It had been 41 weeks and 1 day. My baby had made itself pretty comfortable. Nourished, sustained, thriving and still not ready to make an entrance despite all the signs and symptoms foretold by my baby app! So it was time, to be hooked up to the monitors, waters artificially broken and a syntocin drip commenced for induction.
The last few years I had been somewhat in control of my life. I liked the schedules, to do lists, my diary, my calendar and organising as much as I could to minimise the unknown! I even had an excel spreadsheet for all our connecting flights, hotels and itinerary for our Europe holiday! But as many would know, raising children can be challenging, tiring, messy, confusing and definitely unpredictable! It was a new way to think, process and feel. It was going to be a new season in life and I had those common worries that I’m sure all new mothers or mothers-to-be think about. But I felt like I couldn’t shake the fear and doubt. It was playing on my mind daily and in the quietness of my home. While Steve was at work and I had started maternity leave. I napped and nested while I waited for the days to pass.
My obstetrician had given me all the details. The play by play. The steps of action to be taken if my artificial labour didn’t progress appropriately. If the baby became distressed. If the labour stalled. All the options for the “choose your own” ending for a birth. For someone that was nervous about the whole baby evacuation process, this was helpful. I liked having information. I liked knowing what was going to happen. But the unknown direction the birth could take terrified me and I couldn’t stop thinking of the what if’s. From the minimal reading that I did, it appeared that inductions were usually fast and intense. My sense of being in control was on rocky ground. At the mercy of the syntocin speeding up a labour which my baby was not ready for.
Surprisingly, I didn’t have a birth plan! Which went against my usual organised, “need for control” state! My main hope was to go with the flow and follow what was recommended for the safety of my baby. As much as it scared me, I hoped it would be a drug free, natural birth.
So back to the labour room…It’s a strange feeling, meeting a woman who will help guide and support you through a special moment in your life. A woman who will see you at one of the most vulnerable, raw times of your life. Being pushed physically and emotionally. I didn’t feel at ease with this woman. And upon reflection, I probably should have spoken up. My nurse was an experienced clinician but her matter of fact approach was patronising. I didn’t feel comfortable with her and there’s no other way to put it but “the vibes were off!” So as my anxiety continued to bubble, this nurse checked and told me I was already 3 centimetres dilated and the syntocin was ready to go.
When I reflect back about my first birth experience, I wish I had spoken up and shared my worries. That my pounding heart didn’t stifle my voice to speak up. I remember friend’s telling me once you enter the hospital, “you leave your dignity at the door.” And I left it at the door, and my confidence, courage and voice too. I was attached to an external fetal monitor and was confined to a bed. I wanted to move, rock, pace around like I did while in pre-labour at home. I didn’t realise I could request a mobile monitor and it was never offered as an option. As I waited for the syntocin to kick in I remember feeling bewildered and helpless. Just a pin cushion where procedures were done to me but no explanation given. My nurse reclined on a couch directly in front of me. Kicking back with a bored expression. Staring at me, waiting for the show to begin. I had Steve sitting on a chair beside me. He could see I was anxious and tried to reassure me. Glad to have him by my side, I tried to focus on him and all that was familiar.
An hour or so went by and things started to intensify quickly. Before long, the nurse reported that I would be having my baby by lunch time! The contractions were rolling in repeatedly and I could barely catch my breath. I felt so overwhelmed that I suddenly panicked and knew I needed an epidural. Firstly, they offered me the happy gas, then the pethadine injection. But neither brought relief and my anxiety was spiking. “Get me the epidural! I don’t know how much longer I can do this!” I desperately said to Steve.
I had to sit up and lean forward over my belly for the anaesthesiologist to administer the epidural. It was a relief knowing that strong pain medication was on it’s way. The thought of a huge needle going into my back did not phase me as I hoped that it would take the edge off. I remember my anesthesiologist. I found his calm, clear explanation of what was going to happen helped me feel reassured and informed.
After the epidural and catheter were put in, my ever delightful nurse told me, “You can go to sleep now.” Silently rolling her eyes as she watched me grimace and try to “breathe”. But the relief didn’t really come. I felt a bit numb, but soon things intensified again and it felt like bone pressing against bone near my spine. It was excruciating and surprised me that it was not really a pain I could “just breathe through”. I had dilated to 10 centimeters pretty quickly after the epidural and it was time to push! My nurse tried to show me where to focus my energy, but I was feeling dazed and confused. My back was burning with sharp pain and lying down didn’t help. I felt the panic continue to bubble up my throat and tried my hardest to listen to the instructions she was giving me. But I cringed in fear and felt baby was not budging! I soon explained “I have so much pain in my back and don’t know where to push!” My nurse was clearly annoyed and replied, “How can you feel pain? You have an epidural.” She was so belittling and I felt weak, embarrassed and ashamed that I couldn’t do what a woman’s body was supposedly meant to do. The negative thoughts continued to flood in and I hung my arms around Steve’s neck, telling him “I can’t do this..I don’t think I can endure this anymore.”
Baby’s head was stuck. Every time I pushed, she would tuck her chin in and return back to her safe place! The nurses had their staff changeover and my tired, grumpy nurse was replaced by a beautiful, encouraging soul who made me feel less ridiculous and more supported. Before their hand over, both nurses held one of my legs each as I tried to push baby out. I was trying so hard, I nearly kicked them across the room! Due to baby’s posterior position and prolonged second stage, the nurses realised that I would need an emergency c-section. The next few moments are hard to remember as the room suddenly filled with many people. Steve quickly changed into scrubs and a hairnet. I remember seeing his wide eyes, confused by what was happening and the lack of information given to us. We didn’t even know why I needed to be prepped for a caesarian!
I was wheeled into a room with about 12 other staff members present. They gave me a spinal block so that I was numb from belly to toes. It was surreal. What was happening?! Thankfully, the reassuring anaesthesiologist was back again and calmly spoke next to my ear. He explained what was happening with the spinal block, how my legs would feel and not to worry. I look back and learnt so much about patient client interaction, informed consent and clear communication from this positive example. My obstetrician started to prepare for surgery and I lay there in shock. Still unsure what was going on. Thankfully, my obstetrician knew how much it meant to me to try for a natural birth. She wanted me to try pushing one last time to see if the baby could be assisted with a vacuum cup. The anesthesiologist was by my head, Steve by my side holding my hand, nurses and a paediatrician surrounded the bed. All in unison, they said “PUSH!!!!” Despite having no sensation in half my body, I tried to push and after 2 pushes, my baby was born!
Relief washed over me and all I could do was exclaim, “Thank you God, thank you Jesus!” Steve cut the umbilical cord, they quickly checked her over and then passed her to me. It was a baby girl! My eyes were clouded with tears from relief, shock and disbelief. I couldn’t believe she was real. She looked familiar, but I didn’t know her. I didn’t feel the overwhelming love that I had heard of. But I was so glad that the birth was over. That she was out and she was safe, healthy and here. Steve was over the moon and turned to me and said, “We will name her Olive, yeah?” and that was her name Olive Mary.
After Olive’s birth, I lay there waiting for my obstetrician to repair the effects of a fast, posterior labour. No one had explained what had happened and why I had been rushed to the theatre room. So in the silence, my mind started to fill with negative conclusions. The main one being that I was so incompetent, they had to pull Olive out of me. That I had failed and my hope for an empowered, calm birth did not come to fruition. I was so hard on myself, and in hindsight I feel the exhaustion, my personality, fast labour, trauma, poor communication and lack of birthing debrief was part of my misinterpretation. It was a scary first experience and not as empowered as I had hoped. The joy of meeting my child was soon clouded with irrational thoughts, confusion and anxiety. The silent bubbling had started to overflow and in the quiet night on Day 2 of Olive’s life, I had my first panic attack.
My darling Olive, born on the 26th of March in 5 hours and 53 minutes! Our precious daughter and blessing we received with gratitude. I love her so much and know my mental instability did not reduce how much I love her. But the story of my illness and recovery is where I learnt more about myself, mental illness and God’s faithfulness through it all. Read more about this next part of my journey soon.
If this story raised any concerns for you or you notice someone close to you may be needing help, please reach out to someone you trust. For anyone needing assistance, you can visit the Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) website or call their National Helpline on 1300 726 306.