Recently, I found myself reading an absolutely nauseating account of childbirth by a popular blogger, which apparently had its readers dabbing the tears away as they cooed over staged photos of a freshly post-birth mother with shiny, perfectly styled hair and a face full of makeup. Her fringe looked better immediately after giving birth than mine does when I leave the hairdressers! There were loving, knowing looks between the impending mother and father between contractions and time to document the whole process with fantastic lighting and a makeup artist on hand. I can only imagine that the readers who found themselves dabbing tears away at this saccharine tale have never given birth or known anyone who has given birth. Some people choose not to talk about their birth story and some can’t, while others are more than happy to share with the world the literal ins and outs of their birthing experience. My experience was neither glorious nor traumatic (for me) and my birth story is far from exceptional.
Born with his eyes open, Rudy silently entered the world to the pounding soundtrack of Madonna’s ‘Hung Up’ (I had curated a carefully selected playlist of 90s riot grrrl, Blondie, classic Madonna, Judy Garland and Doris Day) and my drug induced roars. He was swiftly thrown between my legs from behind and into my grappling arms like a slippery American football as I panicked that I would drop this surprisingly large, slime covered baby. I was on my knees facing the headboard and had no way of turning around to sit down as I gripped onto him for dear life and marvelled at just how big he was. Images of me laying back on plumped pillows with my tiny baby being placed lovingly on my chest for the sacred skin to skin contact while we blissed out in the newborn bubble were snatched from me as I was warned of the ensuing indignity of passing my placenta while still on my knees. I actually felt like I was in a scene from Stranger Things as a gigantic, bloody slug plopped onto the blooded stained sheets behind me as I desperately tried to not drop my baby.
This was 8:15am on Tuesday 23rd July 2019. My waters had broken at 3am on the Sunday morning and my contractions started at 4am Monday morning but I was still induced. Despite all the antenatal classes attended, hypnobirthing, pregnancy yoga and reading that I did, no one had told me that contractions felt like the dull, thudding kind of period pain you have as a teenager combined with excruciating IBS cramping. I arrived at the hospital at 8am Monday morning to be induced (I was only 1cm dilated) and proceeded to spend the day on the toilet or very close to a toilet until there was literally nothing left inside of me. The inbetween moments were a blur of practicing my hypnobirthing techniques on a birthing ball with headphones in while sporadically emitting bovine-like groans.
Of course I had a birth plan but I knew it was irrelevant. I had wanted a waterbirth but wasn’t allowed it due to the induction. I knew I would be hypnobirthing but I was going to make my mind up about pain relief as and when it happened but I definitely knew that I did not want an epidural. I don’t believe giving birth to your first baby is the right time to choose to try to be a fucking hero. No one gives you a medal at the end if you do it without pain relief so you do you. I spent a lot of time in hospitals as a baby and a child and have the utmost trust in medical professionals. There was nowhere else I wanted to be to have my first baby than an NHS hospital.
In amongst the blur of mooing my way through contractions and nearly shitting myself, I demanded something stronger than the measly paracetamol they had initially dished out. I then insisted the gas and air that I would huff my way through for the next 24 hours was doing absolutely nothing (it definitely was) so I was presented with some liquid morphine to swill around my mouth and swallow. At some point I looked down to find a cannula had been inserted into the back of my left hand. The fact that I hadn’t even noticed is a testament to the effectiveness of hypnobirthing (or morphine). I was eventually moved into my own room early that evening to find my hypnobirthing teacher would be my midwife. Upon her declaration that I was still only 1cm dilated, I shouted that she had to be fucking kidding (I blame the gas and air) which was greeted with a very sympathetic look. I begged for more pain relief and she offered pethidine. I was reluctant as during our antenatal classes, we were told that it was the one drug that goes through to the baby and can slow them down. My midwife told me he wasn’t making an appearance any time soon and would have worn off by the time I need to push and in the meantime, it would allow me to get some sleep. So, with a drip in my hand that, through the night, would invariable deliver fluids as I dehydrated, oxytocin to speed things along and antibiotics as I started to develop an infection and a heart monitor strapped to my stomach, she stabbed the needle in my bum and I managed to fitfully sleep through my contractions for a few hours. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for my birthing partners, Simon and my mum. Simon managed about 30 minutes curled up in a chair in the corner and my mum went to our house to take care of our dog before returning after a few hours.
The pethidine wore off but he was still no closer to arriving so I was stabbed in the bum again and continued to huff on the gas and air all the while insisting it was useless and doing nothing but helping me time my breathing (it wasn’t). My midwife told me that she needed to see me go to the toilet as she hadn’t seen me go in a while despite the amount of water I was chugging back. After being escorted to the loo by her and Simon, dragging my drip stand behind me and attempting to hold the heart monitor straps out of the way of any potential streams of urine, nothing appeared but some blood. She then produced a catheter to relieve me of half a litre of urine and any dignity I might have had left. Through the haze of drugs, I remember her telling me that we needed to think about an epidural. I stood firm and refused but later found out it was because she wanted to start preparing me for an emergency c-section as he was taking too long and the risks were increasing. This was now in the early hours of Tuesday morning and my waters had broken 48 hours before.
All this chat about emergency c-sections soon stopped when I announced very loudly and very clearly that I needed *the toilet.* The midwife told Simon and my mum that the baby was on his way and to get me on the bed. I had other ideas and started screaming that if they didn’t let me go, I would shit myself and it was their fault. They won and I returned to bed. I had been warned that it felt like you needed a massive poo in the final stages but it really fucking does in the worst way. One of my greatest fears about giving birth was relieving myself during labour despite every medical professional and mother I know telling me that it me it was perfectly normal and I wouldn’t notice or care very much anyway. This was not true. In fact, I was told off by the midwife as everytime the baby’s head started to crown, my clenching would promptly suck it back in. I needn’t have worried as there was nothing in me to come out after spending much of the day on the loo and I hadn’t eaten all day. The jelly babies that Simon had tried to feed me to help keep my energy levels up tasted like sickly balls of cotton wool so that was the end of any attempt to eat.
At some point in the final hour or so, we had a change of midwives (my third) and she told me to change my position from kneeling over the headboard as I inhaled gas, slurped back Lucozade and babbled about the baby being the tallest athlete in the world (turns out, gas and air does work) to laying on my back as she needed to cut me. Well, I was convinced that I was so far along that the baby’s head was literally hanging out of me by now (it wasn’t) and that I would crush him if I rolled over. I told her that I didn’t believe her when she said that there was no baby head hanging out of me and I refused to move. I continued to huff, slurp, sweat (did I mention it was the week of that horrific heatwave in July?), scream, moo and strain so hard that I gave myself a lovely case of hemorrhoids and all the while trying to employ all the hypnobirthing techniques I could remember until Rudy finally arrived silently bug-eyed.
After I finally managed to navigate my way around the blood and amniotic fluid soaked bed and into a sitting position with him in my arms, I managed to get a good look at this tiny little person. He was so much bigger than I was expecting and despite being swollen from all the fluids pumped into us, had a very distinctive look unlike the usual squidged up newborn gnome. I could immediately see that he had Simon’s chin, which I had already pointed out on the 20 week scan. He was pink, plump and delicious but it didn’t feel altogether real. I knew he was mine and I knew that I loved him and I knew that I would go to the ends of the earth to protect him but where was that rush of love that you hear about? That realisation that our lives were forever changed and improved because of this little one’s presence? That newfound sense of purpose new mothers were supposed to feel?
I have no idea how long we sat there marvelling at him but I was told to hand him over to Simon as apparently I needed stitches. Quite a few of them, in fact. The midwife told me that due to my refusal to move to be cut, I had torn quite badly but it would heal far better than any cut she would have done and she congratulated me on my excellent decision making. As I laid back with my legs in stirrups and my bloodstained nightie round my waist, she told me to take a few puffs on the gas and air until the local anesthetic kicked in. Well, of course I was convinced it didn’t do anything anyway so I sucked on the gnawed, well-worn tube around ten times in quick succession as I watched Simon cuddling Rudy in the armchair in the corner of the room. Grabbing my phone from beside the bed, I pressed a button and A Message to You, Rudy started playing loudly out of the speakers as I laid spreadeagled on the bed giggling and being stitched up while the last shreds of my dignity were shoved up my bum along with the enormous suppositories designed to numb any pain (bit late for that!)
The next few hours were no more dignified as I took my first shower with blood still gushing down my legs. A futile task if there ever was one. I fed Rudy for the first time (which was magical, however, it turned out that he was barely latched on) and we were wheeled through to the postnatal ward where I would stay until the next evening. I don’t remember much about that first day but I do remember joking to my mum that if I felt as good the following day as I did then, I would be down the pub celebrating his arrival. Ah, drugs and hormones are a wonderful thing, aren’t they? I felt like I’d been hit by a truck for the following three weeks as I hobbled around like John Wayne wearing a nappy. We were kept in so that Rudy’s heart murmur could be monitored and I could successfully establish breastfeeding and we finally left at 7pm on the Wednesday evening in the sweltering heat with our tiny squidge.
My birth story is not remarkable or special (obviously it is to my partner and I) and no two are the same for any parents so perhaps there are stories out there where everything is perfect, including hair, makeup and lighting. Yes, our bodies instinctively know what to do when the time comes and yes, the midwives know what to do when the time comes but that does not mean that giving birth is a checklist of carefully timed events. Giving birth is unpredictable, messy, painful (even with drugs and hypnobirthing, which, by the way, are NOT mutually exclusive), long (for some), emotional, bloody, smelly and confusing. It is important that you trust the people around you but most of all, trust yourself. Know your rights when it comes to your body and ensure your birthing partner knows what you want and don’t want in the event that they have to make those decisions on your behalf. Trust your body but know that sometimes we need help and never be afraid to ask for it. And when it’s all over and done, no matter how you feel about your birth story and your body, take a long look at that little person and know that you did that, however you did it, you grew and birthed a person.