I wasn’t sure if I was actually going to write this post. I tend to put off writing the ones that are most likely to upset me (almost 18 months on and I still never wrote about my Grandpa. I ought to), or to ignore them altogether. But there are a couple of reasons I want to do this.
Firstly, I am vaguely traumatised by the whole experience; not through anyone’s fault, but purely because it was scary and confusing. I’ve shared the story with some close friends, but I think writing it here will normalise it and make me more okay with it all.
Secondly, if you Google certain key terms, or look up reviews of the hospital where I gave birth, you’ll see negative things. I think this is largely down to the fact that people are more likely to vent and rant, and therefore the internet gets clogged up with bad stories. People who are happy with the outcome just walk away and don’t share because it doesn’t weigh on their mind. So I want to try to add some balance, and hopefully anyone Googling about this will read my post and get another opinion.
So. Yes. My birth story.
Our baby was head down from my first trimester onwards. Unfortunately, she was also posterior. This is when the baby’s spine lies again your spine, rather than against the front of your belly as it’s supposed to. It’s also known as back-to-back, or occiput posterior (OP). It’s not at all uncommon. Something like half of women going into labour have an OP baby. However, in most situations the baby turns during labour, so only around 5% of babies are born this way around.
I’d had all my ante-natal / pre-natal treatment at Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital, Hammersmith, and they were fantastic the entire way through. Yes, sometimes my general check-ups had an hour or two wait, but that’s as close as I could come to thinking up any complaints. I took my Kindle, and got to sit in clean, quiet waiting room, so no complaint from me really at all!
Blood tests and Anti-D needles were swift and skilled. Sonographers were delightful, attentive, and very communicative. Midwives were calm and sensible, and didn’t do the vague, “Hmmm… this isn’t right” kind of stupid comments a lot of peers received in other hospitals, which only lead to stress and concern. Everything was organised and friendly and clean and safe. I loved it.
So when, at 38 weeks, we moved 40 miles away, we made the decision that – unless things progressed way faster than expected on the big day – when I went into labour we’d drive back to London so I could deliver at QCCH too.
As my blood pressure, haemoglobin / iron levels, weight, fundal height, etc, were all good, and the baby was head down, I was allowed to get a referral to the birth centre. The difference between the birth centre and the delivery ward is that it’s midwife lead (no doctors), and far less clinical. You get a room with a bed (which you’re discouraged from using), pilates ball, yoga mats, beanbags, hammocks, birthing pool, and ensuite bathroom, to do your thing in. What they don’t tell you during your ante-natal classes is that you also get to stay there for your first night, with your partner, afterwards. In the delivery ward your partner gets sent home at 8pm, or just after the birth if it’s after 8.
The only real downside to the birth centre is the level of pain relief they can provide. No epidurals!
But I didn’t want an epidural anyway. I was going to breathe through the pain, meditate between contractions… hold on a second while I stop laughing with hindsight.
So we had our last few checks at the birth centre with some lovely midwives, rather than in the ante-natal unit, and went to a tour a few weeks before baby was due. We were very happy with the facilities, and with the kind of people who were going to be delivering our baby.
And we knew that if anything didn’t go to plan, the delivery ward with the doctors and regular medical approach was just upstairs.
Sam and I bought a car the same week we moved house (yes, new car, new house, new baby, in three weeks. We are a bit insane). A couple of weeks after we bought it we had to take it back to the dealership to get a few minor flaws checked over, as happens when you buy a used car. I was 40 weeks and 4 days pregnant by this time. And enormous. I’d been eating curries, having sex, walking miles every day, painting walls, leaning over the arms of the sofa, bouncing on my pilates ball, etc, for two weeks. We walked to buy ice creams and sausage rolls while we waited for the car. All very normal. All very much like any other day.
We got home early afternoon, and I was exhausted, as tended to happen lugging around 20 extra kilograms in the hottest summer we’d seen in years. I lay on the sofa and watched TV for an hour or two, then decided to go to bed for a proper nap before I made dinner.
At 6pm I woke up, and my waters broke. No contractions. No signs. Just broken waters. So I wandered (waddled) down to Sam – who had been working from home all week “just in case” – and gleefully announced what had happened. Sam got excited too, and then switched into AWESOME MODE. There is no other way to describe it. For the next few days he was Super Husband.
The first thing he did was go down to the kitchen and make us an early dinner. I wouldn’t have thought of eating. I was too excited, despite the fact I still wasn’t contracting at all. So we ate a good, filling, healthy dinner. And waited.
We didn’t have to wait long!
At 8pm my contractions began. I rang QCCH and let them know. They gave me the same advice I’d been given in ante-natal (take paracetamol if I wanted, wait til contractions are 1 minute long and occurring every 2-3 minutes before I come in, etc). I wandered around the house. I tried to go to bed, to get some sleep before the big event. Not happening. Contractions were pretty painful from the start, and got worse very quickly. Sam came up to bed with me so we could watch a DVD and attempt some sleep. I think we watched about 5 minutes of it before I insisted it was turned off.
The pain was so severe that I couldn’t handle any distraction. It sounds ridiculous now, but music, TV, internet… even conversation at times… drove me nuts. I couldn’t focus on anything other than the next contraction.
By midnight my contractions were 90 seconds long, and happening every 2-3 minutes, so at 1am we got in the car. Fortunately at that stage we hadn’t rented out our London flat yet, so we figured if we got to London and I didn’t need to go to hospital yet we could go there instead and sleep there.
Contractions got so bad in the car on the way there that I had to lift myself off the seat for every one. They were definitely at the forewarned “can’t talk. Contracting.” stage.
But when we got the birth centre the midwifes (calm as ever) said I wasn’t dilated at all, and technically wasn’t in labour, so I should go home. What the hell?! I had been in so much pain I was certain I must be getting close. With no prior knowledge of what labour feels like, I assumed I’d be about 6-7cm dilated. I almost cried when they said it hadn’t even started yet. How could I be in this much pain, this often, and it not be resulting in anything yet? They said to come back at 6am.
To The Flat
We went back to the London flat. I had a hot shower. I intended to try to sleep on the bed or the sofa, but instead ended up crawling around on the floor, scratching at the carpet, and trying to contain my screams so I didn’t wake the neighbours. We rang the hospital again at 5am because I simply wasn’t coping with the pain. They said to come in at 8am! Even later than they’d initially said.
They knew what they were talking about, but I really couldn’t handle it. I am still a bit embarrassed to admit that. Before I was even dilating I was finding labour unbearable. I was supposed to be meditating and breathing through it, and I was giving up before it had even begun. But my body was telling me that something wasn’t right. I misinterpreted it as the birth being imminent.
So at 6:30, even though they’d said to go back at 8, we got back in the car, rang them to say we were on our way, and went back to QCCH.
Back to Hospital
Until last week I couldn’t remember arriving, but Sam helped me recall it. We couldn’t find parking near the doors, so parked on the road, practically across the road from the hospital. But I had a contraction on the walk from the car to the doors, and ended up squatting on the footpath outside Wormwood Scrubs, holding the fence and moaning. Classy. The slighly scary thing was knowing my time was broken into 2-3 minute “safe” blocks where I wasn’t contracting. If I needed to do anything that would take longer than that – such as walking from the car up to the birth ward – I knew I’d have to stop for a contraction on the way, and I didn’t know if the next one would be even worse than the last. It was a bit daunting.
I still wasn’t dilated enough to be admitted, but the midwives saw I wasn’t coping, and they didn’t have a single other patient in the ward, so they let me stay. Made me love them even more.
So from about 7am I was in a room in the birth centre, only 1-2cm dilated, and in a hell of a lot of pain. From about 9-11am I dosed up on gas and air which didn’t ease the pain at all, but certainly made time go faster. Still wasn’t coping though. At 11am the midwife offered me diamorphine so I could attempt to get some sleep. As I’d been in serious pain for around 12 hours I was flagging, and I was going to need energy to deliver our baby!
After the diamorphine I slept for three hours, only waking for contractions, or if anyone spoke to me directly. And to insist that Sam go to the cafe and buy himself a bacon sandwich. And – apparently (I still don’t remember this part at all) – I asked if I was a hamster, because I felt like our pet hamster, Leonard (in a room with lots of little activity areas, with people all watching me).
At about 2pm, as the diamorphine wore off, they moved me to the birthing pool and back onto gas and air. I hadn’t planned for a water birth at all, so wasn’t prepared. They didn’t mind what I wore in there, but I was hot and irritable and, well, high, so I stripped down naked and sat in the warm water, screaming into my gas and air mouthpiece and writhing in the pool. Once I got high enough I complained (apparently quite rudely. Again, I don’t remember this) that the water was too cold, and writhed around a bit too much and ended up grazing my shins massively.
Between 2pm and 6pm I moved from pool to bed to beanbag and back and forth. Most of this is a blur. Not even a blur. It just doesn’t really exist. I know it happened. I know I was conscious. But by this point it was as if my brain had decided I couldn’t consciously cope with the pain, so had allowed me to leave for a while. I vaguely remember pleading with Sam to help me, to fix it, to let me go upstairs to the delivery ward. I feel guilty now for putting this on him.
At about 6pm I was around 9cm dilated, and ready to push. I can’t remember the morning crew or the afternoon midwife at all, and can barely remember the afternoon student midwife. All I remember about her is that she lived with my little guardian angel (more about her later). But they both worked incredibly hard to get me to deliver our little baby. We tried every position under the sun. They stopped me using any pain relief, so I could do a better job of pushing and judging my contractions. I can’t even begin to explain how much that hurt. Beyond what I even imagined pain to be, before labour.
I “came back into the room” and immediately knew something wasn’t right. I screamed at them to take me upstairs. They said I was fine, that I was almost there, that they could see the baby. Which they could! Eventually I begged them to take me upstairs for a caesarean (despite this being my last resort on my plan), but they said it was too late.
After two hours they got concerned. You shouldn’t have to push for that long.
I had developed a fever, but baby’s heart rate was smooth and calm the entire time. She didn’t seem to realise anything out of the ordinary was happening.
The midwives checked baby’s position. Half a dozen pushes after “she’s just centimetres away”, still nothing. They checked her position again and discovered she’d tipped her head back and was now OP and face-first. No wonder I was in pain, and no wonder pushing wasn’t achieving anything!
I was spent, the midwives were due to change shift, and the baby wasn’t in a great position for a natural unassisted delivery. So both teams of midwives bundled me into a wheelchair, and we rushed up to the medical delivery floor.
This was when my little guardian angel appeared. The student midwife, Laura, was wonderful. She was sweet, calm, supportive, sympathetic… exactly what I needed at that point. She was firm with me when I needed to do something, but otherwise seemed so empathetic to my pain and fear. She is going to be a perfect midwife when she finishes her training.
They let me have more gas and air while I was prepped for theatre. I relaxed immediately, even though the pain was just as bad, because I knew they were doing something. That’s not to say they should have done anything earlier – they were trying to help me have the natural labour I’d wanted – but it was such a relief to have someone tell me that within an hour I’d have a baby. I signed consent forms, had an ultrasound to find out just how posterior baby was, and each person playing a major role in what was about to happen came and introduced themselves personally before checking me and the baby. I didn’t feel lost, or like a piece of meat. I was a person. A very tired, rather unwell, very scared, and very sore person. And they did everything right to make me feel better.
They let Sam stay with me at all times – my godsend, even more than usual – and he got dressed in scrubs for theatre.
The gap between pushing in the birth centre, and going into theatre, allowed baby to tilt her head back into normal position which was very useful.
I was rolled into theatre on a stretcher at about 9:30pm, given an epidural, and prepped for surgery. There were about a dozen people in there. They were going to try to assist me to have a vaginal birth, but with things going the way they were, they were prepared for something more significant. And yet they still behaved in a way that made me feel calm. I trusted them completely.
Almost an hour later, after meds to increase my contractions further, and me pushing (which is so weird with an epidural, as you can’t tell if you’re pushing or not!) with Sam holding one hand and Laura holding the other and the entire time encouraging me and telling me I was doing brilliantly, I was given a full episiotomy, and our beautiful little girl was delivered onto my chest thanks to a ventouse delivery at 10:26pm, weighing 2.85kg.
She was a little dazed at first, and her head was rather bruised and battered, but she was healthy, perfect, beautiful, and so very, very, loved. Laura talked to me a lot after the birth, telling me what a good job I’d done, telling me how perfect our baby was, telling me it was all over. I didn’t discover until afterwards that she was probably trying to distract me because I was actually haemmoraging at the time. I lost about 1.5 litres of blood, but didn’t notice anything. I thought all the “work” at the other end of the bed was simply the placenta delivery and stitches being done. Poor Sam had an inkling something was wrong, mostly due to the amount of blood everywhere, but even he kept me out of the loop so I didn’t worry.
At a little after 11pm I was wheeled into recovery, with my beautiful little girl wrapped up and bundled into my arms.
Sam and I stayed there for a while, then he was told he had to go home.
From 11:30pm until 6am I sat up in bed, hooked up to a drip, with my baby under my gown against my skin. She didn’t want to feed, though we tried a few times. As the next shift changed – I think it was around 1am – more than half the team who had delivered her came to my recovery bed to say goodnight, to tell me how brave I’d been, to say I’d done a good job, and to see the baby again. So sweet and caring! I couldn’t believe that people who do this every day as a job would still be that engaged. Now those are exactly the kind of people you want delivering your baby!
At 6am, with me able to stand up again, and baby girl dressed to meet the world, we were wheeled to the post natal ward, and Sam came back as soon as he was allowed, at 9am.
I had to stay in hospital for a couple of days, purely for observation, and was looked after during that time just as well as I had been before and during labour. Mostly the midwives and nurses left me to my own thing, unless actually checking me, though any time I asked for help they were right there immediately, and so helpful. As a first time mum, I certainly didn’t know everything, so they were on hand to give me tips on anything I asked. But they didn’t force their opinion, or interfere. They even let me have an extra visitor so Sam’s parents could both visit at the same time without him having to leave.
The level of care was brilliant, with cold water constantly brought to my bedside, great meals, endless tea, and excellent medical care for me and for baby. Her hearing test, general medical, inspection of the ventouse wound, and BCG were all done within the first 24-48 hours.
And then as we left, two days later, everyone we passed said goodbye and wished us all the best.
In all of this I haven’t really spoken of the emotion of the birth itself. Meeting our daughter. How perfect she is. How much I love her. I think it’s too big. Nothing can describe it. Nothing at all. But she is, and I do.
And in writing all of this I feel a little choked up, but one step closer to being okay with it all. I notice I’ve also glossed over the worst of it. The feeling of “is the baby okay?” when I couldn’t deliver her, the fear of dying myself when everything felt wrong, the intensity of the pain in my spine and hips, the guilt of making Sam feel helpless, the frustration of being unable to pay him back for being as strong and supportive and utterly perfect as he was that day and the days following.
But it was worth it. And I’d do it again.
Eight weeks later, I’m almost back to normal. I’m still a handful of kilograms heavier than I was pre-pregnancy, and I’ve still got some healing to do, but I’m no longer “the lady who just had a traumatic labour” and am now just a mum.
And I love it. Every single exhausting second.
Jen Ava x
One hour after birth. I’m pale, puffy, exhausted, and about as happy as is humanly possible.
PS. On a lighter note, kudos to my Samsam for managing to have a nap only a metre or two from me while I was screaming. It was an impressive effort, and a skill that has served him well since we’ve had a newborn in our bedroom at night!
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