Today my son is turning 4. I just cannot believe he is a little man already, not a baby anymore! He will start primary school in September, he will become more independent every month, he will strike up life time friendships… And yet, I still see his big blue eyes looking at me lying on my breast, his big lips wide open in surprise of meeting his mum for the first time, very calm and chilled despite he had just been pulled out of me through Ventouse.
I have been thinking a lot about the night he was born and what I wanted to write about it. Shall I wrap it in words of hope for expecting new mothers as I usually do when I talk about my daughter’s arrival, to encourage them, to avoid any unnecessary fear? Shall I be honest and share my feelings of my body being torn and robbed by medical staff to let him out, as I gesture of honesty and empathy for so many other women that lived their delivery as such a dramatic experience? I guess honesty shared with a sensitive touch is always the best approach.
If I look back at the days just before his birth, I remember how positive I was, I was not at all scared of what was to come: full of hope instead, and confident having got ready through the past weeks with my breathing/moving exercises, I looked at every single person walking in the street thinking they all represented a delivery, so surely it could not be as terrible as most people seemed to perceive it…
So what did go so wrong to make the physical event of my son’s birth represents for me one of the most traumatic experiences in my life? To start with I guess the fact that, since he was terribly late (born at nearly 42 weeks), I had to be induced. If this happens your contractions are generally stronger that the ones your body will naturally produce when labor starts on its own.
You have a choice to refuse the induction, however what made me accept it was the possibility that the placenta may get too old and stop working before my baby was born. It’s a tricky decision to make as of course you don’t want such a tragic event to happen, however there is no point in forcing nature too soon if everything is going well and baby just needs a couple of extra days.
The problem is you don’t know if everything is well at that stage and the last two weeks just feel like years to the expectant mum so you cannot bear to think ‘it could happen tomorrow’ anymore, when you have been waiting for 4 weeks already from 38 weeks pregnant.. You just accept to be hospitalised and get done with it to finally meet your baby! I know now I could have tried a few things to get the labor started on its own beforehand, such as some reflexology sessions, no guarantee but always nice to have it anyway!
So once you get induced, in my own experience, your body has no more say in what should be a natural process. Medical staff feels entitled to thigh you on a bed to monitor the baby’s heart (who could suffer from too strong contractions, proof they are stronger than natural labor); you feel such excruciating pain (a combination of artificial contractions and the fact that medical staff patronise you to their needs without listening to yours so you cannot get the right relief that suits you best such as moving around), you end up asking for an epidural, even when it was not in your plans at all.
I have to say not every new mum has had such a negative experience with medical staff, I hear there are caring and supporting maternity wards out there, I just feel this is not the case at all at King’s College Hospital, or at least I was unlucky enough to get the worst team combination ever just that night.
OK, thanks God for the invention of epidural: I thought I would have died without it, or go crazy from that torture (2 mins long strong contractions with only 30 secs breaks in between for nearly 3 hours non stop, no time to speak or change position). But hey, let’s not forget that the introduction of epidural itself probably came at the time of all the other medical interventions such as the procedure with hormones to get your labor started (that’s why I believe you don’t necessarily need it in a natural birth from beginning to end).
At that point yes, you do feel an immense relief and your poor husband as well starts breathing again, after watching you powerless in agony for hours: mine finally got a chance to go for a wee and have a quick sandwich for dinner at 12.30am. But you are now numb, which means, unless you have amazing medical support that explains you what to expect, you have no idea how to deliver your baby without the animal instinct you would feel with every pushing contraction.
And that’s when, as soon as doctors feel the delivery is getting out of their control, they speed up things by any mean they can, such as ventouse, in my case leaving me with a 3rd degree tear, which sounds scary and you have no idea what it implies (nothing in 99% of cases, apart from stitches and a bit longer for the scar to heal – though you are still left there to imagine the worst).
And then here he comes: after being quickly checked by the paediatrician and quickly cleaned from the blood by a midwife, your baby is finally laying on your breast where he belongs and you cannot remember a tiny little pinch of the pain you have been going through the past day or so. You think your baby is absolutely perfect, you feel an intense joy that personally nothing else in life has given me so far, especially when you share it with your partner.
But despite absolutely in love with my son and my new role of mother, to go back to his birth story, I returned home with the impression I would never be able to give birth again, yet alone to have a sex life or open my bowels in a functional way. I kept on looking at my bundle of joy to find the strength to focus on the best start to breast feed him, to find the energies deep in my heart to look after him with love and care, instead of despairing about my damaged body which I was sure would never return the same.
I didn’t know at the time that I would make an amazing recovery within two months, despite my 3rd degree tear and several stitches, that my sex life would have not been affected at all once my scar healed (actually it has improved in some aspects, funny enough!), and that my body functions would be intact as well and working as normal from the minute I returned home.
By the way, I have recently signed up for an income protection cover and, despite they took into account stress issues and fainting and vomiting instances, they do not even factor the results of complicated deliveries such as 3rd degree tears. This surely means that it does not represent a risk in your everyday life and your ability to carry it out normally, knowing how insurances work!
All I can say is that I would strongly discourage anyone to give birth at Kings College Hospital, where we found an understaffed team that patronised me all along and kept us most of the time on our own with no emotional or physical support and completely in the dark as to what was happening in general from a physical point of view.
If they had only talked to me about my tear, instead of letting me believe that I would poo in my pants for the rest of my life or imagining with horror that I may need an external bag for my stools (I must have watched too many Grey’s Anatomies, I confess!), I would not have felt it was the end of the world, it would have known I would perfectly recover and that it was just a common condition.
But looking back at that whole night now I can put so much more prospective in what happened to my body and why it happened, that is why I am sharing it with you today. The top 3 tips that I have learned and I would recommend for no one to repeat my story are definitively the following:
1) make sure you have a few plans in places in case you are late, know what could help for labor to start naturally, such as reflexology, not just the grandma remedies or spicy food and a lot of sex as everyone likes to suggest, though both may be very ‘tasty’ 🙂 , and maybe agree with your doctor/midwife an acceptable deadline to be induced;
2) know your rights as a patient, try and see how is the maternity department run at the hospital where you are meant to give birth, see if you can request some continuity in your care, such as if the same midwife (someone you feel comfortable with) can follow you until and during delivery, opt for a home birth if you are close to your hospital and feel confident that privacy will help you do the work on your own;
3) read a lot and find out everything you need to know about delivery, don’t be afraid to discover what’s the worst that could happen as you will be glad to be aware if you have a difficult decision to make; but wrap yourself in encouraging thoughts and techniques as well, such as positive affirmations recording (specifically for labor), positions and breathing exercises such as hypno birthing courses, because as they say you always plan for the worst but still hope for the best.
For what’s regarding me, I don’t mind that much now how things went, it was all part of my higher power plan anyway and I will mainly remember it as the night I became a mother and met my son for the first time ❤