On Sunday 2 December 2018 at 8.34pm we welcomed our baby boy into the world. He was here; happy, healthy and safe, finally, after keeping us waiting exactly two weeks over his due date…but it wasn’t the birth experience I had hoped for, far from it and 4 months later, I look back with so much pain and sadness. I wish I could turn back time and change it all.
Before I talk about August’s birth I want to say to any first-time mama’s that birth isn’t always like this. It CAN be the most amazing, beautiful, serene and empowering experience. The birth of my daughter was just that (you can read about it here). A 22-hour drug free labour that left me feeling empowered, strong and so incredibly proud of myself and my body. It was the most memorable experience of my life, and I was actually excited about doing it again.
I also want to say that I am so grateful that I have my baby boy and that ultimately, we were both healthy and physically unharmed from the birth. I do know how lucky I am, I really do. I ask that you keep any negative comments you may have to yourself please.
Our little boy was due on the 20th of November 2018 and being an IVF pregnancy, we knew our dates were spot on. As my daughter was born 10 days past her due date, this time, I had no expectation that he’d be here on time. We waited patiently (or maybe me not so patiently), tried ALL of the things and still no baby. So, right on 42 weeks an induction date was set. I held off being induced, as it just wasn’t what I wanted… but as time progressed I physically and emotionally couldn’t go on anymore. It was time. That morning we got up as the sun rose and I kissed my baby girl goodbye with tears in my eyes, trying so hard to hold it in, to not break down in front of her. I couldn’t quite believe that the next time I saw her I would be a mama of two.
Upon arriving at the hospital, we were checked in and shown to the room where they would start the induction process. I was assessed and the midwife explained that as I had been contracting for a week I should go into labour with just the gel insert. We decided that was the best thing to do and in it went and the waiting game started.
We passed the time by watching a movie, I had a nap, went for a walk and then bounced on the fit ball. This was not how I wanted to labour; in a tiny hospital room with bright lights, and buzzers going off every 2 seconds. I wanted to be at home, in my safe space. I had such a calm, beautiful birth with my daughter and I knew my body could do it again given the chance. I had a huge range of emotions flooding in. I felt so let down by my body but was also excited at the thought of meeting my baby in the next hours or days. We discussed a few times with the midwife that this wasn’t what I wanted and talked about hopefully transferring to the birth centre if I could get into labour without the drip.
As the afternoon went on the contractions started to get more intense, to the point where I had to really breathe through them and we commenced timing each one. And I guess this is where things started to go off course, the beginning of a downward spiral of feeling lost, scared and totally out of control. As my contractions really ramped up I asked to be examined. I wanted to know where we were at and how I was progressing as I was pretty sure this was it, I was in active labour. The midwife examined me and advised I was still only 2cm dilated and definitely not in labour. I felt so disheartened, like my body was doing the wrong thing and I became pretty confused as to what exactly was going on. I was sure I was in labour, the pains were the same, if not more intense than what I felt the first time.
An hour passed by of breathing through my contractions, swaying and trying to get into the zone. This was it. I was definitely in labour. I asked to be examined again and was met with the same response. “You’re NOT in labour, you’re ONLY 2 cm dilated”. These words were mentioned repeatedly by my midwife as the hours went on as she would examine me and then leave the room.
And this was the point where I lost it. This was the point where I started to lose all control. I sobbed as I begged to be transferred down to the delivery ward. I didn’t even care anymore that I couldn’t go to the birth centre. I just needed to be in the place where I would have my baby. I needed to set up my space, get into my zone. I needed to feel in control, to feel safe, secure and supported. I needed a midwife to help me, to offer advice and guidance and explain to me just what was going on in my body… if it wasn’t labour, then what was happening? I needed a professional to tell me I was doing a good job, that I was safe, that my baby was safe. And I had none if this. I couldn’t understand what was going on and throughout those hours I’ve never felt more scared in my life. If this wasn’t labour, something was wrong with either myself or my baby and I feared something was going to happen to one of us. I’ve never been scared of labour or birthing a baby… but for those hours, I honestly thought we might not make it. I felt fear in every single part of my body, a type of fear that I hope I never experience again in my lifetime.
As the afternoon passed I spent the next hour breathing through my contractions as I sobbed and my husband supported me in the best way he could. Not being in the delivery ward meant I had no access to the natural pain relief I used with my daughter like the bath or shower and with no support from a midwife, we were on our own. The midwife came in for one last examination before she finished her shift. At this point in time I lost it again. I was out of control. To me, birthing a baby with no pain relief is a mental game, it’s about being in-control, not fighting the pain and just going with it. I pleaded one more time to be moved to the delivery ward and explained I was on the verge of a panic attack, something which was clearly very evident. My husband explained that this wasn’t me. This wasn’t how I am in labour, that I go inward and silent and that he too felt like something was wrong. This request was again met with the same response; I wasn’t in labour and couldn’t go to delivery until my waters had broken or I was 5cm dilated (something I later found out is actually incorrect). I explained that I felt lost, out of control, like something wasn’t right with me or the baby, like I couldn’t do this anymore, that I felt scared for my life. Now, looking back we can see I was clearly in the transition phase and our baby was not far away.
We let another 10 minutes pass and pressed the call buzzer again as we hoped by this point, the original midwife would be off her shift. As a new midwife entered the room I felt like maybe someone would finally listen to me. I was examined immediately. I was 8cm dilated and my cervix had completely thinned out. I was right the entire time and had indeed been in labour for some hours. The midwife was shocked at this point that I still had the gel insert in and it was quickly removed. She then explained I was to prepare to transfer down to delivery ward and she would just let them know I was coming. This was what I was wanting to hear, but to me, it was too late. My mind had no time to catch up with what was going on and I stayed in this state of fear still believing I wasn’t in labour. A minute passed and I explained to my husband that I needed to go to the bathroom. He quickly packed up my things and it was at this point that he heard a sound that he hadn’t heard since my last labour experience. The sound of me pushing. He recognised it immediately and hit the emergency buzzer. I staggered out of the bathroom and yelled out that I was pushing… but I still couldn’t quite come to terms with what was happening. It’s honestly like I was somewhere else in that moment. I think now how lucky I am that my babies take a lot of pushing to come out, otherwise I would have caught him myself, all alone, in the bathroom.
A midwife came running in, followed by two more and at this point they could all hear that I was pushing. One more quick examination showed that I was now 10cm dilated. I was thrown into a wheelchair and asked to stop pushing, they were going to run me down to the delivery ward as they didn’t have the facilities for a birth in the room I was in.
The next twenty minutes are honestly such a blur. I remember the strangest details but not the important ones, like the actual birth of my baby. I remember feeling scared. Again, scared for my baby’s life. Scared for my life. I remember being in the elevator and trying to breathe. It felt like all the air had been sucked out of my lungs, like there was nothing left. I remember that there was another couple in the lift with us and that they stared at me as I screamed.
I arrived down in the delivery ward and immediately asked for an epidural. I still, at this point had not caught up, and after hours upon hours of being told I wasn’t in labour, I didn’t understand what was happening. I told the new midwife that I didn’t know what was going on, that I couldn’t do it and I felt scared. And in that moment, the new midwife took my head so I could really see her and explained that I was about to meet my baby, that I could do it, that I WAS doing it and she needed me to get on the floor and push, now.
This is where I am so thankful that this was not my first experience giving birth, because somehow, my body just knew what to do, even though in my head I was totally gone. I pushed with everything I had. I surrendered and tried to just go with it. At this point my baby went into distress and they were having trouble finding his heartbeat. I have never felt such intense fear. The midwife explained that he had to come out immediately. That I had a few pushes to get him out and I needed to keep pushing, even in between my contractions and as I pushed, she would pull. So, as I pushed, my baby was pulled out from me and brought up between my legs and placed on my chest. These moments I don’t really remember to be honest. I do remember feeling confused and lost. Again, like I was somewhere else.
I hoped from here that a sense of calm would now come. At this point the body shakes started which is totally normal post birth and usually settle. I was still sitting on the ground on my knees and I knew I needed to lay down. The two midwives prepared to move me and advised me not to look down as I had lost quite a lot of blood. I lay on the ground, propped up by cushions in a total state of shock. There were no happy tears, or feelings of joy and pride like the birth of my daughter… just total and utter shock as to what had just happened. I look back at these photos now and my face is just…blank. I am in total shock.
About fifteen minutes later our birth photographer rushed through the door. Colin had been in touch with her all afternoon but we kept telling her not to come yet as we weren’t even in the delivery ward. The time between entering the delivery ward, meeting the person who would deliver my baby and the actual delivery was 21 minutes. I had the support of a professional for 21 minutes of my entire labour.
The next few hours were spent in the delivery ward as I struggled to keep the shock at bay and my body was left shaking. I couldn’t hold August too much as I feared I would drop him. I attempted to push my placenta out without the injection, and succeeded, only to need it anyway twenty minutes later as they worried I had some left inside. Even after the injection they had to work to pump my abdomen to get the remaining blood out. I lay there feeling like I was on another planet as my husband held and bonded with our baby. They attempted to get me up after this but I still couldn’t stand and my legs buckled from underneath me. Due to the nature of August’s delivery I had a nearly third-degree tear. Luckily, they were able to call in a doctor to stitch it up and I didn’t have to be moved to surgery. It took about five hours to be transferred to the maternity ward and for the next few days both myself and August were under two hourly observations for a few different issues which I believe were a result of the fast delivery and shock on both of our bodies.
Looking back, I feel intense sadness but the overriding feeling is anger. Anger that I wasn’t listened to. Anger that one single person had the power to completely rob me of an experience that should and could have still been amazing. Anger that I can never change the way my baby was brought into this world and I have no memory of our first meeting. Anger that when I think of that day, my heart just honestly hurts.
So, what have I learnt on my journey of trying to heal from this experience? A few things. How you feel about your baby and how you feel about the birth are two very separate things. You can love your baby with all of your being but it is okay to not love the way your baby was brought into this world. It is okay to separate the two feelings. They do not have to be one. On the good days, I’ve also learnt that I am strong. I feel proud that I got through it. That I laboured pretty much on my own, through an induction process with zero pain relief and birthed that baby like a warrior. But on the bad days, I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. Guilt that I didn’t fight harder, that I didn’t communicate better, that I didn’t scream and shout and demand for someone else to assess me.
Birth trauma is hard. It is so very real and it takes time to heal. Just now, nearly five months on I can finally tell this story when people ask without sobbing. I wanted an experience where I felt empowered, where the focus was the joy of meeting my baby, not the rush, chaos, uncertainty and emergency situation. I guess it takes time, more time. So, I’ll keep trying and keep processing in the hope that I can, one day, find some sort of peace.
Follow up: I have since this time registered a formal complaint with the hospital which resulted in three rounds of investigation taking place. This process involved the events that took place that day being recorded and the issues and concerns being followed up and acted upon. The end result being that the midwife in question has now been advised how her actions affected me and the events that took place once she finished her shift. She is now undergoing re-training in a few areas. Making a formal complaint was something that was extremely hard to do but it did help in finally feeling heard. If you have the strength to take it on it’s something I would push to do. It doesn’t change what happened to me or the way I feel about that day, but it will, hopefully, mean that those events won’t happen to someone else. And that’s all I can really hope for.
For birth trauma support or more information visit the Australasian Birth Trauma Association