The Story of the Birth of Little V.
To begin with let me give you a little bit of context. I had a very unusual pregnancy. Due to a catalogue of pre-existing autoimmune conditions, I was placed under the high risk team at St Thomas’s Hospital in London. Early on in the pregnancy I became very poorly and was in and out of hospital for appointments and check ups 3-5 times a week, with no clear answer as to what it was that was making me so ill.
At 21 weeks it was discovered that I had a condition called hyperparathyroidism which put mine and my baby’s lives at risk. I was immediately admitted to hospital for round the clock care and had a lifesaving operation at 25 weeks. (If you’d like to read more about this, you can find it by clicking this link.)
Following the operation I had continuous check ups a couple of times a week and was in ADU (the ante-natal daycare unit) for suspected pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and anaemia. I also had a number of infections which had to be monitored.
So that’s the background, and nowI’m trying to decide where to begin. It’s a little bit confusing as I was in hospital 3-5 times a week for my whole pregnancy and was always going to be induced if the baby hadn’t made an appearance by my due date.
The week before I was due, I was up at hospital on Wednesday morning having my usual tests, when some of the bloods came back as showing signs of infection. It was decided (at 2am on the Thursday morning) that I would be admitted to the ante-natal ward later that day to be induced. Hubby and I headed home to get some sleep and were told to be back at the hospital at 10am on Thursday.
We arrived at the ante-natal ward, a home from home for me having spent a lot of my pregnancy there. I was familiar with all the staff and felt like I was in very safe hands with people who knew me well. At this point in time my overriding feeling was one of excitement. I was finally going to meet the little person who, against all the odds, had thrived throughout the pregnancy and was going to be joining our family imminently. Naïvely, I thought that being induced meant the baby would be there the next day at the very latest.
How wrong was I!
The first step of an induction is a pessary. This is a small, flat device that looks like a little label on a tampon string. It has to be inserted into the cervix and the idea is that it kick-starts contractions. I had been 1cm dilated for about a week and baby’s head was quite low so, ever the optimist, I thought this would be it and we’d be off.
Hubby and I had agreed that he would be staying with me throughout, as we had no idea how quickly things would happen, home was a good 40 minute drive away in normal traffic, at rush hour we had no idea how long the journey would take. He was set up in my little area with a reclining chair, a pillow and a blanket. Sillily we didn’t pack him any PJs or really consider how uncomfortable his time in hospital with me would be. We will definitely do that differently next time round.
Anyway, late that night the first pessary was inserted and we sat back and waited. When you start an induction you are hooked up to a machine that measures your contractions as well as the baby’s heartbeat. The next morning the machine was showing signs that I was having contractions every few minutes, but I couldn’t feel them and when examined I hadn’t dilated at all.
The next stage is a gel, which is in a plastic syringe and is also put into the cervix. This was when things started to happen. Within an hour of the gel being inserted, the contractions began in earnest. I was having two 4 minute contractions in ten minutes and was realising that they hurt! On examination on Friday evening I had dilated to 4cm and was told we’d give it overnight to see how far I went, whilst being checked on regularly. At this point I was in quite a lot of pain and was offered gas and air. I gave it a go, but I’ve never been one for feeling out of control or woozy and quickly rejected it in favour of paracetamol.
The pain was intensifying and I started to feel a little vulnerable. We weren’t sure whether my waters had broken (they can break just a little bit, before the full on release) and I wasn’t in control of my body – a situation I’m not too good at handling! I had a chat to the lovely midwife on duty and we agreed I’d be moved through to the delivery room. This differed from the ward as it was a room with an en-suite and a 1:1 midwife, as opposed to the ward of 4 sharing a bathroom (which someone’s other half thought it was ok to use frequently – not ideal and not really allowed!).
Throughout my pregnancy I had been looked after by the high risk midwifery team and I had got to know them really well, but none of them were available that night. As I was wheeled through to the delivery ward, I heard the ante-natal midwife say that there was an ‘over-anxious patient’ and asking who would be allocated to me. On reflection, this was more than likely to ensure I had an understanding midwife who would put me at ease. At the time, however, it felt like I was being judged and criticised and that the team were being warned about me. I was heartbroken and felt very scared, as I wasn’t sure what to do with the fear that was building up. Having had a long stay in hospital and being operated on, I had a huge fear of the unknown and any medical intervention.
The first thing that the midwife said was that it was time to put a canular in. To say I have a phobia of these would be a massive understatement, but I knew it was a necessity. What I didn’t count on was the fact that I would need a very big one inserted ‘incase I ended up in theatre’. That, for me, was the most frightening prospect and one that I hadn’t worked through properly. My fear of this was, in fact, so great that when a role play of the c-section theatre was acted out at our NCT classes, I had to leave the room and was very shaken and upset at the prospect of having to consider this an option. All I could do was hope that it didn’t come to that. At this point it was also decided that the contractions weren’t progressing and that it was time to use the hormone drip.
The next 12 hours are quite a blur. I know that my room was changed as they couldn’t run a warm bath in the first room I was allocated. I know that I did start having some gas and air at some point. I know that I had really wanted to move around to encourage the labour, but that for some reason I didn’t.
The next morning a new shift came on and I was encouraged to have a bath. That didn’t take much pursuading – I love a bath. It was absolute heaven and total relief from the pain of the contractions (I’m sure the gas and air was also helping, although it was making me feel totally out of it). I had originally wanted a water birth and I guess this was a nod to what that would be like and has definitely made me want one next time.
Eventually, after a lot of reheating, I had to get out the bath. The rest of the story is quite a blur for me, so I’ll do my best to share the bits I know. At some point I was put on a drip as there was a concern that I was becoming dehydrated. I was drinking as much as I could, but was being sick constantly. I had 2 anti-sickness injections, neither of which worked. I was put on anti-biotics for 24 hours, I still don’t actually know why. At one point a very lovely midwife came to cover a break and had access to aromatherapy oils. That helped massively as it was a little bit of normality and comfort in what was proving to be quite a crazy journey. My waters were broken after the bath.
For the next shift, my midwife was joined by a student midwife in her final year. She was my little guardian angel. She held my hand, spoke to me when I wasn’t in the middle of a contraction and generally offered a huge amount of support. She enabled my husband to go for a lunch break without worrying about me and was so positive and kind throughout, at no time making me feel like I wasn’t justified in the way I felt (pretty helpless, out of control and in a huge amount of pain).
This was all on Saturday. By 6pm I still hadn’t fully dilated so the hormone drip was increased. At this point I could no longer cope with the pain and went from being vehemently against an Epidural (with a phobia of cannulas the thought of having one in my spine was something I couldn’t even consider), to begging the midwife to let me have one. The anaesthetist who I had met earlier in the pregnancy came along, reassured me and inserted the line.
The next midwife came on duty shortly after this and after reading as many of my notes as she could (my maternity book was like a novel by the end of the pregnancy) she was the most compassionate and understanding midwife. I started her shift with an apology for the state of me and how emotional I was, she reassured me, told me I was incredibly strong and doing such an amazing job, and generally made me feel more confident and have a little bit of belief in myself, for the first time since the ‘anxious patient’ comment the night before.
At this point, I hadn’t eaten since Thursday and was unable to keep any fluids down, I was being violently sick every hour or so and hadn’t been able to move from the bed for a long time, especially since having had the epidural (and a catheter fitted, I forgot that bit!). Finally, at about 11pm, my midwife said that I was fully dilated. We had to stop the hormone drip, wait for an hour and then it would be time to push.
I was told to rest, sleep a bit if I could, the midwife went back to reading through my notes and hubby sat in the chair and got a little shut eye too.
Fifteen minutes later I was woken up by the midwife who was asking me to roll onto my side. I couldn’t do this due to the epidural, so she had to help me. The reason for this was that my baby’s heartbeat was no longer being picked up by the monitor. After what felt like a long time but in reality can only of been a matter of seconds, the emergency alarm was pressed and the medical team rushed in. This included doctors, nurses, midwives and a postnatal crash team. To say I was frightened doesn’t touch on how I was feeling. It felt like my worst nightmares were being realised. I had heard this alarm during my stay on the ante-natal ward and hadn’t been able to get it out my mind – now it was being pressed for me.
The team were phenomenal – my legs were put in stirrups, my notes had been read (I’d requested forceps not ventouse and the Doctor in charge knew that already) and an episiotomy was performed. I was told to push, the forceps were used and my baby girl was pulled into the world. Blue and puffy with a black eye from her brutal delivery. And then she breathed. And then she screamed. It was the biggest relief I have ever felt in my life.
I had previously opted to have the injection immediately after the baby was born to speed up the delivery of the placenta. This was done, but I don’t remember it. I remember the Doctor doing my stitches and my husband taking our baby to put her nappy on and dress her. I remember begging for my canular to be removed. I remember feeling like I was going to die and the midwife saying she shouldn’t have taken my canular out yet. I remember being given a hot chocolate (and nothing to eat because there were no gluten free biscuits or toast) and thinking it tasted so good, then throwing it straight up again, and I remember needing to sleep.
My birth story breaks my heart. It wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t want perfect, but I didn’t think it would be so scary, overwhelming, long and out of my control. I thought I’d be cuddling my baby afterwards and not handing her straight to my husband and then not remembering the next four hours. I knew it would hurt, I knew it would be a feat of endurance and pain tolerance, I just didn’t know how much.
Here’s hoping the next one is everything this one wasn’t!
I’m sharing this because I felt so wildly under-prepared for what a birth could entail. I would prefer to go into a situation like this knowing the possibilities (and not just the standard ones that we learn about at ante-natal class) so that if they happened to me, I wouldn’t be taken by surprise. I still believe that until you go through certain experiences in your life, no amount of reading or talking can prepare you for what you will face, but I also know that with an arsenal of knowledge and possibilities in your mind, the fear is less when the situation arises.
If you have any questions about any part of my birth story, want to know more about anything I’ve mentioned or just want a chat about your birth (one you’ve had or one you will have) feel free to get in touch.
Here’s the happy ending to the craziest year of my life: