I think it is important to recognise from the off that all births are different, all parents are different, and all birthing experiences will therefore also differ – this isn’t about what is right and what is wrong. Whilst I am happy to share my two stories, they are mine – they will not be the same as anyone else’s and it is key to understand that I am not setting out claim that all vaginal births are like this – or all c sections are like that. This writing is to simply to share.
My first child is my daughter and at 35 I felt that I went into pregnancy with my eyes wide open. I was honestly not surprised or shocked by much – aside from the endless awful heartburn which I had not expected.
We attended NCT and hypnobirthing. We visited the hospital and read the right books and thought about a birth plan – a water birth I thought, would be the ideal choice. I was also fully aware that this might not happen. I understood complications, interventions, and procedures. I was ready. Or at least almost ready – R came a few weeks early and we had no mattress for the moses basket which quickly had to be sorted out!
As to the birth itself, as far as births go it was pretty straight forward. Contractions started at home and after some time spent pacing and sitting in the bath, it was time to head to Bolton hospital. I stayed in my pjs as this seemed sensible as they were comfy. However, this then meant that when we had to pull in, so I could be sick by the side of the main road in Bolton, I did so in my pjs. Can’t imagine what I must have looked like. To be quite honest, I didn’t care!
The pain though expected was strong. It was in fact worse than strong it was really full on and shit!! I couldn’t think of anything worse than getting into the water to give birth and so plan A was out of the window very quickly. Plan B was really just to give birth safely – that seemed like a sensible plan to have. There were a couple of complications with her heart beat and so I was strapped up with a monitor whilst I paced around and sipped lucozade. Neither of us had much cash on us (we had a hospital bag full of useless crap – (A HANDHELD FAN????) and yet no cash – and so the best we could get from the vending machine was a pack of mini cheddars and some M&Ms – hardly ideal!
I had been on the midwife led unit until the point came when the pain was just more than I could stand and despite what I had originally ‘planned’ for I went on the gas and air and I took some pain relief and was moved to the delivery suite. I was beginning to realise that a birth plan was little more than a fancy way to get you to think through the realities of what was going to happen. A way for both parents to consider their options and be prepared. It was NOT in any way an actual plan that was going to work out as your step by step approach to giving birth.
The midwives were fantastic. I remember focussing on the hypnobirting breathing although I’m not sure I was doing it right – or even doing it at all. It gave me something to focus on! I remember it being hard work. Of course, it was, I was giving birth! But I also remember that I knew the end was in sight and that (along with the pain relief) made it bearable. I remember shouting a lot at my partner, but I reckon it’s one of the few times that you can get away with yelling ‘stop telling me to fucking breathe’ at the top of your voice without actually offending anyone. (He went back to passing me the M&Ms after that).
I gave birth to R on my knees leaning against the bed, holding my partner’s hands and shouting a lot. She came out screaming, we did skin to skin, and then suddenly she stopped breathing and was turning blue. It was seconds before the midwife had her, and soon she was breathing again and she was crying again and all was well. It was seconds that felt like forever as my own heart stopped and I was instantly helpless. It was joy, panic, relief, elation all within the space of a few minutes. It was instant love.
She was fine. 6,10 and loud. I sat up all night looking at her. I was tired, exhausted, running on adrenalin. I felt so incredibly proud of her – of myself, of us all. The long anticipated water birth that never was didn’t matter to me. The pain relief I was adamant I wasn’t having but then took didn’t matter to me. The hospital staff were truly fantastic. I wanted to breast feed and they helped with this but in no way did I feel it was expected of me. There was tons of support and after giving birth at 10pm on the Wednesday evening we went home the next day. AAaagh the realisation of having a baby to look after.
I can honestly say that life adjusted fairly easily to R’s arrival. With great support from family and friends we took it easy to begin with and spent a lot of time lying around in the garden enjoying the warm weather. I was able to drive us around, I was able to start exercising again after 6 weeks and I could slowly build up to running again which I love. Yes there were times when we all cried. Yes there were nights which felt like they would never end. Yes we needed support and were grateful for all of it but my ‘recovery’ was smooth and although life was now different, I could soon do much of the same things i had enjoyed before.
G was different. The whole pregnancy was different. I wasn’t as prepared for this. I had assumed things would be similar but I hadn’t factored in that now there was also a toddler to contend with. I was so much more tired. The heartburn was back and even worse than the first time. I had awful sickness and amazing acupuncture which previously I had been totally sceptical about. I felt like I could sleep anywhere at any time. Tiredness is not the worst thing in the world to have to contend with, and yes I was incredibly fortunate to be pregnant again but – it was so much harder than the first time and this surprised me. I felt like I was enduring the pregnancy rather than enjoying it. I never went through that glowing phase where everyone tells you how great your skin looks, I basically looked grey for nine months!
When it came to the birth I planned for it to be similar to R. I knew I didn’t want a water birth, and I also knew I was ok with taking pain relief. I didn’t bother with a plan as such other than to say to Gareth that an epidural was an absolute last resort. We both knew the score, we knew the hospital, we knew how it would work.
There was no question for me that we would go back to Bolton. The care before, during and after the birth had been excellent. And it was excellent the second time round too but my experience was very different.
We went into hospital at about 3 o’clock on the Thursday morning and we were sent home with some strong pain relief. This is a bit of a kick in the tits when you know you are contracting, bellow all the way there and then have to face going home again. But, we did it.
When we returned at 9 o’clock the pain was worse than I ever can remember with R. Rose tinted glasses maybe. My waters broke in the car – one step up from vom at the side of the road – and there was meconium present which I knew wasn’t the best thing to happen. I felt like I couldn’t go on much longer when we arrived and then to be told you are ‘only’ 4cm dilated was so disappointing! I was on gas and air and writhing around in a very undignified manner when they established there was an issue with his heart beat. He was clearly in some kind of distress and they fitted a heart monitor to his head (amazing eh? I can’t even bring myself to think about how that works).
It became clear very quickly that when I contracted his heart beat dropped significantly and this was a cause for concern. It was so slow. It was as if time stood still waiting for the next beat. Once the contraction stopped, the beat returned to normal. We had to wait to see if I became more dilated – I didn’t. We had to wait to see if the heart beat improved – it didn’t.
There were forms to sign and information to be listened to. I was probably going to theatre. Baby was in distress and needed an emergency c-section to get out. Wait for one more contraction. Did I agree. DID I AGREE? Of course I bloody did. Everything was a blur. It was so painful, I was so worried. I was scared. Gareth was there with me and I knew he was worried too. The next contraction came and waiting for the beats was worse that any of the pain I was in. It sounds so dramatic but, to me, at that time – it was.
That contraction decided it and all of a sudden we were moving and there were people and there were lights. Gareth went to get scrubs and I was being talked to and reassured and I wanted to cry but I didn’t. Everyone was so calm and so lovely and so swift. They knew what to do. They knew how to get him to us. I had to have an epidural and if it hurt I didn’t feel it because I was so scared. There was a woman – a Doctor? Maybe. She was talking to me, supporting me. I remember squeezing her arms and hoping it didn’t hurt her because she was so small. I felt so helpless – everything was out of our control.
I was lying down and being asked if I wanted to watch the section – I didn’t. I am no good with blood – not even my own. I don’t know if I regret that now. Maybe I should have watched him coming out. But I was just so scared and I could hear Gareth asking if the baby was ok and all I could do was focus on breathing and praying and not crying. I am strong. I am strong. I am strong. The beat inside my head.
And then he cried. And I cried. And we could see him. And he was G. And we loved him.
It wasn’t the same as with R. I was a bit out of it by this stage and I didn’t see him being weighed although I have the pics. It felt like an age before he was with me as I was being stitched up and lying relieved and feeling like I had aged about 20 years in the space of 2 hours. Skin to skin happened a bit later than the first time round. I was worried about breast feeding but with some help it happened. He was wrapped up in a 7,14 bundle and we were pushed on the bed to the ward. It wasn’t what I wanted for his birth but it truly didn’t matter because he was safe.
‘Recovery’ from a section is so very different and so much harder. You are in hospital for longer and although all I wanted to do was go home, it was actually probably the best place for me as I could rest, and be looked after and not really have to do very much.
It is easy to forget that a c section is major surgery and aside from the fact that you have a new baby to look after – plus any other kids you have at home – you are supposed to do nothing for at least six weeks. In reality this is very difficult to achieve, even with the best will in the world. I was fortunate, Gareth could take two weeks off and then had two weeks holiday shortly after. Plus we have amazing family and friends. Not every new mother is that lucky.
No driving. No lifting. No exercising. No hoovering (yay).
My body was different – it still is. It was different to before children and it was also different to after my first birth. I found it really difficult that I had to continue wearing pregnancy clothes for so long. This isn’t a hang up about shape or size – this was just about me wanting to reclaim a bit of ‘me’ and my old style again. That had to be put on hold. I resigned myself to cake.
To begin with everything was so tender and sore – and spongy! I had to inject myself everyday which is quite honestly my worst nightmare. I am strong. I am strong. I am strong. Every needle an symbol of taking back some power! The number of pills and pain killers and vitamins – endless. The period of time between when the pain killers wear off and you can feasibly take some more – endless.
It got easier, but it took time. Much longer than with R. I needed to accept much more help and I was far less independent. It hurt more, moving was uncomfortable, sleeping was difficult. Everything took time to heal. Plus you have to come to terms emotionally with the birth and what happened. Nearly five months on now and I think I can look back without any regrets and I have learnt to look back without comparison. Weird guilt looms at times, but I don’t let it get the better of me! Recovery though, that is a ongoing process.
People talk about positive and negative birth stories. Both of my births differed from my plans, from what I wanted to happen, from what I thought would be best. What I have learnt is that a positive birth story is one which ends with a baby and a mother safe together. I have two of those stories and when I think of them I feel Amazonian. I am strong.
Birth story written by Hannah from Our Kids Social. Follow Hannah on Instagram & check out her fun family social events