Tuesday, 16 February 2016

A Birth Story

It's good to write this stuff down, isn't it? As I mentioned, we did not get our hippie-dream-birth, but I still think ours is a story worth telling. They say that a healthy baby is "all that matters", and while that is certainly the most important thing, it's not the only important thing; we were treated with respect and kindness throughout this process, and I've come away positive and ready to mother, rather than feeling confused and traumatised. The experience does matter.

Gory details after the jump!

Firstly, the lead-up was a bit odd this time. Because my first pregnancy was long (42+1), as were all of my mother’s, I wasn’t terribly concerned about going overdue. It seemed to be a normal gestation for women in my family. I was, however, experiencing what felt distinctly like early labour, off and on, for a couple of weeks. It would start in the evening, and the contractions were mild but they would track - sometimes one every 8-10 minutes. They did not feel like Braxton Hicks, but they weren’t getting more intense and obviously weren’t kicking off real labour. So, thinking that he’d arrive in his own good time, I waited. Once again, I went way overdue. Once again, we were going to overshoot the limit for the all-natural Birth Centre. I’d had 4 sweeps, and each time they told me I was 2cm and stretchy, one midwife went so far as to say “we’re on until 8 - see you later hopefully!”, but it just couldn’t seem to get started past those initial cramps. So our plan was to get checked out, see how we were both faring, and make a decision on induction based on those specifics. At 42 weeks, I was still feeling pretty well, though uncomfortable, so I expected the tests to all come back healthy, and that we would probably wait a few more days for our boy to arrive naturally, as his sister had done. We had a scan which flagged up some excess amniotic fluid, polyhydraminos, and estimated that he was on the large side. Again, I wasn’t terribly concerned at this stage, not knowing much about the condition. We waited to speak to a doctor, and unlike the last time I went overdue, the doctor we spoke to, Cordelia, was kind and even-handed (she went through the risks of induction as well as the risks of prolonged pregnancy in our specific case - I didn’t feel shanghai’d or manipulated or disrespected at all), but she was a little worried about cord-prolapse with the excess fluid. Cord prolapse seemed unlikely, but it’s no joke. So we discussed induction. Not being keen on synthetic hormones, we asked if they could potentially skip the pessary or gel and just break my waters. The answer was, essentially, ‘we can try’ - and I appreciated that they were willing to work with our preferences. I was still disappointed, and still cried a bit - but we decided to go for it. We were admitted that same night, so my husband went and got some food, which we ate in the Antenatal Ward while we waited for a bed on Labour Ward. 

Once we moved to Labour Ward, it was a question of waiting for the doctor to do a controlled ARM (artificial rupture of membranes) to minimise the risk of cord prolapse, and get labour going. They normally give you 2 to 4 hours for labour to kick off before they want to administer Syntocinon (same thing as Pitocin, synthetic oxytocin). For me, the possibility of Syntocinon means an epidural - I don’t expect to deal with unnatural contractions naturally. The ARM went well, and the extra fluid was obvious. After 2 hours, I was just starting to contract mildly, but the doctor, Alex, knowing my preferences, decided to give us another 2 hours before checking my cervix. When that was up, I was finally labouring properly but unfortunately hadn’t dilated any more than the 2cm I’d been when I walked in, which means they did want give me a Syntocinon drip. I asked for my epidural, and got one (by the way, mobile epidurals now seem to be standard at Lewisham Hospital, and they are excellent in that you can still have an active labour. Basically, you control the dose, so you can leave it low in order to feel the contraction pressure, but not pain. You can also walk around, bounce on a yoga ball, or just stay upright - all of which helps get that baby out. And you don't have to have a catheter. It's awesome, and I'd have one again - I was chatting casually with a midwife about breastfeeding while having thunderous contractions, 5 in 10 minutes. My main worry with epidurals was always being too numb to push, and ending up with an instrumental birth or C-section. So not an issue here.). Now, I don’t know if it’s because of or in spite of the epidural, but at this point my body suddenly realised what it was supposed to be doing and I was fully within a few hours. No Syntocinon needed after all. When it came time to push, I was very much able to feel the pressure, and he was out in 10 minutes. As per my birth plan, cord clamping was delayed, and we enjoyed some beautiful skin-on-skin time while I barely paid attention to the 3rd stage. Then I started to feel dizzy. I asked my husband to take the baby and proceeded to nearly pass out. My blood pressure was crashing, from blood loss it turns out, and they gave me fluids. He weighed in at 9 pounds 11 ounces. I knew I’d torn, which I initially was unconcerned about, but then the consultant came and said that it was a 3rd degree tear. I didn’t fully realise how serious it was until they wheeled me into theatre. I was shivering from the fluids (I’d lost about a litre of blood), and became quite tearful at the suddenly highly medical situation. The anaesthetist kindly chatted to me during the whole surgery, which was a very welcome distraction. It took a long time, and afterward I was still shivering and worried that I hadn't had a chance to breastfeed yet, but I felt very well looked after. The midwife brought me my beautiful (huge) son, and we were transferred upstairs to postnatal. 

After my daughter was born, I’d had a miserable stay on the postnatal ward, but I was pleased to find the place improved to the point of being unrecognisable. I was bed-bound for several hours, but very well-supported. The breastfeeding midwife, Jane, was amazingly patient and helpful as we struggled to get a latch. I was concerned that he hadn’t fed since birth, hours ago at this point, and was perhaps getting lethargic. She patiently helped me hand-express 3 mL of colostrum, which perked him up enough to get a latch shortly after her shift ended. She also helped me change him when I couldn’t get out of bed to fetch warm water. The midwives, again, were kind and supportive - in spite of being very, very busy.

Although our birth didn’t go according to plan (nobody plans for stitches on their sphincter, right?), we were so well-cared for that we just feel so grateful. To the midwives and doctors, and the NHS: thank you, thank you, thank you, for delivering us safely, for respecting our wishes, and for working so hard.

In hindsight, is there anything I could have done differently? Perhaps I could have taken those false starts a little more seriously, and gotten more thoroughly checked out -  someone suggested the possibility that the extra fluid was preventing him from putting sufficient pressure on the cervix to start labour. And what caused the polyhydraminos? And his size? It wasn't gestational diabetes, my blood results have confirmed. So we don't know, and probably never will - just one of those things. I was measuring normally until the very end.

My recovery has been tougher than last time, with serious soreness and anaemia, but feeding is going so much better that again, I feel positive. I feel happy. I feel blessed. He's here, he's huge, and he's hungry. We're finding our feet. 

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