Thursday, 22 April 2010

Cesarean Awareness Month: Mathilda's Birth Story

Mathilda turned 11 months old on Monday and even though her 1st birthday is fast approaching, I still find myself regularly thinking about her birth (a planned home birth which ended in an emergency cesarean).
Seeing as it's Cesarean Awareness Month, I thought I would publish Mathilda's birth story in an attempt to explain how experiencing a cesarean can effect not only your body, but your emotional and mental health as well.

So let's start from the top...

I wanted a home birth. I needed a home birth!  I was 100% confident I could do it. I didn't fear anything, I was actually looking forward to it.  I had read and researched everything I could could get my hands on.  I had watched hundreds of videos on YouTube of women successfully giving birth at home (some even completely unassisted).  My God was Ina May Gaskin and my bible was Spiritual Midwifery.  I felt strong, womanly and primal, after all, giving birth is natural, this is what I was meant to do, right?

Mathilda's due date (9th May 2009) came and went.  Then early on the morning of Saturday 16th May 2009 I had a show which was immediately followed by mild contractions on and off all day and pretty strong at night.  I was so happy and excited!  Finally something was happening and I was convinced my daughter would be arriving before the weekend was out.

On Sunday 17th May 2009 I still getting contractions and spent most of my time in and out of the bath. Trying to sleep was almost impossible as every time I laid down, it would make the contractions feel really bad. I say bad as the pain felt like an injury pain, instead of the intense 'energy' of my uterus working hard.  It's difficult to describe, but it definitely didn't feel right when I was lying down.  I knew then it is not natural for women to labour and give birth on their back.
So I didn't sleep much at all but I was bearing up ok, even though I was beginning to feel a bit down by this point as I was already 8 days late and just really wanted to see my baby!  My husband was great, he looked after me and would hug me and rub my back every time a contraction came.

I carried on through the night and before I knew it, it was Monday 18th May 2009.  I was getting really tired by then, and my contractions were getting worse, but were very irregular.
Finally a midwife came out to see me. She examined me and I was only 1cm dilated. I couldn't believe it, I felt really shattered after that as all the pain I had been through for 2 days had only caused me to dilate by 1cm! I was beginning to feel really lonely. My poor husband was also getting exhausted and just slept all the time.
His Mum rang me to see how I was doing. She was really shocked that it was taking so long as both her births were really quick (first was 8 hours, second was 4) so when I came off the phone from speaking to her I felt even worse and I think that's when the doubt in myself started to set in.  I sat downstairs and cried and cried.

I carried on all day, in and out of the bath, walking, trying to sleep but couldn't, using the TENS machine, but getting annoyed with it! At 11pm I called the midwife back as pain was getting really bad by then. She brought some G&A, which helped a bit, but not much. I kept being sick.
At about 1am I asked if she could check me, so I had to lie down on the bed. And OH MY GOD... the pain was awful! I've never screamed so much in my life, I had totally lost it, I had been doing quite well with breathing/visualising/hubby rubbing my back etc... but lying on my back just killed me.
She took ages to find what was going on down there. I could see panic in my husband's eyes which was not good.  She eventually said I was 4cm. I couldn't believe it, I just about gave up then. I puked all over myself and the bed and said I need to go to hospital, I was so tired, just couldn't integrate the pain anymore.
So my husband drove me into the hospital which was a 20 minute drive.
I was the only woman on the ward, which was great because I had treatment straight away. I asked for an epidural (I really didn't want one before, but I just really felt like I needed a break, just to get an hours sleep, anything), I had one within 20 minutes. Oh it was lovely. At first. It only worked on my right side. So in a very concentrated area in my left hip joint I could still feel everything. So nope, still no sleep.
I dilated really quickly once in hospital. A student midwife broke my waters for me and around 6.30am I was fully dilated and felt the urge to push. The epidural had worn off on the other side too by then, so could feel everything again. My poor husband looked exhausted, so I suggested he went home for a nap but the midwives told him to stay as they thought the baby was coming and quickly.

They let me push for 3 hours. On my back, able to feel everything but unable to move my legs.  This was not how I envisioned my first birthing experience.
My baby didn't even move down an inch. I would push and push and push....nothing. By then, I was totally exhausted. They gave me something to make the contractions stronger as they seemed to be dying off. This turned the pain up to a million it seemed.  And again it was like an injury pain that felt like it was doing nothing other than just hurting me!
In the end they brought in a consultant. He said he'd do a ventouse/forceps with episiotomy delivery if I wanted. I said, 'YES!! I need to have this baby now with all the help I can get!' even though this was going against everything I had previously stood for.
So, they topped up my epidural with a spinal, and wheeled me off to theatre, without my husband as he was so traumatised by the whole thing he couldn't face being there with me.   I can understand that, if I had had the choice, I didn't want to be there by then either.

At least I was in no pain, finally. That was nice I have to admit!
The consultant tried pulling my daughter out with the ventuose plunger thing. It popped off her head twice - she was not budging. Still way up inside, not even in the birth canal, from what I gathered. So he declared I needed an emergency C-Section and got down to prepping me straight away.

I remember lying there thinking that this wasn't happening to me.  What had happened to my serene home birth dream?  I was now lying there, in a cold, stark operating theatre, shaking from all the drugs, paralyzed from the waist down, needles stuck in my wrists and hands, surrounded by people I had never met before but without my husband and about to be cut open, from hip to hip.
I felt lots of tugging, and heard one big 'SHHHHLLLLLUUUURRRRPPP!'...silence...then a crying baby.  They held her up above the screen that obscured my view and I could see that she was all purplely red and angry! Finally Mathilda was here. Arrived into this world via failed ventouse delivery followed by emergency cesarean at 11.05am Tuesday 19th May 2009.
They let me touch her for a brief second before whisking her off to be examined.  My husband came in and it was all over.  He got to hold her, she was wearing a green hat and looking around at everything, probably thinking 'where the hell am I?!'
I don't remember feeling that emotional when I first saw Mathilda, I think I was too tired and drugged up to feel anything. But 45 minutes later, I was breast feeding her, so, considering the circumstances, that was pretty amazing.

 Mathilda having her first meal.  Latch wasn't so good, but not bad for a first attempt!

 Just out of theatre, my nose stud and earrings are still taped up.

 Close up of Mathilda holding her Daddy's finger

Afterwards, the consultant told me I had lost 2 pints of blood during the cesarean so I might need a transfusion. Luckily I didn't need to in the end. He also explained that Mathilda's head had been stuck sideways in my pelvis, so I would never had been able to push her out. I didn't really know what this meant so I asked a midwife later on and she didn't really say much, just said that it's an awkward position. Mathilda had bruising around one of her eyes, I don't know if that was caused by being stuck.  I later learned that this sideways/tilted head position is known as asynclitism and it explains why I had irregular contractions, severe pain in one hip and a long second stage.  But it does not explain why I 'would never had been able to push her out'.  I think having an epidural and lying on my back meant that I was unable to push her out.

I spent 2 nights in hospital.  The first night was a haze of morphine and extreme love for my new baby.  We cuddled, slept and nursed.  I remember being sick a few more times, I'm guessing because of the drugs.  I had to have a bed bath as I was still in my labouring top which was all sweaty so the nurses helped take that off and give me a wash and take my catheter out.  I couldn't move my legs until the early hours of Weds 20th May.  I remember walking very slowly to the toilet for the first time at around 4am, with a lovely nurse helping me.  I remember trying to pee and it took at least 20 mins.  It felt numb down there but also felt like if I pushed too had my c-section wound would explode open and my guts would fall out!
The following day I had the first set of stitches and drain removed from my scar.  That wasn't pretty, but in all honesty the worst part was the surgical tape ripping out half of my pubes when in was taken off!
I was finding breastfeeding quite difficult by this point, but only because of the reduced mobility I had from the pain of the cesarean scar.  This would carry on for a good 3-5 weeks.
I had one more night in hospital then asked if I could go home.  I hated having to say goodbye to my husband at 10pm every night when I was there, it just felt wrong that we had to be separated.  I was sent off with a bag of painkillers and some anti-coagulant drugs, which I had to administer myself via an injection to the stomach.  I needed to take these to stop getting a blood clot apparently.  I guess another downfall of having a cesarean.

Once Mathilda and I were home, we were able to relax.  Yes it was a shock to the system, and I spent some time crying on my long suffering hubby, trying to make sense of all that had happened to us.

Fast forward to the following Tuesday, a week after Mathilda was born.  It was time to have my main stitch out. I have to admit, I really wasn't looking forward to it.  It just seemed like more pain for pains sake.  A friend of mine, who had gone through an emergency c-section due to pre-eclampsia assured me that it wouldn't hurt, it would just feel 'weird'.
Well, it hurt like hell!  I think I was an unlucky case as after what seemed like 10 minutes of tugging from a home-visiting midwife on the stitch, it finally, excruciatingly came out.  I was sweating and shaking.  The midwife examined the thread and noticed there was a tiny knot still on the end which had passed through the length of my entire scar, causing the pain and the difficulty of actually removing it.
The following day I felt a bit feverish, and I remember worrying that I was coming down with mastitis.  Well it wasn't mastitis, it was actually my cesarean wound slowly becoming infected.
The following morning, I was lying in bed, holding Mathilda on my chest when I felt a wet sensation on my belly.  I handed her to my husband and had a look as I thought that her nappy had leaked.  But no, it was bloody pus oozing from my wound.
This was a serious low point for me.   Not only was I struggling with feelings of guilt and failure for not giving birth naturally to Mathilda, I was exhausted, sore and verging on depression but now I had to fight off an infection.
I was given antibiotics and a bunch of dressings and left to get on with it.  It was horrible having to change my own dressings and see the pus leaking out of me.  I was worried the infection would spread to my uterus, but luckily within 3 weeks, my wound was better and healed quite nicely.

11 months on and I'm still numb along my scar line.  I also have an annoying in-growing hair which becomes infected from time to time right in the centre of the scar.  I have stretch marks and the shape of my body has changed due to motherhood, but I love these changes.  However, I do not love my scar, which stands out like a red line on white paper.

I'm still breastfeeding my daughter, despite the the troubles getting started, which I'm sure were mostly caused by having a cesarean.  My milk took a week to come in after Mathilda was born, resulting in her losing 12% of her birth weight (which was a hefty 9lbs 11.5oz by the way!) and taking 4 weeks for it to return.  I'm certain the trauma, mentally and physically and the soreness from having a major operation helped cause this.

So due to my experience, I definitely would consider a VBAC if I fell pregnant again.  Looking back at Mathilda's birth story, I'm sure if the chain of events had happened differently, the ending would've been very different.  I am certain if i had remained strong, or somehow managed to sleep more, I would've been able to give birth to her naturally.  Because of this I feel tremendous guilt and I also feel scared of any future births I might have.

I'm sure time will heal the bad memories of it all. I certainly have good memories attached to it as well. Like bouncing with joy on the bed on the morning I had the show, hugging my husband every time I had a contraction (this was while I was still at home), hearing my Mathilda crying loudly and strongly behind the screen in the operating theatre for the first time and being allowed to touch her before they wisked her off to be checked out (she was all warm and slick, she felt amazing!) and of course, breast feeding her for the first time.

So this was Mathilda's birth story and also an account of my personal cesarean experience.  I'm sure not all women have bad feelings or outcomes their own c-sections (my mother being a prime example - I was a c-section baby, and she had a GA and loved the fact she fell asleep then woke up with a baby.  She was also very pleased that I also had a c-section, but I beg to differ) but I feel most of the time cesareans are unnecessary and should only be conducted if they absolutely have to be.

For more info on VBACs and Cesarean awareness month, check out the ICAN site, I have found it very helpful and also inspired me to write this post.


  1. Thank you for your honest account of your home birth turned c-section. I also started with a home birth but ended with a c-section after 34 hours of intense labor at home, then failed epidural, failed vacuum extraction and eventual c-section after 3 hours of failed pushing. Since my epidural wasn't working properly the they gave me drugs so that I would remember any pain. But I also don't remember my baby being born, hearing her first cry, or seeing her for the first time even though she was put in a cart beside me. Obviously I still have feelings of failure, guilt, and resentment after 11 months and 3 weeks that I'm trying to work through.
    I'm sorry for your experience. I hope that you find a way to work through your traumatic birth as I am too. Congratulations on your beautiful baby girl. My daughter, Eva Lorraine, was born April 26, 2009 just three weeks before! Thanks again for sharing.

  2. Wow! I followed a link from Facebook's ICAN page, and what an intense experience you had! I'm sorry it didn't go as planned, and that you struggle with it still. I gave birth 20 months ago (today!), starting in a natural birthing center, where they put pitocin in my IV without my permission (and against my written birth plan), and I ended up with a c-section as well, after pushing for 2 hours at the end of a 20 hour labor. I wanted a natural birth, but was determined not to be too attached to the birthing process, because I didn't want to end up crushed if it didn't go as planned. Nonetheless, I too struggled with feeling that I hadn't been "tough enough". Be gentle with yourself. It sounds as though you were very, very strong in the face of difficult circumstances.

  3. Thank you for the comments :)