Early in 2016 I helped Gurgle magazine with a Q and A section on birth stories
‘My husband was squeamish’, Jo, mum to Esme, 1 year.
‘My husband Dave has always been pretty squeamish. But he was adamant that he wanted to be at the birth and after completing three intensive antenatal sessions together, we were feeling pretty confident about it. Dave managed to hold it together during the first stage but as things became more intense he found it harder and kept having to go outside for ‘breathers’. In the end we called my mum in and she took over as my birth partner while Dave took a step back.’
A- The ability to give birth is an incredible and miraculous function of the female body but it can be too much for some birth partners, even after preparing by attending an antenatal course. I am so pleased you and your husband decided it was a good idea for your mum to take over as the main birth partner as you needed to be able to place all your attention on working with your baby as she made her way into the world and not worrying about how your husband was coping.
‘My baby’s heart rate showed signs of distress’, Jess, mum to Tallulah, 6 and Scarlett, 3.
‘My planned water birth was going well until my baby did a poo and meconium was detected in my waters. All of sudden, her heart rate started showing signs of distress and it went from being a peaceful, calm setting to me being wheeled into a bright, white room with a team of 10 people and the assistance of forceps, followed by ventouse and then an episiotomy to get my baby out. I went into shock afterwards.’
A- I am not surprised you felt shocked after such an ordeal. I hope you have had the chance to talk about this experience with someone professional. Many maternity units will offer a debriefing service. In my classes we discuss how unpredictable labour and birthing can be. Even so, I can fully appreciate how it must have been for you to be taken so swiftly from the calm ambience of your low risk water birth, to such a bright, busy clinical setting. I just hope everything was explained to you and that you understand why certain clinical decisions had to be made for the wellbeing of you and your baby.
‘My home birth didn’t happen’, Sarah Slade, mum to Max and Sam.
‘I had my heart set on a home birth with my son, Max. I just wanted to avoid all the noise, bright lights and sterile environment of hospital and go at my own pace. I’d done lots of preparation, putting together a long playlist of music and investing in a proper birthing pool. I thought things were progressing well but when the first midwife visited I was only a cm dilated and four more midwives later, after I’d been going for 50-odd hours, I was still only 8cm. To my disappointment I was admitted to hospital and put on a syntocinon drip for 5 hours to intensify the contractions. Max finally arrived after 64 hours.’
A- Often when we imagine our own personal birth experience we have a clear idea how we would like it to play out. It sounds like you had your heart set on having a water birth at home and I’m not surprised you feel disappointed you had to transfer to the hospital setting for medical intervention during the final part of your birth experience. I really hope you don’t let that take away your incredible achievement though. You did most the work at home, and it really was only the final hours that required a little support so you could safely meet your baby.
‘I was turned away from the hospital three times!’ Camila, mum to George, 2.
‘I’d planned to labour as much as I could at home and invested in a Tens machine and a birthing ball to help me do just that. But the moment I started having contractions, I just wanted to get to hospital to get some pain relief. Only, they kept turning me away. The first time we arrived, the midwife told me to go home and have a bath and a paracetamol. Two hours later, I went back, was examined and told I was 1cm dilated and to go away again. When I went in for a third time, I was still only 1cm dilated! I was finally admitted eight hours later at 3.5cm dilated.’
A- This is not an uncommon experience, especially with first labours. We talk at length during my antenatal classes about how to cope with moderate pain at home for as long as possible. Even so, we all have our own personal pain limit and it is impossible for you to imagine how contractions feel until you are truly experiencing them. Despite the fact that they can be surprising in intensity and they often require all of your attention, the bottom line is if you are not having approximately 3 regular, strong contractions every 10 minutes the midwives are unlikely to advise you to come into the hospital. If you do decide to go in regardless and you are not 3 cms dilated once examined you will usually be sent home.
‘There was no time for drugs!’ Jo, mum to Ava and Alexa.
I was relatively calm when my waters broke just after 6pm a few days after my due date with my second daughter. But when we arrived at the hospital an hour later, I remember thinking to myself that if the pain was this intense now, how would I cope at the final stages? After a few questions in the Triage Room and pleading for the epidural I’d written I wanted in my birth plan, I had an almighty contraction, the midwife called for the “emergency delivery kit” (which as far as I can tell was just a tiny little screen and a load of towels!) and three pushes later, Alexa was out. I don’t know who was more shocked, me or my husband.
A- Short intense labours can be quite a shock to the system. A shorter labour is far more common once your body has already experienced birth once before. Experiencing the sensations of fully established labour with little to no build up can be overwhelming and frightening, thus encouraging your body to release a surge of adrenaline. Breathing deeply and trying to calm yourself is essential here. Even though there was no time for pain relief, I’m glad you made it to the hospital in time and at least had a midwife there to guide and support you as you brought your baby swiftly into the world.
‘The hospital was full’ Natalie, mum to Eva.
‘When I started having contractions with my daughter Eva, I phoned the hospital and they told me to hold off going in for an hour as they were full. However, when I called an hour later to check, they said there was still no room and that I’d have to go to another hospital a 45-minute-drive away. To say I was gutted was an understatement. I’d mapped out fastest routes to my local hospital and even visited the ward so that I was familiar with it prior to giving birth – yet now I had to go somewhere else entirely. Thankfully we had sat nav.’
A- To be sent to a completely different hospital quite a distance away, when you had chosen where you wanted to have your baby, is hugely disappointing. Feeling in control helps us stay calm during labour. The panic and last minute change of direction must have been upsetting. However, this was entirely out of your control and you had to go where there was space and adequate staffing to enable safe delivery of your baby.
‘I had to have an emergency c-section’ Molly, mum to Rosa and Audrey.
‘I’d expected my second baby’s delivery to be as straight forward as my first’s so when we ran into complications and I was told I had to have a c-section, I was petrified. As it was, it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. After the birthing pool, gas and air, a number of midwife shift changes and a much awaited epidural, I went through to theatre and my beautiful Audrey was delivered quickly and efficiently. The only thing I was upset about was not being able to hold her in my arms straight away.’
A- I am so glad you look upon this experience positively now even though it was neither what you had expected or planned for. In the UK Caesarean section rates currently account for approximately 1:4 births. In my classes we spend time talking about what a Caesarean section would be like and who would be present etc. It is a shock to be surrounded by many new faces in a sterile theatre environment and have your new baby whisked away to be checked, but when complications arise medical professionals have to plan for what will enable the safest outcome for both mother and baby.
‘My husband was stuck in traffic’, Molly, mum to Rafferty and Fox.
We’d been in hospital overnight and my contractions seemed to have eased off when the midwife said it was ok for my husband to go home and get some more food supplies. Typically, the moment he left, things started picking up at a rate of speed and when I tried calling him, he wasn’t picking up. In the end, I spent the last stages of labour with my midwife, and my flustered husband came rushing through the door just as our baby’s head was coming out.’
A- This once again displays the unpredictable nature of labour. It must have been very upsetting for you to know things were progressing but your husband was neither present nor could you get hold of him. Though this situation is far from ideal I’m glad your husband made it back for the final moments to see your baby born. That is an experience that cannot be relived.
‘My midwife turned up late to my home birth’ Michelle, mum to Jude and Bo.
I was progressing well with my home birth when we called the hospital and were told that a midwife would be on her way. But an hour later no one had arrived. Another half an hour passed by and I started to feel the urge to push. My husband, who had been pretty calm up until this time, started googling what to do, and leafing through a Worst Case Scenario Handbook we had which happened to have a section on how to deliver a baby. Luckily, just as he was calling the hospital again, there was a knock at the door and the midwife rushed in, quickly examined me and was just in time to deliver her – on the bathroom floor!
A- That must have felt like the longest 90 minutes of your life. Who knows why it took so long but even though you knew the midwife was on her way you could also have rung an ambulance once the urge to push began. They can blue light it and reach you more quickly if birth is imminent and no assistance has arrived. Still, I am pleased she did turn up and was able to support your birth in the final moments.
‘The epidural only worked on one side’, Claire Gates, mum to Iris, 3, Mabel, 2.
‘I’d had a natural birth with my first daughter but had decided to try having an epidural with my second. The injection itself was fine but the pain relief was only effective on one side of my body and despite lots of repositioning, nothing would help. The more we tried to reposition it, the more distressed I was becoming. In the end, I just had to grit my teeth and bear it but it was far from the pain-free option I’d expected.’
A- It sounds like you were really unlucky with your epidural. About 30% of women in the UK will have an epidural or spinal block during their birth experience. Although usually effective, occasionally epidurals can let through a window of contraction sensation which can be painful and unpleasant. This can be quite disheartening as we imagine epidurals to remove the discomfort altogether. It is also a shame that repositioning it did not help you either. If it still troubles you it might be worth asking the hospital if you can talk to a knowledgeable professional about this experience and have a de-briefing session to understand why this might have occurred