At the age of twenty-nine I became a first-time Mum. In my twenties I struggled to carve out a place for myself in the world, navigating along a complex path which at times led me to a feeling of clarity and purpose, but more often to stress, confusion and uncertainty.
Pregnancy provided me precious time to reflect on my childhood and early adult-years, as well as the opportunity to look forward to the kind of world I wanted my son to be brought up in. On the cusp of motherhood I experienced a kind of epiphany. I suddenly felt with all my being my role in life was to take unending care of my son. The path appeared inviting and bright, yet cluttered with demons and traps to set me back.
Welcome to the June 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Embracing Your Birth Experience
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about at least one part of their birth experience that they can hold up and cherish.
It is the journey, not the destination that matters. Here I describe the most beautiful, spiritual aspect of my labour, the first stages along a bumpy road to giving birth. My firstborn child, a son, was born in June 2010. Ewan’s birth was far from the ‘perfect’, natural birth I had envisaged, prepared for and naively believed I would have. Instead, I gave birth by emergency caesarean under general anaesthetic. Lying unconscious, I missed the first three hours of my son’s life, and then spent the next few days too ill to care for my son, recovering in hospital.
My suffering, the pain, trauma and long period of postnatal recovery were far outweighed by the child standing before me. My son was born a very healthy little boy, who nursed like a dream. Our first meeting was indescribable, as I instantly felt overwhelmingly attached to my son, an outpouring of unconditional love which knew no bounds.
Now, almost two years on, I can reflect on and celebrate this profound experience, cherishing the joy of labouring naturally, even though I could not in the end birth naturally. In this post I share the period before the second stage of labour, holding these hours up with strength, pride and happiness for all to see.
I shall never know whether within such a peaceful, familiar environment we would ever have achieved a natural birth; I can only say the chances would have been much higher. Instead, I missed the birth of my son and the first hours of his life. I still carry within me unresolved birth trauma, which at unguarded moments suddenly pulls at my heart strings, with it a feeling of inadequacy when I hear of natural birth or see it on the TV.
I live with this failure, not helped by some women who believe you cannot truly bond with your baby if you have had a caesarean. I defy this belief in the strongest possible terms; it is narrow-minded, judgemental, cruel and totally untrue. From the moment I saw my child I loved him unconditionally without end, our bonding blossoming. I know this to be the case of many other women too. Admittedly, caesareans can impact hugely on bonding and postnatal recovery, but they don’t per se, or habitually. To write off all women who have had caesareans is wrong, even more so in an age when caesarean rates are increasing.
Perhaps it is this extreme belief that natural birth is the only way which sets so many women up for massive disappointment and failure, like it did me. Just like failure to breastfeed can. Women need to be made aware that having a caesarean is a real possibility, so they can plan and prepare adequately for this, emotionally and physically. Also, hospitals should make caesarean births far more mother-and-child friendly than they are, allowing the experience to be as natural as possible within the confines of the artificial environment of theatre. For instance, mother’s should be allowed to hold their baby skin-to-skin as soon as possible. Continue reading Postscript to Ewan’s birth story: Part Two→
It is inexplicable that women in our society are left alone with their newborns at the time they need family support the most. Feeling utterly exhausted, overwhelmed and traumatised with a tiny new being to care for, I needed my husband with me. He was told to leave. I felt totally alone, confused as to why he had gone.
A busy hospital ward
My stomach started to distend instead of decrease in size. I threw up all morsels of food and drink I tried in vain to get down. I was suffering from post-operative ileus; my bowels weren’t functioning properly after the operation where they had been handled. I had to ask for someone to hand me Ewan from the cot he had to sleep in. I couldn’t feed Ewan independently. I could hear new mums, looking relaxed and healthy, talking to their babies, holding them and smiling. I felt totally out of place as the pain worsened whilst other mums were being discharged.
This was not the right place for me. I was x-rayed and CTG scanned as staff puzzled over my condition. I was transferred back to labour suite in the observation room where I received one-to-one care. I was all wired up, including a tube down my nose into my stomach, and was on various drugs. Continue reading Part Five: Hospital Maternity Care→
No pregnant woman imagines having an emergency caesarean, yet around 60% of caesareans are unplanned. Of these only around 6% are real emergencies. Mine was one of these. My Mum kissed my cheek as my husband squeezed my hand tightly. They were left alone in a suddenly empty room, their concern almost palpable.
Feet running, alarms and lights blaring. Frantic voices. A cold room. One last huge contraction. Breathing in, then nothing. Awakening, shaking uncontrollably, numb, rising pain and panic. Had my baby survived? Where was he? Disorientated and confused no one had cut the umbilical cord. Was this because although I knew my baby had left my body I had not been awake to experience his leaving it?
My baby was found to be in the back to back position, which is why I had laboured slowly and experienced so much back pain. I will forever wonder whether if I had been more mobile in labour I could have helped Ewan to turn to a more optimal position for birth.
First hours of life
Equally, no new mum imagines not seeing her baby in those precious early hours. Yet this situation is quite common. I didn’t see Ewan for the first three hours of his life. The thought never occurred to me that I would not share his first hours on earth. He was born perfectly healthy, at 2.29am on Friday June 11th 2010. There is a video of my husband, Rich, holding and soothing our newborn, as he nuzzles and cries, trying to nurse. Each time I see this video I try not to cry.
Rich was told off by a nurse for walking with Ewan instead of placing him in his cot, because he might drop him! This beggar’s belief. At what point in humanity have we arrived if we cannot hold our most vulnerable members of society to our skin to ease their transition into the world, simply for fear of litigation? Rich felt angry and humiliated at this admonition having simply followed his instincts. The sound of his Daddy’s voice must have been comfortable and familiar to Ewan when all about him was cold, bright and harsh. He wondered where his Mummy was. To leave him alone, even for a second, would have been wrong.
Meeting of mother and son
Eventually we met. A totally indescribable feeling, etched on my mind as my life’s most memorable moment. I was utterly amazed; he was perfect, so beautiful. Love at first sight. He gave me a look of knowing, he reached for me. He fed immediately, hungrily from both breasts. He had been denied this nourishment for what must have felt an eternity to him in this startlingly new, scary world. He made sure he wasn’t denied it again!
Labour is about managing the pain. When this is lost, we turn to others. My contractions suddenly felt on top of each other. I was acutely aware of their pain. My mental attitude had broken. I hit a wall The pain had not intensified by my interpretation of it had. This was fear from the pain instead of acceptance of and moving through the pain. Into my mind the words ‘pain killer’ blazed, like a saviour.
The names of drugs learnt about in NCT classes crossed through my mind. I couldn’t cope any longer. Feeling a failure, I shakily asked for diamorphine. Inside I was screaming, I wept. My baby sensed and shared my anxiety, his heart rate quickening in response to mine. Plans for a natural birth flew out of the window as the likelihood of a caesarean increased. Diamorphine did nothing. Desperate for anything to ease the escalating pain, I asked for an epidural. Administered too late it had no effect. My body was in turmoil from the sudden surge of drugs. It rejected them all. I was violently projectile sick all over the room.
More drugs were pumped into my system. I was given syntocinon, a hormone drip which increased the pain and frequency of the contractions. My panic reached new heights. I needed my mother. She arrived in the night, sensing there was something seriously wrong. Later she described the horrific scene before her of a woman trying to wrench a foetus out of her daughter with huge forceps. I gripped onto my mum’s hands on my left, my husband’s on my right.
I sensed crowds of people hovering around my bedside. I tried in vain to follow the doctor’s instructions to push, opening my eyes for a moment to focus. Twice the doctor tried and failed to deliver Ewan using forceps. His heart rate dropped as the forceps delivery was abandoned. I cried as I was informed I had to have a caesarean section under general anaesthetic. Devastation I couldn’t give birth naturally. Relief the pain would end. I had been in active labour for thirteen hours, a long labour even by the doctor’s standards.