A little word of warning before I start: this is a post about my experience of labour and childbirth and may not be for everyone. Please feel free to skip it if you’re squeamish or if this content just isn’t for you. For the morbidly curious, on the other hand, read on!
It’s now just over two weeks since our beautiful baby girl, Florence was born, and what a two weeks! In that time I’ve had chance to process the experience of child birth, I’m starting to get used to my new body and it’s role as sole nutrition provider for our baby girl, and we are all getting to grips with our new life as a family of three. I was going to write here about both my labour and the process of adapting to the various postpartum changes to my body, but once I started writing I realised that the labour took up plenty of space on its own (!!) so the post on the physical impact of pregnancy and birth will have to follow.
Ahead of the birth we had tried to steer ourselves away from a specific ‘birth plan’, knowing that some things just can’t be planned for. In the event, this open minded approach served us well as we certainly couldn’t have predicted the course that my labour took.
My contractions started at 8am the day after my due date. Following advice from our midwife, who we had seen the previous day, we continued our morning as usual and I sent R off to work. Throughout the course of the morning the contractions got progressively longer and closer together, but they were still no more than uncomfortable and I was able to do some weights, eat lunch and have some time on my yoga mat and birthing ball before deciding to go for a little walk in the park. Not far into the park it became apparent that the contractions were getting much stronger, so instead of forging on I turned around to walk the 3/4 mile home, a walk which became increasingly difficult.
On my return I messaged R to tell him to make sure he had tied up any loose ends at work by the end of the day as I was sure today was the day and ran myself a bath. With the contractions getting stronger I tried to get into the bath, only for my waters to break before I’d even lowered myself in. From this point on the pain increased rapidly and I struggled to get dry and to dress and to get the final things together for my hospital bag (luckily I’d had the majority of things packed for some weeks and only needed to throw in final essentials). I have to admit to feeling pretty scared and very vulnerable in those moments alone. There were some tears and then, when my more practical side kicked in, there was some crawling on the kitchen floor to try to sort out food for the cat for fear of him being left overnight and going hungry. I also messaged R to get back asap – a request thwarted by his having a puncture en route home!
I was so relieved when R finally arrived. I was in such pain by that stage and the TENs machine given to me by my sister was doing absolutely nothing to take the edge off.
The taxi ride to the hospital seemed to take a lifetime and by the time we reached the waiting room it was all I could do to get onto all fours in the corner of the room and try not to be sick while we waited to be seen.
All of the beds were full and there were no midwives available so when we did eventually get seen it was by a doctor who told us that two women had already given birth in the stuffy, sterile assessment room we were now in. This was not what I needed to hear. We were left there for 4 hours while my waters continued to break, my contractions – which were basically on top of each other – got increasingly painful and I was sick into a nappy bag. Not pretty. In the background we could hear another woman screaming in pain as she gave birth. This was a particularly low moment and I wasn’t sure I could go on.
I just remember saying to R over and over again, ‘there are no gaps between the contractions. Everyone told me there would be gaps!’ I was also begging for any kind of pain relief, and about 4 hours after our arrival I was finally given some codine by a midwife who told me that I needed to move back into the waiting room until I was in ‘proper labour’. With my waters breaking everywhere and writhing in pain we told her that this wasn’t going to happen. Not long after the urge to push came and on second inspection it became apparent that I had reached 8cm dilated – I’d call that pretty ‘proper labour’ thank you very much!
At this point a bed on the labour ward became available and I was hoisted into a wheelchair to get me upstairs. I couldn’t sit down in the chair, so I lodged myself in sideways and was sick down the corridor as they wheeled me to the ward. Another particularly low moment!
Once on the labour ward our experience totally changed. We had the most wonderful midwife who looked after me so well. I was immediately given gas and air, which made me feel like I was having an out of body experience, making the pain more bearable, and I was hooked up to a monitor for the baby. I tried to stop pushing when the contractions came but I couldn’t and as Florence was in distress they advised that I have an epidural. I had been in so much pain with contractions on top of each other for 7 hours by this point that I would have said yes to anything. I’d always hoped I wouldn’t have to have an epidural, but in the event I was happy with the decision. I’d had my eyes screwed up in pain and body contorted for so long, with the epidural I was able to open my eyes and relax my limbs. With the epidural came a catheter (again something I’d hoped to avoid!) and a cannula with an IV drip. The natural, mobile birth I’d had in the back of my mind had suddenly become very medicalised, but, as long as my baby’s heart rate remained constant, I didn’t care. They also ran a series of blood tests on Floss to check her oxygen. This involved scratching the top of her head to take the blood while she was still in the uterus. Apparently the device used for this didn’t look particularly mummy-friendly, but again I was more concerned about her than me and also chose not to look at what was going on below my waistline!
I was given 2 hours from that point to dilate to the full 10cm. The epidural dramatically reduced the progress of the labour and by 1am I had only reached 9cm. I was given a further hour to see how it progressed and was put on a hormone drip to help things along. Just after 2am I had reached 10cm and was allowed to push (finally!). But pushing having had an epidural is pretty difficult and Florence was so high that after an hour of trying we hadn’t made enough progress to continue. The doctor, who was also amazing, advised attempting a forceps delivery and failing that an emergency c section. We agreed to follow her advice and I was taken to theatre. R dressed in scrubs so he could come with me.
Because Floss was so high, because her head was tilted to one side and because she was in distress the doctor felt that, after trying with the forceps, an emergency section was necessary. I was given further anaesthetic so that I was numb from the chests down and a screen went up so I couldn’t see beyond my chest.
The anaesthetist did a great job of distracting me during the procedure and it seemed that no sooner had the screen gone up that Floss was in the world crying. I will never forget that sound or the look on R’s face when we heard it! He cut the cord and she was put on my chest while they removed the placenta and sewed me back together. The feeling of being put back together after a c section is so bizarre; the anaesthetist described it as like ‘rummaging in a handbag’! I can’t say that it’s a sensation I ever want to feel again (although I expect many women say that about a vaginal delivery!).
The epidural left me without any sensation in the lower part of my body for some hours afterwards and even once I had sensation back the c section meant that I couldn’t sit up by myself for several days. I’ve never felt as helpless and vulnerable as in those first hours when everything from the waist down was paralysed and I was catheterised and hooked up to an IV drip and unable to reach over into the cot next to my bed to pick Florence up. There was an awful moment when I was alone with her and she was being sick and because of the cannula in my hand hooked up to the drip I couldn’t reach her and when I pressed the buzzer for help no one came. Likewise, when I was on my own on the postnatal ward overnight, still attached to a drip and unable to lift myself and Floss out of bed after a feed, we ended up just laying there together until a midwife came in at 4am, to find me awake terrified I might fall asleep and let her roll off me.
Since coming home the experience of giving birth seems more distant and surreal. I was reassured to discover that because I had become fully dilated, Floss had received all of the hormones from me as if she had been born vaginally. Similarly, my milk came in without any issues, which can sometimes fail to happen after a c section. And there has certainly been no question about our bonding; I don’t think I could love a little squidge any more than I love her!
A couple of days after giving birth R asked me if I’d do it again. My answer two weeks on remains as it was then, let’s just wait and see!