In the previous part of my birth story, I felt increasingly frustrated at the ‘illusion’ of birth choice when you are on an “intervention path”, and after a four day wait, I finally went into early labour.
Having an ARM (artificial rupture of membranes / breaking my waters) was next on my list of terrifying things. At a point in pregnancy when you are uncomfortable at the thought of anything anywhere near that area, let alone a long knitting needle type instrument with a HOOK, it just felt like a very invasive procedure to have. It felt against my instincts at this point in my (non-existent) labour.
I was also concerned about the part immediately after my waters break – what if there’s lots of meconium? What if I go into established labour immediately and it’s too hard to bear?
With both previous labours, my waters haven’t gone until right at the last minute, and I’d heard lots of anecdotal stories about contractions feeling worse when the waters have gone, as there is no cushioning for the baby’s head against your cervix.
Arriving in that labour room, waiting for a midwife to break my waters, was the longest half an hour out of the whole five days that I spent in hospital.
The room was oppressive. I’d known it would feel this way. This small, hot, clinical room with rattly air conditioning was going to be the end of this journey. This was it now, I wasn’t leaving this room until our baby was here. This entirely unremarkable room. This room where so many women give birth, yet it didn’t FEEL like a place of birth. It didn’t feel like a safe place where I could be comfortable. (You’ll notice in the video I am going to share in the next couple of posts that at this point that I am clearly in a mood! I just found that room terrifying).
Our midwife, sadly, did not make matters any better. It’s funny, thinking back to all the overly cheerful midwives on antenatal ward, all full of hope and positivity that I’d go into labour very soon. All those smiling faces that I’d wanted to punch (half joking). What I really needed right now was one of those. I needed a warm smile and for my midwife to make me feel at ease. To subconsciously remind me that it was going to be OK, that it was a happy occasion, that they understood my anxiety.
Instead, our labour room midwife wasn’t very sociable at all. I felt no warmth, there was no casual conversation, no response to Sam’s lighthearted jokes. She only spoke to us when there was something to say.
I felt increasingly sick with every moment that passed. I didn’t feel supported or encouraged by our midwife, and I hadn’t realised just how much that would matter to me. More than ever, it felt like I was on my own in this.
I obsessed over the cannula in my hand. I hadn’t realised I’d need to have one, and it’s presence was something I couldn’t ignore. I knew it would be another thing getting in the way during labour. Another constant reminder that this was not the labour I wanted.
For all my worry, breaking my waters really wasn’t that bad at all in the end (Let’s forget the brief few minutes where our midwife thought she’d prolapsed the cord and pulled the emergency button). I didn’t feel the needle at all. It was just a slow, warm trickle. No epic spraying of waters everywhere.
As I wasn’t in established labour, I didn’t need to be on the monitor full time just yet. The doctor decided I had two hours to go into established labour before they’d move to the next step – starting the hormone drip to induce contractions.
They then came back and said they’d give me four hours, as this was my third labour. So, I had four hours to get myself into established labour, or else I could get an epidural and go on the drip.
Of all the things, the drip probably terrified me the most. I didn’t think I could handle those sort of contractions. So I’d already decided that if it got to that stage, I’d be having an epidural beforehand.
I was actually quite into the idea of an epidural regardless when I reached established labour. It’s not something I’ve done before, worrying that it’s the first step towards more intervention, but considering this labour was already going to be vastly different to my previous spontaneous labours, I thought why not? I was already shattered after a long stay in hospital, I was quite looking forward to the idea of NOT feeling those intense contractions, and maybe getting some rest. Also, because I was convinced this labour was only ever going to end up in theatre, I thought I might as well get the anaesthetic over and done with early.
The thought of an epidural was a comfort. A back-up plan that might make everything OK.
Sam and I walked the corridors of the labour ward. During this next hour between 11-12pm, I started having contractions. They were entirely manageable, the same early labour pains I’d had the previous evening. The type of contractions I’d had in early labour with Arlo, WAY before the point at which I thought we needed to get to the hospital.
This was my favourite part of my labour. Things were happening. I was calm. I felt in complete control. I counted through the contractions, focused on my breathing, and started to get a bit positive. Perhaps THIS would be the labour where I finally harness that “zen mother” peacefulness. I’ve done this twice before, I know what I’m doing, perhaps I can get through this calmly, lucidly, and without any swearing and shouting for once. I’ve got this.
Back in the room, my mood dived again.
The wireless monitor didn’t work. Back on the wired monitor. The midwife wasn’t happy with me lying on my side or standing. She had trouble locating the heartbeat at one point, and was asking me with concern in her voice when I had last felt the baby move.
A senior midwife was able to find the heartbeat straight away, but the constant fiddling with monitors, the panic about cord prolapse and heartbeats (which was always fine in the end!) had me tearful and quite frankly terrified – not a feeling I’ve ever experienced in labour before. I was frightened for the baby, and for myself, and was on the verge of requesting to be taken to theatre RIGHT NOW.
My home birth midwife popped in at one point, and immediately adjusted my monitor when the labour ward midwife was out of the room, because again, it wasn’t picking up the heartbeat. I think maybe our midwife just wasn’t very experienced, or at the very least lacked in a lot of confidence.
30 minutes of monitoring eventually over, and I was allowed off the bed again.
I sat on the toilet, something I tend to do a lot in labour, as, well, quite honestly, my body wants to go to the toilet a lot in labour. It also feels like a comfortable place to sit.
Whilst sitting there, I came over really hot and faint. I needed to lie down, and made it halfway into the room before keeling over. I could hear Sam trying to explain to the midwife that fainting is something I do quite a lot. “Really, this is quite normal for her”. It’s true, I’d been feeling faint all morning, and being hot in labour is one of my most frequent complaints. Especially when the room is tiny and stuffy and there is no way of getting cool – this is why I prefer being at home.
I’d never had a labour where I actually faint, though. This was a new one. In hindsight, I think I was in transition. It’s not a sensation I’ve had before, because I think transition happened so slowly in my previous labours. But all of a sudden it was like my body was breaking down.
Because of my little episode, the midwife wanted me back on the bed for, you guessed it, MORE monitoring. Yay.
At this point, I completely lost it. Control was firmly out of the window. I thought it was because I was fed up of being asked to lie down, and I was struggling to handle the pain in that position. But again, in hindsight, I think it was actually because I was in transition but didn’t realise what was happening to me.
I couldn’t lie on my back, but that was exactly the position I found myself trapped in. I was no longer allowed to stand or even lie on my side. This was the point that I gave up on myself. If they were going to make me lie on the bed, then I needed an epidural. I didn’t care if I wasn’t in established labour yet. It needed to happen NOW.
It was only a couple of hours since my last examination, but it was agreed that if I was over 4cms now, I could have an epidural. I was examined. 5cms.
But then, all of a sudden, the pain really was quite bad. The next few contractions were THE worst contractions I’ve ever felt. The position I was stuck in meant the pain was unbearable. I couldn’t do anything to help myself. All I could do was shout and cry.
Lying on my back, wires everywhere, I was suddenly aware of how trapped I was. I had the monitors on my stomach and a fluid drip in my arm. I couldn’t move. And I desperately needed to get up in order to manage these contractions.
I was a flailing whale stuck on a bed, screaming for help. Zen mother fully out of the window. Sanity out of the window. I forgot who I was and what I was doing there. I could only focus on the pain and the feeling of being helpless and stuck.
I needed to go to the toilet, but I couldn’t get up. Stuck. The midwives asked if I was feeling pushy. No, I just actually need to do a wee.
And then, things were changing quick as a flash yet AGAIN, as my shouting turned into that unmistakable guttural urge to push.