There seem to be a number of birth stories floating around the mummy blogosphere at the moment (and, yes, I do mean Mummy, not Parenting in this case, as I haven’t as yet seen any Daddy bloggers posting birth stories – correct me if I’m wrong, please, as it would be interesting to see one from that point of view), possibly because Peggy at A mother’s secrets has been calling for birth stories (by the way, do go over there and subscribe – it’s going to be a really useful resource).
So… as I have less than three months to go until my second experience of the whole birth process, it’s been on my mind a fair bit and I thought I might just get mine out there. As can often be the case, it didn’t go exactly how I would have liked it to go, though it was far from as horrible as All grown up’s horrendous birth and post-birth experience.
As most of you will know, or should hopefully have worked out from this blog’s title, Chris and I work from home. Rosemary was due on 28 August 2006, and I had planned it so that I would have almost no work to do throughout August, so that I could get ready and just do lots of relaxing and sleeping. Rosemary, it seems, had other ideas. The day after completing a long-running job my waters broke, on 4 August 2006.
I was sat at my computer checking something or other on the Internet (ah, plus ça change…) and whoosh. There was no mistaking it. Despite having been on crutches for more than a month due to SPD, I ran down the stairs to find the midwife unit number (on the way, changing my clothes, quickly) and called them up. I was 36 weeks + 4 days at that point. Which meant I had to go to Gloucester to the delivery suite, rather than the lovely, homely midwife-led unit I’d been planning on using. By this point I knew the place pretty well, having been in overnight a few times during my pregnancy, with various problems. I didn’t much like it there, but needs must.
Chris was out shopping and had fortunately remembered to take the mobile with him. I called him and he dumped the shopping he hadn’t yet paid for and ran home. I called my dad to get him to come round and look after the dog. Both my drivers were on holiday, as was my midwife (I had jokingly said to my midwife the week before that I was convinced I would have the baby while she and everyone else was away; only half-jokingly, in fact, because I had had a show already), so I called for a taxi. From the taxi, I called my mum, my sister (who had just arrived at my aunt’s in Lincolnshire for a week’s holiday and had to be rushed to the train station to get the next train back here) and texted a couple of friends.
As we arrived in Gloucester and started driving through the familiar streets, it suddenly hit me that I was I going to have a baby pretty soon. I turned to Chris and said ‘You know, I could really, really do with a cigarette right now.’ (we had given up smoking when we found out we were expecting). The taxi driver overheard (as they are wont to do) and offered me one of his. My first test. I refused and realised I didn’t really want one.
We got to the hospital and spent a fair amount of time waiting to be checked out, then a fair amount of time being checked out and then we were sent upstairs to settle me into a room to await contractions. As the contractions had not yet started by 10pm, Chris was asked to leave (which I was not happy about, but they were the rules) and my friend, Sadie, came to pick him up and drive him back to Stroud.
I lied down to try to go to sleep, but then the contractions started. Oh boy! I had been asking everyone I knew who’d had a baby to tell me how on Earth I would know when the contractions started and all anyone could say was ‘Oh, you’ll just know.’ No-one could describe them, but said there would really be no mistaking them. And they were, of course, all right. I got up to start walking round the room, and to time the contractions. I hardly had time to look at my clock, before the next one came along. They were really painful and really frequent.
I pressed the buzzer for midwife. Three or four contractions later, one came in. I told her I was having contractions and they were really painful and could I have some pain-killers and could someone phone Chris. She told me to ‘give it some time, you won’t be ready that quick’ and went away. I tried walking around some more and kneeling on the armchair in my room, but nothing was cutting it. I pressed the buzzer again. This time I got given some paracetemol. That didn’t do much good. I insisted that it was time and that the contractions were very, very quick, but she left again. Again I pressed the buzzer, by which point I was losing track of time I was in so much pain. Fortunately, this time, the midwife (a different one, I think) stayed long enough to see for herself that the contractions were incredibly close and she ran out to get a wheelchair and took me down to the delivery suite. I’m fairly certain she said something like ‘Why didn’t you tell us your contractions were so close together?’ Ahem.
Down in the delivery suite, a new midwife took over, who seemed quite nice. As I recall her name was Emma, and she had red hair, just like my aunt (though obviously not just like!). She examined me and strapped me to a bunch of monitors (because of the ‘early’ dates, Rosemary’s heartbeat had to, apparently, be constantly monitored – I was only 2 days off from 37 weeks at this point) and told me I was only 5 cm dilated, so there was no point calling Chris yet. I said that I was pretty sure this was going to happen quickly and I wanted him there. She still hummed and hahed about it for a while, but she did call in the end.
During the time between her calling Chris and him (and Eva, my sister) arriving, the midwife somehow persuaded me to take pethadene. I strongly believe that if Chris had been there I would have resisted it and he would have stood up for my wishes. Ah well. I was also sick. The midwife said that was pretty common. I was quite pleased that this happened before Chris and Eva arrived.
After that, it’s all quite blurry. I had lots of gas and air. My mum turned up at some point and, despite the rule being only two birth partners, they let her stay, which was a relief because I hadn’t packed any hairbands and she gave me hers! I know there was lots of pain, and I was stuck on the bed the whole time instead of walking around. At one point I was allowed to try kneeling on the bed, but that didn’t seem to help.
I recall lots of shouts of ‘Don’t push!’ and really feeling I wanted and needed to push followed, at some point by shouts to ‘Push! Now!’ at which point I really didn’t want to push. This, apparently went on for an hour. But Rosemary was not coming out. A doctor (called Sarah – the name of another of my aunts) was brought in and informed me that Rosemary was turned and wouldn’t come out without some help. She said that it was an incredibly painful procedure (What? More pain? How could that be even possible?) and that I should have an epidural for it.
So off we were swept (only me and Chris - my mum and sister had to wait in the delivery room) to pre-op, where a junior anaesthetist tried and tried and tried to put an epidural in. He could not do it with me lying down, but every time I sat up, they lost Rosemary’s heartbeat and were not happy to do so for the length of time it would take to put the epidural in. They were paging the consultant anaesthetist, but he never turned up. In the end the junior anaesthetist said the only thing he could do was put me under general anaesthetic and they would have to do a c-section. By this point, Rosemary really needed to get out, apparently, so we agreed.
Suddenly, my legs were grabbed and stuck up in stirrups. ‘She’s turned!’ I heard and ‘Here she comes!’ ‘Push! Now!’ and, with a bit of help from a ventouse, Rosemary was born. I was so woozy by this point, I really don’t remember it well. I do remember seeing her and thinking she looked quite grey and a bit odd. I also remember seeing Chris holding her, though it’s possible that was later. I think they gave her to me, but the rest of the time (delivering placenta, being sewn up, etc.) was all a complete blur and I don’t really remember much else until we were back in the delivery room.
In the delivery room, the midwife was trying to get Rosemary to latch on. Her breathing was quite gaspy, but the midwife said that this would often clear up with a drink of breastmilk. But I couldn’t get it to work. (Personally, I think that was down to the pethidene and really wish I’d said ‘No’ to that.)We were trying for an hour and I was completely exhausted.
After a while, more doctors came into the room, this time paediatricians. They were examining Rosemary and then said that they needed to take her away to check some things out. I was starting to get a bit of a second wind by this point and was chattering away to Chris and Eva and my Mum. Then, at some point, I realised that it had been a while since they’d taken Rosemary away. ‘What’s happening? Where’s my baby?’ Chris went off to find out and came back with a wheelchair.
I was pushed down to the NICU, where Rosemary was lying in an incubator all wired up. She was getting antibiotics and had a CPAP blowing as she breathed (to help her breathe) and also some oxygen through her nose. It was quite a scary sight, though one which I was familiar with as my sister was premature and had spent quite a while in that same SCBU. I remember crying.
I went back to my room upstairs. Someone bought me a newspaper and it was suggested that I should get some sleep. And Chris and Eva and my mum all went off to get some sleep. At some point my dad arrived to see Rosemary and me and brought me a book to read. I was given a photo of Rosemary to look at and to help me try to express. I cried lots. Fortunately, I’d been lucky enough to get a room of my own. I don’t know how I would have coped being on a ward with lots of mums and their babies.
It didn’t feel real at all, because I didn’t have my baby to cuddle. I couldn’t put her to my breast, instead having to manually squeeze and suck up what little collustrum I could muster into syringes to take down to the NICU. I did get to hold her again at some point later that day and had some skin-to-skin contact. But mostly I was in this weird kind of limbo. I’d survived the birth, but didn’t have anything to show for it. I couldn’t go home – didn’t want to without Rosemary. I wasn’t experiencing sleepless nights with a crying baby, I was experiencing sleepless nights because she wasn’t there.
Rosemary spent the next week in SCBU. She was off the CPAP the next day and off the oxygen within a couple of days. They were keeping her in because she wasn’t putting on weight. I was trying to breastfeed, mostly unsuccessfully and was expressing milk for Rosemary, while she was supplemented with formula. I went home for one night (delivery ward would no longer keep me in, as I was pretty much fully recovered myself), when Chris parents came down. My dad made a welcome home meal for me (at my special request) and I even had a glass of wine. But I was not feeling sociable and had to hide away to milk myself.
And I finally got to do a poo, which I had not managed for four days at the hospital. Giving birth is incredibly painful, but you (usually) get a baby at the end of it. Doing that first poo, I would swear, is even more painful (though perhaps it would not be if we could have some gas and air) and the end result is just feeling a little less bloated. If you’re giving birth for the first time soon, I hereby warn you to try not to put off that first poo for too long. The longer you leave it the worse it will be.
The next day, I went back to the hospital and roomed in at the SCBU. This is a very useful facility. At first I was there so I could go in and breastfeed Rosemary on a regular basis. This was all regimented – nappy change, feed, sleep, nappy change, feed, sleep – and was not working very well. The day after, though, I got to have Rosemary in the room with me, and just left her in the nursery when I went to eat or make calls. I was still supposed to be following the regimented routine, which really wasn’t working very well. And I was not taking to the breastfeeding at all. She just didn’t seem to want to stay on there for any length of time. The special care nurses were not trained in breastfeeding support, though they tried their best to help. We called the delivery ward to ask if a midwife could come down and help. They were too busy. But a health care assistant came down to help, and by pushing and shoving my boobs around a fair bit, actually managed to get a position where Rosemary stayed on for a decent amount of time. The breastfeeding got a bit better, though I was definitely not finding it easy.
Rosemary was still not putting on any weight and they wouldn’t release her until she was. This despite the fact that newborn breastfed babies almost always drop weight in their first week and put it on quite slowly even after that. She shouldn’t have been putting on weight, so I was being expected to not just establish breastfeeding, but get it to work twice as well as would normally be the case. In the least uncomfortable of atmospheres. The doctors were just doing their job, of course. The vast majority of their cares in the NICU and SCBU were seriously premature babies who needed to show that they were putting on weight before they could go home. Rosemary was two days off full-term. She had some fairly minor breathing problems, which almost certainly would have fixed themselves if she’d latched on properly after being born. It was not necessary for her to wait until she was putting on weight. We should have gone home, the day she came off the oxygen.
The doctors scared us by talking about the fact that she wouldn’t be able to come back to the SCBU if went home and had problems. She’d go straight to the children’s ward, which was full of germs and where she might catch something horrible. So we bowed to their ‘wisdom’ and stayed and stayed. Until they ran out of room and needed to get rid of us. Rosemary’s weight was stable, which they suddenly decided was OK and they suggested that we could go to Stroud Maternity (the midwife-led unit where I’d wanted to give birth in the first place). I cried tears of joy when the sister told me this was happening. I was so relieved.
My aunt came with the car seat and drove us to Stroud Maternity, where I was welcomed and settled into a lovely little room and where I suddenly found breastfeeding a doddle. To the point where I was walking around the room breastfeeding, while talking to Chris’ mum on the phone. At one point, I asked a midwife how long I would have to stay there. And she told me we could go home at any point. I cried more tears of joy at this, but decided I would stay there that night, because it would be good to have some midwives on hand who knew what they were doing and could help with breastfeeding and other things, if necessary.
Chris arrived the next morning with the buggy, into which we slotted the car seat. We packed up the many bags I had accumulated over the last week and walked down through town, finally bringing my baby girl home, where she should have been for almost a week. And thus started our journey into parenthood.
I hope I have learnt some lessons from this experience and that, for Eleanor’s birth, I will be able to stand up for myself more. Of course, the ideal will be that she isn’t earlier than 37 weeks and I can go to Stroud Maternity, where I will have much more confidence and the kind of support that I want to have as natural a birth as possible. But if that doesn’t happen, I will have more confidence in my instincts and will not let anyone tell me that it’s not time to phone my husband. I will not be persuaded into taking drugs I don’t want to take, unless absolutely necessary. I breastfed Rosemary for more than two years, so hopefully I won’t have any trouble with latching on this time. I know how to get the positioning sorted out without people man-handling my boobs. And, most important of all, if Eleanor is unlucky enough to land up in SCBU I will sign her out myself if she is medically fit but not putting on weight. I will bring her home as soon as I possibly can without endangering her life.
(Sorry, this is probably the longest post I’ve written, but I think I needed to go through it in order to be ready in October – or September, if necessary.)