Given the amount of time that I am blogging (which all started with my tracking my pregnancy in the summer of 2016) it is a bit of an odd one that I had yet to write a post about my labour and delivery experience having Ellie (it only took two years to write this but sure whose counting?!) I didn’t avoid writing this for any particular reason as overall my experience was very positive. I’m often asked as a midwife what it was like ‘being on the other side’ , so here we go…..
Before becoming a mother, my only knowledge surrounding pregnancy, childbirth and the postnatal period came from lectures, textbooks and what from what I experience day to day in work.
I enjoyed a very uneventful and healthy pregnancy with no problems other than a bit of morning sickness and tiredness at certain points. I was very active and I worked on the wards doing 13 hour shifts up until I was a couple of days shy of 38 weeks.
I had my heart set on a natural birth (ha! What does that even mean?!) with no epidural and no interventions ; in other words no ‘messin’. I didn’t want anyone touching me until there was a valid reason to do so. I just wanted to let things progress naturally and to be able to ‘do my thing’.
Some people found it very odd that I chose to go to the hospital that I work in to have Ellie, but I feel that this decision stood as a testament to the amazing work that is done there. I trusted my colleagues wholeheartedly and I loved the fact that I knew everyone by their first name who was looking after me.
So now that I have a little bit of background done, I’ll cut to the chase and describe labour and delivery from my point of view, on the other side of the bed!
They say that knowledge is power, which is true to an extent, but my goodness I went totally blank when it came to me and my own labour. I doubted myself for the whole thing which I didn’t expect at all. Having seen hundreds of women labour I thought I’d know exactly what was going on when it was my own turn – but I sure as hell didn’t. Here’s a snippet of my brain during the early stages of pregnancy
Eh did my waters break? Or did I just pee myself? Are those just normal pains? Or are those THE pains? Should I call the ER now? Should I wait?
I really hadn’t a breeze what was going on. I had been working on a postnatal ward for over 2.5 years so I was a bit rusty on what to expect for early labour . As the pains were only niggles I didn’t feel the need to go in and get checked despite my waters going (which I wasn’t even fully sure if they had as there was no big gush; so I played a guessing game for a while). Stupidly I delayed going into hospital for way too long (I won’t even confess how long I left it!) with my waters gone, as I was afraid I’d waste my colleagues time having “just peed myself”- which I most definitely did not. In fact the response I got from my colleague during my initial exam in the ER was “Jess , there’s not a dribble of forewaters there” ….. and cue the mortified look on my face! (Disclaimer – I had been keeping a very close eye on my temp at home as I wasn’t sure what on earth was leaking!)
When it came to labour I honestly have gained an immense amount of new found respect for the women I care for. Until you experience those pains for yourself it’s very easy to stand back and think ‘good God yer woman sounds like she’s dying’ because YES that is in fact what it feels like.
I was SO lucky to have one of my best friends mind me before heading over to the delivery suite. I was doubled over in pain and couldn’t get my words out to even try and articulate what I needed or was feeling; and out she came with the Entonox gas, words of encouragement and a comforting touch. I was in the bath for ages as well which really took the edge off, I vividly remember Ben and myself listening to Lady GaGa “A Million Reasons” while I was in the bath and to this day we both look at each other and laugh about all the memories it brings back. Having the girls there to look after made me realize the importance of a Midwife who will act as an advocate for you. They knew what I needed before I even knew what I needed. I honestly didn’t see myself as a Midwife during labour, I was the woman- that’s all. It was my amazing colleagues who were the ones to bring me out the other side.
When it got to the actual active stages of labour – things went a bit – how do I put it? Pear shaped perhaps! As my waters were gone for a prolonged period of time, it was decided that I needed my labour accelerated as despite having ‘good’ contractions, they were doing ‘diddly squat’ in terms of dilating my cervix. At this stage, I was exhausted, I felt like I had been giving it my all trying to cope with the pains only to be told that I was “still 2cm” after what felt like an eternity! My lovely plan of no interventions went out the window, and I was begging for an epidural by the time I realized we were headed for Syntocinon.
Looking back now, I am so thankful that I gave in and had the epidural as it gave me time to rest and calm down. As I relaxed the atmosphere of the delivery room completely changed- everything seemed a bit less chaotic and I could breathe again. I could articulate myself a bit better rather than huffing,puffing and cursing amid the contractions. In hindsight if I had been progressing quicker I would have tried to hold off on getting it, but seeming as Ellie didn’t arrive for another 11 hours I was happy with my choice.
The whole labour feels like a blur. It was only afterwards talking with Ben that he reminded me of all the people who popped in to say ‘hello’ while I was in Delivery Suite. I just felt so exhausted but I was lucky enough to be chilled out drifting in and out of sleep once I was comfortable and the epidural took effect. I could probably go as far as saying it was a nice and enjoyable labour, albeit slow, but I got to rest up and fully ‘take in’ what was about to happen.
By the time it came to being fully dilated and starting to push, Ellie was beginning to get distressed. I now fully empathize with women when it comes to pushing, you literally feel like you are pushing with every ounce of your being only to be told for the next contraction that “you’re doing great but try a bit harder!”, in my head all I was saying was “are you for f**kin’ real??! I AM trying HARDER!” lol! It’s so difficult to know what you’re supposed to be doing especially when you’re numb from the waist down. My epidural block was so heavy, actually too heavy that I couldn’t feel a thing, not even a tinge of pressure which was definitely a downside as I would have liked to have felt something.
There was a moment during pushing that I glanced over at the CTG machine to see Ellie’s heart rate was well over what it should be and dipping after I was pushing- and it became apparent to me things may not be going to plan. She needed out.
There are a few select lines that no midwife say in a delivery room, with one being “I think we need a bit of help here”. Within what felt like a split second, I had my midwife, the midwife in charge, an obstetrician and a paediatrician all in the room. Despite the sense of urgency I was totally calm, I knew that I was in safe hands and I understood what was going on. I knew what to expect should it end with any mode of delivery so I guess that was a huge advantage of working there. It is only now that I fully appreciate how scary the unknown can be for women and their partners. Ben’s perception of the exact same scenario is a little different to mine- all he remembers was chaos and seeing instruments being wheeled in that resembled “swords, knives and forks” – yep those were his exact words!!
After a Kiwi delivery (a small hand held suction cup) and an episiotomy (again – not in the plan especially as poor Ben saw the whole thing) Ellie came out screaming crying and was placed on my chest. It was the most surreal and amazing moment of my life, almost like an out-of-body experience that the little human I had been growing the past 9 months was finally here. She was perfect. All of a sudden she stopped crying, and the paediatrician was over asking for the cord to be cut to take her. After about 10-15 minutes I heard another line that I don’t like to hear coming from the paed which was ‘I need the Reg (senior doctor)’.
In the midst of this, I had delivered the placenta and I could hear the doctor asking for Cytotec – again something I didn’t want to hear. It’ is funny how immediate the maternal instinct kicks in. Although I knew that I must have been bleeding heavily for the doctor to ask for that particular medication; all I could do was look over across the room to make sure Ellie was ok, I didn’t care what was going on with me.
Eventually everything settled, Ellie was breathing normally again, and she was brought over to me for skin-to-skin which was incredible. I had always enjoyed witnessing these beautiful moments with the women I had cared for; and I couldn’t believe I had my own baby to do this with. As she lay on my chest with her little beady eyes looking up at me I fell head over heels in love. I was blessed that she latched straight away and fed like a dream. I cannot describe how perfect everything felt I just wanted to pinch myself. This was the moment we began our breastfeeding journey which lasted 15 months. I fully believe that getting the first feed in early and initiating skin-to-skin helped with this achievement. The research also suggests early initiation of skin- to-skin and feeding leads to better outcomes ( Royal College of Midwives and The World Health Organization)
I could probably continue this blog post to go on and write about my whole first year of motherhood but I won’t digress! In fact, I applaud you if you’ve managed to read this far! I didn’t intend for this post to be an essay!
So – having gone through the whole thing myself, what have I learnt from being ‘’on the other side’’?
- Always trust your instincts! I should have trusted myself to go into the hospital sooner than I did. It is your body so if something feels different – just go! Who cares if you get sent home on a false alarm?
- A familiar face is invaluable. The importance of continuity of care in maternity services became more apparent to me after having Ellie. I was lucky I knew everyone looking after me, but only now I really see the importance for women to know who is looking after them. Fragmentation of care can only add to anxiety. I felt so relaxed during everything as I knew who was looking after me and I felt confident that everyone was ‘in the loop’.
- Don’t forget about the partner! Having talked with Ben after the delivery it became obvious that he was like a deer in headlights for the most part, and he would have liked a bit more explanation of what was going on, this is something I am more aware of in my own practice.
- The importance of a good midwife! Simple things in practice such as offering a comforting touch, or being the biggest cheerleader in the room when you’re exhausted can mean so much to a woman in labour. For me, the small details stand out such as getting cold cloths for my face without even asking, rubbing my back during a contraction, getting water during pushing – those little things mean more than I thought they did previous to having Ellie. I am happy to say my colleagues were incredible and listened to me and even my non-verbal cues while caring for me.
- Skin-to-skin and the first breastfeed is so important and the most amazing feeling ever. It is something that I would insist is done in a relaxed environment without being disturbed.
- Expect the unexpected. It is all well and good to have a plan, but being head strong on only one plan going into a delivery room is perhaps a little ambitious. I knew what my ideal was; but because I know how quickly things can change I wasn’t going to beat myself up if things didn’t go how I wanted them to. Yeah I didn’t do everything as ‘naturally’ as I wanted, but everything and everyone was ‘ok’ in the end!
- Finally – being honest the pain was worse than I imagined- but totally worth it. I guess that I was a bit naive but at the end of the day I would do it all again in a heartbeat as the pain that I felt was nothing compared to the joy and immediate love that followed from hearing that first cry.
It was without a doubt the best day of my life and although being a midwife had its advantages, for me I was happy to leave that title to the side for the simply be ‘Jess The Mammy’, not ‘Jess The Midwife’.