Having had a relatively straightforward pregnancy, until latterly when I had a lot of swelling and high blood pressure (which, strangely, seemed to cause no concern for my community midwives despite my regular protestations) I went into labour, five days overdue, at 3am on 4th Jan 2010 when my waters broke. My labour progressed slowly, very painful, but bearable. I was in hospital progressing steadily all day. I managed all day (21 hours) on just gas and air for pain relief – after being terrified of giving birth for my whole life, I was so proud of myself that I had coped and managed so well. I had read beforehand that during labour you reach for & find an inner strength that you never realised you had and this was very true for me!
However when it got to 10pm at night and time to push – nothing happened, I continued for almost an hour with both midwife and husband seeming to think I wasn’t doing it properly or trying hard enough (!) until the midwife & doctor decided baby was never going to come out that way – his face and body had twisted around and he wasn’t moving down.
Everything after that point happened at warp speed – so within minutes my very controlled, and what I thought had been relatively ‘easy’ labour spiralled into something that resembled an episode of Holby City!
My husband was whisked out to change into some scrubs, and I was in Theatre for them to assess a trial by forceps delivery. Now my pain was unbearable, I was writhing around on the table and I physically couldn’t stay still for long enough, due to contractions, for them to get the spinal block in. My body didn’t feel like it belonged to me, when a contraction came I could not stay still at all, it was awful. I was crying, my husband was crying and neither of us really understood what was happening. It was midnight and we were exhausted – it sounds utterly ridiculous, but for a moment I thought I was going to die. The urgency of the situation made it very scary and I hadn’t had time to get my head around the sudden change in pace of everything. Thankfully (he said it would have caused too much damage to me) the surgeon decided not to attempt forceps & opted for an emergency section. When I finally had the spinal and the pain had gone, all I could say was ‘do you think I’ve worked hard enough to deserve a new dishwasher?!’ my midwife was laughing, she said ‘I think you could ask for anything right now and he would say yes.’
Once the spinal was in place, the pain just went, I felt a lot more relaxed and relieved that it was coming to an end and I was going to meet my son. I was also strangely relieved that I didn’t have to push him out myself…which sounds odd now but at the time it seemed a big relief – alongside the sense of relief that the situation felt under control at last. I felt shivery and cold during the operation which was odd, but have since learned is quite normal. I also lost a fair bit of blood (again not unusual) which was a little unnerving to me, but didn’t seem to bother the staff in theatre.
One of the positive things I kept in mind whilst in theatre was my recollection of a class we’d done with Janine in our antenatal course. We’d done role play about theatre and c-sections in which Janine had explained how many people would be present in theatre – surgeon, anaesthetists, midwives and so on. I found this really reassuring once I was in that situation – remembering that it was normal and that all those folks were there to ensure safe delivery of baby.
When I read the details of my story back, I wonder if I over-dramatised it or made it sound horrific in some way, but I don’t think so. That is how it felt while it was happening to me, the whole experience took me a long time to come to terms with. I wasn’t angry with the way the birth was managed, although I did wonder how I could get to the point of pushing before anyone really understood that baby was not at all in the right position for birth. I felt very ill in the days following and stayed in the RVI for four nights before I felt able to move around sufficiently well to go home.
I found it hard to take care of my son because I couldn’t lift him and hadn’t held him after he was born, there seemed to be a strange disconnect between us. With hindsight I was just totally exhausted, and having major surgery after a 21 hour labour was just too much for me to cope with.
In the end, after some long weeks of recovery, I did come to terms with the experience and began to feel empowered and view it as a something very positive – having been terrified of birth and the thought of all the things that may go wrong, I had coped with it, dealt with the changing situation and come through it with a healthy baby. Something which made me feel incredibly lucky and proud. It gave me a renewed sense of respect for and belief in myself as a person – that whatever your fears and worries you are ultimately capable of dealing with them and facing them head on!
My experience of birth and how it changed my view of myself helped to inform my decision not to return to my stressful, demanding job but to become a stay at home mum to my son. I felt if I had overcome my fear of birth in such a way, I could deal with whatever lay ahead – even giving up work – which I would never have dreamed of doing previously.