I promise all posts will not be this long (I have a 9 week old baby!), but here is the story of the birth of my daughter, Joni. I don’t think i’ll ever really be able to explain with words how traumatic I found the whole experience or quite how harrowing the pain was – but here is a summation of the birth none the less.
Joni’s birth was probably exactly opposite to what I had expected. Whilst I had conformed to the prevailing trend in my family and been fortunate enough to get pregnant quickly, this is where the conformity stopped. I was not to have the completely natural, quick, home-by-tea-time birth that had become the status quo amongst my relatives.
Things started relatively normally – my waters broke at 2am on Saturday morning and I had the (apparently fairly common) conversation with myself as to whether I should add incontinence to my list of pregnancy pet peeves; or whether, on her due date, my baby was to be born and this was the beginning. I decided after some bathroom-based deliberations that in fact my waters had broken. As I was not yet having contractions but was far too excited to sleep I decided to take to the spare room with my laptop and watch some ER to pass the time. I started having some light contractions every 10 minutes or so, but nothing that was worth waking my husband over. As they got closer together at about 8am – about every 5-6 minutes – I decided that it was time to wake Chris up and call my Mum who was also coming to the hospital, as she is a midwife and a good person to have around generally. By this point the contractions were noticeably painful but still not really anything to get excited about.
We used an app on my phone to monitor my contractions through the morning, by means of distraction we watched two of my favourite films and had some lunch, by which time my contractions were every 3 to 4 minutes and painful enough to make talking through them impossible. I remembered from my antenatal class that this was probably the right time to call the hospital; I was also getting a little bit interested in how things were progressing and whether I could have pain relief or not. So, we went to the hospital where I was triaged, was 4cm dilated and admitted to the Labour ward.
Once there, things got more painful pretty quickly; after an hour or so I was really interested in either getting the baby out or getting some relief from the pain. Contractions were intense and every 3 minutes. I now know that this is where things began to go wrong. Labour ward was very busy and the hospital was apparently short staffed and not able to pay me the attention that I needed. It transpired that my baby was in the ‘back to back’ position, with her head to one side. I feel that I was robbed at this stage of the chance to get her in the right position – had the midwives been attentive I think they could have convinced me of the importance to move around for the best chance of a natural birth. This did not happen though – all that was discussed with me was pain relief and I was getting increasingly distressed as the baby’s heartbeat had not been checked for hours and I had been left alone. I really wanted to avoid any sort of pain relief if I could, but I was aware that I had been awake for a while and things were progressing quite slowly so something for the pain might be appropriate. At this stage I was aware enough to talk to Chris and my Mum and decided that I would ask for an epidural. I was told that it would be two hours as the anaesthetists were busy. I reluctantly agreed to have some pethidine in the mean time, I think I probably would have tried anything. The next 5 hours consisted of excruciating contractions, hallucinations (including telling my Mum about some problems in Zimbabwe and talking at length about doctors in ER), and hoping beyond hope that it would all be over. Eventually I was examined and told that I had only contracted 1cm extra in all that time: this was disheartening to say the least. Again, we had been left alone and I was increasingly distressed, feeling utterly uncared for by the hospital staff. Eventually I was moved to another room to have the long awaited epidural, I was in so much pain and so spaced out at this point that I have no idea as to the state of undress with which I was wandering around the labour ward or where I was going; in fact, I was convinced that I wasn’t having a baby at all.
It took two anaesthetists over an hour and three attempts to actually site the epidural properly; at last I could begin to hope that I was on the home straight. The epidural was effective at relieving some of the pain but each contraction was still painful, especially in my lower back, throughout the night. At 6am I was examined again. At this stage, according to later conversations with the hospital staff, a Doctor should have examined me, as I was only 7cm dilated. The baby’s position meant that the contractions weren’t doing their job properly and things were going too slowly. However, a consultation with the Doctor didn’t happen and I was left until 9am when I was told to start pushing. We honestly thought that our baby would be born now and we were over the worst after all the hours of pain the previous evening. I started pushing, and I knew nothing was happening straight away. I told the midwife nothing was happening. Afterwards my Mum told me that, having seen lots of women pushing, I was someone who could push a baby out and I couldn’t have tried harder. After an hour and a half of exhausting (and largely pointless) pushing the Doctor was finally called. Evidently the doctor failed to ascertain the baby’s position during the examination as she asked the midwife what it was. The midwife said that the baby was LOA (the best position for vaginal delivery) even though every other examination found that she was ‘back-to-back’. As a result the Doctor decided that I should be taken to theatre for a ventouse delivery. I was really, really upset by this and felt like a complete failure; I also had a gut feeling that this was only ever going to end in a caesarean.
Once in theatre, the usual things happened: there were lots of people rushing around and I think I was in complete shock already as at one point I asked everyone in the room to step forward and introduce themselves! The ventouse cap was attached and I was instructed to push. There were four attempts at this and on the fourth there was an almighty crash across the operating theatre – the ventouse cap had been pulled from my baby’s head with such force that the Doctor had been sent flying across the room and landed on the floor – when she reappeared in front of me she was covered in quite a lot of blood and I was naturally pretty terrified, not knowing what just happened. The next few minutes were a complete blur: I was told that I was to have a caesarean and they had to do it immediately. It took longer than expected for them to get the baby out; she was in such an awkward position that she was completely stuck – it was clear to me then that no matter how hard I had been trying there was no way she was going to be born naturally. I just wish that the midwives and Doctor had realised this sooner and spared us the trauma of pushing and of the failed ventouse, as well as the hours of pain all through the night. Eventually our daughter was born, and after being checked over she was placed on my chest. I was stunned by her long hair and long eyelashes and completely shocked that she had actually arrived. We just lay there staring at each other for the time it took them to close me up and get us moving to recovery.
I have a lot to be grateful for; whilst I found the whole experience traumatic and was so disappointed with how it was handled, our daughter was peaceful throughout and maintained a steady heartbeat. Recovering from a long labour and eventual caesarean was not easy. I had lost a fair amount of blood and felt (and looked) as though I’d been hit by a bus, but that is in the past now. Joni also fed straight away and hasn’t stopped loving to be fed since, which I am so pleased about. She was born with a huge bruise and blisters on her forehead from the misplaced ventouse, but that has healed now and she is a happy and healthy little girl!