I thought it time that I start to share my emergency c-section story. I have often thought about discussing my birth stories and I really don’t know why I haven’t shared them sooner. I think the real reason I have been apprehensive to share my birth stories is fear of not coming across the right way or for what others may think in relation to their own story. It wouldn’t be honest of me to say that my birth was totally positive and pain free. And so I’m sharing a very factual, quite plain account of my first birthing experience as it wasn’t the most traumatic birth I have read about. It was probably a very text book emergency caesarean, but I think it’s good for me to share the story of an average emergency c-section story as sometimes we only hear about the positive ones or the really traumatic ones. I have had 4 c-sections, all very different, and I have different aspects that I’m keen to touch on and share in future posts. In the same way I have heard others say that no natural birth is the same. my c-sections have all been very different in terms of hospital care, recovery and birthing experience, so I’m starting this birth story series with my first birth, at the start of my multiple c-section journey.
Like some expectant mothers, I had no clue really what to expect from birth. I was the first of my friends to fall pregnant so I hadn’t had the real life birth chats and experience from friends to take on board. Of course I had tales from older family members but these weren’t the most helpful and obstetrics has moved on so much since then. We did attend the NHS pre- natal class which was rather natural birthing focused and quite textbook, so we didn’t have enough of an insight to what we were about to experience. The classes focused on natural birth, natural birthing techniques and caring for the baby. All very helpful topics in their own right but but not enough information was given on the reality of a long labour, the turns your birth plan can take and unfortunatley not enough information on assisted deliveries.
We were made aware in our pregnancy that we were having a reasonable sized baby, so we had consultant led care. Like any new parents you just tend to listen to the experts and base everything around their advice. From the start I kind of knew, call it my intuition that I would quite likely end up with a c-section as I have a narrow pelvic area. Just before my due date I experienced some uncomfortable tightenings which after a few hours disappeared. I had shrugged it off as strong Braxton hicks or a dodgy meal the previous night! We discovered at our consultant’s appointment on my due date that I was actually already 3cm dilated and so that explained the early labour contractions previously. The consultant (unfortunately for me, had rather large hands!) conducted a sweep. The sweep was probably the most painful experience of the whole birthing journey and an image that myself and husband can never erase from our minds and one thing that I wish I hadn’t gone through with, as actually nothing happened for several days anyway. Hindsight is such a beautiful thing! Seven days after my due date the same pains appeared and so I quickly realised we were in labour again and so left for the hospital. We were quite disappointed to find out I was still only the 3cm dilated and thus started out several hours of waiting, like most first time parents. The hospital was quiet at this point so they allowed us to stay in, this was fortunate because I started to feel quite unwell. With flu like symptoms they put it down to an infection related to being dilated for so long. After 18 hours of labour and only progressing to 6cm an epidural was given to give me a break and then after persistent reminding that we were not to have a very long labour due to the size of our son an emergency section was meant to be. I like many other Mums to be don’t realise that our own intuitions are often so right for our body and our babies. Something I wish I could go back and remind myself more of.
I cannot write this next bit without being honest about blood, pain, shock and a lot of joy! I’m sure it’s not a shock for anyone reading this that most birth stories do consist of those 4 things! So going from a quiet room just laid waiting, we then experienced a real rush and panic to get us rushed through to a small theatre room on the maternity ward, filled with a ton of medical staff. Everything just moved really fast at this point and in a real blur, mainly due to exhaustion and flu like symptoms. I had got to the point where I was happy to entrust myself and my baby’s life into the hands of the surgeon and her team. With my tired state, I could still recall the feeling of the surgeon rummaging around and then quite a lot of uncomfortable (not painful) yanking of our son who was stuck, partway in the birthing canal. I was feeling very cold and nauseous and latterly I realised that this was due to being in shock. The anaesthetist, as with all my births, being utterly professional and caring throughout the operation. He gave me anti-sickness top ups, blankets and reassurance through out labour. Then came the relief that I knew this perfect pink and angry 10lb 3oz newborn was in the room. It was that euphoric life changing, huge relief that I got to see my long awaited baby. After a few kisses, photos and a quick baby checkover both him and my husband were taken out the theatre. They had discreetly asked my husband to leave the room as I was losing blood fast and I had no idea that he had left due to my medical state. So at the time I felt unaware of the sense of real urgency and the medical team competently stitched me up quickly. I was overwhemingly happy that the operation had come to an end and that I could move onto recovery and holding my newborn. It was only afterwards that she of the realisations of the speed of surgery and the medical trauma became a bit more real.
The next few days were a mixture of that same relief/joy that we were both safe, mixed with worry about mine and my baby’s recovery. Finlay also had to have IV antibiotics in Neonatal twice a day for 3 days, of which I found difficult as I wasn’t fit enough to take him there. They never offered to wheel me to the other ward and I never thought to make noise to be taken with him. So he was always taken by a nurse or my husband. I was also recovering from feeling quite franky run over and filled to the brim with hormones and emotions. There is of course no pretty way to jazz up the recovery from an emergency c-section. There are ways to aid your comfort post section, but as it was an emergency I hadn’t looked into ways to do so. I worried a lot about the state of my scar and the bleeding from my vagina. I think all expectant mothers need to be prepared for the fact you bleed a lot (more blood than you’ve ever experienced from a heavy period) from your vagina after a section. This was something that no one had ever told me, to expect when you’ve not had a natural birth. Getting to grips with pain management isn’t easy when you’re just going by the advice of the medical staff. Only with experience of multiple c-section recovery did I know what to request and to administer. Then of course you still have feelings of shock from the birth mixed in with an urgent sense from the medical staff to get on with it. The ward staff didn’t really consider my recovery as much as they could have, instead they focused on getting to grips straight away with our newborn. I wish I had got the advice from others that a more rested and recovered Mummy makes for a happier cared for, newborn. One part that sticks out in my mind was that I wasn’t even fully awake or feeling well, when I had two nurses in recovery strongly encouraging me to syringe some colostrum from my breasts to feed my sleepy newborn. Something of which in hindsight didn’t need urgent rushing, he would eventually wake for a feed of breast or bottle. A birth is just as traumatic for a baby as yourself. I suppose that the urgent sense from the staff of shifting everything onto your newborn did make my emotional feelings post surgery have to be boxed away for another time rather than discuss them at the time with health care professionals and others. Again not having any friends to really discuss these feelings with, and not really knowing many who had also had a section. So the natural process was to focus on my physical recovery and caring for our baby as we brought our new addition home.
The emotions of emergency section surgery did come back to us both afterwards when thinking and planning our next baby. My husband shared with me just how difficult he found the emergency section, during the operation and towards the end when he knew the real reason why he left the room and had the horrible wait for news that I was ok. Although I was so emotionally and physically exhausted I knew at the time that having an emergency c-section was what I needed for us both to get to the fourth trimester healthily and safely. Yes everything was out of my control, but the medical staff were also calmly in control of the situation. I think maybe I found it ok to deal with having to have one as I had always felt that this could be the way my labour progressed. Maybe this intuition also helped me not feel negatively towards not having a natural birth. Yes have always been envious of my friends’ birth recoveries but never had a sense of my body failing me, as to me I felt a true sense of achievement for dealing with a tough operation. So for me I never felt that I had failed in that way. I did fortunately recover pretty well considering the trauma due to the size of Finlay. The relief and joy that we were both safe after a long pregnancy also factored into my minimal post traumatic stress worries. I know that this is not always the case for some and I do feel that the offering of counselling/support should be more available for women after all births to ensure we can all cope with different elements of physical and emotional recovery. For me, my fears have always been heightened on each subsequent baby planning and pregnancy. It has always taken a while for me to convince myself into becoming pregnant and having the confidence in my body and mind again to cope with a further c-section. Each pregnancy, I have had different worries, from the spinal to the scar health and carrying large babies safely again. I really feel that you don’t get the chance to work through the birth enough to then quantify it for subsequent births. That said I have had 3 further sections, so my emergency clearly didn’t stop us and I have had easier planned c-section operations following this one. I will be covering these stories over the coming weeks, and I would love to hear about your birthing stories.
Author – Charlotte Stein