I can vividly remember having a moment of quiet before the pushing stage and thinking to myself “I might actually be one of those people who gets to say she has had a positive birth story”. Now, I may have spoken too soon there as things did then start to go a little awry. However I maintain that, overall, I did have a ‘good’ birth experience.
My waters didn’t so much break as trickle out over the course of a day or so, so it was tricky to establish whether labour had begun. I was offered an induction pessary on the ante-natal ward but it turned out I was already 3cm dilated, so went straight to the labour ward and received the induction drip.
At no point over the course of the 12 hour labour was I ever screaming in unbearable pain. I managed the intermittent pain with the help of my husband’s support, gas and air, lavender sniffing and then, when I was on the brink of the pain being too much, an epidural. The epidural was allowed to fade off every now and then, so I would feel the contractions, but then get back on the lavender and gas and then the epidural would be topped up and kick in. Whenever I smell lavender now, I feel high on gas and air, no bad thing!
At 4am, the midwives wanted me to start pushing. The epidural had worn off so that I could feel the contractions and push accordingly. This is when I started to feel a pain in my side, like a stitch. This confused me as they told me to push when I had a pain, but I had this constant pain in my side, so I got very confused and I felt frustrated. I now think that this pain was a sign that the baby had moved ‘back to back’ at the last minute. I simply couldn’t push her out because of her position.
I tried pushing like this for an hour when the Dr stepped in and offered to help me out with forceps and an episiotomy. What I found empowering was, even though more and more members of staff entered the room, they and the doctor were all women and they moved together to help me, almost like a choreographed ballet (that might be the gas and air talking!), but it felt quite serene, even though a forcep delivery is a serious intervention.
The pulling of the forceps felt like I was in a tug of war and my husband tells me he found this quite alarming as I was pulled down the bed. I am glad I made myself watch and read all the birth stories I could because I wasn’t shocked or alarmed by any of it. My naturally anxious and negative, over-thinking disposition served me well during my birth as I had seen, heard and read it all before and so nothing that actually happened was as bad as my imagination had led me to believe it would be.
When the baby’s head came out, they realised she was back to back as she was born face up and with the next tug she was born and placed on me. She immediately started sucking her thumb and I thought this was so clever of her. I was immediately so proud of her.
I realised quickly that the Dr was alarmed. I now know that she feared the episiotomy had become a 4th degree tear. The placenta had not yet delivered but I could tell they didn’t want to wait for it to deliver and have me bleed any more so the decision was made to take me to surgery.
Immediately. I have to say that recounting this part of the story did cause me to feel upset for several weeks after the birth, as I had to leave my very new and very hungry baby behind. More members of staff quietly emerged to take me to theatre and again this was all skillfully managed by an all female team.
In theatre, the women bustled around, spoke easily to one another and me and the baby was brought in to see me. The hope was that they might me able to latch her onto me for a feed whilst I lay there as she was so hungry, but she couldn’t do it. Again, this part of the story does upset me to think about but I have tried to reframe it in my mind now and think about how well it was all managed and how good it was that they at least tried. A consultant was called to look at my tear and he was happy that it wasn’t a 4th degree tear after all.. The placenta was delivered manually, something I hadn’t heard of. Of course, I felt none of this and so could remain calm. I think this all took just over an hour.
I did have issues with feeding, weeing and pooing in the following days so was kept in hospital for 5 days. This was hard at times and I did cry every now and then but tried to just trust the process and not fight it. I also saw it as a good opportunity to get to know the baby, squeeze all of the help and support I could out of the knowledgeable staff and enjoy being fed regularly!
I didn’t know this but was told when I was upset on the post-natal ward that it is every woman’s right to have a birth de-briefing. If some things happened which you didn’t understand, please ask them to be explained to you, even if it is some time after you leave hospital. I had to ask about the tear/placenta business as I didn’t understand and was upset about leaving my baby to go into surgery. Now I know it was a very good, carefully made decision by the Dr. More proof that knowledge really is power.
What I want to say to expectant women is: knowledge is power - research well what can happen, don’t hide your head in the sand, be prepared and trust the professionals to help you manage. Be flexible with your ‘plan’ - it’s those unexpected and unplanned for things that can cause you to be upset, so the more you know the better. Also, realise that there is no such thing as a ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ birth and that even if some things about the experience do upset you, with help and time, you can reclaim your birth experience, thank those who have guarded your and your baby’s lives and feel empowered by it.