My logic was: if centuries of women had given birth without our modern-day pain relief, surely I can, too. My logic was also: if my mother had given birth to my brother and I without the epidural, why can’t I? Fairly or not (probably not), it’d become a goal to achieve, as if it’d been something that I had to prove to myself. Why? I don’t know. It’s a bit like the mindset that got me into running half-marathons: I just wanted to know that I can do it, for its own sake, nothing else.
So when I’d envisioned labour, I thought only about the pain of vaginal birth. But it was entirely abstract. Even the various warnings about how painful labour contractions are weren’t fully appreciated. How could they have been? Some things simply need to be experienced to be understood. And so, even after I was told that I’d need to be induced at either 37 or 39 weeks, I still held on to my goal of achieving (a telling word, isn’t it?) an unmedicated vaginal birth.
In hindsight, I think it’d been rendered impossible the second my bile acid level spiked to 96, and I had to be induced at 37 weeks. I’d known that my body wasn’t ready to give birth. I’d had the sense that Shrimpy wasn’t ready to be born. So perhaps the induction was always doomed to fail; but I can’t help but feel, after what had actually happened, that I wasn’t given the best shot at a successful induction. And so what actually happened was so far away from anything that I’d ever envisioned. What actually happened was something that I’d never thought possible. Even when I expected the worst whilst waiting for the hormones to work in the hospital, I didn’t expect to go through what I eventually went through.
So after the first round of the two doses of Prostin, I was examined by this cold and curt midwife at 2am or something ridiculous, and she said that I needed a second round of Prostin. Okay, great. After two more doses of it, I woke up on Thursday, 10 March, at 7am with extremely painful contractions. They were way more intense than anything I’d felt until then, and when I timed them, they were about a minute long and five minutes apart. A few hours later, at around 10am, I was examined again by another midwife (a really nice one this time), and she announced that I was 2cm dilated and therefore ready to have my waters broken. But alas, there was no space in the delivery unit, so I had to wait.
I proceeded to spend the rest of the day suffering painful contractions, not knowing when I would be going to the delivery unit, and thinking that I wasn’t going to survive it. I was in so much pain. The pain was unimaginable. No amount of warnings by people who have been there was enough to prepare me for how intense the pain was going to be. Like I said earlier, it’s something that needs to be experienced to be appreciated, to not be merely abstract. I can’t even describe the pain right now; I think my brain has blocked it out, forgotten it. I was told that we forget the pain of labour after giving birth—perhaps some evolutionary instinct to ensure the propagation of the human race? I don’t know. I suppose what I can say is that they felt like menstrual cramps on crack: the most intense menstrual cramps, but dialled up in intensity by like, 100%. And they kept coming in waves: one minute of intense pain every five minutes.
The worst part of it was not knowing when I could proceed to the next stage—that is, the waiting. It would become a recurring theme for the next 24 hours. I suppose I was lucky to be whisked off to the delivery unit at 5pm on the same day: a way better fate than one of the women next to me, who had to wait for more than 24 hours to go off to the delivery unit. And it got better for a while because E could finally be with me, and his presence was reassuring.
At some point, my waters were broken, and I had to mobilise for about two hours to get the process going. I was in pretty good spirits: I was on my feet, walking around the delivery room, talking normally to E between contractions. But it didn’t seem as though I was progressing much, as E was timing my contractions and they hadn’t gotten closer than maybe two or three minutes. Still, it seemed to be some progress, and we were both hopeful that I wouldn’t need to be put on the hormone drip.
At 9.15pm, the midwives—a senior one and a student midwife, who was probably the most helpful and caring person I’d encountered throughout my 10-day stay in the hospital—came back in. They assessed me. Said I was still only 2cm dilated. So popped in the cannula (had no idea this word existed until then), which was fucking disgusting; the senior midwife kindly wrapped it in a bandage as I didn’t want to look at it. I think the hormone drip was started; I can’t really remember right now. Because the next thing I knew, after a trip to the toilet, my poor contractions-wracked body had finally had enough. The next thing I knew, my temperature had spiked to 38 degrees.
Maybe it was inevitable. I’d spent the last four days sleep deprived, my body had been treated to irregular doses of unnatural hormones to force-start a labour process for which it was not remotely ready, and I’d spent the whole day in a lot of pain and perpetually dehydrated. I was exhausted, I was coming apart, I was crumbling. I can’t remember the sequence of events anymore, only fragments:
• Asked for the gas, just to be advised, very gently, that I was better off with the epidural;
• This was because I had to be 10cm dilated to give birth, and I was already not coping well with the pain at 2cm;
• They’d known that I would need the epidural when I’d asked for pain relief at some point, either before or after my waters were broken;
• Cried my eyes out when I heard that;
• I don’t think the hormone drip was even started;
• Temperature spiked, but can’t remember when in this sequence of events it happened.
I agreed to the epidural. I’d reached a stage where I couldn’t imagine the thought of withstanding those contractions for hours on end: eight, maybe ten, however long it would take to get me to 10cm. The pain was so bad that when the anaesthetist was suddenly called away to an emergency just as he’d inserted the needle in my spine, I begged him not to go. I’d been waiting for so long: so many hours, so many days, please just do this, please don’t go.
It was a very humiliating night, amongst other things.
But of course, he had to go. It was a baby, they told me. Well, what could I have said? I shut my mouth then, and just waited for his colleague to come and finish the job. After that was done, I was on the delivery chair, numb from the waist down. I could no longer feel the contractions, just a tinge every now and then. I thought perhaps we could get on with it…but then, a doctor came in to see me. I think they’d started giving me antibiotics at this point; I don’t remember. But Shrimpy’s heart rate had spiked because of my fever, so the doctor came and basically said that a c-section was in the baby’s best interest.
What could I have said except yes? It was about 1ish am. I signed a form, and I thought, Okay, it’s going to be over soon, perhaps in the next hour. Just an hour more and I would be able to hold Shrimpy in my arms.
I ended up waiting for the next four or five hours to get to the operating theatre because there were too many emergencies ahead of me. I spent four or five hours lying on the most uncomfortable chair ever, no longer suffering painful contractions, but suffering back pain because of the chair. And I was made to wait because Shrimpy’s heartbeat had normalised after a while (what a fighter he is) and there was no need to prioritise me. I’d even considered maybe labouring again and delivering vaginally…but another doctor came in and basically said that it would be hours, literally hours, before I had any chance of getting to 10cm because I was still only at 2cm at that point. So c-section it was then.
I slept for an hour or so. E slept too; I could hear him snoring. But it was uncomfortable, so I woke up at around 3 or 4am. Nothing was happening. I needed to know when something would happen. I kept asking when it would be my turn. All they could say was ‘any minute now’, which became two hours later. 6am. It was finally my turn at 6am. Before that, I burst into tears again at some point. The wait was killing me. The not-knowing was killing me. Erica, the student midwife, was very supportive, and she made it a bit better; but I was still in distress. I couldn’t get off the bed because I literally was unable to stand (or so I was told), I couldn’t find a comfortable position, I was exhausted, I just wanted it to be over.
At around 6.15am, it was finally my turn. I was wheeled to the operating theatre in the same chair, given an epidural top up which left me shivering like crazy, another anaesthetist took charge of the situation and told me what was going to happen…I had no time to even be scared. I had no energy to even feel any fear. I was lifted off the delivery bed and onto the operating table by like, six surgeons, I don’t really know. They put up a screen between my face and the rest of my body. I felt absolutely nothing when I was cut open, just some pressure around my stomach area as they pumped and pushed and did whatever was necessary to pull Shrimpy from my womb.
I cried when I heard him cry. But they didn’t hand him to me immediately; I think E got to hold him first. They got him cleaned up, weighed. I heard him crying the whole time. Then he was brought to me, already wearing a red hat on his little head. He was stark naked and they placed him next to my skin.
I am still amazed by how he’d stopped crying the second his skin made contact with mine. The anaesthetist—Dan was his name—commented, ‘Look at that. Isn’t that amazing?’
In the end, all that matters is that he is safe and healthy, and I am so thankful that what I experienced was the worst of it—that nothing worse had happened. Because I look at him now, sleeping in his beanbag, and I can’t believe that I’d carried him for nine months—that I’d nourished him, grown him, given life to him. How is it possible? His birthweight was 3.3kg: hefty for a baby born at 37 weeks (+5 days), heavier than some babies born full term.
But I can’t help but feel melancholic when I think about what I’d gone through. And I don’t feel as if I’d given birth to him because I didn’t get the chance to push him out. I feel a sense of loss, as irrational as that sounds, and maybe because of that, a part of me can’t believe that he’s real, or can’t accept it, or can’t really bond with him. I think, too, about the fact that I’m supposed to still be pregnant now, and that he wasn’t supposed to be due until two days later, and it makes me sad as well, as if I’ve cheated him of…something. Whatever it is. The chance to grow even more? But what does it really matter? As E said, if he’d been bigger, a vaginal birth would’ve been even more unlikely because of how slender I am.
Maybe. But we’ll never know, will we?
I proceeded to spend the next five days in the hospital. They were complete hell. I had to take care of a newborn baby, virtually by myself and without E, while recovering from a major surgery. Great stuff, isn’t it? Most of the midwives and nurses were helpful. Some were bitchy. The best—‘best’—was this British auntie type who had the audacity to question why I needed ibuprofen despite having paracetamol and dihydrocodeine when I asked her for it; this was after I’d been discharged from the maternity ward and was transferred to the babies ward because Shrimpy had to finish his antibiotics and some other issues. I told her that I’d gone through a c-section. I should’ve told her, too, to take it up with the doctors at Addenbrooke’s who were the ones who prescribed me precisely that medley of painkillers. Stupid bitch.
The hospital stay is another entry in itself. I am now officially tired of writing this, and need to check on the Shrimp. So that's it for now.