I think this puts new meaning to the phrase ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’.
Having suffered with undiagnosed Endometriosis for around 10 years, I went through that time believing that I was either infertile, or would have issues conceiving. When my surgeon finally removed the scar tissue from one of my ovaries, he told me he couldn’t see any issues with my reproductive organs, so I was relieved, but still realistic about it taking some time for me to conceive.
When I fell pregnant very quickly, I was absolutely over the moon! Though I had regular healthy check ups and scans, having been in a mindset that I’d maybe never be able to have children for so long made me feel very anxious about pregnancy. I went through every week thanking my lucky stars that everything was ok, but I would never let myself look ahead to think about labour, just in case something went wrong and I wouldn’t see through this chance to bring my child into the world.
When I was approaching my last month of pregnancy, my Midwife was keen to understand what my wishes were when it came to labour. I didn’t want to make a birth plan, because I didn’t want to be disappointed if things didn’t go to plan. I am a meticulous planner usually, but this didn’t feel right. I approached my labour with a ‘what will be, will be’ attitude. I did think that it would be nice to have a water birth, and that I would try my hardest to keep away from pain relief. I’d suffered with really awful period pains, been hospitalised a few times and had various embarrassing public pain episodes having put up with Endometriosis for so long previously. So, I <em>believed</em> I had a high pain threshold, and that I could handle childbirth calmly and strongly.
The evening I went into labour, I spent the night patiently timing my contractions, zapping the pain with a tens machine and packing and re-packing my hospital bag to take my mind off the pain. 6am came, I woke my husband (yes, he slept all night) and asked him to ring the hospital to book me in as the pain was getting worse. I arrived at the hospital, was examined, and it was established that I was 4cm dilated. I was told I was coping with the contractions well, and decided happily to spend some more time at home with my tens machine, and maybe a dip in the bath. The Midwife gave me a stretch and sweep for good measure, and on my way I went.
I hit the lift and the pain got worse, but I managed to get home and in the bath. Two minutes in the bath and I was screaming for my husband to get me back to the hospital. The pain had hit a really intense level and I started to panic that I wouldn’t be able to cope with the level of pain if it got any worse. Bleeding down the hospital corridor, I was in agony. I honestly remember feeling like I was going to die of the pain!
The issue here is that I had no idea what to expect of my labour experience, I had no knowledge of any pain relief options because I’d not been to any classes. Because I didn’t want to jinx my labour. Silly, really. I know that now.
Screaming for an epidural, the midwife told me I was 7cms dilated, but in so much pain, I decided I couldn’t take any more.
The epidural slowed my labour right down, and a long, boring stretch of time was spent in hospital waiting to get to 10cm. Eventually, after about 8 hours of waiting, I started to push, and push, and push. And push, and push… 2.5 hours of pushing passed, this baby was not coming out. It was established his head was twisted in my birth canal, his heart rate dropped and I was rushed to theatre where I was prepped for a C-Section. I started to cry. This wasn’t what I imagined. There went my natural, pain relief-free birth. A spinal block, an episiotomy and the use of forceps later, Fin was born battered and bruised, but was safe.
Shortly after I was stitched up and on the ward, I was given my beautiful scrunched up baby boy. I felt like a total, utter failure. Because I was so exhausted, having been in labour for nearly 24 hours, drugged to my eyeballs, couldn’t move yet, no sleep, and no idea what to do with a newborn, I was so daunted.
It was about 10am the next day and someone came over to ask how feeding was going. I said I hadn’t fed my baby yet, I didn’t realise I had to. They put him on my breast, and he tried to feed but nothing was happening. I tried and tried for a long while. I thought this was supposed to be easy. After some investigation, it turned out that he had tongue tie and that formula milk from a pipette was the only way to go right now.
I was eventually discharged at 11pm, two days after being admitted, sleep deprived, exhausted, in pain and feeling like a failure. I couldn’t give birth properly, and I couldn’t breast feed.
The reality of having a baby to look after hit me like a truck. Because of the anxiety I’d felt when pregnant, I had never allowed myself to imagine what life would be like with a baby in tow.Â I was left battered and bruised from childbirth, dissappointed with myself for not being strong enough to push my baby out myself, and for allowing myself to get to the point of having medical intervention. I beat myself up for weeks. Months in fact.
This was nearly four years ago and it’s only now that I am beginning to accept that I didn’t fail. Not in the slightest. I did what I was supposed to do. I gave birth. I’m now strong enough to not care that I had to relieve the pain. To not care that I couldn’t push my baby out without help. To not care that I couldn’t breast feed.
Why did I feel like a failure? I’ll tell you why.
You know those stories on your social media feeds where a superwoman wife has just given birth with no pain relief to an 9lb baby, and their husband is bursting with pride. That’s one reason.
You know those debates on Netmums etc. about natural birth and how everyone jumps on you if you’ve had an epidural. That’s another reason.
Those breast is best conversations you have with your health visitors. That’s another reason.
The reason I felt like a failure at childbirth is all of those outside influences. The opinions of others were grinding me down. What would I tell the people who had those seemingly perfect childbirth experiences? How would I break it to my health visitor that I couldn’t breast feed?
If you’re the mum who couldn’t push your baby out without help, you’re the one who screamed in pain for an epidural, you’re the one who couldn’t give birth at home. If you’re the one who’s birth plan when totally out the window in a painful whirlwind of panic… I feel you. It’s normal for childbirth not to go to ‘plan’, whether your plan or someone elses. Newsflash! You can’t plan childbirth! No two cases of childbirth are alike. I’ve learned to understand that now. I’ve learned to understand that I achieved what I planned to do, which was to get my baby out safely in whichever way I could.
First published here.