I’ve always been fascinated with people’s birth experiences. Some people may find that strange, but it’s something I’ve always loved reading about it. As my due date approached I knew I’d one day like to share our experience, so with some help from Robert [as he was the sane one that day], I wrote all about Cora’s birth day, how an epidural saved my sanity and how we should stop being so damn hard on ourselves.
Before I start, I’d like to say I don’t think I had a regular labour. It didn’t go smoothly and I handled it as best as I could. But I think that’s what we all do. I can’t speak for men, but I know women are used to feeling pain and discomfort regularly so we deal with it and get on with it. Labour is the same, just on an unbelievably epic scale. In the end, a tiny human comes out of you so the prize far outweighs the experience …
I was booked to be induced on Wednesday the 19th of October at 11 days overdue. I did everything I could to induce labour naturally before then; old wives tale stuff, asking for and getting a membrane sweep [twice] and walking close to 10km around the Phoenix Park the weekend before. But no, Cora takes after her father and was enjoying that little bit of extra time sleeping in.
I tidied and cleaned during my last two days of pregnancy. I wanted everything to be ready so naturally, I painted our bedroom. At 41 weeks and 4 days pregnant. I painted until 22:30 the night before I was induced. In hindsight, this was not a good idea as I went to the hospital the next day already tired. I woke up excited and nervous at 03:00 that morning and we headed to the hospital for my 06:00 induction appointment on only four hours sleep. We arrived and I was brought to my bed where I waited happily for the midwife to administer my induction.
As I was waiting, I began getting deep, period-like pains. At first I didn’t think much of them until I realised they were very regular. I was getting these pains every 10 minutes. I wasn’t sure if they were contractions though because I heard contractions start much farther apart at between 30 and 45 minutes apart. Sometimes even hours apart when you first go into labour. I had an hour of cramps before the midwife arrived to administer my induction. I told her I was already in labour, but as I was so far along in my pregnancy, they didn’t want to risk my labour possibly stopping so they went ahead and induced me [with a suppository – I hope that’s not TMI for you, but that’s life].
This is where my labour differs from a normal and natural labour. I was already in labour when I was given a chemical induction. It was like my contractions were now on steroids. And I didn’t handle it very well. A nurse friend of mine later told me in the States they give an epidural before inducing women this way as it’s considered almost unethical not to.
My contractions progressed very quickly. Within about an hour my contractions were lasting 2 minutes long with just a 30-second break between each contraction. Sometimes I’d have 2 or 3 contractions back-to-back. Since my contractions progressed so quickly I wasn’t coping very well and became incredibly anxious. I was taking Rescue Remedy to try and calm myself and deal with my anxiety and pain. Outside of labour it works for me within minutes, but this time it wasn’t working at all.
My contractions quickly became so painful that I was using my arms to raise myself off the chair to relieve the pain of each contraction. It was exhausting. Little did I know it would be another 12 hours until I was admitted to the labour suite and a further 10 hours until Cora was born.
My original birth plan was to use the birthing pool; you’re asked to make a birth plan when you’re pregnant and a water birth was my ideal situation, but I’m a realistic person and knew it wouldn’t go according to plan so I wasn’t upset when I couldn’t use the birthing pool. A midwife saw my water birth notes and suggested I try taking a shower to ease the pain. Between contractions, Robert helped me across the hall and I stood under the shower for all of 10 agonizing minutes. I cried my way through each contraction with no change to my pain whatsoever. Except, now I was soaking wet and hysterical, trapped in a glass shower stall.
When you’re in labour, time is a very strange thing. An hour feels like a day and a day feels like an hour. Hours blurred into each other. At this point I’d say I had been in labour for 18 hours. The midwives placed monitors on my belly continuously at this stage because they were concerned with me only having 30 seconds [and sometimes less of a] break between contractions and the intensity of my contractions was quite strong. They gave me a pethidine injection to help calm me, but I don’t remember feeling a difference. They next put me on a drip, as they explained to Robert, I was in a state distress [I have an extreme fear of needles and faint when I get them, but luckily I was a too distracted to care having a line put in my hand].
I soon entered the begging phase of my labour. I starting begging to be brought to a labour suite. This whole time I was sharing a room with 5 other women who were in various stages of pregnancy, but not in labour. I was increasingly aware of how loud I was getting with each contraction and I was acutely aware of the other women who were trying to sleep [at this stage it was night]. Me being so loud and keeping them awake was adding to my distress. Those poor women. I wanted to be brought to a labour suite so I could have gas and air and be as loud as I wanted without being concerned about other people. Actually, to be honest I wanted to be shot, but that’s aside from the point. I discovered later that there were so many women labouring that night that there simply weren’t enough labour rooms to meet the demand.
This went on for hours. I begged with every contraction. I began begging to the baby Jesus [I’m not even a religious person]. I began openly apologising to all the women who were trying to sleep. I couldn’t see these women. They were all behind their curtains, most likely crafting shivs and plotting to kill me. Hours of monitoring and midwives trying to distract me went by. Eventually, at about 01:00 a midwife said there was a labour suite available and I was next to use it. They just had to clean it first. “I don’t mind. I’ll make my way over now. I’m very good at cleaning. I can do it myself when I get there“, I said as I stood up to go. They laughed. I didn’t.
I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of relief when I arrived in the labour suite. I calmed down and amazingly, I managed to relax. I was given gas and air and when I first took it, it was goddamn heaven. I remember describing it to Robert by saying, “it’s like when you’re on the bus home after a good night out“. Whatever the hell that means! My relaxation didn’t last long though as my contractions and distress returned and the gas and air no longer felt like they were working. I laboured on an exercise ball but because I had been awake for so long and was so exhausted, I was now falling asleep. Sitting on the exercise ball. I’d fall asleep for maybe 2 seconds, be woken by the midwife and Robert trying to keep me upright, and it would feel like I had slept for 10 minutes. I did this after every contraction. A heavily pregnant woman. On a ball. FALLING ASLEEP. This wasn’t doing much for poor Robert’s nerves.
I kept pushing myself to go without pain relief for long as possible. The midwives suggested I change positions to stay awake, so I got onto the bed and got into a squatting position. I think I lasted 5 minutes as the pressure and pain became unbearable. I was screaming a this stage “she’s coming out! Oh god she’s coming out!“, so the midwife checked to see how far along I was. I was only 5cm dilated. That was it. I had reached my limit. I was only 5cm dilated after a day of intense contractions. I gave in and asked for an epidural. I say asked like I had some control over how I articulated myself. I begged to order an epidural. They informed me this wasn’t the States and you don’t need to order one [all my epidural knowledge stems from Teen Mom apparently], so within 5 minutes the anesthesiologist was in the room. Aka, the unnecessary nightmare of my entire labour experience.
Remember I mentioned my irrational fear of needles? I explained this [hysterically] to the anesthesiologist and he did not take well to this. “It’s a very big needle and you’re going to have to stay still for at least 20 minutes. If you move at all, I could damage your spine and you may not walk ever again.” Just what you want to hear when you’re in the worst pain of your life. I asked if I could try staying still during the next contraction so he could see if it would be still enough. “So now I have to wait for you?“, he replied. If I wasn’t in so much pain, I would have wrapped the bed around his face, but I was terrified that if I commented on how unbelievably rude he was, I wouldn’t get an epidural. Robert later told me he felt the same way. We were terrified. I was so distressed about the whole situation, but I wanted that epidural more than anything. The anesthesiologist said he wasn’t going to wait for me and asked if I wanted an epidural or not. I said yes and not to sound dramatic, but it was the most difficult few minutes of my life. It was the most conflicted, terrified, and the hardest I’ve ever concentrated in my life. I think I would have managed that situation so much better if that anesthesiologist wasn’t such a complete and utter ass hat. Getting the epidural itself was not traumatising or painful in any way and didn’t last anywhere near the 20 minutes he said. It was solely the unnecessary manner of the anesthesiologist.
At this point in my story I’d like to take a special moment to say, what the fresh hell is with the guilt that is associated with getting an epidural? I’m not speaking for all women when I say this, but I personally thought that if I had to get an epidural I was taking the easy way out. Thousands of generations of women were able to have children without an epidural, and I would be failing if I got one. In a weird twist, I don’t view other women who get epidurals as failures. Just myself. Because, guilt?
Having said that, I got that epidural and I would have married that needle if I could.
There are three reasons I was thankful to have gotten an epidural. The first reason was that I was able to be me again. I was hysterical and irrationally stuck in a panic attack for close to 24 hours thanks to my super-human contractions. I wasn’t able to take in how incredible having a baby is. Because it is incredible. Once I got the epidural I calmed down and was my normal self, shooting the breeze with all the midwives and being sarcastic within no time. Robert was also calmer. He was able to have breakfast and a nap. Once I got the epidural, I went from 5cm to 10cm dilated within 4 hours [vs. 5cm in 24 hours] and that is solely because I was so chill.
I laid in my bed on either side for an allotted amount of time as the epidural worked its magic, but I was still feeling pain and huffing on the gas and air. It wasn’t until a class of student doctors came into my room that I was asked if I had used my clicker to control my epidural drip. A WHAT NOW. It turns out that wanker of an anesthesiologist didn’t tell me about the clicker regulator because … he was a wanker. When the student doctor handed me the clicker, I went at it like I was surfing 1,000 channels on a new television.
My epidural-drunk phone photo and the only photo taken during my labour. My glorious clicker.
I relaxed and slept for maybe an hour and before I knew it, the midwife told me I was 10cm dilated. I grabbed onto Robert and it was time to push. I gave 3 big pushes before the midwife said that Cora’s heart rate was dropping between contractions, which wasn’t good. They wanted to perform an episiotomy and get her out as soon as possible [aka, reason #2 why I was glad I had an epidural]. “Of course, absolutely. Do whatever needs to be done“, I said calmly and positively. I’ve said since then, I don’t want to think how I would have reacted if I was getting one without an epidural.
They did what needed to be done. Two more pushes and with the help of a ventouse [suction], Cora was out and being tended to [when my waters broke they were discoloured from her meconium so they had to check that she was okay before handing her back to us]. It was crazy. Robert and I both stared at each other. She let out the tiniest and most adorable cry and Robert and I were forever changed. It was amazing. It is the most surreal feeling seeing the tiny person you’ve been thinking about for so long.
Getting an epidural is a really strange feeling. You can feel your legs, but you can’t feel your skin. Your skin essentially feels like you’re wearing jeans; you can feel people touching you, but it’s an indirect feeling. Does that make sense? Which leads to my third and final moment I was glad I had an epidural; undoing my episiotomy. If you get my meaning. Yeah, it was uncomfortable for two or three weeks afterwards as it healed, but not to the point that I was in distress or upset. Again, it’s something that happens sometimes when you have a baby, and you just get on with it.
We spent the next few hours getting to know Cora and getting acquainted with my new inability to do anything. Family visited and when night came, Robert went home. That night I jumped at every sound Cora made and stared at the little human we made. Cora wasn’t feeding well and slept for most of the night. The night midwife had been testing her sugar levels all night and they kept dropping. When morning time came, another midwife noticed Cora was very yellow. Before I knew it, she was being brought to ICU. They explained that she more than likely had jaundice, which was normal in babies, but not within their first 24 hours.
After Robert and our families went home, I went to the ICU to visit Cora. As I was trying to feed her, a group of doctors came to me. Cora’s CRP levels [levels of infection in her body] were high. They explained normal levels were between 1 and 2, and Cora’s CRP level was 17.2. They explained this could be because Cora had something wrong with her, but they didn’t know what it could be. She could have meningitis, blood poisoning, be a different rhesus group to me, or have a bacterial infection. They were very concerned so they asked if they could do a lumbar puncture within the next hour to test her spinal fluid. It was the most helpless I’ve ever felt. I felt sick to my stomach. It was midnight and Robert was at home asleep. They took Cora to have tests done at 01:00 and I wandered the halls of the hospital bawling uncontrollably. I was responsible for this tiny person, and I couldn’t do anything. Was it something I did? Something I ate when I was pregnant? If you can think it, I worried about it. I barely slept and was in hysterics for the next few days until the test results came back. I told Robert everything but we decided not to tell family about the tests she was getting until we knew the results.
Three days passed, rounds of anti-biotics and visits and monitors and beeping and finally on Monday afternoon we were told Cora’s CRP levels were 2.3 and she could be released from the ICU. I think I nearly cartwheeled out the window. We told friends and family what happened [now that we knew everything was okay], and we took Cora home the next evening. We had been through so much that we weren’t nervous about bringing Cora home. She had been a pin cushion for 5 days in hospital, so extra cuddles and snuggles and squeeing and photos were high on my list.
The following week we had visitors and well wishers and because I’m the way that I am, I wanted our apartment to be presentable [to my stupid levels of tidiness]. I didn’t listen to the midwives constant advice to relax and let myself heal. I shuffled around the apartment and tidied and didn’t listen. If you’re reading this and about to have a baby; listen to the midwives. The next morning I was watching TV and started to get a contraction. I started to freak out. It lasted 45 minutes [non. stop.] and when I frantically called The Coombe Hospital, they told me I needed to take it easy. I did for a day, then returned to being on my feet. Can you guess what happened? I had another contraction except this time it lasted for 4 continuous hours. It took a third contraction experience for me to get it and to listen to my body. Because if you’re dumb like me, you won’t hear it the first few times.
I later asked at Cora’s 6 weeks appointment what may have caused her CRP levels to be so high [we were so happy that she was okay that we didn’t even think to ask at the time]. The doctor explained that it was something temporary and more than likely was a knock-on effect of my being in distress for so long during labour. My guilt level that day? Over 9,000. Cora was happy and healthy and progressing perfectly so I tried not to focus on it. I guess it was our first experience of a lifetime ahead of worry and guilt and questioning myself and crying and more worry. These little people, they make your heart explode and mind race. And I wouldn’t change it for a second. Wait, maybe the unnecessary labour bit. Maybe that bit I’d change 😉
Well good grief, that would make you not want to get pregnant anytime soon! I had no idea it was so difficult, Cora is so perfect! Have you seen The Business of Being Born? It's a little intense but it made me realize that if you're going to be induced, you should have an epidural. Your body isn't made to cope with induction naturally (duh, because it's not a natural thing) and needs help to deal with what's going on. You are one tough lady, I can't imagine dealing with all that on my own while Michael was home asleep 😉 Hate that part about Irish maternity hospitals!
I had never heard of The Business of Being Born! I watched a bit of it there and I have to say I think I was tended to by midwives about 90% of our stay in the hospital. All of which were amazing and so supportive. Even when I wasn't myself (see: psychotic). If I had known about the negative side effects of being induced, I would have pushed for going as long as I could. But on the other hand, I completely understand them not wanting me to go too overdue as there is a risk. So in a way I'm not upset, I do wish my labour was a bit more … normal?
Oh! We don't really know how, but Robert managed to stay with me throughout the night! We think the midwives let him stay because I was so distraught. I think it's disgraceful that partners can't stay. The other women in my ward didn't have their partners and were so distressed. I count myself so, so lucky.
Next time, epidural in my eyeballs 😉
Oh wow, that sounds super intense, you poor thing. The stress of having a sick baby on top of recovering must have been awful….the worry coupled with hormonal craziness/tiredness is no joke. Naoise had to spend a few days in the special baby unit & get some scans/tests. It was fairly routine stuff & shouldn't have been that worrying but when it's your tiny baby & you're a mess, it's just terrible. Anyway, main thing is that you & Cora are okay. The guilt thing about the epu is crazy, why do we make this so hard for ourselves, it's bloody difficult anyway… We had nine months being pregnant, surely we deserve a bit of a break after that! I sometimes get guilt over the fact both of mine were born by emergency section, but then i read something like your birth story and realise that 15 minutes to yank them out of the sunroof isn't too bad 😉
"Yank them out of the sunroof" 😂 Ciara you kill me!
oh… and I was that soldier who listened to women in labor while I was still preggers! All throughout my first pregnancy I refused to listen to any birth stories, I never watched One Born Every Minute, I only wanted positive vibes so I could have my drug-free hypno -water birth etc etc. I was admitted to the Coombe 5 nights before Fiadh was born where I spent each night in my little bed listening to women roaring in pain. My most memorable was a poor girl who kept screaming that she was being 'sawn in half' & that she was going to be 'split open' only to be told by the midwife that she was just 2cm gone – poor thing! Myself and the other girls who were staying there had a good laugh about it each morning while having our breakfast. I think it was our way of coping and pretending that it wouldn't be us in a few days time!
Oh Ciara I feel so bad since you were one of the women who had to listen to women like me. I felt horrible for the women in my room! We brought our own exercise ball for me to sit on and I remember at one point being in the bathroom, hysterically telling Robert that one of the other women in my room was on my ball. In fairness, there were loads of balls belonging to the hospital, but to me, it was the end of the world. Robert had to go ask that poor women to get off it! Oh I hope they were all able to find the humour in it later. I can now kind of now – only because I hope I'll never see them again!
Oh god! That reminds me! When I was in the ward after having Cora, I pointed out to Robert that one of the women across from me was giving me dirty looks. He didn't realise I didn't remember her and said she was in the room I was labouring in. That answers that. They did all want to kill me!
LOVE birth stories! I watched One Born Every Minute on my bouncy ball in the early stages of my first labour, on the second I gave it a miss, funny that! Jeez that sounds like a tough time, both mine were very straighforward and I was still convinced by the end of each that I was definitely dying (no joke) so I can only imagine how terrifying it is when things don't go to plan. As for the epidural thing, I don't know why we are so hard on ourselves. I didn't have one with my first, but only because I didn't have time! I was admitted at 2cm, after a full night of labouring at home. I was told repeatedly that I wouldn't deliver for another 12 hours at least so I decided I couldn't handle the pain as it was and got pethidine. Half an hour later in absolute agony I was told by a 16 year old (I'm guessing) child-nurse that I "wasn't managing my pain very well" when my husband ran to get her because I kept falling in and out of consciousness, screaming about the baby coming every time. When she finally agreed to check me "even though there was no point" she found I was about to deliver, told me not to push, loaded me, semi naked, onto a wheelchair (which I couldn't sit down on owing to the large human head in my lady parts) and got me to a delivery room just in the nick of time. On my second both they and I knew it was going to be quick so I was given a delivery room with delicious gas and air straight away and I was fine with that as I knew the awful part wasn't going to last too long. If I thought I would have to go through that level of pain for more than a couple of hours I would have gotten an epidural, absolutely. Labours are all different, and I absolutely believe that not being traumatised by it is more important than anything else. As someone once said to me "you wouldn't dream of having a tooth pulled without an anaesthetic, why would you assume you wouldn't need one to birth a live human?". As for arsehole doctors….I've never been so close to killing someone as I was after the woman sewing me back together after 9lbs of Max exploded out of me told me to "stop making a fuss, I'm not hurting you". She's lucky I was in stirrups and on a "thanks Christ that's over"/new baby high. However, I must say all the midwives were utterly delightful, it's just the doctors I had a problem with ;P
So glad everything worked out ok for you, you are one tough lady!
Oh Linda. The doctor sewing me up at the end of it all was down there, doing what she needed to be doing, and while Robert and I were cooing over Cora, she looks up at me and nonchalantly says, " … and now I'm going to sew up your skin." I didn't know how the hell to reply so I just said, "thanks!" Don't want to know what the hell she had been sewing up! Robert was oblivious to it all thank god. Let's just say it's a good thing I didn't ask for a diamond for every stitch 😉
And I am so envious of your births, Linda. If that's something people can be envious of! I know it sounds mad, but now that I've had some space between the birth and now, I just wish I had the opportunity to do it myself. I really think I could have done it if it wasn't for that damn being induced. Everything worked out in the end so I'll keep focusing on that. I just can't help but feel robbed.
O good lord, have they no sense?! Mine was humming! HUMMING!! And pulling what looked like a fish hook and the worlds longest piece of thread back over her SHOULDER on every stitch! Like Jesus, how much do you think you'll need?!
As for feeling robbed…I know several of my friends haven't had things go to plan and I think they all feel like that. I'm not sure what I can say except you did an amazing job in unbelievably difficult circumstances so please be proud of that. I can't imagine how terrifying and difficult it was, you're one tough cookie! There's definitely a focus on "getting baby out" rather than your own experience once you're in the hospital, and I understand why they're like that I guess, but it can be so hard on mothers.
I think I was very lucky that I went into labour spontaneously. I did have a doctor try to admit me for induction when I went for a sweep the day before I was due (I'd had a show already so the midwives suggested it to move things along) but after questioning her she admitted that she wasn't sure she was right and when she got a second opinion everything was fine! And my sister who had to be induced after only going over 5 days "because that was when it suited the hospital" ended up having an emergency section, alone, in the middle of the night, because baby didn't take kindly to being forcefully evicted!
It's so hard. But look, you're freaking superwoman as far as I'm concerned so try not to be too hard on yourself 😉
Wow – I knew some of this already but I didn't realise it was as bad as this!! That's some pretty scary sh*t! I really feel for you going through all this, it truly sounds horrendous. I'm just glad that you and perfect, gorgeous little Cora are all ok! (Just lucky she's just so damn cute and smiley to make up for it!!) xx
Pushing a baby out is incredibly painful and a mess of emotions, but you just deal with what's happening and focus on one thing at a time. That's what I did at the time. If I knew before going into labour what would happen to us, I wouldn't have been able to cope. But we did as well as we could with what we had. We all put up with way more than we should, and giving birth is just another level of that. If that makes sense?
And yes, that baby is lucky she's so damn cute.