Let me say from the outset: This is not a feel-good birth story. This is not a model on which to plan your next birth. This is also not intended to scare anyone. It is only the story of my first birth, how it went so off course, and how I got through what could be considered the worst time of my life.
Pregnancy and birth has always interested me. I have many birth-y friends, I read a lot on the topic, and before I ever got pregnant, I had lots of ideas about how I may like to handle labour and delivery. When I actually got pregnant, I spent my time preparing for birth in all sorts of ways; yoga and yogic breathing, visualisation, meditation, sitting on a birth ball, talking about my feelings and expectation with my partner, Dan, and attending a weekly holistic pregnancy and birth group (Run by http://mamakind.org/ . Highly recommended if you live nearby).
Pregnancy was enjoyable. I loved my baby, I loved my body, I loved my partner and how I felt. I didn’t even mind the 17 weeks of morning sickness that much. I was otherwise healthy, eating lots of good foods like fermented cod liver oil, grass-fed butter and meats, eggs, a range of vegetables, coconut oil and herbal teas. My birth plan also went hand-in-hand with the hunter-gatherer lifestyle the paleo way of eating seeks to emulate. What could go wrong, right?
The gist of my plan was that I would have a calm, hands-off, unmedicated home water birth with a midwife and doula present (my fantastic doula was Ruth Willis , whom I can’t recommend highly enough). I would catch my baby and initiate breastfeeding right away. We would delay cord clamping. I would have my placenta encapsulated. We would decline Vitamin K injections and antibiotic eye drops for our baby.
What actually happened can’t even be considered the opposite of that. My ideal birth and the birth I had were so different as to be two alternate dimensions. While still pregnant, I tried to prepare for every eventuality because I didn’t want to be so stuck on my ‘ideal’ that I neglected to consider the real possibility of something going wrong. I talked through what I would do if I had to be transferred to hospital, if I needed medication, and (shock, horror) even if I needed a c-section, which I was vehemently against.
It all started on the morning of Friday, December 28th.
I was in my 31st week of gestation. Upon waking, I felt a little trickle of fluid. ‘Weird,’ I thought, but knowing cervical fluid can change and thin in the third trimester I chalked it up to that. It was such a non-concern that I didn’t mention it at my midwife appointment that afternoon. The next morning, I woke up and the same thing happened. I got up to walk to the bathroom and felt another tiny trickle. This time I was a bit concerned, and called my local Maternity Assessment Unit. The midwife on the phone advised me to put a pad on and count baby’s movements, and call back in an hour to update her. I did so, and despite not losing any more fluid she asked me to come in because I thought the baby was moving a bit less than usual.
Arriving on the unit, I was hooked up to a fetal monitor and had my obs taken. Everything was normal. The midwife asked to see the pad I was wearing. I showed her but there was nothing much on it, so she said everything was fine and I could go home. I asked about the origin of the fluid and she said it was probably just watery cervical mucus. I am still upset that the hospital did not test to check whether or not this fluid was amniotic fluid, and decided a guess on their behalf was sufficient.
Two days passed, still losing tiny amounts of fluid every so often. I was obsessively checking every time I went to the toilet, and I was half-convinced my waters had broken and it was amniotic fluid, but also thought maybe I was overreacting and it was nothing. On New Year’s Eve I began losing more fluid. Every time I went to the toilet, fluid would trickle out. My partner tried to convince me it was just wee, I think because he was scared of the implications if it wasn’t. We were celebrating the holiday at a friend’s house, and I was getting very anxious about the fluid loss. I spoke to a friend on Facebook who was also pregnant at the time and she said if it were her, she would go in to be checked. I decided then I would go to the hospital first thing in the morning.
Dan and I left for home shortly after midnight, and during the short walk I could feel wetness coming out with each step. When we got home, every time I sat down then got back up, there was a noticeable wet patch where I’d been sitting. I decided I needed to go into hospital right then instead of waiting until morning, and called the MAU again. The midwife agreed that I should come in to verify that my waters had gone.
When we got to the MAU, we were put in an examination room and I was again hooked to a fetal monitor. The baby was fine, thankfully. A while later, the doctor came in the room and asked to do a vaginal exam. As soon as she placed the speculum, a huge gush of fluid came out and she said, ‘Yep, those are your waters.’ At which point I burst into tears. She explained to us what would happen next, including the risks of the condition (Preterm Premature Rupture of Membranes, or PPROM) and that I would need to stay on the antenatal ward for awhile. I was given the first of two steroid shots then, to help my baby’s lungs develop faster. We also discovered that I was Group B Strep Positive, so would need IV antibiotics during labour.
On the ward, I was put in a bay with 2 other women and given a few moments to get settled. It was now 5am and I had to say goodbye to Dan as partners aren’t permitted to stay overnight. After he left, I laid in bed and cried for awhile, until the midwife came to give me a handful of antibiotics. I spent two and a half days in hospital, constantly leaking fluid, having fetal checks every couple hours, and being pumped full of antibiotics to prevent infection from setting in, which is the biggest risk of PPROM. I also had an ultrasound and the baby looked fine, with an estimated weight of 4lb11oz.
Dan and I were shown around the Special Care Baby Unit because the chances were that our baby would have to spend some time there after being born. We were given a lot of information on what to expect for the labour, birth, and immediate postnatal period. I knew that if my body went into labour, the hospital would not try to stop it, but let it continue as I had now reached 32 weeks, which is the cutoff point for stopping labour in women with PPROM. Studies have shown it to be no more beneficial to keep the baby in, if it is born at or beyond 32 weeks. Also, if I went into labour it might be due to an infection, in which case delivery would be imminent for our safety.
Finally on Thursday evening I was discharged, with twice-weekly outpatient appointments scheduled until I gave birth. I had managed to keep it together and stay positive while in hospital. I received so many supportive messages, texts, and visits from friends and family and I knew the survival rate was 99% so my baby would in all likelihood live. Although the midwives said I didn’t need to be on bed rest, I had done my own research from my hospital bed and felt differently. I knew the more I walked around, the more it brought on mild cramping that I wanted to avoid. I was hoping to make it to at least 34 weeks.
Once home, Dan prepared my ‘nest’ in the living room so that I wouldn’t have to move at all, except to use the toilet. I settled in that night, and for the next two days I vacillated between terror, anguish, and acceptance. It was hard to relax when I spent nearly 24 hours laying down, with plenty of time to think about everything that could happen. I did have my first outpatient appointment that Friday, at which it was discovered my white cells were slightly elevated. However, the midwife put that down to the treatment I’d had in the last few days rather than infection.
One positive thing about this time was the conversation I had with my midwife. She sounded confident that I could still have my home water birth if I managed to stay pregnant until 37 weeks (when I would be considered full term). My doula was also incredible during this time, visiting me every couple days to talk, plan, and give me a homeopathic remedy to calm my nerves.
On the night of Saturday, January 5th, just after midnight I began having very mild contractions. I decided to ignore them, try some deep breathing, and go to sleep. By 5am they had stopped, but I got up to use the toilet and had the biggest gush of waters I’d ever had. It was all over the bathroom floor and I was soaked. I called the hospital but the midwife said it was normal, and that the baby was constantly making fluid so the loss would be replenished.
I took that and the contractions for what they were; a warning that my body would soon go into labour. That day I made sure everything was in place for the arrival of our baby, including sending Dan to collect all the last-minute items I hadn’t got around to buying yet. There was so much I still wanted to do, thinking I had 8 more weeks to prepare.
After midnight on Sunday the 6th, 10 days post-PPROM, the contractions started again. They kept waking me up, but were still mild. I tried to ignore them, practice deep breathing, and hope they would stop. I got up at 5am and tried walking around, but that made them stronger. I knew that meant these were real labour pains, and not practice contractions because real contractions tend to get worse upon walking, while false labour pains tend to lessen in intensity. The amniotic fluid had also started to change. It was getting darker and smellier- both signs of infection. I called the hospital yet again (by this time they were on speed dial in my phone) and they advised me to come in.
Driving to the hospital I timed my contractions; 5 minutes apart. They weren’t awful, but I did have to concentrate a bit harder to continue speaking through them. Dan and I got to the hospital, all our bags and birthing stuff in tow. I was shown once again to the MAU examination room and hooked up to the fetal monitor. The monitor picked up my contractions and the baby’s heart rate, which was good. The doctor confirmed infection had set in by doing a vaginal exam, and advised labour was the best course of action. I was 32 weeks + 3days.
Dan called our doula to come to the hospital, and we were shown to a delivery suite. Funnily enough, the entire pregnancy I had a feeling our baby would be born on a Sunday. In the suite, I was cannulated and put on IV antibiotics for the GBS+. I was told to lay on the bed and was hooked up to the fetal monitor. My birth plan was dissolving before my eyes, and I felt helpless to change that, given the circumstances. PPROM is so rare (1-2% of all pregnancies) that I hadn’t even bothered to read about it during pregnancy.
During the next hour I saw many doctors, midwives, and other staff and we were given a dizzying amount of information. All of the morning’s events stressed me out so much that my contractions stopped. Dan and I were scared for our baby’s wellbeing, but excited to become parents. Ruth arrived at 9am. We tried everything to get my labour going again; aromatherapy, massage, pressure points, breathing, and homeopathy. The doctor had already mentioned augmentation (ie- Pitocin/syntocinon) and I knew if my labour didn’t pick up, this was going to be a difficult day spent refusing medical intervention.
While I was trying to stimulate contractions, the midwife came in every 15 minutes to check the fetal monitor. She kept telling me that the baby’s heart rate wasn’t being picked up because of my position (I was moving around and the only way the monitor could pick up the heart rate was if I laid still on the bed in a particular position). I felt pressured to just lay on the bed so the monitor could do it’s job- even though I wouldn’t be free to do mine! It was impossible to really get into labour with the constant interruptions. At 10:30am the doctor came back into our room and said she wanted to start me on Syntocinon. I declined, but did agree at noon to have a VE to check my progress. I was not dilated at all, but was effacing. I still felt very calm at this point, and declined the doctor’s suggestion of Syntocinon again.
I went for a walk outside the hospital with Dan and Ruth to try to get my contractions going again. We walked for around 45 minutes, and my contractions did pick up while walking. On the way back in, I took the stairs 2 at a time, which brought them on even more. Once back in the delivery suite, I found a position which intensified the rushes (sitting on the birth ball, leaning over the bed). Dan was putting counter-pressure on my lower back while they were happening, which made them even more powerful. It felt amazing, and I wanted to keep going. I felt like I was finally getting somewhere. They were getting stronger and moving up my belly. I knew something was happening.
Unfortunately, the midwife came in again to check on me and told me that I wasn’t actually having contractions since they weren’t being picked up on the (f*^%*) monitor. The midwife asked if the pain was starting at the top of my belly and working its way down during a rush. I said no, they were low down. The midwife said it wasn’t a contraction but probably a ‘bearing down’ pain (whatever that is..). At this point my lovely doula piped up and said, ‘When I was in labour with my daughter, I never had the type of pain you’re describing.’
After another VE, which found my cervix still closed but more effaced, the doctor suggested augmentation for the third time. I took some time to talk with Dan, and told him that I felt it was inevitable to have it because although I knew I could bring on stronger labour on my own, the midwife and doctor wouldn’t leave me alone long enough to do that. At 2:30pm the Syntocinon was started on the lowest dose. I was told to lay still in bed so the monitor could pick up baby’s heart rate, and for the next three hours the dose was increased every half hour. I didn’t have a single contraction in all that time. I had some mild cramps, but that was it.
The midwife checked my temperature and said it had gone up. She also said the baby started having decels (periods where the heart rate had dropped). My gut instinct said the decels were being caused by the Syntocinon, but I knew what was coming next; the doctor was going to suggest a Caesarean section. I told this to Dan, along with my feeling that I had resigned myself to that outcome. The risk of infection to my baby was not something I felt comfortable gambling.
At 5:30pm the doctor came back in and said, ‘I think we need to get this baby out.’ and I consented to the surgery. I went numb and wouldn’t look at anyone. I just stared ahead while the anaesthetist came in to prep me on what would happen during my spinal block. Half an hour later I was sitting on the operating table in theatre, with Dan nearby in scrubs.
The anaesthetist tried placing the spinal, which involved injecting a local anaesthetic into my spine, followed by the long needle which actually induced the spinal block. She tried 3 times. While trying again and again the needle kept poking various nerves, causing my legs to kick out and spasm of their own accord. It was incredibly painful, and although I was trying very hard not to, I started crying. I couldn’t look at Dan at all, or the crying got worse. I also needed to stay completely still while the spinal was being placed, which was hard to do with a face full of snot and tears. Finally a second anaesthetist came in to try. He got it on the first attempt, which I am grateful for. The spinal took longer than the actual ‘getting the baby out’ part.
I was laid on the table, the curtain was put up dividing my head & chest from the rest of my body, and the doctor made her incision. It was the weirdest sensation I’ve ever experienced. I knew I was being cut open, and I could feel a lot of vigorous pushing (the surgeons pushing my guts out of the way to get to the baby) but there was no pain. A few minutes later my baby was out! Caleb John was born at 6:25pm weighing 4lb10oz. As soon as I heard his cry, I looked at Dan and tears welled in my eyes. That was our baby crying! What an amazing, completely overwhelming sensation.
My wonder and elation was short-lived, as they cut Caleb’s cord straightaway and took him to the examination table to check him over. He needed a bit of help breathing, so they gave him oxygen. He was given a vitamin K injection as well. Before they whisked him away to the special baby unit I was allowed to quickly see him (and noticed his slight cone-shaped head; he WAS trying to come out!). I gave him a kiss on his tiny, warm, red cheek and told him I loved him. Dan followed Caleb to the SCBU to make sure he was okay, while I laid on the table and got stitched back up. That took far longer than the actual delivery.
Afterward, I was wheeled into recovery, where I was told my spinal needed to wear off before I could see my baby. Dan came back after awhile and told me Caleb needed to be ventilated. A while longer, the consultant came in to give us a run down of Caleb’s condition. He said he wasn’t worried, and that although our baby needed help breathing, he was otherwise healthy. The consultant also gave us two pictures of Caleb that the staff had taken, so that we could see what our son looked like. There was a tube down his throat, wires connected to his chest, and his face looked swollen but he was still the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, and he looked just like his daddy.
I willed my legs to move so that I could see my son. It was torture sitting there, knowing he was nearby. I had only seen his face for a moment before they took him, and I was dying to get a good look at him in person. Eventually, the anaesthetic wore off and I was washed and wheeled into the SCBU to see my precious baby. Caleb looked so small in the incubator and he was asleep due to the morphine they had given him. I wasn’t allowed to hold him so I had to settle for stroking him through the arm holes in the incubator. While there, the nurses explained that I would need to start expressing breast milk, to help my supply come in. Caleb couldn’t nurse because he was so tiny, and ventilated, so I had to make sure my breasts were being stimulated with the pump. I was also told that the infection had set into my placenta and had been traveling down the umbilical cord. It hadn’t reached Caleb which we were grateful for. This meant, though, that I couldn’t encapsulate my placenta.
Afterward, I was taken to what would be my room for the next 5 days. Thankfully, I had my own private room. The midwives wouldn’t put me on a ward with other ladies, because they all had normal deliveries and their babies stayed with them while on the postnatal ward. It was bad enough that I could hear the cries of those newborns down the hall from me, constantly reminding me that my baby was in a plastic shell where I couldn’t reach him, hooked up to all sorts of medical equipment.
My room wasn’t designed for couples, so Dan had to go home that night. My first night as a mother, our first night as a family, was spent apart with two of us in hospital. This isn’t what I had pictured at all. When I finally fell asleep, I was woken up just a few hours later by a horrific nightmare that made me sob and sob. I dreamt Caleb had died, and even though I knew he was fine, when I woke up and couldn’t check on him it was the worst feeling in the world. I felt acutely the lack of bonding which typically takes place during the immediate postnatal period. Everything felt very wrong.
Nearly every single point of my birth plan was turned on its head. Even though I felt like I was well-informed and treated respectfully during the birth (albeit pestered with interventions constantly), it was still beyond worse than what I ever thought would or could happen.
I am grateful that I ate such a nutrient-dense diet during my pregnancy though, because it undoubtedly helped Caleb to be as strong and healthy as he was (and is). Many babies born at his gestation are much smaller, much sicker, and need more intervention. Caleb was on a ventilator/C-PAP for only 9 hours. He was also transferred to a lower-dependency unit the day after he was born. The consultants said to expect a SCBU baby home around their original due date (which would be 40 weeks gestation). Caleb only spent 18 days in SCBU, and came home 5 weeks early, at 35 weeks exactly. He also began trying to breastfeed when he was 3 days old (32+5 gestational age).
When all this happened, and immediately afterward, everyone I spoke to kept saying ‘At least you and he are both okay, and that’s what matters.’ It’s true; he and I are both alive and relatively well. But that is not ALL that matters. I was traumatised by the labour and delivery I had, and by the ensuing weeks when Caleb was in the hospital. I missed out on so much, and that is time I can never have back. I didn’t get to hold my son until he was 15 hours old, and I didn’t get to be in a room by myself with him until he was two weeks old. The staff wouldn’t ‘let’ me breastfeed him initially (until I just ignored them and did it anyway). I completely missed that bonding time with him right after birth, and I was not the first person to touch or hold him, bathe him, or feed him. In fact, until he came home I didn’t even feel like he was really mine.
Sure, what happened to me is rare. However, the cause of my PPROM was an unnecessary surgery on my cervix that I was scared into having when I was 19. That surgery, and various ensuing complications in pregnancy, are pretty common though. The over-reliance on medical ‘solutions’ for everything in life is what caused this. It took me until I was 24 to discover an ancestral lifestyle. Maybe if our society had not abandoned that lifestyle in the first place, I and other women like me wouldn’t have to recover from these horrific and traumatic birth events because they wouldn’t happen in healthy bodies untainted by too much modern medicine. We have strayed so far away from what is natural and right that this is the result; a serious pregnancy complication, and a mother and child separated in the critical post-birth period.
How many stories like mine do we need to read before we realize that we’ve been sold down the river by our governments and regulating bodies? They have convinced us that we need this or that treatment, pill, diet, or product. What we really need is a nutrient-dense ancestral diet, good quality sleep, lower stress levels, and the kind of life that allows us to follow our natural, physiological needs (such as not sitting for 8+ hours per day).
My story does have a happy ending though. I am now the mother of a beautiful, healthy, thriving little boy and I can provide the upbringing I know to be best for him.