I know this has taken me a while to write, but it’s only now I feel ready to revisit what happened. And I haven’t had much time as this is going to be a long one.
I’ll start a week before Joel’s birth when I attended my midwife appointment. I had recently been discharged from my obstetrician consultant (seeing due to my Ulcerative Colitis) with a clean bill of health for myself and Joel. At my midwife appointment, I was seen by her and a student midwife. My bump was measured and plotted on my growth graph as usual. Just as my appointment was being wrapped up, I asked where my growth was plotting on the graph. I’m that impatient that I couldn’t wait to look myself after the appointment. The student flipped through my pregnancy logbook to have a look at the graph….
“Urm….” Looking rather confused as she looked at what she’d just plotted herself. “Is that right?” She said to the midwife.
She had plotted the graph correctly. What she failed to do was flag up that Joel’s growth had gone from being on the 90th centile to dropping below the 50th centile in about 2 weeks. The midwife then called to get me the next available scan appointment to make sure everything was fine, which was the next morning.
By this time I was pretty anxious, but hoping that the tape measurement was wrong and everything would be fine. After my scan, we had to wait to see one of the midwives to go through why I was there and to discuss the findings of the scan. I knew this wasn’t normal as they would have just told me during the scan that everything was fine.
Finally, after what felt like a lifetime, a midwife fetched us from the waiting room.
“So you’ve been referred to us as your community midwife suspected there may be a problem of slow growth with the baby.
The scan has also shown the baby’s growth has dropped lower than we’d like to see. We’d like you to go and get monitored at the hospital.”
“When?” I asked.
I burst into tears and filled with fear. Fear that something was very wrong. The journey to the hospital was horrendous as awful thoughts were running through my mind. What could be wrong? This close to the end of the pregnancy?
When we arrived, I was hooked up to the monitor for 30 minutes to make sure Joel’s heart rate and movements were ok. Thankfully, everything here was fine. They were happy, so I was put at ease a little. We waited to see the consultant who would tell us what the plan was from here.
“As the baby’s heart rate is good and his movements are strong we aren’t too worried, but we don’t want you to go over your due date as the scan measurements are still a concern. It may just be the position he is in is affecting the scan results, but we don’t want to take that risk.”
I was due in a weeks time. The plan was to have a cervical sweep done (delightful procedure) to try and get things moving naturally first. If not, then I’d be induced the following Sunday. I was only 1/2 centimetre dilated so I didn’t have high hopes of going into labour naturally. I was right.
Fast forward to Sunday 18th March 2018.
We arrived at 9pm to be induced. To say I was shitting myself would be an understatement. I was also shitting myself about the possibility of actually shitting myself during the birth, as I’m sure most mums do! I had to be put on the maternity ward with all the new mums and babies as there wasn’t any room on the other ward. I was hooked up to the monitor and everything was normal there again. Then one of the midwives inserted a pessary to induce labour and monitored me for a further 30 minutes to make sure I didn’t have a reaction to the pessary. She explained to me that a rare, but possible complication can occur due to the pessary called Uterine Hyperstimulation. (Uterine hyperstimulation is a serious complication of labour induction. It is defined as a single contraction lasting 2 minutes or more, or five or more contractions in a 10 minute period. It can cause impairment to uteroplacental blood flow and result in fetal heart rate abnormalities, fetal hypoxia and fetal damage.)
After 30 mins on the monitor, I was told it can take up to 2 days for the pessary to take effect and that it was now a waiting game. Shaun was sent home whilst I tried to get some sleep. By now it was 11pm.
11:20pm. I start feeling a very bad pain in my lower abdomen, much like period pains. She did say I could feel mild period like pains and that it was completely normal. The pain eased off. 5 mins later. Very intense pains that brought tears to my eyes.
“This can’t be normal.” I thought to myself. I rang my bell to ask the midwife.
“It won’t have started this quickly. I’ll get you some paracetamol.”
20 minutes later. The pain was immense and lasting a few minutes each time before easing off to a constant dull pain. I rang my bell again.
“Some pain is normal. I’ll get you some codeine.” She said as I imagined myself jumping out of the bed, drop kicking her and pinning her for three. (Little wrestling joke there. No? Ok.)
10 minutes after taking the codeine, I couldn’t take the pain any longer. In my gut, I knew this wasn’t normal. The contractions were coming in thick and fast. I also kept feeling pressure in my ribs. I couldn’t keep quiet any longer and had to cry out in pain. I felt awful as I’d probably woken all the mums and babies up, but I was in agony. I rang my bell yet again. When the midwife saw me, she hooked me up to the monitor again. After a few minutes with as many contractions, she turned off the monitor, whipped the pessary out and said…
“I’ll ring the labour ward. Ring your partner.”
So that rare complication Uterine Hyperstimulation, I had it. Trust me to get the rare complication! However, I hadn’t clocked that there was a problem. I just thought I was in labour. As soon as Shaun arrived, they told us that I’d been sent there because the contractions were happening too quickly and with every contraction, Joel’s heart rate was dropping, but not low enough to rush straight to having an emergency c section yet. They wanted to continue monitoring him and perform a scratch test on his head to check his oxygen levels if it dropped any lower.
I had 2 lovely midwives with me the whole time (One of them a student midwife called Danielle who was amazing) and a registrar popping in every 10 mins. Now I had gas and air, I was coping with the labour quite well. In fact, I was actually quite enjoying having a chat with the ladies as I was completely off my tits on drugs. I just carried on breathing the gas in even when I wasn’t having a contraction so I could stay in that happy place forever. If you know me, you will know I’m a massive Star Wars fan. Out of all the midwives and doctors in the place, they give me the ones who haven’t seen any of them! And in between my contractions, I’d remind them of it.
“I can’t believe you’ve not seen Star Wars?!” According to Shaun, I said this at least 5 times. He still takes the piss out of me to this day.
I’d lost track of time after a while, but it was about an hour or 2 later and only 3 cm dilated. A new face appeared. A consultant came to do the scratch test that they told me about earlier as Joel’s heart rate had dropped into the danger zone. I wasn’t enjoying our chats anymore. The contractions were becoming unbearable, but I didn’t want to have anything other than gas and air.
My legs were put in stirrups and the bottom of the bed was dropped from under me, so I was hanging mid-air with my legs spread. Nice. The next thing I knew, was a pain there are no words to describe. I didn’t know I was capable of voicing the scream that came out of me.
Then, nothing. Darkness. I genuinely thought I’d died.
What happened next is very hard to explain and felt like something you only see in films. I could sense what was happened, but everything was black. It was as if everything was delayed and I knew what was about to happen next. You know when people say they had an out of body experience? That’s what was happening. The best thing I can compare it to is like when Eleven is in The Void in Stranger Things. Weird.
I started to feel the sensation of the gas and air mouthpiece in the corner of my mouth. I could feel myself biting down on it so hard, but I had no control over myself. I began hearing Shaun’s voice saying “Elle?!” “Elle, can you hear me?!”. And then heard myself screaming in pain. That very pain then started to return.
I was back in the room. With Shaun’s and Danielle’s faces before me looking rather scared. I’d passed out with the pain of the scratch test and they didn’t even manage to get Joel’s blood.
“What’s causing the pain? The contraction or the test?” The consultant asked me.
“I don’t know!!” I screamed back at her.
“OK, we are going to have to try again to make sure the baby is ok.”
I turned to Danielle, “I don’t like her!” Completely spaced out talking about the woman who would go on to safely deliver Joel.
I begged her, in tears, not again. But it had to be done. Again, that indescribable pain returned and then I was in darkness once more, but the pain was gone here. I felt safe in the darkness. I felt nothing. I could hear myself think, so I said to myself “OK I’ve passed out again, I’m not dead.” Then I was thinking about Joel and feared the worst, as I always do. I started hearing the voices and screams once more. “Oh shit, I’m going to feel it again.” I never imagined pain could be as bad as this. But judging from the faces of everybody around me, this wasn’t normal pain that you experience during labour. Something was wrong.
The consultant was baffled as to why I was passing out during the scratch test and I was rushed to have an emergency c-section instantly. In what felt like a few minutes, I was gowned, spinal blocked and prepped for surgery. The spinal block was absolute bliss. After 6 hours of agony, I suddenly felt nothing. It was amazing. During the surgery, I could feel everything, but felt no pain. Tugging, scratching, pulling, but no pain. What felt like about 10 minutes later;
“Here he comes.”
I felt a gush of water being poured on me, that’s what it felt like anyway. Joel was born. I heard no cries.
“Is he OK??!” I asked everyone around me.
Nobody was answering me. Or that’s how I remember it. Shaun assured me everything was fine, then I heard the best sound in the world. The loudest cry I could have hoped for. I let out the biggest sigh of relief and cried with him. The whole thing felt surreal, but I loved every second of being in that theatre. Even the times I threw up without much warning.
He weighed 8 lb 8 ounces, so the scans were wrong. Better safe than sorry I say.
On the left is a photo of the first time I held my baby, in the recovery room after being stitched up. The consultant who operated, the same lady who tried the scratch tests came to debrief us about what the hell just happened.
“The reason why you were in so much pain was due to the position of the baby. He’d wedged your bladder up under your ribs (explains the pressure I kept feeling in my ribs during contractions) and was pushing it into 2 parts. 1 emptying normally and the other part was full and ready to rupture. The baby had the cord wrapped around his neck. That, along with the Uterine Hyperstimulation explains the drops in his heart rate.”
Words come nowhere near to explaining what I experienced during my labour and Joel’s birth. The indescribable pain. The emotional trauma. The fear that I’d died. The fear that I’d lose Joel. But none of what happened really matters now. We are both here. Happy and healthy and I feel like the luckiest mother alive to be able to sit here writing this now as tears stream down my face. Not all mothers are so lucky.
Little did I know then, what was to come next would be even harder to overcome than the trauma I’d just experienced. C section recovery.