Firstly I’d like to say that my birth story isn’t the worst in the world, in fact it’s probably quite a common tale for first time mums. I’ve known of women who have had far worse times than I did, I’ve known women who have had to have blood transfusions and women who have ruptured their bowels during labour. But for me, it’s the mental scars that have lasted far longer than the physical ones. It’s 13 months on from when I gave birth and re-living it still brings me to tears and fills me with feelings of failure, dread, anxiety and fear.
This is a hard one for me to write but I think I need to address what happened and how I felt. It will be long so please be patient.
It was about 3am on Saturday 25th April when I first realised I was in labour. “Excellent!” I thought, “I’m finally going to meet my baby girl, my journey to motherhood starts here”. I was excited, I was happy, I was feeling positive.
Fast forward a few boring hours (no one warns you that usually the first time round it takes bloody ages!) and in the early hours of Sunday 26th April I was admitted into hospital, still breathing well through contractions and feeling ready to take on the challenge of giving birth.
As the day went on my contractions worsened, I was given paracetamol for the pain (all mums will tell you this is an absolutely pointless drug that has no effect what so bloody ever on you during a contraction!). By 12pm on Sunday my waters broke and wow did the contractions intensify! My positivity was dwindling as I felt as though my body was being ripped apart from the inside out. But my contractions still weren’t regular enough to be taken onto the labour ward. I spent the next 8 hours breathing heavily, throwing up and occasionally crying. I was ready for the drugs now. Where were the bloody drugs?
At 8pm I was finally taken onto the labour ward, given an epidural and hooked up to a heart monitor so the midwife could track what was happening. Time to relax. The contractions were still happening but I no longer felt as though I was on the verge of exploding. Queue a quiet few hours, watching Monsters Inc on Netflix, chatting to the midwife and getting back to my calmer but excited self.
At around midnight I noticed the sound on the heart rate monitor kept slowing down, from a gallop to a steady walk. I mentioned it to my midwife and she said she would monitor it but that the baby’s heart rate was dipping every now and then.
After monitoring it for a while the midwife decided to get a Doctor to come and look at the stats, he said to keep monitoring and he would come back to see how we were doing. The dips in the heart rate started getting more severe and more frequent, worry was setting in. The midwife called the Doctor back in and they decided to take some blood from the baby’s head to check she was okay. Whilst they were very good at acting calm I knew something wasn’t right. I knew this baby would need to be born soon and that’s when I kept getting awful images flashing into my head of the worst case scenario. The worst part was that I couldn’t do anything about it, my fate and that of my daughter were in the hands of effectively, two strangers. I laid there obsessively listening to the monitor, every time her heart rate dropped so did mine. I started to think my baby was going to die. I was going to live the nightmare so many parents worry about during pregnancy. I would never take my baby home.
It was just after 7am on Monday 27th April and I had been listening to my little girl’s heart rate dip for 7 hours now and I knew I needed to get her out. The midwives let me start pushing and boy did I push! I used every ounce of energy I had left after being awake for two days and I pushed, I was so close to holding her in my arms. I knew she would be safe once she was with her mummy and nothing was more important to me right now than holding her tight and telling her she would be okay.I had been pushing for an hour and the midwives called it. She wasn’t coming out, her hand was up by her head, her umbilical cord was around her neck and the position she was in meant she wasn’t going to be delivered naturally. That’s when they mentioned that awful word. ‘Forceps’. I panicked. This wasn’t in my birth plan. I had specified anything but Forceps, even if it meant a c-section. I had heard horror stories about children being brain damaged after forceps deliveries and I wasn’t about to let that happen to my baby girl because my stupid body couldn’t get her out. But it was out of my control, the Doctor said they wouldn’t be able to get me down to theatre quick enough and they needed to deliver her immediately. My heart rate went through the roof, I felt sick. I just wanted this to be over. “Can I use the gas and air?” I asked. I told myself that if I got high enough I could block this memory out of my head forever, I could get so high I wouldn’t know what was going on, I wanted to be knocked out. But it didn’t work. I still remember it. I remember the sound of the snip, I remember my body being pulled down the hospital bed from the force of the forceps, I remember screaming louder than I’ve ever screamed before, I remember giving one last push to help her out and finally, there she was. My little girl, safely on my chest.Thank fuck for that.I breathed a sigh of relief and burst into tears. “You naughty little girl, you scared your mummy and daddy” I said to her as my husband cried with a mixture of fear and relief. And I knew it was over.Giving birth was my marathon. I was one step away from the finish line and I had collapsed. It was all or nothing, and I felt as a though I had achieved nothing. I had failed.This happened over a year ago and although physically I’m fine, mentally I’m struggling to forgive myself. As a mother I am supposed to keep my baby safe and that weekend my body failed me. A woman’s body is built to give birth, women give birth on roadsides, in public loos, on trains for God’s sake and I can’t even bloody manage it with the guidance of a midwife telling me when to push.Someone else had to do my job for me and if I’m honest, it makes me feel as though I didn’t deserve to keep her, to take her home and to call myself her mother. It makes me feel like I cheated. I hadn’t crossed the finish line but I was still given the medal.If it had been down to me alone I’m certain her and I would have died and I re-live those final couple of hours on a weekly basis in some kind of sick self-torture. I can’t listen to stories of people giving birth because it fills me with jealousy and resentment – why can they do it and I couldn’t? I constantly wish I could go back and try again, maybe if I had pushed a bit harder, maybe if I had pushed just one more time? I know in reality it was out of my control and I didn’t do anything wrong, but unfortunately I can’t seem to apply that logic to my emotions.I haven’t written this post as some sort of self-indulgent pity-party. I’ve written it because even if one woman who went through a similar experience reads it and feels as though she’s not alone then it’s worth it.In this society of social-media bragging, we’re constantly fed stories of women who gave birth in the bath, listening to their specially selected playlist whilst holding their husband’s hand. That’s lovely for them, it really is, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t hate every person who had such a straight forward delivery. No one posts about the negative experiences because we’re too busy trying to block it out, too busy hating ourselves for what happened, and too busy being jealous. It’s okay if you struggled, and it’s okay that you didn’t sneeze your baby out in a field full of daisies as the sun rises, because that’s just life. At the end of the day we all got the same present – a newborn baby and we are all about to start the same chaotic, stressful, joyful and tough journey of being a mum.