This blog is not FDA approved
I had two very different birth experiences with my sons. The first built me up into the kind of confident woman I wouldn’t have dared dream of beforehand. The second broke me down again into someone deeply empathetic and humble. I’m glad they happened in that order because I needed the strength I took from the first to get me through the second- not that my second birth was half as bad as some I’ve heard of but, boy, do I follow my feelings to their heights or their depths. Always.
In preparation for the birth of my first child I immersed myself in the relevant literature. I became an expert. One of the most basic pieces of advice that even the most disinterested of women will invariably pick up during her pregnancy is not to attach unrealistic expectations to the birth… I had investigated every possible permutation of options and possibilities and planned for a drug free natural birth in a midwife-led unit with minimal intervention, a water bath, music and a double bed my partner and I could share with our baby afterwards… I really tried to keep telling myself that it wouldn’t matter if my birth didn’t go to plan, if I ended up in the charge of the doctors upstairs, if I couldn’t forgo the drugs, if intervention was necessary… But I knew it did. It really mattered to me. I knew that I would be devastated.
The night before he was born I was up late, cleaning the kitchen and dancing. When I finally retired to bed I fell into a serene slumber dreaming of bacon sandwiches and looked forward to the morning. 3 hours later I woke to feel a trickle of water and was horrified to think I was urinating… As I stood the water cascaded like a bucket being emptied on to the floor. The noise woke my partner! Feeling that bacon sandwich and a much needed few more hours sleep slipping through my fingers I tried to pass it off as incontinence anyway but there was no kidding anyone. We made the call and headed on down to the hospital.
I was examined and was only 1cm dilated (10cm being ‘fully’ and ready to push) so they sent me home. By the time we struggled back up the stairs to our flat I was in pretty much constant agony so we were back at the maternity unit within an hour. The midwives rolled their eyes at another drama queen but were astounded to find that I was 8cm dilated upon examination (generally the process is expected to be 1cm per hour). Happilly this took the choice of hard drugs out of my hands because they tend to avoid administering them post 6cm. It was a relief to have that choice taken from me. I paced up and down for a while reading excerpts from Phillip Pullman’s ‘The Firework Maker’s Daughter’ in the hope of inspiring some heroism in myself and our impending arriver. Then a student midwife came to discuss our birth plan, famously responding to our explanation that our music was in the car “Oh you can’t go outside to listen to it!”.
The music was brought in (‘Apostrophe’ by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention), our baggage was deposited in the corner and I curled up like a cat by the radiator and sucked on some gas and air. I got exceptionally comfortable, just riding the waves of my contractions, pressing the button on my TENS machine that delivered electricity to numb my pain sensors as they built up and imagining water lilies opening up against black. Everything slowed right down. My partner and two midwives chatted amiably throughout the process and I’m told that further members of the faculty were brought in to see the miracle birth progressing so peacefully but I was unaware. I opened my eyes only once, strangely it had become dusk although it felt like little time had passed to me, and I beheld the midwife who was relieving the two assigned to me during their dinner break, through a hazy half light. She seemed immensely tall, strong and slender, black with a shaved head, silver rings right up her earlobes and huge dark eyes. As I peered at her through my tranced out slits she returned the most enormous smile. I acknowledged her resemblance to the angel from the cover of ‘Abraxas’ by Santana (Annunciation by Mati Klarwein) and found it hard to believe such a noble creature was anything but genuinely heavenly. I felt euphorically blessed. And closed my eyes again.
Pushing was hard, they say there’s a moment in every birth when mum believes she can’t do it- and I did say that to my partner but he told me to “Push past the point where you don’t think you can push anymore” which I did and our beautiful, sweet little baby boy was born.
The experience was totally empowering, I felt like I could do anything, I felt brave. I fantasised about being an old woman harbouring members of the Resistance during the Nazi occupation of France and knew I wouldn’t betray my friends whatever ‘encouragement’ was administered to me. I must be strange to dream of torture! Always so melodramatic I know but that’s me. I became a tiger. Wild and free and always instinctive in my child rearing. It was a good period in my life.
So when midwives asked me the next time round whether I was worried about the birth I pretty much laughed. I was worried about the pregnancy having lost a baby between my two boys but as far as the birth was concerned I was sure I could take that in my stride. I looked forward to it.
My youngest’s birth-day began quite differently. I noticed a five pence piece sized globule of liquid disappearing into my knickers in the morning. I knew that some women wet themselves with the weight of their baby and ephemera pushing down on their bladder so that could be a possibility… But something told me that this was amniotic. I spent 24 hours in hospital trying to convince them that the birth had started but the water wasn’t running and when they asked me to cough during examination they could locate no bursts of liquid so they were sure I was mistaken. Finally a consultant came down, just before they were planning to kick me out, and he discovered 1cm dilation of mycervix, gently pushed babies head and unleashed the torrent that had hitherto been trapped behind it.
I was hooked up to an antibiotic drip to protect baby from an increased risk of infection and given an injection to prompt my contractions and dilation to accelerate. I stoicly tolerated the pain using TENS and gas and air for assistance like the first time in my bed on the prenatal ward- for maybe an hour- before hobbling over to the midwives to tell them that I was ready to push. They were sceptical but deemed it an appropriate time to transfer me to the doctor-led labour ward downstairs (no midwife-led unit for me this time, having been birthing for more than a day already). I clumbsily climbed onto a bed the size of a small bench and at least a metre off the ground which was really difficult and was really uncomfortable once perched on it. The midwife attending me once I got there was completely disinterested and dismissive. She refused to examine me for ten minutes before finally giving in and discovering that “There’s no cervix there” (ie. I was fully dilated). Finally I was allowed to push but this time was way beyond difficult, I screamed like a banshee with pain and sheer effort and it was taking forever. I was pushed into all these bizarre and unhelpful positions and felt hopeless. I managed to push out the head but then baby just stuck. As the likelihood neared that we’d need intervention the midwife told my partner to get ready to push the panic button. Somehow with some wrestling of the baby and a determined last push we managed to free him but he didn’t cry and just stayed grey. My partner hit the button. Immediately this siren wailed “Infant cardiac arrest. Infant cardiac arrest.” And a crowd of doctors raced in. The cord was cut and the baby was hastily passed into their white coated care which was administered on a table behind me. The midwife injected me with a drug to help separate my afterbirth and fiddled with that whilst completely ignoring my tearful plees of “What’s going on? What’s happening to my baby?” I looked up at my partner but he was almost as clueless as I was. It was terrifying. But they got him breathing and ten minutes later left us, traumatised, to get to know our second son.
They took us up the postnatal ward fairly soon and shooed away my partner as quickly as they could, it being past visitors hours. Baby slept so I read the notes they’d pushed into my hand before we left the labour ward. When a baby’s shoulder gets stuck like that it’s called Shoulder Dystocia. The complication that had arisen as a result of this was that he was in the birth canal where he couldn’t expand his lungs to breathe but his umbilical cord was squashed too so that he wasn’t receiving oxygen from me either. I read that he could’ve died and disintegrated into a fit of tears. They wracked my body and transformed me completely and forever. I’d never assume I could take birth in my stride again that’s for sure. He’s 18 months now and I still occasionally feel a pang of guilt that somehow I failed him but realistically there were several risk factors ticked that day that could’ve led to what happened, most involving professional incompetence but not least his being a pound and a half heavier than his brother. None of them my fault. I can reconcile myself with the fact that I did it good the first time and that I did manage to get him out without assistance, maybe not a second too soon… If I ever give birth again there’s a fairly good chance of this reoccurring. So an elected cesarean is recommended. I find the idea of that scary. So we’ll have to see… Maybe we’ll cross that bridge, maybe not. From the two births I’ve already had I have been completely levelled in terms of preconceptions though. You really can’t predict what will happen- other than the fact it will be ridiculously emotional! I’ve learned as well that you really can’t make value judgements on births or the women birthing because it’s impossible to understand what’s going on for a particular women in a particular birth and untold variables can absolutely transform the event and make it achievable or impossible. Most of all I’m just so grateful that my baby was resuscitated. Something that could’ve been made more difficult if I’d had the same situation arise in my dream birth in the midwife-led unit far from the doctors. I couldn’t have endured losing him. With hindsight though, coming close has really been good for me.