A picture is worth a thousand words...
A picture is worth a thousand words. This picture requires a thousand words. That is my newborn baby, my husband, me with my legs still up in stirrups and a phone desperately pressed to my ear. The person behind the camera is my mother-in-law and no it’s not how I envisioned the first minutes of my baby's life, nothing about his journey to us was what I had envisioned... but I start at the end.
Rewind to a Thursday when I’m at home cooking dinner, my midwife calls and lets me know my blood's have come in and she isn’t happy with my liver function, it's looking like pre-eclampsia She has been trying to get hold of the hospital obstetrician on duty but they are seriously busy. She thinks I might be induced but she will get back to me. The phone call comes and I am expected first thing on Saturday morning, she warns me it could take a while to get things going but I could be holding my baby late Sunday/early Monday if all goes to plan. Of course, it didn't go to plan.
Saturday rolls around and my husband, mum (who has come to be at the birth) and I get to the hospital full of anticipation. After waiting in the tiniest assessment room forever, the gel finally comes, the midwife drops something on the floor and quickly reassures me that isn’t the part that has to go up to my cervix, I wasn't reassured.
It didn’t take long for some strong contractions to start, maybe only 20 minutes. I could definitely feel them but they weren’t unbearable. My husband and I were off to do stair and curb walking to get my labour established. In between, we were on and off the fetal monitor. Six hours roles round, time for an exam and more gel, I hadn't dilated and my contractions were too strong and regular for more gel, we kept walking and by 11 pm the contractions had started to ease off. We'd start again tomorrow.
By the time the team handed over on Sunday morning and the new obstetrician on the ward had decided the plan for the day it was mid-morning and in bustled a new midwife with more gel. It started working straight away once again and stronger than the day before. By early afternoon I was convinced that today was the day and put my energy into just breathing through the pain... I wasn’t a screamer and I truly believe it was to my disadvantage when it came to being listened to about my pain levels. At some stage, my husband asked if I’d felt the baby moving and by then I just couldn’t recall if I had or not. He found our ward midwife and she came in to pop me on the monitor. Of course, the baby started moving straight away, frantically even. I had an almighty contraction, he did a huge flip and the monitor went silent, there was no comforting race of a heartbeat, there was nothing showing on the screen, his heart had disappeared. Everything happened in a bizarre fast/slow motion. The midwife told me to roll over, saying something about the baby not liking the position, she stayed calm. I rolled to see my husband’s face, he was freaking out but trying to be calm. Still no heartbeat. The midwife tells my Mum to push the big red emergency button. Still no heartbeat. The room fills with people. Still no heartbeat. I hear words thrown between them, I.V line, cesarean, prep for theatre, what happened, how long. I see the familiar face of my midwife. Another contraction. I see blood as the I.V goes in my hand. Maybe a heartbeat.
Everyone stops, there it is. It is slow but picking up. It's a heartbeat and it isn’t mine. He's still alive. The room empties as quickly as it filled. We aren't going to theatre. We are moved to a delivery room. The woman next door is screaming and half her family fill the corridor. My midwife wants to attach a clip to the baby’s head to better monitor his heart but my cervix is still posterior and I haven’t dilated. The pain of the exam is excruciating. I scream for her to stop.
I look over at my Mum and ask if she is ok. I expect a yes but instead, she says "not really", she's just going to lie down in the car for a minute. Something is wrong. I tell my husband to call my sister, she needs to come get my Mum. He says he doesn’t think he can, he is trying to hold himself together. I insist.
My sister comes and gets my Mum. Ten minutes later the phone rings. My husband answers, I hear crying, my sister never cries. I hear words, heart attack, ambulance, Auckland Hospital. This can't be happening! My Mum has a stent put in straight away but they are concerned about the damage to her heart. They keep her admitted, she is to be scheduled for open heart surgery. My contractions are still strong and I don’t get a second round of gel. By late evening I am given pethadine to sleep and my husband gets a mattress for the floor. No baby tonight.
Monday starts with no contractions. I'm still not dilated. More gel and we are moved back into the tiny labouring room. My mother in law arrives and my husband goes home to sleep, eat and shower. This time when the six hours roles round for more gel, my contractions are still strong and regular but the midwife has read my notes and has decided to give me more gel anyway so we can keep contractions going and hopefully be seeing a baby soon. I am possibly dilated 2cm but my cervix is still posterior and my baby's head is rammed right down into my pelvis. The contractions are stronger than ever. The pain is almost unbearable. I don’t want to move. I try to curl into myself on the bed. I don't want to lay down I need to stand up. By 8:30 pm I'm exhausted, my husband is stressed and I ask for pethadine so I can sleep, I’m told to wait it out, once I’m 4cm I can have an epidural. I tell myself I'll wait another hour. I rotate between trying to walk and lying on the bed. When I close my eyes I look at the clock. The contractions roll over me. When I open eyes I’m sure it’s been 10 – 30 minutes. It’s been 5. I stick it out until 11pm. I have to be 4cm by now. The midwife comes we discuss the options. I have to have an exam.
It is so unbearable. I'm trying to climb away back up the bed. I am screaming for her to stop touching me, to get off me and that I said stop so she has to. My husband is trying to calm me but he is squeezing my hand and crying. The midwife tells me I have only got to 3cm. I tell her I'm going home in the morning, I’m discharging myself. The next contraction comes.
It is 12:30pm and they give me more pethadine. I'm awake at 4:30am the contractions are disappearing. I am becoming depressed. I don't even know if I will want this baby once it's born. I can see my husband is worried. Worried I'm giving up, worried about my mental health because he knows my history, worried I won’t want this baby once it's born.
A plan is made - an epidural THEN an exam. Break the waters. Syntocin to keep the labor going. Birth the baby.
After the epidural kicked, in I had an exam and was finally at 4cm. The midwife and obstetrician tried to break my waters but the baby's head prevented any from escaping. For a brief time, I think we are at the beginning of the sweet end. Smashing glass shatters that feeling as an automated voice and siren ring out telling me to follow the instructions of my fire warden. An image of birthing a baby in the parking lot flashes across my mind. We are reassured it's a false alarm and thank our stars we aren't the woman next door about to have an emergency cesarean. My husband has gone home to get some rest and I am supposed to be sleeping. I hear my midwife speaking to her student about heart deceleration. I pretend to be asleep so I can hear their hushed voices discuss my baby.
Finally, the time has come, I'm 10cm and waiting for the instruction to push, my husband is not back yet but I know he will be with me soon. I get the feeling that the baby's head is closer than expected. As soon as my husband arrives I can start pushing. I feel stupid because I can't feel anything so I have no idea if I'm doing it right! We are only 15 minutes into pushing when my temperature spikes, I'm allergic to penicillin so my midwife is asking me what antibiotic I have instead. At this stage I have no idea, none of the doctors seem to be able to help, luckily the anesthetist is close by giving an epidural and he is apparently some kind of medical genius. I have no idea what he gave me, I only remember him saying he would start with a small dose but if I was going to have anaphylaxis it doesn’t matter how much he gives me. No reaction so we are back to pushing.
It is coming up to 2 hours, my baby is starting to show distress, my blood pressure is sky rocketing and my temperature is just behind it. I'm told it will be a forceps delivery, the end of the bed drops off, I don’t know how long they've been there but my legs are in stirrups. I ask if I will have an episiotomy. It’s a given. The local anesthetic is injected and the as the huge scissors snip through my skin and muscle the sound cuts through the room like the sound of a ripping sheet. I push like crazy, desperate to be in control of something! I will not have a forceps delivery... the obstetrician comes in to prepare for forceps but my hard work has paid off and he deems me too close to bother. The pediatric nurse has arrived and been asked to stay, she sets up her station ready for my baby.
When he is born I remember grabbing through my legs for him, to touch him, to know he is real, to feel him move. He lays on my chest and my husband is there looking at him in awe, ready to cut the cord. My mother in law is smiling, the midwife tells me I did a great job.
I have to get photos for my Mum. I have to let her know. And that is how we have this photo. Of us. Of the first moments. Of the relief and anguish. The joy and excitement. The disappointment and the ecstasy.
Everything after that is a haze, moments that melt into each other. I feel exhausted physically, emotionally, mentally but also have a voice telling me “your baby is here now, you have to get on with it”. And as the days and weeks continue, I fall in love with him more every day, guilty that I had ever thought I couldn’t. We surprised my Mum in the hospital before her surgery when our wee man was 3 days old and again after her triple bypass when she was in HDU and then again after her mini-stroke. I cried knowing we were going away for Christmas to stay with our in-laws. Punishing myself for going away to relax when my Mum was stuck in the hospital.
After we returned home my Mum came to recover at our house and my husband returned to work. My midwife handed me over to our local Plunket Nurse and I navigated my way through a new role waiting for the postpartum depression to hit, convinced it would because of my history. All was well in the world.
It wasn't until we were 11 weeks postpartum that my Mum returned home and all of a sudden I was alone. AND.IT.HIT.ME. I had just gone to hell and back. My dreams of having a big family full of children came crashing down around me. I could never do that again. I was full of fear and anxiety and I would replay the events of the past 3 months over in my head wondering how I had coped this long.
But I am a woman and I know I have so much to be thankful for. So you know what I did. I told myself and the world I was fine. I had a shower every day and made sure my teeth were brushed. I poured love into my baby and I put my smile on as I walked out the door. Because anything less was not what anyone wanted to see from me.
My birth experience was not what I had envisioned or discussed- the induction, the pain medication, the epidural, the episiotomy, they were all on my ‘only if I really have to’ list. The events involved in our baby's journey to us, have changed the relationships I have and becoming a mother has changed my life forever in so many ways, I never expected or thought possible.