My birth story: part 2
I’ve heard mums say that they don’t remember the pain of birth. Even now, on her first weekiversary after the big event, it’s hard to recall the details, past the fact that I now have a beautiful baby girl. But here is what I do remember.
After the consultant decided we should try induction, events started moving pretty quickly. James and I were ushered into a private room, with our own midwife and student midwife, Linda and Theodora, to observe us 24/7. For some reason, I was surprised that we’d have our own personal medical team with us, but in hindsight, it makes perfect sense. I was about to go through a serious medical event. Of course I needed people to take care of me and my unborn baby.
The first hurdle they had to see me through was my fear of needles. Just to make it clear, I had written “No Needles!” at the top of every page of my birth plan. Whenever they took my blood during pregnancy, I’d turn my head to do a determined study of the wall. So when it came time to prepare the tap in the back of my hand for the Sintocin drip (synthetic oxytocin to induce labour), I stared at my baby’s heart rate on the foetal monitor to distract myself. It didn’t actually hurt that much, especially when compared with the labour pains.
We decided to do the epidural before starting the drip. I had heard that Sintocin would bring on intense contractions – more intense than I was already having – because it’s trying to jolt the body into labour. The last thing I needed was to jump from the frying pan into the fire, so to speak, so we chose to do the epidural first. The anaesthetist took 40 minutes to arrive. In the meantime, I relied on the only pain relief I had at my disposal: breathing techniques led by Linda (our midwife) and our favourite audio Valium, Golden Bowls by Karma Moffett. It was funny; every single person who came into that room after we put that CD on, from the anaesthetist to the doctors, asked what the music was and where they could get it. It’s good stuff, let me tell you.
At long last, the anaesthetist arrived. Forty minutes may not seem like a long time, but when you’re in excruciating pain, it feels like a lifetime. She instructed me to curl up into a ball on my side. Putting in an epidural is tricky at the best of times, but when the patient is suffering contractions every two minutes, it’s even harder. I had to tell her when I was having a contraction, so she could stop, and I had to hold as still as possible through the pain. No easy feat. James clamped his hand onto my shoulder and thigh to help me stay still. I could practically feel him willing my pain away.
I’m not going to lie; getting the epidural put in didn’t tickle. But it was much better than the alternative and I quickly felt a rush of sweet numbness sweep through my body. From that point on, whenever I felt the slightest return of feeling (about every 1-1.5 hours), I’d tell Linda and she’d give me a top up. Bliss.
Now onto the Sintocin drip. First, Linda wanted to see how dilated I was, so she did a cervical check. Before the epidural, these checks felt like I had a mole digging tunnels into my belly. Now, nothing. La la la. The bad news was that I was only 2 cm dilated (referring to the size of the hole that the baby needs to exit through), but the good news was that my cervix had fully effaced (this is the thinning of the cervix, which is the plug that keeps the baby in). It was around noon at this point and there was a long way to go until I was in active labour at 5-6cm dilated. They estimated that Sintocin would make me dilate 1cm per hour. They started me on the drip, but, after an hour, the baby didn’t seem to be responding very well, so they stopped it. I wanted to cry. Sintocin was supposed to be my baby’s saviour. To hear that it wasn’t working was devastating. The consultants came back in.
It was at this point that they mentioned doing a caesarean.
I really didn’t want a C-section, not least because it’s major surgery and takes a long time from which to recover. It would also put a lot of strain on James if he had to take a month off work to care for me. But if I’m honest with myself, I was just plain scared. I’ve never so much as broken a bone; the thought of being cut open seemed like the stuff of horror films to me.
I watched as they handed James his scrubs, thinking, “Shit. This is really going to happen.” The midwife told me to take out my contact lenses. As I pinched them out of my eyes, I couldn’t believe how far from the original birth plan I had come. I had to concentrate on the fact that having the caesarean meant I’d get to hold my baby soon. That was really all that mattered, right?
The midwives, James and I waited to hear whether it was all battle stations go.
After about an hour, the consultants came back in. “We’re going to try again with the Sintocin,” they said. I cried with relief. They wanted to see if the baby would react better on a second go. I had escaped the knife for now, but they would keep me prepped just in case – which meant, among other things, that I couldn’t eat anything, only drink water.
Linda gave me more epidural fluid. She also put some flight socks on me to make sure my legs didn’t swell and then started the drip again. James and I settled in for a long wait. He started working on his blog post to kill time.
And then something unexpected happened: Linda told us that her shift was almost over and she’d be briefing her replacement soon. I started to panic. Our midwife and her student had been amazing. They’d been sitting with me non-stop since we came into the birthing suite, taking care of me, reading my blood pressure, changing my mofo-sized maternity pads, checking to make sure my baby was okay, helping me to breathe through contractions before the epidural went in, holding water to my lips so I could drink out of a straw, helping me persuade James to go get something to eat while they watched me. They were guiding me through a very scary time and I had come to rely on their steady support. It hadn’t occurred to me that they wouldn’t be there for the whole experience. Of course, I couldn’t expect them to work a million hours while my fate played out. But what if the new midwife was unfriendly? Or didn’t understand that I had to have my epidural top ups in a certain way for them to work best?
I watched as Linda and Theodora prepared to go home. They tidied up their notes and discussed the handover.
The replacement midwife came in. What a relief. It wasn’t a complete stranger; it was the same lady who had checked us into the triage unit when my waters had broken at 1:30am. And she was very chirpy and nice. It may not seem like a big deal, but we had gotten close to our midwives during the day. They had cared for me intimately. You don’t want to share an experience like the birth of your first child with just anyone. James and I were so happy to see a familiar, friendly face. I felt like we had come full circle and were ready to face the final uncertain stages of our daughter’s birth, together.
The final instalment of my birth story will be up on the blog tomorrow morning.