This time was supposed to be different. Easier, more straightforward. After all I had done this three times before, surely my body should be on ‘expert’ level at childbirth by now. If nothing else, surely all the yoga I was doing would help my body be strong enough to endure the ordeal with a semblance of grace… Oh if only it worked like that.
To understand this story properly we have to travel back in time. Back to the year 2011. My first experience of labour. It was long (three days), hard (hours of pushing too early) and exhausting (throwing up, irregular contractions, constant pain). I ended up being induced on the third day because my body just never kicked into gear. Eli arrived initially healthy, but then ended up returning to the Children’s Ward for a late presentation of infection (later linked to Group B Strep). I remember his tiny screams during the lumbar puncture, and tearfully holding his writhing body down when they tried over and over to insert the cannula into his shadowy veins.
Fast forward to the early hours of 2013. New Year’s Day. My only delivery with no formal assistance (ie. induction), this time four excruciating days of contractions that never quite reached the intended frequency (but always remained close) and a disempowering experience with a cranky midwife who obstructed my requests for pain relief and lectured me about fatigue. Hudson went straight into the Special Care Nursery when he emerged – exhausted and with signs of sepsis.
Then it was Ivy’s turn. My obstetrician put in place a plan to induce me at the first sign of labour, IV antibiotics throughout the whole thing. It worked. I was induced at 8am and gave birth around 4pm to a perfectly healthy girl.
Approaching this birth I was a little apprehensive. My previous obstetrician had moved away and I had opted for midwife care, a situation that suited well for the majority of the pregnancy, but as the due date came closer I began to grow anxious. What was the plan? Would the doctors allow me to be induced to avoid the awful lead up or would I be left labouring for days with no end in sight? Thanks to the serendipitous timing of our final appointment, we connected again with the amazing midwife who delivered Eli and who I have kept in touch with throughout each of the births. She arranged for a doctor’s consult and we set about making a plan. Thankfully, the doctor didn’t need much convincing after reading my history and the two page impassioned plea I had drafted didn’t end up being necessary. She promptly booked in the induction for Wednesday the 19th of April.
With the kids either at school or in Family Daycare, Dave and I spent the big day getting ready. We did a last minute grocery shop, finished packing hospital bags and shared final drinks at The Timber Mill. When the starting time got moved to 4pm, we surprised all the kids by picking them up together. It was a chaotic whirlwind of handing over instructions, backpacks and empty lunchboxes to Dave’s parents and then we were off.
I felt buoyant as we arrived. The tightenings had been constant but easy enough to ignore and I was connected to the monitor to ensure everything was travelling well. Dave and I shared a focaccia from the Cafeteria and settled in watching shows to pass the time. By the time dinner arrived I felt like I had landed at a hotel instead of the hospital. This was much easier than the usual bed/bath routine at home!
It soon came time to have the balloon inserted (a saline filled balloon catheter inserted into the uterus to cause the cervix to open). The plan was to ensure my body was as ready as possible before starting the synthetic hormones. As it turned out, I was already 2cm dilated and the cervix was very soft so there was no need for the balloon. Dave returned home and I tried to settle in for a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, the mildly sore throat that had niggled all day turned into full blown tonsillitis. I could barely swallow, and got very little sleep, having to use throat lozenges every hour just to get some comfort. The tightenings became stronger and made any further sleep impossible. By the time morning arrived I was exhausted, in considerable pain and feeling defeated.
The moment Dave walked back into the Birth Suite at 7am, I broke down in tears. How could I give birth if I couldn’t even swallow? The gas and air – my tried and true method for coping with the pain – would be difficult to inhale and I was already exhausted. It wasn’t a good way to start.
The doctors arrived and I was hooked up to the drip for IV antibiotics. They manually broke my waters – a process that was quite uncomfortable – and was I informed that I was now 3cm. It started off slowly, contractions were regular but not too painful and by 11:30am things were in full swing and I was judged to be in ‘active labour’. The penicillin and panadeine forte took the edge of my throat and I could focus on staying relaxed and breathing through contractions. I went into the zone with the gas and Dave found himself pretty much redundant for a while.
I’m not sure what Dave said to me at this point, but I’m betting it was something rude… I think this photo pretty much sums up the entire experience.
I’m not sure when things turned. The baby’s position was posterior and the pressure began to give me the urge to push when I was only 5cm dilated. Despite trying everything not to give in, there were times when I just couldn’t hold back. After a few hours of this, the midwives decided to try and let me push after all. It didn’t work. I was in a haze of exhaustion and pain, gripping Dave’s hand when the waves of pain hit and arching my back off the bed each time. They tried to have me change position, but I just couldn’t hold my body up anymore.
At 5pm, the obstetrician came to do an examination. He found that a flap of cervix had become stuck and swollen and there was no way that I was going to be able to get the baby out. He attempted to dislodge the flap (as I screamed) but there was nothing he could do. He recommended an epidural and that the syntocin drip be turned off to give my body a break and let the swelling go down. Previously, my body had completely mirrored the levels of artificial hormones – contractions slowing when the syntocinon was decreased and increasing in intensity when the levels were raised. For a while the contractions eased off, and the room became vacant as the midwives disappeared to tend to other things.
Then my body took over. Suddenly I was having five overpowering contractions every 10 minutes and an irresistible urge to push each time. This went on for another two and half hours. Dave hammered the call button to try and get help but the doctor and anaesthesiologist were nowhere to be found. Footsteps hammered down the hallway as emergencies broke out all over the place. The remaining midwife was unsure as to what to do except just tell me not to push, and then vaguely encourage me for ‘doing a good job’ when I collapsed, spent, onto the bed again. I was at my lowest point – swearing, screaming, convinced I was not going to make it. Dave was threatening to burst into theatre to get someone to look after us. We felt so out of our depth – panicked and helpless. The gas was barely taking the edge off the pain and I was desperate for someone to do something to get me out of this position. I begged for a c-section, for anything really that would make this awful experience just stop.
See here for Part Two.