Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim
Too often we take for granted that our doctor or birth attendant will take care of everything. We sometimes go into labor blindly and find that being "taken care of" may not be what we had wanted.
The story here is an excellent example of the importance of quality childbirth education, coupled with mother's own involvement in her preparations, labor, and birth. Thanks so much to this mama for sharing her story!
I'm always looking for new birth stories to post. Please consider sharing yours. Now on to the story... No Place for Naivety in Birth...
The Birthday of My Dear Charlie Bear - by Danielle Sweetman
My beloved son Charlie was born on the 7th of December 2008 and it’s a day in my life that I’d rather forget. I want to forget my naivety, I want to forget my spinelessness, I want to forget the lack of support and understanding from the hospital staff, I want to forget the way that I greeted my baby as I first saw his face.
I suppose my birth story begins with my sister-in-law’s, back in 1999. I was 19 and still a teenager, still vague about life and swanning through it fairly thoughtlessly. My little nephew was the first bub to be born in the family since me, and everyone was excited. In fact, we were so excited that we were very much part of the birth! My sister-in-law started experiencing contractions at 1am Friday morning. She and my brother came to our place soon after. I remember witnessing how she coped with the pain, walking frequently, rocking on all fours, taking showers. I was with her in the car as she went to hospital on Saturday afternoon. That evening she had the help of midwives on the unit. Their encouragement and support was reassuring. Her doctor was positive that she would be able to birth vaginally. We helped how we could. The next morning, with my brother, my sister, my mother and myself as witnesses, my darling nephew was born.
So when I found out 10 years later that I was pregnant, I felt pretty assured as to what the process would be like. But I hated pregnancy – I couldn’t even walk into the kitchen for retching and vomiting. I was also caught up in a project that was extremely stressful and caused a lot of anxiety and crying through the whole of my pregnancy. I was obsessed by this project and the thought of birthing didn’t register a lot with me.
I decided to go with the one gynae I met with, who seemed nice and said that I would pretty much have a natural birth. During the coming months I met about three midwives who all told me, “just let whatever happens happen. Don’t even worry about a birth plan”. I hardly knew anyone who had had babies in Malaysia! I knew a number of mothers who had had positive caesareans. I thought if it came to my having a caesarean, I would be fine too.
The ante-natal class at the hospital was really pretty pathetic – very disorganised. A lot of talk about diet during pregnancy and confinement, how to look after baby and what vaccines would be given; there was a short talk by an obgyn who was too busy to stay for the whole of his scheduled session. They showed a video on epidurals. There was a breathing seminar which was quite good. The breastfeeding seminar was cancelled as they had had to wait for the obgyn to arrive for his talk. Overall, it was very skimpy. But it didn’t really matter to me because when it came to the crunch time, I thought I would have the support of the midwives on the floor anyway.
Up to my due date, my obgyn seemed pretty positive that I’d be able to birth naturally. That was nice. I also thought he’d be actively advising me on the labour and birth as well, and I’d welcome his presence.
On the 7th of December, my husband left early to attend to a work meeting, even though it was a Sunday. A friend asked me to have coffee at about 2pm. During that morning I was not feeling well, with regular aches that were not as bad as period pains, but seemed fairly regular. When my husband returned home at 11am he suggested I call the hospital, who then suggested that I come in just to be checked out. I cancelled the coffee, though in hindsight I wished I kept the appointment!
Upon arrival on the maternal floor, we found it fairly deserted. There was a woman at the registration desk and another person I think. I was taken to a room, and laid down on the bed while they strapped the monitor to me. The midwife disappeared. I waited and waited with my husband but it felt a bit eerie. And rather lonely too. I wondered if they were going to check me then send me home.
She came back in and looked at the chart, and said, ‘yep you’re in labour’. She gave me an vaginal examination and said I was 4cm dilated. She left to call the doctor in.
We waited and waited. A nurse came in and gave me an enema. I felt so embarrassed. Then doctor came in and examined me. He was still positive, although he said baby was high. My husband heard the doctor then say vaguely, “I’ll just break your waters now”, and then he did. That was one thing I really didn’t want but I didn’t have a birth plan, so this wasn’t communicated to him beforehand. I was shocked that he didn’t ask my permission. I couldn’t stop him. I also couldn’t stop the pain, I felt like I was being hit by a truck over and over. Lying down on the bed, strapped to a monitor made it worse, I felt like I was in a prison of my own pain. My brain went haywire.
The doctor spent about 10 minutes with us in total. Very soon a nice little nurse with a worried look on her face offered an epidural. I said yes! Not too long after, the anaesthetist arrived and I was terrified that the epidural was going to be inserted while I was having a contraction. It felt horrible as it went in. Although the pain soon vanished I felt like I was in even more of a prison, paralysed flat on a bed with my legs feeling like rubber chickens. I didn’t feel happy, even if the pain had gone. My husband left to get lunch and I was alone in the room trying to watch TV but feeling very lonely. I started to feel cold and began shaking slightly.
At about 7pm the doctor returned and said that I was fully dilated but the baby hadn’t descended and I was going to need a caesarean. I felt like I had failed. I hadn’t done anything to help my baby descend naturally. My husband was bewildered and sad. The nurse shaved me for surgery which I felt even more humiliated by. I had a new nurse this time, a lady who could not stop talking as she wheeled me to the operating theatre. I tried to be polite and return her conversation about her social life and nightclubs, and a horrific landslide that had happened nearby, but it all felt rather weird. As I was being prepped in the theatre, she suddenly stopped talking and stared at my face. She said “did you get orthodontics on your teeth? They are so straight”. I answered yes, and then she started to get the other staff in the room to come and look at my teeth. I mean, my teeth are pretty straight but they’re not Miss Universe teeth you know!
I was shaking pretty badly by that stage. They put a heat lamp over me and another blanket but that didn’t help. There was music playing in the room, music from a Top 40 radio channel, not very relaxing. My jaw started shivering and all of a sudden that was all I could think about. The pain, the pain, the pain in my jaw. My husband came in dressed for the operation, and it was all I could do to whisper “my jaw hurts”. That was all I kept saying.
The doctor came in and the process of surgery began. It was all about my jaw still. All of a sudden I felt a tugging, and baby was out. He cried. I turned my head and saw my husband in happy tears. But no emotion registered with me.
The nurse literally plopped my baby onto my face – literally on my face! – and said “here is your baby!”. All I could say, was “my jaw hurts”.
Baby left and my husband remained by my side, silently supportive. All of a sudden, doctor said to him, “would you like to have a look?”. My husband was surprised but thought, “maybe I’ll see the cut stitched up”. The doctor was holding something in his hand. “This is the uterus” he said, pointing at it, “and these are the ovaries”, which he flicked with a finger. “They all look good”. “That’s nice”, my husband said, then leaned over and whispered in my ear in a shocked voice, “I think I just saw your uterus!”
“My jaw hurts!” I whispered.
He left, and I started going even crazier. I felt so weak too. I kept whispering “my jaw hurts”. One man heard me – the anaesthetist? But I don’t think he did anything. After a while, I managed to tell him again. I’m quite sure that my recollection is correct here, that he heaved a sigh, pressed a button or turned a switch, and I blacked out.
I woke up being wheeled to my room. Hubby was there, very upset that baby hadn’t arrived yet. He had followed baby to the nursery and was told he couldn’t go in. He was asked to leave and go upstairs to my room, that they would send baby in an hour, but baby didn’t arrive when he was meant to. Hubby kept calling nursery to see what was going on. Finally we saw baby wheeled in.
Hubby picked him up first and held him – a beautiful moment. Then I held him. I was shell-shocked still but thankfully my intellect stayed intact, I knew I’d have to work extra hard to make sure I bonded with him. Baby was beautiful, though my heart still felt cold. I knew straight away to try and breastfeed him. Thankfully I had taken an excellent breastfeeding course beforehand so knew what to expect every step of the way, and what commitment was needed. If not for this course I think I may given up breastfeeding soon after.
I kept baby as close to me as often as possible. But with the pain and discomfort of the wound, it was hard to hold him. When he was in his bassinet and cried, I couldn’t pick him up while lying on the bed. When hubby was too exhausted to wake and pick up baby to give to me, I had to call the nurse. But once the button was too far away to reach. I was still in prison!
I tried to raise my bed so that I could lie a hand on my baby while he was in the bassinet, but a nurse told me off. “That’s too high!” she said.
Some hours after the birth, during one of the next rounds of breastfeeding, a nurse came in to see if we were ok. We said to her that we thought we were doing fine with breastfeeding, but weren’t very sure, and what does she think? Her reply to us was, “if you’re not sure, why not supplement with formula?”. We were shocked. That’s not what we asked for! It was some support and guidance. Or at the very least an honest assertion that she didn’t know, but would get someone in to help me.
Later on, another nurse came in to see how we were going with breastfeeding. She proceeded to try to pull my nipple toward baby. Shocked again. I knew from the class I took that it was easier to bring baby to breast. Also it was so intrustive and aggressive.
At about 11am the lactation consultant came in. Again we said we thought we were doing fine but not sure…? Then she vanished. It was weird. This was the person who when we went for our scheduled hour-long breastfeeding conversation with her (to replace the seminar that was cancelled), only gave us 20 mins of her time as she was instructing another couple in Chinese. During our scheduled appointment. We also noticed many posters of damaged breasts on her walls which weren’t encouraging.
That pretty much ends my birth story. But it was actually the start of a new beginning for me. Eight months later, after I had a miscarriage, I felt like I needed to know more about birthing naturally. I attended a coffee chat with The Gentle Birthing Group, which was a relatively new local support group for mothers seeking better births. As I got more involved, I realised that this was my future. I wanted to support other women in their pregnancies, I wanted to give positive breastfeeding advice. I am now, in a way, grateful for the way I birthed my beautiful son. Even if the birth wasn’t beautiful, I feel like it has changed me for the better and I hope to be able to effect some change in the way that humankind now supports women and welcomes new life into the world.