Birth: part one

NS September 29th, 2008

The story of the birth of my son eleven days ago begins with the birth of my daughter two and a half years ago.

When I was pregnant with The Noble Child I was pretty mainstream in my views on birth. I bought and read that classic tome What To Expect When You’re Expecting and dutifully planned my hospital birth. I said I wanted a natural birth but didn’t really grasp what that meant or what it would require of me. I attended NHS parenting classes and thought the health visitors running them really knew their stuff (ha!). I knew I wanted to breastfeed but didn’t do any research into what it would be like or how I could succeed, nor did I seek out any breastfeeding women for support. As the first in my local group of friends to have a baby, I had no one in my personal life to turn to for advice. So I bought the books and just assumed that all would go well. Any problems I encountered would be addressed and solved by The Baby Whisperer or Gina Ford, surely.

And then, at six days past my due date, I went into labour and everything went flying out the window like Aunty Em’s good china in a Kansas twister.

There were no hours of early labour in which I got to sip tea and take warm baths while experiencing “mild period-like pains” every 10-15 minutes like the books told me it would happen. I didn’t have time to eat a healthy meal or tidy up the living room or phone family to tell them today was the day. Instead, contractions started out five minutes apart and quickly progressed to every three. Having a bath just made them more painful and I began to panic. It shouldn’t hurt this much so soon, should it? I hadn’t done this before, how should I know? My mother had a history of relatively short labours so I thought it conceivable that I was further along than I thought. TNH had no idea either so into hospital we went for some professional advice and care.

When I arrived at the hospital I was examined and found to be three centimetres dilated. Because TNC was facing the wrong way (posterior) in my uterus, the pains were focused mainly in my back and had double peaks which meant I wasn’t really getting much of a break between them. Once my water broke, when I was about 4cm, things just intensified ten-fold. I got into the birthing pool but couldn’t get a handle on the pain. I tried entonox (50% oxygen, 50% nitrous oxide) but that did nothing for me except give me something to bite on with the mouthpiece. The midwife assigned to me wasn’t very hands on — didn’t try to massage my back, suggest different positions or provide any emotional support. She just sat in a corner of the room, calmly writing notes in my chart, and told me that I probably still had at least five hours to go before I was fully dilated. Of course, this freaked me right out. I was already in serious pain and the thought of another five hours of steadily increasing agony was too much to bear. I begin to tell TNH that I couldn’t do this and panicked. The midwife chose that moment to ask if I wanted any drugs. Even though I felt horrible about accepting since I had wanted to avoid narcotics, I didn’t feel I had any choice at that point. I didn’t know how to get a handle on my pain and was spiraling out of control.

I said yes to the offer of pain killers and got out of the pool. She gave me the injection of pethidine (UK equivalent to Demerol) and then lowered the lights and left me alone with TNH to attend to other women birthing on the ward. I laid on my side on the bed, feeling a bit out of it from the drugs and still scared because I didn’t know what was going on or what I should be doing. TNH sat by my side holding my hand and saying encouraging things but I could tell he was nervous and a bit frightened as well. We both felt out of our element. After a couple hours of laying in bed on the pethidine I began to make some grunting noises and realised that I was pushing involuntarily. TNH ran to get someone who consequently told me not to push as I couldn’t possibly be fully dilated yet. I tried not to but I couldn’t do a thing about it. Asking me not to push was like asking a freight train at full speed to slam on its brakes and not derail.

My body ignored their commands and so they did a quick cervical check and exclaimed “Oh, you really are at 10cm! Well, I guess you can push then.” Having been granted their permission (ahem) I begin to push, eagerly ready to end the pain and the whole experience. I don’t remember much of this part and I’m not sure if it’s because of the drugs, because I’d been awake for nearly 24 hours and hadn’t eaten anything for 12, because I was in labour la-la land (a very real place, believe me) or because I chose to block it out. Whatever the case, I hardly remember the two hours of pushing that resulted in a whole lot of nothing. And since two hours is apparently the maximum time limit in which you have to push out a baby, a consultant was called in to observe and make a decision about what to do. Suddenly the room was filled with doctors and midwives and I was being told that they wanted to do a vacuum-assisted ventouse delivery in which a suction cup is placed on the baby’s head and a machine is switched on, effectively sucking the baby out as you push. Oh and, by the way, they have to cut an episiotomy in order to do this. I have no idea if I was actually asked if I wanted this done or if it was just done but I do know that I wanted it all to be over and so probably would’ve agreed to anything short of a c-section at that point.

The gloves were donned. My feet went up in cold, metal stirrups. My husband was sort of pushed to the side and had to find a small place by my head on the other side of the bed. Scissors came out and I was cut. Blood covered my thighs and I could see it reflected in the chrome light suspended above me, like a gruesome lava lamp. The cup was placed on the baby’s head, a procedure which was incredibly painful. A switch was flicked. Something whirred and purred. I was told “You push, we’ll pull.” I saw the veins in the doctor’s arms bulge as he used all his strength to pull on this tube attached to my baby. I looked to my left, where The Noble Husband knelt by my side, and saw he had his face buried in his arms, not wanting to see what was going on. I didn’t blame him.

I tried my hardest to help the doctors by giving it what little energy I had left but I’m not sure how much I had to do with the birth at that point. A change in the doctor’s stance and demeanor told me the head was out, though I hadn’t felt it happen (I was given a local anesthetic for the episiotomy) and wasn’t informed that it had. Suddenly I felt a great whoosh and my whole body gave an enormous sigh as my daughter was finally born at 6.31am, after 11 hours of labour. I should have been elated but was merely relieved. The next hour (while I was stitched up and TNC was weighed, measured and assessed) is mostly a blur to me. I remember that my husband went with the baby while she was in the next room being assessed and that I was all alone, staring at the hospital ceiling in a disbelieving daze, while I was pieced back together with needle and thread. Frankenstein’s bride, indeed (though I did eventually heal and return to normal — don’t want to scare you ladies who have yet to become mothers!).

Once everything was done and TNC was firmly attached to my breast for her first feed, I was put into a private room across the hall in which to recover. I remember that I had never felt more tired or shaky or weak in my entire life. Walking hurt. Lifting my arms hurt. Breathing hurt. I felt like I could pass out at any moment. I wanted to shower to wash the copious amounts of blood away but couldn’t fathom doing it on my own. TNH had to help me and even then I was unable to stand at all. I ended up sitting on the floor of the shower stall while TNH washed my hair and hosed me down. My bleary eyes and heavy head stared at the water, which ran red for several minutes and then spiraled down the drain, quite symbolic of my waning body, I thought. All the while that we struggled to get me washed and dressed and find things in our bags, we had to keep TNC nearby in her rolling plastic cot, now entrusted to ensure another human being’s survival.

As paranoid new parents with no clue what to do, we felt torn between focusing all of our attention on her and looking after ourselves after a harrowing and exhausting night. I had stupidly assumed that we would receive help with the baby while we sorted ourselves out and got some sleep. This shows how ignorant I was of the NHS staffing problems, particularly in maternity wards. There were no midwives to help with the babies because they were all busy attending to other women in labour. They dashed between rooms incessantly and interchangeably, only stopping to write notes in the charts at the front desk. We weren’t shown how to change a nappy or bathe the baby and I was given minimal advice with regards to breastfeeding. They pretty much just left us to it. I managed to get one or two hours sleep before visiting hours were over and TNH had to leave. You see, even partners (the fathers of the children just born!) can’t stay overnight in an NHS maternity ward, it’s against their health and safety policies. I asked if I could check out early but was told I needed to stay the night for observation since I’d had an instrumental delivery. I didn’t find out until later that I could have declined this ‘observation’ (ha! they hardly even checked on me!) and left anyway. As it was, TNH left at 10pm and I was left alone with a newborn baby, no clue what to do, a bottom half so sore that I couldn’t sit up in bed and with a whopping 1.5 hours sleep under my belt. I tried the call button twice — once when I wanted water and once for help breastfeeding — but no one came. I lay draped on the edge of the bed, stitches throbbing, my hand resting lightly on my baby’s chest to make sure she was still breathing and spent the rest of the milk-empty hours listening to the screams of a woman birthing next door, demanding an epidural. I was in for a long night.

6 Responses to “Birth: part one”

  1. Charlotte says:

    Your story is so similar to my first labour (fast initial dilation, back pains, ventouse delivery and episiotomy, no support from NHS staff during that long, scary first night) that it sends shivers down my spine. And not good ones.

    Thank you for sharing. I am on tenterhooks for the second birth story! And big congratulations to you all, by the way!

  2. Sarah says:

    yikes!

    *pops her daily birth control tablet*

  3. Abby says:

    I had to have an emergency c-section and an hour after being stitched up, my husband was told he had to leave. I was left alone with a brand new baby, unable to move or feel anything from the waist down. That was the scariest night of my life. It is shocking they force partners to leave.

    I can’t wait to hear about your sons birth!

  4. Coralie says:

    So similar – lots of attention during labour then … wheeled off to a (horribly noisy) post-natal ward and basically left to fend for myself. Pure panic that first night!

    Picture the scene – very broken, sore, frightened new mum (37 hours of labour, 2 attemps with ventouse, then forceps delivery in theatre whilst being prepped for a C section and what felt like half a small town as onlookers!) with small pointy headed (thanks to ventouse) baby. Husband shooed away and no midwives in sight. I was still hooked up to a drip (running post delivery temperature) and seriously couldn’t sit down (couldn’t for a month due to bruise the size of a small melon on parts of my body I never want to get a bruise on again!!). So getting in and out of bed was a one-handed shuffle without baby – totally impossible with…and then the breastfeeding police came to lecture me about my technique!!!

    No wonder I went home after 2 nights, despite hardly being able to walk.

  5. NS says:

    Charlotte: Wow, I didn’t realise that we had such similar birth experiences. It’s hardly surprising though, is it? You can almost predict how things are going to go in these situations, which is what I find so sad. Birth shouldn’t be so clinical and predictable, it should be spontaneous and capricious.

    Sarah: Glad I could be of service as your daily birth control reminder. Make sure to wash it down well! ;)

    Abby: An *hour* after your surgery was complete they sent your husband home?! Oh my, that is truly appalling. I can’t even begin to imagine trying to care for a baby all alone that soon after having major abdominal surgery. Perineal stitches were bad enough!

    Coralie: Yowza! The ‘recovery’ room is hardly for recovering, is it? I think they should call it the Sadistic Welcome-to-Motherhood Torture Chamber. Aye yi yi.

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