BIRTH is a natural process that women have been doing for thousands of years, it is an immense time of joy and excitement for not only the woman and her partner, but their family and friends too. When a new life comes in to world we are truly blessed as individuals, parents and families. Children are precious gifts that bring us so much joy and happiness, and of course the odd sleepless night. You could say that being a mother is the greatest job in the world and I would definitely agree!
There’s nothing like the feeling you get when you hold your newborn baby in your arms and you get to meet the tiny person you have been nurturing for so many months. Sometimes however birth isn’t like the books say, it doesn’t follow the birth plan you have prepared and I was one of those ‘sometimes’.
When I got pregnant with my first baby I knew that giving birth was part of the deal as every woman does. I knew that it would involve pain like I had never experienced before, what I didn’t realise however was although I wasn’t scared to give birth, rather apprehensive and excited, it would be a day that would change my life.
It took a long time to write my story. My daughter has grown into a beautiful young women yet her birth feels like it was only yesterday. I remember every detail, every sound, every feeling, every smell. I have previously wrote about my struggles throughout my pregnancy and as I approached 32 weeks I finally felt like my pregnancy had settled down. The pram sat in the corner of the dining room, baby clothes were neatly folded. I felt well, my midwife was happy and I was looking forward to my spring baby.
I was in my 33rd week when for some reason I started to feel really unwell, I remember us going to pick carpet for the nursery on a bright, sunny, cold day and feeling so ill I just wanted to go home. My mom reassured me saying it was just tiredness, after all I was on the home stretch, my goal in view, but I just didn’t feel right.
One evening when I nearly 34 weeks we had friends over, I had the strangest sensations in my body all night. I felt weak, sick and shaky. I desperately tried to converse with our friends and enjoy the evening but in the end went to bed hoping sleep would send the feelings away.
My midwife was due the next morning on a home visit and it was a good job she came, she probably saved my life. We chatted as normal and I told her I been feeling off. At first she didn’t seem concerned and carried on with my checks that was until she tested my urine, there was protein, and lots of it! She took my blood pressure and I saw her face become serious. To be honest things then became a bit of a blur and all I could hear was midwife telling me I needed to go to hospital right away as she was worried about me and my baby.
Waiting for my husband to come home felt like an eternity, it’s funny how your stomach does those lurches and fear grips every inch of you, I just kept thinking what was wrong with my baby after all we had been through was it all going to go wrong now, at the last hurdle? I was terrified about what was happening.
We drove to the assessment unit in a daze and waited to be seen, bloods were took, urine, blood pressure checked, we kept asking questions but everyone was quiet and kept saying we just needed to wait and see. They hooked me up to a baby monitor and I felt relief to hear my baby’s heartbeat and see the little machine plotting it on ever rolling paper.
“you have preeclampsia, we need to deliver your baby as soon as possible”
You know when you can tell by someones face that things aren’t good? Well I knew the second the doctor walked round the curtain. The words were falling from his mouth but everything was in slow motion, “you have preeclampsia and your blood pressure is dangerously high, your kidneys are struggling and your bloods show stress to other organs, we need to deliver your baby as soon as possible” he said.
Im not sure if I spoke or tried to speak it didn’t matter anyway, everything around me had gone into overdrive, midwives were coming and going, monitors where being connected here, there, everywhere, my head was imploding. I was 34 WEEKS, 34 WEEKS! What was going to happen to my baby, it too early, nothing had prepared me for this, I had no idea what lay a head. I hadn’t even been to any antenatal classes. That morning I had six weeks till I would see my baby and now I was being told my baby would be here today!
The midwife came in and explained I was going to be induced with a pessary, that they had no idea how long it would take but hopefully it would work quickly so that I could avoid a Caesarean. I was told they would monitor my blood pressure and see how my labour progressed and make decisions as things happened . My head was all over the place as the midwife explained that because my baby was so early she would be taken to the neonatal unit after birth. This wasn’t suppose to be happening, I didn’t even know where the neonatal unit was. I felt like everything was out of my control, that there was I nothing could but lie there, wait and see.
Pessary done I lay back and stared at the ceiling trying to calm myself and take in that my baby was soon to be born. It was only twenty minutes later when pains gripped me, across my back at first, then my stomach, they were strong, very strong. I couldn’t see how this could only be the beginning of labour. We buzzed for the midwife who came and looked at me with a look of disbelief when I said I thought I was in labour, she dismissed my concerns and told me I was a ‘silly girl, of course I wasn’t in labour it had only been 40 minutes since the pessary.’ I felt so stupid and small, her words was I a stupid young girl that had no idea about labour or what it really felt like? I gritted my teeth and carried on. The pains got worse and worse and after nearly 3 hours I couldn’t stand it no longer and asked for pain relief. I clearly remember the midwife standing with her hands on her hips laughing at me, calling me ‘darling’ and saying I had a long way to go yet. I thought i was going to go out of my mind, the pain was horrendous, I pleaded with the midwife that I needed some support. She explained that to have any pain relief I would have to be moved to the labour ward but first she would have to examine me. Well the smile soon went and was replaced with concern when she examined me and discovered I was now nearly eight centimetres dilated, if only she had listened to me sooner.
Wheelchairs aren’t the most comfortable mode of transport and they most definitely aren’t when you’re being pushed 90 miles an hour down corridors during a contraction. I was actually terrified as we were going down in the lift that we wouldn’t make it to the delivery ward at all and that my 34 week baby would be born right there and then in the cold lift. I pushed my legs together and held my breath trying to hold my baby in my convulsing body.
The labour room was calm and big compared to the ward and finally I got to have some gas and air. No one said to take it slow with the gas and air so after big long breaths I slipped into unconsciousness, I could hear the staff calling my name and then shouting for the resuscitation trolly. ” Im ok, Im ok’ I garbled eventually and opened my eyes to see a sea of faces and equipment at the ready, to bring me back to reality.
I carried on labouring walking around the room, but I was getting such strong urges to push I actually felt like I could feel my baby pushing out of my body. We were alone in the room but I terrified of being scoffed at again if I called the midwife but soon I could no longer bear the pressure and I really needed to push. Midwife called, I couldn’t resist the need to push anymore. That moment when I knew my baby was to be born was like no other, fear, pain, hope, so many emotions. So I breathed and I used the gas and air and I did it I pushed my beautiful tiny 4lb 3oz daughter into the world. The midwife took her straight from me to the corner of the room where the doctors waited, I didn’t even see her, her tiny cry finally rang above the bustle of the room after what seemed like an eternity. Over and over again I asked to see her, tears streaming down my face, they held her over me wrapped in towel for barely a minute before they took her away without me. She was like a fairy, so tiny with little pointed ears and then she was gone like a fairytale had delivered her, but evil had whisked her away.
I would never see my daughter and there would be a baby without a mother, they were the last words I heard.
The midwife told me I had no damage so stitches weren’t needed but that my placenta was taking its time to be delivered, I was given some drugs and a doctor came in and said he was going to try to remove it. I was told to take the gas and air and a midwife started to press down pummelling on my stomach over and over again while the doctor tried to remove it, his hands inside me felt like I was being torn apart, the pain was unbelievable and I could see the anxious looks passing between the staff. My thoughts were consumed with my baby and what was happening to her and all I wanted was for it to be over so I could go she her.
After a while the doctor and the midwife stopped and the doctor explained I needed to go to theatre as my placenta was stuck and needed to be removed under anaesthetic as my blood pressure was now even worse, my organs were really struggling and there was great risk I may haemorrhage at any moment. I honestly couldn’t believe what was happening, my baby was gone and now I was facing this. Midwives came in to remove my nail polish, cover my hair with surgical cap. My nightdress was pulled from me and replaced with a hospital gown, stockings were pulled on my shaking legs all so fast I felt like I was suffocating, I had so many questions, I tried to ask but everyone was so busy. I could feel panic starting, I felt like I was being pulled and pushed with no choice, no explanation of what was happening.
I reached over to my husband and told him to name our tiny baby Kathryn and that if I didn’t make it to tell her that I loved her. I felt like I couldn’t breath like someone had reached into my chest and pulled out my heart. I whispered goodbye.
On the way to the theatre the lights over head merged. The rattle of the trolly did nothing to muffle the screams in my head. I had no idea what was happening, how it had come to this. It was suppose to be the most happy amazing day, the day my daughter was born instead I was being rushed to theatre to save my life. Panic was consuming me and I stifled a scream.
I had never been in an operating theatre before it was so big and bright, I tried to look around me but saw only machines. The staff we all gowned up and all I could see were their eyes. I could hear two of them talking saying they thought they were going to loose me and people were dashing around. A consent form was held in front of me and a pen pushed into my hands. The member of staff through their mask explained that there was a chance I may need a hysterectomy but they would do all they could to save it but I needed to sign now. It’s hard to put into words moments like this, to say how it feels to have no control, to know that you are having to put your trust in people you have never met and in my case whose faces you haven’t even seen. I felt so alone, so vulnerable and absolutely terrified.
A needle went into my arm and a mask held near my face, I could hear someone talking and saying that if they didn’t hurry I would never see my daughter and there would be a baby without a mother. Those were the last words I heard as I descended into darkness. As the mask came down on my face I went to sleep believing I would never see my beautiful daughter again, that she would never know me and a single tear slid down to the mask as I realised I could barely remember what she looked like.
I believed it must be angel and I had died and I slipped back into the darkness.
I opened my eyes but all around me was darkness, I could hear bleeping but everything was blurry. I strained to try and see the shape that was floating near by, it was white and surrounded by a halo of light. I closed my eyes and opened them again to see if I could clear the flog, I could see the shape again, hovering. I thought I was seeing an Angel, that I had died and I slipped back into the darkness.
I opened my eyes but this time I could see more clearly, it was still dark but I could see the remnants of a room, a single light shone somewhere and I could see machines and a constant bleeping filled my ears. I tried to turn my head and realised I was in a bed, to the side of me sat a lady in white, reading. She realised I was awake and leaned towards me, “hello Emma” she said, “how do you feel?” to be honest I had no idea but I felt confused and groggy. I felt like my mouth was glued together, I nodded and I managed a croak to ask for water. I realised the lady in white was a nurse, she wet my lips with a cotton ball then held a cup with a straw I took a few sips it trickled down my razor blade throat. I wasn’t dead, I was alive and I slipped again into the darkness.
The tightening on my arm woke me with a jolt, I opened my eyes to find the room was very bright I could hear voices and noticed people milling outside the room. In the room machines beeped and the tight band on my arm finally released its grip. I couldn’t feel any pain but I felt heavy and numb, I lifted my hands and noticed they were so swollen, a cannulas and drips in both. A nurse came in and smiled, ‘hello Emma‘ she said.
The nurse sat down and explained that I was in HDU, she explained that I had been in surgery for many hours and that a nurse had sat with me all night as they were unsure if I would make it. She explained I had haemorrhaged in theatre and the doctors had fought to save me, my blood pressure was being monitored and so was my heart and other organs, I was swollen due to all the fluids I had been given as well as the pre-eclampsia. The nurse said to rest and they would be back soon. I managed a croak to ask about my baby and she said she would inquire and see if they could bring a photo for me.
I was still drifting in and out of consciousness waking every hour because of the blood pressure cuff on my arm. The lovely nurse came back and gently woke me and handed me a picture of my baby. I stared at the polaroid in disbelief and tears poured as I looked at the tiny baby they said was mine, the nurse said that the staff on neonatal said she was doing well but that was all she knew. Everything felt like a dream, no a nightmare, I couldn’t believe my baby was here. I held the photo to my chest until my husband woke me a few hours later. We asked if it would be possible for me to see my baby but they said I was too ill to be moved and so they would see if she could be brought to me.
As evening approached a nurse entered my room with a plastic cot and in it was my baby, they managed to sit me up enough to hand me my tiny bungle. In the folds of blanket was a tiny baby, in her nose was a tube and her hands were bandaged to hold cannulas in place. I couldn’t take my eyes of her as I wanted to take in every feature, she was completely perfect like a tiny fairy, she even had little pointy ears. She was the smallest baby I had ever seen.
After a few minutes the staff were saying they needed to take her back to neonatal to go back in the incubator, my arms were so weak and I was struggling to hold her but taking her away from me broke my heart. I explained I wanted to breastfeed her and they said a pump would be brought for me later and with that she was gone, torn from my arms again. I drifted on and off the rest of the evening sometimes I couldn’t tell if I was sleeping or awake, visions of people in masks haunted my dreams, silent screams stuck in my throat and the hours just rolled away.
The next morning the groggy head was somewhat disappearing but I felt so ill. I could barely move and was confined to bed anyway with all the machines. The nurses came around and I asked if I could see my baby today, they said it wasn’t possible but they would try to find out how she was doing. Every time the nurse returned I kept asking how she was but they didn’t seem to know anything. I was worried and stressed as I had no idea what was happening to her. I asked again for the breast pump so I could start expressing but was told not to worry or get too excited as the chances of me producing any milk with a premature birth and massive blood loss was low. I pressed further but was told I needed to wait for the doctor to come round.
I felt like I had a huge pad or sanitary towel underneath me and was concerned if it needed changing, when I asked the nurses they both looked at each other and explained I had no pad but that it was my vagina I could feel. I didn’t really understand what they meant, they explained that I was very swollen and packed inside with wadding and catheterised but that they would be removing it today. I was confused, what had happened to me in theatre as I had no damage from giving birth to Kathryn so how was I so damaged now?
Some time later that afternoon they returned and said they would removing the packing, first they removed the catheter which was so painful. They then started to remove the packing there was so much of it, then they washed me and helped me change from the hospital gown to my own nightdress, it felt so much better but I was eager to try to get up as I wanted to see my baby. I was told to still not get out of bed but use a bedpan so that they could monitor my urine output, also so they could see that my kidneys and everything was working ok. I tried to asked questions but just keep being told I needed to wait for the doctor to come. I was so worried as I was so weak and so swollen everywhere.
I kept asking about Kathryn and they said she was doing well but having phototherapy for jaundice. They also brought me a pump so I could start to try to express my milk. I felt so helpless, my baby felt like she was a million miles away, I had no idea what was happening to her, what phototherapy was or jaundice, I felt so scared, so worried. I lay on the bed the pump on my breast and cried big long sobs, all I wanted was to hold her and tell her I loved her. I looked down and there in the bottle was the tiniest amount of milk glistening gold and I knew no matter what this was one one I could do for her at least.
The next day the doctor came to see me, I knew I wasn’t really ready but I was so desperate to get out of HDU. After checking all the machines the doctor said he was happy enough for me to go up to the postnatal wards. So they removed the machines and the drip and said that if I could get up and go to the toilet ok then I could go to the postnatal ward that day. So with help I managed to get to the toilet in my room. Sitting on the toilet was terrifying, when I looked I couldn’t believe the state of my body, I was black, blue, purple and so swollen I had never seen anything like it. Everything ached and I felt like I had been hit by a car and then some. My legs barely carried me back to the bed but I put on a brave face hoping that if I could just get up to the postnatal ward I could be nearer to my daughter. I managed to pump again which was a struggle as my hands where so swollen it was hard to hold the funnels and my arms hurt so much but again a tiny amount of milk glistened in the bottle and the nurse took the milk to send to neonatal for my baby.
Later that evening they said I could finally go to the ward so they collected all my things together and moved me on my bed to the ward. I was put in a room on my own just as you came into the ward and the bathroom was opposite. The lovely nurses from HDU said goodbye and a Midwife came in to do her checks. She wasn’t very friendly and I felt she was frustrated as it was taking me ages to move as I was so sore. I tried to ask about my daughter but was told she had no idea, when I asked when I would see the doctor again I was met with a rolling of her eyes and I wondered what I had done wrong. Then I was left all alone in my room wondering about my baby.
I continued to ask about my daughter that day but didn’t really get anywhere. I was exhausted and felt so ill I could barely move and just going to the toilet was a major effort. Every time I stood up I felt like I was going to faint, my heart was pounding and I had chest pains, I felt sick and I was so swollen underneath I felt like it wasn’t my body. I asked for the breast pump again and it finally turned up that evening so I set about pumping again. My husband bought my parents to see me for the first time since my birth but to be honest I felt barely alive and couldn’t wait for them to go. I saw Kathryn briefly late that night when they finally brought her up from neonatal. I tried to hold her but the pain in my arms made me feel like she wasn’t safe and so I handed her back to the nurse who looked at me like I wasn’t trying and she was took away again. I couldn’t stop the tears falling and I felt really down but I pumped my milk again and then later on when I managed to sleep I drifted in and out of dreams where I could see white figures all around me and hear a baby’s distant cry.
I felt dirty and hurt like my body had been violated in my head was a silent scream as I could hear the gasps and then the questions of the students.
The next morning I felt the same. I managed to get out of bed for the toilet but little else. My consultant came to see me and he had a group of student doctors with him. He explained that I had had a retained placenta and this was because I had a heart shaped womb, while Kathryn had been in the front chamber my placenta had been stuck in the back chamber. Apparently they had struggled to remove it and I had haemorrhaged on the operating table and they had fought to save my life for an hour. They had ended up cutting me to remove it and I had what he said was a third degree tear with many stitches inside and out. The consultant went on to explain they had done a D&C to save my womb and make sure that every piece of my placenta had been removed, also to stem the bleeding and control the blood loss I had had been given various drugs.
I felt in shock it was so much to take in and he was so matter of fact, I tried to ask questions but no one seemed to care. I explained how ill I was still feeling and he said it was to be expected but he would do some more blood tests. He didn’t ask about my baby, but said the main thing was I had survived and so had my baby and that was all that mattered. The consultant went on to ask me to show my stitches to the medical students he had in tow to show what a marvellous job they had done to my vagina. As I lay on the bed with about 8 people staring between my open legs I felt any dignity I had left slip away, I felt dirty like my body had been violated. In my head I was a silently screaming, I could hear the gasps and then the questions of the students all around me. Then they all left my room without even a backward glance and I felt like I had no value as a person nor did my baby, just a thing to be stared at and discussed like a medical experiment.
That afternoon one of the midwives said if I wanted to see my baby I would need to start getting myself up and moving around and she suggested I attempt a shower. So a few hours later I collected my things and headed for the bathroom. This was foolish and after a few minutes the room started spinning and went black. The next thing I knew I was being carried back to my room in a towel in full view of everyone, the midwife was calling my name and I felt delirious. When it quietened down a midwife helped me get dressed while berating me for being stupid for going in the shower, how it was my fault I had fainted and how I had caused a massive commotion. I listened not really understanding, I was so confused, I tried to explain that the other midwife had suggested the shower but she stormed out of the room. I felt tears again stinging my eyes.
Later on they produced more medications and explained I needed to start iron tablets so I swallowed them down with the pain killers. I asked again if I could see my baby and was told they were too busy to take me down and she wasn’t able to come up to me, so again all I could do was pump. It wasn’t until 10pm that night that I saw her again, this time they placed her cot at the bottom of my bed and the nurse left saying she would be back in half an hour. My baby was crying, and she needed me I tried to get to her but my legs were jelly, I pressed the button for a midwife but no one came. So I crawled to the edge of the bed but I was too weak to pick her up. So I put my hand into the cot and held her tiny cannulated hand and cried with her, I told her I loved her and I was sorry that I was so ill and that she was all alone downstairs but I would get better and be with her soon. The nurse returned and ignored my tears she picked up my crying baby and cuddled her till the crying stopped, then the nurse returned her to the cot and took her away. I had never felt so alone and such a failure. I was no good to my baby like this and I sobbed into the night.
The next morning I woke and everything was blurred. My heart was racing and I felt like I couldn’t breathe, I felt sick and my chest was heavy. I managed to get to the bathroom but then collapsed on the bed in my room and rang for the midwife. When she came into my room she looked at me like I was being a problem, she asked why I wasn’t in bed properly I tried to explain I felt really ill and asked them to call my husband. I was told that I had just had a baby and so of course I felt ill and that my husband would come at visiting time not before and there was no reason to call him. She pushed me in bed and left tutting. Was I really being silly? Maybe this was what it felt like after giving birth but I felt like I was dying. I felt so confused and no one was listening to me.
I drifted in and out of consciousness and I really thought I was slowing dying, I lost all sense of time and reality, all I could see in my head was my baby lying alone in her cot crying for me. My chest was so heavy I felt like my heart was going to stop any minute. I don’t know how long I was like this, but I opened my eyes to see a hazy doctor and a midwife standing over me calling my name.
The doctor was exchanging cross words with the midwife but I couldn’t understand what was going on. They left and then I could hear the doctor shouting down the corridor at the midwives.
It turned out my haemoglobin was only 4.1 and all my symptoms were due to this, the doctor had found me unconscious in my room on the edge of life and had pressed the emergency buzzer. They had neglected my care and hadn’t checked the blood results that showed how low my HB was. That afternoon I was started on iron injections in my thigh to try to raise my HB. I cried when my husband left that night and I begged him to stay as I was terrified to be alone, I felt like I was going to die if left there but he said it wouldn’t be allowed and left. Again they brought Kathryn up at about 10 pm I looked at her tiny face but asked them to take her away because I felt like I was no good to her I could’t even hold her I was so weak and if I was dying I couldn’t bear to see her, to know what I would miss and I literally felt like my heart was breaking in two. The guilt was indescribable, my baby was down there alone without me, crying for me, scared and helpless. But I was so ill there was nothing I could I do. This was all my fault. I had failed my baby. My body unable to protect her when she was inside me was now stopping me caring and protecting her. I felt useless and ashamed that I was her mummy, that I was lying in this hospital bed. So I sobbed and I clutched my photo of her to me and I swore to heaven and earth that no matter what I would protect her, that she would not be alone and if I had to crawl there on my hands and knees I would be with my baby.
Over the next few days with the injections I started to feel slowly stronger and I was determine that I would get better for my baby, the midwives were always so sharp with me I think because they had been told off. I felt like I was a burden to them because I wasn’t well and ready to go home and because I needed help to shower and to dress. I did have a lovely midwife for two nights an older lady that was kind and gentle and one night she sat and held my hand while I fell a sleep, this small act of kindness I will never forget. The only thing I could do was keep pumping and this kept me going,
I kept asking to see my daughter but no one could ever take me but I worked out I if I could manage to get to the end of the ward this was where they kept a wheelchair. So then every morning I began wheeling myself down to neonatal. It would take about half an hour navigating the corridors and using the lift but I would manage it and once on the unit I would stay all day. I always missed my lunch and dinner and the ward would say if I didn’t come back up to the ward then they wouldn’t feed me and so I hardly ate. The nurses on neonatal would go and fetch me sandwiches to eat and I was so grateful. I carried on with my daily injections, my leg going even more back and blue. The midwives didn’t like that I was on the unit all the time and would moan if they had to come down to do my injections, they were never gentle and the one midwife actually laughed when I winced and told me I needed to toughen up. I honestly felt like I was the worse patient they had ever had, when all I was trying to do was get better and be with my baby. I began to feel anxious anytime I saw the anyone in the blue uniform, so much so that when a midwife would visit me I would visibly shake.
I felt my time on neonatal was an escape from the ward and I felt safe there with my baby. The nights were the worse I would beg my husband not to leave and I would cry as he left. The midwifes would tut and pull faces and tell me I was being ridiculous. My nights were filled with nightmares and I would wake heart pounding, sweating, not knowing where I was shouting for my baby. I would lie there hearing the other babies cries wondering if my baby was downstairs crying for me. The nights became so terrifying that I dreaded them.
Finally after 10 days I was told I was well enough to be discharged, to be honest I felt like they were glad to see the back of me and even though I didn’t feel like it I gladly agreed because I couldn’t wait to escape the ward it felt like a prison and I longed to be free.
Kathryn however was to remain downstairs in neonatal so that night I left the hospital, my arms empty and my heart aching. As I sat in the car I felt a strange sense of fear, panic, despair flood over me. The last two weeks had felt like a nightmare. I wondered if other women felt this way. I felt so lost. As I opened the door my heart nearly stopped, the pram was there in the front room, baby clothes lying on the table. The tears began to fall because there was no baby to fill them. Exhaustion hit me and my body felt so heavy I didn’t know If I would make it up the stairs. As I lie in bed that night my mind was disturbed and unsettled. Sleep was fleeting and visions visited me. I saw white figures with masks on their faces chasing me down dark, flicking corridors and although I could hear a baby crying she was just always out of my reach. As stars twinkled in a cold winter night, I longed for the break of day so I could return back to the hospital to see my daughter again.