My first born Ella Paige I birthed on 10th January at 8.03pm weighing 9lb 6oz via emergency abdominal birth (caesarean)….
I had hoped for a natural birth (doesn't everyone?) – a water birth is what I really liked the idea of, and had it in my head that I would try not to have too much pain relief, I especially didn’t like the idea of an epidural. Being only 18 and the pregnancy being a surprise, at first it was difficult to get my head around but with the support of my partner and family I knew I would be ok and that this baby would be a gift to us even if a little scary and earlier than we had planned. My nan had always told me about her easy births and said that as I take after her in a lot of ways my ‘child bearing hips’ would mean I would breeze through it too, so I hoped I would be as lucky as her to have a straight forward labour…..
I went 10 days overdue and the day before I was due to be induced my mum did some reflexology on me in the hope to kick start my labour – I had tried everything and I desperately didn’t want to be induced, I didn’t like the idea of forcing my body to do something it wasn’t ready to do and had heard horror stories about how inductions are more likely to lead to an assisted delivery, which also scared me. The morning of my induction I woke up to a little pop and sat up thinking I had wet the bed!! My waters had broke, and I remember thinking it was not how I expected it – I thought they would go in a big gush but instead it was like a constant trickle, so I spend the morning walking round the house with a towel between my legs! The hospital told me to stay at home for as long as I could or until my contractions were kicking in properly, it got to 4pm and I still hadn’t really started contracting so the hospital advised I came in to be monitored, we picked up my mum on the way who was my birth support along with my partner. When I arrived at the hospital I was examined and was only a couple of cm dilated and was hooked up to the monitor on the bed to check on baby, I had started using a tens machine at this point as I had started to feel the contractions a little, I felt this helped along with some paracetamol. My partner and my mum were then sent home as the midwife said it could be a long night, at this time I felt very scared and emotional at being left alone in the hospital and remember crying as they left me. Not long after them going my contractions started to get really painful and more regular and I was thinking of needing more pain relief so I was moved to labour ward and my birth partners were called back, I then started on the gas and air which was lovely stuff and helped for a while. I have a vague memory of my birth after this, I had some pethidine at some point – around 5cm dilated I think, but this made me feel very sick and spaced out, my partner tells me I was sick in his hands at one point as there was no bowl around so he caught it…..now that is love!
I was put on a drip at some point as I was "failing to progress", and at the same time was given an epidural as I was exhausted due to no sleep for god knows how many hours, my birth plan had well and truly gone out the window and at this point I didn’t care what they gave me or did to me as long as it meant my baby got here and this ended! I remember having contractions during the epidural and having to try sit as still as I could through them was horrendous, it took them two or three attempts to get it in I think. The epidural really helped though, it allowed me to get some rest and sleep so I had some energy when it came to pushing, and I fully dilated.
I was so out of it I don’t really remember pushing, I just remember all of a sudden a midwife trying to get me to sign a consent form for surgery – I dread to think what that signature looked like I could barely hold the pen! I was so out of control at this point and felt as though I wasn't even in the room - like an outer body experience, I actually remember at one point thinking I might die, it might sound a bit drastic to say that but I could feel myself slipping in and out of consciousness. At the time I didn’t know it but was later told my blood pressure dropped dangerously low and they needed to get the baby out as I was "failing to deliver" her myself, they tried a ventouse but this still "failed", my baby was literally stuck and was not budging, so they decided to do a caesarean, I literally have no memory of my baby being born, that special moment she arrived, and I think it was an hour or so before I came round properly and held her for the first time, which writing about it now makes me feel very sad. I remember waking up back in the room and seeing my mum holding my baby and handing her to me and telling me it was a girl and her weight, I was dozing in and out of sleep and not really taking it in. We had done no skin to skin and my baby hadn’t fed and I was exhausted. We were sent home after another two days and at home I developed a severe infection in my wound which took around 3 months to fully heal.
Looking back that my first experience of birth it was not a very positive one, it was nothing like I had hoped it would be and at times I feel I was judged for my age too. I was quite naïve also and just went along with whatever I was told to do and I don’t think I had any control over anything, it all seems a big blur looking back and that also makes me quite sad, and I wish it could have gone a lot smoother. I spent a lot of time beating myself up about it and feeling like a "failure". I used to tell myself "but you had a healthy baby and that's all that matters", I now know that is definitely not all that matters, I mattered...
Now the years have passed I see Ella's birth differently, I believe that everything happens for a reason, Ella was sent to us to cement our relationship and the difficult labour / recovery made us stronger more relaxed parents I feel.
Becoming a Doula and all the training I have undertaken has helped me see that the way her birth happened was not my fault at all and I did not fail - I was failed.
The word failure was in my story a lot - failure to progress, failure to deliver, I failed. I had that ingrained in my mind for years, and I feel the language used by health professionals can be very damaging to the woman. I felt like I wasn't good enough. But like a lot of women brushed that all aside as 'normal' and got on with it! Not knowing the impact this would have on me for years to come.
I had very little antenatal education during my pregnancy, I suppose I went into in blindly - with that hope that I would be 'lucky' like my Nan and have the 'perfect' birth. I now know it isn't down to luck - its down to good preparation, good support and self belief/trust in your body. I did not take any ownership of my birth or my body, I did not research anything, I did not know I had options and choices, I did not know I could say no to things I did not want or ask for alternatives. I succumbed to the Dr's and Midwives authority over me and believed that 'they know best' as they are the professionals not me - what did I know? I now know that no one knows a woman's body like her and her instincts are usually right and the best thing for her and should be listened to always. I now know the environment I birthed in was completely wrong and went against me, the room was brightly lit, I was constantly interrupted/didn't have a private space, I had people asking me questions all the time and offering me pain relief/telling me what to do rather than waiting for me to ask for it and leaving me alone to listen to what my body was telling me to do. During the latent phase (early stage of labour) I was on a ward of other women, I got no rest which is vital for your energy stores for later on in active labour so I was knackered before I even got started. I was pinned to a bed and 'not allowed' to move - free movement is so important in labour and laying on your back is not the optimum position for birth. And if I'm honest I don't feel I was fully supported and encouraged through it all (but again down to the lack of knowledge/preparation we had done prior to my birth).
Can I go back and change my story - no, would I want to? (maybe!) but no not really as I wouldn't be the person I am today if I hadn't experienced it the way I did. I feel it makes me more determined in my career to educate women and their partners and support them to have a positive birth experience, it has made me have such a close bond with Ella and I now have the skills to ensure that as she grows to be a woman she is educated well and will have the best support in her own pregnancies/births.
But I will also remind her and all the women I hope to work with in the future, a positive birth doesn't have to be a 'natural' birth it just has to be a birth that is from a place of knowledge, informed decision making, good support and love.