Warning this post is long and a bit graphic…
Part of the reason that I have been posting less on my blog lately is because my pregnancy has brought up a lot of unresolved memories from my first pregnancy and birth. I have been struggling to bring myself to write this specific post because I have not yet come to terms with what happened. Also my approaching birth of baby number two has given the trauma a new lease on life. I can’t push it to the back of my mind.
As I mentioned in a previous post I had a bit of a scare during the pregnancy. My doctor was not one hundred percent sure what exactly caused this bleed and so her and her partner were not comfortable to let me carry past 37 weeks. I was told that unless I go into labour or my body looks ready for an induction then I would need to have a c section. Let me stop right here and say that I respect women who opt for a c section but that I was very strongly opposed to having a c section myself. I was very emotionally invested in having a natural birth. This news and the strong likelihood of having a c section was devastating. I remember shedding many tears but thankfully I had the amazing support of a very dear friend who had had an unwanted c section herself a few months before.
My husband and I tried many of the old wives tales about how to bring on labour. Just as I was loosing hope I went for my last check up with my gynae and she told me that I was two centimeters dilated and that meant that they could try inducing me the next day rather than heading in for a c section.
It was a funny feeling heading home knowing that our baby would be induced the next day. I did a lot of cleaning, repacked the hospital bags that I had had ready for many months and took some last pregnancy photos. I never expected to know the date that my baby would arrive.
The next morning we checked in at the hospital at 7am. By 8am I was set up in the labour ward and they had inserted my drip with pitocin and broke my waters. One of my doctor’s prerequisites for letting me attempt vaginal birth was that the baby had to be monitored 100% of the time throughout the entire process. I grew to hate that monitor as it was incredibly clumsy and frequently lost the baby’s heartbeat unless I sat as still as a rock. I also had a machine reading all of my stats including my contractions.
It all felt like something that was happening around me and I did not really feel like an active participant. I remember at one point when the contractions started getting painful attempting to bounce on a pilates ball to ease the discomfort. That was an epic fail what with the moving of all my cords and lines across the room, the baby monitor constantly loosing signal and the fact that every time I bounced more amniotic fluid escaped. I was mortified and embarrassed. I could not even clean up after myself because of all the machinery I was connected to. So the bed it was. Staring absentmindedly at my contractions on the monitor, waiting impatiently for things to get a move on while sitting as dead still as I possibly could.
After lunch my gynae came to check up on me and ask the nurse to increase my dosage of pitocin as it was decided that I was not progressing fast enough. After this my contractions went insane. I could no longer talk and it was becoming increasingly difficult to sit dead still for the sake of my baby’s heart beat monitor. The contractions were long with only three seconds in between. I managed to somehow communicate that I needed my music so my husband went to fetch my headphones that had been forgotten in the car while I tried my best to function enough to download ‘Oceans’ from iTunes, which I then listened to on repeat with my eyes closed. Lost in prayer. It was the only way I knew how to cope. The pain got worse and worse and soon I was unable to control my body. It was pushing and I was unable to stop myself from doing so.
At this point I was told that I was not yet, or only 6cm dilated and that pushing would cause possible irreparable damage to my body. I don’t remember who told me this. At this point I was so focused on doing everything in my power to control my body and the pain but I was completely unable. I was terrified. I kept thinking I might not be able to have anymore children and each push was terrifying. They offered me an epidural. I had been deadset against having an epidural but when they said it would help me stop pushing it seemed like a no brainer.
An anesthetist was rushed to me and he quickly administered the epidural. The whole world changed back to normal. I felt nothing from my waist down and my body did stop pushing. The complete terror subsided. And the pain but that was not the reason I agreed to the epidural. It was the fear.
There was a moment where I by mistake moved and we lost the baby’s heartbeat on the monitor and struggled for ages to find it. That was terrifying and sadly not the last time it would happen.
By about 6:00pm I was fully dilated and ready to push. They stopped my epidural in the hopes that I would regain some feeling and booked an operating room just incase things went wrong. I didn’t regain feeling but in my mind I liked to think that somehow my body told me to push at certain moments. I am still not sure if this was wishful thinking or not. I was so excited that I was getting to try birth my baby and not via a c section. Anyway because of all the machines and epidural I was half sitting, half lying down. Not ideal. I pushed for about an hour with no luck. It seemed like the baby was getting stuck. He would go down to where the doctor could feel his head but then as soon as I stopped pushing he’d go back up. At some point in the midst of all this the monitor slipped and we lost my baby’s heartbeat and the nurse really struggled to find it again. The tension in the room was insane.
After an hour of pushing my doctor suggested that we have a c section as it seemed that the pushing was not working and he kept not getting past the same point. My husband and I were so terrified and desperate to have our baby safely in our arms that we agreed.
Our friendly anesthetist arrived again and upped my epidural and helped prep me for theatre as hubby went off to get suited up. I became so reliant on the anesthetist throughout the surgery. He stood next to me and chatted me through everything and helped me feel at least somewhat in the know about what was happening as I lay powerless on the table. He also took some photographs for me. At the time I thought it would be gross and freaky seeing my child being pulled out of my abdomen but I am ever grateful for those images. Retrospectively they have let me see and in some way experience the moment my baby was born.
I was prepared for labour and pain. I was not prepared for what a c section entailed. Yes the epidural takes away the pain. But as you lie there in the freezing cold unable to see what a team of people are doing to your body you can feel them tugging and pulling. I was not prepared for the fact that my entire body would be tugged up and down as I lay there and they tried to get my boy out of my tummy. And hearing them in hushed tones saying, “Hold here, move this, etc.” Of everyone in the room I was the most powerless and vulnerable and I felt it. I was not an active participant.
I strained my ears desperate to hear my baby. Eventually I did (19:30), but what I heard was him cry and being taken further away. I was crying for the joy of hearing his voice but that joy quickly turned to panic as I realised that they were not bringing him to me. They were doing tests and hubby at this point left to the other side of the room to watch what was happening with baby. Now at this point I must tell you that as far back as I can remember, one of the biggest fears in my life was that my baby would be taken away from me at birth before I got to see him. It was happening and at this point I lost it. The second I realised that my baby was not being brought to me I started crying, “I want my baby” and tried to use all my strength to pull myself off the operating table. I knew that they were still busy operating on me and at that moment I did not care. All I knew was that my baby was born and I needed to see him. My baby needed to be in my arms. They obviously restrained me and a while later after they had done all of their checks they brought me my baby bundled up with only his little face and one hand peaking out. I was only given a few seconds with him before he was whisked away to the nursery with hubby in tow while they finished operating on me. I tried desperately to cling to the memory of his face. Of the few seconds I had, had to see him. I was exhausted and my mind was foggy and holding onto any clear picture at that point seemed impossible. I don’t remember much else of what happened in the operating theatre beyond the panic that I didn’t have a clear enough image of my child in my head and that I didn’t know where he was.
They wheeled me into a recovery room. I remember just lying there sobbing and begging for my baby. There were three nurses in the room and I begged them to please help me but they ignored me and carried on with their own conversation. They were complaining about being tired and shifts. Eventually one nurse came over to me seeming very annoyed and with an air of ‘fine I will talk to you’. She spoke over me and said, “Are you in pain?” When I said that I was not in pain she stopped listening and walked away. She did not explain what was happening and why I could not see my baby or when I would get to see him. She then resumed what had escalated into full on fighting with the other nurses.
Eventually a nurse came to fetch me, to take me to the maternity ward. But that relief was short lived. She explained to the three grumpy nurses that the maternity ward was overwhelmed with a massive intake of patients and she needed one of them to please help her push me to the maternity ward as she was not allowed to wheel me there herself. They refused and said that they were also having a busy night. The tension between them was palpable. The seemingly kind nurse disappeared, there was a tense phone call and then when she came back one of them begrudgingly helped her but let go of wheeling my bed the second it hit the threshold of the maternity ward.
I was so excited that I was finally going to have a chance to properly meet my baby. That excitement was short lived. Another nurse arrived and said that my child had a low blood sugar and a high temperature and that the doctor had instructed for him to be in an incubator and wanted to give him some formula. She said that once he was better they would bring him to me if I wanted to try breastfeed him. At this point I remembered in antenatal class that they were not allowed to give him formula without my consent. I asked whether doing skin to skin and breastfeeding him first would put him in any major risk. The answer was no that he would be fine if I did that. So I made it clear that I did not give permission for them to do either and that he had to be brought to me immediately for skin to skin and to breastfeed him.
I had no idea, beyond what I had read, about how to actually breastfeed but the nurses jumped into action latching him and expressing colostrum onto a teaspoon to get him fed as quickly as possible. It was madness with a team of three nurses working with determination and speed. I realised in that moment the level of respect my wishes had been met with and despite still not having had a calm ‘moment’ with my son I was beginning to feel like a person again. For the first time I no longer felt completely helpless and fearful.
While the fast moving breastfeeding effort was going on a nurse came in all flustered saying that our entire family was in the waiting room and had been there for ages, that some had travelled quite far and that it was getting very late (I think at this point it was about 21:45). She asked if they could come in quickly to meet the baby so that they could go home. I was angry. I still had not had a calm moment to just take in my son nevermind a moment with us three. Our new little family. I said that I was busy trying to breastfeed my son. They could wait. After a while one of the nurses said that my son should be fine for now and that he was doing much better. His blood sugar was stable and his temperature was now perfect. So we kept him skin to skin and let the family trickle in two by two. Thankfully the fact that my child and I were stark naked beyond a sheet that just revealed his head meant that no one dared taking him away from me at this point as it was the first time that I had gotten to hold him.
After the family left so did hubby. It was 22:00 and for the first time I got to take in my little baby boy. I was high as a kite but so in love. I tried my best to forget all the drama. Now was the time to focus on becoming a good mother.
It’s now that I am researching my options for my next birth that the repressed memories and emotions are bubbling back up. I am realising how much of my experience could have been different. I firmly believe that my doctor did everything in her knowledge and power to give me what she felt was best for baby and I. But I also believe now that what she believes is best, is not what I believe is best. I was not equipped with a team that was pro the type of birth I wanted. There was so much about my birth that I realise now stood in the way of what I wanted. I never felt that I had control. I made almost all my decisions based on fear and not based on facts and what I felt was best. I never knew where I had a choice. I hated my body for what it had failed to accomplish.
I do not yet have words of wisdom but what I am learning is that I do have a choice. There are many options and there is so much research to read that can empower you. I am learning that you may not always get the birth that you want but that you need not have all your wishes fly out of the window. I know that there are circumstances where I would choose a c section but that I want to feel like I played a more active role in that decision. That my decisions would be based on facts and not fear.