This is Joanna’s deeply moving story of her traumatic birth and really shows how important it is that women are listened to and treated with dignity and respect.

Please be aware that some stories may trigger difficult memories and emotions so remember your own self care as everyone will be at different stages of healing.

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Is there something worse than fear for your life? Yes, fear for your life and life of a child you are giving birth to…

Pregnancy went by rather smooth and quick. Nothing very unusual, morning sickness, tiredness etc. My Midwife was always happy with all prenatal care measurements. ‘Hi Joanna! Joanna is always happy and never complains about anything in this pregnancy’ said the community midwife to the student present in the room in a clinic. Even though my tummy was measuring high on the scale, so baby was rather big, there was no concerns raised over it.  I expected my baby boy to be big, although I am small built, his dad is over 6 ft. I always had lots of questions. I asked, if the baby is big what is the protocol to decide for c-section, however the community midwife wasn’t concerned and comforted me that nature is incredible and knows what to do. I trusted her. As the due date was approaching, I felt baby dropping, but at the same time I felt his legs very high, kicking my ribs around. I expected the baby to arrive late, purely by statistics of the first child. Should I mention now I have very analytical brain, so analysis of the situation is daily bread for me… I had a total of 3 membrane sweeps, the last one happened 10 days after the due date, on Thursday, in the hospital I was giving birth at. There were many people in the spacious room and at that time I was very tired and uncomfortable with a big baby in my small body, (at least this was what I felt like) I felt anxious and overwhelmed by the situation, noises and people walking around. I let a little tear fall and midwife set the induction date to couple of days after.

The next day I started having contractions. My best friend arrived by then to help around the house for those first days after baby is born, so I guess I felt safe and secure which could help starting the labour. All afternoon on Friday I had little period like pains, not very strong nor stable. We all went to bed around 10.30pm and at the moment I laid in bed I started having strong contractions, coming from the back. I started walking around the house to ease them, started counting them and around 11pm I had one lasting 45 sec every 2-3 minutes, stable for an hour. As the pain started to increase, I called hospital if it is time to come. I was advised not to, have a bath, relax, take paracetamol and wait as much as I could bare at home. I did as I was told. Around 1 am contractions started to be so strong I called the hospital again, where I was told if I took 1 tablet of paracetamol it is my fault as I should take 2, so to take it and stay. However, I insisted that I wanted to come in and they said ok. I already at this point had a feeling it will be bad experience, even though my attitude towards labour was that so many people were born in the world, it suppose to be natural and there are amazing professionals that will make my experience good right?  I was very wrong…

On the arrival to the hospital I was examined to find out I was 3 cm dilated. I had a choice of going back home or stay in, or I could stay in hospital due to very quiet night – I decided to stay. I said from the very start I feel the baby is big and I am rather resistant to pain, by this time I felt the pain was getting bad.

They placed us (me and baby’s dad) in the room with the pool. After a while I asked when I can have a pain relief, midwife said it is a bit soon in labour so to try to manage for now. I was walking around, sitting on the ball to help the baby come down, while pains at my lower back were increasing. By 3am I was 6 cm dilated and I asked if this is the time, I can have some help to ease the pains. I was suggested to try the pool. I am not a very good swimmer and I was scared to drown, which I communicated to the midwife I am not too comfortable in water, but I was still encouraged to try. They started filling up the pool; it felt like it took around an hour, the pool was big and deep; hearing the high flow of water made me more anxious than relaxed, but I was keep telling myself, ‘It’s ok, they are professionals, trust them, they know what to do to help you out’. So, I went in the pool…I didn’t feel good in it at all, as I predicted, so after 5 minutes I came out. Next, I was offered gas. I was told it will feel like after couple of drinks. What they missed out is that I don’t drink alcohol and I have motion sickness, so after trying the gas I felt so dizzy I started vomiting. I was encouraged to keep trying but after 3 episodes of being sick I didn’t want to do it anymore. Midwife was appearing and disappearing checking the baby’s heartbeat. By 4 am the pains were getting so strong I asked for morphine injection, which helped with the pain for 3 hours. I felt so relieved I could relax and store the energy for the next stages of a labour. Around 7am pains started to come back. I told midwife they are coming back , but I was told that morphine slowed down the labour, so if they will give me anything else it will get worse, they will move me to the drip etc and if I just continue this way I can have a baby in 45 min. I thought, ok, 45 minutes I can bare. I checked the time, it was 8am.

My Midwife suggested to try to move position to help baby come down. I started walking around, sat on a ball, kneed down. Contractions were getting stronger. I asked, “Is he coming?” “Yeah yeah, he is coming you are doing well”. I looked at midwife who sat in the corner by the bench filling in the paperwork. She wasn’t looking at me, how could she see baby is coming? I thought, they are lying to me. I said, “do you know the baby is big, you can see in my notes he was measuring high every time, are you sure I will be able to deliver him naturally? -who told you he is big? He is perfect baby for your body, don’t think about it, it will be OK.” I asked, “do you have kids of your own, if you don’t mind me asking?” “No, working here is enough contraception seeing all this.” I was shocked by hearing this. Was it a joke? I didn’t feel it was the right time to joke that way… I was losing confidence in staff by this time. Artur tried to help by talking to me and massaging me, but the touch of his warm hands felt like burns, so he stopped. Time was going by: 10am, 11am, 12pm and no pain relief, I was really struggling by now. I started to have urge to push, I was told to go with what my body dictates me. “Can I have pain relief now?” I asked. “No, I can give you paracetamol if you want or keep the gas.” “I don’t want paracetamol; it is a labour I don’t think paracetamol is enough for the pain I have. From gas I am sick, so I don’t want gas as well…. I said…It is very painful can you please give me something…please.”

Joanna! I was told…it is labour, it is difficult, it is painful! It wasn’t meant to be easy; you need to keep going. Try to go in a shower put water on the back to help. I did that, didn’t really help much…sit on the toilet and push there. I did that, didn’t help. At this point I didn’t see any progress in having a baby, but I felt weaker and weaker. Artur asked if I can be seen by doctor. NO! he was told, everything is going well, this is labour, it was meant to be difficult, doctor won’t see her because there is nothing to see, it is the first baby and delivery is long and painful, it is normal.

He was as hopeless as me by then. It was 3 pm and I asked, how much longer this will last, because I can feel that my body has stopped reacting, I won’t be able to bare it much longer. “You are doing fantastic” said the midwife, again, filling in the reports and not even looking at me. “Go try shower again, gas won’t reach there but you can take the mouthpiece and breath through it.” I thought…I can’t believe what I am hearing, really, disconnect mouthpiece and pretend to have gas there to help with pains? I said, “I am a scientist, I know what this gas is, and I know it is to help breathing, but it is more of a placebo than clinically proven pain relief so you don’t need to tell me all these…how long more?” Midwife laughed uncomfortably after hearing this, “Joanna, half hour and you will have baby boy with you.” OK, I thought to myself, half an hour and all this will go away, I can do it. Half an hour passes, one hour, 2 hours, nothing. I said, “it is 5 o’clock now, you lied it was half hour, it is already 2 hours gone, I am telling you I cannot take it no more, I started crying in pain, please give me some pain relief, please!” “Joanna!” the Midwife replied, “don’t check the time! Do you want me to take the clock off the wall?” I said, “I am telling you I cannot take it no more, my body is stopping to react.” Artur stormed off out the room, which I found out later he requested a doctor to see me. He was refused. I was begging at this time, “can you do c-section, give me epidural, cut me open, I don’t care, do something to finish this.” She said, “we will move you to the other room, because you are not using the pool, to give chance for others to use it. It is too late for any pain relief, you will have a baby very soon.”

I moved rooms to one without a pool. “We will break your waters, it will help.” OK. They did that, by around 8pm nothing was moving forward. Yet again Artur requested the doctor to see me. He said, “I know her, she is always super strong, and I can see she can’t do it anymore, you need to help her somehow.” I was pushing baby out for 3 hours, I started passing out between contractions, powerless, lifeless.  At this moment I felt vulnerable, not listened to, weak, lied to, helpless and like nobody was on my side. I felt like I was in a battle among soldiers who sat there watching me fight pretty much lost fight on my own, with Artur who didn’t know what he could do to help. It took Artur 5 times to ask for doctor when finally, doctor appeared in my room. She just looked at me and straight away said to midwife, “she will not deliver the baby. She needs assistance.”

We need to move you to different room again. OK, I walked across to different room. By now there was change of midwives so I regained hope. This one will help me… I thought. Doctor came to the room, looked at me and asked what pain relief I was on. I said, “nothing, nothing since 4am this morning.” She looked shocked. It was 8.30pm. I asked, I begged, I cried for something, and I wasn’t given anything, I was offered paracetamol. Doctor, who I saw in her face how sorry she was to see me in this state said, “do you want epidural? I will give you it if you want.” I replied, “how long it will take to have him?” She said, “we will do assistance delivery, once I will start it will take 2 minutes and baby is out.” I thought, 2 minutes…you can bear any torture for 2 minutes…and then it will be over. I said, “do it, take him out now, they injected me with oxytocin, I said, “my blood is thin, I can bleed, keep it in mind.” Midwives smirked and replied, “who told you this?” I said, all my blood results are within the limits but borderline, I have nose bleeds etc sometimes.” I saw they didn’t take me seriously. On the next contraction I said, “I am begging you all help me because otherwise I will die here, and I am not person to overreact, exaggerate, so please.” You would imagine it couldn’t get any worse by now, but it did. One of midwives replied, “We won’t let you die here; it is way too much paperwork to fill if you do.” I was speechless. I thought the worst now. If I really die, how will Artur will look after a baby on his own, what if baby will die, how much struggle him, my best friend and everyone who is close to me will go through to handle such a thing.

It took half hour to fill yet more paperwork, connect monitors, before the doctor returned, looked at the screen rather scared. She shouted, “Baby’s head is swelling up, pulse is dropping, we need to get him out! Pass me forceps! Pass me vent! Call cardiologist to the room now!” I was barely conscious then. They attached vent to the baby’s head, grabbed him with forceps and all screaming, “push, push, push, more, more!!!” I felt his every bone coming out when they pulled the baby out of me. Everyone gasped to see such big baby being born. Baby was here, 10pm, 4kg of weight. I thought all will be fine now, we are done… I started having internal bleeding, I heard blood flushing on the floor, everyone running around trying to stop it. The uterus is not contracting! It ripped! We need to stitch it in. Doctor started sweating and trying to stop bleeding with tampons while nurses were giving me some injections on a drip and to my thigh. Everyone stopped like time froze. After some seconds Doctor removed the tampons to see if bleeding stopped. I heard another flush of blood on the floor. Everyone rushed again, again froze, waited few seconds, but again flush of blood felt on the floor. It took one hour to stop the bleeding and put in stitches. I asked, “are you done? It is a bit long.” Doctor replied: “I know lovely, but I need to put stitches layer by layer.” I didn’t understand what happened then. I was transferred to the ward with the baby.

I took my phone and sent txt to my best friend waiting at home, ‘Amiga, I am alive’

I started sobbing in a pillow, it was over. I sobbed for good couple of hours before I fell asleep… exhausted…

Nurses had to help around the baby as I had high temperature all night due to loss of blood, I couldn’t move to pick up the baby when it cried. In the morning, I noticed baby was waking up scared and had some sort of nervous ticks. I asked midwife when she was checking the health of the baby about them. She asked about labour, I said it was very long, traumatic and difficult. She started saying baby can be traumatised from the experience of birth, then she looked at the other midwife that was with her and she stopped talking. I felt that she didn’t want to say the truth. She concluded all is fine and she cannot see anything to be worried about. 

I was discharged from the hospital after 2 days, with no explanation. I couldn’t move, sit or walk for the first month after the baby was born… I had skin ripped on my knees and elbows from kneeing on the floor, bruises all over my body, muscles around the spine at the lower back were sticking out painful. Nobody explained to me what happened with my uterus that ripped, all was kept quiet and not discussed with me. Baby is healthy, that’s all that matters…right? Don’t get me wrong, I am very thankful me and my baby came out of this experience alive, but surely it should also matter that I wake up middle of the night sweating and crying. I have flashbacks from labour, and I am deadly scared that something bad will happen to the baby. I don’t like to have shower anymore; I cry every time water hits my lower back…it brings back the labour. I had to go back to hospital some weeks after, I felt sick in the stomach about even going there, if I can I avoid routes not to drive pass it.

After I recovered physically, I did some research about the size of the baby. In the most of European countries size of the baby is monitored and at birth and if head size exceeds 10.5cm c-section is recommended. From my calculations, at the time of birth head of my baby boy was 11.5 cm, so I didn’t have a fair chance to deliver naturally anyway. I understand the encouragement for ‘natural’ birth, however, I believe that at the times when medicine is so highly developed there is no reason to let anyone go through what I have been through. One thing was missed there, regardless of protocols and procedures about labours, staff forgot to be humans before anything…things go wrong, not as planned, and they should be able to make a judgement to step in and be there to help. I didn’t receive this help then. I did everything what was suggested to me, every single possibility or position, I didn’t refuse to try anything to help with progress of a labour, so what went so badly wrong…?

I wrote my story, because I need to do it for myself to have a closure of what happened as a healing process. My most precious baby boy is 5 months now and it is time to start enjoying life again and be happy to be alive. I am a mum!

I felt like I was in a battle among soldiers who sat there watching me fight on my own.