The arrival of my beautiful boys

On Halloween 2008 I gave birth to my second son, Teddy, by emergency caesarian. Having had an emergency caesarian the first time with my son Billy, I found myself the mother of two boys and yet (as one of my least tactful friends seemed pleased to point out) “never having actually given birth”. Of course I knew this was unfair – this time I endured more than 12 hours of drug-free labour, the unbelievable pain of each contraction, the mind-blowing pressure of a baby moving down the birthing canal. Yet somehow these (cruel) words resonated so clearly with me. I didn’t feel that I actually “birthed” either of my babies. I feel that I somehow failed, “copped out”; that in some way I was less of a woman, less capable, weaker.

First time round I approached the labour with my head firmly in the sand believing, whether naiively or through necessity, that I had an unusually high pain threshold. When I heard all the birth horror stories others seemed so desperate to impart (it’s amazing just how many of them there are) I simply dismissed them. My sister (a midwife) had warned “Childbirth is unpredictable; if you have very rigid ideas of how you want it to go, you will only be disappointed”. And so, armed with very little of a formalised birth plan, and filled with the unwavering belief that “it would be alright on the night” I approached D day with surprisingly few nerves.

On the eve of my Dad’s big 80th birthday bash and 2 days before my due date, sod’s law intervened and my waters broke. I was lying in bed when I heard, or felt (to this day I’m not sure which) a pop and a trickle of liquid pool between my legs. The next 10 minutes came straight out of a comedy sketch as my sister (the midwife) and me quizzically inspected my knickers like a prehistoric specimen, discussing whether this was indeed “it” or yet another example of late pregnancy bladder weakness. After some deliberation any uncertainty was finally shattered when my waters broke fully with an enormous gush. Luckily I was stood in the bath by this point. We were soon en route to St George’s Hospital in Tooting, and after a quick examination we were back home with fingers and toes crossed in the hope that contractions would start naturally. At 4pm the next day they did, and the induction appointment was happily assigned to the same bin as the dreaded vaginal sweep. After 6 hours of labour at home managed by frequent bath hopping, I arrived at hospital expecting the news that I was fully dilated and ready to push. I was 3 cm. Perhaps my ability to cope with pain wasn’t all that great after all?

The following hours were filled with desperate cries for pain relief and sarcastic comments aimed at the midwife attempting to reassure me that “everything was going to be okay”. It was 6 hours from asking (okay, demanding) until I finally received an epidural. On two occasions the anesthetist had even entered the room, poised with needle ready, before being called away to an emergency elsewhere. Hours went by. Vaginal examinations that confirmed little progress came and went. It was 12 hours after arrival, and at 6cm dilation that the consultant confirmed that a section was going to be necessary owing to signs of infection and foetal distress. At this point justification was unnecessary; if it meant that I would never have to feel the pain of a contraction again then he could get the rusty kitchen knife out for all i cared, and I merrily signed the consent form without reading a single word.

Baby William Roan was born at 13:37 on 3rd July 06 weighing 7lb 7oz by a highly efficient, and astoundingly numerous team of medical staff. After 4 days climbing the walls I was finally allowed home. In the days that followed the numb post-labour tiredness slowly gave way to feelings of disappointment quickly followed by disbelief, anger and even guilt. Ignoring all of the medical evidence I whole-heartedly believed that it was my fault that the caesarian had happened. I felt I had willed it, “copped out” when the pain had become too unbearable. Surrounded by other new mums who had all birthed their babies vaginally, I listened in disbelief at their birth stories, unable to comprehend why mine had ended as it had. Where I had failed, they had all succeeded. Where I was pathetic and weak, they were strong and heroic.

Of course these feelings dulled over time and I got on with the process of being a new mum and enjoying watching my little boy grow. Nevertheless, when I found I was pregnant the second time, I realised I still held a lot of fear from Billy’s birth, and the temptation to just “go for an elective” was strong. However, I also felt a real need to birth this baby naturally, as if settling an old score. I knew if I was going to attempt a vbac (vaginal birth after caesarian) then I needed to give myself the best chance of achieving it. After a caesarian your notes are emblazoned with the words “high risk”, clinicians talk only of a “trial of normal birth” as if there is already an expectation of failure. A list of interventions and restrictions are reeled off making the idea of anything “natural” seem at best unlikely, and at worst impossible. After much soul searching and checking of bank balances we made the bold decision to employ an independent midwife.

Aside from a few days of blind panic in the weeks before the birth I again approached the labour with surprising stoicism, surrounded by the strong support of my husband, and my independent midwife who had become a friend. After a few days of niggles and 3 days before my due date I was lying in bed ready for a good night sleep when “pop!”. “ I don’t believe it!” I muttered as i jumped out of bed and headed for the toilet. Within 15 minutes my contractions had started, and from the off were 3 minutes apart and lasting 30-40 seconds.

The early stages were extremely smooth. I managed the contractions well using music, my birth pool and a positive frame of mind. At 3am my husband finally called the midwife and asked her to come as contractions were getting much stronger, and I was starting to feel anxious. When my midwife arrived I felt my whole body relax, reassured at the sound of a familiar voice. On examination and much to my delight we found that I was already 6-7cm dilated. “I can do this!” I thought. I started using gas and air which helped me concentrate and keep my breathing slow and controlled. I was feeling positive and empowered, happy and relaxed in my own home with all my own things around me. At about 6am the second midwife arrived and I heard hushed voices talking excitedly about my wonderful progress. They expected the baby to be born at home within a few hours.

Another vaginal exam confirmed that I was 8cm dilated and by 7am I was a teasing 9 ½ cm. All was going like a dream. Suddenly, contractions started to get “expulsive” and I remember saying that I wanted to push, believing that the end was near and feeling triumphant. However, after another examination we found that I was still millimeters away. My midwife explained that I had to resist the urge to push to stop the cervix from swelling, but it was almost impossible to resist my body’s natural urge, and on top of the pain of contractions. I could feel my confidence waning as we tried everything. Soon after 9am, and with my resolve failing I made the decision to transfer to hospital.

After another 3 hours in hospital, a failed epidural, and repeated attempts to manually push the cervical lip out the way, the consultant finally recommended surgery. Feeling exhausted, impatient, and devoid of any other options, I agreed and Baby Edward Thomas was born at 13:57 weighing a healthy 8lb 7oz. Within 30 minutes he was guzzling away happily. I felt surprisingly stoical, calm and proud of what I had achieved.

However, within days the disappointment crept in. I found myself crying endlessly as the torment of questions began. “Was it my fault?”, “Could i have done something differently?”, “How could this have happened twice?” The despair, the guilt, the disbelief all returned. To have come so close to achieving my vbac, to have coped better than i could have imagined, and only to fall at the last hurdle. The disappointment was immense.

Of course, in the months that followed Teddy’s birth, life again took over and the joy of being a new mum dominated. I can look back now with more balance, and see a birth I can be proud of. Yet I still find it difficult to hear other people’s birth stories, and rarely discuss my own. “All that matters is that your baby is healthy”. So many pieces of wisdom offered to me by well-meaning friends. All those that have given birth “naturally” listen incredulously to me harp on about the upset I still feel. To them their labours are over, unimportant in the grand scheme of things. To me they are overwhelmingly defining.

According to national statistics nearly 1 in 4 (24%) of births in the UK are by Caesarian section, whether emergency or elective. (www.drfoster.co.uk) Of the people I asked from of an online vbac group over half felt angry and disappointed after their caesarians, and almost as many admitted to feelings of depression. Some even felt suicidal. It seems the emotional after-effects of a caesarian are as real for some as the physical ones. For everyone reading this that has had a similar experience, the important thing to recognise is that you are not alone.

For further support and to share similar experiences you can visit the vbac support group at http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/ukvbachbac/

18 Responses to “The arrival of my beautiful boys”

  1. Plan B June 3, 2010 at 9:03 pm #

    No one else has commented on this so maybe you don’t want comments, but my heart is breaking for you so I just wanted to say this:

    I haven’t been through what you did, I had the textbook “natural”, drug-free delivery with my first, and then an elective c-s with my second and third, because that’s what the doctors recommended with identical twins.

    I am therefore a statistic. Too posh to push. The sort of mother who doesn’t love her child(ren) enough to push them out. A failure. I won’t love them as much as if I’d pushed them out, I won’t bond, I won’t breastfeed (a doula actually told me that last two). I’m the evillest of the evil – I didn’t even try.

    And the point is, that’s nonsense. I feel no differently about the baby I had vaginally from the ones I had by c-s. I get very cross with people who suggest that one is better than the other, and I suspect that the NCT and its like are to blame.

    I realise that many people who know you much better than I (after half an hour of reading) will have told you all this a million times and it won’t change the way you feel, but I do think it’s worth reminding you that no-one else thinks any less of you, and the people who really matter, your beautiful boys, certainly won’t.

    Sorry, that was a bit long, and as I said at the start, you probably didn’t want it anyway, but you can always delete it then can’t you?!

  2. Saffy June 6, 2010 at 10:50 am #

    I’ve had 2 emergency c-sections (both under a general!) for 2 out of 2 births. I was absolutely gutted and was for ages. Like you, I beat myself up. Now I just look at my little princess and know that how they make their great entrance doesn’t really matter. It’s having them here happy and healthy that counts – but it may explain my fascination with any birthing show on tele – I just want to ‘know’ what it would be like.

  3. marketingtomilk June 6, 2010 at 3:13 pm #

    Saffy – now i’m starting to get a little freaked. i think u might be my NZ doppleganger ;<)
    i can't watch anything to do with birthing on tv anymore. Although i have come to terms with it, there is still a lot of hidden sadness.

    Plan B – i hope u got my email?

  4. Harriet June 13, 2010 at 10:07 pm #

    I did. Thank you so much. Sorry. Been rubbish at emailing recently. I’m very glad though you’re finding it easier as time goes on.

    I got very ranty about this on someone else’s blog too. I can’t believe that people can’t see that the only important thing about giving birth is that a healthy mother and healthy baby are the result and if (however you do it) you’ve done that, you’ve achieved the most important thing you ever will.

    Maybe I need to write my own post!

  5. Jessica Milln June 14, 2010 at 9:43 am #

    There’s nothing like, not having a normal delivery to make you feel like a ‘freak’ mum. With me, I thought I just couldn’t go into labour. My first was three weeks late – all forms of induction wouldn’t shift him, so it was the ‘slash ‘n’ grab’ to get him out. I did get the second delivered so called ‘normally’ but labour had to be brought on with drugs and having an epidural I never felt a thing. I also knew I had only a short window to push with this ‘trial of scar’ before they would wheel me into theatre.

    I can sympathise with your sadness, especially having done all the work and to have nearly got there.

    Happily, my third made me feel normal.

  6. Isy September 10, 2010 at 12:18 pm #

    I liked reading the text explaining how it make you feel but the exchange of respons stressed me so much that I had to respond.

    We have 9 months to bond with our child, whatever way they come out!!

    Of course, if you did not love your child into the womb during the 9 months, then yes you can feel guilty now!! But certainly not about the way you gave birth because at least, YOU GAVE BIRTH and you heard your little boy’s first cry and cuddled him when his heart was beating!! Some mums, who have pushed for ages to let their little princes come out the “natural” way, who have cried of happiness and pain during the work, heard nothing .. nothing.. until the doctor gave the time of death.

    So please!! Be happy of having 2 wonderful little boys, be happy to have had a good birth (even if not vaginal!) and most of all, write about it as a wonderful experience after having cuddled, talked and loved them for 9 months until you could at last.. see their angel faces next to you.

    • marketingtomilk November 22, 2010 at 2:37 pm #

      My heart breaks for anyone that has lost a child, it really does. I cannot imagine anything so painful, and i count my blessings and hope that i never will have to go through something like that.
      However, i don’t think you can ever say to someone that they are wrong to feel a certain way because other people have suffered much worse in their lives. There will always be someone worse off. And of course, rationally, i put myself in a box when i am reminded of these kinds of comparisons. Unfortunately even that realisation doesn’t eradicate your feelings towards your own life experiences. You cannot help the way you feel, however irrational, unjust, or self-centred it might be.

  7. rachel frowd November 22, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

    Ok, so I’m a midwife who had a ‘normal, vaginal delivery’ with my first daughter and a drug-free homebirth with my second daughter. Many people probably think I couldn’t have any understanding of the pain that women who want a natural delivery but end up with a C/S, feel. But I have seen it time and time again as a midwife, and of course felt the pain as if it were my own when my dearest sis had 2 caesarians of her own. The anguish, disappointment, feelings of guilt, and later sadness sometimes verging on depression, can be terrible. I have tried to protect ‘my women’ from that by pushing the notion antenatally that, as much as one can try and prepare for birth, one ultimately does not have control over what can and may happen. Yet I know that if the time comes, those words will be lost amongst their feeling that they have ‘failed’ in some way.

    The truth is, whatever anyone else may tell you, It is luck. Pure and simple. Whether you have a quick labour, a 3 day labour, a caesarian section or a natural labour on the toilet floor. Obviously I am simplifying and there are other medical factors which will come into play, but for the most part- what sort of labour you have is luck.
    I wasn’t brave throughout my labour at home. There were many times I was dying to be transferred into hospital and given drugs, but once I got beyond a certain point, I knew it was too late. Does that make me brave, courageous, someone to be admired? I think not. It just means I was lucky.

    For those of you who have been told you can’t love your baby as much, or bond with them, if you haven’t pushed them out, I can’t imagine how awful that must have felt. How utterly utterly ridiculous. Who are these people who say such hurtful things. And how would they feel if someone said that to their daughter?
    What makes us the mothers we are, is our selfless devotion to our children. Getting up to them in the night, every night, sometimes all night. Always putting their needs before our own. Loving them with every fibre of our being, and never letting them out of our thoughts. Not the method in which they exited our bodies into the world awaiting them.

    I know I have the luxury of speaking as someone who has had 2 natural births, but do you know what my homebirth taught me? That the method in which the baby comes out has no bearing on anything: makes you no more of a woman, no more of a mother, no more of a person. I thought I would feel more ‘proud’ of having had a homebirth, but if the truth be told, I don’t really. My sister laboured at home until she was 9cms dilated and, no matter how hard she tried, that last cm just wouldn’t budge. Does that make her any less of a woman, or a mother than me? Of course it doesn’t.

    And do you know what, Once the baby comes out- that’s when the real ‘parenting’ starts.

  8. Expat Mum November 22, 2010 at 2:56 pm #

    I don’t think a lot of people realise that when you have a non-elective C, you have usually laboured as much (usually longer) as any other mother, and have tried against the odds to get your baby out. My first and third were both emergency C’s, yet I managed to push the biggest one out fairly easily in between. Go figure.
    I admit, I was gutted after the first C and even more so after the 2nd, but that was because I knew the recovery was a lot longer than a vaginal delivery.
    Anyone who elects for a C on the basis that it’s easier is in for a bit of a shock in my opinion.
    Anyway, in time, the guilt and disappointment fade.

    • marketingtomilk November 22, 2010 at 3:00 pm #

      Yes i agree. It does indeed begin to fade, though i still hate talking about birth with other people. Probably always will. Then again, i’m sure a lot of people can’t face it either!

  9. Doodlemum December 24, 2010 at 3:55 pm #

    I don’t think any women who has been pregnant and had a baby can ever call herself a disappointment. You are a star and a hero and your boys think your great. Birth is birth whether out through the main exit or through the emergency exit. We put ourselves through enough in our lives. Well done for rationalising the situation and moving on, it’s all we can ever do.

  10. theperfectbadmummy September 20, 2011 at 9:54 am #

    I’ve just found this. Can I just say, I’d happily punch your friend – I have a friend similar who asked if I was sad that “I didn’t do it properly” and “took the easy way out” especially as I made the hard decision second time round I made the decision to have a section after discovering the baby was so big and the history in the family was emergency sections due to small cervix. The midwife in the meeting told me “not to be so silly, the baby could just flop right out”.

    Whatever way you give birth, it’s hard work, undignified and it’s not this part of it that matters, it’s how you grow and develop as a mum.

    x

  11. Karen McCully January 11, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    I think that no matter how your birth turns out, if you have spent 9 months planning the special event and it didn’t wuite turn out how you wanted it to then you are going to feel a little deflated. I hear lots of birth stories, and to be honest not very many great ones. There are tonnes of women out there having a rough time during delivery and maybe it needs to be looked at. As with breastfeeding there are many women who are not reaching their goals and support should be the first thing provided.

    It’s almost as if we all need a debrief after the event, a time to talk it out and just have someone listen to why you regret certain things happening. Talking to a man is useless, they just want to fix it, they can’t just listen and be quiet. I had a natural, drug free birth both times, but there are things about both births that could have been done differently and handled better, maybe we set ourselves up for failure by wanting too much?

  12. mimiindublin February 15, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    I’ve read this with tears coming down my cheeks. Your post is so sad, as are the experiences of the comments.
    What kind of creatures are we women?
    Pregnancy, birth and parenting are all difficult (but rewarding), however they happen.
    We constantly beat ourselves and each other up over our failures, and don’t recognise what wonderful creatures we actually are. I’ve done it too, over a forceps delivery and the fact that my second daughter was whisked from me (why didn’t I stop that, even though I was paralysed on a trolley?!) and spent her first night away from me, fed by a bottle, even though I had specifically told them I wanted to breastfeed her. When we should be feeling triumph and wonderment at our achievements, we feel sadness and failure at what wasn’t to be.

    I bet men wouldn’t do that to each other: IF they could give birth, in any way, they’d be shouting it from the rooftops!

    I’m almost finished! Talking about these things does help us to process them, and come to terms with them. I think it was Michel Odent who said that women in their 80’s still experienced immense sadness of “birth failure”. Sad, but true.

  13. fitfallon April 17, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

    I am feeling great sadness reading through these posts . And it reminds me of the guilt switch that seems to get turned on the minute we see two lines on a pregnancy test. Guilt about eating and drinking properly .could this stress be hurting the baby etc then the birth more guilt if it doesn’t go your way and breast feeding more guilt if that doesn’t work out too. I have had 3 elective sections for gallbladder madness and vomiting at the end of the pregnancy , the heads were always too high to induce and so I went straight from pain and vomiting to section . I felt so much guilt and ended up with a postnatal depression that carried through my 2 nd pregnancy and to his birth .

    I am ranting now , but one paediatrician , a very practical man sent in to see this distraught patient said .” I think it’s more important that she’s still speaking to you by the time she finishes school ” he was right .

    I spend so much of my day , saying . ” i am doing my best ” and do you know what that’s good enough because it’s all any of us can do . So more pats on the back all round well done to you all !

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] know, i had two emergency caesarians, and was pretty cut up about it both times. (Here are my birth stories if that’s your kind of […]

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    […] people responded to my post The arrival of my beautiful boys by telling me (albeit in a roundabout kind of way) to buck my ideas up and think about those that […]

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