At 8pm I gave into the urge to push and felt a fresh, searing pain erupt. Suddenly the room filled with people. I was terrified they were going to tell me not to push again and I went into complete panic mode. A new midwife got right down and began telling me that I just needed to breathe and focus on Dave. She was so encouraging and strong, helping me to come back to my body and ride out the incredible agony. At 8:07pm Harvey (finally) entered the world.
It was over. Harvey was healthy and spent a while staying warm on my chest. He was able to have a good feed and was then whisked away for measurements and to be dressed. I went into shock, trembling for a few hours afterwards. My body ached all over and I was darkly certain that there was no way that I would ever be getting off that bed. When Dave’s parents came to visit all I could do was cry, having no words to explain the ordeal that we had just emerged from.
I barely remember this photograph being taken…definitely not my best look.
Two hours later, after I had hobbled (with help) to wash all the grime away and barely managed to stay upright while easing myself back into clothes, I collapsed into a chair and sobbed again. The obstetrician came into the room and was incredibly apologetic. He explained in about five minutes more than either of us had understood about the labour during the entire process. Initially, the midwives had been telling him that the birth was straightforward – that I was 5, 7 then 9cm dilated and that everything was progressing well. I wasn’t told any of this. After examining me he had become convinced that he would have to do an emergency c-section and that it would have been a very difficult and terrible one. However, then he got called away to another emergency and the one anaesthesiologist who was working had been occupied with cases more urgent than mine. He was very regretful about the way things turned out, and said that he was amazed that I had been able to push through the cervix at all – given how swollen it was. It made a big difference hearing his perspective on the labour. He prescribed a sleeping pill so that I could at least get some sleep to recover from the shock before needing to feed again.
When we got down to the ward I was greeted by a no-nonsense nurse. She queried the sleeping tablet and came back to have a chat with me once Dave had left. At first I was tempted to be put off by her brisk manner, she asked me questions about why I was feeling so undone by it all. After she listened to my story she gave me a pep talk about how the outcomes had actually been amazing – I had given birth to a healthy baby naturally against all the odds, had minimal blood loss, no tearing and should recover fairly quickly. She advised me not to replay the events of the day in my mind, but to try to move on and get as much rest and sleep as possible. Surprisingly, the talk was exactly what I needed to come out of the shock zone and into the realm of being a capable mother to my newborn. I began to feel more positive about the situation, was able to get up (albeit quite stiffly) and feed Harvey throughout the night with relative ease.
I know how powerful it can be to recognise when I am telling myself a story about an event that just happened and how that story can be changed. The difficulty comes when you become so immersed in that narrative and it viscerally feels like it is the only reality. Emerging from that labour experience I was convinced that it had been the worst thing I had ever experienced (which probably isn’t far from the truth), that we were abandoned and my body had let me down. When I closed my eyes I could hear the galloping beat of Harvey’s heart, thumping into my subconscious. My lungs ached with every breath from the hours of dragging desperately on the plastic tube delivering only slight numbing of the pain. A painful blister lingered on the inside of my lower lip from the repeated shoving of the apparatus into my mouth.
And yet…. I looked into the transparent crib resting beside me. The dark thatch of black hair, the peaceful rise and fall of the tiny chest. Somehow we had come through it intact. We were alive – healthy survivors of an awful experience. I felt a surge of gratitude, and a dose of perspective. Yes, it had been the most difficult of all my birthing experiences, and yes, it could have been handled better by the medical staff, but there wasn’t anything I could do about that now. It was time to move on.
Three weeks on now and I can talk almost cheerily about the experience. With Hudson’s birth I remember choking back tears every time I attempted to retell the birth story, for months afterwards. It took me ten months to even think about writing about it, and even then I sobbed as I wrote down the details. Looking back, I suspect that I may have had a dose of (undiagnosed) post-natal depression. It has been a long journey since those dark days, and I feel as if I have learned so much – lessons that each of my children have uniquely taught me – often through being completely humbled and reduced to a bare version of myself that I preferred to pretend never existed.
As the memory of the excruciating pain fades and I am left with the comforting scent of a wise-eyed infant, I know that every awful minute was worth it… even though I suspect my body will never quite be the same again.