It’ll be Little Planet’s 11th birthday on Monday, and this afternoon, I was reminded about her birth. To be honest, I try not to think about it too much. ‘Serene’ ‘whale music’ ‘water birth’ or ‘natural birth’ all bring me out in hives when I think about it – they remind me of my (wonderful) midwife who used these words when suggesting I write a Birth Plan. I’m going to tell you the story – but I’ll start by saying if you’re pregnant, don’t read it. Please. If you’re squeamish, it’s probably not for you, either. If you follow me on twitter, you’ll know it had a happy ending, but I’m aware that many women who have a similar birth experience to me aren’t so fortunate. I send you my love.
I’ll start with how I actually got pregnant, (don’t worry, I’ll not be doing an impersonation of an embarrassed teacher!), seeing as I was adamant that I never wanted children of my own.
I met LPs dad in a pub when I was pissed, his friend was going out with my friend. He was funny, and we ended up dating. One weekend, he picked me up from work & had arranged a ‘romantic’ break to Torquay. (I know. The signs were all there!) He’d packed a bag, remembered my hair dryer and booked a B&B so off we went. We had a night out in Torquay, and who did we bump into?! Why yes, his FAMILY who were also there on holiday. Now, LP’s dad wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but his brother couldn’t cut warm butter. I got progressively more drunk in order to drown out their family idiocy, and it actually turned into a pretty good evening. When we got back to the B&B, condoms were missing from his ‘expert packing’. Just once can’t hurt, can it? It actually wasn’t even quite once, so I was pretty sure I’d be safe. <hollow laugh>
A week later, I was thoroughly bored of the ‘funny’ man I was dating, so I decided he had to go. I didn’t see him for a few days, and so I just left it to ‘cool off’. A week or so later, my period was late…. I bought a pregnancy test & asked him to come over so I could do the test. He arrived, following the obligatory ’4 pints with the lads’ and I’d already done the test, fuming in rage that he couldn’t be bothered to be present. (This turned out to be his MO, more on that another time).
I was pregnant. He, you may be surprised to know, was delighted. So delighted, that I didn’t hear from him for 2 weeks, as he was ‘celebrating’ impending fatherhood.
That’s enough about him now, needless to say, he’s not a huge feature in our lives.
Within a few days, I’d started to feel sick – really sick. I spent lots of time with my head over the loo, vomiting up anything and everything that I put into my body. Even water. Even ginger nut biscuits. Everything. When women have ‘morning’ sickness & tell you – don’t offer them solutions unless they ASK. They will have thought of everything, and probably tried it. Twice.
Four weeks later, I was hospitalised with hyperestemis, and spent a week on the gynae ward, on a drip. I was 10 weeks pregnant. ‘Not long now’, the people said. ‘It’ll settle down after 12 weeks’.
I vomited continually until I was 20 weeks pregnant – losing weight. I spent part of the 2nd trimester looking like I’d been dug up. Blooming, my arse.
At 21 weeks, I had a little bleed, so I went into hospital as instructed, where they declared my blood pressure to be ‘a little high’ and prescribed a week of bed rest. Lovely, I thought. I was off sick from work with the sickness anyway, being instructed to stay in bed was just what I needed.
Until I found it was a hospital bed. I wasn’t allowed out of bed unless I needed the toilet, or a shower.
January ended with me being allowed out of hospital, as they medicated me to control my blood pressure. As I came into February, I started to feel better – more energy, the sickness had settled to just the mornings & late evening, and I felt much better – including the development of a ‘bump’, which made me feel less of a malingerer! At last, I could wear my maternity jeans with pride! See – I’m not putting it on! I’m pregnant AND poorly!
I was put into consultant care, with appointments every fortnight – not much fun, and a wholly medicalised experience that I’d not planned for. Regardless, I attended my appointments, feeling utterly fed up at the way my pregnancy was progressing.
February brought good news and bad – I was made redundant, along with the rest of my team – 3 of whom were pregnant…. I knew I wanted a change of career & the redundancy payout gave me some financial freedom to decide which direction I might head in. I signed the forms & kissed my engineering career goodbye.
The middle of February brought another one of those consultant appointments. I was feeling better, less tired, but a bit breathless – all to be expected, I thought. As I was checked over by the midwife prior to seeing the doctor, she took my blood pressure.
‘Go & have a lie down, Joanne. Let’s see if we can get this BP down’.
The next reading was even higher, so they had another week of bed rest planned. This time, it was absolute bed rest. No wee breaks or trips to the shower for me! My goodness, bed rest is BORING.
March came – and I was allowed home! Yay! The deal was – I had a midwife visit the next morning. I would have agreed to anything, so fed up was I of Ward 14! My lovely community midwife visited the next morning, and took the dreaded blood pressure…. ‘Oh Joanne I’m really sorry. We can’t leave you at home with your BP so high’. I’d not even unpacked my bag, and I came to realise that this was the best way…
To save boring you with the minutiae, this happened a number of times – a few days in, a night at home, a midwife visit, a few days in, a night at home, a midwife visit. You get the picture. Until I got to 33 weeks – when I was IN UNTIL BABY ARRIVED. I had pre-eclampsia. My body was swollen, I had a face like the moon (and like thunder, much of the time!) and blood pressure so high that they thought it might kill me.
Bored, frustrated, hot (it was summer 2003 – bloody boiling!), bored, fed up, furious with the foetus, bored, raging with the consultant and far too knowledgeable about the midwifery off-shift antics!!
Finally the day arrived when my body could take no more. I was 37+3 – I was being induced as I had eclampsia. I saw the consultant, who breezed through the details of ‘induction’, telling me that my cervix would probably take a bit to ‘get going’.
I believe ‘get going’ is a euphemism for ‘need tearing open with metal probes, fingers, manky looking gel pessaries and brute force’. I called my birthing partner Kaz, and got settled in, ready to get birthing.
4pm on the Friday evening – we were off! A midwife tried to sweep my cervix, but it was ‘solid’. I knew this wasn’t good. In came the pessary, and I was sent for a walk. A long one. Round & round the hospital. And again. I had this conversation with a midwife on my way around the block:
M/W: how’s it going, Joanne?
Me: terrible. I’m not having any pains, or anything.
M/W: give it a chance!
Another turn around the block. Kaz bought me ice cream & we sat outside in the sunshine. Then the pains came. Big, long, hurty pains. We walked swiftly back to the ward, certain that this was It. I met the same midwife on the way back: ‘See Joanne?! You just needed to give it a chance!’
They lay me down to monitor the heartbeat, gave me two paracetamol and examined my cervix again. It was still impenetrable. They planned another pessary, then we’d be off to Delivery Suite. Easy peasy!
Ha. If only. 4 women arrived on the ward, all progressing much quicker than me – laying down to have the monitor on had slowed my contractions to a standstill. It was 8pm. The night shift came on, Delivery Suite was full, they decided to medicate me with a tamazepan to help me sleep, and they’d try again in the morning.
Saturday morning came, and I was determined I’d do it TODAY! I was thoroughly fed up & tearful, I just wanted it over and done with.
New pessary, new route around the hospital. I walked and walked and walked. And ate ice cream. It was still Hot.
Saturday evening, minor contractions, more paracetamol, more walking. My cervix was not considering thinning. On Saturday night, there were no beds on Delivery, so they followed the same routine. Sleep-inducing medication, try again tomorrow.
Sunday – this was the day I’d do It! Kaz was really bored by this time, but getting into her role as Birthing Partner. She called my mother to give her a progress update, only to find she was On Her Way. Now, my mother is a whole other story – I was getting this baby out as soon as I could, if she was arriving imminently!
The registrar decided they’d have ‘one more crack’ at opening my firmly closed cervix. I had another pessary and a bed on Delivery Suite. Oh – and my BP was 150/195. Time for action.
I was given another pessary, and some gel – and then I was put on a drip to ‘speed things up’. My slow progress & BP meant that I had to be constantly monitored, so I had to lay on my back. My contractions felt forced, painful, I was tired. My BP was fluctuating & the heartbeat monitor showed baby was a bit unhappy.
Sunday mid morning – here comes the consultant… On a sunny Sunday, I knew it was serious. ‘Break her waters’, he instructed. The midwife gave me the gas & air pipe. What do I need that for? I said, innocently. Breaking waters doesn’t hurt, does it? ‘Just use it if you need it, Joanne.
Legs akimbo, facing the door, the registrar crouched down between my thighs ‘I’ll try & be gentle Joanne, but use the gas if you need to’. The pain was agonising – I’m wincing now, as I type this. My cervix wasn’t dilated at all, so she forced open with some kind of implement that looked like a crochet hook, and tore at the amniotic sac. I screamed, sucked on the gas like my life depended on it, and the registrar, midwife & wall were covered in bloody mucus.
Kaz had been sitting quietly, in a very hot room, with me screaming & crying. She saw the blood, and made a dash for the door. She pulled it open, crashed into the wall, stood by the midwifery station trying to get out of the ward and fainted. Onto her face.
The door was wide open, as the team caring for me left and rushed to her side – she’d taken the weight of the fall on her cheek.
“Fucking hell you selfish bastard! Way to make everything about you!!” I screamed, as she was put onto a stretcher and taken to A&E.
The midwife patted my hand. ‘Don’t worry Joanne, we’ll soon have this baby out.’
Famous last words.
The shift changed again, and in came the Scary Midwife. I’m not going to name her, but my goodness I’m tempted. SM introduced herself as the senior midwife, and I didn’t like her one bit. My mother had arrived by this point, so I told her I wanted a new midwife. My mother loves nothing more than a ruckus, so off she went to ask.
“Joanne – you are High Risk. I haven’t got any suitably-qualified midwives available to look after you. You’ll have to manage with me” said SM, disapprovingly.
I burst into tears & said I was Going Home. She heard me, and came back to say there was another midwife available, who was recently qualified (see what she did there?!), and she’d supervise from a distance.
The new midwife was lovely, really put me at ease. She took my obs & decided I needed to see the doctor. In came the consultant, no doubt interrupted during Sunday lunch. Frowning, he looked at my file & said I had to have an epidural to bring my BP down. It was 185/215. I was in a bit of pain, but not much, and I really didn’t want to have to lay down constantly. But with my BP the way it was, they were worried I might have a stroke. The Anaesthetist arrived, the needle in my back did its job & off I went to sleep for an hour – with the sound of the snooker on in the background.
I was examined an hour or so later – still no movement in my blasted cervix, despite my waters being splashed all around the room. My contractions were stilted, baby was still a bit unhappy, but then perked up, so I was given some toast & told to ‘relax’.
Later in the evening, news came from A&E that Kaz had a fractured cheekbone, so it was just going to be me and my Mother.
Late evening came, and the registrar checked me over. Yet another check of the cervix, no change. Regular contractions, no pain due to epidural.
The registrar decided that she’d leave me overnight with no further interventions & they’d take me to theatre for a caesarean on the Monday morning at 8am. Because id had an epidural and was high risk, another lovelier midwife was to be my support overnight (I couldn’t be left alone as I’d had so many interventions & had an epidural in).
I was relieved and scared and fed up & exhausted – but I settled down with the snooker, had yet more toast & then settled for sleep. Lovelier midwife talked me down when I was stressed, and I settled to sleep.
I woke up with a start, when the BP machine attached to my arm wouldn’t stop inflating; the midwife checked me over and called for senior staff. It was 2am.
Lovelier midwife: I think we should get the Reg out to look again
Snr M/w: they’re leaving her, do you want to be responsible for getting her out of bed at 2am?!
LM: she needs to be seen. Heart rate is dropping & not recovering.
Sm: be it on your head… But it’s likely they’ll still leave her.
Me: I am HERE you know!
The registrar arrived at 2.45am – and by this time there was panic in the room. She examined me, and shouted ‘CRASH’. Now, I’d watched enough Casualty to know this wasn’t good. I’m shaking writing this – 11 years ago, and yet I have a dry mouth, racing heart, and a feeling of panic that takes me back into that room.
CRASH 2 CORD PROLAPSE the registrar shouted, as the room filled with people.
A nurse came towards me with a piece of paper – ‘sign this Joanne, you need an operation to save baby’s life’. I signed it, with nothing that resembled my actual signature!
A nurse came towards me, waving a razor. ‘DONT CUT ME OPEN WITH THAT!’, I yelled.. ‘I need to remove your pubic hair Joanne, keep still’
‘Drink this Joanne – it’ll stop you from being sick’. As my trolley was disconnected from all the equipment & pushed towards theatre, I vomited up the stuff that would ‘stop me being sick’. All over the only man in the Crash Team. Go me 😉
We arrived in theatre and it was bright – so bright.
‘Joanne – breathe in through this mask’
‘Is my baby going to die?’
‘We’re going to do our best to make sure you’re both ok’
‘This is iodine Joanne I’m going to paint it onto your tummy’
‘DON’T CUT ME I CAN FEEL WHAT YOU’RE DOING. DON’T CUT ME YET. DON’T CUT ME. IS MY BABY GOING TO DIE?’
‘We’re putting you to sleep Joanne, your arm will go cold, count backwards from 10′
’10, 9, 8…’
When I woke up, they told me I’d had a baby girl at 3.22am but she was ‘a bit cold’ so they had her in a hot cot. I had been sure I was having a boy (call it my mothering instinct!), so the poor little 5lb 15oz mite didn’t even have a name.
We had skin to skin, and I fed her, then we slept. For hours and hours.
I woke up and asked what had happened – I have to be factual here because it’s still so scary. This is an excerpt from my notes.
GA administered – suspected inter-uterine death.
Apgar 1 @ 1 minute
O2 & compressions
Apgar 2 @ 3 mins
Apgar 5 @ 7 mins
Apgar 6 @ 10 mins
Apgar 7 @ 12 mins
Apgar 9 @ 15 mins
She recovered, and so did I – after a 2 year bout of PND. She was well, and although the paediatrics team warned me that she might develop differently to her peers, she met her milestones as expected and is as healthy as I could wish for.
I started writing this piece because she’s 11 on Monday, and I’m finally able to write about our shared trauma. Recovering from her birth took me a lot longer than I expected. Although I’m still shaking.
Phew. I think I’ll put the kettle on!
Opinionated Planet: a radical feminist blog by women for women on male violence, women-only spaces and sports