“Can I have your medicare card please?”
I think if looks could kill, that poor lady at the front desk of the hospital would have been lying on the floor. Oh sure! I’m in labour here, but let me just go through my bags and find my wallet!
When we FINALLY made it up to the birthing unit, I was greeted by a team of friendly midwives. It was quiet on the ward and I remember having the fleeting thought that it was so nice to be here in labour, rather than turning up to work a night shift.
I was taken to one of the birthing rooms and incredibly, I immediately felt safe. I didn’t think I would be able to feel safe having my baby in an unfamiliar hospital, surrounded by unfamiliar staff, but I did. The lights in the room were low, there was a mat and bean-bag set up for me in the corner, and before too long, my wonderful midwife Sheryl walked in. Even though we weren’t having baby at home, Sheryl was still going to be supporting me and seeing her face come through the door just put me at ease. I knew that no matter what happened, she was going to look after me.
One of the hospital midwives Sally also came and introduced herself to me. She would be looking after me as well, and I immediately felt safe with her too.
She said the obstetrician, Dr Bisits, had requested that she examine me and then hook me up to the wireless CTG machine so that we could monitor baby throughout my labour.
This was something that had already been discussed and agreed upon prior to my labour, and I was absolutely OK with it. At the end of the day, I wanted baby to be safe and I knew that being breech, continuous monitoring was recommended.
There were other things that we had discussed and agreed upon for my labour as well. Aside from the continuous monitoring they wanted adequate progress - if labour stalled, it would be recommended I go for a caesarean. It was also recommended that I remain mobile and avoid an epidural, as this would make it easier for me to push baby out. Having planned a homebirth originally, an epidural was never something I wanted anyway, so that seemed like an easy condition.
Really, it was just the progress part I was worried about. I hoped that my body would play by the hospital’s rules.
Before Sally examined me, I told her that I was 5cm dilated, presenting part at spines and my membranes had ruptured in the elevator. She smiled at me. I don’t think she believed me, so it was pretty funny when she exclaimed: “oh! You’re right! You are 5cm at spines.”
A quick ultrasound followed to check baby’s position (yep, still breech!) and then the monitor was put on and I was encouraged to just… keep going and they would re-examine me in 4 hours. So that’s what I did. That’s the best part of labour. You have nothing else to do, no where else to go. You just have to focus on the job at hand.
The next 4 hours are a blur to me now. They were a blur to me in the days that followed my birth too. My mind was just in a completely different place, a different world altogether. I do remember that I was coping well with the pain (yep, not going to lie - it hurt!) but that I knew it was only going to get more intense.
I alternated between lying on my side on the mat, getting up onto my hands and knees and wandering back between the bed and the bathroom. Apparently I kept my sense of humour throughout, even joking at one stage that: “this is still better than going to the gym… it hurts less than burpees!”
My husband was my rock. He was right there with me for every single contraction, holding me, supporting me. The photos I have of him with me during this time are something I will treasure forever.
As my labour continued, my contractions continued to increase in intensity, but still remained irregular.
It was about 3 hours since I had come into the hospital when Sheryl asked me if I wanted her to fill up the blow up pool for me. At that moment, the idea of a bath was heavenly, and I remember watching it slowly fill up thinking: “bloody hell, this is taking a really long time”. Funnily enough, that was information that I wish I had retained for my second birth, but I digress - that’s another story for another time!
Finally the bath was filled and I jumped in. It was bliss. Being weightless, warm… It was just what I needed.
But unfortunately, labouring in the bath just wasn’t meant to be. I desperately wanted to be on my hands and knees, but every time I got into that position, the monitor lost contact. Sally and Dr Bisits (who had snuck in at some point) both told me to try sitting back instead. I tried it. I tried as long as I could, but it just didn’t feel right. My body wanted me on my hands and knees. Being on my back, even surrounded by all that water, was just excruciating.
So it was out of the tub for me. Bummer.
Dr Bisits was so lovely and apologetic about it, but honestly, it was fine. I knew that everyone in that room had mine and baby’s best interests at heart and I wasn’t about to potentially jeopardise baby’s safety, just to stay in the bath. As heavenly as that water was, I knew I didn’t need it. I just needed to keep going.
Once I was back out of the bath, it was around 3.30am and we were coming up to the 4 hour mark from when I had arrived at the hospital. Sally asked if she could examine me again. The contractions were getting longer and stronger, the pain in my back intensifying and I definitely felt transitional. I guessed that I was probably going to be about 9cm dilated at this stage and that I didn’t have that much longer to go.
So I lay down on the bed (AGONY) and let Sally examine me.
I wasn’t prepared for what she told me… I was 7cm dilated. I was SO gutted and on top of that, the contractions were getting pretty bloody un-fun now.
“Am I going for a caesar?” I asked. Dr Bisits had come into the room and was looking pensive. I thought for sure it was over, that I hadn’t progressed enough. But he just shook his head.
“Let’s examine you again in 2 hours. Keep going, you’re doing well.”
But I didn’t feel like I was doing well anymore. I was only 7… 7! I felt like it was now just a countdown to going to theatre. A contraction rocked me while I was on the bed and I snapped my trusty comb in half.
“Awww no, you broke your comb!” Sally said.
That’s when Sheryl gently asked me if I would like to try the gas. I had always said I was perfectly open to using gas in labour. If I had to have this baby in the hospital, I was at least going to take advantage of that.
I eagerly accepted, but I have to admit, it was disappointing. It hardly did a thing for the pain, especially the hot, tearing pain I was feeling up through my butt and into my back with every contraction.
I would breath it as I felt the contraction building, but as soon as it peaked, all I wanted to do was scream.
Still, breathing it when I could, holding onto it and biting onto that mouth piece gave me something new to focus on. I felt like I was rapidly losing focus at this stage. I was just in this world of primal pain. It was an out-of-body experience almost and the only thing that kept me going was visualising what it would be like to hold my baby at the end of it, and to be able to declare: “I DID IT.”
It was around this point that I told everyone that I didn’t want to be a midwife anymore, and that it was cruel that we made women go through this.
Everyone laughed at me, but I wasn’t joking at this stage - I was bloody serious!
I retreated back into the bathroom and Sheryl turned all the lights off for me. It was like a cave, safe and dark and I sat on the toilet while hubby sat on a chair in front of me. Between contractions, we both slept - as crazy as that sounds. When I felt one creeping up on me I would jump to my feet and, gas between my teeth, I held onto the bar beside the toilet, swinging and squatting, groaning like a dying animal. Rhys must have wondered where the hell his wife had gone - you really do completely transform in labour. I didn’t even know why I was moving the way I was, it was just what my body wanted to do… which is pretty amazing.
I remember saying to Sheryl at this time: “is this transition?”
“You know it is honey. You’re doing amazing.”
Time kept ticking by, but I had zero concept of it. Sheryl was snoozing out in the room in one of the chairs, and my husband and I continued to snooze in between my contractions. Then, at the peak of one of my contractions, I felt pushy. I kept that to myself. Another contraction washed over me - no pushing. Hmmm.
Then another. Pushy again.
“I think I’m feeling a bit pushy” I told him.
“Should we tell someone?” He asked.
“Not yet, let’s just see what happens” I said. I didn’t want to get anyone excited at this stage, but I was also super curious. Was this the end? Was I about to have my baby? I needed to know. So, I examined myself again.
Now, keep in mind here that in my work as a midwife, I had never examined a breech before. But I seriously thought I felt a scrotum and, since we didn’t know what we were having I thought to myself: “omg, it’s a boy!”
Obviously… it was not a scrotum, who knows what it was, but actually, in that moment, knowing baby’s sex wasn’t high on my priority list. I had a feel for cervix. SHIT - I was about 8-9cm.
But I was definitely pushing now. We decided we had to tell the staff.
I let Sheryl know that I was pushing, but that I definitely wasn’t fully dilated, and she went out and told Sally and Dr Bisits. They came in and told me to just carry on... Keep going, they said, let’s just see what happens.
It was getting really hard at this stage. I was screaming. Throwing myself around from bed, to beanbag, to mat, back to bathroom. It was like I was being torn apart from the inside. I was trying so hard not to push, but it was almost impossible. I just wanted to bear down and get this baby out. My head was going to crazy places too - I kept thinking: “if only baby was head-down I could have an epidural, then they could give me syntocinon which would get that last bit of cervix out of the way… then I could have forceps and then it would all be over!”
My brain, which was supposed to be lost in labour land and keeping me focused, was now completely switched on and all I could do was obsess over how to get rid of that last stupid bit of cervix. My midwife brain was activated and I wanted it all to be over - NOW.
My husband just kept cheering me on though, he wasn’t going to let me to give up. And I knew I couldn’t give up either. There was no way I was going to just ask for a caesarean, even though I knew if I did, I would be taken straight to theatre and it would all be over. No, if I went to theatre, it wasn’t going to be by request. I had to keep going, I had to stay strong.
5.30am rolled around, the official time for my next examination. This was it. This was the moment.
I lay down, somehow, and quickly, between contractions, Sally examined me.
“You’re about 8-9cm” she informed me.
My stomach dropped. That was it then. I was going to theatre. I was going to have a caesarean.
And to be honest, if Dr Bisits had walked in at that moment and said: “let’s go for a caesarean” I probably would have agreed. I was ready to be given an out… An escape from the pain. I just didn’t want to have to ask for it.
But my escape didn’t come.
Instead, Dr Bisits walked in and said thoughtfully: “Alright. Let’s examine you again in another hour.”
ANOTHER HOUR?! I’d been given another hour. This wasn’t over yet. Was that a good thing? Or a bad thing?! I had no idea because my brain just wasn’t working anymore. Even my midwife brain had turned to mush at this stage and I was purely in a primal survival mode. I tried to visualise things, like my cervix opening like a flower… But every time a contraction hit me I just thought: “FUCK THE FLOWER” and screamed down the tube of gas, while aggressively rocking my hips as my body involuntarily pushed against my cervix. It actually felt like I was being torn in half, it was absolute agony... But I still wasn’t going to quit.
I'm not sure how I got through that next hour. I just coped in whatever way I could. It was the toughest mental game I have ever played - trying not to push, trying not to lose my mind, trying not to think that I was going to die from the pain...
But somehow I got through it...
Then, the hour was up and it was time for my final examination - the one that would determine whether we were going to theatre. That would determine whether my baby would be born in this room, or on an operating table. The one that would determine whether all those hours of pain would amount to me being able to say: “I DID IT” at the end.
I lay down again and squeezed hubby’s hand tight, hoping Sally could find the information she needed before my body was taken over again by another contraction. Sally examined me and her face fell.
“I’m so sorry” she said to me, “you still have an anterior lip of cervix.”
And just like that, I knew it was all over.
… Or was it?
To Be Continued….. To read Part 3, click HERE.
Georgina Dowden is a mother, midwife and lactation consultant (IBCLC).
In her day to day life, she looks after her two beautiful children and also supports other families on their parenting journey.
If you would like to get in touch sleep/settling support, click here:
Home visits for breastfeeding support available if you live in the Northern Rivers of NSW.