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Aftermath

It’s over. It’s over and it’s *so* good to not have to think about it any more….or more accurately, it feels so good to not have to wonder and worry any more. I’ve labelled this post ‘Aftermath’, because it feels like I’m in a bit of a lull – the calm after the storm, if you like – the ‘storm’ having started on birth day 1, dying down some time in the last few weeks, leaving me with a bit of space to reflect and gather my thoughts in a (thankfully) hormone-reduced safe haven (yay for not crying at every advert involving a sick child, puppy or pensioner any more!).

Obviously, there was no home birth. Obviously. And I knew it all along – not the details, but I knew we wouldn’t stay home, I knew we’d leave sooner or later. I don’t know why, but at the time all the planning never felt worthwhile. Now that it’s behind me I can admit that I wanted to stay home very badly, enough to stop me even contemplating thinking about how good it would have been to get through the whole thing without going to hospital. I’m glad I followed my instinct on that one – sometimes defensive is good.

it started with all the telltale signs that I dutifully missed or ignored: knackered, horrible backache…exactly the same as the first time round, but there was a point, around about 2pm, where I suddenly realised I’d definitely had a contraction – not another Braxton-Hicks. Instantly, it was like clockwork but I then decided it definitely wasn’t painful enough to be the real thing, not 5 days before my due date, surely not?! And then it hit me that, yes, this was the real thing and yes, it made sense – I never thought I’d get to my due date this time. For a while, I’d worried about the baby being premature…I was just so tired this time around. Physically, I’d felt well and truly done for the last couple of weeks….mentally, I’d been fed up from around 6 weeks in (!) but physically, I felt like I was overdue by 37 weeks. I’d had really regular Braxton-Hicks on at least six occasions in the middle of the night and it was starting to feel like a lot of false alarms.  It’s hard to explain because nothing in particular was wrong or bothering me and I wasn’t the same overdue tired I’d felt first time round. I was impatient last time and I felt well. This time, I was weary and I felt like something would go very wrong if I was waiting for much longer. So maybe I was surprised about being right, but either way, I knew it was labour pretty soon. I took my toddler off for his nap. I lied to my husband and left him playing on the Xbox while I went upstairs to ‘nap’. What I actually did was send a couple of ‘warning, I might be in labour, please standby’ messages to potential babysitters/birth partner and then got the crying out of the way. And there was a lot of it. For all the wanting to get this over with, I really didn’t want to be here. I needed to get that out of the way, and once it was, I started calculating. I only had to last a few hours for my son to be safely away in bed. I didn’t want to send him away. Sadly, he woke up fussy. Fussy and teething and temper tantrum-y and clingy. Not the best combo. The minute I started trying to slow labour down, it sped up. I started throwing up, probably from nerves more than anything else and I started to think maybe my boy needed to leave. He was unhappy anyway,  he was really stressing me out – what if he didn’t go to sleep? Before I knew it, it was 5 or 6 and I couldn’t do everything myself anymore. I let my husband know I was in labour and to get away from my clingy son, I went to the bathroom to sit and throw up in peace. I moved to the shower pretty quickly, warm water was soothing and drowned out the noise of the chaos downstairs. My sister arrived to collect my son. He came upstairs to say goodbye and threw bath toys at me. I laughed and missed him terribly and worried a lot. My timings are sketchy, but this was the point, about 4-5 hours on where I began to seriously question my sanity. What I should have done, sooner rather than later, was get the toddler toy explosion cleared up and find somewhere comfy to settle. What I should have done, was communicate to my husband that perhaps the Xbox was not the best use of his time that afternoon. Because I knew from last time that I’d reach an unreasonable state of mind where I didn’t want to move….fine if you’re pretty much anywhere other than a bath. But the water was so good and then moving was uncomfortable and then I didn’t want to flash my sister and before I knew it, there was no leaving the bath, despite not being sick any more. I refused to speak to triage or the midwives on the phone. I’d had a lot of strategies I thought I’d use to feel happier about being labour. My last minute unplanned one was pretending that they weren’t there. I didn’t want to call them, I wouldn’t have called them if I’d been alone but I’d planned for that and had two people that would have/did. And there’s not much more to say about being at home. I don’t think me in labour inspires a lot of confidence, and I think that contributed to us going in. I think if I’d been calmer, a little more together when they’d examined me, they’d have taken a little longer and would have known the baby wasn’t breech. I knew he wasn’t, I knew it, but I wasn’t really talking to them by this point. It’s hard to communicate with someone who won’t look at you and I remember keeping my eyes shut more than they were open. When they said they wanted to transfer to hospital for a scan, I thought the baby was in a random (non breech) position. When they said we’d maybe be considering a caesarean I tuned out with the (perhaps) knee jerk reaction of “no fucking way” (in my head), and I spent the rest of my time at home wondering if that’d be the next battle. Arguing about a caesarean. Great. We live on the second floor. I didn’t fancy my chances of getting out of the house postnatally with a c-section wound, newborn and young toddler. Housebound? No way.

Maybe I gave up too easily. If I’d have pictured an amazing home birth beforehand, maybe I would have fought for it. Maybe I’d have been a little more confident. But I wasn’t, and I was prepared (mostly) to move at some point, although admittedly not quite so soon. Getting ready to go, I felt sick all over again. I was sick all over again, but at least I’d got the crying out of the way. Walking outside felt good – why hadn’t I done this earlier? Sure, we live next to a main road, two floors up, but even the walk downstairs wasn’t bad. Unlike the ambulance. I was so rude to that poor paramedic (although in true psycho fashion, I did apologise profusely and politely upon exiting!!!). But I was headed towards the worst place ever, so maybe some slack was due…

My memories of labour ward are sketchy. I kept my eyes closed or looked down as much as I could the whole time. The dreaded wheelchair was waiting as soon as the ambulance stopped. Of course.  I didn’t get in. Firstly, sitting was sore. Secondly, I was damned if I was going to lose that tiny last shred of control – I was walking in, even if it felt like being led to the gallows. It’s weird how pretending you’re the boss makes you feel better, even when you know you’re not. I accepted the gas and air at the first opportunity because I wanted to be completely off my face so I wouldn’t care. Fate was with me there. I had a blocked nose and couldn’t smell it so no nausea like last time. Small mercies…. I don’t remember much after that – the scan was quick, and showed the baby was in a perfect position. After that I remember….people. A lot of them. A room with an open door, full of people. At one point, at least four people I didn’t know, and they alternated between saying nothing, which made me feel like a horrendously bad side show, and talking to eachother, which confused me as it was always when someone else was talking to me. Which meant I missed a lot of what must have been directed towards me, that’s the only way I can explain what happened next. What I understood, leaving home, was that we weren’t going back. My fault, mostly, I suspect because once I had that information I didn’t listen to anything else…they could have told me I was having surprise twins and I’d have been none the wiser! On labour ward, on discovering the non breech, well-behaved baby, somewhere down the line they decided that maybe we could go home. I didn’t hear that. I remember being a little cross, although mostly distracted by contractions which were I’ve no idea how close together, but painful and worse since leaving home. I had no idea of the time – in my head, it was still 4 or 5pm, although it was definitely much later than that. But either way, I was angry that we’d moved for what turned out to be absolutely no reason. Angry that my prediction had come true (remember my post about the breech baby and running downstairs? Spooky!). And I remember awkward silence and wondering whether they’d asked me something and were waiting for an answer. And I remember thinking they had no plan for what was going to happen next. And I was angry. So NOW I get a choice? NOW it’s down to me? Really? I remember thinking ‘you tell me!’, that everyone was incompetent and that if I wasn’t in so much pain, I’d be screaming at all of them to get out, to leave me alone, close the door and just go because the atmosphere was heavy and uncomfortable and too much. I escaped to the loo. I didn’t need to go. But I needed the privacy, I needed the space. And I needed for them to not follow.

“It’s horrible in here, I hate it so much”, I whisper to my husband.

“I know”, he says, “but if you keep asking for an epidural, I’m not going to keep on telling them no, I can’t keep doing it”.

And for a few moments, for the first time I feel completely understood and safe and protected and wish we could stay there on our own. On a hospital loo in an interior windowless room that smells faintly the same as the disinfectant they use to clean out animal research institutes.  See, you can find solace anywhere if you look hard enough. But ours didn’t last.

If I’d thought we were going to hospital for a scan and coming back again, I think I’d have felt different. Again, I don’t inspire much confidence in labour, but while I was rude, uncommunicative and uncooperative on the outside, I still had it in me to make the move back home. If we could have moved quickly, I’d have been in and out if that place in a heartbeat. But I can’t stand faff at the best of times, I was well and truly sick of being messed around and I still wasn’t convinced we wouldn’t transfer back in again if we went home. I’d also -somewhere – lost all confidence that I could do this without serious drugs and on top of that, I didn’t trust my homebirth midwife – that’s unfair. I didn’t trust myself with her.  And I didn’t have that image of a lovely home birth in my head – not mine, anyway. I didn’t believe in it, so I wasn’t ever going to fight for it. Staying put was easy, and that’s what I did.

What I remember, probably isn’t how things happened. But they must have wanted to know what we were doing next – going home, staying put, moving next door to the low risk unit. For me, the decision had already been made – we were there and that was a final decision. Once it’s set in your head as a fact, that’s hard to change. So I was surprised by the amount of people loitering and the need for any decision making. But I was equally unsurprised that they wanted to start monitoring and poking and prodding – a calm, laid back approach wasn’t my experience of labour ward. And that’s when I found my voice, albeit briefly. There was no way, I was going to submit to a vaginal examination for the hell of it in the same place as last time. No. I couldn’t think of a reason why they wanted to do it. My birth plan (helpfully in my handbag at home) said, in no uncertain terms, that I didn’t consent to being examined for the purposes of establishing progress alone. I said no to a lot of things that day. Most of those refusals were the whole-hearted ravings of someone who was really fed up and in a lot of pain. Most of those refusals were not serious, and were the product of heat-of-the-moment stubbornness. That’s not helpful to the rest of the world who can’t read minds, I know, but I knew I was being unreasonable. But this time, I meant it. No. No. And NO again. I was pretty clear, I thought. Again with the 1000 voices talking at once – to me, to each other. Again with asking me for consent. Again and again. And I could tell that wasn’t what they were used to. They weren’t used to people saying no, because then I realised this wasn’t going to go away. They would never stop asking. And maybe my biggest mistake of all was not telling my birth partners to fight that one for me. Because they wore me down and I said yes because it was the only way they’d leave me alone. I said yes, and that’s my biggest regret from that day. I would live it ALL all over again for the opportunity to say no one more time.

I try not to dwell on negatives, really I do. But I had to think about them a lot this pregnancy. I had flashbacks after birth no.1. I was uncomfortable visiting the hospital at first, but that became easier and eventually fine with time. What stayed, though, was hating antenatal check ups. Midwives I knew and liked were suddenly uncomfortable to be around. I used to like antenatal appointments. Now, I hated being touched. Working out the baby’s position? Could you manage it by looking, by any chance? Blood pressure…can you take my word for it? It’s fine, I checked it earlier. You can’t really mention that kind of thing without delving into detail or otherwise creating a really awkward situation. So I decided to carry on, knowing it’d get easier (which it did, just not to the extent I would have liked). But what started to worry me more as time went on was what if I went overdue? Membrane sweeps to induce labour…I didn’t know if I could. I booked one none the less, mostly because the urge to not be pregnant any more was the most important thing. But I was prepared for a big mother of a flashback, and I was just a tiny bit hopeful going into labour two days before my appointment – maybe this could be avoided? Because I had no strategy to deal with it, none at all. Again, how do you broach the subject with someone? Sure, go ahead, I’d really like you to go ahead, I just might cry, attempt to run away or simply shout no and withdraw my consent about two seconds in. Why? Oh well, you know – some cow really hurt me one time and I think it’s left me a teeny tiny bit fucked up! It just doesn’t really flow well. As well as being kind of insulting to all the nice midwives now lumped into the same category in my head. And I’d rather not, really, thanks. But my attitude is generally if there’s something horrible to be done, let’s go ahead and get it over with rather than think about how horrible it’s going to be. So when I knew they weren’t going to drop it, I said yes. Yes, because how bad could it be?

I’ve not got a massive pool of experience to draw from here, unless you count One born every minute (which I don’t). But preceding the foetal scalp electrode debacle, even in labour, I didn’t get the fuss people made. No, I can’t think of too many things more undignified or….weird…than a vaginal examination. But, they don’t hurt, or rather, they didn’t hurt me, so just get on with it has always been my philosophy. It’s not like they’re going to be done in a room full of people or anything…..oh, wait…..that’s when you’re not in labour and your opinion and dignity count. Now I understand why women get off their face on gas and air before being examined. I wish I had. Because I discovered – the hard way – that if you don’t want to be examined, you can give your consent all you like, but it’s going to be uncomfortable. But that wasn’t anything compared to the mindfuck that followed.

I opened my eyes once, just once before they started, and looked over at the window. I saw the window as it was, but I also saw how a similar window down the corridor had been over a year ago. The windowsill, with a bottle half full of water, a jug and a wallet, not mine. Blinds down and the sunshine bright outside. My first son’s birthday had been bright, but it wasn’t today. It was evening and although illuminated, the window wasn’t bright. I wasn’t seeing 2014.

I’m really upset now. I don’t think much other than “No”, on loop, but looking over at the window one other thought popped accusingly into my head:

“It wasn’t meant to be like this, not again”.

It’s funny how memory works – thanks to the gas and air, in part, I have a lot of foggy memories and just a handful of very clear ones. That window is clear, the rest is not. In fact, not very much is – the way I remember it is like watching a TV with a bad connection that keeps switching between channels. The window flicked between the present and a year ago and it carried on like that. I couldn’t tell you which of my audience got the job of catching me outside of a contraction to start the exam. But when they did, it didn’t matter, because I was reliving the last one all over again and the overbearing presence I remembered from before had returned. This time it hurt straight away. Not enough for me to stop them but I was braced for the worst. It was confusing, too. The bathroom door kept changing positions. My birth partners changed positions, flicking between where they had been in 2013 and where they were now. A mix of big differences and small ones. Only, the glimpses of 2013 were silent, bright and slow-moving, when now was loud, dim and hurried. I tried to wait, I really did. I was sorry I couldn’t, at the same time as feeling everything else, I still felt sorry that I wasn’t strong enough to put up with it. I waited until the worst bit, the stabbing, and I couldn’t do it any more, I shouted at them to get off me – STOP, twice. Out loud this time, and they did.  I was genuinely surprised that anyone listened.

That was the first time I remember being told we could go home. There was nothing that could have made that examination any better, or justified to me. Not anything. I didn’t want to know how dilated they thought I was. I just wasn’t interested and if ‘6cm’ was meant to be motivating, it was not. When I’d said I didn’t want to know, I’d meant it. Even worse – and I’m not proud of it – I wanted to hurt them back. And despite feeling dejected and inadequate at only being 6cm dilated, I was also a little bit pleased that whoever had examined me sounded just a little bit sadder after I pronounced the progress as being “rubbish”. I meant it, and didn’t say it to hurt her, but I hoped it had, nevertheless.

I was now living in fear of the future, not in the moment, so I wanted an epidural in anticipation of things getting worse. Thankfully, everyone ignored me. My birth partners were worth their weight in gold, here. No, platinum. Or chocolate, maybe (!) – whichever’s greater. I don’t know how they did it, because if I’d got wind of it at the time, I’d have unleashed a whole wave of undeserved anger, but they got me to agree to move. And I most definitely thought it was my idea (it so wasn’t my idea). We moved out of the horrible ward (this time, in a wheelchair – all sense of indignation, power or assertion had left the building by this point), and downstairs to a low-risk room with a pool. I remember a voice stopping us before we left…probably one of the home birth midwives, stopping us to say goodbye.

“You’re doing so well, and you’ll be fine”. Or words to that effect. Was it so obvious I thought the exact opposite?

I didn’t believe a word – not really. But I tried to. Funny, how the right words at the right time can be so powerful. I’m a hard person to comfort – stubborn beyond belief, but it was the right time and the right place. And even though I didn’t believe her, I felt that teeny tiny bit better that she’d made the effort to try. As we moved away, again, I remember thinking it was ironic that they’d finally understood how I felt just as we were leaving.

Before we got to our room, the atmosphere changed – dim lights. Hushed voices. Shadows. A few people, but crucially, a few quiet people. And one – just one – midwife waiting at the threshold, oddly like she was welcoming guests into her living room. Really loud, obnoxious and messy guests, but company, nevertheless. My memories are equally cloudy here, but that image is clear. I didn’t feel calm. I didn’t feel strong and I didn’t feel safe – I couldn’t, knowing what was waiting too eagerly upstairs. But I felt relaxed in spite of myself. I felt the exact same feeling that you get after a long, noisy flight with screaming children, lost luggage, a late bus home. That feeling when you finally get home and sit down and embrace the silence just for a moment. You know that feeling? The silence feels loud, engulfing and complete. That’s what I felt. And while I wouldn’t say it was easy after that point, because I never let go of the threat of things going wrong, it was easier and it made every difference (well done birth partners, I love you!) But enough of the calm! Back to being difficult.

Seeing as the lovely midwife had taken the time to fill the birth pool, obviously I refused to get in it. Briefly. I knew I liked her when she had the balls to tell me she thought I’d be better off giving it a try. I couldn’t get comfy in the pool at first. If ‘comfy’ was even possible by then. But it wasn’t any worse than anywhere else. I remember hanging over the side and stretching one leg back until my foot hit the other side of the pool at one point – nope, still no relief, still nothing to help how broken my back felt. I hated every contraction, but I stopped thinking about the next one and focused on trying to stop – yes, trying to stop each one as it came along. The midwife disappeared….ok, she stayed out of sight and left me to it, appearing every now and then, which was fine. I made my husband talk rubbish through every contraction. Anything to distract me. Insults? Great, anything. For all the wanting to be alone, it wasn’t wanting to be alone, it was wanting to be untouched and not alone and the chatter made me feel connected to a world outside this world of severe discomfort interspersed with breathtaking pain and then exhaustion. I’m glad I got the chance to make that distinction.

After an eternity, my waters broke. I saw it and heard it more than felt it and I was sad. Because when they broke, the little bubble I’d been floating about in also broke. I had been too preoccupied to be scared, just for that little while. But the fear came back then. Because I felt like we’d be moving back upstairs soon. Maybe for an epidural, maybe for something else. It just didn’t mean anything good. I should also say that aside from a solitary uncalled for kick, I didn’t think about the baby at all. For me, birth was an internal battle, and the baby was just a side effect. I was accused of pushing before I realised I must be doing it. I didn’t realise when they said ‘involuntary pushing’, that I’d only know it was happening because I could hear it. In fact, I’ll amend that – I didn’t push, maybe somebody did, but it definitely wasn’t me. Those contractions were so strong I couldn’t hear over the top of them. Until I became aware….and that’s the only way to phrase it….until I became aware of the baby for the first time. So once the turmoil of those contractions had stopped, as I was most likely coming down from all the gas, I was aware of a head. Or a tiny bit of a head. I don’t know how you know it’s a head without seeing it, or being told. Maybe it’s just because you know that’s how it works, but either way I wasn’t expecting that. For a couple of contractions I was blown away. Blown away at that tiny bit of knowledge, which was soon vocalised by the midwife…My whole labour, I must have said “I don’t know” about 30,000 times. This was one of a handful of times that I said “I know”. And then I realised that as cute as that tiny little bit of head might be (and I was thinking ‘cute’ at first. Really, wtf is wrong with me?), that’s exactly what it was. A ‘tiny’ and ‘little’ bit of a head. A freaking massive cannonball of a child who was on his way out and guess what? Not being pushed by me. And this was very much the tip of the iceberg. And I knew it.

After that panic set in. Actual panic. I’d questioned my sanity before on that day, I didn’t even bother questioning it at this point as I clearly was in possession of none. Stretching. Stretching is what they call it. Yes, stretching. One word came to mind at the time – this is so unfair! And impossible. Before, I’d thought I wasn’t getting a break between contractions. Now I really wasn’t. It was a minute of loud and intense pushing followed by another of thinking there is just absolutely no way this is happening. I got my birth partners as close as possible and attempted to exit the pool, because clearly that would help. Yay for the irrational. I can honestly say I have never wanted to escape more in my life ever. And it’s unfair because by that point the drugs are all off the table, when you need them the most. Quiet midwife says to push a little bit on the next contraction. I’m genuinely confused…does that mean carry on doing nothing like I had been so far, or actually attempt to push? And if that was the case, wait – how do I push? I really couldn’t tell you how. I don’t get the chance to ask and make a split decision to try to push…a bit. And thankfully, it’s only (“only”) two contractions before he is born.

My first few thousands thoughts were “ow”, “ow, again” and “ouch” and then “it’s not supposed to hurt as much after they’re born, for fuck’s sake!”. And somewhere in there, “wow, that’s a really big baby” (8lb 11). He didn’t breathe right away. As I’m coming to understand, he was taking his own sweet time and would not be rushed, although admittedly, it’s a pretty inconvenient time to be practicing that one. I was a bit too done in to pay a massive amount of attention – great instincts there! We left less than 12 hours later. By the time we were ready to go, it was the early hours of the morning and I was packed, dressed and ready from around 3am. I tried to nap, waiting for various newborn tests in the morning. Once all the birth bustle had passed, the room became threatening again. I dozed off a couple of times, each time waking with a jump. I gave up and went outside to find mobile signal while my boys slept. I can’t be certain who it was exactly, but I saw either the midwife from my first birth or someone who had been kicking about that day striding down the corridor. That was enough to freeze me and send me back to await discharge. A really unwelcome and chilling reminder that it isn’t over until they let you out.

So, how do I feel about it, nearly four months on? Am I allowed to say indifferent? It’s so varied. There are bits I hated. The homebirth (“homebirth”?!!) was a bit of a disaster, really. And the labour ward bit and the transfer were horrendous. But equally, after that was mostly fine (or only bad in my head), apart from not being able to creep away home before morning. If this had been my first labour, even with the transfers it would have been alright, possibly even redeemed by the water birth at the end. As it was, I don’t think a really good experience was ever going to be on the cards for me – whatever the setting. Having said that, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. If anything it forced me to confront a few demons (albeit really badly) and at least now I know where I stand. Am I still compelled to look up details for adopting a third baby like I did after birth no.1? No. Well there’s a victory.

And I guess the final question is, why the essay? Or essays? Cheap therapy is one answer, I suppose, but the other is more profound. If you’re still reading this, then you’re either one of the tiny handful of people I know who I sent the link to, or you’re one of the 400+ others who found this by yourselves. Maybe you felt the same way after giving birth. Maybe you’re a birth junkie. Maybe you’re a midwife or a dad-to-be or just interested. Either way, I wanted to publish this because I wish I’d known. I wish I’d known to keep my guard up and I wish I’d known that its not black and white – you don’t either suffer from postnatal depression or postnatal elation, It’s a sliding scale, and sitting further to the right or left of that scale is ok.

I wish I’d realised that the dichotomy of good/bad birth stories that you tend to see online is so not representative of what really goes on. I had straightforward births, nothing to complain about, not on paper, at least. But you don’t have to have a traditionally ‘bad’ outcome to feel less than elated. I’m not broken or depressed or precious (!), if that’s what you’re wondering. I’m normal; I’m ordinary- other than being a clean freak, I’m mostly really laid back, I’m lucky enough to have friends both locally and all over the place who Facebook has ensured I  can keep in touch with daily. I’m not isolated, I’m not alone, I’m stubborn, I’m a complete realist (not pessimist), I have an amazing family and I’m generally really happy, and thankful for that. But some days I still feel weak and wobbly and just plain pissed off at what happened. Some days I still take a moment to cry. Other days I feel stronger. More still, increasingly more, I don’t think about it at all. When something hurts you, you go away and lick your wounds and then you have to make a decision – do you let it reduce you or define you? A quote from the very wise Maya Angelou has always stuck with me – she said that we alone, as individuals, have the power to let bad experiences affect us. At first, I let it, I let a few bad moments reduce me; I took my son walking for miles and miles when he was tiny, but I did it alone. I avoided meeting up with other mums and with friends. I didn’t drive for 8 months (I love driving). I didn’t put myself in a position where my son and I would be out in public alone together because heaven forbid he cry in front of judgemental eyes. I breastfed in toilets, or worse, I made him wait til we got home, I tried to punish myself – I didn’t eat properly for months, I couldn’t – I lived on utter rubbish. I only took painkillers twice despite being horribly swollen and very sore. I wanted to feel something real, something that wasn’t shame, emptiness or grief. It didn’t work – physical pain is a whole lot duller when you don’t care. Every emotion was dulled for me at first, the bad and the good. And then I was pregnant again and had someone else to think about.

This time was different, I hurt a lot more, despite the gentler birth, it was almost like compensation or purging or something. I wonder how much of it was mental. I’m not uncertain in any way, birth did reduce me. But now, I choose definition. I might have come out of this scarred (mentally and physically), and like all scars, maybe that healed tissue is a little more susceptible to break again. But everyone knows how tough a good old scar is and how it never goes away (f- you stretch marks!) So I choose to take every feeling of hurt and acknowledge it, if not embrace it. Remembering it and feeling a little sad over it is fine. It reminds me that I care….not about everyone else, but about me. Every time it hurts it reminds me that although birth is about your baby – it’s their everything, after all – it’s about you too. Every time the memories hurt me they remind me to fight harder because I’m worth more than that. It’s easy to be defeated and accept less. It’s more courageous, it’s more painful and more risky to ask and hope for more. I choose courage this time, and I’ll let you know how that goes down when my own little trilogy is complete.

Until then, if you’re reading this and you have ever felt the same way, know that you aren’t alone.

15 weeks to go…

15 weeks to go and I’ll admit it….I’m scared. As d-day speedily approaches, the feeling that something will go wrong…that ominous feeling that bad things will happen is growing. I so want it to be over, I want to hide in bed until its all done. Feeling like I’m in limbo, holding my breath and expecting the worst… Every kick and hiccup remind me of whats coming. How am I going to get through this all over again???
I have a birth plan. Well, I *had* a birth plan. But it feels insufficient now, in fact it makes me angry as its basically a giant lie. They say that mammals like to “nest” and make safe little caves to give birth in. I’ve seen my cats do it (although their caves, admittedly, were generally cardboard boxes), and until now I’ve never really understood that. But that’s what I’m doing now, I think. I don’t want to leave home in labour, and sadly – I don’t want to let anyone in either. I don’t trust any of them. And I’m angry about that – I wasn’t expecting to be angry. Woe betide the poor midwife who has to come and perform the obligatory pre-homebirth visit on our house (if we get to that point). I don’t want to discuss particulars, far less “expectations”, for fear of becoming unfairly unpleasant. At the moment, even seeing the word “hypnobirth” is about enough to send me over the edge with a stream of “f*** you”s – do these women not realise how lucky they were? That birth is essentially a really rubbish game of Dare, where you’re allowed to “risk it” for….5 minutes? an hour? six? It’ll vary according to how “normal” you are, how fed up your midwife is and how hyperactive the ants in Siberia are on that particular day. If you get the birth you want, you were lucky. And I’m angry I didn’t get that chance and angry that the odds are stacked against me getting it this time.
New strategy/aim for the week? Stop thinking about it, in fact thinking about birth is now officially banned (lets see how long that lasts). I’m now on team “head-in-the-sand” until May. Head could also remain in the sand well into June as well. Then, hopefully, back to normal…

New little one

I saw my new baby for the second time recently. Tiny, and just hanging out, playing with his/her little hands and feet. Exploring, learning already.
I found ultrasound scans during my first pregnancy a little bit creepy. But not so much this time. This baby, this quiet little one was just so unassuming, so peaceful, doing its own little thing. In a brief moment of spying on its private time, I feel like I know a little bit of my baby and I love it, want to protect it.

But it also brings me back to the reality that in around about 4 months, I’ll be giving birth again. After my son’s birth I was angry for a long time. Angry at the person who was meant to be caring for me. I blamed her for everything that went wrong. But now…with the benefit of months of thinking…not so much. Sure, she made decisions I disagree with, but is it really that simple? And after thinking a lot, I came to realise that I’d directed my anger the wrong way – at no point did this woman make me do anything. I agreed to it all. After a lot of thinking, I realised that I’m the only person I’m angry with.

How do you deal with that? How do you deal with the fact that you hate yourself a little bit? I’ve always been bitterly disappointed with the decisions I made that day, but now I realise that its me I hate, not them.

Seeing my new baby made me so happy. But the feeling is bittersweet – he/she deserves so much more. I hate that I can’t trust myself to give them all they deserve. I’m determined to do better this time round, but will I? Can I? And do I care enough? So much of how competent you feel as a parent  is wrapped up in how you gave birth, at least in the early days it is. I get so angry hearing women preaching about their beautiful births and how they launched their babies into their world, supermum-style, with little pain relief, classical music playing in the background and fairies waving tiny candles overhead. The unspoken assertion here is that they did a fabulous job – better than I did, better than most do. But did they? Or did they just get incredibly lucky? How would fairy-candle-waving Mum have fared if she’d been strapped to a bed and subjected to an examination that hurt more than any of her contractions ever did? Would she have allowed it to happen in the first place? Did I allow it to happen? There are so many unanswerable questions…

And now I dream of (quite literally) gut-wrenching forceps deliveries, breech births where I’m simultaneously being chased down a flight of stairs (why?!). My subconscious expectations this time round are low; in fact, if I could temporarily check out and go find a sunny corner in which to curl up and hide for this labour – I would. I wouldn’t say I consciously feel fear as such, more an overwhelming feeling of “I cannot be arsed with this shit”. This shit being my new son or daughter…and so history starts to repeat itself.
With 18 weeks to go, the comfortable distance between me and D-day is becoming less comfortable. Midwives wants to discuss “expectations” and “plans”. How do I explain that my birth plan is nothing more than a well-crafted work of fiction to me? That my expectations are to be nothing, to count for nothing. That even if – by some miracle – I give birth at home, it’ll be the equivalent of going for a run a night and realising that someone is following you – looking over your shoulder, constantly on edge, just waiting to be attacked….but what can you do other than keep running because that’s the only way to get home? So maybe it is fear, hanging over me. No amount of relaxation of candle waving is going to help with this one, though – because how do I get round that I fundamentally distrust the people I have no choice but to let into my home? What do I do with that?? Especially since they themselves have done nothing to warrant that distrust?

At best, I’m hoping it’ll be over quickly. Will I be able to cope? And can I actually do it? I’m not sure…my instincts say no. But I’m willing to be proven wrong…

It isn’t always wonderful….but I think that’s ok

Not every birth is wonderous. I’m not talking about the openly physically traumatic or even tragic births experienced by countless women the world over. I’m talking about ‘normal’ births. Those births where the babies are angelic and the pictures on twitter and Facebook paint the picture of a perfect and happy new family. But if you look closely at certain pictures of certain families, you’ll notice Mum isn’t in the pictures….its always baby and Dad, baby and grandparents, baby and stuffed toy, but never  Mum and baby. She gets away with it by always being the one with the camera, doting on her new baby.  But in the rare side shot you do find of Mum, do you detect a hint of guilt in her eyes? An unwillingness to look down the lens of the camera, lest her true feelings be discovered? Or is that all in your head? Because who could ever be disappointed? Who could ever feel lonely? Who could ever feel so damned isolated they don’t know who or where to turn when their whole world is celebrating the arrival of a precious and wanted little bundle? Whoever knew that among all the stories of perfect births, of serene hypnotic waterbirths – and of monitor-laden hospital births, whoever knew that moment of perfection where a new little human, your newest family member joins you, could cause so much pain you’ll spend their early life wishing away your guilt and questioning why – when you have so much – you could ever want more?

My baby was born early this year and he was – and still is – beautiful. Not ‘I’m a new mother blinkered by hormones’ beautiful, but actually stunning. But his ‘normal’ birth was not. His perfectly normal birth left me empty and numb for a good few months, while the guilt will take longer to subside. This is our story, and it isn’t wonderful, but I think that’s ok…

I never had any set ideas about labour…I wanted an intervention-free birth, I wanted my son to be born into as calm an atmosphere as possible but I accepted that things could go wrong and was happy to ‘go with it’ on the day. Secretly, a part of me looked forward to labour – what was all the fuss about? Could it ever be that painful?! I was ready. I was ready to let go and be led by nature; to let my mind (for once) take a backseat and to let my body do what it was made to do. I welcomed the pain – let it hurt! I wanted to be moved and to experience the wonder and love that comes from bringing your baby safely into this world. I knew things can – and do – routinely go wrong, but I had an overpowering belief that my labour would be ok and that if I did the right things and thought positively enough, all would be well and good and normal and natural. Trouble is, I didn’t do the right things, I listened to the wrong advice and when faced with the consequences of that, I decided – shamefully quickly- that I couldn’t deal with those consequences and I gave up. I became a passenger….an object in my own birth.

I was annoyingly overdue. Induction was threatening and I was steeling myself, ready for a condescending consultant review where I’d be bullied into some form of accelerant. But that morning was different. It was cold, blustery, grey – my very favourite kind of day and as a last-ditch natural induction attempt, I found a friend and her dog and went walking. It felt good. The cold was sharper than I’d imagined and I was comically under-dressed. But the dog’s energy was infectious and we spent hours running, jumping, throwing balls. I was glad that I could still do and enjoy the simple things I loved whilst being so pregnant – no waddling and shuffling here. Looking back, the energy I had was mental….dashing up and down a beach after a Spaniel and lobbing a tennis ball again and again. It was a perfect afternoon and 4 hours later, the trudge home admittedly felt a bit like a chore. I went into labour that evening.

My husband was asleep by 11 and I was tucked up in bed with a hot water bottle for my aching back. By 1, I realised that the aching back wasn’t a product of the beach when teeny little contractions, 8 minutes apart started. I timed them. I got bored of timing them. I tried to go to sleep. I facebooked. And eventually, I got up and paced. I experimented. I quickly realised that sitting or lying down were growing increasingly uncomfortable – perfect, I’d rather walk around. I leaned forward for every contraction and felt instant relief. I listened to music in my head, concentrating on complicated harmonies…teasing out the individual sounds and by the time they were unravelled, the contraction was over. When it became too distracting to time contractions and distance myself from them, I woke my husband and he took over. I had a coping mechanism. It worked and it was comfortable. The contractions felt good – painful, but with purpose. I had one more hurdle and then I could relax – I had to figure out a way of getting comfy in the car for the hospital trip – and then everything would be fine. I freaked out. With all the standing and swaying and pacing, I hadn’t noticed that lying down brought a firey back pain that took my breath away. I bit my lip, downed paracetamol and got in the car to face full blown rush hour madness. Once this bit is over, we can get back to it being ok again.

The faffing that followed lasted for maybe 1 or 2 hours. Triage – and two room changes later and I was still mentally “on hold”. Holding that thought – this will be over soon and then I can get back to my music, walking around, leaning….because I needed a rest. I stood in the corner of the room and agreed to everything – anything – that would get me to that point sooner. Following some questionable tracing of my baby’s heart rate,  I agreed to have my waters broken and a fetal scalp electrode attached. I could blame my poor decision-making on fatigue – 36 hours without more than an hour or so of unbroken sleep…….that romp in the countryside the day before…..severe nausea and vomiting during those early stages of labour…..or simply not having eaten in 24 hours. I could blame any one of those things, but that would just be covering the simple fact that I trusted what my midwife told me, didn’t ask questions and assumed that after, I’d be able to continue with happily plodding along through contractions, meandering around waiting for this to hot up. I didn’t question that the promise of ’20 minutes monitoring’ had been quietly tucked away, and it never crossed my mind that I’d spend the rest of my labour strapped to a bed, slowly becoming more and more of a prisoner. This was easy, and you don’t question an easy ride, right?

Having narrowly avoided induction, I’d done some light reading on membrane rupturing….not much, but enough to know it shouldn’t hurt and can speed up labour. I could deal with that, labour to 4cm dilated had been a breeze. I was miles away from needing pain relief, let it speed up. How bad could it be? The next memory is fuzzy. I think my waters must have been broken first – warm, surprisingly warm and painless. The electrode? Not so much. Maybe it hurt so much because I wasn’t expecting it, but the sensation of tugging – of rummaging and of picking made me want to kick. I surprised myself. I didn’t cry out, the pain internalised, locked into my head. Again, and again with the jabbing and pulling (“I’m going to get out as much fluid as possible”) until finally it that long drawn out minute or so  ended. I was shocked, but relieved it was over and finally ready to crack on until the length of the cables made me realise I wasn’t getting down off that bed any more. And the horror of that – of coping with contractions in the only position I had found agonising in the hours before – coupled with the dull pounding I could still feel long after that horrible examination had ended sent the idea that I was doing this on my own flying away. I pushed away the emotion and got rid of the tears before my husband could see them and tried desperately to ‘unsee’ that I was bleeding. I was expecting all manner of blood, gore and goo. But not yet, not in this way. In fact, after this, I refused to see any part of my body below the waist and above the knee until well after the birth. I was detaching already and when the searing pain in my back began, I crashed back to reality with a horrible bump.

The reassuring and meaningful pain of contractions that I’d felt up until that point was quickly dulled by the knife-like stabbing in my back. Grating, raw and rough pain. Pain that was there for the sake of being painful alone. It spread upwards until I could no longer breathe. The contractions I’d previously felt dulled to mere tightening a as a vice-like iron fist clenched round my throat, making me wonder when I’d pass out from lack of air. Movement. Movement could help, maybe? But the only movement left was rolling from one side  to another, desperately trying to escape….desperately looking for something – anything – that could help me breathe again. I searched for the music, but it had gone. All my thoughts were staccato – fractured and cut short before more than a few words could come out. It repeated, again and again and again.I willed the contractions to come back, tried to focus on them, but the feeling had all but disappeared. I tried to talk but the words wouldn’t form and I didn’t have the breath to back them up either. The room was silent, my eyes closed and I was truly, and maddeningly alone.

After probably minutes, but seemingly hours – would I like another examinaton to see how far I’d progressed? The stabbing aching of last time echoed in my mind, but anything – any scrap of motivation that could help wouldn’t have been turned down here. I don’t even feel this examination and the words ‘no further progress’ leave me feeling despair and my last coherent and relevant thought was that the baby must be in a weird position (they couldn’t tell at triage) for my back to hurt this much. Something had to be wrong for the contractions to dull to nothing, surely. The cables and straps are constricting, I want them off, they need to go now, but this is what I signed up for – they are here to stay for as long as me and the baby are connected.

I try gas any air and nearly vomit – not bearable given I can barely breathe. I agree to have morphine. I cancel the morphine and beg for an epidural, fully expecting a fight. It isn’t questioned. As a roll around waiting for the anaesthetist, I think – twice – you can do this without. It’s been a shock but you can do it, I promise you can. I silence the voice, silence me, and lock that part away. You don’t matter  any more. No-one cares. You are alone in this, there is no-one coming to help. Take the epidural, weakling. Take it and go away until it’s over. So I did.

I curled up into a ball and got the epidural. The back pain disappears first and I can breathe. The contractions continue and I stupidly wonder whether I’ll get to keep them, but their pain fades and eventually the sensation disappears. I chat. I send my husband to lunch. I distract myself. I turn away from the monitors, I ignore everything and for all the world spend the next few hours genuinely forgetting where I am and what I’m there for. I’m not tempted to feel for contractions, I don’t look under the sheets and I forget, even, that hours before I was thirsty, so I don’t drink. I barely move. For one horrible moment, my hand brushes by something cold, alien…..its my leg. I recoil, cover it up and talk about TV shows, my brother, my Dad…..anything.

As time goes by I become convinced that I was only allowed the epidural because I’m going to end up with a C-section. I know there is something they aren’t telling me, and I think this is it…and I’ve known it for a while. I can’t do this. They know it, and I do. I don’t understand why we’re waiting, but that’s how this will end up. So it is a surprise when they tell me I should start to push. Every ounce of me screams that it feels wrong, I’m not ready. I’m NOT ready. And it isn’t going to work anyway, so why try?

And it doesn’t work. My back to back baby needs turning (for reasons I still don’t understand). I remember shouting. SO much shouting. Not mine. They tell me to hold my breath and push. I hate holding my breath. They make me do it over and over. Its the only way. Suddenly I’m really not in the room any more. My mind drifts back to the last time I held my breath like this – a lifetime ago in an icy lake, kayaking. My boat capsized, and I waited, leaning forward and holding my breath, waiting to grab hold of the approaching rescue boat to pull myself back round. But it was slow and the water numbingly cold. As I pulled myself back round, I closed my eyes, nose under water and felt myself slip back. Its the first time I’ve ever understood how death could ever be peaceful. But this wasn’t peaceful. The burning in my chest shakes away the peaceful memory and I breathe harder, knowing that when I hold my breath, so does my baby.

They turn the baby, they shout. They get angry – I’m not doing enough, I’m not fast or strong enough. It isn’t enough. The baby is hurting now and it’s my fault. They threaten and eventually I’m doing better, clawing back a little control – this might actually happen outside of theatre. They tell me he will be here soon, but that I won’t be able to hold him. Buzzers sound and I know they think he won’t breathe. And I don’t care. A calmer voice repeats the news, but I heard it the first time. I just don’t care any more. I want out. I push for so long that that familiar feeling of faintness when you’ve run too far without eating appears. Good, maybe if I black out, I’ll get a rest? I feel my contractions now – not much of the pain, but the sensation. I feel the baby’s head being born, feel the burning beforehand and I hear the collective gasp as it happens and I know – I feel, despite wishing that I didn’t, I feel the violent tearing. It seems fitting, and again – I don’t care. Shouting to stop pushing. Shouting to push again and he is out.

I ask for some water.

And for some reason, they pass me the baby. My first thought? Why isn’t he blue? Why is breathing? You said he wouldn’t cry and this kid is BAWLING. And he isn’t ugly. He is stunning. He isn’t scrunched up, he’s pink. He can’t be mine, there must be a different baby under that sheet. For all I know, there could be. I have kept my eyes firmly closed for the last….hour? Two hours? I don’t know. Someone else gave birth that day, I was just along for the ride.

They say that birth is beautiful. They say we surprise ourselves. I don’t see the beauty, but I did surprise myself. I’m weaker than I thought. Up until now, I’ve always believed in the power of the mind. How you can think your way out of most situations, you can trust your mind, your instincts to steer you the right way. There’s always an answer, always something. My instincts didn’t do that – and if they did, well I didn’t listen to them. In fact, not only did I ignore them, but I silenced them. I sent every feeling part of myself away to the detriment of my son. Thank God babies don’t have long memories. Thank God he won’t remember that his Mummy didn’t look at him and love him. No baby deserves that.

At some point, after everyone had left and the baby was sleeping, a wheelchair appeared in the room. I swear it appeared on its own. Noticing it sat there, by the door is an ominous image that has stuck with me all these months. I wanted to walk to the ward. I refused to get in it. I was bribed by my husband. Getting in, I realised that even post-birth, my body still wasn’t going to become my own again for a while. The four days and nights that followed were entirely sleepless, painful and entirely centred around trying desperately to not fail at breastfeeding. I didn’t leave my baby – not even to go to the toilet – unless my husband was there. I didn’t eat (fed husband instead), I made jokes, I took photos. I only cried at night and only got caught crying once. I watched the weather a lot those days. It snowed a little. After that, I couldn’t watch the weather any more. Remembering the wind on my face, the freedom to dance and run around like I did a few days before hurt too much, reminded me of the person I used to be and I wished would come back. I closed my blind until all I could see where the headlights from cars driving by. And I waited for life to begin again.

And now, nearly 9 months on, we’re certifiably normal. We laugh, we play, work hard, dance, sing, read stories, breastfeed (still!), make a mess – everything you’re meant to do. Everything that’s good about having a baby. But the guilt is the one thing that remains. Its a guilt that comes from not only a failed birth, but four long and entirely sleepless days and nights with a newborn in hospital wishing someone would take him away. I look at other people’s pictures and envy their early bonding – wonder how things would be different with my son now if I’d experienced it. As it is, I rejoice in every milestone, every new move and sound. I do – and feel – all of the right things, and life goes on. But I wonder – would I love him more? Would I love him more if I’d loved him longer? I honestly don’t know. I suspect not. I suspect it has more to do with how I feel about me than him. That’s a feeling I was interested in for a while. I’ve been through the denial, the questioning why I couldn’t have what comes to so many others naturally. And I have no answers – if everything had been perfect with this birth, maybe I would have. Or maybe not. Would it have been an achievement? A drugless “beautiful” birth where everything had done exactly what it should have? It probably would have felt that way. I’d probably have been sat here congratulating myself, preaching the beauty of life, love and all things birthy.  As with most things in life, its when we’re tested that our true colours show – and finding out that your true colour is something different – duller than you thought is never going to be a pill easily swallowed.

Its not wonderful, birth. But that’s ok, I think. Its changed me; I don’t trust easily any more, I question myself and leave everything to logic and nothing to instinct. If my baby cries, I don’t trust any instincts I might have – I look things up. I analyse… It doesn’t matter in the end, not really. Birth becomes a memory that you can package away, and its what you do next that really matters, really counts. But as I think about the birth of my next baby, I can’t shake that feeling….that instinct….that knowledge. I’m planning a quiet homebirth. I’m humouring myself – painting a beautiful picture that’ll last for another seven months or so. It’ll comfort, but it isn’t real. I know, deep down, that when it comes to it, when it really matters. I’ll disappoint. If – when – I’m tested, I’ll fall apart and there is no safety net, no pair of hands to catch you, you’re alone….all alone. This birth won’t be wonderful, it won’t be beautiful. But it’s ok. We’ll survive. And sooner or later, I’ll love the baby in spite of it.