I think I must have semi-passed out as the emergency buzzer was pressed and the room flooded with medical staff, as I had no clue what was going on and why the anaesthetist had stopped putting in my epidural and I was being pushed back down on the bed with hands going up inside me. As far as I was concerned this was an examination without my consent, everything was noisy and overbearing and I did not know why.
Even though I’d been mostly compliant with whatever medical staff had said during my two day labour, at this point I do remember pushing the doctor away and shouting “GET OFF ME!” whilst she and various other people tried to calm me (hold me?) down.
This was not how this was supposed to go. Not this time. I knew better this time, things were going to be different. So why was it all going to shit again?
*I have been putting off writing this blog post for months as it’s still raw for me and focussing on my experience too much can make me feel quite low. However, I know I am by no means alone in struggling to come to terms with a traumatic birthing experience and there will be people that read this who can relate.*
So…. rewind to first baby. I had already lost two and as a couple my husband and I had had plenty of bad luck since getting married so my pregnancy was less ‘isn’t this wonderful and exciting’ and more ‘still don’t believe this baby is gonna get here safe and well’.
Due to severe pelvic pain and an apparently large baby, I was advised to have an induction bang on 40 weeks and in my naivety thought that just meant that I would meet my baby sooner. In reality it meant a cascade of interventions, being trapped on a bed for two days not being able to eat because the midwives and doctors know that there was a much greater chance of needing surgery after being induced. I didn’t. No-one had told me. Eventually after my waters had been artificially broken but I hadn’t dilated past 3cm, and I had thought to myself that even if things suddenly happened now I wouldn’t know how to gather the strength to deliver after 48 hours of no food and no sleep, I agreed to a c-section. I was shaking uncontrollably so couldn’t hold my baby when she was born and I vomited twice whilst being sewn up.
I wasn’t able to control any of the environment or have a camera in the surgery, so the first photos of my daughter were taken in the recovery room by my husband and anything but the serene image I’d hoped for (see my post on ‘Post Birth Photos’. )
Having said all that, both my husband and I cried with happiness when we heard Imogen cry as she came out. We just couldn’t believe we finally had our baby and she was ok. I wasn’t the first to hold her but her Daddy was and it was a wonderful feeling to watch him hold her with that indescribable look in his eyes. You know the one.
As it was late at night, as soon as I got to the ward they sent Damian home and I was left to unsuccessfully shuffle up the bed (epidural not yet worn off but pain definitely kicking in) to try to reach my much needed tea and toast.
The night was then spent waiting for pain meds and ringing the buzzer so that the nurse could come and pass me my baby and I could continue trying to establish breastfeeding under very difficult circumstances (there will be a whole other blog post about breastfeeding soon). The next evening, against advice, I discharged myself and went home. The staff at the hospital did not have capacity to look after me and my baby the way my husband could, and the ward was too noisy, busy and bright. We needed our lives to start.
Photo: Imogen with her daddy in hospital, around 12 hours old
Two years later we began to talk about having another baby, and this time it happened instantly and without any losses, for which we were very grateful. Shocked, but grateful!
I discussed my previous birth with the consultant and explained I felt I had been set up to fail. I was determined this would not happen again and that I was going to have a successful VBAC (Vaginal Birth After C-Section). I had made a birth plan, started an online hypnobirthing course and felt a lot more knowledgeable and prepared than last time.
After much discussion, the hospital agreed for me to have my baby on the Mid-wife led unit. (I had strongly considered home birth for a while but decided on hospital ‘just in case’)
I was hopefully going to get the water birth I had longed for!
It all started off so well. This time I refused induction and my waters broke naturally one evening at home. With contractions coming thick and fast we made our way to hospital and went straight into the pool room. You know, the one with all the fancy low lighting and nice artwork. My husband even said something to me like “You made it, you’re where you wanted to be”.
I was leaning against the empty birthing pool trying to breathe through my contractions and asking the midwife “can we fill the pool up now please?”. She asked to examine me first, and against my better judgement, I let her. “You’re only 1cm”, she said. You fucking what?! These contractions didn’t feel like I was 1cm dilated.
The midwife then told me she wouldn’t fill the pool until I was at least 4cm dilated, and that I would have to go over to the labour ward until that point. I was being evicted from the nice artwork and low lighting environment as I wasn’t ‘in labour enough’. Go away, silly girl. Come back when you do better.
I immediately deflated and my contractions immediately depleted to almost nothing. This happens. Look it up. Adrenalin winning out over oxytocin the moment you enter the bright lights and business of the hospital and somebody tells you that actually you’re not in ‘established labour’.
We made our way over to the labour ward (the one where I’d been strapped to a bed whilst induced three years earlier)and again Damian was told he had to go home for the night and they would call him if anything started to happen. This panicked me; it would take half an hour to get back to the hospital at least. There’s no way I wanted stuff to happen if he wasn’t there. My contractions depleted further. My brain was telling my body that this was not a safe environment/time to give birth. The home birth I’d seriously considered then decided against suddenly seemed like the better option after all. But it was too late.
By the next day they wanted to induce. Waters being broken too long without giving birth can mean infection and danger for mother and baby. I went home to see if this would speed things up. We couldn’t believe we were coming back to the house without a baby. We went for a walk, had a MacDonalds, and reluctantly returned to the hospital to start the induction process. I couldn’t believe it was happening again. After going into labour naturally. After being so prepared.
Photo: Me in labour with Theo, with Damian using me as a footstool. A mutually beneficial arrangement as the pressure on my lower back actually helped!
A day later and the crash team moment I started this post with happened. Something had gone wrong with the heartbeat monitor and for a moment they had thought the baby’s heartbeat had drastically slowed down. It hadn’t and he was fine. But I was into day two of labour, again. They didn’t want me to eat, again. I’d been induced and was having artificial and overly strong contractions, again. So I’d had an epidural, again. So I was confined to a bed and couldn’t use mobility to help the birthing process, again. I began to cry. I cried and told the midwife and a trainee paramedic that I was too weak and too tired and I couldn’t do this anymore. The consultant came in and told me it was time to discuss a c-section. Again.
I was defeated and this time also dealing with the fact that I had been away from my daughter for two days now and she didn’t know what was going on. I missed her and felt guilty.
The consultant said “let’s examine you one more time (about the 20th time) before we go down to surgery. She did, and announced “Oh, you’re 10 cm dilated”. WHAT? She then joked (!) “Maybe I should have examined you before we discussed the c section, haha ” NO SHIT.
I didn’t know whether I was coming or going. I certainly didn’t feel 10cm dilated as I’d just ramped up the epidural with my little button thingy once again after being told I was having surgery. She said “you’ll need to try ‘assisted pushing'”, which is basically where they tell you when your own contraction is coming by looking at the monitor so you know when to go for it. The first few I tried I just wasn’t doing right, as I couldn’t feel my own muscles and didn’t have control over my own body. I tell you what, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I would never have had an epidural if I’d have realised that for me personally it would take multiple attempts to even get it to work and then when it came to it would only mean I couldn’t feel where I was meant to be ‘bearing down’ to get the baby out. It didn’t fully take the pain away either, and of course rendered me immobile. It just wasn’t good for me.
Anyway, I did start to get the pushing ‘right’ but as this was happening I began to feel a searing pain in my left lower abdomen. Its difficult to explain but it wasn’t a contraction pain, it didn’t ebb and flow, it was a constant, burning, pin pointed pain that panicked me so much I couldn’t focus on the pushing. The consultant started asking me questions. “What is the pain? Where exactly is it? ” I knew they were worried it was my previous c section scar rupturing, which would be really dangerous for me and the baby. The pain was weird and wrong and all consuming.
I agreed to go to surgery.
They said if I got down there and baby was too low they may have to try and pull him out with forceps in theatre. Turns out he was still high up and they got him out the sunroof, just like his sister before him.
The theatre was bright with lots of people chatting and having general banter, just another day in the office for them. I wanted to scream “But this is my life, and my child! Shut up and treat the occasion with the reverence it deserves!”
I actually started having really bad chest pains whilst on the table too, something else for me and everyone else to shit themselves slightly about. I was a bit ‘tachy’ , they explained. The chest pains went away as soon as I was in recovery. Panic attack symptom, maybe? Who knows.
All I knew was they weren’t letting me hold my baby until they were satisfied my heart rate was coming down, and my heart rate wasn’t coming down because I was watching and hearing my baby crying for his Mum (and his Mum’s boob) and I couldn’t have him. I had words. They let me have him. My heart rate came down. Shocking.
Photo: my first hold and feed whilst in recovery hooked up to all the monitors. Check out the hat 🙊
The surgeon later told me they found a large haematoma when they went rummaging around in me. The cause of that weird pain? Who knows.
And so here he was, my squishy 9lber, with his donated knitted hat that was too small for his big head, and his gorgeous blue eyes. Theo Dominic. My boy.
Again, Damian was asked to leave as soon as we were up to the ward as it was late evening and hospital policy, and again I was left unsuccessfully trying to shuffle up the bed with the spinal starting to wear off and surgery pain starting to kick in. Pressing the buzzer for meds. Prezzing the buzzer for my baby to be passed to me to breastfeed. Pressing the buzzer for my baby to be put back in the cot afterwards. Doze. Repeat.
Photo: Pic I took of me and my boy when we were alone for the first time since the birth
Again, I waited just the minimum 24 hour period after surgery before signing myself out to go home.
It was a like a bloody zoo on that ward.
If I’d have known my VBAC attempt would go the way it did I would definitely have booked a planned C-Section, because hindsight is a wonderful thing.
But we are where we are, and I have experienced a lot. Waters breaking, contractions, even pushing.
I have actually given birth ‘naturally’ before, too. Again with artificially induced labour and with a lot of pain involved. It was back in 2014, a lot earlier on in pregnancy and the baby wasn’t alive so not sure if it counts…. but anyway. That happened.
I have been to the hospital since having Theo and had a ‘birth debrief’ with the head of Midwives (who incidentally ended up with unplanned C sections when she had her kids too) and who told me that even if I had had a home birth, they would have been transferring me in due to that strange awful pain I was having anyway. But then, what if it had all gone quicker and easier with a home birth? The truth is I now have to come to terms with the fact I’ll never know if things could have been different.
What I do know, however, is the facts.
The facts are that although I may wish how they got here had been different, I now have two beautiful, healthy children who have no ill effects from their exit ‘through the sunroof’. I am lucky that I didn’t have any issues bonding with either of them despite the nature of their births – it was an instant overwhelming connection both times. I am so grateful for all of the above.
The facts are that my body didn’t ‘fail’ me. Twice now it has withstood emergency surgery after days of painful labour, no food or sleep and 9 months of growing a human, then gone on to feed and care for said human after the event.
If you think about it, that makes my body pretty fucking awesome.
*I would love to hear your birth stories, if you’re up for sharing*
Photo: Imogen meeting her brother for the first time. She looks a bit unsure, and it must have been so confusing as she hadn’t seen me for days and then had to leave without me again which upset her