My first pregnancy was an enlightenment – I had no idea how you had a baby. I was one of the millions of women who had fairly overwhelming doubts about how one of those could come out of there.
I happened across an active birth yoga group - it had a discussion element. I was amazed! Still scared, but intrigued that there could possibly be a way through this.
During my months spent there I came to believe that
a) people could have babies
b) it didn’t have to be a medical emergency,
and very importantly
c) the bonds of friendship you make whilst pregnant with other ladies in the same state as you will get you through almost anything.
Alongside this wonderful process, my completely adept, yet stubborn placenta appeared low on every scan. It stayed so low that I was admitted to hospital at 37 weeks to be observed.
I was so frustrated. I felt so well, and I wanted to know what birth felt like. Couldn’t they see how far I’d come? I’d gone from utterly ignorant to wanting this, in the space of just a few months. And now…
My section was scheduled for 39 weeks. I found the countdown unbearable – the thought of major surgery coming my way. No stopping it. Yet it was the only way to have this baby without us both perishing.
The operation was what it was – easy, quick, alarming, productive. Arthur was born in a procedure that took 15 minutes. It was fourteen hours since I had eaten or drunk and someone had just given me a baby. It could have been a hallucination, it was all so strange.
From then on, my recovery was textbook. It didn’t hurt. The epidural wore off, my legs came back to life, and off I went.
My experience taught me some useful things. The surgery saved our lives. It was done brilliantly and the same can be said of the midwives and nurses who cared for me. This is not, however, how to have a baby.
Not for me anyway. I now know that I never want another epidural unless I have another section. I know that a perceived emergency can wait longer than you thought. I know that being able to eat and drink is not considered essential in hospital. I also know from watching others on the recovery ward that going through a section is a piece of cake if you haven’t been through a long, hard labour first. In one way I am very lucky to be armed with all this information. It helped me approach my second birth with some sense of what I wanted.
On my son’s first birthday I discovered I was pregnant again. I returned to my yoga and started enjoying the process again. Except this time round, I was classed as high-risk. All of my choices for birth were taken away from me.
I was faced with a midwife who I liked very much, but who thought hospital birth was the safest option for everyone, low and high risk alike. She also thought that epidurals were amazing, having had two herself.
I had two consultant appointments where a registrar asked me if I wanted to try for a vbac. I said yes, but I wasn’t happy about being stuck on a monitor, and I wanted to use water in labour. The first time I was brushed aside. They only wanted to know if wanted to attempt a vaginal birth, and give me some statistics about rupture and a leaflet, nothing else. At a second meeting, I asked again - same stats, same leaflet, and when he went to ask if vbacs could go in water,
we heard laughter in the halls.
I could see myself being sucked into a highly managed, highly interventionist birth. I was stubborn, but didn’t feel brave enough to labour through that. I couldn’t understand why, as a person who had a risk factor, I didn’t qualify for a more supportive attitude to help me birth successfully. I was beginning to see why people ditch the system and go independent.
After much soul searching (and spitting furiously), I consented to labour on the delivery ward with mobile monitoring and use of the birth pool if it was available. The consultant midwife helped me to write a birth plan, and my yoga teacher kindly consented to be my doula.
Even so, I felt that everything was a battle. I was a petulant child, stamping my foot. And no matter how I felt, or what I said or did, I was powerless against the argument that if I was the one rare case of rupture, I would have sacrified my baby’s life if I did not do as I was told.
The doula and I worked out a good plan of action. I would labour at home and when I felt I needed her I would call. She would tell us when she thought it was time to transfer and we would leave it as late as we could so as to get a good proportion of my labour done where I was happiest.
My Braxton Hicks became strong and visible in the latter stages of my pregnancy, just as they had before, but I knew they were nothing. I enjoyed them. On the Saturday before my EDD the feelings began to change. They had a more period pain like discomfort to them. They were a shock to begin with, but my body accustomed itself to them and after a few hours they tailed off. The next Saturday the same thing happened! And the next!! Was this my uterus’ version of a night out?
Each time they began, they were uncomfortable but my body got used to them. I figured my body was teaching me something – that if I waited and let my body do what it knew to do, it would cope and the feelings would become more bearable.
I was now a few days over my due date and wondering if I was going to take months to give birth if I kept having a week off in between bouts. In answer to my question the contractions began again the next day, in the same way as they had done before - except this time they kept going.
My body did its thing and each time they stepped up a gear, I would move around and they became bearable again. Such a magical feeling! Was it painful? I suppose there was pain but there was so much else too!
Knowing that I was actually fortunate to experience this and that I wanted it helped me along. The contractions were now beginning to direct me. I was unable to ignore them, but I could happily talk between them. Henry called Nicole, the doula, as I had taken up residence on my knees with my head in the corner of the sofa.
Nicole arrived at about seven or eight in the evening. She came and lay her head next to mine, put her hand on my back and told me I was doing a really good job and coping well.
Like magic, the pain lessened immediately and time lost any meaning. I knew suddenly that I could cope, for hours and hours if need be, and importantly - for as long as this process meant me to.
Had we not had that sense of knowledgable support we would have probably gone to hospital soon after that point, but Nicole said that for now we were fine where we were.
We listened to music and I hummed and waggled through the contractions. And then it was time to go in.
They heaped cushions into the back of the car and I clambered in, face down with Nicole beside me. The music was transferred to the car stereo and we all sang our way into the hospital.
I remember the car clock said 11.40. Nicole stayed with me as Henry had to park and we made our way to the delivery suite, stopping to huff and puff now and then. The place was practically empty. We were shown into a room and I laboured there for another hour before a midwife came and introduced herself.
She gave me one VE. She was quick and managed it between contractions and it was completely painless. She announced that I was 8cm and we’d better get the monitor on.
At one point I forgot how to use my breath, but I looked at Nicole and she simply breathed for me. I joined in and was back in charge. I had had a few puffs on the gas and air by this time, but then the feelings began to change.
My body was wanting me to push. Now I had a job! It felt better to push than anything else. I don’t remember feeling any of the things that people say are common in transition. I didn’t think I couldn’t do it, I didn’t think I was going to die, and the sensations had spaced out and become bearable again.
I could even sway to the music again between contractions. I remember the midwife and Nicole telling me I was doing really well and I looked at Nicole again. Again she directed her breath, differently now, and I followed suit.
I think I had been happily making progress for about forty-five minutes when a male doctor came in unannounced to let me know that I was only allowed to push for an hour. If the baby hadn't arrived by then, he would use a ventouse.
Had I not been completely otherwise engaged, and on all fours, I would have kicked him as hard as I could. Everyone who was not labouring away, made him feel deeply unwelcome. The midwife said I was close. She whispered that he said that to everyone. But by now, I was feeling the stinging sensation of Dotty’s head.
I presume no one was expecting her just yet as they were all up my end. Then her head appeared and I could feel her shoulders and I remember thinking ‘bugger this!’ and pushed the rest of her out too.
I was almost surprised that I had delivered a baby. It was just past three in the morning and we decided that Dorothy Betsy should have the name Cariad too – a welsh word meaning love or darling – it was Valentine’s Day after all!
I learned so much from her birth – that my body could cope with this other-wordly process as long as I went with it,; that the right support is priceless; that my scar was as strong as the rest of me.
I also learnt that a birth plan has to be watertight (I had asked for my third stage to be managed as the midwife considered appropriate – meaning that if all was well they could wait for me to deliver the placenta, not Do What You Like), and that as informed as you think you are, there may be pitfalls – why did no one think it important to tell me that I, as a vbac, would only be ‘allowed’ an hour for my second stage?
I’ve learnt that some people think it’s acceptable for a doctor to barge in and scare women when they are at their most vulnerable (and yet powerful). I am not one of those people, and feel that behaviour of that kind is a trespass against me and all the other women that are subject to it.
What did you imagine when you went to hospital in labour? Whether you went voluntarily, or were transferred, I bet you thought you’d get appropriate care. Truth is you get the care that’s available, which may or may not be appropriate to you. I did ok – I got my vbac, but it happened because of who I took with me.
It could easily have been very different and is for so many women. You may be lucky and get staff that truly support your wishes and use evidence based practices. I don’t intend to gamble. I want to KNOW that my interests are top of the list of my care givers and that there’s a damn good reason for doing what they do. I’m pregnant again now. Despite all that I’ve learned and all that I know, I’m facing exactly the same barrage of statistics and hospital policies as before. I’m not fighting this time. This time I’m staying at home.