This is the story of my labour and birth of my firstborn child, my beautiful daughter. It was a much anticipated birth, we had suffered a journey of infertility and loss and her arrival marked one of such anticipation and joy. But it was not to be. This is a story of birth trauma (may be triggering).
The day that I went into labour with my first child started out as one of those happy, excited days where you knew that you were soon to meet your long-awaited baby.
My waters broke in the late afternoon while I was lying on the couch watching an old midday movie. I had spent the morning ferociously digging up the garden and harbouring the ‘feeling’ that things were about to happen. I didn’t speak them out loud as my husband had left town for a soccer match that was a three hour drive away and meant that he wouldn’t be home before 8pm. I didn’t want to stop him going because of a ‘feeling’… I hadn’t even reached my EDD (just ticked over to 38 weeks).
Anyway, the moment my waters broke I was shocked. I waddled to bathroom to check things out and confirm to myself that that was really it. I then went out to the phone and called the hospital. I spoke to a lovely midwife who told me to take my time, have a shower and come on in in the next hour or two. Unfortunately as my husband wasn’t there, I was a bit lost as to what to do. So instead of relaxing and going about getting ready I went into a tizzy trying to think of who to call that could drive me. Thankfully my good friend came around and she helped me pack my bags and get me to hospital.
At this stage I wasn’t in labour.
I was met by a lovely midwife from birth suite who, as per policy, hooked me up the CTG. I remember this time as being really happy and jovial. My best friend was there, I knew that my husband was going to be there in a couple of hours and I had a fabulous midwife on board.
BUT, because I wasn’t in labour they sent me to my room and of course, there was a shift change. Little did I know at the time that it was a fateful moment where my birth journey with my daughter would change from one of excitement and joy to one of humiliation and trauma.
The chain of events began when, a man entered my room in a suit and sat down beside me and introduced himself as my OBs back up. He informed me that my OB was doing the public hospital round that weekend and so he was now my care provider. I was horrified. This was not the person I had formed a connection with. This person was foreign to me and to my approach. He then, without pause, told me that I will most likely not go into labour that weekend (it was a Saturday night by this stage) and, on Monday, my regular OB would order an induction.
He told me that the reason it would be so long before I went into labour was because I was a “first timer” and my body “didn’t know what to do”, so would need help. I remember being so embarrassed that I could be pigeon-holed like that and that my body was seen by this person as an inherent failure. It struck an emotional nerve with me, as we struggled for almost 2 years with fertility problems and two late first trimester losses before falling pregnant with this baby… so I felt already that my body was not perfect for making babies.
This was a huge blow to my confidence that had grown over the months as my belly swelled and grew a beautiful baby. It shocked me and made me so doubtful that I didn’t bother telling him that I was experiencing what I suspected were contractions. My husband had arrived about halfway through this discussion and was not included in the conversation or even invited to be in the space ITMS. I remember feeling really impatient that this OB was there and not letting my husband and I connect and be happy… he was so obviously uninterested in our upcoming birth.
He finally left, and my husband and my best friend and I had a quick catch up before another midwife entered the room for whatever pointless reason, and as she was leaving turned around and said that my husband was not allowed to stay beyond 9pm as visiting hours would be over. My best friend said her goodbyes as it was already 8.45pm by this stage and she knew that we needed some one on one time.
We were shattered that they wouldn’t let him stay. We had NO time whatsoever to bond and reconnect and get our heads around the fact that our much wanted baby was almost here!
They shuffled him out the door at 9pm on the dot. I went into full blown labour at 9.30pm. Because my daughter was engaged and my waters were broken labour started out with 2 minute contractions that were last a good 30-40 seconds each. Good, effective contractions. I was SO excited! I wanted my husband there. I waited almost half an hour before buzzing a midwife as I wanted to make sure that this was really it… the OB had, afterall, told me that it wouldn’t happen as I wouldn’t know what to do!
The midwife that came in, wasn’t the lovely midwife I had met a few hours earlier. This one seemed nice enough, a bit aloof and a bit more hands off straightforward. But I didn’t mind, I just wanted to get up to birth suite and have my husband there and get on with things. I didn’t feel stressed or in pain. I was loving that my baby was on the way and was actually relishing each contraction… I was doing it, I was having my baby!
[In labour! My final belly shot!]
I lay down on the bed in birth suite as per the hospital policy for more CTG… I asked that she call my husband. The midwife told me that she would as soon as she could confirm that I was in active labour. She told me that she was going to perform an internal. I was ok with that, I had no idea how painful they were… they didn’t mention that in the antenatal classes held at the hospital. All of a sudden I had this searing, unrelenting pain and she waited all through a contraction and then some before finally (after I was yelling out the whole time) and informed me that I was 4cms and it was the real deal. It was 10.15pm. I asked her to call my husband.
She told me that I needed to rest. She turned off all the lights and walked out.
This is where I started to feel very, very alone. And I was very, very alone. My contractions were still coming every 2 minutes. I was breathing through them so beautifully and resting (like the dutiful patient that I am) in between, I was expecting my husband at any minute as we only lived 10 minutes away. After half an hour the midwife walked in. I asked after my husband; she ignored my query and told me that she spoke to my OB (the fill in OB) and he agreed that I should be given pethidine. I told her no. My birth plan was drug free. She told me that he felt that I should have it. I told her no thanks… I was so polite and still really cheery (I was having my baby!!), I could sense that she was perplexed but didn’t really care too much as she walked back out and I was able to zone out and concentrate on the labour.
Roughly 10 minutes later she came back in. She told me that I really needed my rest and that I needed to relax… so I should really have the pethidine. I was really relaxed and was getting a bit annoyed by her and said no thanks again. She walked back out.
The time was 11.05pm and he still wasn’t there! Where was he?! What was he doing?? Surely he hadn’t fallen back asleep after she called? I was getting cross at him. How dare he take his time and be late on an occasion such as this (he is notorious for tardiness lol).
20 minutes later the midwife came back in. she just stood in the entrance way and watched me. Because she was just standing there I felt the need to smile at her… it was really weird how she was just standing there staring at me. She told me while standing there that the OB had given his approval for the pethidine and he really felt that it was a good idea. I was beginning to feel bullied. She was not being nice. She was not smiling, or being gentle. She would not even come to my side to tell me. After she left, she left the room door wide open to corridor. This meant that I now was labouring with a potential audience. She sat right outside my door reading a magazine and eating something. It was disconcerting.
Where was he, where was my husband? Why wasn’t he here to be with me? I was getting really upset and scared.
At 11.45pm I had found a new rhythm of ‘resting’ through active labour. Unbeknownst to me, I had tapped into a ‘calm breathing’ technique that was serving me well; despite the active labour it was not painful just active! So I was able to lie there and breath my way through each surge like a champion.
At one point I noticed that I wasn’t alone in the room. The midwife never knocked. She would just enter and silently go about her business… which so far involved a lot of staring at me. I opened my eyes and asked if my husband had arrived. She told me that she hadn’t called him. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it. I asked over 2 hours ago for him to be called… I didn’t have a mobile phone of my own and she had promised that she would call. I told her that I want him to be called. She told me that I needed my rest and that she would not call until I had the pethidine that the OB told me I should have. I started to panic. I suddenly felt very very trapped and very very frightened. This was not nice. This was not what I signed up for. I told her that I wanted her to call my husband.
She walked back out.
About 5 minutes later, I noticed that she had come up to the other side of the bed. She had come into the dark room and circled around my bed and was now standing beside my bed near the cupboards with all their machines that go “ping!”. I was lying on my side facing away from that side… towards the door and the clock, vainly, yet eargerly awaiting my husband’s arrival.
She placed her hand on my thigh and lent in close and told me that it would be best if I just agreed to the pethidine. I was so scared. She was really scary. A contraction began and as my gaze moved from her face down to my leg that she was touching I noticed something in her hand. It glistened. The light coming in through the door was dim, but enough for me, in that moment to realise what she was holding was the already drawn needle full of pethidine. I was so frightened. As the contraction deepened she told me that all I needed to do was agree – she applied pressure to my leg – and she said then and only then would she call my husband. I began to cry. Not out loud sobs or hysterical, just silent tears. I knew that I had lost. That it was too late. That he wasn’t there and that he would not be there because she was controlling me and controlled the phones. I had no one.
The contraction peaked, it was not painful, as I lay there I cried and turned my face towards the wall on the opposite side of the room and cried and I said, “I want my husband… ok… I guess…I want my husband, please call him”. Before I had even finished the sentence I felt the sharp prick of the needle. I hadn’t even consented. I felt that I had given up and was beginning to accept what she was proposing, but it was not consent. It was never going to be consent by that stage, but her driving that needle into my thigh before I had even finished my sentence was assault. My body was not mine. It was hers. She controlled me.
She suddenly perked up, told me that it wasn’t that bad and that NOW she would call my husband. My husband arrived 12 minutes later.
I guess it is important to highlight that the rest of the birth was deeply traumatic. I had an adverse reaction to the pethidine. I was experiencing terrible vertigo, racing heart. It provided no pain relief.
All that it achieved was a prone, immobile woman who could no longer talk or move. The perfect labouring woman in a hospital really!
My husband had no idea what had happened. All he saw was a serene looking wife lying down on the bed. He couldn’t see the terror in my eyes (we were still not allowed to stop resting) and he couldn’t hear my silent internal screams. It took me a long while to realise that my screaming wasn’t out loud. That it was all trapped in my mind. I literally could not believe that no one could notice or care that I was terrified.
My beautiful daughter was born 7 hours after the injection. The effects of the drug on me had mostly worn off, except for the extreme wooziness. The effects on my daughter, however, had only just begun. She was born beautifully and perfect in every way as the dawn came. The horrid OB was there. He complained openly at having to be there as it was Fathers day and I took him away from breakfast in bed. He was not joking.
I sustained (apparently) a small tear. The midwife who clocked in after the awful midwife (who didn’t leave…she decided to stay despite not asking my permission) approached the OB to ask what he was doing…he told her to not question him as it was a tear and he was going to stitch it. She told him that it looked more like a graze. He continued to stitch. There was no local. It was horrendous and I cried out. He told me that he couldn’t believe that I could feel that after having a baby. He gave the local but took no time to let it take effect and continued. It was horrendous.
[Picture of me with my baby girl … nothing like trying to bond with your minutes old baby with someone stitching up a tear without local!]
There were many other smaller things that were done to humiliate and degrade me over the course of that stay, including telling me that I was underfeeding my ‘obviously dehydrated and distressed’ baby, that I was ‘overfeeding’ my poor small baby, and that it was ridiculous that I was distressed at seeing my baby stop breathing and needing to be resuscitated on the bed beside me only 3 hours after she was born. She was grabbed by the midwife and rushed out of the room, blue and struggling for breath, I was still sitting there in shock 3 hours later. No one came past to tell me where she was, or what was happening. My husband arrived and found me there. I was in tears. He went out looking. Came back with a midwife carrying a consent form. They told me that my daughter ‘needed’ formula. Just the once. No reason given. Did I want to be present when they gave it? Yes. They were not impressed. My daughter and I had absolutely NO breastfeeding issues. She was actually gaining weight in hospital!
[The beginning of a beautiful 14 month breastfeeding journey]
I left that hospital 5 days later. Deeply traumatised. My baby had gone through hell and was still struggling with the after effects of the pethidine (yes, they admitted that at least!). I had gone through hell and was beginning a year long journey of life with an acute PTSD and PND. I was no longer the person I was only 5 days prior. I was never to be that person again.
You can read about Clara’s healing 2nd birth here.