What helped me

Today I read an article about rebirth ceremonies and how they can help heal from a difficult birth. This is something I learnt about months after I gave birth and that I feel would have helped me. I considered a water birth at home but my floor was not structurally safe to bear the weight of a filled birthing pool. We had terrible difficulties breastfeeding and one of the first times my daughter ever latched properly was in the bath.

I have pondered the things that helped me over the past 3 years. In no particular order, those are:

  • Realising that my labour was not in vain, that even tough I needed a bit of help (how much help and the tools and means used are debatable) for the final push all that hard work at home was OUR time, no one else’s, and it certainly helped her move down the birth canal and helped me stretch and dilate. I see no other explanation as to why two pair of hands turning my daughter’s head followed by forceps could have resulted in no tear whatsoever. That took me over year and it was a lovely realisation.

 

  • Learning at my birth debrief that there was a name to what happened to us, it is called asynclitism. Seeing the drawing of my daughter’s top head with outcentered fontanel on my labour notes.  Knowing my body was not broken and I was not a silly woman who did not know how to push a baby out even though I had read all about Fetal Ejection Reflex and breathing the baby out and Ina  May Gaskin. Also learning that asynclitism was most likely the reason why I did not get any urge to push in the first place. What a relief. Nature had really made things harder for me (or interventions but same result in the end, I can’t really go back and take the midwife’s hand away from my cervix now).

 

  •  That moment when the Consultant told me to « stop pushing, the head is out ». What an immense relief and pride. Not from the pain, the anesthetist had done a grand job of numbing my lower body, but the pride of having overcome the fear of failure and focused enough to push with all my remaining strength to accompany the pull of the forceps. This was option B (Option A was turning the baby’s head manually and make me push but said baby’s head would not stay in place, and option C was the c-section, very convenient, I was all prepped for it, on the operating table in theater).

 

  • Realising that a perfectly normal birth like the one I had imagined does not necessarily comes trauma-free. When I was finally able to talk about what happened, other people’s stories came flooding in, and I realised positivity mostly came from the amount of support and care during and after the birth rather than the mode of birth itself.

 

  • Having experienced my entire labour and felt everything, just like I wanted, and having found it manageable and thrilling. Which in itself participated in my PTSD for a long time, as that transfer to the labour ward and the hours that followed was in such stark contrast to everything I had experienced so far. And I was so very close to meeting my daughter, I could feel my baby heading towards the exit and the midwives exclaiming they could see the head. Afterwards I had so many dreams where I pushed a baby out drug-free and walked away happy (poor baby). That feeling is really something I missed dearly. Probably the reason I asked my husband if the baby in the plastic cot at the maternity was the same one who came out of me. Just to be sure. For the longest time I think I was stuck in that moment where I tried to push my daughter out and tried again, my logical brain trying again and again to find an explanation. That is what required the most grieving for me. I had to let go of the person I was at that point, I had to let go of that moment and accept that was not the way my daughter was born or at least I did not get to feel her exiting my body. My own expulsive efforts were not even recorded in the notes from theater « good descent of baby with contractions », but these pushes are so very significant for me. I participated, I pushed my baby in to the world, you cannot take that away from me.  But having got to experience the whole labour bar the expulsion is something that helps me a great deal.

 

  • The absence of judgment from my mother-in-law when I set off to overcome our breastfeeding difficulties despite clearly turning into a mad and depressed women from lack of sleep and intense googling for solutions. The fact that she was always there to listen to me in those early days. That was very validating.

 

  • The young female GP with a toddler picture on her wall who told me that I was allowed to give up breastfeeding and there was no point making myself crazy. I did not give up but those words made me feel so much better, like in all this chaos my wellbeing DID matter.

 

  • The 20 something auxiliary nurse in the maternity ward who always found time for me in her super busy 12 hour shift, always made sure she brought me the breastpump and washed the parts and labelled and stored my milk in the fridge, always with a smile, always found answers to my questions and reassured me I was doing great. I felt like such a failure for not being able to latch this baby onto me (turns out it was the other way around but with hormones buzzing and drugs exiting your system and PPH and no sleep at all after 30 hours in labour your cognitive abilities are declining big time) and having to set my alarm clock to ring every 3 hours day and night, ring the buzzer for the breastpump and someone to feed the baby expressed breastmilk with a cup, having to explain to every new member of staff and every shift my feeding schedule and generally driving myself utterly crazy with sheer exhaustion and frustration. I will never forget what she said to me, watching me express « This is great what you are doing, I would love to do that when I have a baby. So my partner can feed them too. » And bang, I felt normal again. I am grateful beyond words and in fact I don’t think I can describe very well how wonderfully soothing and uplifting her support was to me.

 

  • That moment when the midwife was writing the prescription for formula on day 3 having hooked me onto the breastpump. She lifted her gaze to see how I was doing and said « wow that is a lot of breastmilk for a first time mum and first time with the pump! » and proceeded to tear up the prescription. I was far too weak to object to anything and am so grateful to my body for reacting so well to the pump and producing so much milk under pretty stressful and exhausting circumstances. I still have the picture I took of that 50 ml of golden transition milk I expressed – I was so proud of myself. Knowing that my body did what it was supposed to do after all really helped me immensely.

 

  • The Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions and learning self-compassion through them. All the guilt and anger towards myself is GONE. And that was a massive relief. I feel like it has freed up so much energy and creativity.

 

  • Volunteering as Breastfeeding Peer Supporter and getting to come back to the Maternity Ward in a different role. Walking in the same rooms, meeting some of the midwives and nurses who looked after me and chatting with them. The fact that that lovely auxiliary nurse remembered me and she was not the only one really warmed my heart, mind you, my foreign- sounding name might have helped 🙂 Feeling very much in control again and able to talk about my experience and come back there and feeling good about it. Helping mums with their breastfeeding and showing them how to set up the breastpump and discovering with them that their milk was coming in and the expression of joy on their face when they realised next feed would be just breastmilk and no formula and that their bodies were working! Telling them not to worry if their baby was not latching and seeing the hope on their face when I told them my own baby did not latch for more than 2 weeks (2 weeks for heaven’s sake) and was still happily breastfed at 1.

 

So there we go, while I am writing this I realise the things that helped are all about taking the power back 🙂 It was always there but the key is I felt utterly powerless for a while and I truly believe I did not need to especially not in a situation where there was no real emergency. Food for thought.

(Are you singing Rage Against the Machine in your head right now? I do)

 

 

 

 

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I really enjoyed labour

I can honestly say I really enjoyed labour. It was very welcome first of all as it started a day before my planned induction appointment. A day after that and I would have had to go to the Maternity Unit instead of my planned homebirth as the midwife rota stopped anyway. No one would come to me after 41 weeks and 4 days. The midwife gave me a sweep, I had managed to delay this as much as possible but finally consented the day before things started. I found it all very manageable, I found bouncing on the ball and swaying very helpful during contractions, my hypnobirthing scripts playing in the background, husband gently stroking my back and face, all made it very calm and enjoyable.

Who would have thought that the pushing would be so long and brutal, that I would never experience the urge to push, that I would end up with a highly medicalised birth, sick from the amount of drugs pumped into me – that IV line in my hand was the gateway to hell, everytime I had a symptom the appropriate drug was instantly loaded onto to my system, no time to consent to anything, anti-sickness, antibiotics, you name it -, and decidedly high as a kite.

The first 24 hours of my labour were pretty nice but it is only after I had 4 sessions of Counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy that I started remembering them properly. Before that, believe it or not, I was convinced I had done something wrong and all these efforts had been for nothing. It took me almost a year to realise that had I not gone through all this my baby would most likely had been born by c-section. In fact my memory of my natural labour is a far cry from most birth stories I read about. I don’t really fit in or at least it doesn’t feel like it. Even my highly medicalised labour is not bad. I LOVED being able to finally breathe in to the gas and air (reminder – my homebirth canister was found empty when I asked for it) in the ambulance, this took ALL the pain away. So much so that I am now questioning if I really needed the epidural at all. Then the epidural worked like a charm, I must have dozed off in between -the numerous- examinations because later I realised I was turned on my left side onto a wedge to help baby move down a bit more and I strictly don’t remember it. The anesthetist was really fun to look at. He asked me questions to check my understanding of the drugs he planned to push inside my spinal nerves and I was too out of it to answer, I did not realise he was actually speaking to me. He was apparently very annoying according to my husband but I have to say he reminded me of a French humorist and seeing him laughing at his own jokes kept me entertained. The Consultants were typical Consultants, came in to the room in pairs without looking at any of us and proceeded to tell me they were going to give me a c-section and please sign this consent form so we can roll you down to theater. That part was entertaining too as this is when my husband kicked off and started arguing with them about whether this procedure was necessary and I loved him for that. Clearly not something they were used to. And it turned out there was no indication for a c-section. That is when they came up with a different plan, of trying to turn the baby first (asynclitism and nuchal hand, although we were not told about the first part until I got my notes a year after), failing this assisted delivery, and if all else fails, c-section as a last resort. On we went to theater. Even that last part, even tough 2 Consultants tried and failed at turning my daughter’s head inside of me while my legs sat in the stirrups, even tough they placed forceps around her head and turned, even tough I was asked to push and thought I have to make this work because I didn’t want a section, this part in the theater was not traumatic. Or painful. People cringe when I mention forceps. But this is decidedly not the difficult part for me at all. And I think I can in part thank my NCT antenatal class and their « C -section sculpture » activity because I fully expected dozens of medical staff in theater and knew it was standard procedure.

The difficult part really, is when the midwife declared that I had done my time after pushing for 2 hours and I had to wait for the ambulance for an hour on my own while my husband was struggling to prepare an emergency hospital bag and the midwives slightly panicking. In fact the most difficult thing for me was when the midwife in essence said that I could not do it.

 

 

See this is why people should not have homebirths!!!!

I was shaking uncontrollably and had no one to turn to. I was at work in the main open-space office. I enjoy my work. It has little to do with childbirth, so I was really not expecting this. And here it came, from the far end of the office.  Conversations are always that little bit louder on a Friday, people are relaxed and gearing up towards the weekend, and I was too. « See this is why people should not have homebirths!!!! », said my friendly male childless colleague in a shocked but conversational tone. He was discussing that lady whose baby was « too big » and became « stuck » while labouring at home the day before and who required ambulance transfer. Because roads were flooded it took longer than usual for the ambulance to arrive. « This is why you should always go to hospital!! »  Silly people having homebirths and not considering the risks. I listened a while longer as wanted to hear what happened to the lady and her baby in the end. They were transferred and the baby had a smooth delivery in hospital. « But still, this is silly!! People shouldn’t do that! ».

I stood there watching my screen in disbelief, frozen. This had really hit me from nowhere and I had no defense mechanism in place. Then I started frantically searching the local paper for articles on this lady and that is where I found a very different story about a midwife at my local hospital who ended up convicted of malpractice and suspended after giving massive doses of pitocin to dozens of women in labour without necessity ending up in babies or mums distress and unnecessary c-sections. This midwife was allowed to continue her practice for years and years despite her own colleagues raising concerns to superiors on numerous occasions. It became apparent the midwife was deliberately drugging women in an attempt to make labour faster.

I started shaking incontrollably. Part of me wanted to walk up to my colleague and ask for more details and tell him I went through a hellish transfer from a homebirth. Would he still dare to make the same careless comments in front of me? I was not a story in the paper, I was real and my story was real and things were not that simple. Ever. But something told me to just walk away and take a breather. There was no point justifying myself to anyone or trying to convince them of anything. I did not even know myself what was the best thing to do. So I walked away and phoned my husband in tears. Bless him. He talked me through it all and helped me calm down as he usually does so well.

Later that day I spoke to a colleague specialised in Mental Health about that article. Just speaking about it made be shake again and stutter. He seemed uncomfortable and left the table pretty quickly.

This is precisely the reason I created this blog. There needs to be an outlet for all these stories. Of course people will make judgments about everything, me included and I am not saying this should necessarily change. But wouldn’t it be great if people had a safe place to talk about these things that hurt instead of bottling things up because of expectations that they should be over their trauma by now.

 

 

 

 

 

The midwives just wanted this over with

My daughter was born with forceps, after 6 hours of pitocin to help my exhausted uterus contract and a awful lot of drugs pumping through my system. I had such a massive hangover the next couple of days it is no wonder my baby had no clue how to breastfeed or did not seem hungry at all.

« I think the midwives just wanted to go home. They wanted this over with. It was 3 in the afternoon on a Friday and everyone was tired. » This is my husband’s answer to me asking if he thought the staff attending my homebirth knew what they were doing.

I had been in labour since Thursday at 5pm. and had not managed to sleep in early labour. The midwives had proceeded to vaginal examinations to assess dilation every 2 or 3 hours and roundabout 11am they broke my waters. One of the last cervical checks did hurt a lot more than the others and it felt precisely like it did when I received a membrane sweep for being overdue on the Wednesday. The midwife’s hand came out all bloodied and with a large chunk of show « look there it was! » she said while announcing triumphantly that I was 4-5 centimeters dilated. I trusted my midwives that day. In fact I kept trusting them for a long while after I was transported to the Labour Ward, gave birth to my daughter and left the postnatal ward to go home. Of course over the past 2 and 1/2 years I have come to question the need to perform painful checks and breaking waters on a perfectly happy labouring mum and baby. I have come to wonder what this did to the flow of my labour and how breaking waters may have caused my baby’s head to drop asynclitic and slow down the whole process of my « textbook » labour (the word was used at one of my Birth Debrief appointments).

I was never afraid of labour, in fact I found it perfectly manageable. I was active, walking around the house, bouncing on the birthing ball, leaning on the sofa when I got tired.

Telling me to get up again from the sofa after I lied down exhausted, breaking my waters, performing regular and painful cervical checks, instructing me to purple-push, and overall making me feel like I should probably hurry up as everyone was tired and wanted to get home, realising one of the two Entonox canisters was empty and not having a process in place to replace it or check it in the first place, the paramedics who took an hour to arrive because I was not an emergency, just a mum who had reached the 2 hours threshold for pushing, the fact that same paramedics made me walk to the ambulance without offering Entonox then once I had lied down in the ambulance van threatened to not close the doors, give me pain relief and basically get me anywhere if I did not take my winter jacket off. I had to sit up all on my own in the midst of killer contractions to take the jacket off before I was allowed some Entonox. The whole thing felt like an eternity . That is the a random list of avoidable things which I think would have at worst made a difference to how I feel about the birth of my baby and at best avoided me having to transfer in the first place.

How do I feel about the birth of my baby? Well the main thing is I feel like I did not really give birth or not really push my baby out. I found myself asking my husband if the baby was the same one that he saw coming out of me. I had to check. The epidural and spinal were so strong I only felt a slight pull on my insides even tough I was asked to actively push while the Consultant pulled with the forceps. When they announced the head was out 6 minutes after the start of the process I had not felt anything at all. It was all happening behing the drape. Then an eery silence dawned in the room as they waited a little to do the delayed cord clamping. I then wondered if something happened to my baby because she was not crying at all. How awkward that they could not just pass the baby to me while this was happening. Then after the cord was cut they placed her on my chest which in this context of an operating theatre was literaly 1 inch from my nose. I remember having my arms laid out in a cross for drugs purposes and could not hold her at all, all I could see was two tiny eyes locked on to mine. I wanted to grab her, hold her in front of me, have a good look, at the very least pull her down my tummy so I could see, but my tummy was covered in monitoring equipment even tough she was now out and well. And I was so weak, in fact I was shaking. I had been so very thirsty for the last 6 hours and only allowed tiny ice chips because of the epidural. So much room for improvement isn’t it. After another awkward silence I finally asked what everyone seemed to wait for and was told the placenta had not come out yet. This is when they proceeded to manual removal of my placenta which I have no memory of being asked my consent for. I had lost more than a litre of blood so this had to happen fast. Fair enough.

Months after I asked for copies of my notes and a Birth Debrief which is when I learnt about the asynclitism. That in itself was such a relief learning IT WAS NOT ME. I also asked for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which helped a great deal with all feelings of guilt and anger towards myself. Now all that is left is sadness mainly. And a need to speak out. Even tough I know I recovered completely from this (no tear amazingly enough and no pain of any kind. The only difficulty I had post-partum was waking up soaking wet every single night for a couple of weeks which I was told was due to high speed metabolising of the extra tissue and blood created during pregnancy. That all stopped overnight) and my daughter was always fine (although we needed a couple of osteopathic treatment to managed breastfeeding and it was not an easy road for the first couple of months) I still feel like I need to talk about this. There are good things in my experience and there are bad things too and it all needs to be processed. I am glad I am now able to write about this as I have come a long way already.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The only way out is through

« Look, birth is not fun, especially not the first time, but you will get through it ». My grandmother was 104 when she passed away and gave birth to two babies at home, at a time when homebirth was still the norm.

My own mother had me in the local maternity hospital, unmedicated and was given an episiotiomy as was the norm at the time. She was what was -and still is- considered an older mum at the grand old age of 40.

When I became pregnant 3 years ago I fully expected to follow their footsteps and have a straightforward birth. I had a healthy pregnancy (I enjoyed pregnancy so much) and was fit and healthy. I had planned a homebirth, went to the chiropractor, always sat straight at my desk and slept on my left side without fail, practiced hypnobirthing, pregnancy yoga and took my vitamins religiously.

This blog is about finding my voice after my daughter’s birth. There are so many things that I would like to say and there is no forum for me to to do so. I am not a birth professional, I am healthy and so is my daughter, I am not even planning for anymore children so why would I take an interest in childbirth and its aftermath? well there is this little but persistent voice inside of me that needs to speak out, there is the woman I was before my baby was born and that woman is no more, there is the grief over not feeling like I gave birth…  perhaps this is all part of my healing process and maybe this can help someone else along the way?