WRITTEN BY ISOBEL STOCKS (GUEST WRITER)
Theodore Thomas arrived into the world on the 8th August 2019 and this is the story of his birth. I think it’s important to say that even though I consider my birth story a traumatic one, it was simultaneously a magical and empowering experience. I really wanted to find the courage to share this with a community of mamas and prospective mamas in the hope that a handful of you may relate to my story or appreciate my honesty. Today I am going to be sharing my emergency c-section experience.
MY C-SECTION EXPERIENCE
At the halfway point of my pregnancy, we were told that a C-section might be necessary as my placenta was too low and because Teddy was measuring big. However, my placenta eventually moved and we got the all-clear for a natural birth around 34 weeks. In my mind I then wrote off the idea of a C-section and looked forward to a natural birth.
A few days before my due date, I went for a sweep (this is where the midwife brushes the membranes around your cervix in order to stimulate hormones and encourage labour). I was worried it would be uncomfortable but I barely felt a thing. We also had a last minute scan to check Teddy’s size and position. We were then told that he was measuring small and that they recommended induction in case he had stopped growing (and scarily, in case the placenta had stopped functioning). Later you will understand the irony of this!
We were booked in for an induction on the 6th August, two days after my due date. I just kept wishing that he would come naturally on those days in-between. Part of me thought he would suddenly make an appearance in the middle of the night; I was so uncomfortable, I felt loads of pressure down there where Teddy’s head seemed so low, and my husband Matt definitely had a few nightmares where he woke up in a panic thinking it was “showtime” and he hadn’t put the car-seat in the car! Looking back now, Teddy was born at 1.43am and perhaps I had mother’s intuition that he would arrive in the early hours.
On induction day, we felt surprisingly calm and relaxed. We had a lovely space in the induction ward at our local NHS hospital, with a sofa, a TV, and even a little patio table and chairs. We played board games and ate ice lollies as it was the peak of summer, with no idea what awaited us.
My induction kicked in about 14 hours after I had a pessary put in and labour was extremely intense. It began in the night – Matt was asleep on the sofa and I remember rolling around endlessly on the bed, bouncing on my birthing ball and trying to listen to a playlist I’d made of songs that reminded me of Teddy to take my mind off the deep period-like pains rooted in my back. When I really began to struggle with the pain, I asked for a warm bath, which did help me relax. From there, I started inhaling gas and air and I only remember snippets.
I was in active labour for about 19 hours in total. I genuinely feel like I just lost a day in my life. I dozed in and out of sleep or a hallucinatory state. Matt was a superhero, supporting and comforting me while liaising with medical professionals and keeping anxious family in the loop. It came to a point – about 10 ‘o’ clock at night – when I was told to start pushing. By then the pain became indescribable and I begged for an epidural, despite my previous adamance that I would never have one. I have a huge phobia of needles!
After checking I was certain, the midwives called the anaesthetist to administer my epidural and I prepared myself mentally for what we thought was the final stage: we were finally going to meet our baby. Then came the next hiccup. Teddy was right there, in the birth canal, but he was stuck. The midwives called a consultant in and they agreed it didn’t look like baby was going to come out, so would we agree to a c-section? We were reluctant at first; after such an intense labour and hours on end without sleep we couldn’t process that this was our only option. We just wanted Teddy to be delivered safely and so I signed the consent forms. I was still high on gas and air; I know if I had to sign them pre-labour I would probably have been terrified yet I surprised myself with how brave I was. I even accepted that I had to have a top-up of epidural by the time we got round to theatre! I think I made friends with the anaesthetist – I recall that he was really lovely and jolly, even in the middle of the night.
Eventually the time came for us to proceed to theatre. Matt nervously put on his blue scrubs and crocs. I remember being wheeled into theatre and hearing the radio, which put me at ease. The lights were bright but oddly homely and I felt like I was entering a café or coffee shop! I was lifted from my trolley bed onto the surgery table by the doctors and midwives. My body just flopped onto the table; I couldn’t feel it because of the epidurals, it was like it didn’t belong to me. A big screen that looked like a sheet was constructed in front of me, it came up to my bra line. I lay back and shut my eyes as I just felt so tired. I really had no concept of what was going on; the doctors were chatting away about their shift as they must have been starting the procedure! The delivery of our baby. I grasped Matt’s hand and we waited, wondering what was happening behind the sheet and hoping Teddy wasn’t too distressed.
I felt absolutely no pain at all, instead I felt a surreal pulling sensation, like the surgeons were on a treasure hunt in my tummy, moving everything around, looking behind my organs, then putting them back into place again! That sounds gruesome, but the C-section itself wasn’t a scary ordeal. It felt quite peaceful. I almost wish we had some of those beautiful photographs you see of a C-section baby being lifted out of mum’s tum taken, but Matt did say he peeped under the screen when my monitor started beeping, and it scared him to death. I forgot to say that the song playing on the radio as Teddy entered the world was Cutting Crew – “I just died in your arms tonight”. Hence why Matt was petrified.
Teddy came into the world and they announced that he weighed ten pounds on the dot! So his growth had not slowed as they had estimated – that was the whole reason for my induction! At that point the monitor started beeping. Matt heard them say I was losing lots of blood and that they were considering a transfusion! At this point I felt so drowsy and a midwife started stroking my hair, trying to keep me awake. Matt accompanied Teddy as he had to have an injection and a proper check over because of a suspected infection. I got a very quick glimpse of him across the room – he was so pink, he had such a distinctive cry and I remember thinking his ears didn’t look like mine or Matt’s! That split second was the most magical moment of my life, but then Teddy disappeared.
It was traumatic to be instantly separated from my baby. I felt distressed and even doubted that he was mine as I hadn’t witnessed the birth and I hadn’t even touched him. Therefore I couldn’t make that physical connection yet. I waited for forty minutes, although it felt like forever, for Teddy and Matt to return. I was desperate to see Teddy’s tiny face up close and to feel his skin on mine for the very first time. I was desperate to embrace Matt and to be united as a family. I remember becoming very impatient with a midwife and asking for a drink of water and some sugar while I was waiting as I felt so weak! I didn’t get offered the classic post-birth toast! I remember crying floods of tears as the midwife wrote notes in my file. Goodness knows what she wrote!
This period of time post-surgery wasn’t the most pleasant experience, however I must stress that we had numerous midwives look after us from the very beginning of my induction who were kind, compassionate, personable and who went above and beyond their duty of care. Due to the nature of the birth and Teddy’s infection, we had to stay in hospital for a week in total and Teddy was admitted to the special care unit. Again, here we received incredible care. That’s a whole other story and I am already conscious of how long this is and whether anyone will actually want to keep reading! So now I want to share a few tips for a C-section recovery.
PILLOWS ARE YOUR FRIEND
Finding a comfortable position is really tricky in the early days. Make sure you have lots of pillows, some squashy and some firm to support your back, your shoulders, your hips, your legs. I was reminded never to cross my legs and to keep moving where possible or to do little windmill motions with my ankles to reduce the risk of clots. I used my pregnancy pillow after the birth for breastfeeding. Your wound area is incredibly delicate and you won’t want to put any pressure on it. I even struggled wearing leggings – floaty dresses with loose pyjama shorts underneath and Bridget Jones pants were my go-tos. At night I would roll up a soft blanket and sleep with that wedged under me so my scar couldn’t rub.
TAKE IT EASY (REALLY, DO)
Don’t bend down to change nappies. Do them on a raised surface like the bed, or ask loved ones to help for those first few weeks. Having a caddy full of essentials such as nappies, wipes, muslins, maternity or breast pads, Lanolin if feeding, pain relief and snacks nearby will stop you needing to locate things and help you save up valuable energy. Avoid loading or unloading the dishwasher, or even washing up for extended periods of time because you’ll find it really hurts your core and therefore your scar. You may feel a failure for not being able to do these basic things. You may feel a lack of control but honestly, you will recover much quicker if you don’t overdo it or strain your scar area. I definitely got frustrated and did too much too quickly, thinking I needed to clean the house when of course, it wasn’t important.
KEEP THE PAIN AT BAY
It is vital that you keep your pain relief topped up. When you leave hospital after a C-section, you will be given a stash of paracetamol and ibuprofen, alongside something stronger. I underestimated the idea of staying on top of it; take it before you feel any pain at all, otherwise it suddenly catches up with you and you will have a few really uncomfortable hours. Set a timer on your phone for every four hours or the recommended dosage time and take it on the dot, even through the night.
EMBRACE THE SOFA SNUGGLES
You have been through an entire pregnancy and birth and now you’ve been thrust into a new job nurturing a new-born who needs you 24/7. Try to relax and make the most of those gorgeous milky snuggles. Any chores can wait, or loved ones should be willing to do them for you! Always accept help. If you want to be alone or feel too emotional to even have family as visitors, then let them come and help you, and tell them that you are going to go to your bedroom to feed and catch up on sleep with baby. They will be grateful just to see you and baby briefly and won’t expect you to be the hostess with the mostess right now, so don’t place that pressure on yourself.
Keep snacks and bottles of water by your bed for the middle of the night or an early morning start. Staying hydrated reduces any swelling due to limited mobility and also constipation as you might experience this for up to a few weeks after the C-section. If you’re breastfeeding, I found oat or milk breakfast biscuits really good for providing energy and nutrition; I was also always in need of a little chocolate fix for a pick-me-up. I had an iron deficiency for a few months after my C-section, so ensure to keep your diet rich in iron through green veggies like spinach or dried fruits and cereal (easy to prepare and snack on all day!).
I hope you have enjoyed reading about my c-section experience and that it may have addressed any unanswered questions you had. My birth wasn’t perfect on paper but whenever Teddy points out my smiley face shaped scar in the bath and I say “You came out through there!”, he does a little smile himself, and I feel so proud of myself and my journey to being united with my baby boy.