Birth Story – Frances

This is an account, as best as i can remember of the birth of my first daughter, when i was 24 years old. I think its safe to say I was ill-informed and naive at this time but also that it was a mismanaged birth which could have gone better. Its probably worth mentioning that at the time she was born, my local Mat Unit had 10 outstanding litigation cases of mismanaged births leading to severe brain damage.

I went 8 days overdue with my first baby, after a very simple pregnancy where all seemed to be going fairly well. The only problem seemed to be that she never really engaged and then during the last week my bump grew an incredible 8cm in height. I was hugely uncomfortable, my legs were swollen and i thought my toes would burst; they looked like sausages! Although they were concerned by my sudden growth, no one linked it to any specific problem and it was assumed that it was mostly because my blood pressure had become quite high. (In actual fact, high fluid levels are a marker for the birth defect she had.)

At 8 days overdue i went in to be monitored and while i was there they performed a sweep. Immediately i started to have mild, niggly contractions but they assured me i was wrong as a sweep would not start anything for 24 hours. I went home by 5pm and the niggles continued all evening. Because the baby had not engaged they told me that if i had regular contrations at all i had to go straight in and if my waters broke i had to call an ambulance.

I was very excited, i felt like my whole life had been leading up to this moment and i just couldn’t wait to get started. By midnight the contractions, such as they were, were every 3 minutes and mindful of what they had told me, we decided we had better go in. (Mistake number 1!) On arrival we had a tour of the unit by a very nice midwife who showed us a largish room and told us that if i wanted a bath, i was welcome to use that room. Then i was put into a side room. Max fell asleep on the bed and i spent a long, long time stood by the window, leaning over an old radiator and trying to cope with increasingly nasty contractions in my back. Eventually i asked for some pain relief and was given a couple of paracetamol and told to get on with it. So i decided to have a bath (mistake number 2!) and Max went off to find a midwife to check it was okay to use the room – a completely different midwife shouted at him for wanting to use a room that had a mum and new twins in it but said of course if we felt we were entitled to disturb her to go ahead (Nasty cow!) and showed us to a nasty little bathroom with a thin, dirty bath in it. This was NOT a great success and by now i was desperately needing to poo, or so i thought, but nothing seemed to be working.

Max called another midwife who came to do an internal – she seemed baffled “I don’t know what i can feel,” she said. “There’s no head but i think you are fully dilated. Lets get you to the delivery ward.” (Wow – that wasn’t so bad! we thought!) So off we trundled to the Delivery Ward and a registrar came in, who was equally baffled. She also thought i was fully dialated but that what was protruding was a large bag of waters, accounting for the pain i was feeling in my back, due to it being roughly the size of a head in the birth canal. So they decided to break my waters and then keep me sat on the bed being monitored (Mistake number 3) And this is what they did – the waters were a little green but not worrying. And then came the bad news, without a head and with the waters gone, i was back to 3cm. I had to do it all again. If only at this point i had known to sit up/stand up/kneel up/kick someone, things might have turned out differently.

So it was off to another room for constant monitoring – i was terribly tired as it was now 5am and i had been up since 5am the previous day worrying about my hospital trip earlier in the day so i lay on my side while Max napped next to me. I was still managing fine with a TENS and i think if i had stayed on my side, things might have been better. But i was very brainwashed into the “be upright” thing. Still, i progressed okay and gradually started to need gas and air etc. At 8am i was 7-8cm i think and asked if the baby would be born by 12pm – the midwife looked helpless (still no head in feeling range) and i though – “uh oh…” and asked for an epidural. But of course about a million other people had just asked and there was a 2 hour queue. During that time things got terrible – i was in awful pain but it just felt hopeless and purposeless, everyone was being negative, Max couldn’t stay awake, the contractions felt completely endless and gapless. Someone had put a scalp monitor on the baby and it was buzzing in time with the TENS, which was horrid and the flex was unbearably degrading but i was unable to vocalise anything to make someoe either remove it or the TENS. They examined me just before the anesthetist arrived and i was 9 1/2cm – i’d done so well but although my body was clearly in transition nothing was kicking in to get the baby out. And instead of yanking me to my feet and making the baby descend, they went ahead with the epidural. (Mistake number 4)

It took 2 attempts to get it in – I was curled up on the side of the bed, leaning into Max and they couldn’t make it work – someone helpfully said that if i moved i would probably be paralysed and so i was terrified, in pain, exhausted and starting to feel completely traumatised. I remember thinking “I just can’t do this anymore” and then realising that i didn’t actually have much choice. The first anesthetist dropped all the syringes on the floor and had to send for a new lot, then his shift changed and a new one must have arrived. I don’t remember any of this except that a German introduced himself initially and a Chinese man appeared 2 hours later to tell me it was over. I know that Max was starting to feel like he could do a better job. And then it only worked down one side so i had dreadful pain in my right hip (and i can’t explain why but pain in one place was almost worse than everywhere) and they had to roll me about to make it work. I felt so degraded and i felt a failure because i had so not wanted one but i just had to get some respite. I do know that just before they finished, they asked me if i would mind taking part in a survey on different types of plaster. I believe it was the only time i swore and that the midwife was frantically signalling to him to leave me alone. I’d be surprised if my eyes didn’t glow red.

So by now it was about midday, my midwife told me i had got to push 3 pushes a minute for an hour. I had no urge to push at all, i couldn’t feel anything at all and everyone seemed to have given up on me. The midwife went for lunch! And after nearly 2 hours of pushing they said that enough was enough and i had to have a section. To be honest i was relieved. Then they said that before they did that they would try a ventouse delivery in the theatre. That seemed fair enough.

Well, if you have never had one of those, i don’t recommend you try it. I was completely numb ready for the section and i still screamed in pain. I could feel them pulling my pelvis apart and rummaging inside me, my legs were in stirrups and i couldn’t stop farting and it felt like the world and his wife were staring at me. Its not even funny now, six years later. So they gave up, cut into me and just as they did the baby gave an enormous lurch and shoved her head down into the birth canal. First they thought i had felt the incision and walloped another load of spinal into me, then they realised and a midwife had to put her hand into me and push the babies head back up. And when they pulled her out, the room went silent and i saw everyone just “look” at each other. The midwife grabbed her and ran from the room, calling “Its a girl” as she left. I knew something was wrong, but i was so tired i just fell asleep. And then the midwife called Max out and when he came back his face was white/green and terrifed. The midwife was holding this little bundle with its face covered up. “She’s got a little problem with her face. A cleft lip and palate. Do you want to see her?” Well of course i did and i thought she was beautiful. But i was shaking so much i couldn’t hold her and it took a good while to sort me out. I shook for 3 hours in the end.

Although it doesn’t really count as birth story, its worth saying what happened after. We got put into a side room and left to get ourselves together. Max went home and i didn’t know if he was coming back – although bless him he got home and then couldn’t work out why he had left! (Something to do with food and sleep i think!) I had planned to breastfeed and had to bottle feed and try to express (which just didn’t work although i kept it up manfully for 13 weeks). She was full of sticky amniotic fluid and coughed and choked for days and i was in such a mess i couldn’t sit up to help her, so she had to spend a lot of time out on the nurses station while i tried to recouperate. She got jaundice because she threw up most of everything she drank (45mls in her first day was the sum total of what i got down her) and of course she screamed incessantly because she was so hungry. And i just cried and cried. And people kept coming to visit so i felt like a freak show – 14 visitors in one day was the record i think. The midwives meant well and kept taking her away so i could sleep but i think it just made it worse – i just got to the point where i wanted her to go away for ever. And of course we knew she needed surgery in a weeks time. We came home for a few days after 5 days and those were hell – burnt food, tears, Max was great but just didn’t know what to say or do. I don’t think either of us could really believe what had happened.

But…. as it happened…. it all turned out okay.