Jenson’s birth was traumatic. If you are pregnant, or wanting to read a sugar coated birth story, then you may want to close this tab down now.
As Lyra was four days early, I was convinced that my little boy would be too. So I was surprised … to say the least … when his due date arrived but he didn’t. I resigned myself to a long wait – after all, most babies I knew had been late – and decided for the first time in weeks to have a late night and stay up with Rich watching Moonlight. You know, the film which along with La La Land was the subject of the Oscars envelope mishap? You know, one of the most hard-hitting, thought-provoking and least-relaxing films that I could possibly have watched whilst nine months pregnant? Yup, that.
We went to bed, Rich immediately started snoring, and I felt a trickle. I went to the toilet, tried to work out if it was my waters breaking, but as it wasn’t the ‘gush’ you’d associate with waters going, I couldn’t be sure. I gave the maternity ward a call and they said to come in, just in case. I wasn’t yet having contractions so I was feeling pretty relaxed about the whole situation. We rang Rich’s mum and asked her to come over to look after Lyra and twenty minutes later we were en route to hospital. On the way there, I felt what I thought was a mild contraction, but as I’d had so many niggles throughout pregnancy, again, I just couldn’t be sure.
The first midwife checked me and confirmed I was in labour (I think I was 3cm dilated). I was feeling excited, relaxed, and happy in the knowledge that I was in the best hands. Rich and I did silly dance moves to try and bring on the baby when the midwife wasn’t in the room, and when she was in the room, we chatted about our respective three year olds. My contractions had become more painful but still bearable, I was low risk, and Lyra’s birth had been pretty much textbook. What was there to worry about?
(I should explain at this stage that who my midwife was mattered to me a great deal. When I had my little girl I was under the care of the most fantastic midwife, to the extent that Lyra was almost named Ashleigh after her. But Lyra’s birth is a story for another day).
Then, however, my midwife went on a break and she was replaced temporarily by a new one. (This didn’t bother me at the time. I didn’t expect her to not have a break, and I reckoned I was in for the long haul. So I expected to see her again after an hour or so). And it was also around this stage that I felt the call of nature. Sorry, TMI, but how else to say it?! By now it was around 2am. This was when things started to go wrong. I was aware that birth units had to be warm for the newborn babies, but sitting in the toilet cubicle I was so hot that I knew that I would faint if I didn’t get out of there sharpish. After doing my business I staggered back into the delivery room and gasped at Rich that I was going to pass out.
He shouted for the new midwife and unfortunately after this point I didn’t see the first one again … I was now under the care of the new one. And at this point my contractions kicked in with a vengeance. They went from bearable to absolutely brutal in the space of seconds. They came so quickly that I didn’t even have time between them to scrape my hair up off my face and had to ask Rich to do my ponytail (desperate times!).
What followed were three hours of the most intense pain I’ve ever known. Combine that with a cold, flippant, unempathetic and dismissive midwife who seemed to either hate me or just humans in general, and it amounted to a pretty horrendous experience. I hadn’t written much in my birth plan but I know for a fact that I’d requested gas and air as pain relief, low lighting, and a water birth if possible. Instead, Jenson was born under harsh bright lights, in a room without a birthing pool (the room with the pool was next door and was empty), and Rich had to ask the midwife for “gas and air, or something?!”, because I was in too much pain to communicate. I’m still surprised that this was something that he had to ask for and can’t understand why the midwife didn’t offer it as par for the course.
When I look back it’s all a bit of a horrible jumble. I remember telling myself to do my yoga breathing and trying to concentrate on doing so, but it just didn’t help control the pain. (Whereas yoga breathing had hugely helped with Lyra’s birth). I remember the midwife telling me that the baby was going to fall on the floor if I wasn’t careful (I was on all fours on the bed), and resenting her for it, and thinking that although I couldn’t control the pain, there was no way I was going to let my little boy fall on the floor. I remember frantically needing someone to guide me, and begging her to tell me what to do. Her response? “Well, what do you think you should be doing?”.
I desperately wanted to ask to change my midwife but I was in too much pain to be able to communicate this coherently. I also worried that complaining would affect the standard of care we received. I put up and shut up.
The strangest part of it all was the effect that gas and air had on me. With Lyra, it had just made me feel fuzzy and giddy and it really relieved some of the pain. But with Jenson, I kid you not, the gas and air made me hallucinate. At one point I experienced some kind of weird out of body experience where time slowed down, Rich and the midwife became a blur, and voices sounded garbled and distorted.
Hallucinations aside, when the contractions had been bad for what seemed like an eternity, the midwife told me I’d have to change position because my baby was in distress. This is one of the worst things you can hear when you’re in labour. I managed to clamber onto my side and I couldn’t tell you how long I was pushing for – it could’ve been an hour or it could’ve been five minutes – but at 5.09am my beautiful little boy was born.
For a while – again I have no idea how long – there was no one else in the world other than my baby and me.
We were discharged swiftly from hospital and back home, an over-the-moon Lyra greeted her brother with rapturous kisses. It was all I could have asked for. So why did I keep having flashbacks to the labour?
What also puzzled me were the reactions from a couple of people when I told them about Jenson’s birth. For example, when I mentioned that it was so much quicker and more painful than the experience I had with Lyra (my labour with Lyra took 24 hours), some people said, “Oh, that’s good then”. Whereas I could not see how it was good and would’ve given anything for the birth to have been ten times longer if it meant the pain was less.
Similarly, most people respond with, “Well, you’re both fine and that’s the main thing”. Yes, of course it’s important for mum and baby to be physically healthy, but surely the mum’s mental state is also relevant. For me, physically I was fine but mentally I was scarred. Although I did try and put on a brave face and we did have a couple of visitors, I put off seeing some of my closest friends for several weeks. I wasn’t interested: I just wanted to lock myself and Rich and my kids away. I felt like I had failed: Jenson’s birth hadn’t gone as smoothly as Lyra’s and I was obsessed with working out why. Why hadn’t I been able to control the pain this time? Was it because I hadn’t practised pregnancy yoga this time round? I’d suffered from pneumonia whilst pregnant with Jenson and developed a bit of an irrational fear of hospitals. Was that the cause? Was it because I wasn’t as young and fit and healthy the second time round?
Birth is such a private thing. You’re showing your most intimate parts to total strangers, you’re potentially opening your bowels, you’re behaving in a way you would never usually dream of behaving. You’re vulnerable, worried about the baby, and all you want is someone to guide you through it in a caring way. I’ve accepted now that the birth didn’t go as I hoped, but I’m still a bit sad about it. And maybe some people would have coped better in the same situation, but at the time it was traumatic to me.
I know that compared to a lot of mums’ birth stories, what I went through was minimal. Some people have awful experiences. I’m not trying to take away from that at all and I hope this post hasn’t come across in that way. I just wanted to highlight the fact that sometimes even what appears to be a straightforward birth can be scarring. And to let all mums know that they shouldn’t be too hard on themselves if they didn’t get the experience they were hoping for.
What were your birth experiences like?
(And did anyone else hallucinate?!)
Image by Little Beanies