Once upon a time, there was a pregnant woman who wanted a natural birth…

So this is my birth story. Although it does have a happy ending, be warned – that is where the similarity to a fairy story ends.

My pregnancy had progressed relatively straight forwardly – despite unpleasant nausea in the first trimester, and the never ending exhaustion, I was feeling healthy and ready for birth. I’d attended NCT classes and completed my own research, and wanted a natural birth with minimal pain relief.

In one of my final midwife checkups, I had a high blood pressure reading. It was not my usual midwife, but a stand in. She’d been brusque from the start, and raised her eyebrows at my reading. She re-took it 5 minutes later, and without telling me the results, or even speaking a word to me, made a phonecall. I gathered this was to the ante-natal assessment unit at the hospital, where she was explaining she was concerned about my blood pressure and wanted me to be be checked out. This was how I found out about it. She offered me no reassurance or explanation of what this meant. I left the appointment blinking away tears, and then cried all the way home. After a sleepless night, and hasty call to work to arrange cover and explain my absence, I reported to the antenatal assessment clinic first thing in the morning. They took my blood pressure at 10 minute intervals, and listened to my baby’s heartbeat, and were satisfied I was fine. My first blood pressure reading was slightly high, which they accredited to my worrying about it, as it settled to normal throughout the readings. However I now was worried sick about my blood pressure. As a result of this, I had a high reading at my next two midwife appointments, and each time was sent to hospital to be checked. Each time i was discharged as my reading would return to normal, but my anxiety about it meant my initial reading became higher and higher. Eventually a week before my due date I was admitted into the Maternity Assessment Centre overnight for monitoring. I cried constantly. I was woken every 4 hours to be monitored – each time the initial readings were high before settling. I didn’t sleep at all, so I demanded to be discharged the next day – all I wanted was to go home. I was given beta blockers, and had to return every couple of days to be monitored. This was over the Christmas period – my favourite time of year. I was devastated to have to keep going into hospital, and terrified each time that my reading would be high and I would be kept in again. Perhaps as a result of this, my blood pressure remained high and I was strongly advised to be induced before my due date.

The induction process was frustrating. I was in hospital for three days and nights. Women were coming and going into labour, then being taken to the labour ward, whilst I was still there with nothing happening. Following procedure, I had a pessary inserted, then removed after 24 hours, then another pessary inserted, and again removed after 24 hours. I was not even 1cm dilated. The internal examinations were absolute agony and I dreaded them. After waiting for 6 hours for a doctor to become available, I then had a fast acting gel applied to my cervix. Due to how painful I found the internal examinations, they took me into a treatment room and gave me gas and air. I cried throughout. Contractions started soon after, then died away completely. At 10pm that evening I sent my husband home, as we had been assured that I would not be admitted to the labour ward for the next stage of induction until tomorrow. I settled down to get some sleep. It was New Year’s Eve, and at around 11:45pm my contractions started in earnest. My waters broke, although I was still only 1cm dilated, and I rang my husband to come back – it was midnight, as I’d heard fireworks during our call. He arrived 40 minutes later to find me launching myself off the bed in agony. I’d been given gas and air, and a midwife was pressing her fingers into my lower back and try and relieve the pain. More waters gushed out, and to my horror I felt the overwhelming urge to push. Mr F says this is when my midwife’s face fell – this should not be happening so quickly. I was now fully dilated, and my baby’s head was ready to come out.

I was urged to get on a wheelchair, with only a vest top on and a sheet slung over my lower half, and I was run through the corridors and into a room in the labour ward, roaring in pain the whole way. I climbed onto the bed, with the feeling of my baby’s head ready to come out. The midwife turned her back for a moment to attend to something – I had a contraction and almost against my will pushed, hard. I felt the entirety of my baby’s body come straight out. Shocked, I said nothing, and my midwife turned around and gasped. Suddenly more medical professionals entered the room – my baby was wiped and put on my chest. ‘What was the time of birth’? one asked. My midwife was flustered – she hadn’t even had the time to check it had been so fast. ‘1:20am’ she answered. I’d been in labour for around an hour and a half.

I don’t recall how much time we had together as a new family – it felt like barely minutes before another midwife was gently telling me that she thought I’d had a third degree tear. All I knew was that more and more bloody towels kept being taken up from under me and rapidly replaced. We were urged to ‘take pictures and bond’ despite the fact that shortly I’d be taken away for surgery. I almost laughed – I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do less than have a picture taken. Mr F was in shock – he’d left his wife falling asleep and returned shortly after to find me in full blown labour. Our baby was born less than 40 minutes after he got back to the hospital.

I was taken for surgery to repair my third degree tear. I was given an anesthetic which mercifully numbed my lower half. I was nearly asleep as for the first time I was completely comfortable. I kept urging the midwife to check on my husband and baby. During the surgery I remember looking at my monitor – ‘why aren’t you measuring her heart rate?’ I asked. ‘Because she’s no longer inside you’ they answered, bemused.

I was in surgery for around two hours before being reunited with my husband and baby. With the pain numbed, I felt euphoric. My husband was not faring as well, and seemed completely out of it and shocked. He’d been left almost completely on his own with our new baby, worried sick about me, with no sleep, following a fast traumatic birth where he’d had to watch the bloody towels, the concerned faces of the medical professionals, and his wife in absolute agony – he’d felt helpless.

Fortunately, our gorgeous baby girl was unscathed by the birth. My husband and I – not so much. Besides the physical pain, I was left confused, angry and emotional. Our plans for future babies are now on hold following the most terrifying experience of our lives.

We have sought help and been offered a debrief/counselling session back at the hospital – however the earliest appointment is three and a half months after the birth. We are able to talk to each other, and have been open with our friends, family and medical professionals that our birth was traumatic, but currently I am worried about the long lasting emotional effects it has caused.

Have you experienced any emotional pain from your birth? How did you cope with it?

 

 

 

 

Nearly £200 to make some friends – or the best money you’ve ever spent: What to expect from your NCT Signature Antenatal class

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Being a first time (and therefore totally clueless) mum, Mr F and I signed up for antenatal classes. We were primarily looking for advice on every aspect of the birth and first few weeks of caring for a tiny human, and as a side note, to bond with other parents to be. I decided that NCT seemed to be the way to go. Their mission statement was one I was completely on board with:

We are the UK’s leading charity for parents, for your First 1,000 Days – right through your pregnancy, birth and beyond.

We’ll give you accurate, impartial information through our website and our much-loved courses and classes.

We’ll bring you together with other new parents in your community, to make vital and lasting friendships.

We’ll campaign on your behalf to change the things that matter to you.

Because we believe everyone can, and should, feel supported in becoming a parent.

The website was easy to use, and I quickly found details of classes in my area. What I hadn’t realised was that all the other mums-to-be attending would be due within a few weeks of me, a perfect idea! There was the option of doing two full weekends, or a series of two hour classes once a week. We went for the evening classes, to give us maximum time to digest the information and bond with the other parents. I was shocked to find out that the NCT Signature Antenatal course was £187 – this would likely be out of the price range of many parents to be, and seemed a bit steep. Nevertheless, we needed all the help we could get, so we booked onto the course.

Before our first session, we both felt nervous – almost like the first day at school! Making friends as an adult in a forced social situation is not the dream. I’m socially awkward at the best of times with new people, and usually over compensate and terrify people by asking stupid questions such as ‘if you were a biscuit, what biscuit would you be?’ I also toyed with taking a pad and pen to make notes – then decided not to be ‘that’ mum-to-be. We were contacted beforehand by the course leader who sent us a welcome, a bit about her background, and clear directions on how to get to the venue. Using these we arrived catastrophically early to the first class…we chatted with our course facilitator as we helped her set up. She was friendly and welcoming, and had supplied a selection of drinks and biscuits – extremely welcome to starving pregnant ladies!

As the others arrived, I looked around the room. Would these women become my close friends? Was it possible that as other highly publicised stories, our children would grow up pals for life? They all seemed far more together, knowledgeable, and pro active than me – the first instance of ‘mum comparison’ (or as I call it, ‘comparimum’) kicked in.

After some slightly cringe worthy getting to know each other games, and a break to mingle and chat over more biscuits, we agreed on course guidelines – the course would then be tailored to our wants and needs. I was amused to find our suggestion of ‘there are no stupid questions’ to be slammed by one of the other mums to be, who pointed out ‘but there are stupid questions – no-one has time for that!’ I decided that she would absolutely be my friend!

Over the weeks we learned about birth, caring for your child, and, unexpectedly, about caring for each other as a couple. Each week we were sent useful links by our course leader to support our own further research into the topics we’d discussed. Despite the claim to give ‘impartial information’ there was a definite lean towards natural births with minimal pain relief, however debate and discussion were welcomed through various activities. Our course leader was extremely knowledgeable and able to answer every question, no matter how strange (or stupid!) Over the ever-popular biscuits, we also gradually started to get to know the other couples. Towards the end of the course, we set up the ubiquitous WhatsApp group – originally for all the parents, then we created a ‘mum chat’ splinter group to prevent the dads getting jealous of all our plans for maternity leave meet ups! Little did I know that this WhatsApp group would be my saviour time and time again.

Each of us shared our birth story in the WhatsApp group as they occurred – not one went the way we had wanted it to, and we were dismayed. Our disappointment was shared by the only people who could honestly know how we felt – each other. Our struggles to feed our babies were endlessly discussed and supported. Tips, help and links to information or helpful purchases were shared. Meetups were planned on at least a weekly basis, plus info on mum and baby classes we were attending. Some days the messages would creep towards the hundred mark. As we had heartaches, down days, and triumphs, we went through them all – together. I shared the most intimate details, thoughts and fears of being a first time mum with these women – now my best friends.

A newly pregnant friend recently asked me what the most useful thing was I’d bought for my baby – my reply: NCT Signature Antenatal Course. Best money I could have spent.

What was your experience of NCT antenatal courses?

http://www.nct.org.uk