Martin has described Fiona’s birth from his point of view. Mine may or may not match his – I was present, and conscious, for different portions of it than he was.
Tuesday, January 27 had been a bad day. I was worried that I would have to have another Caesarean section (not that I mind C-sections) if Chenoweth didn’t emerge soon. They don’t induce labour if you’ve had a section previously, but by the time they were done waiting for spontaneous labour, they’d be scheduling me for a section the week before Martin started his new contract. If you can’t tell, I was beginning to doubt whether Chen would be born normally at all. I hate waiting. It makes me pessimistic.
That evening, I was doing a jigsaw puzzle, which always soothes my emotions. I felt an intermittent crampiness from about 11:00, but didn’t mention anything to Martin at first. No sense giving him false hopes or false alarms. By midnight, I decided they weren’t just my imagination and told Martin, then started timing them. For me, the rest of the labour seemed to have been timed and measured. Like a timetable:
All times are approximate, most are deduced rather than based on checking the clock, and recall of many is influenced by drugs and/or altered states of conciousness.
|23:00 – 0:00
||Vague crampy feelings, on an off. Didn’t pay too much attention to them lest they prove imaginary.
|0:00 – 1:00
||Painful, but bearable, cramping feelings every 5 minutes
||Called hospital materinity triage. Told that I should wait longer to ensure labour was established. Call back if contractions were still coming every 5 minutes in a few more hours, or if waters broke.
|1:00 – 2:00
||Timed contractions – they backed off to every 10 minutes, but remained painful.
||Went to bed to try to get some rest.
|2:00 – 4:00
||Contractions got stronger, more painful, but still only once every 7 or 8 minutes.
||Threw up from the pain. Called the hospital, told to take paracetomal and a hot bath, and call back when contractions every 5 minutes or waters broke. I don’t think they felt labour was well enough established. Asked Martin to call his parents to come down from their home (about an hour away, plus getting-up time). Whatever the hospital thought, I knew this was it.
|4:00 – 8:45
||Intermittent pain is an odd thing. The pains came every 7 – 8 minutes, lasting a little less than a minute each. I drifted in and out of dreams for the off times, then was intensely aware during the contractions themselves. It was like living at seven-times speed, really paying attention for less than 10 minutes each hour. Unable to keep any fluids down, starting to vomit bile from the pain. Never knew digestive juices could be so colourful.
||Waters broke. Called hospital – they were still being off-putting. I wasn’t taking any more hints to stay at home though, because I knew there was pain relief there and I wanted it.
|8:45 – 9:15
||It’s amazing how long it can take to get out of the house when you’re in labour. Contractions sped up drastically – one every three or four minutes – meaning I had to get up, get dressed, get the necessary paperwork together, etc, in short bursts, then sit down and whine for a while, then throw up more bile, then go on with preparations.
||Martin dropped me off (contraction in dropoff bay – not very reassuring for pregnant women in for antenatal checks) Found my way to labour triage and was taken to an examination room, where they hooked me up to foetal monitors. They clearly thought I was being too dramatic when I was howling during the contractions (and demanding pain relief). Then an internal exam showed that I was 5 cm dialated, and they started to take me more seriously. They gave me something for the nausea (still vomiting bile, to the consternation of a medical student observing). Still took them ages to get me up to the labour suite.
|10:00 – 11:15
||The options for pain relief are generally entonox (“gas and air”), a variety of opiates, and an epidural. I had already decided not to use opiates, since they cross the placental barrier. I had high hopes for entonox, but was also intending to use an epidural to get me through the end of labour. As it turned out, gas and air would have been fabulous earlier on, but despite giving me a quick high every contraction, it didn’t really take the edge off of the pain. They started an epidural fairly early, but even after two top-ups it wasn’t covering the peaks of the contractions.
||I didn’t realise how much the signals that your body sends you in labour vary. They asked at the triage room if I had an urge to push, and I didn’t. But when the urge to push comes, there is no mistaking the sensation. I’d been feeling the desire to push downward since before 11, mentioning it every contraction, and getting very little reaction. An internal exam showed that I was fully dialated, at which point they let me begin pushing (try to stop me…)
||The doctors noted that the amniotic fluid contained a lot of meconium (baby poo), and that the baby’s heartbeat was getting faint during contractions. They decided to try a ventouse extraction, which is basically putting a suction cup to the baby’s head and pulling it out. (Sounds awful, but better than the alternative of forceps.) They made an episiotomy cut for ease of access and started assembling the equipment.
|11:30 – 11:56
||The midwives and doctors seemed to be in a race. With every contraction, I could feel the baby moving down, and I was certainly doing my best to push it along. Meanwhile, the doctors were assembling the ventouse as fast as they could, in case the baby got stuck again.
||The midwives won. Fiona Chenoweth Sutherland was born while the ventouse was still half-assembled. They gave her to me, still covered in blood.
|11:56 – 13:00
||It can take a long time to stitch an episiotomy. ‘Nuff said.
|13:00 – 13:30
||Once the embroidery session is over, tea and toast are served. I was feeding Fiona, so Martin had to help feed me. The hospital provides enough for the labour partner (Martin) as well as the mother, which is (a) a good touch, and (b) a violation of one of the longest-running stereoptypes of the NHS. Meanwhile, everyone comments on the vast amount of blood on the floor under the bed.
||Martin goes away to make a lot of phone calls and buy a pink hat.
||I get offered a shower. All I need to do is walk into the shower room with Lynn, one of the hospital staff.
||I faint dead away in the shower room. Lynn catches me, despite her bad back. Lynsey, the midwife, hits the emergency alarm, and every available member of medical staff races to my room.
||I regain consciousness to the sight of four midwives and one doctor standing in the doorway to the shower room, all saying, “Abi! Are you all right?”. I am sitting on a stool, looking at a pool of blood at my feet, and listening to the ringing in my ears.
At this point, things melt into a kind of timelessness for me (can’t think why…)
I remember spending a lot of time sitting on the stool in the shower room, supported by Lynsey, while she took my blood pressure and pulse every 10 minutes. After a couple of tries on each arm, we concluded that the automatically-inflating blood pressure machine can’t register low enough and Lynsey switched to the manual system (pressure of 78/53, well out of normal range, even for me).
The fluid drip they set up for me after delivery wasn’t getting fluids into my arm, and my veins collapsed enough that it took four tries to get enough blood to check my haemoglobin levels. All I wanted to do was to lie down, but the medical staff didn’t want to move me yet.
Finally, I convinced Lynsey to let me lie on the bathroom floor, despite her horror at the unsanitariness of it all. She spread a sheet from the bed on the tiles, then I engineered a slow collapse into blessed horizontality. They were still not sure about moving me to a bed, so I stayed where I was for some time, presenting an alarming picture to anyone coming into the room. At this point, I was well past caring about either sanitation or alarm.
Fiona was asleep in the cot the whole time, which made me care a lot less about what happened to me.
Finally, an orderly came and helped me into bed again, and the doctor came to give me another stitch to close a leaking blood vessel. Martin came back to find me in bed, looking pale, much as I had been when he left. They took me up to the postnatal ward then, rolling on a bed with Fiona in the crook of my arm.
I spent one night in hospital, then made such a pest of myself that they discharged me home. (Considering how well Martin takes care of me, the daily midwife visits that are standard on the NHS, and how close I am to the hospital, this was not a foolish decision. Even for someone whose haemoglobin count was at about 70% of normal.)
So here I am home now, with Fiona, Alex, Martin, and a severe case of anaemia. I look like a Goth without the makeup, and despite taking iron tablets three times a day, my haemoglobin has dropped to 67% of normal. According to the midwife, I should be having trouble breastfeeding, though the fact that I’ve already frozen 200ml of breastmilk as well as feeding Fi kind of flies in the face of that. I am, however, utterly exhausted and frequently faint.
We discussed my medical situation with the midwife this afternoon, and agreed that this can’t go on. It’ll take weeks and weeks for me to feel better, and I need to be able to cope with both Alex and Fiona a lot sooner than that. So sometime over the next couple of days, I will be going back into the hospital to get a transfusion. Three units of blood should get me back on my feet again.
On the one hand, I’m looking forward to having the energy to climb the stairs more than twice in a row, and to being able to give Alex the attention and reassurance he needs. On the other, I feel selfish, using up blood that could save someone’s life, purely for my own convenience. This is particularly selfish because I haven’t given blood for some time. (The last time I did so, I fainted in a bus stop an hour later. Kind of put me off.)