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Tiernan’s birth (Part 2 – the actual birth)

Posted on: February 21, 2011

Continued from here.

The morning of Tiernan’s ‘birthday’. Don’t I look positively refreshed, from my great night’s sleep?

After months of speculating about what going into labour might be like, I found myself in a situation quite removed from my dreams of a straightforward, ‘natural’ birth.

At about 8am we headed down to the birthing suite. We met our midwife, had the basic induction procedure explained to us, and then sat around for about three hours while every available staff member attended to some sort of emergency. This did nothing for my nerves.

When our midwife re-appeared, we showed her our hastily written birth plan. It said lots of lovely things like ‘warm bath or shower’, ‘going for a walk’, ‘different positions’, ‘heat packs’ and ‘don’t offer me drugs’. The midwife read the plan before crushing all of my hopes by pointing out that, since I was being induced, I would be hooked up to a drip and a foetal monitor the entire time, which would restrict my movement. In fact, I had a choice between sitting on the bed or sitting on a chair, and that was it.


She then went about preparing me for the induction, which included inserting a cannula into my hand, hooking me up to a drip, giving me antibiotics (for GBS), taking a blood sample (I can’t remember why), and then giving me fluids via the drip when I nearly fainted (great start to a labour!) When everything was finally prepared, a doctor came in and broke my waters (quite painful when it’s done manually), at about 11am. The Syntocinon drip was then started. The normal procedure is to start with a low dose of Syntocinon, and gradually increase the dose every half-hour until labour is established, when it will be kept at a constant flow until the baby is born.

Labour was very, very dull for a while! Tom and I sat around watching boring day-time TV. I was pretty uncomfortable straight away – not from any labour pains, yet, but mostly from the pain of having had my waters broken. Plus, I now had a giant baby head resting right up against my cervix without any cushioning around it, so sitting was rather difficult already. It wasn’t long before I started to get period-like cramps, which is what we were hoping for (induction doesn’t work for everyone), and these gradually became quite regular and persistent. I was told, by the midwife, that the ‘magic’ crossover point from pre-labour into labour would be when I was having three, sustained, contractions within a ten-minute period (which they would determine by reading the printout from the foetal monitor, and not by asking me. Surprise, surprise). It seemed to take a bloody long time, and quite a lot of pain, before I was even in proper ‘labour’, which wasn’t until about 1pm.

My original plan was to manage the pain on my own for as long as possible. Heat packs on my back helped for a little while (well, they took the edge off), but soon became quite useless and mostly annoying. Actually, I was quite surprised by how well I was coping – I found myself getting into a rhythm of just ‘breathing’ through the contraction. I would have loved to have rocked and walked around – I think this would have helped a great deal. Or, better yet, had a shower. But, I was stuck in the stupid chair, with tight straps constricting my distended belly. My only relief was when I was allowed up for toilet breaks, which were frequent.

At some point we got a new midwife (when the shift changed), and I remember her name was Elizabeth. I don’t remember how soon it was after her arrival that things got bad. Really bad. All of a sudden, I found myself hunching over and making this guttural, heaving noise and pushing with each contraction, and I had absolutely no control over it. I remember several people telling me I would have to stop doing it (there seemed to be extra people in the room now), but I was helpless. At the same time, the ‘people’ were expressing dissatisfaction with the trace of my baby’s heart rate – there wasn’t enough variation between contractions, which could indicate that he was becoming distressed. Solution? They made me lie on my back and stay perfectly still so they could make sure it really was his heart rate acting up and not my stupid, labouring self knocking the probe out of place while having a hideously powerful (bend-me-in-half) contraction.

Well, on my back, I quickly became quite convinced that this pain was going to kill me (he was posterior, but it would have hurt more on my back, anyway – this is absolutely the worst way to try to give birth!) There was no staying still. I was still being bent double, and now I was desperately repeating Epidural! Epidural! Before calling for the anaesthsetist, they did a quick internal exam and found that I was now 5cm dilated (from a starting point of 3cm). It was progress, but I still had another five to go, and there was no way I was going to survive this torture, on my back, for that long. EPIDURAL!

The anaesthetist soon arrived, explained the procedure and the inherent risks (ie. you could get an infection and die, or I could sever your spinal cord and you may never walk again, or the thing might have no affect whatsoever). Tom and I were given a few minutes to discuss, but as far as I could see, there was no choice to make – a small chance of death or permanent disability versus certain death from the intensity of this pain. So, epidural it was. While the anaesthetist was setting up his equipment, he explained to me again that I would have to stay perfectly still while he inserted the needle. Meanwhile, I still felt as though I was being ripped in half from the inside, was still bellowing and still finding it impossible not to writhe with pain – how on earth is this going to work? I wondered. He won’t be able to do it and then I’ll just die. Miraculously, just as the anaesthetist finally was ready to give me the epidural, I experienced about a five-minute lull between contractions (transition period? I’m convinced it was), and I felt better almost instantly.

The pain-induced fog was lifted. I could think straight again. I wasn’t going to die, after all. Amazing! But, what do you know, another progress report revealed that I was now 10cm, and it was time to push!

It turns out that one of the new ‘people’ who had bustled into the room during all this was the attending obstetric registrar, (let’s call her Dr X). I didn’t like her at all – she was pushy, arrogant, and didn’t even have the decency to talk to me directly, instead preferring to issue her orders to Elizabeth. When it was declared ‘time to push’, she told Elizabeth that I had one hour to push the baby out, or she would come in and pull him out with the Ventouse vaccuum. I feel this was unnecessary: the baby’s heart rate seemed to return to a more ‘normal’ pattern after the epidural, because I stopped moving around and interfering with the equipment. How I wish I hadn’t been so scared that I simply went along with Dr X’s orders. Really, there was no reason for there to be such a rush. I think it was simply her wish that my baby be born as quickly as possible, for whatever reason (because she wanted to go home? because she didn’t know how to ‘let things be?’ because she was bored?) However, nobody tells pregnant women that they actually have a choice in these matters, and that they don’t have to relinquish control of their bodies to the ‘experts’. It has taken me three births to learn this.

After Dr X left the room, I started the tricky business of trying to ‘push’ a baby out while under a full epidural. I was almost flat on my back again, and, although I could tell when it was time to push, I had no idea how hard I was pushing. Not very hard, I think! I was actually really worried about pushing so hard that I would tear, get a haemorrhoid, or push a poo out instead. Because, that’s the downside to having an epidural – these things mattered again when I was fully present in the moment, whereas minutes earlier, the fact that I was naked in front of fifteen million strangers had barely registered on my radar.

So, anyway, one hour was quite obviously not enough time to push the baby out (not without muscles or even gravity to help me). In swept Dr X again, along with two more midwives and a team of paediatricians, and finally ‘extracted’ Tiernan from my body, at 7:31pm. I was given a quick look before the paeds took him and checked him over. He was declared ‘all good’, and handed back to me fairly quickly, though. And what a sweetheart! Apparently the maternal rush of love doesn’t happen for everyone immediately, but it happened for me. I instantly fell in love with him and knew that I would do anything  to protect this tiny, precious being.

Tiernan. 2900g (6 lb 6 oz) and 51cm.

He had a perfect little face, with a tiny nose, wrinkled up ears and that long, newborn head, with copper-coloured, wavy hair! He didn’t cry much, just looked around and took it all in. I remember the way he kept sticking his little tongue out, as though wondering what this strange, dry air was and where had his lovely, warm bath gone?

My preoccupation with my new baby boy didn’t quite distract me enough from what was going on ‘down there’, though. My friend Dr X, having congratulated herself on a job well done with the vacuum (“Did you see how well I did that? Got it first go!), was now busy giving me stitches for a grade 1 tear (basically a graze, usually better left alone). Her reasoning was that I wouldn’t feel the stitches go in (epidural), so why not? About a week’s worth of pain is why not – I have since learnt that stitches hurt way more than a tiny tear. Thanks, Dr X, I’m glad I could be of service to you, while you practiced your vacuuming and stitching. Now maybe you should go and learn some people skills.

In the weeks and months after Tiernan’s birth, I was so busy, so exhausted and so in love with him that I really didn’t give much thought to my birth experience. But eventually the realisation caught up with me that I was pretty disappointed with the whole thing. I was a bit annoyed with myself for succumbing to the epidural (but seriously, the pain!), because I guess that is what lead to me not being able to ‘push’ Tiernan out myself. With the obstetrician’s complete self-absorption added to this, I ended up feeling that I hadn’t really had much of a role to play in my son’s birth at all. However, I also realised that there were elements involved that were simply out of my control, and I was eventually able to let the grief go. I learnt some valuable lessons from my experience, and I took them with me to my subsequent births.

The best, and most important, part is that I got to meet my beautiful boy and take him home with me, and that is all any mother really wants.

9 Responses to "Tiernan’s birth (Part 2 – the actual birth)"

Gosh, I get so angry when I read birth stories like this! I’m sorry you were put in that position (quite literally!) My first baby was induced and it was mostly a good experience but it still led me to seek a different way of doing things for number two.

Thanks for your comment, Madeline. I have heard of women whose inductions weren’t too bad, so that’s nice to hear! I think some of it may come down to the experiences and attitudes of the doctors and midwives who are assisting with the birth. What do you think?

I love reading birth stories and this was so fascinating Anna. I really admire your ability to look back and it in such detail and still be at peace with it all. I’ve often wanted to record my birth stories too, but due to the welcome use of pethadine for both, I don’t have a vivid recollection of the finer details. I certainly remember the births, but several hours seem to have melted into one another!

Actually, it’s funny you say that, because Tom’s memory of events is slightly different to mine. And I don’t know who is right, because he has a pretty bad memory sometimes, but then, I was pretty out of it for a while, too! Anyway, this is the version that has imprinted on my mind, and I think it’s pretty accurate – it was happening to me after all.
How did you find the pethadine? My mum had it with me, and she said it felt like being drunk (which she doesn’t like), so she hated the whole experience and, like you, can’t remember much of what went on. But I’ve heard it’s different for different people.
In my ‘birth plan’ I had ranked gas first, then pethadine and then epidural as a last resort, mostly because I was worried about the risk of complications from an epidural. However, I skipped both gas and pethadine without hesitation when I realised I was beyond my endurance – I remember just wanting to end it, I didn’t want to feel a thing anymore, so epidural it was!

Oh definitely so much depends on the midwives/doctors. I had my first in Scotland where midwife care is the default unless you are high risk. So I had midwives managing my induction and they were all (we went through a few shift changes) lovely, read my birth plan and apologised lots that things weren’t happening how I had hoped. The on call doc only came in a couple if times to check on things and was eventually sent away by the midwife when she was sure I was going to deliver vaginally.

I had gas & air, two shots of pethadine and the epidural. The pethadine didn’t do much for the pain but did relax me.

Sorry for the novel!

I did wonder if you were in the UK, they seem to have a much more relaxed approach to inductions over there (not from experience, but from what I’ve read). Although, it still sounds like it was a pretty painful experience for you, which isn’t surprising! Well done, you 🙂

Well done you for getting through it, I mean!

Anna, always lovely to read your posts and I agree with Nicole I do love reading about births. I think because I also felt quite out of it with pain and just the way labours are I guess. I also feel sad you had a such a bad experience with midwives/doctors. Was it Napean Public? Raleigh was born there, but thankfully I had the best experience. I was told I was going to have to have a c-section, and when I said I was disappointed they said they would try for the next hour as much as they could for me not to have that. And I didn’t. Yay them. I am actually sad if I have another they most likely won’t be born there. (But no so much if Molly and Neave were similar to Tiernan – looking forward to hearing their stories too).

Thanks Eliza,
Yes, Tiernan was born at Nepean public, so was Neave. Molly was born at Westmead (public). Neave’s birth was the best of all, partly due to my experience and ability to (finally) tell them what I wanted, and mostly due to our wonderful midwife! Will get around to writing Molly and Neave’s stories soon.
I’m glad to hear you got what you wanted in the end, and that the people attending your birth listened to you. I think it comes down to the midwives/doctor’s attitudes in the end. The way we ‘do’ childbirth here means that we don’t get to build up a relationship with the people who are going to be most important to us as our children enter this world – crazy stuff! There’s (usually) nine months in which this could happen, but we follow this silly model instead. Probably something to do with costs, I don’t know… I’ll get off my high horse now!
Thanks for reading 🙂

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