This birth story contains themes that might be upsetting to some women. I consider it a positive birth story, because I have a healthy baby boy, but the entire experience from start to finish was negative for me. If you think you’ll find this too upsetting or a trigger for trauma, please don’t continue. This isn’t intended to scare pregnant women, just to inform and to share my honest experience and feelings.
On April 4th 2017 I went in to the hospital for my 39w high-risk check. This involved an ultrasound, blood pressure, urine and full blood panel (due to my autoimmune, which is called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura and I’ve written about exactly what this is and how it affects pregnant women and newborns as well). At this point I was having these tests every two weeks so it was all rather routine to me. I’d also been in and out of the hospital over the few weeks previous.
My blood pressure was high – and had been consistently rising with a bout of hospitalization a week before and medication due to it, but there was now protein in my urine (although not tons, enough to be concerning) and my platelets were down for the first time in the pregnancy, which meant higher risks with delivery.
Unfortunately, the doctor was very rude. He was a male OB that I had met once before and instantly disliked him. When he found out I had a mental health condition, he talked to my husband, directing questions to him instead of me! On a previous visit my husband had snapped at him “You’re asking her so ASK HER” and talking back to a doctor takes a lot for my husband, he is usually extremely hard to annoy but we both felt very disrespected. So my last visit being with this OB was some serious bad luck – all the other OB’s I’d seen had been very understanding but this one had the worst bedside manner I’ve ever experienced, which really isn’t what you want when dealing with a heavily pregnant woman who is receiving bad news.
He told me I would be being induced today. He didn’t ask. He didn’t explain about pre eclampysia at all. He said “Your blood pressure is too high, we’re going to induce you.” Now having read the NICE guidelines after the birth whilst researching what happened to me as part of coming to terms with what ended up being a very traumatic experience, I’ve seen that he should have informed us of the risks of induction and the full reasons as to why he was recommending it. He didn’t. I asked what exactly happened in an induction and he explained about the drugs and the pessary so I knew what would be happening. I asked why, and he kept repeating that my blood pressure was too high and they were worried about the baby.
What he did not do was inform me that I had a choice. An actual choice. He did not tell me the risk rates for induction, and how it can be more painful. He did not tell me the chances of an induction leading to a caesarean section, giving me chance to ask questions about that. When I talk to other women about their birth plan and about the potential risks and complications, I always tell them now that they do have a choice. Having that choice taken away from us takes the control out of our hands, which massively increases the potential for mental health problems. Ultimately we should always feel like this is our body and we understand what is happening to it and why.
By the time I was on the ward I was in full panic mode and said I wanted to go home. I refused the induction at first, because quite frankly he was cold, rude and had not explained it adequately to me. It took a very nice midwife an hour of talking to me to get me to agree – she explained everything and once she had explained it, and told me openly and honestly that if I wanted to go home, I could, then I made the decision to go ahead with it as I then agreed it was in the best interest of myself and the baby.
Once we were under way after a cervical check, including a sweep (which honestly was about as uncomfortable as a smear test) I started getting contractions immediately. I apparently responded well to the pessary and only needed one dose before they said I was 2cm dilated and could have my waters broken manually. Whilst I was waiting for that, my waters broke by themselves and the real fun started! I actually stood up to go to the loo and my waters broke whilst I was waddling to the bathroom, leaving an awkward flood on the floor whilst the other women on the induction ward watched with interest. There was a little cheer and my husband seemed pretty excited, because it meant now we were really on our way.
Unfortunately the labour ward was full at the time, and since I already had a bed and cubicle on the induction ward and was still only 2-3cm dilated, they decided to let me labour down there for a while. It took 12 hours for a room to free up; by which time I had not dilated any further and the contractions had actually subsided. Damn!
At 10am in the morning (this is now day 3 technically from when I was admitted) I was hooked up to the hormonal drip and I asked for an epidural. My midwife told me that she laboured until 8cm on the hormonal drip and then asked for an epidural herself. She was very nice, funny and genuine and really put me at my ease – but told me that pretty much everyone who has an artificial induction with the drip asks for an epidural and it would be easier to get it set up from the start. To complicate the problem for me, my platelets were now at 70. 70 is the lowest they can go for an epidural – any lower and the option was removed. I went for it as the option wouldn’t be available to me later so it was now or never. No one wants to be in pain and I’m not ashamed of that. I was already so tired.
We had another problem though! The epidural gets placed and it’s declared perfect – but it’s not working. We try for two hours, my toes are barely numb, which isn’t particularly helpful. During those two hours they are ramping up the drip and the contractions are getting REAL, but the baby’s heartbeat on the monitor keeps dipping. They’re not happy, I’m not happy and this is not a glorious, empowering experience. In fact, I’m started to get really scared. I’m strapped down to a table (ITP means that the baby couldn’t have monitors on his head so we had to use the manual straps), I’m in pain, I’m exhausted and there are at least 6-8 people in and out of the room. Finally they get me sorted with some painkillers – Fentanyl – on an IV. I have a glorious button I can push and it makes the pain go away for about 1 minute. So I started getting in the rhythm of pushing it at the start of a contraction and I feel high for a moment and no pain. Perfect. This is the labour for me! My most recent blood results came back though (I’m getting them done every 2 hours at this point) and my platelets have dropped again. I’m now at 60. Any lower and a spinal won’t be possible, only a general anaesthetic. They’re too low to attempt a forceps delivery if there are any complications that require it. My temperature is up and they’ve muttered something about the “sepsis pathway”. It’s been almost 24 hours by now since my waters broke. I’m on IV antibiotics and IV drugs for my blood pressure which is through the roof.
Emergency Caesarean Section
And then things went downhill, fast. My husband didn’t want to tell me but whilst I was lying there staring into space on my little drug-high, the baby’s heart monitor dropped to near zero on a contraction. A bunch of people rushed in and were talking, but I was a bit out of it so I wasn’t feeling particularly alarmed. Then they said the words I didn’t want to hear. “The baby isn’t coping, we are going to need to do an emergency c-section.” Oh. I think I was too out of it from the drugs to feel much fear at this point. In literally minutes, I had signed the consent forms and was in the operating theatre. It happened so fast and I want to thank the entire team which must have been 10+ people at this point who monitored me and got me to where I needed to be at the speed of light.
When the spinal was placed I just started shaking like a leaf. They told me it was normal and most people shake but I was shaking so much they almost couldn’t get the spinal in and I was one more attempt away from a general anaesthetic, but they got there and bliss – I was completely numb from the neck down. Absolutely and completely, it was like my body didn’t even exist any more, which after days of contractions and discomfort was perfectly fine with me. A sheet went up and I was told they’d started but it’s almost unreal how you are awake and aware that things are happening to you but have absolutely no sensation. I was told I might feel some pulling but nope, nothing. No tugging, no pulling, no tingling or anything at all.
I could see all the monitors next to me and they were going crazy. My blood pressure was higher than I knew blood pressure could even go and they started talking about hypertensive crisis. My top number hits 200, my bottom is 120 and rising. They’re pumping syringe after syringe into me and I have 5 IVs in my arms at this point. I’m shaking too much and they strap my arms down to boards so I don’t dislodge the IV. I don’t remember feeling fear for myself in the moment to be honest. There was too much happening. There were at least a ten people in the room, and I felt confident that I was in the right place and they were doing what they can. I found myself in this little bubble of just trying to focus on my husbands voice, control my breathing and let go of my anxiety as best I could. I was here now, there was nothing I could do, I was completely out of control and all I could do was remember to keep breathing. That was my only job. One breath after another.
It took 20 minutes to free my son – the cord was wrapped around his neck and they pulled him out as quickly as they could. I didn’t get to see him as he was rushed to a table behind me, where my husband says at least four doctors worked on him. It was the longest minute of my life, waiting for him to cry – but he finally did. My husband asked if I’d be okay and I said yes, so he left for a few minutes to go and look at our son. He didn’t get to cut the cord as they were doing that – and he also needed blood tests done from the cord to see if his platelets had been destroyed by my autoimmune, as he might have needed a blood transfusion if so. He was declared in perfect health though, with healthy platelets as well.
About 5-10 minutes later my husband came back with our son in his arms. 8lbs 2oz of perfect. I remember looking at him and thinking wow, that’s a human being. That’s a real, living human being and that’s my son.
It took another 45 minutes to finally stitch me up and I lost a lot of blood, but we got there in the end. My recovery was long and traumatic, both because of my mental health problems and because I contracted sepsis. Luckily I had been started on antibiotics early, but I would spend another 10 days in hospital very ill. Baby William also caught an infection, he needed an IV for 7 days which he pulled out 3 times, and had a lumbar puncture for meningitis because his numbers were so high, but lucky he fought off his infection and was ready to go home even before I was.
My birth experience was so traumatic that I was diagnosed with post natal PTSD, along with post natal depression and anxiety and we made the decision that due to the trauma, along with my general health and my autoimmune, we would only be having one child. But above all else, William is a health, big, beautiful child. I love him more than I ever thought I’d be capable of. No matter what I went through and no matter what we have to face in the days to come, I’m so grateful to have him and my husband by my side.
I’d like to thank all of the doctors, midwives, nurses and staff at the University Hospital Wales for literally saving our lives!
Originally written August 2017. Updated October 2018.