. I was told we would continue with the drip and wait another hour to try to get the baby to move down more and then I would push. We also agreed to stop topping up the epidural so that I would be able to feel what was going on and move around. Exhausted though I was, this was wonderful news. I could, after all, sort of, do this birth thing properly. But as the doctor left the room I heard him say quietly to the midwives: “don’t let her push for too long, no more than an hour. She’s on my list”.
Tuesday – The Obstetric Unit
The hour ended at midnight. Now I knew my babies birthday, it would be today, this specific Tuesday. Without the epidural the pain was returning and I was finding it hard to think again but when the midwives returned a little later we set about bringing my baby into the world. At first they had to move me around. Hauling my swollen body and dead thighs into position after position and encouraging me to push with each contraction, but gradually movement returned and with it the pain. We tried more positions and a birthing stool but that just made me more aware of the discomfort from the catheter. I asked to have it removed but was told it had to stay. Back on the bed I was laid flat on my back with my lags in stirups, it was the complete opposite of what those NCT classes had said, but I’d done all the squatting, kneeling and bending already and that hadn’t worked. I was also aware that, although the pain was back, I couldn’t feel the baby, she still seemed high in my belly, and I had no urge to push, I just did it, to order on each contraction. At one point a midwife was next to me urging “come on, just one more push!” but it seemed impossible that that was true and the midwife confessed that it wasn’t when I asked her. In a rare moment of assertiveness I told her not to say it again. It felt patronising and insulting, something you’d say to a reluctant child riding their bike up a hill, not to a grown woman who knew it was a lie.
Still I pushed and the doctors one hour deadline came and went. Perhaps the midwives really thought I could do it and wanted to spare me the alternative, perhaps they just wanted to be spared those extra shifts, either way it wasn’t to be. I don’t really remember when or why we decided to stop but at some we did. I think it must have been a midwife who made the final decision as I’d given up long before, but was too dazed to do anything other than carry on doing as I was told.
Then there were more people in the room, the doctor was back and other doctors too. They told me what I dreaded but, really, already knew. I needed a c section, the one thing I had been afraid of before all this began. A consent form appeared, and someone began reading me a list of risks: n% chance of a hysterectomy x% chance of a blood transfusion, y% chance of death. It seemed utterly insane to imagine I could make a reasoned decision, based on statistics at that point, were these people mad? Had they any idea how exhausted and confused I was? Was there really any other option at this point anyway? I asked my husband to tell me what to do and he told me to sign the form.
Tuesday – Operating Theater
A more urgent case needed the theater first so again I waited. The epidural was started again and I was given gas and air while I waited for it to work. But this time it did nothing. I screamed at the midwives that the pipe must be blocked but it wasn’t. I was in what should have been the final throws of labour with (as I found out later) a huge, back to back baby. My contractions were made still stronger by syntocinon but all that I could bear, when I thought it would bring me my baby. Now I despised that pain. It was just so ****ing pointless, all that agony coming again and again and still I would be cut open and my baby removed by someone else. All that pain and still I couldn’t do what millions of women throughout history have done and get her out myself. I can’t begin to describe that pain, there are no words bad enough. When the epidural did eventually return it only worked on one side again.
I don’t remember going to theater. I have an image of lying there with machinery next to my head and a blue screen across my chest. The aneasthetist, a different one, was saying something about general anaesthetics and I was terrified that he was about to put me under, that I would miss the birth entirely and finally surrender the last shreds of my consciousness. But he was just asking questions just in case.
I was expecting them to get on with the surgery, at least then it would be over, but instead the surgeon decided to try the suction cap (ventouse). I couldn’t see what was going on, I pushed to order again but I had so little energy left and no confidence it would work. Much later my husband told me how the surgeon had been using all his strength and weight to try and drag my baby out, bracing a foot against the leg of the operating table to add to the force. I’m glad I couldn’t see that being done to my baby and I’m glad that I couldn’t see what came next, when he reached in and tried to turn her head and twist her into a better position. But the ventouse had only managed to move her down far enough for her head to become firmly wedged in my pelvis, unturnable and unable to come down any further. Someone suggested forceps but the surgeon decided against that and now, with her head partially descended and trapped, the C section needed to be done quickly.
After that I have only snatches of memory.
I remember shaking violently and not knowing why, it was terrifying. In my confused state I thought I was hemorrhaging and going into shock.
I remember realising that I could see everything that was going on behind the screen in the reflection in a glass panel door panel. It was gruesomely fascinating but in the end I turned away.
I remember feeling sorrow guilt that my child would never have a sibling, I could never do this again.
I remember my husband looking over the screen as the baby was lifted from me and him telling me we had a daughter.
I remember silence, and the moments that seemed to last eternity as I willed her to cry and feared the very worst.
I remember having to choose if my husband should stay with me or go to our baby and sobbing as I was left alone so she would have one of us with her in these precious moments.
I remember hearing the surgeons talking anxiously about a bleed that wouldn’t stop and feeling so afraid and exhausted and wretched that I didn’t even care if it killed me.
I remember feeling like a slab of meat on a butchers block.
There were strangers with my baby but I couldn’t see her and no one was telling me if she was ok. There were strangers at my belly and they were cutting and sewing my body but they didn’t think to speak to me. I was not empowered or elated by birth as I’d been promised by all those antenatal classes, hypnobirthing CDs etc. etc. I was merely flawed and inconvenient flesh.
Then, I remember a cry. A full blown, big lunged new born cry and a little while later, I saw my baby girl and felt that smack of love and all those superlatives of how wonderful she was. It seemed odd to see her for the first time, not naked, but wrapped in a towel, already in a nappy. I couldn’t quite believe that something so astonishingly beautiful could have come from my wretched body and deliriously wondered if there had been a swap behind that blue screen, though I knew that made no sense. I was desperate to hold her but my arms were trapped under the blue screen and I could only look and yearn to touch her, as my husband held her near.
|In recovery, with my baby in my arms at last
Friday July 17th 2015 – Home.
As I write this, our house is slowly filling up with Disney princess party accessories. In a few days we will celebrate my wonderful little girl’s sixth birthday. I wish, when she asks me about her birth, that I could tell her The Other Story and that that first birthday was the happiest day of my life. But in reality, this is the story we have and those three days were the worst I’ve ever lived. So for now I’ll skip the details and just tell her how loved and wanted she is.
This story will never be magical or inspiring but (I hope) it’s not a horror story either. There were aspects of my care that weren’t great and sadly, what followed on the postnatal ward was no better
. But I know many people have it far worse and my overwhelming feeling looking back, is gratitude. In another time or place MissE would not be here, nor would I. Her little sister would never have even been conceived (her birth story is very different, you can read it here
So difficult though the real story is, and so different from what I’d hoped for, it is what it is and there is no changing that now. MissE was worth every contraction, and every indignity and I would suffer them all a hundred times over for her if I had to. That’s not heroic, it’s being a Mum. In the end the stories end the same way and it’s a very, very happy ending.
|Me, MissE and her little sister MissM, camping in the woods