I was having a coffee in town this week, and got chatting to the lady on the table next to me. She was cooing over Jack, and I discovered the lady she was sitting with was a retired midwife. This got me chatting about how my birth went, and what I believe went wrong. She made an interesting point around talking of the trauma too much, especially around mothers to be and those who might wish to become parents in the future. It made me realise that how the birth went wasn’t my birth trauma, but how I was treated.
I am a fairly straightforward type. I’m not sentimental or nervous, and as long as I have researched, I feel confident going into a situation as I will be in control. For the first time, no amount of research would allow me to be in control of my own birth.
My waters broke at 9pm on April 14th, 2018 whilst watching a particularly grim episode of Criminal Minds. Some crazy dude was chopping the legs off of people and attaching them to other people. It would have broken waters even if I hadn’t been pregnant… After ringing three times, around 12.30am Mark finally took matters into his own hands and rang to say we were on our way in to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. This is apparently standard. Unless the baby is crowning, it would seem they try and keep you at home. We arrived at 1am in a cloud of sweat and swear words, and I was taken into a triage room in the Birth Centre. I now realise this is where you’re carted if the Birth Centre is full. I was having some crazy contractions on top of my normal contractions, and this was because I have previously had cervical stenosis, which is a total closing of the cervical canal. I had two operations to repair this which gave me some scar tissue. Having done the all important research I knew this could delay dilation, and had even seen a consultant about this, who told me I should be absolutely fine.
Because of these contractions and a raised blood pressure, I was swiftly diverted to the Labour Ward at 5cm dilated. I was put on a drip to increase contractions, after two lots of diamorphine I had an epidural, and discovered I was still 5cm. We tried to tell the staff that my cervix needed to be massaged or nothing would happen but at 5pm they were talking about taking me for a c-section. I had no issue with this and was preparing to go down when they did another digital check of my cervix and inadvertently massaged it. I went from 5cm to 9cm in the consultants hand.
By this time I was shattered, and having been left by the consultants, was trying to get to a point where I could push. I was 10 cm when I finally asked the midwife if i could try pushing as the consultant was being held up. I had managed to push for a period of time when there was a sudden and agonising change in the pain levels (remembering I was on an epidural drip – that was apparently not working very well, though continued questioning of this was left unanswered). After more waiting I finally burst into tears and asked when I would be important enough for the consultant to come to me, and as if by magic, one appeared around midnight and gave me a choice. Forceps delivery or a general anaesthetic c-section. Despite asking why it would have to be a general anaesthetic, we couldn’t get an answer that seemed much more than ‘we’re too busy to offer otherwise.’ I went for the forceps, as I wanted to be present for the birth.
The delivery from here was quick. Two pushes and Jack was out, born at 12.36am on the 16th April. Though I didn’t really know what was going on, and was generally mortified about the whole day before, I was glad he had arrived, and he was whisked off for a cuddle with his Dad.
Naturally my placenta was then retained, and after lots of prodding and one of the midwives saying that I was the 4th retained placenta that night and she wondered if there was a dud batch of injections (!?) I was taken to surgery, leaving Jack with Mark.
I got back to the room around 3am I think, to Jack asleep and Mark tripping over a cot from exhaustion. I sent him home and collapsed into broken sleep feeling absolutely awful from the spinal. At 9am I was taken to the post natal ward, where I rang Mark and told him to come back in as I didn’t want to be alone. I then started the process of trying to get feeling back, so I could pee in to pots and get out as fast as possible. This is when I peed on the floor the first time, unaware that this wasn’t a passing phase.
Both sets of grandparents visited, and I finally got to hold a quiet (from the diamorphine?) Jack, and realise that I was now a Mum.
We thought this would be the end of our woes, but once our check out time of 7pm came and went, Mark went searching for a midwife to find out what was going on. I have a real fear of staying in wards, and public places, and was desperate to leave. We kept getting told a consultant needed to sign off my blood pressure (despite this having occurred at 9am that morning), and by 11pm we told them we were self discharging. At midnight we finally managed to get out, listening to midwives talking about my ‘difficult’ husband.
What gets me is, I wouldn’t have minded if I had had this birth one bit, if I had been listened to about the massaging, about my broken epidural, about the general anaesthetic c-section. But now I had all of those things, and despite a debrief a few months later and a read through our notes which confirmed what we thought had happened, and an apology from the head midwife, I was feeling no better.
It was a chat with my sister (the one who birthed a week before in 8 hours) that made me clock why I was struggling so much. She had an easy labour, but was still put on the drip to increase her contractions. Completely unnecessarily, and despite saying no (as according to the NCT BRAINS that had been scripted to us, where we could have some say in our situation) she was told she had no choice. She said she had zero control over the situation.
And that, to me, is what birth trauma is. A complete and total lack of control over your own situation and a lack of compassion and understanding from those who are meant to help you.
I want Jack to have a sibling, but how can I guarantee that it won’t happen again? I went to the debrief, where my husband told her ‘I felt like they all thought I was just the idiot who had put her in this position and nothing I said mattered’ and she said, ‘I’ll be your midwife next time, and do a birth plan with you.’ But what use is that if there are no consultants available again? If my wishes are ignored?
The wrong things are made a priority in maternity units. The training isn’t as good as it used to be. As the retired midwife in the coffee shop said, ‘I had to train to be a nurse before I could be a midwife.’ Now there are staffing issues, and a lack of knowledge around things that might affect a birth.
I sometimes think I’m being a bit harsh saying these things, but as I sit here with incontinence, a prolapse and a fear of having more children or even being well enough to go back to work, I think, no, piss off. This is my story, I’m telling it, and I can only hope stories like this can help people who’ve not had children realise what they need to do to have the birth they want (be an arsehole) and give solidarity to the many women who’ve had a similar experience to me.
This isn’t my best writing – I’ve spewed this onto the page, as I’ve been putting it off for so long. I hope one day I’ll write a different birth story, a better one…