Early last February, I found myself staring in mild disbelief and absolute delight at a positive pregnancy test. OK, so it was in the toilets of the law firm where I work, and a cleaner was trying to kick me out of there so she could clean, but still, a very memorable moment. Over the next few days and £40 worth of positive pregnancy tests later, it finally sank in that I was going to have a baby.
Being the info junkie that I am, I immediately dived into research, reading everything I could on the internet and the three books I’d ordered from Amazon. Within days I was a self-taught expert on hypnobirthing, epidurals, water births and C-sections.
In the UK today, pregnant women are more empowered than ever before when it comes to choosing how they give birth and are encouraged to create a birth plan. From labour positions to pain relief, we’re encouraged to think about how we’d like the whole birthing process to go. But what happens when you have your heart set on a particular way of doing things and it doesn’t go to plan?
Armed with my untrained, second-hand medical knowledge, I decided that I was going to have an active labour, gas and air and a water birth. So far, so brave on the pain-relief front. Women had been giving birth for centuries without epidurals and I thought (incorrectly as it turned out) that I had a high pain threshold. Plus, I would be less likely to need other interventions.
My due date came and went. No signs of labour at all and no amount of walking or bouncing on a birthing wall was having any effect. I was massive, uncomfortable, suffering from SPD and could hardly move. Two cervical sweeps later and that was it, my induction was booked in at exactly 42 weeks. No water birth for me.
Oh well, I’m a practical person. My only concern at this point was that my baby was born safe and healthy. I was admitted at 4pm and given my first dose of Pitocin at 7pm. I was told that because my cervix was being so uncooperative it would likely take two further doses across the next 18 hours before they would even think about breaking my waters. I was in for the long haul on this one.
Two hours later I started feeling very uncomfortable but was told by the midwife that some period like pains were normal and that I should have a bath and try to relax. I was in agony. The pains I was getting were continuous. I wanted to pull the emergency cord but if I couldn’t even handle the cramps then what on earth was labour going to be like? I was starting to lose a grip on myself and decided that it was time to get some help.
As it turned out I was already 5cm dilated and the drugs they had given me had produced ‘hyper-contractions’ which were only 30 seconds apart. The midwives seemed just as surprised as me. With little to no gap between my contractions I wasn’t coping well at all. Gas and air didn’t seem to be having any effect and after two and a half hours of continuous contractions I asked for an epidural.
The pain relief from the epidural was fantastic and the panic I had been feeling subsided, but I also felt something else, guilt. I felt that I had caved, that I had put my own comfort before that of my baby. I found myself apologising to the midwives, my partner and anyone else who was there. But there were no judgements from anyone.
After a 14 hour labour, including 2 hours of unproductive pushing, my son Alexander was born via forceps delivery. The experience was more traumatic that I had planned and the recovery longer than I would of liked but as a sit here and write this article, there is a gorgeous, sleeping baby in his Moses basket next to me.
It’s been three weeks and I’ve had a lot of time to think about the decisions I made. I no longer self-deprecatingly joke that I had an epidural because I was too chicken to tough it out. I would make the same decisions again as they gave me my healthy little boy.
Labour is a scary time for even the strongest of women and going armed with a birth plan is comforting, but try not to panic when things don’t go the way you expect them to. The best thing you can do is educate yourself as to all the possible options and interventions so that you understand what is happening and why.