“You’re full term… we’ll just have this baby today!”, announced the consultant breezily, after a mere glance at the ultrasound report. The one that hadn’t seemed to reveal any particular problems. There was an awkward silence as we failed to respond positively to this unexpected news. It was two days before my due date. I had only been given an extra scan because one of the doctors that randomly examined my bump for a minute a couple of weeks ago thought it was a bit on the small side. I’d been hearing that for the whole pregnancy though, and everything had been fine. The baby was head down and engaged, but there was no sign that we were ready to go into labour any time soon. This wasn’t surprising for a first pregnancy. I had plans for at least the next week of maternity leave. I was also aiming for zero to minimal intervention for the birth. This was not what I wanted to hear.
“You’re ready to go, one gel should do the trick!”, she continued, frantically filling out forms so we could be sent straight up to book in. Still trying to absorb this, I managed to explain that we lived five minutes away and would like to pick up my hospital bag first if this was going to happen. Absolutely not, I was told. We had to book in RIGHT NOW. We were ushered out the door before we’d really had any chance to take it all in.
With nothing more concrete than the implied sense of urgency, we walked (waddled) upstairs to get booked in. Had we been ‘given permission’ to go home for half an hour then I think we would have come back with a lot of questions. In hindsight, that was probably the real reason for the insistence that we book in straight away. But it was only when we were officially booked in and left waiting for ages that there was time to discuss amongst ourselves did I really need to be induced at all? If it hadn’t been our first experience of giving birth in an Irish hospital then I would have been a lot less trusting. But it was, and we assumed the hospital knew best even if the logic behind the decisions hadn’t been explained to us.
A while later I was hooked up to a machine for a trace. Little did I know that it wasn’t going to be a twenty minute session. I was going to be left hooked up to this infernal machine indefinitely until I gave birth (apart from a couple of bathroom breaks). I was deposited in the labour recovery room. Still not sure why. Around midday I was given a gel – two hours after we’d been told I had to be immediately induced. Then we waited. Again. And waited some more. In fact we waited all day. Very little was happening other than the blasted trace machine beeping every few minutes until a midwife was free to come look at the monitor and turn it off. I was told it was a good sign that the baby was regularly active. The constant racket of the alarm every few minutes wasn’t very reassuring though. And other than that, absolutely nothing was happening. I had extremely mild cramps and was mostly just terribly uncomfortable at being confined to a bed and hooked up to cables.
Brodie went home briefly to pack up a bag. We waited to see a doctor. Oh great. That guy who started all this with his measuring tape. He did another agonising internal examination. Nope. No progress. They decided to leave me overnight and do another gel in the morning if nothing happened. Brodie was told to leave. Practically pushed out the door. There I was in the recovery ward with nothing but a beeping monitor to amuse myself with. Periodically someone somewhere would have their baby. The heat in the room was cranked up to unbearable levels and my curtains were closed. Unseen people were wheeled in with crying babies and they loudly discussed the gory details of their birth while I tried to block out the possible descriptions of my not too distant future. Then off they went to another ward and the room was empty once more. A couple of the midwives kindly dropped in for a few minutes during the darkest hours of night for a chat, but they had little spare time to give. So I sat in the bed, unable to sleep, alone apart from the wail of the trace monitor.
After an endless night I was not feeling in the best of shape when Brodie returned. The doctor on rotation that morning decided to apply another gel. A few hours later the second gel eventually got me as far as 2cm and I was wheeled straight down to a delivery room. It had been 28 hours of discomfort and no sleep just to get this far. And we were only really getting started. From the room next door came what sounded like the wails of a banshee. This was not an encouraging sound for what might lie ahead. No getting off this train now though. My waters were broken – a weird sensation. After that I was experiencing some mild contractions, but was told that I had to get hooked up to an IV and start labour in earnest now. Still on the trace, so still stuck immobile in the bed.
They cranked up the oxytocin drip and that’s when things really went downhill. It was the most agonising pain I’d ever experienced. It literally felt like I was being ripped apart internally. The medical student in the room went pale white and was instructed to leave. I’d been warned that you may not get any breaks between contractions if induced. No kidding. I could only tell if one had finished because my body would start involuntarily shaking as if it was going into shock. This went on and on. I couldn’t even feel what the TENs machine was doing anymore. I was told they couldn’t switch off the drip even for a short while to discuss what was happening. I tried the gas and air – the only effect was adding massive nausea and dizziness to the pain. It was flung aside just quickly enough to avoid losing what little hospital food was in my stomach. I struggled on through a few hours at which point I’d reached my limit. I just couldn’t take any more of this.
There was quite a delay while I tried, in the depths of agony, to get an answer about whether I was making any progress so I could make an informed call on how much more suffering I could possibly endure. They seemed reluctant to tell me that I was still at 2cm. Really? Then obviously this was not the way to go, thanks so much for leaving me in ignorance of my total lack of progress towards ending this torture. Eventually I had to leave it to Brodie to demand an epidural on my behalf. Thankfully we’d had a conversation or two about him being prepared to advocate for me during labour if necessary. I didn’t have to argue with them through the fog of pain that while I had specifically said I didn’t want to have an epidural, I now absolutely needed one. As in go get it right now.
Finally someone showed up and administered the epidural. What seemed like a long time later, the drugs took effect and I felt nothing below my chest anymore. Just relief. But now the heart monitor was causing consternation. Every time there was a contraction, the baby’s heart was dropping down too low, and for too long. They switched off the drip (apparently my distress wasn’t a good reason to do so, but no problem if the baby seemed bothered). The doctor from that morning came back in and did a PH test with a needle into the top of the baby’s head. It didn’t flag any issues. The baby seemed just fine with the drip turned off. Obviously neither of us were fans of this being induced business.
At this point I became a little more enamoured with the random doctor who was going to end up delivering my baby. She was the first doctor to take a few minutes to explain what their decision-making process was. She said that she would prefer to avoid a c-section because it would impact any future births, but that if they turned the drip back on and the baby went back into distress then we would have to deliver ASAP. Fair enough, at least she was trying to minimise intervention. They turned the drip back on, the heart monitor started wailing again. We all knew where this was headed. The drip was turned off for the last time. I was now resigned to my fate as they made preparations to head to theatre.
The doctor decided to do a second PH test before proceeding. It had been only 40 minutes since the last one, and they’d stopped trying to induce me for most of that time period. Judging by her startled reaction we could tell that she’d discovered something unexpected before she’d even started her test. “You’re 10 cm! I can see the baby’s head. We can push this one out!”, she exclaimed after she’d regained her balance. She said it would be a forceps delivery to get the baby out quickly. “Did you hear that?”, said my husband delightedly. “You don’t have to have a c-section!”. I quite unfairly glowered at him and informed him that this meant she was going to CUT me. Which obviously was an improvement on having a surgical operation, but still wasn’t a situation I was terribly overjoyed about.
So it was time to push. Great. Except for the whole no sensation below my chest part. How do you push when you can’t feel anything? I don’t know. I was told to just push anyway as there was no time to wait for the drugs to wear off. I grunted earnestly, unsure if anything was happening. No, I was told. Don’t do that. Do something else. So I tried a different grunting sound. Same difference to me. “That! Keep doing that!”, shouted the doctor. So I did, as hard as I could. There were going to be stitches involved no matter what. And only 6 minutes later she told me to stop.
The episiotemy was performed (painlessly thanks to the lingering epidural). The forceps were brandished, and before we knew it, a messy naked baby was being shown briefly to us. He had come out with the cord wrapped around his neck. This was the cause of his distress every time an intense artificial contraction happened. He was disappeared off for a checkup while the doctor got out her suture kit. “A nice job, even if I do say so myself!”, she pronounced on her stitching job, before heading off to whoever her next patient was. Never to be seen again.
The birth was finally over. We were brand new exhausted parents. Wheeled back off to the recovery ward again, but this time with a healthy baby tucked down my top. Both of us still alive. “Mum and baby doing well”, as the obligatory saying goes.
Over time the forceps marks faded from our son’s face. A few osteopath visits released the tension down that side of his head and body. My stitches slowly healed up. Our son grew and grew. My body slowly started to return to something closer to its pre-pregnancy state. Stretch marks faded a little. The physical scars were healing, and we settled into parenthood, putting thoughts of the birth firmly behind us.
The experience of giving birth is an intense and overwhelming one that you never forget. No wonder there’s such a fascination with birth stories. Each one has its own deep emotional connection, whether positive or negative. There are little and larger mental cuts and scars which linger on so much longer than the physical reminders of birth. It’s an experience I’ve only recently taken time to process more fully – solely because my next one looms closer day by day. Also bringing us another brand new unique, but somewhat familiar, little face just like this one. We’re looking forward to meeting the presence already limbering up inside to make a grand entrance.
Update: You can now read Boo’s homebirth story too.