It’s taken me a long time to write my birth story. It was something I was ashamed of at first, and found it too painful and traumatic to talk about without getting upset. Although I couldn’t be more grateful that Elsie and I are both safe, it was very much an ordeal that I needed time to process, and actually I’m still processing now 4 months on. This is a long one…
Throughout my pregnancy I had practised hypnobirthing and was very much hoping for a completely natural birth, in a birth centre, with as little intervention as possible. I practised positive affirmations in the bath with essential oils, I practised breathing techniques using an app every night, I put up positive affirmation cards around the house and I regularly watched positive birth stories on YouTube. But how different my birth would be…
I’d really hoped that Elsie would come early, between 38-40 weeks as I’d kept active throughout my pregnancy and it had gone really smoothly. I was low risk, and had never had any issues throughout the whole 9 months. I’d had a textbook pregnancy. But once 39 weeks passed, I started to struggle mentally with still being pregnant. I was huge, so swollen, so uncomfortable and in a lot of pain with my hips and back. I was struggling to eat or sleep, and I had become increasingly anxious and emotional as the days went on. I had also been told at my last midwife appointment that Elsie had gone ‘back to back’, which meant her back was pressing against my back. Although this explained the back pain I was suffering with, it was the news I had been dreading as I knew that it made labour longer and more painful. With my birth plan being so natural, this wasn’t what I wanted to hear and I started to panic.
I phoned my midwife and asked what the chances were of being able to have an elective C section if I got to 41 weeks and Elsie was still back to back, as I already dreaded being pregnant for much longer. She assured me my wishes would be considered if that was what I really wanted, but encouraged me to wait for a week or so to see if anything happened naturally. She also said it was very likely that Elsie would move position before or even during labour. I was fine with this as my first choice was still to go into labour naturally, and have a natural, pain relief free birth, but it helped my anxiety knowing that if things carried on much longer, I could opt for a planned section rather than be induced with a back to back baby. But nothing did happen naturally…
On the 19th of December, 2 days before my due date at 39+5, I went into the labour ward to be assessed for suspected water leakage. The consultant said he was pretty confident it wasn’t my waters, but recommended I be induced due to my swelling and the fact that my blood pressure had started to creep up for the first time during my whole pregnancy. I declined and said I would prefer to wait for things to happen naturally as I was terrified of being induced. I explained my anxiety around induction and again asked if I could have an elective C section but I was told no.
A few days after this I had a sweep and an aromatherapy session at the hospital to try get things moving naturally. Both were extremely uncomfortable and did nothing to bring on my labour, further adding to my anxiety as I knew that my body just wasn’t ready to labour, and that I knew I was going to be pregnant for a while longer. Each day that passed I knew it was getting more likely that I would need to be induced, and I was scared.
Fast forward to Christmas Day and my swelling had got considerably worse. Paul begged to take me into hospital but I didn’t want to as I knew they’d induce me there and then. I waited until Boxing Day evening and gave in. You couldn’t make out my feet they had got so swollen, and at 40+5 I didn’t want to take any chances, so we took down our Christmas decorations, cleaned the house and went to the hospital.
After being assessed, my worst nightmare and the very thing I’d been dreading for weeks happened. I was told I wouldn’t be able to go home and that I would need to be induced. I burst into tears in front of the consultant and begged again for a C section. I was told no, again. I asked if I could just go home and collect our things before being induced, and after an hour’s monitoring of me and Elsie they finally agreed. It was so surreal going home and getting our things together, knowing that the next time we returned home we would have our baby with us. I cried the whole time with fear, anxiety, but also anger and frustration at being repeatedly refused an elective C section. I felt like I wasn’t being listened to, and that other people were making decisions about my body and how I was going to deliver my baby.
We returned to the hospital at 9pm, I was given the pessary at 10pm (horrendous) and was told it could need to stay in for 24 hours before anything happened. I was told that it was unlikely as a first time mum that the pessary would work, and if it didn’t then I would then need to have a 6 hour gel and then a hormone drip. We thought we were set to be in hospital for days before anything happened, so we didn’t tell anyone, not even our parents.
We were moved to a room and luckily Paul was allowed to stay with me overnight. He had a pull out bed, so we settled in for the night. I didn’t sleep at all, worried about what would happen and what the next few days would hold. At 5am, I started to get period like cramps, which they said could be a side affect of the pessary so I thought nothing of it. The pains got worse so I buzzed for the midwife and asked for some paracetamol and tried to go back to sleep. At 7am I woke Paul up because I wasn’t coping with the pain. We buzzed the midwife again and she recommended I get into the bath, so I popped on one of my babymoon bikinis and started timing what I thought was just cramps using the Freya app. When it told me I was in established labour I was so surprised, as I thought it was just the side affects of the pessary! I told the midwife and she confirmed that I was in labour, and the pain escalated so quickly that we were then moved to the labour ward. I was examined and told I was 3cm dilated. This was when we really started to get excited. I was so happy that my labour had started so quickly and just with the pessary, but I wasn’t coping well with the pain.
My attitude to no pain relief quickly went out the window with being induced and having a back to back baby. My contractions were intense with barely any break in between at just 4cm dilated. I started off with gas and air and instantly felt sick, after an anti sickness injection I felt so much better, so I continued with my breathing techniques and the gas and air for a while longer until I asked for something stronger. I was given 10mg of Diamorphine and I wish I’d never had it. It didn’t take the pain away, it just made me too drowsy to do anything about it and I couldn’t even hold my head up or talk.
I don’t remember much after this and it was all a bit of a blur. I asked for an epidural quite early on, and it was amazing. It didn’t hurt at all going in, and once it was in I couldn’t feel any pain. I could feel contractions and being examined, but no pain – it was great! I would definitely recommend it to anyone as it made me enjoy my labour. We were chatting with the midwives, eating strawberry pencils and Paul even watched some football whilst I slept!
I managed to get to 8cm dilated when I started to feel pain again, so went back on the gas and air. My midwife was very surprised to see I was feeling pain so called the anaesthetist back, who confirmed that I had snapped the bacterial filter of my epidural and it couldn’t be repaired. I would need the epidural reciting from scratch. This didn’t bother me as it had been fine the first time, the issue was that that anaesthetist had been called away on an emergency, and the other on call anaesthetist was with another patient. So there was no one available to give me another epidural.
At this point I was terrified. I knew I hadn’t coped well with the pain at the beginning of labour, and I knew that when the first epidural wore off within the hour, I would have to finish dilating and deliver the baby with only gas and air. This was when my hypnobirthing breathing really kicked in. I got in the zone and wouldn’t talk to anyone. I used the gas and air for every contraction and breathed through it. I was doing so well and I am so proud of how I coped with this part, but then my worst nightmare was confirmed. The midwife said me to that I wasn’t passing urine, which meant my kidneys weren’t working as effectively as they should, there was protein in the urine I had passed, my iron levels had dropped, my blood pressure has risen even further and Elsie had turned and was facing sideways. I was told I would need an emergency C section.
By this point I was in so much pain and so exhausted after 17 hours of labour that it actually came as a relief. My epidural had worn off and I was feeling contractions in full force. I stayed calm, stayed in the zone and breathed through my contractions as our labour room started to fill with people. I was asked to read and sign pages of documents outlining the risks of a C section and it was terrifying. In between each contraction I was telling the surgeon about my C section preferences, that I wanted my music on, I wanted the lights low, I wanted the baby brought out slowly, I wanted delayed cord clamping and that I wanted Paul to announce the gender. I didn’t get everything I wanted due to it being an emergency, but I’m so glad I got the important things. I’m so glad that despite being in a world of pain, I stayed focused and I voiced my preferences. This enabled me to gain a small bit of control over my labour back.
I kept the gas and air on the way to theatre, and until the spinal block went in. The lights in theatre were the brightest lights I’d ever seen my entire life, and I remember everything being so white. I felt a lot of movement but no pain at all, and after what felt like forever I heard our baby cry. I have never felt relief like it and I just cried my eyes out.
They kept Elsie attached to the placenta for a while so that she got as much blood from it as possible. Paul cut her cord and brought her over to see me whilst I was being stitched up. But it wasn’t how I imagined, I didn’t feel that rush of love that everyone talks about. I could barely keep my eyes open and I remember thinking, will everyone just leave me alone I need to close my eyes. I was so drained physically and mentally. I had been in labour for 17 hours and been through major surgery. I was so happy our baby was here, but it was as if my mind and body had gone into shutdown and I just wasn’t functioning.
Paul was asked to take Elsie back into our labour room and wait for me to return. He said it was the scariest time of his life sitting there waiting for me with Elsie in his arms. He said he didn’t know if I was coming back or not because I had been so out of it in theatre. He told me he coped by talking to Elsie and telling her about all her friends and family who couldn’t wait to meet her. Although labour is physically tough on the woman, it’s also extremely scary for the partner as well, and Paul had felt so helpless.
When I got back into our labour room, we had the most amazing first few hours together as a family of 3. Elsie and I had skin to skin and that was the moment I fell in love with her. I couldn’t believe I’d done it, I’d given birth to the baby I’d grown and carried for 9 months and it just felt surreal. I felt like I was capable of anything.
A C section certainly isn’t the easy way out. The guilt of not being able to deliver my baby ‘naturally’ stayed with me for months, and I’m currently going through therapy to overcome the anxiety I’ve suffered with since. But I’m feeling better, so much better. Although I found Elsie’s birth very traumatic, I know I’m so blessed to have delivered a perfectly healthy baby, and for me to have made a straightforward recovery. The care we received at the hospital was absolutely incredible, and with the support of my amazing family and friends, I’ve finally accepted my birth story and wanted to share it.
Love Mrs E