One year ago today, we brought our beautiful third child into the world. This is his story.
Our first two children were planned home births, which ended up as emergency caesarean sections. I won't go into detail here, as this is not their story, but suffice to say, our first birth was a very traumatic experience (involving pre-eclampsia, a hospital stay, terrible communication by hospital staff, and finally a baby stuck in special care for a month), whereas our second birth was, whilst not what we had hoped for, overall a very positive experience.
We did our homework for our third pregnancy, and knew that our least risky course of action was a vaginal birth (known as VBAC - vaginal birth after caesarean, or VBA2C in my case). For the best chance of a vaginal birth, we knew our best option would be to stay at home, so this is what we planned for. Again.
Well, needless to say, a year on the details are a bit hazy - but I'll do my best...
My other half, Stuart, went out to teach our dance class on the evening of Wednesday 17th April. I'd been having strong Braxton Hicks contractions that day, and I'd had to stop what I was doing a few times to breathe through them. We joked a bit that I would be calling him home from the class, but didn't really think much of it - we were something over 37 weeks.
Later on that evening (with Stuart now home), I knew that things were kicking off. Memory of timings is hazy, but I do remember trying to get some sleep, but then giving up and instead gently bouncing along on a birthing ball to the music in 'Bend It Like Beckham' that happened to be on the TV that night at around midnight!
I could go on now about who came and went and when, but it would be impossible to convey how interminably the time passed. Night became day (Thursday 18th - my own birthday as it happened), which became night again. Contractions came strong, fast and furious at times, and then eased to only every so often at others. Our amazing midwife Angela came and went, then came back again. We had the wonderful Claire (who had worked with us on hypnobirthing for our second child) who went so far beyond the call of duty, spending the whole night with us at one point. We called on acupuncturist Alison (who we had been working with at the end of the pregnancy, having found that the baby wasn't lying in quite the optimal position), who was able to come and work with us during the labour too. I was in and out of the birth pool a couple of times, tried to sleep a bit at others (managing to snatch one or two minutes for brief periods between contractions), kept eating as best I could, and even tried a bit of gas and air just to give me a break, but I didn't feel any different so I gave up on that fairly quickly.
Finally, the morning of Friday 19th April came around. By this point we had been in labour for over a day and a half, and I was exhausted. I admit I was pleased that the baby had missed my birthday, but I would have traded that to have had my baby in my arms that bit sooner. We had had some internal exams and just didn't seem to be progressing. This was starting to look so much like the way things went with the labour of our second baby (long labour, baby not in a good position, finally culminating in a c-section of course), and we were really starting to get despondent. We had tried all the tricks to get the baby to move, we had kept mobile, we had kept hydrated and nourished, but things just didn't seem to be happening for us. We had a long discussion with our very trusted midwife, knowing that suggestions she made would be in all our best interests, and not made lightly. She wanted to break the waters, but wasn’t confident to do it at the house. We agreed that we needed to get things moving a bit, and that this seemed to be the only way forward now. We knew she wouldn’t have suggested it unless she felt it was the only option.
I headed off to hospital in an ambulance (apparently that way you get straight to the top of the list before you even arrive in hospital), closely followed by Stuart, Angela and Alison. To cut a long story very short, my waters were duly broken, contractions ebbed and flowed but never seemed to get into a continuous rhythm, and we still didn’t seem to be making any progress. We had met with the consultant when we first arrived, and she was very sympathetic to what we were trying to achieve, as was the hospital midwife. After more hours with no real change though, the midwife asked if we would meet with the consultant again, and it was with heavy hearts that we agreed – knowing full well where this was probably leading.
The consultant very respectfully suggested that a caesarean section was now looking like the way forward for us. We took some time just the two of us to think things over, and agreed that, other than waiting again, this seemed to be the only path we could realistically now take. We met with the surgeon, who was very happy to incorporate our suggestions into the surgery (such as delayed cord clamping, and immediate skin-to-skin contact – assuming no complications of course). Finally we met with the anaesthetist, before spending a few minutes alone together; to get thoughts of our longed-for VBA2C out of our heads, and instead to prepare to welcome our new baby to this world, no matter how he or she decided to come to us.
But those few alone-together minutes were to change everything.
There are two teams ready to do c-sections at the hospital; the primary team, who do most of the operations (the surgeon we met with was from this team), and a secondary team, who take any emergencies if the primary team is currently in surgery. We were being wheeled down the corridor (I’m never sure why you don’t get to walk, but I daresay there’s some reason for it!), and were almost at the door of the theatre, when we glimpsed through the open door a flurry of bodies, and suddenly we were being turned back. It turned out that another mother-to-be needed a fairly urgent caesarean (we found out later that all turned out well for her), and in that situation, because ours was not a true emergency, we were going to have to wait – as the secondary team needed to be on standby in case of a real emergency.
I never wanted to have a third section, but since I had resigned myself to it, I was really peeved at this point that I was not going to be holding my baby in my arms within the hour – it had been a long journey so far, and it was very hard to know we were still not at the end of it. We were told it would be an hour and a half or so, so we settled in to wait.
I had a few contractions over that time of waiting, but nothing too strong, and certainly not regular – I could probably count how many there were on the fingers of two hands, if not one! But then I had a really strong contraction that made me get down on my hands and knees on the floor. And as soon as that one was over, another one started. All I could think was how unfair it was – I was exhausted, in pain, and I’d had enough – I should have been holding my baby already, not having to go through this tremendously draining labour any longer. And the contractions kept coming. I was loudly complaining about how unfair it was, and saying I couldn’t do it, when Angela, who of course had stayed with us, suggested that we do another internal – she called the hospital midwife, and sure enough, somehow in the preceding hour and a half, I had gone from about 4cm to 10cm! The anaesthetist was literally at the door, and was turned away. Angela and the hospital midwife got very excited and I distinctly remember both Stuart and I saying ‘No, don’t say it, don’t say it’, as we so much didn’t want to get our hopes up!!
From this point on, it felt like being drunk on a roller coaster. It was all so unexpected, and we’d had to go from sedate-caesarean mindset, to mile-a-minute-baby’s-on-it’s-way mindset. I took up the gas and air, and this time I really got the hang of it – and I didn’t let go until it was done. I remember very little of the process, but it felt like minutes to me. I remember shouting things like ‘I need a drink – I need a drink – why isn’t anyone getting me a drink?!!!’ and the distinctly cliched ‘Get this baby out of me’, but overall it’s really a very blurred memory. Contractions were coming thick and fast, and I felt totally out of control. My only constant, the rock on which I leaned, was Stuart – his was literally the only voice I could hold onto in the chaos, and because I trust him implicitly, it was the only voice I needed to hear. I distinctly remember at one point slurring ‘I only want to speak to Stuart’ – which apparently was a bit of a challenge for the consultant, as she really needed me to agree to an intervention and I wouldn’t hear her!
Apparently this stage lasted for about an hour, and they were then able to see the baby’s head. But at this point, the baby’s heart rate was dipping and then rocketing, and it suddenly became urgent that s/he come out. I remember working as hard as I could, and at the very final hurdle, the consultant did a lift out with the ventouse, as the baby needed to be born immediately. I remember the most almightly pulling on the consultant’s behalf, but I’m told that the birthing mother has to bear down with all her might in order for this to work, so I gather I played my part here too.
Finally, finally, our baby was coming to us – the head came out, and I heard exclamations of ‘It’s face up!’ (most babies are born face down). The body quickly followed, and the baby was passed straight to me, a beautiful boy, and both Stuart and I dissolved into tears of joy and relief and just an overwhelming wave of emotion. Our boy was here! And by vaginal birth!
We found out more details later, and it turned out that the position he was in was the reason he found it so difficult to make his way out, and when we saw the bruise left by the suction cup of the ventouse, it was completely off centre, so he’d definitely been in an awkward position. But he’d obviously had enough of waiting, and decided to make his way out nevertheless!
When I think back now, a year on, to that day (or should I say those days?!), I am still not sure how I feel. Of course I am glad that our wonderful third child arrived without having to undergo the trauma of an operation, and in terms of my recovery, well, there’s no comparison to the recovery after a c-section – with our other two to look after as well (both under 5 at that point), it was invaluable not to have to be thinking about a section scar. But the final part of the birth experience felt so out of control, and is so hard to remember, that it’s hard to imagine that it was really me (well, me and our baby) who achieved what we did. After around 48 hours of labour I was beyond exhausted, and I’m told it must have been sheer determination that got me through the last leg. But I feel like a fraud, as I remember so little – I don’t remember thinking ‘I have to do this’ to try to convince myself that I could do it, I remember thinking ‘I have to do this’ because there didn’t seem to be any other option. Retrospectively, I wish I had stopped the gas and air, but I know full well that at the time I needed it to get me through when I was right at the end of my energy and will power. This is not supposed to be a horror story about how painful birth is – I honestly believe that birth can be a pleasurable experience, and that because of certain factors specific to our situation, it was not to be that way for us – but I can’t honestly say that I look back on the experience with joy. What I can say is that whichever way our baby had decided to come to us, we were very glad to have a good understanding of the issues involved either way from having done our homework during the pregnancy, and we were also very glad to have a completely trusted midwifery professional working with us, who would guide our decisions with our best interests at heart. And we can’t thank Angela, Claire and Alison enough for all they did for us, going far beyond the call of duty; if it hadn’t been for them, we are absolutely sure that we would have ended up having all 3 of our babies come to us via c-section. For myself, I thank goodness for the absolutely most supportive, trusting, loving husband I could ever wish for – and for 3 amazing, fantastic, beautiful children, who came to us in such diverse ways, and who I wouldn’t change for the world.