(Note: This post contains very graphically detailed stories of my births! It’s a bit graphic and blunt – don’t read if you’re squeamish or afraid of lady parts!)
Giving birth is probably one of the most confusing things to women. Most of us are both terrified of it and over-excited by it at the same time: to meet our unborn child, the human being that we have GROWN inside our body, to hold a baby (maybe for the first time?!)… but holy macaroni is it scary? I mean, let’s be frank and terrifying for a second… women die giving birth. This is not an easy task. They say it feels like having all the bones in your body broken at once and that is absolutely insane… So, I’ve decided to talk about the actual truths of birth – perhaps it might banish some of the rumours and the silly old wives tales. But mostly, it’s about breaking the stigma – we can talk about our births, be they scary or happy. And particularly, we can talk about stillbirth. It happens. 1 in 4 women lose a child. Let’s not ignore it.
I’ll start with my own personal tale. I’ve gone through three actual labours in my 21 years on this earth (yes, yes, I know, the shock to the old-fashioned readers, I’m a triple “young mum”). Each one was scary for it’s own reasons, but I wouldn’t change any of them either. Be warned, however: it’s rather dramatic, a little scary and it’s really not pretty.
My first son, Oscar, was actually born by emergency cesarean in 2012. Not before, however, putting me through 12 hours of back-to-back labour. (Now, I’m not the kind to sugar coat anything: let me warn you now – this post is going to be completely honest and open, so there may be some scary bits. But I personally think it’s important to know the truth.) Let me tell you, a bad back-to-back labour is absolute agony.You may think of a standard birth as the worst pain imaginable, but back-to-back gives pain a whole new meaning. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, back-to-back labour literally means as it reads: your baby’s spine is against your spine while your body is trying to push it out. For a 16 year old, petite first time mum, this was absolutely terrifying.
You see, when a baby engages in your pelvis, it is supposed to turn itself so that it’s back is facing outwards. This allows for it’s head to enter the canal easily and for the baby itself to move smoothly through the birth. However, when a baby is back-to-back things get a little more difficult. It is harder for the baby to engage properly because it is at an awkward angle and often your contractions will progress while your baby fails to engage, pushing down painfully on your pelvic bones at an awkward angle. It’s not especially dangerous, but it will cause a lot more pain and make your labour longer – occasionally stopping it from progressing all together. They recommend doing many things to stop baby from being BTB (trust me, my midwife was on at me for a full 16 weeks before birth to get down on all fours, rock back and fourth and “TURN THAT BABY ROUND!”) but at the end of the day, baby does what baby wants! Nothing turned my Oscar around.
Now, let’s picture an overdue 16 year old me, rushing up to the hospital for the umpteenth time in the pregnancy because yet again there’s a possible problem with the pregnancy. This time, I’m contracting (again) but baby’s heartbeat is restricted and keeps decreasing worryingly when my uterus contracts. Midwifes and doctors urgently mutter to each other about the proper procedure as my boyfriend and his sister wait patiently next to me, trying to make light of a worrying situation with silly jokes. Eventually the chief midwife comes over and tells me that we have two options: opt for an emergency cesarean now or be induced for an already high risk labour and closely monitored. Naturally, she wants me to go for the labour because “it’s better for baby, better for you and less risk” and 16 year old me goes along with what the professionals say. I’m also told, at this point, that I am not allowed to eat or drink during labour – just in case I have a cesarean. So my comfort food and sugar-dosed-energy is out the window then…
2 hours later I’m strapped by my fingers and belly to a whole family of beeping machines, having had my waters broken with a strange hook and have a canula inserted to my left hand by a nurse who seemed a little too inexperienced. My boyfriend and his sister are snickering because they find it absolutely hilarious that “I’m in labour, but I’m just complaining about my hand hurting.” Hell – those things hurt! Curse canulas and those darn needle tube things. A joke we still laugh about 4 years later.
Another two hours passes and the pains are getting bad, so I ask for pain relief. My new midwife offers me a choice of either a pethadine injection or an epidural. I tell her I really don’t want an epidural as I’m very uncomfortable with needles and the thought of one going into my back makes me want to throw up, but my mother had an uncomfortable reaction to pethadine so I am wary to try it… I ask couldn’t I get gas and air instead? But no, she says, she won’t let me try gas and air til I’m much later on. (Complete rubbish, now I’m bigger and tougher I’d just get it out the blooming cupboard myself!)
So, pethadine it is then… I let her inject my rear end with a questionably long needle and my two companions jump up in horror because they apparently thought I was going to punch the nurse in pain? Do they think I’m a savage?! The atrocity! I was just clenching my fist. You’d think I were a violent person?! Ah, “well at least I’ve had some pain relief now” I say to my boyfriend, “this should help me out.” “I just hope you shut up about your bloody hand,” he grunts back at me, through 3-am-exhaustion. At this point, boyfriend’s sister decides it’s time for her to go home and get some sleep. She is to miss the rest of these events as they unfold!
One hour later and things start to get hazy… It should be 4am, but my memories are starting to blur from this time. Between 4am and 9am, I reportedly (according to my other half) hit a midwife, swore a lot, told my partner I “really loved him so much” about a dozen times, cried, asked for coca-cola a lot, screamed hysterically and so loudly that midwifes quite literally came into my room to tell me to “shut up, you’re scaring the other pregnant ladies!”
However, I myself have some further memories of this time – and they aren’t pleasant. You see, I did not react well to the pethadine. (I should have expected it considering my family has a history of getting sick over pain killers and my mother was knocked out by it completely!) During this time, I was convinced I had given birth. I distinctly remember about 5 different instances where I sat up and said “oh, have I done it now?” because I had actually hallucinated giving birth. I was so upset when the midwife told me “no, you’re not even 5cm yet” at about 7:30am that I cried hysterically. I can, to this day, still quite clearly recall “hallucinated” memories of myself giving birth. Freaky, I know. By 8:00, I was absolutely hysterical. I was hallucinating crazy things happening, I was barely staying conscious and my contractions were coming every 30 seconds and lasting over a minute – yet I wasn’t even 7cm dilated! Let alone that I was off my mind on drugs that were now failing to even mildly numb the pain of labour, so I was going crazy on drugs and in pain! At this point, I was offered an emergency cesarean for a number of factors and quite literally screeched “YES, JUST GIVE ME THE ******* SECTION, I DON’T CARE, I WANT IT NOW”. I remember signing a waver and having an argument with the doctor about whether they would get an epidural needle into my back. My thoughts: I was barely staying conscious or still or sane, how did they plan on getting me to stay still enough to get a needle into my back without causing some serious spine damage? So, I opted to have a general anaesthetic. At 8:30 I was wheeled into the operating theatre, to be told that they had to have “so many” doctors present before they could begin, and they weren’t all there yet. Another 20 minutes passed on the bed before the team lifted me onto the metal operating table… I however was so far past gone with the pethadine that I didn’t understand what was going on, I panicked, kicking and punching my limbs in a crazy attempt to protect myself – and I distinctly remember punching a nurse. I’m very sorry for that one.
I’ll never forget the moment the anaesthetist put the mask on my face to deliver the aesthetic. It felt like pure heaven. He began counting back from 10 and I felt the numbing of my body, and it was the most calming and satisfying experience of my life – to go from pure, crazed agony to relaxed bliss. I don’t remember him getting to 1.
The next thing I knew, I was groggily passing in and out of consciousness. I felt something placed on my torso and was told to hold it, then felt something on my nipple. About 10 minutes later I realised that I was holding my newborn son and that he was feeding – and then I was wheeled onto the ward to see my friends and family who had all gathered waiting for me. Oscar was born 6lb 13oz, 49cm long and perfectly healthy – with just a tiny touch of jaundice. And so happened my first labour; that is it’s truth.
My second labour: I was 19. At 32 weeks pregnant, I was once again taken into hospital and heard the words: “I’m sorry, your baby has died. We can’t find a heartbeat.” The traumatic experience of the next day will haunt me for the rest of my life, as I gave birth to my sleeping child. My hospital is lucky enough to have it’s own bereavement delivery room and bereavement suite (for staying with your stillborn after birth) – and so we spent 3 beautiful days with Willow-Rose post birth. I was given the option to have a cesarean, however the doctor and I both agreed that it would be best for me (now that we didn’t have to consider Willow’s health) to give birth naturally, because having a second cesarean would put more damage on my womb and possibly risk future pregnancies and risk future injury to my womb.
I arrived at hospital at about 5am originally, but was admitted and put on an induction drip at around 11am. Though I had already been contracting strongly since around 11pm the night before, I was not dilated or effaced at all – my body had simply wanted to start the process itself. My contractions progressed quite quickly and by 12pm I was in some pain – I was given some morphine injected directly into the canula in my right arm and it worked it’s magic straight away. My boyfriend, family and I took about 3 hours of uncomfortable (but not bad) pain (because let’s be honest, morphine is awesome pain medication.) where we were able to chat, watch FRIENDS and come to terms with what was happening. After our families had left and my boyfriend and I were left alone, we enjoyed eachother’s company before the pain got worse. At around 3pm the morphine wore off, and by around 4:30-5pm I was feeling strong contractions – I asked my midwife for more morphine and she said to just hold on and she’d sort it out. However, it never got sorted out.
By 6, things were getting quite painful. I could cope through them, but really needed pain relief so I asked again for pain relief – to be told I’d have to hold on; wait, because it was nearly time for switch over and things were a bit busy. I held on, but the pains got worse and worse.
By 7, I wasn’t able to concentrate anymore. The pains were starting to feel like agony. I took off my pyjama bottoms and tried to move around in any way that might alleviate the pain. We buzzed the midwife and asked again for pain relief. She said she was just going home so the next person on shift would bring me some as soon as possible. I told her I felt pressure like I wanted to push and she said “that’s normal.” This was the point everything got really painful. I remember being barely able to move – contractions coming every 30-45 seconds and lasting a minute each (if not more.) I tried to get down on all fours on the floor to help the pain, and it helped me cope a little – but it wore me out faster to hold my body up in that way so had to switch back to the bed. I won’t lie, this was pretty damn painful. Easily as painful as Oscar’s labour – and I had no pain relief! I was literally doing this naturally and not by my own choice!
At 8 I was lying on the bed when my new midwife finally came in. I felt like I could feel something pushing out of me. I told her I felt pressure like I wanted to push and she said “you’re probably about 6cm by now, you may get some pressure like that.” I’m pretty sure she didn’t believe me, but I knew what I was feeling and what my body was telling me. I asked for pain relief and she went off to get me some. 30 minutes later, the pressure increased when suddenly there was a huge pop and my waters gushed and splashed absolutely everywhere – I felt something push out and panicked. I screamed, put my hands down and could feel the bottom half of my baby Willow (who was breech) sticking out of me. “She’s out. SHE’S OUT!” I screamed at my partner who ran to push the “emergency” call button. A midwife came in asking what was up and we quite literally exclaimed… “The baby is coming out! But she’s stuck.” This midwife grabbed me out some gas and air to puff on, thank god.
At this point, my midwife finally returned with the anaesthetist who set up a morphine drip onto my hand and told me “push the button every time you want some more morphine”. It seemed a little pointless now that she was already half out of my body, but I was thankful for the relief for both morphine and gas and air to calm the pains and my nerves. The midwifes spent about half an hour guiding and manoeuvring Willow, who was a little stuck because she had been breech, out before she was born at 9:04pm weighing 3lb 4oz. Her placenta came out with her so I didn’t have to deliver anything else and I was grateful for everything being over – and also surprised at myself for giving birth with mostly no pain relief, something I never thought I’d be able to do.
And so was the story of my second labour.
My third labour was just this month, when sadly we lost our son, Teddy, at just 16 weeks gestation. This was a considerably easier labour, but traumatic to lose another child. We were admitted to the same room we were in when losing Willow and I was glad to be back there. I find a great comfort in that room, knowing I shared it with my daughter and son whom I will never get back.
I went for an emergency scan at 15+5 after some light bleeding, to be told my baby had died and we would have to deliver him. This is classed as a late miscarriage, but it hurts just the same. To give birth to your dead child, even if he is only the size of your hand rather than “full baby size”. Many people don’t understand that losing a child early on can be very painful too.
I was taken into hospital the day after the emergency scan and given a pill (which is inserted like a pessary) to start labour gently at 11:55am. They could have alternatively given me a stronger, abortion like medication, but because of my history with surgery and a cesarean they wanted to ease me in gently in case of complications or tearing of my internal scars. Not much happened with this dose; my other half and I snacked and watched friends for the first 3 hours before the second dose of medication. At 2:55 I was given my second dose, and about an hour later, weak contractions started. My other half and I chatted about what had been and what could have been: what we would do now and how we would cope while the labour progressed. By 4:30, the contractions had become moderate and I was in some painful discomfort. We buzzed in my lovely midwife, Shelly, who said she would get the anaesthetist to come and put me on a morphine pump – another button which I could push to give me a dose whenever I needed it. For the mean time, she said she would give me some oramorph (oral dose morphine, kicks in a little slower but still great stuff!) In the mean time, to deal with the painful contractions, I sat in the “toilet position” on a small shower stool and coloured in one of those “therapeutic adult colouring” books for the first time in my life – something I’d sworn to never do, but actually helped! At 5:30, I was put on a morphine pump and given gas and air to take as needed. By the time this was connected and sorted, it was time for my third dose of medication and the midwife checked to see if I was dilated at the same time. I was effaced, but not dilated however.
Being satisfied with my pain medication (morphine and gas and air on tap is a pretty good deal) they explained that it was nearly change over and I would be meeting a new midwife in an hour or two. The contractions at this point were very strong – but the morphine and gas and air were helping me considerably. I could feel a little pain and a lot of intensity, but it was distinctly helped by the medication and I was able to continue having conversations. By 6, the contractions changed and the relief stopped helping as much. They were hurting in my lower pelvis bones and pelvic floor muscles rather than where my uterus and cervix were – and I knew this meant something. The intensity built up considerably and at 6:30 my waters broke. I nearly screamed again because I was so shocked – it’s truly a very shocking feeling and one I will never get used to, feeling a pop and a gush coming out from your privates! I called in my midwife in a blustery panic while my boyfriend and she assured me everything was okay, normal, just progression (which I knew in my head, something just seemed wrong to me – which was understandable considering the situation). The strange pelvic contractions wore off then and I was comfortable again. I was told at this point that dinner would be late and wouldn’t arrive til about 7:00. This sucked. Food is just awesome: and it makes you feel better, let’s be honest!
My midwife re entered a short time later to introduce me to the night-shift midwife, who was lovely once again. Becky, I believe her name was. They both exited to give us some space again – and my first midwife told me she would be sticking around until 8 as well as Becky. However, at 6:45 the intense contractions returned. I moved around however I could, but I was now attached to a large morphine drip-thingy, so decided to stay on the bed. Luckily, the bed was one of those big, fancy move-it around, zoom it up and down, turns into weird positions and awkward angles hospital beds! I managed to program it to an interesting position that made it easy for me to rock on all fours which helped for a good 30 minutes before sitting back down. Then however, the bleeding started.
I was bleeding loads, huge (and I’m talking huge, placenta size!) blood clots and cup fulls of blood started coming out. I called in Shelly and asked if it was normal, she checked everything and said it was okay. At this point, I felt I needed to go to the toilet and push so asked her for help. She put a cardboard tray in the basin and helped me sit there while blood gushed out of me – it filled up the large cardboard tray! That’s when I felt I was pushing, and then Teddy’s head came out. She told me to relax and guided me when to push again, and about 10 minutes later, Teddy was born. My midwife called in a nurse and asked for an injection to stop my bleeding because she was concerned about how much I was now bleeding – and I have to say, the amount of blood there was, I was concerned too – I’ve never seen so much blood in my life and my dad has a bleeding disease, we’re talking bucketfuls.
But, the bleeding slowed. Panic over. Teddy had been born with his umbilical cord already detached and the cord and placenta still left over, so it was back to bed for me to deliver that next. Luckily I still had my pain relief. Shelly called in Becky, who took Teddy off to clean him off. Shelly then said her goodbyes as it was time for her to leave and gave us her condolences. Teddy was brought back in in a sweet, knitted basked and we were able to study him in awe as we marvelled over how something so small could be so perfectly formed. I held his little hands, stroked his little fingers and kissed his forehead. My mother came up to pay a visit and see how small he was for herself – since she had lost a baby at the same gestation whom she had never seen.
An hour and a half later and the funny-pelvis-pain contractions started up again – I felt the need to push and the placenta was delivered. The midwife checked there was nothing “left over” while I huffed on gas and air (freaking hell, it hurts when they do that) and that was that, my last labour over. We spent a lovely evening with Teddy and I am privileged to have done so – so many who lose their babies at such an age do not get the chance.
And alas, those are the stories of my births. The real, hard, cold truths of what birth is really like. I hope it didn’t scare you too much if you are a first time mother looking for real birth stories – but I can only say I was honest and true to every memory I have.
I can tell you that although the experience may seem scary: and yes, it will hurt – it’s not just pressure, it is pain… Everyone’s experience is different. Every labour is different. Some labours are very easy and don’t hurt too much… Some, like my first, are complete madness and agony! I cherish my second two labours (despite them being stillbirths) because they were both pleasant and made me enjoy labour – however my first absolutely traumatised me and put me off it for life until I tried it again!
However, even if you are scared, the truth is that you are going to get through this. It’s an hour up to a couple of days of pain for a lifetime with your child… and really, that’s worth the moon and the stars, isn’t it?