The Happy Baby Project

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My birth story

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Our son, age 19 days

Note from Sasha: When I was pregnant and before I gave birth, I wanted to surround myself with positive birth stories. I listened to hypno-birth CDs, read Ina May’s wonderful birth stories, heard delightful birth tales from mums at my active birth class, and sucked up the positive birth stories and videos from the Tell Me A Good Birth Story blog and Facebook group. I didn’t watch OBEM and I kept myself mentally in a positive place, visualizing the birth I wanted to have… The birth I ended up with however, was not quite what I expected. While the middle bit was lovely in parts, the beginning was difficult and at the end there were complications. I am writing this in the hope of finding closure for some of the scarier parts of it, to get catharsis from re-living it (and hope The Chef can do the same – for he saw things that I didn’t and doesn’t have the same rose-tinted lenses as me), but I don’t want any pregnant ladies getting upset and I would therefore recommend you only read this on the understanding that what happened to me was rare – I consider myself one of the something like 20% of births that has complications due to the position of the baby – and that if you totally understandably, as I did, want to read only positive birth stories, this is probably not a good one to read!

And on that basis, we start at 3.45am on Monday 25 March 2013, in bed….

There was a pop and then a splosh as my waters broke. It could have been nothing else, I knew it immediately. As I ran to the bathroom it popped again, and I was suddenly standing with a puddle of water at my feet on the cold tiles. My waters. And so it begins.

Our first schoolboy error was to get over-excited. It was 3.45am for god sake, and contractions turned out to only start the next evening, but we were excited and nervous and The Chef and I didn’t sleep any more that night. Plus, amniotic fluid kept coming out of me in gushes making sleep impossible. The Chef stayed home from work, we pretended we were going about our business as normal, but we were rabbits caught in headlights, I was timing contractions, anxiously waiting for the onslaught of birth.

This was schoolboy because by the time labour did start, almost 24 hours later, I hadn’t rested or slept and had barely sat down since my waters had broken. It was also a mistake that I excitedly texted people to tell them, not only because then we were on a stopwatch, a countdown, which meant I perhaps did not let things progress as slowly or patiently as they might have done as I could feel a clock ticking towards induction (at 24 – 48 hours after my waters had broken); but also because some started calling or texting to check I was OK given the long delay to labour, even when I was in the middle of pushing, which disturbed the peace we had worked hard to create (I don’t blame them, I just reckon its best to keep it to yourself). I didn’t tell the hospital as I didn’t want to come in – I was positive my waters had broken and there wasn’t any brown, green or blood stains in it so no need.

My memory of Tuesday is a little hazy, the universe very kindly erasing the more painful aspects of the experience in my mind (sadly not in The Chefs, which is why I don’t think I could bear to read his version of events), but contractions got stronger in the evening until they became close to being unbearable. On reflection, I think he was in a difficult position, right in my bottom. There was no warmth, power and pressure to the contractions, just an agonising pain right in my bottom which made me scream and cry out loud. I couldn’t sit or lie down, having a bath didn’t ease it. I can’t recall the pain even now but it made me screw my eyes up and shout and I just couldn’t get comfortable. From the sounds I was making and the pain, we thought I was in labour so at 11pm we drove to Kingston Hospital, me screaming in pain every few minutes. The Tens machine was useless, the lavender oil on handkerchief actually helped, but I was in trouble. My hypno-birthing was out the window, nothing brought comfort, I was panicking.

We had a miserable half hour at hospital. The midwife in triage didn’t seem particularly sympathetic and insisted on a vaginal exam which I just couldn’t do because of the pain. She offered me an injection for the pain and I said no immediately – again on reflection given what transpired I should perhaps have said yes. A different midwife from the Malden Suite with a softer, calm attitude took over and explained I couldn’t go to the birthing room or get any pain relief until they knew how dilated I was. I nodded and submitted to the painful exam and was told the worse news possible – I was only 2cm dilated. She gave me a sweep and told me I could either go home or walk the stairs at the hospital to get things moving.

At this point The Chef did something heroic. We spent a miserable few minutes walking the cold, grey stairs of the hospital, me moaning in agony on his chest every time a contraction came, and I believe if we had stayed there I would have had an epidural and probably a caeserian section, but he made the decision for us to go home – a brave decision given he must have known he was taking me and my pain on himself only, with no-one to help him, whereas many men would have wanted to stay at the hospital with others to help and shoulder this burden.

We went home and from then until 2am was the most miserable part of the whole birth. I was in agony. With no pain relief, no position could bring any relief. There was just a shooting, agonising pain and pressure in my bum with every contraction, and the only thing I could do was to sit on the toilet and shout it away. My poor neighbours. I spoke to my active birth yoga teacher who thought the baby might be back to back given I was fairly compus mentis but unable to deal with the pain. She suggested some positions that might help but nothing worked.

I was devastated, saying to The Chef I can’t do this, I can’t bear this, I can’t take any more. I want an epidural. I want drugs. Call the hospital and tell them to come here and inject me with something. I can’t get in the car, I can’t get to hospital. Tell them to come and help me.

At around 1.30am he decided enough – back to the hospital – but it took me a full 30 minutes to be able to handle the pain enough to get in the car. Even though at the hospital they said this was just a normal labour where the baby is in the back and bottom, I have read so many birth stories and wonder if this is true – the fact I could not get into the car, I could barely walk, couldn’t get comfortable in any position, felt like the baby was ripping me in two with every contraction did not feel normal. But hey I will need to try it again to test my theory…

Back at the hospital 2am, more screaming and running to the toilet, another examination. I was 6cm dilated and in labour. I’d gone from 2cm to 6cm in 3 hours with nothing more than paracetamol.

Two rays of light – drugs, drugs, drugs for me please. I begged for an epidural. They went off to call someone. I was also able to get a birth room in the Malden Suite with – hurrah – the lovely midwife from before.

Two bits of luck – Firstly, the midwife looking after us had read my birth plan and in it the fact that I wanted a natural, private, active birth. This would make for a wonderful experience with her and lead to her encouraging a great decision that I was to make shortly. Second, they were unable to find someone for an epidural so we’d have to wait for a while, and in the meantime they offered me pethidine which I took and which took 15 minutes to work and…

…..ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…..

I was in the lovely midwife-led birth suite. Gas & air which was wonderful and which I sucked happily for the next 10 hours. Pethidine which made me feel light and relaxed. The relief. Oh the relief!

I turned to The Chef and smiled for the first time in hours.

“Thank fuck for that” I believe were my words.

The next 5 or so hours were spent, in my mind, in relative bliss, at least compared to what came before. I was still unable to sit or lie down, so I literally stomped the floor for hours. We put music on, LED candles, ate starburst and drank juice. I cracked jokes with the midwife. I smiled. I told The Chef how much I loved him. I danced to the music. I sucked the lovely gas & air, my new and bestest friend. I was enjoying it. The contractions came on strong but sucking gas & air right in took it away although my moans hung in the air but that was from another me, the gas & air me was OK now. I barely breathed normal air at all now, apart from when a new midwife who’d come to put in an antiobiotic drip due to my waters breaking so long before told me I should stop as I was swaying. I could barely leave the gas & air nozzle. I wondered if I could carry it around like a drip. I would run to the toilet and run back to it. If there is a number 2 baby I would like gas & air mainlined from the start, installed in my house – is such a thing possible?

Halfway through this, the midwife came to tell me that they were free to give me an epidural. But now, I didn’t need it, I felt fine, happy. I was having the birth I wanted, this was all going swimmingly. Brilliantly, she’d read my birth plan and I think was encouraging me to stick to it now I was able to cope. I said no to the epidural and I am amazingly proud of myself for doing so as I managed fine without it and again I suspect if I’d had it, I may have ended up with a C-section given what was to happen…

And then – it got even better. As the pethidine wore off, I was able to move to the birth pool room and there followed around 3 or so hours (time is hazy) of comparative bliss. Comparitive because I was on gas & air and it seemed heavenly. I was naked, with The Chef outside the pool holding my hand, and the new guttural low moans I was making felt right, natural, good even. At 8am there had been a midwife shift change and we had a new woman with us. Yes, she was absolutely lovely and again did everything according to my birth plan, but she was a stranger and on some level I know I was trying to impress her, trying to do things quickly, aware of how long I’d been taking, feeling impatient to get some results…

At some point, The Chef whispered in my ear I was doing brilliantly, it was going great, I was fully dilated.

Again, with hindsight, I was happy then, with no urge to push. I might have rested, relaxed, waited until I felt the instinct to bear down. It may have helped. But given what transpired maybe it wouldn’t have. And I was tired, and I had been awake and birthing for almost 30 hours and I felt this is the time, and maybe I thought I should do this now, come on, hurry up.

So I started to push. But I didn’t really know what I was doing, I knew push into your bottom from One Born, but it isn’t natural in front of people or when its a baby which you know isn’t actually meant to come out of your bottom. I pushed.

And I pushed and pushed and pushed. I pushed for 2 hours in the end.

I pushed in the pool, several different positions. The midwife suggested breathing and ways to push. I pushed on hands and knees. I pushed on a birthing stool. I pushed on a bed and I pushed with my feet in stirrups. I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere and I started to get tired and dejected. I can’t do this. I never really felt the urge to push. I don’t know what I’m doing. I think I said these things. They gave me a deadline – 5 more minutes – I pushed sadly. No baby.

At around 11am the cavalry came to assist. I was happy to see them. But our karma, our candles still flickering, our birth music playing, was interrupted. They were sensible, serious, bearing a suction cup and green scrubs. They didn’t smile so much. I cracked a joke I think which they didn’t get. I want to lighten the mood, I said. They were there to get this baby out. Don’t squirm so much. Push into your bottom. No NOW.

I squirmed when she gave me a vaginal exam and felt for baby’s position – I found it unbearable throughout the birth. You can stay here on local anaesthetic or go to theatre and get a spinal she said, unsmiling. Stay here I said, but then when I cried at the pain of her hand I heard her say “lets just take her to theatre” and I thought I saw the midwife looking upset and trying to defend me but being overruled. But I stayed. Local anaesthetic only. Not much to dull the pain of what was to come.

Then they catheterised me an a litre of water came out. So baby couldn’t have got past a full bladder no matter how hard I’d pushed. And then they cut me, then or after I can’t remember. And then they sucked with the cap, several pairs of arms and hands holding me down and shouting and I had to push and I wasn’t doing it properly and The Chef saw all sorts of things that I will never know. And I was excited because they were talking about what to do after the head came out…

…and then the head came out.

But there wasn’t excitement, there wasn’t the body. There wasn’t the panting slowly that they’d told me. There was only panic, and emergency buttons, and people running in and shouting at me. And we didn’t know what was going on but it was urgent to GET HIM OUT NOW. And YOU HAVE TO STOP MOVING AND PUSH AND I CAN’T I CAN’T I CAN’T DO IT AND YOU HAVE TO JUST PUSH.

And more hands on me and arms pushing me down, and people rushing in and pushing my knees into my chest and pushing on my stomach and me saying STOP ITS SORE I CAN’T DO IT. And me kicking the women next to me. And me looking at The Chef with terror, and him in terror, and wondering will I live through this and what is happening and just rip it from me and make it stop….

And at 11.47am he was born.

He was purple, I was told. And he wasn’t breathing and he was whisked off to the side for them to help him breathe and make him live. And I could barely move my head to look at him and I didn’t feel anything except pain and trauma and shock. The brutality of it all. The Chef was also in shock – he thought he’d lost us both – and asked feebly if it was a girl or boy. It was a boy. I could barely summon enough emotion to care then.

The woman at my feet kept going then. She yanked my placenta out and stitched me up. I asked her to wait, that it was sore, but she answered, unsmiling, that she had to do this now.

After 5 minutes he was brought to me. My son. He had blood on his head and a bruise from the suction cap. It took me minutes, hours perhaps, of holding him, to love him. At one point, soon after this, my heart would burst with love for him – overwhelming, heart-stopping, love for him. But for now I was exhausted.

The Chef and I looked at each other. He sucked on the gas & air, still in shock. I said something like next time we adopt, or next time I get a C-section, or never again. But at around the time I burst with love for my son I said next time it will be better. Next time I’ll have pethidine immediately. Next time the position won’t be so bad. Next time…

An explanation

We needed some closure about the tugging and the shouting and the emergency. We didn’t know what had happened. That night, in the ward on my own with my son, exhausted, I sobbed to the midwife that it had been traumatizing, that I blamed myself, that I felt so sorry my son had gone through that, that I didn’t know why.

And they explained it to me and The Chef and it made it easier to digest, to understand and to reconcile ourselves with, although closure is just out of our reach for now:

Once my baby’s head came out, it started “turtle-necking” or going back in, and at this point (they couldn’t have worked this out any earlier), they realized that his shoulder was stuck in my pelvis. It’s called shoulder dystocia and it’s rare. They had to get him out as quickly as possible. They did what they called the McRoberts manoevre which involves pushing the woman’s knees to her chest and pushing on her stomach to get him out. This is the easiest, quickest and simplest way to deal with it and it worked. His body was out only 2 minutes after his head. After 5 minutes his scores were completely normal. He suffered no harm at all from this or the procedure.

Also something like 25% of first time babies are assisted on their way out, like mine was, but this is vastly reduced in second babies. Whether or not I ever understand and “get” pushing and the urge to push is another matter.

He is a happy, chilled, beautiful baby boy. He feeds and sleeps well. He rarely cries. The Chef and I love him to bits.

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10 things you should never say to a pregnant woman

1. You’re HUGE!

This is normally accompanied by a laugh – ah wah ha ha ha! And sometimes pointing.

Yes, we all love to be laughed at, don’t we?!  Ha – yes – I’m the size of a bloody WHALE! I could blot out the SUN!

What people seem to forget is that we are still women, still filled with insecurities and vanities, even after getting knocked up. And we still quite like to look nice, especially when we’re out of the house and have taken off our “house clothes” especially to see you. We have no control over the size and shape of our bump, unless we’ve been eating dohnuts solidly since day 1.

Actually I love my huge bump, I have no stretch marks, and its a nice neat shape. I love compliments and comments on it, just not about its enormous SIZE thank you very much!

2. Your baby will be HUGE! You better hope you have a LARGE PELVIS!

This often accompanies 1. It was followed in one case by a GP who said “what you need is one of those large African pelvises.” Which was helpful.

I have recently been offered an induction on the basis that my baby looks like it might be big and there might be problems with delivery, including shoulder dystocia. That’s a lot of “ifs”, and in my mind not enough to justify an induction, with all the inherent risks and delivery complications. So I don’t believe I’ve been reckless in saying no.  

Let’s start with some basics. You don’t KNOW my baby is huge, no-one does until it comes out of me. I also can’t change the size or shape of my pelvis, although I know that it is actually DESIGNED to cleverly move and open to let my baby out. I know plenty of mums who were scared shitless by doctors telling them they’d have huge babies (some of them opting for inductions or caeserians on this basis) and actually ended up having 8-pounders. Scans can overestimate weight. And, if we trust our bodies and they created these babies, surely we can trust them to birth them too? If you read Ina May’s guide to childbirth there are plenty of HUGE babies born naturally, without pain relief and often with no tearing or episiotomies. In fact, practically speaking wouldn’t big babies be better at pushing themselves out quickly and easily?

And anyway what is the POINT of telling me my baby is big?! It only scares me and has no real benefit to me, other than making me google “shoulder dystocia” in a panic at 4am.

Anyway, now you’ve told me my baby is big, I am choosing to make it a positive. I have a big, healthy baby and that’s BRILLIANT.

3. Let’s just split the bill

Yeah sure! Much easier! I don’t mind paying £10 for each of the 3 sips of Rioja I had! It’s not like I have anything to buy right now, not like I need to budget for anything like maternity leave or essential baby clothes! Yeah, you go ahead and order your third round of digestifs, I didn’t need that cotbed anyway!

4. You’re giving birth next week? Oh my god, I / my friend / colleague had a NIGHTMARE birth… [INSERT NIGHTMARE BIRTH STORY HERE]

This isn’t a recent thing – my own granny told me on several occasions that giving birth was like having your leg amputated without anaesthetic. Thanks granny! WHY do other mums insist on doing this?! Don’t they remember what it was like to be about to give birth and be a bit scared? Do they think sharing battle stories will help?

I don’t need to know right now about the baby that got stuck, the organs that fused together with caeserian scar tissue, the pain and the agony and the panic. Yes, I’m realistic about what might happen, but you should couch all information right now in a positive way – that everything with baby and mum was OK. I want to be surrounded by positive birth stories please!

5. Get all the sleep you can now, you won’t be getting much later!

Good advice in theory, unhelpful in practice, given you need to get up 5 times a night to pee, are wedged uncomfortably on your side by a pregnancy support cushion which doesn’t allow for any movement, while being kicked constantly by a squirmy baby who decides to wake up between the hours of midnight and 5am. You might as well get used to insomnia now ladies.

6. Make sure you [go to the cinema / eat out / go for weekends away / insert other seemingly innocuous activity] now as you WON’T GET TO DO IT AGAIN FOR 18 YEARS!

No. I’d rather spend the entire day watching a Modern Family boxset on the sofa in pajamas while eating choc ices, thank you very much.

7. Wow, you’ve got some appetite!

Yes, at 38 weeks, my appetite is equivalent to that of an 18 year old rugby lad. I could literally stuff my entire body weight in carbs and chocolate in my gob right now, and I’d still want seconds. Now, pretend you didn’t notice, make yourself useful and go get me some cake.

An addendum to this is that pregnant women often cannot help but emit some rather embarrassing noises at this time, at no fault of our own. This includes farting, burping, hiccuping, and I once saw a pregnant friend involuntarily snort like a pig at the sight of chocolate. This is also best to ignore, and blame entirely on the baby.

8. You’re definitely having a girl / boy, I can tell by the [shape of your bump / colour of the moon / other completely unscientific method of detecting gender]

No you can’t. Shuddup.

9. Oh, so you’re OK to [drink that wine / have that coffee / eat that prawn sandwich] then? *frowns*

Well I was just enjoying my twice-weekly glass of vino, really loving the taste, savouring it – my little ray of sunshine in an otherwise shitty week. But now I’m worrying about harming the baby, thinking I’m a terrible mother, and suddenly it doesn’t taste as sweet and I might as well pour it back in the bottle. It would be nice to be trusted that I’ve read up all the advice and am making sensible, responsible choices for me and my baby, whatever you might personally believe.

Add to this the opposite which is “you aren’t going to be silly about eating this are you?” (while simultaneously placing an underdone piece of steak or similar on our plate). This makes you feel obliged to eat it even though you wouldn’t have chosen to do so otherwise, and are unlikely to enjoy it. Again, mums should be trusted to make their own choices about food and drink, whether or not everyone else agrees.

10. AND FINALLY…(on being told the intended name of the child in question)….Really? That’s the name you want?! I thought that was a joke name?!

Thanks mum 🙂 xxx