I’ve had three boys in three years and their births’ were all quite different. With my first (Micah), I didn’t really think about the birth and figured, ‘every mother has done it, how hard can it be?’ It never occurred to me that I would end up having a c section, not once.
I had a hard pregnancy with a lot of sickness and when I finally went into labour one evening at dinner time, I assumed it was just regular pregnancy-related back pain I was experiencing. Everyone I had spoken to told me contractions would be felt mainly in my stomach and sides, not exclusively in my back. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my baby (who had been perfectly positioned the entire pregnancy), had decided to take a posterior position for his big debut.
I went to sleep that night and woke up around 4:00 am with intense cramps, but I still didn’t think it was labour (crazy). I let my husband go to work (which mind you, is an hours drive away) and carried on with my morning, all whilst having contractions I mistook for back pain. All of this was happening on my due date so you would have thought I might have suspected something! At 8:00 am it finally clicked that I was in labour and I phoned hubs to tell him to come home so we could go to the hospital.
At this point the pain had really amped up. My back was in agony so I asked for an epidural. At about 12:00 pm my OB broke my waters to speed things up a bit (for anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of enduring this procedure; imagine Little Bo Peep and her staff/hook). It then became a bit of a waiting game but I found it to be quite an enjoyable experience once the epidural was in. It allowed everything to become relaxed and I could just focus on labour moving forwards without the pain or stress. At 5:00 pm I started to develop an adverse reaction to the epidural and was very nauseous and shaking uncontrollably.
My OB continued to monitor me because at this point I was fully dilated and attempting to push my baby out… He however, had other ideas. His heart rate started to sky rocket upwards. You often hear of babies heart rates dropping suddenly, but you don’t hear many stories of it going the other way. My doctor started to look a little concerned when my baby continued to remain tachycardic so he examined me once more and said abruptly that we needed to prepare for a c-section and we needed to move fast. This part of my story is all a blur: I only really remember the doctor saying we would go into theatre for a ‘trial cesarean’ where he would try get my baby out without a c-section, but to be prepared for one if he couldn’t.
I was quite delirious, the epidural was still having a horrendous effect on me and I was vomiting and extremely cold. The medical team wheeled me into theatre where my doctor performed one more examination and confirmed that, “no, he’s not coming out, we need to proceed with the c-section”. Everything moved so, so fast. I remember the energy in the room shifted; my doctor who is usually very relaxed and full of banter, was suddenly very serious and business-like.
My baby was out.
But he was very purple and not breathing, so they whisked him away to the table and I remember a whole lot of people rush over to him. There was lots of talking and lots of fast paced movements. I finally heard him cry and it was honestly the best sound I have ever heard in my life: I knew my baby would be okay. They brought him over to me but I only caught the briefest of glimpses before he stopped breathing again and was rushed up to NICU.
I had gone into a bit of shock after everything that had happened. I had lost a lot of blood, the drugs were seriously impacting me and now my baby was in trouble. I was wheeled from theatre into recovery where nurses covered me in heat blankets to try and ease my uncontrollable shivering. This is when the midwives in recovery started to ‘milk me’.
This process was one of the worst parts of my whole labour and delivery and if I had my time again, I would never have let them do it: it simply wasn’t necessary. I was in recovery for about three hour and not a single person came down to tell me if my baby was okay. At one point, a nurse came into my room and she looked quite upset. I immediately asked her if my baby had died but the poor girl had just started her shift and had no idea.
My husband was in NICU with our son and my doctor had been called into another delivery. Throughout all of this, someone handed me a phone and I called my mum because it was assumed that my baby hadn’t survived.
A few hours passed when a nurse brought me down a photo of him to try and help the lactation process. It is one of my favourite photos I have of him because it reassured me that my son was alive, but it is a sickening fact that it took so long for a mother to be reassured of her sons’ survival. Something needs to change in the hospital system… I shouldn’t have had to grieve my alive son for hours on end, alone in a recovery room, after enduring major emergency surgery: no woman should be subjected to that.
I wasn’t allowed up to NICU until I had feeling back in my upper body. I wasn’t told this outright but caught onto it pretty quickly, so I lied and said I had feeling, even though I was still completely numb. A nurse wheeled me upstairs and I got the first proper look at my son. He was in an incubator on a breathing tube. My husband and I stayed with him for as long as we were allowed and from there, we were allowed in and out periodically.
I got my first hold of Micah a few hours after that and later in the morning he came off the oxygen and I was allowed to attempt nursing him for the first time. We stayed in hospital for three nights, then were transferred to birth care for another three nights, before finally bringing our little man home.
At my postnatal appointment with my OB, we discussed the birth at length. He knew I wanted to have more babies so we discussed what went wrong with Micah’s birth and what I could expect next time around. They ended up sending my placenta off for review but there were no indications of any damage. There was also no known reason for the tachycardia, but my doctor told me that had they been 10 minutes slower, Micah wouldn’t be here today. It was also very lucky I already had the epidural line in, as it saved a significant chunk of time in theatre and if I hadn’t of had it in already, the only option would have been general anaesthetic.
With the birth of second son (Beauden) 18 months later, I opted for an elective c-section. I had a lot of emotional trauma after my birth with Micah and honestly couldn’t fathom going through something similar again. My birth with Beauden was beautiful and very healing. All I wanted was to be with my baby after he was born, and I got this.
For my third time around on the table (the birth of my third son, Charlie), I knew what I wanted. As a veteran c-section mum, I wanted as close to a regular birth as possible. Firstly, I asked for the drapes to be down during the surgery. This was the most empowering thing I ever did. To be honest, I don’t know why they have the drapes up in the first place: every mum should be able to witness the birth of their child whether it be in a pool, on a table or on the floor. It is the most beautiful moment and I had tears streaming down my face watching him be born.
Secondly, I asked for delayed cord clamping. I wanted him to receive all that extra goodness. My surgeon was so progressive and just let little baby Charlie rest on my tummy for a few minutes after the procedure. The whole theatre was silent as we just absorbed the moment. Cesarean’s definitely do not have to be all rush, rush, rush: you are entitled to sit in the moment too.
Thirdly, I asked (if possible), for skin to skin contact directly after he was born: none of the weighing, vitamin K business. I just wanted them to get the baby straight on my chest. He lay there for 10 blissful minutes while I was getting stitched up. He has been my easiest baby to feed so far and I have to wonder if all that oxytocin from the initial skin to skin helped the process along.
I know this type of c-section birth isn’t always possible for every mum. It certainly wasn’t with my first and I didn’t feel comfortable enough to request these things with my second, but I want women to know that it is possible and you have rights in the theatre room too. It’s important to stand up and advocate for yourself because a cesarean doesn’t have to be a cold, clinical procedure, it can be one of the most beautiful experiences of your life.