Just over 7 months ago, on January 24th 2013, I gave birth to my first child, a beautiful little girl, Laila Mae.
Giving birth was possibly the scariest, most intense, most magical, happiest time of my life, and I truly believe that it is the only event to evoke such a hotchpotch of emotions.
My labour started normal on January 21st- our first wedding anniversary. I was already 10 days late. At around 11am I started to get cramps in my back on and off every 20 minutes or so. I kept an eye on the time, and slowly but surely, they started lasting longer and getting closer together. I had a long bath and sat on my birthing ball watching The Real Housewives. Naïvely, I kept thinking “This is an absolute breeze! Maybe it only hurts right at the end when the baby’s coming out!” At around 4pm, I rang my husband, Paul, and told him to come home from work. My contractions were now 10 minutes apart and getting closer. We’d had terrible snow so he spent a couple of hours shovelling snow with our neighbours. At about 8pm, my contractions were 5 minutes apart so I got back in the bath and told Paul to ring the hospital. As I’d planned to give birth in a pool in our local birthing centre rather than a traditional delivery suite, they advised me to wait until I was 3 minutes apart and in intense pain.
At 1am I was screaming (luckily our neighbour was away) every 3 minutes. The contractions weren’t that long but I was convinced. Paul rang the hospital and they agreed I could come in but said that I didn’t sound that far along. I disagreed!
When we got to the hospital, the midwife examined me, shook her head and said “Sorry, you’re only 2cm. I can’t admit you. I’ve given you a sweep though, so I’d expect to see you back again in the next few hours!” She also gave me codeine and paracetamol for the pain. We drove home and, once the codeine kicked in, I managed to fall asleep.
Convinced the baby was imminent, Paul rang work to start his paternity leave. However, when I woke up, my contractions had slowed right down to every 20 minutes again. Tuesday was like a carbon copy of Monday, contractions got closer together but the hospital still said I couldn’t come in. I remember being boiling hot at one point and sitting on my birthing ball, stark naked, eating an ice lolly with the back door wide open! By 1am, the same thing happened again. However, because I felt the same as the previous night, I knew the baby wasn’t coming anytime soon. I couldn’t cope with the pain though- I couldn’t sleep, I hadn’t eaten since the Monday morning, and even water made me want to throw up. We drove back to the hospital- mainly so I could get some more codeine. They didn’t examine me but suggested I try a new procedure of Water Injections where they inject a miniscule amount of water into 4 places on your back. This releases endorphins which relieves the pain of labour. It felt like being stung by a wasp 4 times, but once it was done I had 3 hours of relief so managed to get some sleep once we got home.
Wednesday was the worst day. I couldn’t get out of bed. I hadn’t eaten since Monday and I’d barely slept. I was shattered. The day is kind of a blur of lying there like a beached whale, counting the hours until I could take more paracetamol. Paul was fab, trying to encourage me to eat and drink, but giving me space so I didn’t feel smothered.
Late afternoon, his sister rang to check on me. I could barely talk, but told her about the past 2 days and how I really needed it to be over- I had nothing left. At the end of the call, she said “There are no medals in childbirth”. That really helped me- I had been convinced of having a water birth for months, but was that because I truly wanted one or because I thought I should have one?
Paul and I rang the delivery suite, giving up on the idea of a water birth altogether. I didn’t have the energy to go through this another night. They agreed I could come in, but warned I’d be sent home if I hadn’t progressed.
When we got to the hospital, I was still only 2cm. I couldn’t believe it. The midwife was really sympathetic, but said there really wasn’t much she could do except prescribe more codeine. She went off to get it and when she came back, she said something like “How would you like to have the baby tonight? I’ve talked to the ward sister and she’s agreed that since you would have been getting induced in 36 hours anyway, we could just break your waters now and see what happens.” If I hadn’t been so exhausted I would have jumped up and hugged her!
Now I had an end in sight, I got a much-needed second wind. At 7pm, my waters were broken. At this point, I requested an epidural. I tried gas and air and felt so ill from it, and I had heard that pethadine can make baby drowsy, affecting their ability to feed. At 10pm I was 8cm dilated. At 12:50a.m. it was time to push…
Throughout the labour, I’d been hooked up to monitors, one of them monitoring the baby’s heartbeat. I was convinced something was wrong because the heartbeat kept slowing but the midwife told me to concentrate on myself.
As soon as I started pushing, I knew something was wrong- every time I pushed, baby’s heartbeat slowed. The midwife kept telling me everything was fine, even when a team of doctors streamed in. Everything seemed very far away. I could hear them saying, “Baby’s not happy…” “Baby’s in distress…” until eventually one of turned to me and said in a cheery voice “Okay, baby doesn’t want to come out easily, and is getting a bit upset in there, so we’re going to take you to theatre and we’re going to try a forceps delivery. If that doesn’t work, we’ll have to do a C Section, okay?” I just nodded. I’d trusted these highly qualified people when it was all simple, I’d just have to trust them even more now.
It’s all a bit blurry after this and more like snapshot memories, rather than a stream. Being wheeled down to theatre… Paul already there in scrubs (pink scrubs, which I teased him for later)… the doctors speaking in hushed tones and shaking their heads… me turning to Paul and saying “Whatever happens, go with the baby. DO NOT stay with me.”… the cheery doctor from earlier telling me the forceps weren’t working, the baby was back to back and won’t turn, I will need a C Section…
It felt like a dream. Everything was fuzzy and I felt so detached. I don’t know if it was the lack of sleep, the lack of food, the epidural, the situation… none of it felt real.
Paul watched them tug our baby from my stomach. She was grey. I didn’t know it at the time, and he didn’t know that babies don’t usually look like that. They rushed her over to the corner and after what felt like forever, she cried. “Is that my baby??” I asked the anaesthetist. I couldn’t believe it. “It’s a girl! 7lb 1oz, born 1:33a.m.!” someone called out.
To this day, I don’t know why she wasn’t handed to me straight away- was she in trouble? Was I in trouble? Was this just standard practice? I know I can find out, but I don’t really want to- I think ignorance is bliss, especially if we have another.
I don’t regret a single moment though. This was so far removed from the birth I’d planned- a calm birth, in a birthing pool, with just my husband and a couple of midwives. I can’t regret it, because we don’t know what caused her distress- it could have been missed or got worse if I hadn’t been constantly monitored, and I may not have got to theatre in time. I can’t regret it, because it’s how my beautiful, hilarious, bouncing, amazing baby girl came into the world.