Before I had my first baby I used to ask my friends with children what labour was like? Nobody seemed to give me a straight answer. They would either dodge the question or say, “I don’t want to talk about it,” or “I don’t want to scare you.” At the other end of the scale would be colleagues at work who would see my bump and gleefully blurt out their own horror stories, “I was in labour for 4 days!”
I’ve always been a complete wuss when it came to pain and I was convinced that I had a really low pain threshold and wouldn’t be able to cope with childbirth. I spent my pregnancy trying to conjure up excuses to have a cesarean. The baby was too big or she was in the back to back position. When I realised that I would have to have a natural birth, I decided that an epidural was the only way I could manage the pain. I sat through the NHS birth class and watched the video of the woman having a home birth. “Who are you kidding?” I thought, “you won’t catch me giving birth in a paddling pool in my lounge.” I’d seen ‘One Born Every Minute,’ I wasn’t stupid. I wanted the hard drugs. I didn’t take the time to practice any breathing exercises and I only did my pelvic floor exercises about twice half half-heartedly in a yoga class. My mantra became, “give me an epidural!”
The Big Day
Three days after my due date, I woke up at 2am with fairly mild period pains. I didn’t have any other symptoms of early labour so I guessed it was Braxton Hicks pains. As the night went on they got gradually worse until I elbowed my partner awake at 7am yelling, “I think I’m having contractions!” I called the hospital triage thinking it could be a false alarm but the midwife on the phone said, “It sounds like you’re in labour. Keep at it!” She said to time my contractions and to call back when they were lasting longer. At about 10am I called my older sister and barked at her to “get over here!” The pain was getting unmanageable but the contractions weren’t lasting long enough to go into hospital. I called the Triage team again and was promised a call back so I took some paracetamol, got in the bath and waited. When I got out the bath my sister started french plaiting my afro hair, with pauses whenever I had a contraction when I would grab her hand and start yelling.
When it got to midday, I was bent over the bathroom sink in agony. The pain was so unbearable that I couldn’t wait any longer for a call back. So even though my contractions were not lasting long enough, I called myself a taxi, grabbed my bag and turned up at the maternity unit. Now I’d seen enough of ‘One Born Every Minute’ to know that lots of women who arrive at the maternity unit get sent home because they are not dilated enough. So when I arrived I asked a midwife if I could be examined? She asked how long my contractions were lasting and then said, “We don’t need to examine you. You would be more comfortable waiting at home and we can give you some pain killers to take with you.” ‘Are you crazy?’ I thought. There was no way I could manage to get back home in this pain. She disappeared off to go and get some pain killers and left me in the waiting room with my sister and partner.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
At this point something strange happened to my personality. My usual chilled out and polite persona disappeared and I turned into what can only be described as a sassy bitch. The pain was so strong that it focused my mind and all I could think about was getting through each contraction in the best way that I knew how. I became snappy, curt and started firing one liners at my poor sister and partner who couldn’t do anything right no matter how hard they tried. Everyone had to be in complete silence whenever I had a contraction. They got shouted at for looking at me, for not looking at me, for standing in the wrong place, for talking or for fidgeting. Instead of squeezing their hands to help the pain, I demanded that they squeeze mine to help take my mind off the searing contractions. But no matter how hard they squeezed my hands it was never hard enough. “Harder!” I barked, “Why can’t any of you squeeze any harder?” I turned to my boyfriend in disgust, “Urggh you’ve got the hands of a limp wet fish! Why is it too much to ask any of you lot for a decent hard hand squeeze? What’s wrong with you?!””We can’t squeeze you any harder Chan,” my sister said, “we will break your hands.””Don’t be stupid, ” I snapped, “I don’t care!” We then progressed onto Chinese burns. “Come on Mary,” I yelled at my sister, why can’t you give a decent Chinese burn?! Anyway you get the picture. After what seemed like an eternity, the midwife came back with some pain killers and a glass of water. They will take about 30 minutes to start working,” she said, “You can wait here to make sure you’re not sick afterwards.” The time seemed to drag on forever in this waiting room and I couldn’t get in a comfortable position no matter what I tried. 30 minutes came and went and the painkillers did absolutely nothing. The midwife recommended again that I would be more comfortable going home, but my sister interjected and eventually she agreed that because it was quiet, I could wait in the ante natal ward.
The contractions were getting worse now and I had progressed from the hand squeezing onto demanding that my sister and boyfriend stare at me in the eyes and do the deep breathing with me counting through every contraction. “Come on Mary!” I shouted, “look me in the eyes with CONVICTION!” “Sorry” I thought we weren’t meant to look at you?” she said. “Stop talking!” I yelled, “that was ages ago why aren’t any of you paying attention? It’s not that hard!” Eventually the most amazing nurse came and gave me a Pethidine injection. This was the only thing that actually took the edge off the pain for about 20 minutes. I started to relax and could actually have a conversation instead of just barking orders with my face contorted with pain. After 20 minutes the pain came back again and I turned to my partner and sister and muttered, “I feel like I need to push something out.”
The amazing nurse overheard me and walked over to my bed. “Has anyone examined you yet?” she asked. “No” I said, so she started to examine me. I was fully expecting this to be the part where she would tell me I was 1 centimeter dilated and I would be really embarrassed by my low pain threshold and for turning up at the maternity unit too soon and wasting everybody’s time. She looked up, “Congratulations! You’re 7 centimeters! We can take you into the labour ward.” That’s strange, I thought, I hadn’t even changed into my perfectly packed labour outfit yet, I was still in my Asos animal print trousers. But I didn’t hesitate to lose my moment. I knew the stories of the women who had waited too late and that was not going to happen to me. “Excuse me!” I said, “I want an epidural!”
Someone take it off her, she’s gone silly!
They wheeled me up into the labour ward into my own private room and there was a midwife in there who seriously looked about 12 years old. “Hi I’m Maddie, I’m your midwife.” She hooked up the gas and air and explained to me how it worked. As the gas and air kicked in, I started to speak in a northern accent like my mum, pronouncing the word “contraction” in a Hull accent each time, “Con-trac-tion!” I was high as a kite and my voice sounded really deep and distorted like in a crime reconstruction film. I demanded my sister try the gas and air. “No I don’t want to,” she said. “Go on” I said, ” it will be funny.” So Mary grabbed the mask and started to inhale. Suddenly she started giggling. “Someone take it off her!” I ordered, “she’s gone silly!” “Maddie,” I said. “I want an epidural please,” and don’t put me off, I’ve seen ‘One Born Every Minute.'” “I know you want an epidural,” she said, “but we need to wait for the anesthetist and he’s busy with another woman having a Cesarean. ” “Cesarean? I snapped. “Well that’s lazy!” “It’s an emergency Cesarean,” she replied. Well that shut me up.
The pain was getting unbearable now and I was getting even more snappy. I turned to my sister, “Mary!” I yelled, channeling our northern mum, “why do you look so worried? Wipe that worried expression off your face.” Then my boyfriend would smirk, “What are you laughing at?” I snapped, “Do you think it’s funny that I’m in pain? You got me into this mess in the first place!” As the contractions got even worse I couldn’t bear anyone coming near me. “Get back!” I yelled at my boyfriend and sister and they had to stand further and further away until they were both pressed up against the hospital window. Maddie turned and looked me straight in the eye, “They can’t get back, they’ve got nowhere left to go.” “Make them stand behind a chair then” I demanded. So then everyone had to stand behind a chair and no-one was allowed to touch me. It felt like this went on for an eternity and still no anesthetist came. “He’s been called to another emergency cesarean,” the midwife explained. I was feeling desperate now. I didn’t know how I could carry on like this.
It was now 7pm and the contractions were coming thick and fast. Just when I couldn’t cope any longer, the anesthetist finally arrived. He quickly assessed the situation and could immediately tell my level of crazy, but he had a demeanor which seemed to say, “Don’t give me any attitude young woman.” He began to read out the safety declarations for administering an epidural and it felt like that scene in ‘Love Actually’ where Rowan Atkinson is a shop assistant who is comically slowly gift wrapping a present. It felt like the anesthetist was deliberately reading everything in slow motion and it took all of my willpower not to yell, “Just jab it in FFS!” Maddie was carefully attaching the stickers onto my back and I looked up and said, “If someone said to me, you can die now if you want and the pain will end, I’d say “yeah okay then”.
The anesthetist swung my legs over the side of the bed explained he would be inserting the needle into my spine and I had to be really careful not to move. Now at this point I could feel an uncontrollable urge to push and my legs started shaking over the side of the bed. “Resist the urge to push,” said Maddie. I knew at that point that the baby was coming and that I should have said something because it was dangerous but I had waited so long for this epidural that I didn’t want to go through any more pain for who knew how long. But my boyfriend knew something was up. “Shouldn’t someone have a look and see if there’s a head?” he asked the midwife? She had a quick token look and said that everything was fine. So I shut my mouth and used all of my willpower not to move while they administered the epidural.
They swung my legs back onto the bed and explained it would take a few minutes for the drugs to start working. “Can I move now?” I asked and when they said yes, I decided that I couldn’t hold it in any longer and either I was going to do a very big poo or possibly push out a baby, it was 50:50. I turned to my sister, “Mary, I need to do a poo,” I told her. So she had a look down there and then suddenly yelled, “Head!” The midwife and the anesthetist were still at the back of my bed attaching the epidural to my back when suddenly I felt the baby shoot out of me and she skidded down the bed like a messy ball in a pinball machine. Everyone rushed to the edge of the bed to try to catch her and my sister was luckily in the right place at the right time and managed to grab hold of her just in the nick of time. I looked up in bewilderment and saw by boyfriend burst into tears after he saw his daughter. The anesthetist was in shock, “but that was only 3 minutes!”
As they wheeled me down onto the recovery ward holding my glorious new arrival, some healthcare assistants leant over their desk to say hello as I went past. “Hi” I said back happily. They exchanged glances between each other trying not to smirk. “You’re the woman in room 17? But you don’t seem that bad, you seem really nice!”