In my last post, I told the story of my son’s birth. It wasn’t how I planned it.
I didn’t write a birth plan; as I said to the midwife, my plans for birth included whatever it took to get my boy here safely. I didn’t know how you could plan for something you had little control over.
But I bought books and CDs on hypnobirthing, watched hypnobirthing videos on YouTube, went to prenatal yoga (learning to ‘breathe your baby out’), and packed LED candles and essential oils in my hospital bag. I knew exactly what kind of birth I wanted. The books told me that childbirth is such a natural thing and overcoming fear would mean I could have a calm, natural delivery. My body would know what to do, as millions of women’s bodies had done before me. And I believed it all.
31 hours of labour with a back to back baby, a hormone drip, an epidural and an emergency c-section later, my labour could not have been further from the natural idyll that I had aspired to.
So, is it any wonder that 3 months down the line I lay awake at night while my baby slept, replaying my labour, wondering what had gone so wrong? Why had my body failed? Why had I failed, as a woman, to do the most natural thing and bring my baby into the world?
I wanted to talk about what happened. I spoke to my husband about it but, although he tried to understand, he just kept reminding me that our son was born safely and really that was all that mattered. And, of course, that is the most important thing, but it didn’t stop me feeling like a failure and a deep sadness that although my son had been born, I didn’t feel I could say that I had given birth to him.
I thought I was beginning to accept what had happened and move on. Then a friend had a drug-free waterbirth. My first feeling when she told me about her labour was intense jealousy. And then happy for her, obviously. This was when I decided to contact Birth Afterthoughts.
So, almost a year to the day after I left the hospital with my brand new baby son, I walked back through the doors with my almost-toddler. We took the lift up to the fourth floor and sat watching women arriving at the ultrasound department, nervously clutching their maternity notes. I felt apprehensive and slightly nauseous and couldn’t understand why.
A middle-aged midwife with a reassuring smile called my name and we went through to a small, windowless office. She talked me through the final 15 hours of my labour from my arrival at the midwife-led unit, through the complications that arose, to the moment my boy was born. It was strange hearing such a familiar story being told back to me with details I had either forgotten or never been aware of. Then she asked me if I had any questions. I asked the question that had been plaguing me for months, ‘Is there anything I could have done to prevent the c-section?’ Her answer was so certain, so final, ‘No. It was always going to happen.’ Tears of relief started to tumble down my face. It wasn’t my fault. It wouldn’t have mattered if I’d tried one of the countless variations of my actions during labour that had gone through my head. It was always going to end the same way.
As I searched through my changing bag for a tissue, she explained that I had developed an infection in my womb called chorioamnionitis. This was why our heart rates had been so fast and, towards the end of my labour, the lack of variability in T’s heart rate meant that he was starting to show signs of being in distress. As I was only 7cm dilated at this point, they could not wait for me to be fully dilated as T’s condition would have deteriorated in that time. So the c-section was the only option.
Then we talked about my options for any future births. I decided very soon after T was born that I would want to try a VBAC next time. I would be considered high risk so would have to be on delivery suite and on continuous monitoring, but I was surprised to learn that I would still be able to use the birthing pool. Also, I could refuse to be induced and request an elective c-section instead. I found the surgery itself and the physical recovery to be much easier than the parts of the induction process that I experienced during my labour, so I think this is definitely something I would consider.
After 2 hours with the midwife I left the hospital feeling emotionally drained, but also as though I could really begin to make peace with my experience. I felt strangely empowered to know that what happened wasn’t my fault, and to know more about my birth choices for when we decide to give T a sibling. The healing process is ongoing. Physically, I’ve been fully recovered for months, emotionally I’m not quite there (I found writing this post to be much more difficult than I anticipated). I think the only way my first labour can truly be atoned for would be through a successful VBAC- only time will tell if I’m lucky enough to experience this.
For anyone who has gone through a traumatic birth experience, I can thoroughly recommend a birth afterthoughts/debriefing session with a midwife. It really helped me to understand exactly what had happened and why. I found the contact details for arranging my session through a quick google of ‘birth afterthoughts’ and the hospital where T was born. If you can’t find the information that way, contact the supervisor of midwives at your local hospital, or speak to your GP/health visitor.