Karen is a post natal doula in Wokingham, and a Breastfeeding Counsellor from the NCT (good person to have in my home town with baby 2 on the way!) You can follow her on twitter here or go take a look at her website here
The Strange Journey of Pregnancy and Birth
Karen Hall, April 2011
I did not enjoy being pregnant anything like as much as I wanted to. This was actually my third pregnancy, and I read a lot of trashy novels during the first trimester, to try and avoid anxiety. I was nauseous for 14 weeks, but only vomited once, in the toilets at MacDonald’s. I was very tired throughout, and knew my partner felt I was being, at best, very suggestible. Once the nausea passed, I was hungry all the time. Insomnia kicked in near the start; I used to get up in the night and eat cheese and surf the internet. By the end I desperately wanted to lie on my right hand side, but I knew it wasn’t allowed
NHS care during pregnancy was uninspiring. I rarely saw the same midwife twice; no-one informed me about anything, I was just told to go for various tests without any information about them. My GP freely admitted she had no clue what way up the baby was. The NHS antenatal classes, with about 30 people in a stinking hot room, were a joke. The one thing that did come out of them was the suggestion to check out the midwife-led unit at Heatherwood in Ascot, which is where we decided to have our baby
My brother and I were both born on our due dates, but of course I didn’t expect anything to happen on the day. There was one big contraction, but that was it. I had been having braxton hicks for months, so it was really hard to know if there was anything different about it. They kept coming on and off for another three days, nothing to write home about, but I realise now it was the beginning of labour.
My waters broke at 4.45am on the third day after the due date. I sat quietly for a while before waking Pete. Nothing else was happening. The hospital invited us to come in at 8am to have a look, and when we did, something I said prompted them to worry that he might be breech, so they gave me a scan. I vividly remember the midwife’s excitement on seeing his face. The day I stop being excited, I’ll retire, she told me. He wasn’t breech, but apparently wasn’t quite properly aligned, so I was sent home to lie on my left.
Pete went to work and I snuggled up in the sitting room with a terrifying episode of Dr Who. Contractions were noticeable by 10am, and at 1pm I called Pete and asked him to come home. I had been trying to time them, but they made it hard to concentrate. He timed them at 5 minutes apart, called Heatherwood, and bundled me into the car.
Heatherwood is right opposite Ascot racecourse, and it was the Friday of Royal Ascot Week (which is Children’s Day, apparently). We arrived a few minutes before the start of the first race, and the car park attendant scrutinised us very closely, thinking we were racegoers trying to sneak in. One look at my face and enormous bump cleared that up for him.
Made it up the stairs. The midwives clearly didn’t think anything was imminent, and shut me away in a small side room, where I felt a bit stupid. Things get a bit blurry after that, but we were soon installed in the pool room, and at some point advised that we wouldn’t be using the pool because one of the midwives had had to go on an emergency run to Slough. I don’t remember registering disappointment; I was focused on what was happening. The bed was uncomfortable. The ball was uncomfortable. The only thing I liked was a big blue plastic beanbag that I could recline on, yelling every now and then. A midwife came and told me off for yelling. She relented when she saw what a mess Pete had made of applying the TENS machine, let me have the entonox, and went away again.
At 4.30pm we asked for an examination, and were thrilled to hear I was 7cm dilated. They left us alone again, and I think we had the impression that the People In Charge didn’t think anything much would happen for a while. Half an hour later, I was pushing, and suddenly we had some attention.
The entonox made me feel spaced out, so I was using only between contractions, and focussing on breathing when each one actually hit. Pete was in charge of the TENS machine, but I don’t feel like it did much other than keep him occupied, turning the dial when I said a contraction was coming on. As things got more interesting, he divided his time between the business end, giving me pep talks, and changing the CD. He was great. At one point I determinedly got off my back, on to my hands and knees, because I knew I was supposed to be that way up. Everything immediately got much harder, and the midwife soon suggested I recline again. A few pushes later the head was visible, and she suggested I sit up a bit so I could see my baby born.
He was a damp, red little scrap, lifted on to my chest, wondering what the hell was going on. I still had my bra on and not the sense to remove it until someone asked me if he had fed. Pete cried, and we agreed on a name, and he still didn’t feed. The midwives were refusing to give me syntometrine, because my birth plan said I didn’t want it, even though I was fed up of the whole thing by then and just wanted to get on with being with my baby. Third stage took about an hour, and then I was sent for a shower. He still didn’t feed, just sucked furiously on his hands. Impatient midwives shoved my breast into his mouth and told me I would have trouble feeding him; talk about the curse of the bad fairy.
We were left alone in the dusk, sometime after 6pm, and the races had just finished too. My son was sleeping in a bassinet and we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves. There was only one other new family in the ward, the baby a few hours older, much bigger, and already bottle-feeding. The ward was hot and all through the night my baby grizzled, I was nervous about lifting him but desperately wanted to comfort him and for both of us to sleep. He would settle on me, but not in the cot; how many times have I heard that story, since then? He slept on me, and I didn’t sleep.
Pete came back the next day but they wouldn’t let me go home, because they didn’t think breastfeeding was established properly. Again I had my breast pushed into the baby’s mouth, another midwife told me of course it hurts, what did you expect? The support was atrocious, and the following day I lied in order to get out. The baby slept and slept when we got him home, and Pete’s mother and grandmother were there despite being asked not to come yet.
In the morning we went to the breastfeeding clinic in Reading, but there were no BFCs or midwives, only peer supporters, and they couldn’t seem to help either. But they did tell us we should not have let him sleep so long, and encouraged me to express. We cup-fed him for a week; it was a truly awful few days for all three of us. I so wish I had known then what I know now. I would give anything to do it over. Anything except four more years of broken sleep!