I was always going to have a natural birth. Caesareans were for emergencies, and there was no reason I would have an emergency. My mum pushed out 3 decent sized bubs, and my dad is a country GP who once caught 11 babies in 7 days over a busy period. It was a given. Pregnancy was easy – colleagues in the job I’d left the week before expressed surprise I was leaving to have a baby. I had done my Calm Birth course and was loving my pregnancy yoga and had my packing list for hospital all set. A few days rest in the private following a good birth – that was me.
I was 37 weeks into my first pregnancy when I saw my Obstetrician for a routine check. He expressed concern that the baby was yet to engage and was ‘floating free’. He tentatively raised the possibility of a C-section. The devastation is still clear, I felt like I’d been crushed. I had no air to breathe and my eyes instantly filled with tears. I was alone at the appointment, having waved my husband off saying it would be a waste of time him coming, as every other appointment I had been in and out in a matter of minutes. The doctor said we’d talk about it again in a week. I could not reply.
I had a pedicure booked immediately after the appointment to use a voucher I’d been given by a friend. I lay in the dark in that beautifully scented, warm and comfortable room and cried my eyes out while the poor lady massaged my feet, bewildered.
I felt like a failure. Why couldn’t I do this? What was the point of my child bearing hips, pointed out so often over my life, if I could not in fact give birth? My body, at age 32, had never before failed me.
In the week between appointments I tried to arm myself with as much info as possible from midwives, doctors, friends. I also wrote the obstetrician a letter explaining my upset and haste to leave, and with a list of questions I wanted to cover at the appointment. He rang the day he received it to apologise that he had not realised how I felt.
I struggled to remain positive about the birth at this point when I should have been the most excited. The same week, my husband received a promotion that increased his responsibility massively, so there was a lot to talk through there while I worried about my body. The 38 week appointment and then the 39 nothing had changed and the obstetrician was insistent on booking a date for a section, with the caveat that if I went into labour prior we would see what happened.
The night before my Caesar (interesting isn’t it, my use of language – my Caesar, not the birth of my child) I felt awful. I cooked a crap dinner, my husband and stepson were late home after soccer training and I stomped to bed. Only to be woken every hour with cramps. Aaah I thought. Branxton Hicks. How ironic that I’d get practice contractions prior to a Caesar.
By the time we hit the road for the 40km trip to the hospital I was having these cramps about every 5 to 7 minutes. My husband kept looking at me with a sly smile as I doubled over and fought for breath. We arrived at the private hospital – just to clarify, in our town, you can only give birth vaginally at the public hospital. The private is surgical and recovery only. I wandered up the corridor and met the midwives and midway through the conversation had to slump against a counter.
“You’re in labour” one of them said
“No” I said, “I’m sure these are just Branxton Hicks”
Questioning me on the previous 24 hours it became clear that yes I was in labour and far from being excited this caused some concern. “Hmm, we haven’t had a lady come in here in labour for about 10 years” one pondered. “Come up here and we will call the obstetrician”.
Now feeling floored once again I headed to the room that would be my home for the next few days. I was given antiseptic shower gel to wash, and had to talk to the midwife, then the surgical registrar, anaesthetist and finally the obstetrician all while having contractions now 3 – 5 minutes apart. Despite my contractions I had not dilated even slightly so the decision was to go ahead with the surgery. It was 7am and I was scheduled for 8.30am so was assured that we would be going down in no time.
3 hours later I was still in the room with solid 4 minute waves.
I was not allowed to leave the room to walk off the pain
I was not allowed to have any water, not even a mouthful, or any food, despite not having consumed a single thing since 15 hours prior
And of course no pain relief.
Thank god I had done calm birth and practised calm breathing techniques as it was the only thing that got me through.
There was one lovely midwife, the next on shift who was wonderful and desperate in her attempts to find out what was happening in the theatres, but unfortunately the frustration of the obstetrician, anaesthetist, and the theatre transport staff who kept coming in then being called away, and me there panting on the bed meant that the environment created was one of fear and confusion, a far cry from what I had envisaged. Most times I was not even acknowledged just observed. I actually had to ask the anaesthetist to stop talking while I had a contraction so I could concentrate on what she was saying about INJECTING DRUGS INTO MY SPINE.
At one point when the midwife walked in mid contraction she actually said
“it’s OK, you don’t have to smile”
That was the only direct acknowledgement I received that in fact this situation might not be OK, and the closest thing I received to an apology.
When we finally left at midday for theatre my husband was sent in a different direction to scrub in and I was transported to a room outside the theatre where the theatre staff were prepping. About 2 minutes later I was wheeled back out and left in a corridor, alone and in only a hospital gown, while an elderly couple looked at me bemused from their chairs in the waiting room while I suffered a wrenching contraction.
At this point for the first time I gave in to tears and panic. I was alone in a corridor with I had no idea what ahead. The theatre situation was not one I felt comfortable with. There was a scrub nurse who was overfamiliar and hugged me close to her chest as the anaesthetic was administered. I was alone with 7 strangers talking above my head until finally my husband was brought back in and finally, finally I received sweet relief as the cold drugs moved up my legs and finally to my chest and bought my aching body some rest.
The procedure itself went smoothly and quickly and I felt no ill effects from the drugs. The screen stretched across my chest meant we knew nothing of progress as it was not communicated to us in any way. It was not until we heard a scream from our baby that we actually knew she was out. Still, no-one told us anything and as we watched she was whisked through double doors into a side room. All I could see was the brightly bandana-ed head of the paediatrician.
Still we were told nothing. I was holding my husbands hand so tight he had fingernail marks for days. “CONGRATULATIONS” said the bubble anesthetist! “
“What is it” we asked meekly
“Oh my god hasn’t anyone told you? It’s a girl!”
Finally some happiness – the first female grandchild on both sides – but only tentative as we went on to ask why she wasn’t with us, having specifically explained that I wanted immediate contact.
Standard procedure, we were told. Paediatrician wanted to check her as there was some meconium in the fluid, we were told. Finally.
Finally we were able to hold her and the stress melted away for some time. I had a week in hospital gradually recovering.
It didn’t go though.
8 weeks of crying myself to sleep every single night, shaking silently.
Dreading going to sleep knowing that there would be 4 hours at most til the next feed.
Not being able to talk about the birth of my child without bursting into tears.
One night I was across at my parents place, 5 hours away when I broke down yet again. Maybe you should see someone, my concerned GP dad said gently.
Ending up in 12 months of psychologist appointments having being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
From child birth.
It was a long hard road but I am pleased to say there was Round 2.
This time I chose my health professional. On the advice of my psychologist I chose a different town (revisiting causes high risk of trauma in PTSD). I visited 4 obstetricians before settling on the one who had a good record of VBAC and was willing to support me in it.
Another easy pregnancy, back at work and with my first child in daycare a couple of days.
Once again at 36 weeks the bombshell dropped. This time though, it was explained gently and thoroughly. The baby was breech and had the cord around its neck. I had an android pelvis. My obstetrician with over 1000 babies under her belt was unwilling to take the risk of an induction as we had initially planned. 37 weeks and we were go.
This time at check in we had a selfie with the midwife. There were no cramps in the night. I had put together a playlist to listen to on my phone while we waited. We were left alone as much as possible in the room and had a lot of laughs texting photo’s of our hair nets and my surgical stockings around the place. 45 minutes later, we were all systems go.
The calm and friendly environment of the OR was a stark contrast. I was invited to stand up to meet each of the surgical team in the prep room and told what their role was. The anaesthetist and her assistant had a separate visit. Then the paediatrician came to explain her role.
I walked from the prep room to theatre. The power in this was immense. I met that room as my equal and felt I was amongst a team of professionals. My husband didn’t leave my side apart from to put scrubs on, for 1 minute in a room I could see in to.
This time we were updated instantly as everything happened. The anaesthetic assistant took photo’s on my husbands phone behind the screen. This time I had an adverse reaction to the anaesthetic, fighting waves of dizziness and nausea but was constantly reassured. My husband was made to feel like part of the team. Baby girl 2 landed on my chest within a minute. When the paediatrician took her for measuring to a table in the same room, metres from my head, she instructed my husband to stand with her and tell me exactly what was happening.
My recovery was rapid, I was busting to get out of hospital and released on day 5.
The 2 experiences could not have been any different. If I could share anything it would be that you have power and question every situation, something I didn’t know in round 1. And that even though surgery is a clinical experience you can prepare for it and find joy in it.
And my babies will never care whether they arrived through the canal or popped out the sunroof.