I was the one in antenatal classes who had decided that a six hour labour was probably the way to go, but after what, to all intents and purposes, was a healthy, happy first pregnancy, I revised that 'choice' to a more realistic 12 hours and tried to focus my positiveness on achieving that goal. And yes, it couldn't have been further away from the truth. My 'labour' started sometime one Sunday morning and ended finally the following Thursday morning at 1:30.
Baby was due on the Saturday and as every single woman in my antenatal group had been early and I was the last one in the queue, I felt it incumbent on me to conform. And yes, I was wrong again!! He did start on his due date but arrived finally several days later. I spent the Saturday decorating our bedroom with the odd break to breathe through the odd twinge and the tens machine on low (as I wasn't sure how much far I'd have to go). I felt pretty strong and happy and generally calm so things were OK. On the Saturday I spent an uncomfortable night tossing and turning with a very bad back and vaguely regular contractions - although they weren't painful and no closer than every 10 minutes or so but I was definitely contracting. Sunday night was slightly worse than the previous one and I awoke at 5am to 'proper' contractions that felt like very bad period pain. I had progressed to every 6 minutes or so. We called one of my midwives at 7:45 who seemed to think that everything was warming up and told me to carry on as normal (what was that?) and she would be round at 10. She checked me over when she arrived and confirmed that this was 'warming up' (words that filled me with dread) As the day wore on the contractions became much more irregular but were all under 15 minutes and lasted for about a minute. Some really weren't much fun and felt like someone was slicing through my womb. It was after this point that the next few days ran into one long, long event and I lost the plot somewhat.
Looking back it was clear that my labour was very emotionally based and I only hit the next gear when something bubbled to the surface got expressed and got dealt with. I had had a termination 10 years ago and although I had dealt with the ensuing emotional problems as much as was possible, I had an inkling that something might kick in when I was in labour. I think, in some way, I was suffering from the irrational fear that something would happen to this baby because of my previous decision. So, as the emotional baggage bubbled to the surface, my contractions increased in severity and regularity. As this happened my back pain also grew in severity and the only way I could labour was standing up. Chris, my husband, took a lot of the strain of this as I leant on him and squeezed various parts of his upper torso as each contraction hit!!
The next few days or so are very patchy in my memory and I'm not sure what order they happened in but there are various cameos in my head.
I can remember sitting astride a chair in the living room listening to the sound of the sea (from a calming CD) and getting through the contractions by breathing properly and thinking positively. This was one night as the curtains were drawn and it was dark outside and Chris kept falling asleep on the sofa.
I remember Sue, the midwife, coming over a few times and I know Chris called her several times as when the going got tough I had a habit of loosing confidence and needed boosting up.
I remember Chris suggesting we go for a walk, so we decided to go down the road to our local shops - a journey that normally takes about five minutes but took us nearly half an hour because I had to keep stopping with the contractions.
I also remember getting in the bath at one point (on Sue's suggestion) because of the back pain, but again I can't remember when this was or how long I stayed there - if I remember rightly, I don't think it helped much.
I remember getting very upset whilst sitting in the breakfast room, as my Dad was away and I had this need to talk to him. Chris called my Mum to see if Dad had arrived at his destination safely. I couldn't talk to her as I didn't want to upset her and I knew I would cry.
It felt interminable. The days didn't end as the nights were not filled with sleep . . .
The next stage that is indelibly etched on my memory, after having very powerful contractions every minute and lasting for a minute or so for what felt like days, Sue examined me. I thought the best case scenario would be about 8 cms, not so good would be 5 cms and unthinkable would be about 2 cms. Yes, wrong again!!! I had only managed to get to 1 cm. At this point after opting for a home birth, I realised that I couldn't go on with the pain - I felt it might take me another 3 days to get to 10cms so I decided to go to hospital. The only thing was, I couldn't imagine how I could get in the car to be taken there. Sue suggested I go in the back kneeling on the seat and looking out of the back window, so at 4 in the morning with me shouting in the street in pain (I never did ask any of the neighbours if they were woken up) I managed to manoeuvre myself into the back of a 3 door hatchback with Sue by my side rubbing my back and Chris driving like a lunatic through the streets of South London to get to Kings. Every bump he went over shocked its way through me and I think I did some damage to both their ear drums. On reflection it must have looked hysterical, a white faced, exhausted looking bloke driving like a madman with a screaming banshee in a dressing gown, faced pressed up against the back window being calmed by a woman trying desperately to keep a lid on the whole situation.
So, we arrived at Kings in record time and Sue went off to find a wheelchair. I remembered both my midwives saying at Antenatal that usually when transferring to hospital, labour can either stop or slow down. Wrong again!!! Contractions were still coming fast and strong and causing me to shout and scream like a woman possessed. Sue actually found a wheelchair with a porter attached to it and they helped me onto it, again kneeling up and facing the back. I have no idea what this porter looked like because for some reason it helped having my eyes shut. So I got wheeled through the corridors of Kings still screaming (I expect I woke everyone who had the misfortune to be placed in a room on the journey up to labour ward) and we finally made it to Labour Room 11. I am known for my less than lady like language and I was extremely proud of myself that the only time I swore was when we got in the lift (Sue, me and the porter) and I said "f@*k this for a game of soldiers." I think he had a sense of humour because I remember him laughing.
Once safely ensconced in Room 11 the first anaesthetist arrived, a rather abrupt lady, who told me that whilst the epidural was being administered I was not allowed to move, added to which, I had to sit far back on the bed which caused me major concern as I hadn't sat anywhere for two days due to my back pain, not only that - how on earth could I remain still whilst experiencing a contraction?? Panic set in only to be calmed by Sue who remarked that I didn't move much anyway when I was contracting and so somehow, with what felt like strength from the gods, I got onto the bed and sat well back. As the needle went in I hit another contraction and I thought what the hell and screamed my head off. I'm not sure the anaesthetist liked me very much. Actually, if I remember rightly, it was only then that the Tens machine got taken off. I'd had it on so long it had almost taken root!
Things seemed to be OK as I felt the epidural gradually taking effect and I looked up at Chris and said, "I'm glad I came in here." Then I turned to Sue and as I did, my right eye started to close of its own volition and I felt a very strange numbness and tingling down my right side, and a metallic taste in my mouth. I asked Sue if something had happened to my eye at which point I promptly collapsed. I wasn't unconscious; I just couldn't move or communicate, and I could hear all the confusion and chaos surrounding me. I heard a vague kind of panic ensue and talk of heart monitors, theatre, etc. Chris sounded extremely scared and I knew something wasn't right when Sue, who is the most calm, considered, serene person, say very strongly, "I'm very unhappy about this." In my overdeveloped dramatic way, I imagined I could see my deceased grandparents on a cloud beckoning to me and I thought, "No, I can't die!!!!" I'm not sure what happened next, but I know things calmed down somewhat because someone checked my vital signs and realised that my heart rate and blood pressure were completely normal which ruled out a rather more serious allergic reaction. I could gradually feel certain parts of my body regain feeling and managed to say feebly, "Am I going to die?" to which the confident and smiling reply came, "No, you're not going to die." Things went back to normal quite quickly after that and the head honcho anaesthetist of the hospital (senior registrar?) came in to see me to explain that he had only ever read about what happened to me as it's an extremely rare neurological reaction. They don't know what it is or why it happens and the only way around it is to change the cocktail of anaesthetic and adjust the way the epidural is administered, which they did and thankfully it did the trick . . . for a while.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully although I didn't get much rest because after the epidural episode I was irrationally afraid to sleep just in case I didn't wake up. Sue went home for some much deserved rest and Alice came in and did the day shift. Throughout the day when my epidural needed topping up each different anaesthetist that came in came out with the 'Are you the one who...?' I felt like putting a sign up outside the door and charging an entrance fee!!
I dilated pretty well up to 7 cms but after that things evened out a bit so a syntocin drip got set up and I had my waters broken. It was quite a surprise when we found ourselves ankle deep in the stuff but thankfully it was completely clear. I had tubes in, tubes up, bags out, monitors on, monitors round and for someone who is against intervention, I felt like a total fraud. By this stage I think it was very late afternoon/early evening on the Wednesday and things seemed to have settled down until I became aware that my left leg was totally numb and I could feel the rest of my body, but mostly my contracting womb. It was at this point Sue came back to the hospital. Poor thing only seemed to be around when things got difficult!! I had what they called a motor block. I was known throughout the hospital anaesthetists (I think I must have seen every single one of them) and so they quite calmly removed the catheter from my back, jiggled it about a bit, replaced it again which did the trick and hey presto everything returned to normal although it took four days in all to get the feeling in my left leg back completely!!
At about 10pm the baby had moved down very low and Sue felt it was time to push. She suggested that we turn off the epidural so I could feel the urge so I mustered up all my remaining strength and courage (which was now pretty minimal) and agreed. The epidural took a while to wear off so I didn't feel the urge to push for quite some time. But when I did, the pain was indescribable. I think I managed pushing quite well but the pain that seared through my body after, was too much to bear - I felt like my guts were being torn in two. I got very verbally abusive to both Chris and Sue (I apologised profusely after) and started pulling off my t shirt and demanding ice cubes. I pushed for an hour but I was so exhausted after three nights without sleep and really couldn't cope with the pain, that I lost all faith in myself and ended up completely hysterical and hyperventilating. I think Chris realised that at this stage I really had had enough. Through my sorry sobs I cried 'cut him out,' to which Sue replied that that was a bit drastic and anyway they wouldn't give me a caesarean because I had got him to within a centimetre of being born. She said if I wanted to the pain to stop, I either pushed him out there and then or had a ventouse in which case I had to have another epidural. I screamed 'get them in here now' and carried on being hysterical. I remember silently apologising to my unborn child but I knew I had him booked in to see the cranial osteopath so any 'damage' done by the suction could be put right whereas I couldn't carry on any longer with the pain.
The anaesthetist that came in that time, took one look at the situation and promptly told me off. She told me that the way I was acting was not helping the baby and that I had to listen to my midwife and husband, breathe properly and calm down. It took me two contractions to achieve this but by then the epidural had taken effect and as my feet were being put into the stirrups my body melted into a relaxed and exhausted state. Looking back I think at that stage I was almost semi-conscious. Two young, female paediatricians came in and explained what was going to happen - I didn't have the wherewithal to take much notice. Sue had her hand on my tummy and was telling me when to push which I did but I was under the impression that the machine was helping me get my baby out. It wasn't working properly and took them a good few minutes to get it up and running.
I remember quite strongly listening to his heart beat on the monitor and hearing it rise and fall pretty low with the contractions and it worried me each time I heard it Sue kept on telling me that was completely normal, although it didn't sink in and certainly didn't stop me asking the same question each time a contraction hit. In the haze I recall the paediatricians saying something about the baby being in the wrong position, and Sue sounding very surprised. I just thought that at least that was an explanation as to why the whole thing had taken so long. It later transpired that the paeds had got it wrong and my midwives were correct. He was in the perfect position from the word go. Thankfully the paeds admitted their mistake and apologised to Sue. And I went back to my 'emotional baggage' theory.
At this stage because I knew that finally there was going to be an end to it all, I started to cry, I was so relieved that I was about to meet this person who had been growing inside me. Everyone thought I was crying because I was upset, and tried to console me. I didn't have the energy to explain.
So, they got the machine working and two pushes later out slithered my baby. He was covered in black, sticky meconium and added to all the other types of fluid and matter in the room I had an inkling the place looked more like an abattoir but he got immediately wrapped in a towel and put on my tummy. I kept saying 'what is it what is it?' as I was flat on my back and couldn't see, Sue came to my rescue and showed me what 'it' was. I had felt from the moment I had conceived that I was carrying a boy, and I just needed to know if I was right!! I think I made a stupid comment about his willy not being very big and one of the paediatricians remarked that he was a newborn and what did I expect!!!
As I was being cleaned up and sewn up, I just gazed and gazed at this little being in my arms. He didn't scream that scary newborn cry you see on TV. Considering what he'd been through, I'm surprised he didn't copy me and scream the place down, but he just whimpered for a bit. His cord was cut immediately due to the syntocin . . . or was it the syntometrine I can't remember, which I was rather sad about as I had wanted it to be cut once it had stopped pulsating but by that stage, I was so far away from the birth I'd imagined it all seemed irrelevant. I looked at his face and his ears (just like his Dads) and thought that he was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. The feeling of meeting my child was the most amazing, indescribable experience and all the pain and long labour I went through literally disappeared once I had him in my arms.
Once they had sewn me up and checked his weight etc, Sue showed us the placenta. She asked us if we wanted to see it and Chris and I looked at each other as if to say 'Why would we want to do that?' but it was fascinating. Turns out I made umbilical cord like North Sea Oil pipeline. Thankfully the whole thing was very healthy and quite amazing to see when you understand that your body makes this entire new organ and how huge it is!!
He was born at 1:30 in the morning and by 4 am I was ready to leave. Chris had fallen asleep on a chair holding Elliot (the only name the both of us agreed on) which was the most beautiful sight and it was quite sad we had to wake them. Sue wheeled me out and Chris got the car and we all drove home just before dawn broke. On the journey home we were laughing because both of us realised that we had never changed a nappy and how would we know when to feed him and what the hell did we think we were doing bringing this new baby home as we had no idea what we were doing!!
Looking back I realise how the total lack of dignity and the giving in to the more primal side of oneself really put things into perspective. I found the whole experience totally amazing. I really didn't enjoy the pain aspect and the length of time it took, but once he arrived it was all completely worth it and I would do it all again, although not in a hurry. It was a small price to pay for the most beautiful creature I have ever met, and the most euphoric feeling I have ever felt. Nothing compares.