When I became pregnant the first time I remember it all being such a whirlwind of excitement and expectations as well as having that slight tinge of nerves that I was going to be a Mum. However, when it came to actually being pregnant and getting through the birth I didn’t have any worries or anxieties. I had a lot on my plate with work and I had the attitude that millions of women had done this before so there was no reason that I couldn’t too! So with that, I only read one pregnancy book and did very little research into anything else. This was all well and good for the pregnancy but as you will see later in this post I really needed more background information for the labour and birth.
The Midwife Care During Pregnancy
The midwifery care during your pregnancy is consistent and planned. I cannot fault any part of the midwife care I received during my first pregnancy and I always knew there was somebody to speak to. There was one very funny slip up during my booking in appointment where a stand in midwife was in for the day and she made the mistake that I was 16 weeks and we got to hear our baby’s heartbeat via the doppler because she went ahead and popped me up on the bed to have a listen. We were overwhelmed and couldn’t believe we could hear this at 10 weeks. She was then a bit shocked when she got our notes together and read it was our first visit! We didn’t mind one bit though.
After this appointment, we always saw the same midwife who provided us with advice, help and reassurance along our journey and now four years on we are back going through this process again and are overjoyed to have Rachel this time too. I think when it is all new to you it is very important to have consistent care so I was very surprised to read that in 2015, the CQC maternity survey found that 62% of women were not seeing the same midwife for their antenatal appointments and 28% of these women wanted to see the same midwife and were not able to. 15% of women surveyed also said that the midwives were not always aware of their medical history. This really shouldn’t be the case. A medical team should be there to provide care and support at regular appointments and with a consistent medical practitioner. No woman should be made to feel left in the dark when it comes to pregnancy.
The only issue we did have was around the antenatal classes. We opted for the NHS class due to costs of NCT but I came down ill a few days before the class and I wasn’t well enough to attend. There were no other classes for us to get onto as we only had about 5 weeks to go until our due date so we never actually did a course to help us learn what would happen during the labour and the birth. This is something we will be changing for this new baby and are already looking into NCT options.
The Labour and Birth
Now, I’ve gone into this in full detail in a previous post which you can read here.
After having my ‘show’ on 23rd December I woke on the 24th with mild contractions around 8am. These were manageable for most of the day but as the pain increased I found that my threshold was fading and even with the TEN’s machine I wasn’t feeling quite comfortable being at home without medical help on hand. I do wonder, looking back if I overreacted and perhaps should have relaxed more, taken a stroll or have just worked with the pain but because this was my first child I had no idea what to expect. The labour line is your first port of call and they encourage you to breathe and to stay at home. The support is there but I personally wanted to be in hospital. With contractions every 2 minutes, we were allowed to go into our local hospital to be checked. Unfortunately, I was only 1 cm dilated and sent home. Hours passed and more phone calls to the labour line happened. I can’t quite remember all the ins and outs but I am sure I was sent home once again from the hospital before they finally allowed me to stay at 9pm.
Once I was settled in they began to take decisions out of my own hands. I was told that I wasn’t coping and that I needed Pethidine to ease the pain. This barely touched it and ended up making me vomit. Still, my contractions continued close together yet I wasn’t dilating quickly enough. The hospital then made the decision to give me an Epidural. I went along with their choices because I thought they knew best and I was completely exhausted with the labour. Once it had been administered I felt such a relief but the negative effect of this was the fact that everything began to completely slow down. Endless streams of people would come in to check me and we were there so long that we saw different shift changes and I gave up trying to work out who was who! My waters were then broken by one midwife in order to try and get things moving along but my body had, had enough and the baby’s heart rate was fluctuating. All of sudden I was surrounded by a panicking team of people and was told an emergency c-section was my only option. As I lay there worried, exhausted and confused I had a consent form thrust in my face and I could just about muster the energy to put a scribble on the dotted line. With my sister crying, my husband taken off to get scrubs on and me just lying on a bed being taken to an operating theatre for the first time in my life I must admit I was petrified.
Once in the theatre, I was met by a calmer and more friendly doctor who decided we could try with forceps. However, I was so incredibly weak that I only managed one good push and they needed three so the c-section needed to go ahead. With another dose of Epidural, they checked what feeling I had on my body. A cold spray is applied up and down the abdomen but I could feel it every time. They made the decision to administer a spinal block to remove all sense of feeling. From here on all I could move were my fingertips and my head from side to side… it is something I never want to experience again. With my husband eventually by my side, I felt relieved he wasn’t going to miss it but scared that something was going to go wrong. I felt movement and pulling which no one can prepare you for and once the baby came out all I could imagine was that I was going to die. I told my husband to take care of our baby and I was dipping in and out of consciousness. I don’t remember much after that apart from being wheeled to recovery and shaking uncontrollably- an effect of the spinal block wearing off.
Once the shaking had stopped I could finally hold my son and I was overjoyed. What had been the scariest experience of my life had transformed into the happiest. Jake arrived on Christmas Day 2013 at 12:29pm.
Looking back, I wish I had stopped some of the decisions that were made because I do wonder if all of these led to the need of the c-section BUT hindsight is a wonderful thing and I did at the time what I thought was best by listening to the experts and the main thing is that we are both here and are healthy. However, I have never had any follow-up consultation to discuss what happened and why and to find out what went wrong. So, over 3 years on I am still left with this feeling that perhaps if I had stayed at home longer things may have happened naturally or if I hadn’t gone along with their recommendation to have an Epidural my labour may have accelerated and I may not have needed the c-section. Hopefully I will have more information throughout this pregnancy and my medical notes will be reviewed by the team. I gave my full consent and I did what was advised which has meant that both me and my little boy have both survived. All cases are different and if you feel like any medical care has not been given with your full consent you could be entitled to making medical negligence claims. It is always worth trying to make contact with the team prior to this and to find out exactly what went on and why and to gain some clarity on the events that took place.
The aftercare from having a c-section is a little different than if you have a straightforward natural birth. I was kept in hospital for three days to ensure that I could go to the toilet after having a catheter in place and to make sure that the wound was healing well. Once home you are visited by midwives over the first few days and a week later they remove the staples or stitches from your c-section incision. I couldn’t fault the care or attention and the fact that I felt as though I could phone someone at any time. I was then visited by a health visitor until she signed me off at 8 weeks. My only concern for those who have had a c-section is that there is no additional aftercare. You are handed a letter that states you are not to lift a kettle yet once home you have a baby to pick up and care for and, of course, once paternity leave is over after 2 weeks your husband returns to work leaving you alone. You are also told not to drive until 6 weeks or until your GP has confirmed it is safe to do so. I was in a lot of pain and the skin on my abdomen was very tight and my muscles no longer worked so I chose to not drive at all until I felt stronger at around 10 weeks postpartum.
I was a lucky new Mum as I had the constant care and visits from my Dad and my sister and there was always somebody around to give me a hand with housework or shopping. If I hadn’t have had this I really don’t know how I would have coped. What I would have liked to have seen would have been a group for Mum’s to attend who’d had a c-section, a place where you could talk openly and honestly and maybe gain some counselling for those very traumatic experiences. I was surprised that I was just left to it because my mind was ok… but my body certainly wasn’t. I was recovering from major surgery which had cut through my abdomen, muscles and nerves and I wasn’t provided with any tips on how to strengthen my body, how to cope with the new changes (I still do not have full feeling in my lower abdomen and it feels like pins and needles to the touch) and I have never had a check-up on my recovery since that 6 week check with the GP. I had to learn how to improve my body myself and I was very lucky to find somebody who specialises in this and who has helped me get my body back to it’s best.
Mumsnet have recognised this potential gap in the quality of our maternity services with their “aftercare, not afterthought” campaign. Their recent survey had some startling results about the state of post-natal care for mums in the UK.
Of the women surveyed by mumsnet, 45% were sometimes unable or not able at all to access pain relief when they needed it. When you have given birth, you are beginning a slow road to recovery as your body has been through a major trauma. If you are denied a treatment option, such as pain relief, it should always be explained to you why you are unable to receive it.
I am now 3 months pregnant with my second child and I have already discussed my upset over my c-section with my midwife. I was surprised and relieved to be told that there is such a thing as a Birth Reflections Meeting and I am booked in to speak to a consultant in September. This meeting will provide both myself and my husband with a medical overview of what happened during my labour and the birth of my son and will shed some light onto what went wrong… it will also be decided if I will be required to have an elective c-section this time around. I am hopeful that I can have a natural birth and I am already researching calming ways to help improve the experience overall. I am just very shocked that this meeting was not offered to me after the birth of Jake and that it has taken for me to fall pregnant again to be told I can have answers. If you too have had a traumatic birth and are still feeling anxious from it, worried for future pregnancies or feel you need to ask some questions then I urge you to speak to your doctor about the possibility of setting a Birth Reflections Meeting up. I would have recovered mentally so much faster if I’d been offered this years ago.
*This is a collaborative post. For more information please refer to my disclosure page.