THE BIRTH OF NICOLAAS MERTIENS CARSTENS
So after 15 months of telling people about my traumatic birth of my son Nicolaas Mertiens Carstens and lots of people saying, “No man you’re just making it worse” and being asked about my birth, I decided to put it in writing. Maybe if I write it down the healing from it will finally begin. I think my unsuccessful try at giving natural birth probably begins from my childhood years, so I’ll start there to give a better view of things.
As a child I always wanted a little brother or sister, so when my mom got pregnant when I was only 12 (she told me on my 12 birthday) I was ever so excited. I went to all her OB/GYN visits and did everything with her, wanting to be involved all the time. Then, when she was around 36wks, my little sister stopped moving. The Doctor couldn’t get a proper heartbeat and even after drinking bottles and bottles of coke and eating chocolates, there still wasn’t anything. She was told to come back the next day. This time she refused to take me with, probably to protect me, and when they still couldn’t find anything she was told to go for an emergency c-section.
My brother and I were left at home alone for that afternoon even though I really wanted to be at the birth. That evening we went to visit. I still remember as if it was yesterday. The lady next to my mom had a natural birth and was trying to breastfeed her. My mom was so derisive, telling me that she couldn’t understand how anyone could do that to themselves when we had all this technology to make our lives “better”. Her word was why would anyone choose to have a painful, natural birth if you could have a not-painful c-section (forgetting to mention that the pain after the c-section was 10 times worse) and why would anyone want to breastfeed and put themselves through all that pain if they could just give formula? That stuck in my head as I grew up.
Later, in high school I got diagnosed with epilepsy and myasthenia gravis, a disorder that affects your muscles in your body, making it weaker than natural. My parents always told me that I was weak, needed protecting, that I could never do anything naturally. That also stuck with me all those years that followed.
When I got to university I learned all about natural birth, breastfeeding and everything that went with it and how absolutely great and amazing it was. That’s when I decided I wanted an all natural birth. When I got pregnant unexpectedly, I told my hubby about my dream for an all natural birth. Being a paramedic, he was all for it, telling me he believed I was right and supporting me.
Behind my back, my mom talked to him, making him scared of everything that could go wrong and that my dream of a homebirth, him catching the baby was DANGEROUS (he had caught 5 other babies already), and that with my MG there’s no way I could do that. My parents weren’t supportive, my mom telling me that at least I should get a epidural, that I wasn’t able to handle that amount of pain, that I was weak, that I was crazy, and that natural was OLD FASHIONED.
I got much the same reaction from my mother-in-law, telling me of her terrible 5 day long labour with her daughter, because her doctor told her she wasn’t allowed to birth. My sister-in-law telling me how dangerous natural was and that she thought I was mad and why put yourself through all that pain for your kids? They are brats anyway, she didn’t do it for her 2, why should I do it for mine? So the only “real” support I got was from my father-in-law, telling me that I had made a great decision, that I’m going to go through hell and back with pain, that I probably would think I’d never survive, but that it was the best for baby. Great support? But I stuck to my decision.
The doctor was “supportive” saying that as long as everything went right she’ll support me, that she thought my MG shouldn’t really influence it, and that natural is better. She also said I should be prepared for a c-section if she decided on it. Great, well I thought at least she’ll let me try.
I asked about a birth plan, and got told there’s no need for it, she knew what to do and if I wanted anything while in birth I could just ask. I asked about childbirth classes and got told, again, there’s no need, my body would know what to do and she’ll be there every step and make all the decisions for me. Besides, hubby didn’t want to because we are both paramedics, what was the use? So, I was VERY unprepared, uninformed, unsupported and scared when I finally went into labour.
We were so looking forward to our due date the 10th of October the year 2010 (10/10/2010, WOW!), so that when my water broke the Tuesday night of 5 October at 23:10 I was really disappointed. Living at my parents house at that stage, due to financial reasons, when my water broke my mom was the first to know. She was ever so excited, telling me that I was just about to meet my new baby boy. She woke my dad and phoned my brother to come babysit our sister while I phoned hubby (he was out on a call to transfer a patient, but would come ASAP to the hospital).
I felt a VERY small contraction in my room at home, only for a moment, nothing more, but was told by my parents not to wait and to rush to the hospital. So we 3 bundled into the car and set of to the hospital. Coming there the nurse quickly checked me and told me that my water had broken, but there were no real contractions yet, but that I wasn’t allowed to go home. My parents weren’t allowed near me. So when hubby arrived finally, I was booked in to the labour and delivery ward, given an enema and told that I wasn’t to get up out of bed AT ALL as my water would leak on the floor and then they’ll have to clean it up. My hubby and parents were sent home and I was told to undress and sleep in a room filled with lights and nurses coming and going all hours to check on me.
Early the next morning my gynae arrived, telling me that she was going to break my waters and get the contractions going and see how far I’ve dilated. I told her my waters have already broken, but she just waved, silencing me, opening my legs and then all a felt was PAIN! A nurse came running in telling her my water have already broken. She didn’t apologized, just stuck her hands in, confirming I was 2cms dilated, telling the nurse to keep checking me every 30min and out she went.
Finally around 7:30 my husband arrived, I have had 2 other exams by then and was in pain form them, but still no contractions. The doctor came again at around 8am my contractions started, they were still very far apart, maybe around 10min, and being tied to the bed I wasn’t making much progress dilating.
My gynae came again at 10am, and as I was by then only 4cm dilated I got told that if I didn’t birth within the next few hours my baby would get severe infections and die. “I” had to make a decision (which ended up being hers anyway) to either get a induction to speed it up or get c-section. I didn’t even know what an induction was or what it entailed! So I got one, rather that than a c-section was my thoughts and my bum was raised with some cushions, to make access to me easier I was told.
Almost immediately the contractions started, forcibly and very painful, I wanted to scream many times, biting my cushion, holding hubby’s hands till they turned blue. By 13:00 I was up to 5cm dilation, but my gynae wasn’t impressed. My contractions were minutes apart and I was in excruciating pain from the induction being on a bed, bum in the air, so I got told that if I didn’t get to 7cm in the next hour it would have to be a c-section, no choice involved. Hubby was told to quickly leave and rush home to eat etc., before it started. So when my gynae arrived back at 14:00 to check me, he wasn’t there. I still remember that last check. It was nightmarish painful and I had nothing to hold onto and the contractions in between!
I didn’t dilate in that hour so it was c-section for me. I was unhooked from the induction, told to go to get up and go to the bathroom and sat up from then onwards as I was rushed to get ready for theater. I was wheeled in at 14:45, lying in the theater rooms waiting for everyone to arrive I suddenly got the urge to push. I told hubby and my gynae as she arrived. She just looked at me, told me that I was going in for c-section and there wasn’t to be any change of minds then.
I was wheeled in at 15:00, got an epidural I didn’t even feel over the pain of the contractions and resisting the urge to push. The epidural was actually a relief. I never felt it go in, but just remember the pain stopped all at once and when I laid back it was so much better! I don’t remember much else as I felt the epidural clouding my mind. I know the gynae asked if I could feel anything while she cut, which I couldn’t and hubby sitting at my head holding my hands that were tied down. The gynae told the nurse and pead to help her to push him out the birth canal as he was stuck. All 3 of them jumping on my chest pushing as hard as they could and then at 15:13 my baby was taken out.
I heard his first scream, saw him pee all over the gynae, her telling me its a boy and giving him to the pead. I felt this profound relief and then moments later wanted to hold my boy, but the pead had forgotten all about me. I looked at hubby, saw the confusion I felt reflected there, seeing our son weighed and handled by all the nurses and staff and us just sitting there watching. Then the pead turned around and said, “O hell, I forgot all about you!” He was put on my chest, held there by hubby and the pead. I looked at him, wrapped up in blankets, me covered to protect against any splashing and my hands tied.
It was amazing seeing him, knowing he was mine! But it was all wrong! I wanted to breastfeed immediately, wanted to touch and hold him, but told that I couldn’t! Then the gynae told us that he was in her way and to please remove him. The magic was broken, hubby got up and left while our boy was wheeled out in an incubator. I don’t know how much time passed form there. I remember my parents coming telling me he was gorgeous and how proud they were, but I just wanted to touch and hold him and he wasn’t there!
I was moved from recovery to the maternity ward where hubby came to me and told me he loved me and how gorgeous our boy was, but he hadn’t even got to hold him yet. They were holding him for check ups and everything. About an hour later the nurses brought him to us in my room, but he was all wrapped up, but still covered in all the birth. When we asked why and were told they would bathe him later, nothing more. I asked when I could breastfeed, got told later, when someone had time to help me! My boy was sleeping, so I didn’t say anything, but was really upset. When hubby left they removed him from the room to the baby room so I could recoup from the huge operation I just had.
Later that evening around 20:00 the senior nurse came to help me breastfeed him. I was still flat on my back from the epidural, couldn’t move or feel anything, so the nurse told me not to interfere, she’ll do everything I just had to supply the boobs! She was so rough with him, forcing his mouth open, pressing my boobs flat, squeezing his head, hurting him. He cried and cried non stop ,so she later just gave up and cup fed him.
Again he was wheeled out of the room as I was too hurt and disorientated to look after him properly. That night I experienced even worse pain than that from the induction. I was rolled and moved around by the nursing staff and was in huge amounts of pain, nothing seemed to help. I was so disorientated; I can’t remember anything of that night or the next day except the PAIN.
The second night was better. I didn’t want him to sleep in the nursery again, I wanted him with me, skin-to-skin, so I undressed and put him with just his nappy on my chest. He crawled up by himself and latched on and had a great drink for about 5min then fell asleep. The new staff nurse that was there and I was delighted and so happy, we slept like that that night, and just spent bonding time together. He didn’t want to drink the other breast though so I left it at that.
The next morning the lactation consultant freaked out when she heard what I did, I was told not to breastfeed like that again, that I should hold him in a football grip and press him on, no matter if he didn’t want to. I should force him, its my will not his. So she man handled him some more, and from that day he never wanted to latch again, getting hysterical whenever I even tried. By the 3rd day he had only had that one drink and was getting jaundice from not eating, losing weight fast, he was down form 2,75kg to 2,4kg! I was hugely stressed, engorged, uncomfortable and hurting so much/ I was scared and confused and I couldn’t stop crying from worry, neither could he from hunger. That evening my dad bought me my first breast pump and so started 9 and a half months of my pumping journey.
To this very day I still get nightmares from my birth and hubby told me he does as well. It was one of the most traumatic experiences in our lives, something I’ll never forgive the gynae or hospital or the nurses there for. I hope that one day I can have a VBAC to empower me and feel like the woman I was born to be. I love my son to death, but I really wish that for both our sakes his birth could have been so much better if only I had been more informed and the hospital didn’t feel the need for all those unnecessary interventions.
I don’t say that natural is the only way to go, for me it’s better and so much more, because you get so much more from it. Birth is about choices, being able to CHOOSE what YOU want, what’s better for YOU. Not having to be forced into a c-section or what ever birth because someone else wants something from it. I learned later at my 6week check up that my gynae had a vacation planned for 5-10 October and that my birth had robbed her form that, and that’s why she forced me into a c-section. That’s not a birth to remember!
*This was in a private hospital in South Africa. Not all hospitals are like this, but this one had definitely gone beyond the limit. I didn’t realise most of these stuff until much later that what they had done was wrong because of the trauma I had suffered from it. But I hope that through my writing this it will make a difference in someone else’s life and the choices they make.