Pat O'Brien's Birth Stories

A while ago I was asked to recount my birth experiences as, having had one hospital birth and three very different home births, this might make interesting reading. So I've put pen to paper and tried to recall all the significant detail of the births of my four daughters, Jane (6) Sandy(5) Rachael (3),and Charlie (1). The birth of one's first child is probably always going to be one of the most overwhelming life-changing events that we ever experience. It certainly was for me ,with Jane, though sadly not for the reasons I'd anticipated. This is where the story starts.....

The Birth of Jane

Neil and I had been watching a women's rugby match at Richmond RFC. The baby was over 17 days late and I'd hoped that pacing up and down the touchline might help to get things going. Sure enough, on the way home in the car I started to feel those mild period pain like cramps which announced the beginnings of labour. At last! This was my first baby, I was both excited and scared, but like most first time mothers, I'd put my trust in the medical profession, booked in at the local hospital as the doctor suggested, and felt that there was little to worry about as long as I got to the hospital in time.

We got home at about 5 o'clock that Sunday evening and the gentle contractions continued very slowly overnight. I tried to sleep, but was too restless and excited to stay in bed for long.

The next morning I had an ante-natal appointment with the consultant (who'd been talking about inducing me if nothing had happened by now). However when I told them at reception that I was in labour - they sent me straight to the labour ward. Here they examined me and confirmed I was just 1 cm dilated and told me to go to the maternity wards for the time-being.

I never actually got to see the consultant at all. Thinking erroneously that he was coming to see me, we waited all day on the crowded maternity ward. When we realised he wasn't coming we decided to leave the hospital and get something to eat. So we bought some fish and chips and went home again!

At around 11 o'clock that night (Monday) I felt the contractions more strongly and wanted to go back to the hospital. This time we went straight to the labour ward where I was found to be 3cm dilated. Now I felt things were getting serious, and I was happy that things were progressing though nervously anticipating the pain to come. I thought the pain was bad enough at 3cm and couldn't imagine how I would survive getting to 10cm! But I was coping well for the time being.

As far as any "birth plan" was concerned, I'd hoped to have a natural birth but would opt for an epidural if I felt I needed to. I hadn't really thought about it more than that - I'd do my best, but if that wasn't good enough I'd accept help - that's how I saw it at the time. I still believed in the medical profession and trusted the doctors to advise me with my own interests at heart. I had no reason to question what I was told, and naively accepted their guidance. After all doctors know best, don't they, and you have to err on the side of safety first, don't you...?.

At this point the two midwives looking after me were very pleasant and non-invasive. One of them asked if I'd like to get into the birthing pool. I'd tried a hot bath at home, and respond well to heat - so I said yes. However I was now involved in a race as there was another woman also wanting to get into the pool and it was first one to get to 5cm who'd go first!

I can't say I exactly tried to dilate quicker! - but at my next examination lo and behold I was 5cm.f In I go! It was wonderful, the warmth, the weightlessness, the freedom of movement, I loved it. I was coping really well with some strong contractions.

I thought I would stay in the water to give birth as it felt so good. However, little by little, instead of getting stronger, the contractions started to get weaker. Then they started slowing down, and finally they stopped... I didn't know why at the time, but I now think that I dehydrated while in the pool. Although I was offered glasses of iced water to counteract the profuse sweating, I only sipped rather than drank, reluctant to fill my bladder during labour. I was also in the water a very long time - much longer than is now advised.

This was the point at which everything started to go wrong...

I can't remember exact times, but I know I'd been in the water for a very long time in the early hours of Tuesday morning - maybe as much as 6 hours. It was now 8 o'clock Tuesday morning, and I hadn't slept since Saturday night. I was tired, I was in constant pain and heaving myself out of the water took all my energy. I'd been told I was 7cm dilated and took comfort from the thought there was only 3 to go.

Then the midwives changed shift. Out went friendly and caring Althea, and in came "the Midwife from Hell" .

  "Right" she said, "Get up on the bed and I'll examine you." I said I'd been examined recently and was reluctant to be touched - but she said she'd be quick, and it wouldn't hurt. She wasn't, and it did. She prodded me so hard inside, as if she was trying to kick start my cervix into action. "7cm" she said - you're barely 4.5 ! (I can't tell you the impact of these words.......).

With her fingers still inside me she pressed the call button with her free hand to summon assistance. While I still had my legs splayed apart, two strangers came into the room and she asked one of them to pass her what looked to me like a green straw. I now know this was an amnihook. She poked it up inside me and I heard a clicking noise. "That's your membranes gone" she said. Then looking at my bewildered face "Well I had to do something luvvy or you'd be here 'till Christmas. Now I want you to get up and walk around the ward."

And with that she left the room. I felt the tears welling up in my eyes,I couldn't help but cry. I felt so awful, no one had ever treated me with such disrespect, I felt physically assaulted, I was now bleeding, - and this was somebody who was meant to be helping me? Somebody I could trust?

And "you're not 7cm, you're barely 4.5 !" Did this woman have any idea how she'd destroyed me with those words ...?

My morale collapsed, but there was one thing I knew...... I did not want her anywhere near me when I eventually gave birth. I didn't want her hands to ever touch me again, let alone to hold the precious body of my new-born child.

I told Neil to go and make sure she didn't come back. I knew we had the right to change our midwife if there was a problem. Rachel was the next midwife to enter on the scene, and although she was pleasant enough, it was now obvious that we'd become "Mr & Mrs Difficult in Room 1".

I still wasn't having any contractions. One doctor came and said they'd give me until 1 o'clock (4 hours' time) to get started again before having to induce me. I asked if I could go back into the bath where I'd felt warm and safe, and although she agreed, they'd already emptied the water out and there now followed a ridiculous episode where I was sitting naked like a beached whale in an inch of water waiting for the pool to fill again.

At this point another doctor came in (uninvited) and started to question why I wanted to wait another 4 hours. I tried to explain that I hadn't suggested this, but was following the advice of a previous doctor, but as I sat there naked with the doctor looking down at me I felt completely beaten. I had no energy left to even argue - so once again I heaved myself out of the pool and back onto the bed. I just wanted them to get on with whatever they had to do. If they were going to induce me then I wanted an epidural. I'd had enough. If they'd suggested sawing off my arms at legs at this point I wouldn't have objected.....

The doctor explained that they'd induce me and then give me 6 hours. If I wasn't fully dilated by then, I'd have to have a caesarean....

I felt so bullied. So intimidated. Even the anaesthetist doing the epidural scolded me for arching my back when the cold spray hit me.

Then the epidural took effect. It was a welcome relief. While waiting for the anaesthetist I had tried some gas & air - but that had made me violently sick - so I was relieved that the epidural as least was giving me some respite from the pain, and I tried to sleep.

I was lying on my back and at one point felt as if I was sitting on the baby's head. I told the midwives and asked if I should change position or try to push as it felt as if I should - but was told not to.

Eventually after 6 hours, (it was now early evening on Tuesday) I was examined (for the 100th time) and found to be fully dilated.

"OK you can push now" I was told,"But I can't feel any contractions" I said. "That's OK we'll tell you when" - so they shouted at me to push and I pushed. It felt totally wrong. I had no natural inclination to push, I felt I was damaging myself with my efforts. I wanted to arch my back, put my hands behind my head and hold the bed but the midwife actually slapped my fingers and made me hold under my thighs in the lithotomy position. A position which I've since learned effectively closes down the birth canal rather than opening it up. It felt very wrong. I pushed and pushed until I thought my eyeballs would pop out - but the baby wouldn't move. I couldn't change position as my left leg was completely numb from the epidural and was being held in the stirrup by my husband.

After 1 1/2 hours of fruitless pushing an older midwife came through the door. She took one look at me and said "This woman is exhausted - call the doctor now". I could have kissed her! - until then no one had seemed to consider me at all.

A doctor was summoned, an episiotomy was performed, the ventouse was attached. I pushed, they pulled.... nothing.

They turned the suction up to what I'd understood to be double the normal rate and tried again. They pulled --I pushed (visions of a cone-headed baby racing through my brain...)- and at last, baby Jane was born. She was given straight to the paediatrician to be sucked out due to the meconium in my waters - and then to my husband and then to me. I looked at her as if through a haze. I'd expected to feel such great emotion, such overwhelming love and all I could feel was relief and exhaustion. Thank God it was over.....

But I hardly had time to rest before I was aware of a change in tone of the doctor's voice.
"PPH" he said loudly.
"What's PPH" I said.
"Post Partum Haemorrhage" came the reply. Oh, thought I, somewhat detachedly.

A midwife started to pummel my stomach, massaging it painfully hard in an attempt to help the uterus contract. I don't remember how long this went on for - but basically the bleeding must have stopped because everyone relaxed again and then they disappeared.

I was left with my legs in stirrups for what seemed like ages, my cut and bleeding private ? parts on show to all and sundry. The doctor who eventually stitched me up, made some flippant comment to Neil about how I'd be as good as before - I can't remember the exact words but just remember feeling totally degraded.

And then they got me into a wheelchair, put the baby in my arms, and wheeled me up to Maternity Ward 4. The baby was put in the bed with me, and we were left alone for the rest of the night.

In some ways I was glad to be left alone, I'd had enough of people poking and prodding me and bossing me about - but in truth I needed help. The baby sucked and sucked and hardly slept at all. I, likewise didn't sleep again for the 3rd consecutive night and had bleeding nipples by the morning. In the middle of the night I'd tried to walk to the toilet - forgetting that my left leg was hardly able to bear weight. Every time I stood up I felt faint and dizzy. If a nurse had been vigilant she would have seen me bent double, holding on to the handrail and pulling myself along the corridor to the toilets - but no one was there, and I struggled alone.

The next day my Hb levels were found to be so low that I needed 4 units of blood. I was, by now, desperate to get out of the hospital - as soon as the blood transfusion was finished I suffered the obligatory demonstration of how to make up a bottle-feed (even though I was breast-feeding) and went home.

I did not get over Jane's birth for a very long time. In the early days I suffered constant rigors, uncontrollable chattering teeth, and hot sweats with flu-like symptoms. Jane never slept for more than 3 hours at a time (usually much less) until she was 9 months old, and the exhaustion that had started at the birth was compounded over the months that followed.

I thought about the birth non-stop, and re-lived it constantly, mulling over every last detail. I was so wounded by this trauma that I could actually relate to some of the symptoms women report after having been sexually abused. I felt dirty, - my so-called "private" parts had been torn apart and were now scarred and ugly - and I'd been completely and unceremoniously stripped of all my dignity in front of total strangers.

It was against this background that I found myself pregnant again just 6 months later.

Pat O'Brien

On to the birth story of Pat's second child, Sandy.

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