It seems to me that any blogger worth their salt (who happens to have popped out a kid or two anyway) has a good old birth story on their blog.
I can’t be left out, can I?
More to the point, I love birth stories. I absolutely eat them up, I think they’re brilliant. Even since having Ted; I’ve not been able to watch One Born Every Minute, but I’ve certainly been able to read birth stories. And now I’ve resurrected my own blog, and can’t help but feel honour-bound to write this.
Beware. This is LONG.
Yes, yes, I know I’m nine months too late with this and so some of the details are a bit fuzzy (for reasons that will become druggily obvious), but tough.
I had a pretty damn good pregnancy, I must say. I was nauseous for most of the start but hey, that knocked so much weight off me, I had people coming up to me asking what miraculous diet I’d been on. I had the usual aches and pains, and of course I was knackered, and I had the odd episode of bleeding and ensuing panic.
But I was fine, I was lucky. And I always kind of assumed the birth would be the same. Yes, I buried my head in the sand. I read obsessively; I knew all the things that could, technically, happen. But I couldn’t picture them happening to me. Interventions. C-sections. Drama.
No, I expected my body would go into labour of its own accord, probably a bit early like my mum. I thought I’d have a few nice strong painkillers – I was never going for the all-natural experience, even in my daydreams – maybe even an epidural, then push, whoosh, a baby. Home by teatime.
It didn’t quite go like that.
From three weeks before my due date, I had people asking me ‘haven’t you had that baby yet?’. By the time two weeks after my due date rolled around, I was ready to cut the next person to say it.
Yep, I went overdue. All the way.
But it was weird, and left every midwife I saw scratching her head. I was 2cm dilated on my due date; a week later I’d hit 4cm.
Not a contraction in sight.
Eventually, on October 30th, I got called in for an induction. My lovingly packed bags – one for me, one for the baby – were excitingly dragged in behind me and Kev. I got taken to a rather nice little room with my own bathroom, and started to settle in.
“We’ll just give you a pessary to soften your cervix,” – yeesh – “then hopefully contractions will start, you’ll start dilating, we can break your waters and really get things going.”
“But…” I said, timidly. After all, the midwife saying this already had one hand well and truly up my bits, pessary in the other hand and ready to go. “But I’m already dilated.”
“Oh. Oh look. You’re already five centimetres dilated!”
“Yes, I know. I’ve been telling people that for half an hour.”
So the pessary would be useless. They didn’t even want to bother with any of their other induction business – drugs, drips, whatever. The only thing they could do by this point was break my waters and really set things off.
But of course – they couldn’t. Because there was nobody to do it. Or no space on the ward. Whatever it was, I was taken out of my nice comfortable room and told I was in a queue to have my waters broken. A queue of several people.
And it could take days.
Off we trotted back home. Me and Kev and the bags.
And we waited for that phone call.
The phone call never came. I had to go back in the following afternoon – Halloween – to be checked over. Standard practice, apparently.
That’s where we started to get a few frowny faces from midwives, and a doctor was called in. The baby wasn’t moving as much as they’d like; his heart rate was having the occasional dip. They scanned me, and decided that although things were pretty much OK, it would probably be best if I saw out my time in the induction queue actually in the hospital, rather than at home.
I can’t quite remember what happened next, but I’m pretty sure I had a little temper tantrum sometime around now. They wanted to put me on a ward full of other people who were actually in labour, where I was supposed to try and sleep. I was two weeks overdue and everything hurt. I’d hardly slept for days. I’d been told Halloween would be the latest my baby would possibly be with us, and here I was, settling down for the night without any sign of contractions, a cervix that was merrily dilating by itself, and waters that would determinedly not break.
Somehow, I ended up back in one of the induction rooms to spend the night; it was the only private room they could give me.
The midwives promptly forgot about me. I was supposed to have regular monitoring, but I slept right through until six in the morning without being woken once.
It wasn’t a midwife that woke me at six o’clock.
It was pain.
Then some more pain at 06:11.
Then some more at 06:18.
It all ramped up pretty quickly. I buzzed for a midwife, who eventually strolled in, asked me if I could still feel the baby moving regularly, checked his heartbeat, and pootled merrily out again telling me to “see how it goes”. I texted Kev and my mum, telling them both to get moving and head for the hospital. Meanwhile, I bounced like a berk on a birthing ball and tried to breathe through the contractions.
Yep, it was definitely labour.
From here on in, I’m not one hundred percent sure on how things went, who arrived and when, etc. This is just how I recall it, but it could have been in any order and the times I think were minutes could have been hours. Who knows.
Kev arrived, and watched me bounce away on my ball for a couple of hours (according to the notes on my phone, anyway). At some point, when it had got to the stage that I could no longer bounce on my ball, but had to flop onto the floor and moo with every contraction, a midwife turned up and informed us that we could go to a delivery room. She also generously gave me two paracetamol. Woohoo! I’m pretty sure they were still convinced at this point I was only about six centimetres dilated. Hell, I thought I was still only about six centimetres dilated.
The pain was… intense. That’s probably the best way to describe it. Waves and waves of molten agony, rushing like a river of lava going up a mountain instead of down, a mountain that I couldn’t possibly scale… until I did, breathed, and waited for it to start again. Every time I hit that peak, I couldn’t keep control of my body and dropped to the floor, making a noise like a cow being hit by a truck.
I must have looked a right sight to the other people in the corridor as I ‘walked’ slowly to the delivery room, dropping to the floor every couple of minutes and grabbing whatever would support me – Kev, wall, passerby. You’d think they’d have given me a wheelchair or something.
We reached the delivery room, I met the team of two midwives who would be looking after me, and I was finally properly examined.
Nine centimetres. Nine!
My heart kind of dropped. I’d seen One Born Every Minute. I knew that nine centimetres meant it was far too late for any decent pain relief. I’d just have to steel myself and deal with it. The contractions were still washing over me, I was still flinging myself onto the floor and groaning, but I tried not to lose my head. OK, I told myself. OK. You’ve got this far. You can do that last bit.
“Oh, the anaesthetists are about to do a round. Would you like an epidural?”
Like she was offering me a sandwich off the cart!
“Would you like an epidural?”
I’ve never said YES so quickly in all my life.
“You’re moving a bit much though, we’d need you to keep still for the epidural… better give you some morphine too, just in case.”
So within a very short time (my room was right at the end of the corridor; the same end as the lovely lovely anaesthetists), I was absolutely high as a kite on morphine, with no feeling whatsoever in my abdomen.
It was what I’d heard referred to as the ‘perfect epidural’. I couldn’t feel the contractions at all. That intense pain just… went. Floated away so politely I had to ask the midwives if I was still having contractions. But I could still feel my legs. If I hadn’t been so high from the morphine, I could probably have walked around and used gravity to get the baby’s head down. I could even feel my belly being prodded. But I couldn’t feel any of the pain, and that was the important part.
Plus I could control it myself, so if I started to feel it wearing off, I could whack a button until the feeling all went away again.
At this point I can imagine a lot of you are shaking your heads and calling me a pussy. I got that far, all the way to nine centimetres, why did I bother with the pain relief? Why couldn’t I just do it the natural way?
My response to that: why did science invent this stuff if we weren’t supposed to use it? I don’t see the point in making myself a martyr when all these glorious drugs were offered up to me on a plate. If I’d had to do it myself, I’m almost certain I could have got through it. The outcome would most likely have been the same, but with more screaming.
Back to the story. I don’t really remember much around this point. Kev was there; my mum was there too, making polite conversation with the student doctor I’d let the midwives bring in to observe. I drifted in and out of fuzzy sleep. At some point the midwives broke my waters, which felt very odd, even with the epidural. Much… gushing. Far more than I expected.
Finally, it was time to push. My mum made a speedy retreat from the room; we’d made the mutual decision that Kev should be the only non-medical person at this point.
Chin to chest. Holler at poor Kev to let go of me so I could concentrate. Puuuuuush.
Nothing much happened. Lots of people were shouting at me. Push push push. I must have been absolutely purple in the face. Push push push.
Nope. Nyet. No baby.
After an hour and forty five minutes, and some ominous beeping from the heart monitor someone had, at some point, attached to the baby’s still-in-utero head, a small Asian man marched in and started unwrapping a pair of salad tongs.
Great, I hadn’t eaten in a long time, I could go for a… oh.
Those weren’t salad tongs.
Hurrah for forceps!
Like I said before, I never really imagined anything like forceps happening to me. Not me. These things happened to other people. People on the telly. Not me.
Well, it bloody was happening to me, and fast. The small Asian man (a consultant) took a giant pair of scissors to my bits (drugged as I was, as long as I live, I will never forget the sound of that ‘snip’), grabbed hold of my poor baby’s head with his salad tongs, and yanked.
“PUSH!” everyone yelled.
The only voice I could really hear was Kev’s. The one quiet voice in the cacophony. Telling me I could do it. Telling me he was proud of me.
I screamed. For the first and only time, apparently.
And there he was.
A pale, swollen, very very large baby, squirming on my chest and looking stunned to finally be out in the world. After all this time, all the months of trying, crying, bleeding, he had arrived.
He didn’t cry.
I had one heart-stopping moment of panic.
But then he was whisked away by a paediatrician to be checked over, and I was told over and over again that he was fine, everything was fine, he was just a bit shocked. Kev went over to the ‘baby station’ with him to make sure he was all right.
Poor Kev. From that baby station he had a perfect view of what was going on where the baby had just come from.
I don’t really remember much of this bit. I remember the room being very full of people. Two midwives, the consultant, the student, the paediatrician. I saw another midwife appear from the Antony Nolan trust, with my placenta in a Pyrex jug (I donated stem cells). I felt a bit sad I couldn’t get a good look at it. I don’t often get the chance to look at my internal organs, particularly ones I’d recently grown myself.
But I was drifting in and out of consciousness. I knew the baby was OK, he was with his dad, all was very lovely, could I have some skin to skin soon? Could I… could I have a nap first? Why won’t you let me go to sleep?
Yeah, it turns out at this point I was haemorrhaging nearly two litres of blood onto the floor while the poor consultant and student tried to stitch me up. Kev later used the word ‘abattoir’ to describe the situation.
Told you this was going to be graphic.
But he was here. Right away, we knew he was Ted. Edward Albert Peter Robinson. Born at 15:46 on November 1st. Our boy Teddy.
Right away, even through the drugs, even through the blood loss, even through all the confusion, I knew I’d die for this surprisingly huge baby boy. All nearly-ten-pounds of him.
I know it wasn’t what I expected, and there was the whole haemorrhage situation, and it was as medicalised as a birth can probably get… But I have no issue with Teddy’s birth at all. Apart from that very last yank with the forceps, I felt little to no pain at all through the worst bit. Ultimately, both Ted and I got through it healthily and reasonably happily. What was most important for me was that I was never scared. I trusted the midwives, I trusted the doctors. They were doing the absolute best for my baby and they delivered him safely. I don’t particularly care how.
Teddy had a such a strange, swollen little face. A big mark on his cheek from the forceps, like someone had scribbled on him with biro. A squishy, weird lump on the back of his skull that made his head look pointy – another birth injury, apparently, that took a couple of weeks to go down. A swollen neanderthal forehead completed his look, from both the odd position he’d been in on my cervix, and the monitor that had been shoved up my bits and onto his face.
All that and he was still utterly beautiful.
Watching Kev gingerly cradle our baby, stroking his tiny face, I knew my whole world was right there. Those two boys. My two boys.
The doctors somehow stopped the bleeding, and I got stitched back together. I’m not going to go into the next few days in too much detail: missing my skin-to-skin with Ted because the consultant couldn’t get a blood sample from my dehydrated, bloodless arm, the endless wait for a blood transfusion, the falling asleep mid-conversation for two days until the morphine wore off. The strange soreness of a catheter. The noisy ward, the dirt, someone else’s blood left in the shower for three days because nobody was cleaning it. The painkiller rounds that never came. The disastrous attempts to breastfeed that led to a baby with blood in his nappy on the edge of dehydration. A queue of midwives and nurses trying to get blood from my swollen arms, bruised purple from needles and cannulas. Clinging to the one truly nice night-shift midwife and howling because I thought we’d never be allowed to go home.
On November the 4th, I cheated a blood test with my own stash of iron pills and a stack of rare beef sandwiches smuggled in by Kev. As you might be able to tell, the postnatal ward was the stuff of nightmares – I had to get out of there. The sandwiches did the trick and I put on my brightest, chirpiest face during my discharge discussion. Let me out, let me out, let me out. When the midwife finally signed on that dotted line, I was off like a shot before they could change their minds.
When we got home, Kev cooked me the most beautiful, expensive steak I’ve ever had in my life. “Got to keep raising those iron levels.” I don’t know how I’d have got through it all without him, I really don’t; he danced attendance on me like I’d just come home from war. It felt a bit like I had.
I was so weak I could hardly hold my poor baby, and abandoned him with his dad while I retreated to bed, sobbing with baby blues and soreness. It took days before Kev and I slept at the same time: the first night we tried, with Ted sleeping peacefully in his moses basket beside us, I woke up having a panic attack, convinced that he’d stopped breathing because everything was just so quiet. After that we slept in shifts, one of us in the bedroom and one of us in the living room in front of Netflix. I got through the entire first series of The Crown that week and I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what happens.
Then… it all got better.
We got ourselves a Perfect Prep machine, and a routine. I stopped panicking and started being able to sleep while Teddy slept. We tentatively started to go out, our tiny boy tucked in his pram or his sling. Everything stopped hurting quite so much. The memories of the postnatal ward starred to fade.
We had become a family of three. At last. And that makes all three thousand words I’ve just written worth it.