I’ve been debating whether or not to write this post (given I had a minute of free time when I wasn’t breastfeeding) because sadly my birth story wasn’t what I expected it to be. I know you can’t “plan” the perfect birth, but between the difficulties I had physically and the numerous issues I faced with the NHS, it was really hard to say the least.
It all started on July 2nd when I went to have a cervical sweep with my midwife. Afterwards my husband and I went grocery shopping and I think the mix of opening my cervix with gravity working in my favor when walking around helped things get started because at 2pm just after we finished lunch at home my contractions started. After waiting around the house for four hours, using my TENS machine for some mild pain relief, my contractions were finally 3 minutes apart and lasting 45-60 seconds which is supposed to be the time frame for when you should go to the hospital, so that we did. We left around 6pm. When we got to the Royal London Hospital we had to wait around in the hallway for about 20-30 minutes before I was examined and when I was I was disappointed to hear I had only dilated 3 cm. They don’t like to keep women in the hospital unless they are at least 4 cm so they told me to go home, but the pain was increasing and we didn’t want to get home just to return an hour later so we asked to stay in the ‘Early Labor Lounge’.
The lounge was okay. We were luckily the only people in there. We stood by the window, I stared at the fantastic panoramic views of London you get from The Royal London Hospital trying to distract myself by admiring the buildings. When a contraction came I swayed my hips and moaned quietly as Rafael massaged my back. We stayed in there for four or five hours with no one attending to us. I laid down on a foam sofa and tried to close my eyes to zone out from the pain. I started to lose my sense of time then. Finally two ladies came in and checked my dilation which was around 5cm at that time and checking caused my waters to break. It was then that we saw they were slightly green which meant my baby had pooed inside of me. They put me in a room with an actual bed (hallelujah) at that point, but only with a student midwife who had no real power. We were in that room for another three hours or so and the pain was becoming unbearable – so much so that I began vomiting.
I started taking the “Gas & Air” drug because I literally couldn’t tolerate the pain any longer. As I mentioned before, my sense of time was a blur. I just knew there were waves of pain and brief moments of rest between. I began crying and Rafael also cried to see me in such pain. I begged the student midwife to let me have an epidural, but she said I couldn’t until I was allocated a real midwife who could monitor me, but the one I was supposed to get was busy with another woman. We asked her how long it would be and she said she had no idea. She began crying too, probably from feeling helpless. Soon after Rafael escalated the issue until another midwife came into the room and said I would finally be transferred to a labor room and get an epidural.
They transferred me to the other side of the hospital and we waited eagerly for the anaesthetist to arrive. It was about 5am at this point which means I labored for 13 hours without any real pain relief, without any midwife, without anyone monitoring me or my baby, without proper care. We texted my mom who was visiting from the States and asked her to come for support. She arrived before the anaesthetists came into the room around 6am. They were two lovely people who I praised to the high heavens for saving me, but I praised them too soon for it took them TEN attempts at stabbing my back to get the needle in the right spot. I still have marks on my spine 2 weeks later. But to be honest I was so out of it, I barely felt it or cared. It was mainly my mother and Rafael who were upset by their lack of skill. When the epidural was in though, it was the greatest relief ever. I finally came back to reality in that room. I managed to get a short nap and not be in pain. It was a miracle. I don’t know how women do this without pain relief. My hat is off to them, but perhaps I had a more intense labor than average.
We stayed in that room, with two exceptional midwives, chatting and laughing for 12 hours. I took a few short naps, although towards the end they warned me when I slept the baby slept which it was stalling labor so I was kept awake. At this stage, having had my last meal a day ago, I was starving but I wasn’t allowed to eat in the event that I would need an emergency cesarean. I laid there feeling weak and wondering how I would muster the energy to push out my baby when it came time. With a bit of coaxing they let me have two energy tablets, which while anything from substantial gave me a tiny burst of energy.
Close to when it was time to push my contractions started to be felt again – in a major way. Did I mention my baby was posterior which can cause quite a painful labor? He was. And one of his limbs was pressing so hard against my lower abdomen I was moaning in pain. And my back, my god. I also would later learn that his fist was at his face as he came out. The epidural barely masked any of the sensations at that point. I had been relieved too long. Now I had to endure what Mother Nature intended – the all-encompassing enorm of pain needed to bring a life into this world. When it was time to birth, they put my legs really high in stirrups and it was the most uncomfortable position imaginable.
Weeks prior to the birth, I knew my baby was semi-posterior and had researched that posterior babies can cause a lot of back pain during labor and birth so I asked them to let me get on my knees, leaning over the edge of the raised head of the bed to deliver him. Luckily my epidural had worn off by then so that I had enough mobility in my legs to support myself. Being in that position felt like such a relief. When the pushing began, I was surprised that it didn’t hurt more. I didn’t feel the burning “ring of fire” like some women describe – just an immense pressure bigger than anything I had felt before. I pushed and pushed and pushed. They coached me on telling me ‘harder, harder!’ I pushed with what I thought was all of my effort but it wasn’t enough as the baby was barely crowning. I thought I couldn’t do it. In desperation I asked for a cesarean. No, they said, of course – it wouldn’t have been sensible but I was out of my mind. Forceps, please! I begged. No, you can do this, they said.
I continued to push for what me felt like minutes, but turned out to be a good hour or two. The midwife kept saying, “Come on, Vanessa. This baby needs to be born with the next contraction because baby is in distress.” I don’t know if that was entirely true but it put pressure on me to get him out as fast as I could. They told me to hold my breath for 30 seconds and push, over and over again. I barely could. I was red in the face. I gripped the bed and lifted the weight of my body on my toes, using the bed as a counterforce. I pushed. It took all of my strength. He was born at 8:32pm on July 3rd. I turned around and there he was in a pool of amniotic fluid under a spotlight, squirming and crying. It was all very surreal.
They whisked him away from me to check his responses because he had pooed inside my belly. I didn’t get to hold him right away like I had always imagined. Luckily he was doing well and we got to have some cuddly time soon after they had assessed him, taken out my placenta and stitched up my few tears. He was a big baby weighing 4.04 kg, or 8 lbs 14 oz! It was a 30 hour labor but finally he was born.
The next morning I woke up and noticed that when I pressed my chest, neck and jaw there were bubbly, crackly noises. It was bizarre. I told the midwives but they didn’t want to inspect it thinking I was crazy. We insisted upon seeing a doctor and finally one arrived a few hours later. He was perplexed by it and told me he’d have to do some research. Soon after a few more doctors came into the room to check it out. I had a chest xray and luckily nothing major was wrong, but they diagnosed it as “Hamman’s Syndrome” (also known as ‘surgical emphysema’). It turned out I had pushed SO HARD that my lungs leaked into my chest and air pockets had formed. The doctors said it was the third time they had seen this happen in 30 years at the hospital. The probability of it happening is 1 in 100,000. Just a testament to how hard I pushed! It disappeared in a few days with no treatment.
The next week was spent in the hospital though because he did end up swallowing some of the meconium in the womb and needed a course of antibiotics for a lung infection It was a rough first week being observed constantly by the midwives and having more bumps in the road medically, but at the same time I’m grateful for some of the answers I got to my concerns while being there. And now we are home and well, trying to find our stride as a new family :)
If I learned one thing from this pregnancy, thinking he would be born early and he was born at 41 weeks, and this birth, thinking I would have an easy one and it was arduously long, is that you can’t control everything in life. You just need to ride out the waves as they come.