We don’t talk enough about birth trauma. But it’s something that so, so many women experience, and then simply put away. But that can be very detrimental to subsequent pregnancies. I’m extremely grateful that I now have a very positive birth story, which I found to be healing, and I want to share that with anyone in a similar position, to show what’s possible.
If you read about my first daughter’s delivery, then you’ll know it was less than perfect – in fact it was outright traumatic. I’m fully aware people go through far worse, and that ultimately the outcome (healthy mother and baby – in the end) is positive. But comparing is not helpful: I found the experience distressing to say the least, and it definitely contributed to the intense anxiety I suffered in the year following Pixie’s delivery.
I’ve also spoken about how Pixie’s failure to thrive meant that I was monitored closely throughout my second pregnancy in case Elfin was destined for the same fate. But as time went by and her due date approached, each scan appeared to suggest she was flourishing. Of course in utero measurements are not guaranteed, so though I was quietly confident, I was also very aware of how things could still pan out.
For this reason it didn’t occur to me to bother putting together a birth plan: I knew from experience that often as not they’re a complete waste of time. I had a strong idea of my preferences and I’d discussed these with hubby; I didn’t need to put it in writing to make it so.
Besides which, call me silly, but outlining my hopes in black and white would have felt like tempting fate.
When the opportunity arose I mentioned to a consultant my desire for a water birth. This happened to be at a meeting during which we discussed my recent diagnosis of Group B Strep – and the fact that the hospital only had two pools. My chance at getting the birth I wanted was dwindling, along with my expectations of having a positive labour second time around.
If you don’t know very much about Group B Strep, suffice to say, I was more likely to be induced because of it, which would have meant automatically becoming high risk, and thus labouring in a pool would be out. My only hope at that point was for contractions to begin naturally and for my waters to break later. Though it’s unusual for waters to go before labour starts, it’s not impossible. So I still had a chance of having the experience I wanted (yet didn’t dare hope for) – but it was diminishing. I suppose you could describe my ideal delivery as the pinnacle – I didn’t even know if I was capable of doing what I aspired to: a drug-free water birth.
In the last couple of weeks of pregnancy I was regularly experiencing strong Braxton Hicks and every time I wondered if this was the onset of labour. So when I finally lost my plug at 38+6, I was more confident but still not convinced: I questioned whether I was imagining the achiness and cramps. So much so that the next day, which was my one work day during the week, I went along to Starbucks as usual…
When I arrived, I visited the ladies, and as I sat on the loo I wondered whether I’d made a stupid error of judgement. I winced in discomfort as I washed my hands and – considering my very obvious belly – was surprised that the other lady present didn’t so much as acknowledge me!
Particularly given that when I queued for my coffee, the barista who I chat to every week took one look at me and asked if I was okay.
I told her I wasn’t certain but may possibly be in early labour…
Marie kept an eye on me, but when she came over a little while later, the ‘contractions’ – if indeed that’s what they were, who knew?! – had all but gone. The fact that I was busy working suggested to me that it must have been in my head, because otherwise there was no reason for them to decrease. Probably.
When I went home later that day, we decided it was wise for my mum to take Pixie overnight – just in case.
By the evening I was getting contractions again, but they were very bearable and still I didn’t know what to make of it. We made a quick call to the mother-in-law to wish her happy birthday, and we joked about the possibility of me giving her the best present ever.
I stuffed myself full of chip shop chips and battered sausage (I never eat this, and boy did I regret it a few hours later!) and then paced the living room as my contractions grew stronger. I was intermittently using the yoga ball, which helped with managing the discomfort, but also seemed to slow any progression.
I called the delivery ward for advice (I was supposed to be in hospital for longer than four hours so they could administer antibiotics for the Strep) but they told me to wait. By around 9pm I still wasn’t contracting more than roughly ten minutes apart, and we decided to attempt some sleep before things really kicked off.
We turned the lights out at about 9.30pm, and I was waking for contractions and then going back to sleep. Naturally hubby
woke with me slept through the entire thing – and despite his promise to be in control of the stopwatch! *rolls eyes*
At 10.17pm I woke up and went to the bathroom, huffing and puffing through a painful contraction. It eased off while I went to the loo, but started up again as I exited the bathroom a couple of minutes later.
The speed with which things had ramped up in pain and frequency was frightening and I began to panic that this baby was going to be delivered on the bedroom floor.
Hubby clearly had the same concerns as he decided to call an ambulance! (It may have had something to do with my intense shivering freaking him out, which we later discovered was due to a massive release of adrenaline.)
We decided we’d be quicker to drive so grabbed the overnight bag and took the car. By the time we arrived at the hospital things had slowed again, as I’d anticipated they might. We buzzed the delivery ward and hubby recreated the classic OBEM moment by shouting ‘my wife’s having a baby, can someone help please?’! The midwife took one look at me and said I was going to be quick – I still felt like a bit of a fraud so was quite surprised. (I guess I must have looked pretty rough at that point!)
When I was examined, I was 5cm dilated and the antibiotics I needed were ordered – though I was warned it was probably now too late by then to receive the two lots I was supposed to have. *rolls eyes again*
While we were waiting for the drugs to be brought, I was asked if I’d like any pain relief. I briefly considered the question and declined on the basis that there’s something I dislike about every available option. I was going to stick it out for as long as I could manage.
The antibiotics arrived and were administered by IV as the pool was run and – incredibly – I was able to have my much-wished for water birth. It’s amazing how during the labouring process us women truly do stop giving a damn about things like privacy and inhibitions: I whipped everything off and climbed into the water, overwhelmed by the fact everything was happening in the way I’d hoped – and so fast!
Second Stage Labour
The midwife, Leah, left the room to make hubby a cup of tea and while she was gone I moaned (or mooed – you know the one ladies) that my waters had broken. My poor husband panicked (again) and raced out to find assistance. I heard Leah calling that she was already on her way as she’d heard a change in tempo from me (aren’t midwives amazing!). As they re-entered the room, Leah said the baby was going to be here imminently, and the pain ratcheted up as baby Tunstall crowned. (If you’re currently pregnant with your first, look away now: do not read the next line.)
These were some of the longest minutes of my life. I felt like my body was going to be torn in two. I distinctly recall looking at the clock and feeling like I was going to die.
Perhaps not literally, but if ever there’s an acceptable occasion to exaggerate, I think drug-free labour may be it. I told myself this would all be over in ten minutes and focused on meeting my new baby shortly. Reaching between my legs I was able to stroke my newborn’s cheek whilst waiting for her little body to emerge, and despite the surreality and the unimaginable, indescribable pain, it was the most incredible, beautiful moment.
And this time I felt entirely present – if not in control of my own body – because I’d foregone the dreaded gas and air which had left me feeling drunk and vacant during my first labour.
Baby Safely Delivered
Elfin finally emerged and I was overcome with awe and gratitude as our tiny one was placed on my chest. I was completely spent, but also brim-full of contentment.
I was convinced she was not much bigger than Pixie had been and was very surprised when she was weighed. I was even more surprised to find that I’d managed to grant my MIL’s wish:
Our second daughter was born on the 7th, at 7lb, with 7 minutes to spare before midnight – on her grandmother’s birthday.
This is especially poignant as there’s some symmetry with the fact that my birthday happens to be the same date as hubby’s late maternal grandmother’s, the lady who is Pixie’s (middle) namesake.
My Positive Birth Story
All in all, I couldn’t have hoped for a better experience and I’m immensely thankful that everything went so smoothly. As my sister-in-law has since told me, I’m proof that it’s possible to have a positive labour following a traumatic one, and I love that I can give that hope to others who may have their own doubts, as I did.
I’m delighted to say that hubby captured several moments from during the process, though naturally the images are a little revealing so I won’t be sharing here! Did you allow photos or video of your labour/s, and if not, do you regret it?
Update: my only regret with the way everything turned out is that I suspect the antibiotics I was given during labour may have caused Elfin’s CMPA. It’s impossible to say for certain, but I believe from my own research that there may well be a connection (the antibiotics can interfere with baby’s gut flora). Still, it could equally be that those antibiotics were important for her health, so it’s just one of those unfortunate things. The CMPA appears to be gone (she’s just turned two), but there’s a legacy of gastro issue which we’re still very much dealing with.