If I could sum up how my whole birth experience made me feel, I’m sad to say it would be ‘a failure’. My son is more amazing than I could ever imagine but the effect the birth had on me as a woman and mother was, for quite a while, very negative.
I was 9 days past my due-date on the date I gave birth, but went into labour 2 nights before my baby was eventually born. Contractions came and went, I stayed up all night, at 8am they were 5 minutes apart… At 11am they stopped completely for a couple of hours. I was gutted as I felt I had somehow imagined the whole thing. At 1am the following night I told my husband I really had to go to hospital, but after being examined I was told that I was only 1cm dilated. My overwhelming feeling at this point was of disappointment in myself, that I couldn’t handle the level of pain at this early stage. Nobody realised until much later that my baby was back to back, and it’s likely these early contractions were my body trying to turn the baby rather than dilating. We were sent home under strict instructions not to come back until contractions were 3mins apart.
The pain got worse and worse. I was in shock at the sheer amount of pain I was in. If there was one part of having a child I assumed I could deal with it was the pain of the birth. Perhaps naively, because I have ran a few marathons, I thought I would know how to deal with prolonged pain, but this was off the chart. Paracetamol, bath, massage, TENS machine all had no effect. We decided at 8am the following morning I would have to go back to hospital. I was examined at 4cm and allowed to stay this time.
I got settled in the large birthing pool and the water combined with using gas and air gave me a massive amount of comfort. The pool was where I had hoped to give birth. Unfortunately, during the routine checks of my baby’s heartrate the midwife identified that it had dipped and called a doctor. I was told I would have to get out of the pool for monitoring. A clip was attached to my baby’s head and the wire coming out of me made it really hard to move around without it falling off. I had to lie on the bed to be monitored which was a massive blow, as everything I had read said that moving around and using gravity made for a much better labour. Having stipulated in my birth plan that I would prefer no injected painkillers or epidural, I was then faced with the fact that none of my planned natural pain management (water, movement) was going to be allowed. I was offered some diamorphine and at time it felt like the only way I could get some relief from the pain.
I feel like at this point things went catastrophically downhill. The diamorphine made me vomit while also feeling like I was miles away down a dark tunnel. When someone asked me a question it seemed to take forever for me to give an answer, like I was horribly drunk. The contractions kept coming and I remember saying I had changed my mind and wanted an epidural.
Somewhere in this time a different midwife came in and helped me to stand up, the relief was intense, she said the dip in the heartrate was possibly because I was ready to push and I felt like maybe it would get better from there. But sadly not, as she was sent off to a different ward and the doctor came back to ask why I had been allowed off the bed. Two anaesthetists came in and started the epidural, they tried over and over between contractions to get the needle into my back (about 6 times according to my husband), and failed, apparently because my back was too muscly (failure again!!!). The anaesthetists were suddenly called away to an emergency c-section and I was told my epidural was unlikely to happen as I was now fully dilated. The pain was unbearable. My baby’s heartrate had dropped again.
The final three hours have condensed into a few vivid moments in my head. I was laid back with my legs in stirrups, the worst position I could have imagined to give birth in. Drips were put into both my hands. A lot more staff came in, including the consultant, who I distinctly remember telling me to ‘stop making so much noise or you won’t put all the effort into pushing’. I started to cry and remember the midwife hugging me really hard and saying I was doing amazing and my baby was just having a really tough time coming out. At this point someone realised my baby was back to back and the consultant was trying to manually turn him round the right way, the pain of this was unspeakable. He also realised the cord was round my baby’s neck and then it was panic stations. He tried a ventouse and nearly fell over backwards as the suction failed. I was then told I would have to be cut and I was really scared. Under the commotion I heard somebody mention quietly that the scissors looked blunt and they would need another pair (I assume I wasn’t meant to hear that). He made the cut and eventually used forceps to pull my baby out as I pushed harder than I ever imagined was possible. As my son was born I heard a lot of liquid splashing on the floor and realised it was me losing blood (2 litres I was told later). I was crying and begged them to let me hold my baby as I was convinced I would lose consciousness, and at this point I genuinely thought I might die having never held him. As I was being stitched up the consultant said ‘you’ve had an epidural haven’t you??’ Ermmm no.
My initial reaction to my birth experience was to turn it into some kind of ‘Carry On’ story, make a joke out of what a disaster it had been, like ‘haha silly me why did I think having a person come out my vagina would be life-affirming?!’ In reality I had decided in my head I had totally failed at the most natural thing a woman is meant to do. In the following weeks and months I went over and over it in my head, usually in visceral detail, analysing every point at which it went wrong and what I could have done to change it. The bruises from the forceps on his head reminded me how I couldn’t push him out by myself. Every time I couldn’t work out why he was crying, I would blame the fact that I was obviously not a natural mother and the fact that my body failed at giving birth was proof of that. I work in the emergency services, my job often involves keeping calm and knowing what is going on when everything around is going wrong, so I was totally unprepared for being so out of my control. My husband was utterly baffled by how I could have put all the blame on myself for the birth not going to plan. While I knew that the most important thing was that my baby was delivered safe and well, it didn’t seem to help when people kept telling me that. My little boy is 19 months now and I would say I have put a lot of those feelings to rest, a birth debrief really helped me see it all in a different way. More than anything I wish I had really accepted that I might have to relinquish control of the situation and that the interventions were not a failure on my part. I don’t want to be one of those mums who tells horrible birth stories to scare other people, but after my experience it helped to read about other people who had similar experiences – and never in a million years would I call them a failure. If someone read this and found some comfort in knowing they weren’t the only one who felt like this I’d be happy.