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Lucy's first birth story

A marathon labour with emergency c-section, but it was all worth it for the arrival of Sophie

Posted: 8 July 2003
by Lucy Lloyd

About Lucy

Finding out that she was pregnant for the first time came as a surprise for 35-year old journalist Lucy. Nine months later she was ready to be a Mum but less prepared for the marathon labour that was to come first. But when Sophie eventually did arrive she made it all worthwhile.

I was very apprehensive about labour with my first child because my mother had a three-day labour with me and then had been seriously ill, so I tried my best not to think about labour too much. But as the months thundered past, the ante-natal classes began and I began to resemble a dromedary on its hind legs, I thought it best to heed the advice of the books and health professionals and devise some sort of ‘birth plan’, however vague it might be.

The first thing was birth partners. I opted for the father as I felt it was something he should experience too and luckily he was keen. The second thing was drugs – if the going got tough, I wanted them. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to be part of a pilot scheme in London: one-to-one midwifery, meaning I had my own personal midwife whom I had got to know during my pregnancy. She visited me at home to check on me throughout which made everything relaxed and easy – no visits to the GP, my midwife handled it all.

My due date was May Day and nothing happened. I was relieved – with a house full of builders, no roof and no walls (“ behind schedule” was an understatement) I was in no hurry to subject my baby to our dirty, dusty home. Because we had time to develop a relationship my midwife understood my anxieties about labour. “You aren’t going to go into labour because you’re living on a building site and it’s too stressful,” she told me. She knew that ideally I would want to have my baby at the weekend and suggested giving me a series of “sweeps” to speed up the process. I felt uneasy about this at first but then agreed.

I had two sweeps – uncomfortable but bearable experiences – and in the early hours of Friday morning I suddenly felt this incredible thudding in my tummy as if someone were banging on a door, desperate to get out. It wasn’t unlike period pain although far more painful and impossible to ignore. This had to be a contraction surely? I hadn’t experienced any Braxton Hicks so I was unsure. They came every five minutes. Should I phone the midwife? I decided I’d phone her at 9am and let her have some sleep – after all it was the early stages. But I couldn’t sleep and so ran several baths to try to ease the pain that way. The water helped but my contractions did not ease off – sometimes they would speed up and I would have three in ten minutes.

At 9am I rang the midwife: My partner rang the builders. The midwife came round at 10.30am and confirmed that I was in labour. “Those contractions that are meant to come every half an hour at first so that you can still phone your friends or something, just haven’t happened” I told her “ The most apart they’ve been is five minutes.”

“Good. Just take paracetamol for the pain or hook yourself up to your TENS machine. I think you are going to have your baby today.”

Famous last words.

I started on the tablets right away and got into bed for a while with a hot water bottle but soon realised that I could only manage the pain by pacing around the bedroom and down the hall. In typical last-minute Larry fashion, my partner watched the TENS video, hooked up the machine to my body - which almost required a degree in astro-physics - and tried to get through the day. I wasn’t hungry. I felt sick and, worst of all, I had the world’s angriest period.

At 10pm that evening, the midwife came round to check on things. She said I was doing well but not dilated enough to go to hospital – only 3cm. The baby was fine and I should try to get some sleep. But I was in too much pain to even contemplate five minutes of shuteye. So she suggested we go for a walk: “It’s always easier to bear the pain of labour if you’re outdoors.”

I thought it was a strange suggestion – my neck of the London woods was not dissimilar to parts of the Bronx on a Friday night. But at midnight a large rotund woman and her midwife paced the streets of Shepherds Bush, while the former occasionally stopped to press the button on her TENS machine, hang on to a lamp-post or catch her breath. But my midwife was right – outside the pain seemed to be far less. Around 1am we went home and I promised to call her as soon as anything changed. I was up all night again with the pain, monitoring my watch obsessively to see when I could take my next dose of paracetamol and in and out of the bath tub like a yo yo. Meanwhile my partner slept like a baby.

At 10 am on the Saturday we phoned the midwife as I’d had a“show”. She came over and suggested for the trillionth time that I should have my baby at home. But I could not be persuaded to deliver on a building site, and felt that the presence of machines (read “drugs”) and health professionals would make me feel safe. “Don’t forget the Vim – the hospital baths are filthy,” cooed my midwife reassuringly.

The car ride to the hospital was made unbearable by an army of speed bumps. After what seemed like aeons, we were finally checked in and my midwife gave me another internal examination. I was 6cm dilated – only four to go! It was 2pm Saturday.

It was a beautiful day so my midwife took me outside and we paced the gardens of the hospital, my TENS machine virtually soldered to my body. My partner was a revelation when it came to breathing and really helped me through the pain. At 6pm I had another internal examination but I was still 6cm. Annoyingly, my waters were still intact so my midwife broke them with a weird knitting needle contraption. So began the world’s longest pee and my contractions became even stronger. Now, fully aware that I had a faulty TENS machine, I tried the “Gas and Air” option but it reminded me of sitting in the dentist’s chair and I couldn’t handle it at all. So it was back to the tablets.

By 8pm, I had dilated to 7cm and my midwife suggested syntocinon to speed up the contractions. I was at the end of my pain threshold and knew that syntocinon would increase my pain so insisted on an epidural. I can remember the anaethetist putting the needle in my back and the pain disappearing almost like magic. I was hooked up to a monitor and managed to read the paper and even eat while my partner slept like a baby (again).

But the epidural had a strong negative effect too. It completely changed the atmosphere in my birthing room and I could sense immediately the antipathy between the doctors and midwives. I was being attended to by a junior doctor who was patronising my midwife and the tension was palpable, which made me more tense.

At 10pm the junior doctor came to give me an internal examination. She was freshfaced and jolly. “Oooh, I think we’ll have to start thinking about a c-section,” she added in a remarkable flippant fashion when she saw my lack of progress. “A c-section!” I said to my midwife later. “I don’t want a major operation!” Sensing my panic and remaining her ever-supportive self, we began to do all manner of body-bending exercises to just get that dilation going. At 12pm Dr Flippant returned to try to insist on a c-section. I refused. My midwife defended my decision and we spent two further hours waiting for progress. Apparently I had a “lip” which meant I had dilated to 10cm on one side but on the other only to 9cm. At 2am Sunday we woke the Registrar for a second opinion, as we didn’t have confidence in Dr Flippant and my midwife had advised me that the Registrar was the most anti-caesarean doctor in the hospital.

He gave me my millionth internal examination and broke the news gently: “If you were a woman in my village in Africa, you would be in labour for three more days, the baby would die and you would probably die. So I think a caesarean is essential.”

“Okay then,” I heard myself answering meekly, petrified at the thought of theatre. I’d never had an operation before. I was wheeled into theatre, wild-eyed and thinking of Madonna: “If caesareans were good enough for Madonna, then they were good enough for me” became my mantra, forgetting the fact I wasn’t even a big fan.

My epidural was topped up, my partner appeared in theatre outfit – a brief moment of hilarity – I was given more drugs, various tubes were inserted and the curtain went up. The whole process took around 45 minutes, during which the medical staff kept mentioning in an irritatingly jolly fashion that I was going to feel as if someone was doing the washing up in my stomach – ho ho!

My baby girl was born at 3.50 am on Sunday. I wept silent tears of relief but I could not turn to hold her or even see her properly because the stitch-up operation was still in progress. Instead, I dozed on the operating table, completely shattered.

I spent six days in hospital with Sophie but wasn’t prepared for the dearth of post-natal care. With my brilliant midwife coming to see me every day, I fared slightly better than some of the other patients. Most of the midwives and auxillary staff on the ward were brash to the point of cruelty, chastising me for moving my chair near the window or having too many flowers. The following morning my partner came in with sushi – the forbidden fruit I had craved throughout my pregnancy – and a midwife scolded me for eating something “ridiculous”. I drew the curtains around my bed and wolfed it down in secret.

Staff in the hospital seemed to treat us like annoying schoolchildren – why did we have to ring the buzzer for help (excuse me, but I can’t actually move to reach my baby in the cot), why did we not know how to breastfeed properly, why did we have to complain when our food was taken away because we’d been asleep and not seen it? This was one of my biggest shocks, that conditions in one of the world’s wealthiest countries were so substandard. We were a conveyor belt of women having babies and our post-natal needs did not seem important as long as the baby was healthy.

I also felt like a failure for not having delivered my child in the proper manner. What was wrong with me? I felt that I hadn’t been told enough about the way many labours don’t go according to plan and end up as emergency c-sections. In short, I felt cheated.

But every time I looked at my beautiful baby, I also felt such boundless joy, despite the 45-hour marathon. I was also haunted by the image of a poor mother in Mozambique who had given birth in a tree during a hurricane and thanked my lucky stars that my experience hadn’t been quite so harrowing. But I also vowed that next time would be different.

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