Jayne has been blogging at Mum’s the Word for over two years and started Maternity Matters with Susanne after deciding that she wanted to use her birth experience to help other families who’ve suffered a birth trauma. This is the story of the birth of her daughter, known on her blog as Sausage.
I’ll start with my pregnancy. I found out that I was pregnant on the night before Christmas Eve, 2007. I’d been ill for a couple of weeks, randomly puking, and I thought I’d picked up a bug. But it got worse and worse until I started puking up blood and Husband decided that enough was enough. We went to A&E where they performed various tests and when the doctor walked back through the curtain with that grave look on his face, I was convinced I had a bleeding ulcer. “Er…did you know you’re pregnant?!” were not the words I expected to come next! Turns out it was hyperemesis gravidarum, and it had made me tear a hole in my oesophagus.
Needless to say, we were overjoyed. Shocked and absolutely shit-scared, but overjoyed! The sickness continued until I was about five and a half months pregnant, and then I found out that I had gestational diabetes. I had a feeling that I would have, seeing as just about every member of my Mum’s side of the family is diabetic, but it was still a pain. Speaking of pain, I then got SPD, a horrible condition which makes your pelvic ligaments loosen too early, so I spend the last part of my pregnancy in a girdle. Mmm, sexy!
Despite a miserable pregnancy, we took it in our stride, attending regular appointments with my consultant, moving house and generally readying ourselves for the arrival of our daughter. I had asked Dr. XX if, with all of my conditions, it wouldn’t be more sensible to just have a planned caesarian, but was dismissed, and more or less laughed out of the office. Toward the end, I started to show warning signs for pre-eclampsia, swollen ankles, feet and hands, protein in my urine and slightly raised blood pressure, but apparently not enough to do anything about it. Because I had gestational diabetes the consultant, in all of her wisdom, decided that I shouldn’t be allowed to go over my due date and would need to be induced so that I didn’t give birth to a ten pound whopper. I was booked in on 5th August, just two days before my due date, and the inducement process began.
We arrived at the hospital at around 8am, if memory serves, and were shown to a bed. A nurse arrived to get the process started and I was given a ‘gel’. We sat around, reading, chatting and listening to music to try and pass the day, until I was given another gel at lunch time. More waiting, another gel at tea time, and still nothing. Around 10pm, Husband was told to go home, and I spent a miserable night alone on the ward.
The next day, husband arrived back bright and early and we waited around to find out what was going on. My consultant came and ordered more gels and monitoring, so that we knew what was going on with the baby. She disappeared, but promised to come back before the end of the day. We waited around until lunchtime before the nurse came and administered the next gel. During this time, various women had come on and off of the ward, and I’d been forced to listen to two different women having their waters broken. This was particularly horrendous as I’d been told that I’d probably have to have mine broken too, and I’d sat in bed and listened to these women literally scream their way through having it done to them.
By about half four nothing else had happened, so I called the Midwife over to ask where my consultant was. She went off to ask, and was informed that the consultant had gone home, despite her promise to come back and see me. At this point, I don’t know if it was the stress of the situation, but my blood pressure started to rise and the protein in my urine got worse. A junior doctor came to see me and his exact words were “If it were down to me, I’d give you a caesarean right now, but if I go against Dr. XX, she’ll chop my hands off”. Off he went, and left me feeling ill, worrying about my baby and wondering what the hell needed to happen for them to start paying attention. I made a bit of a fuss and they phoned my consultant only to be told “She can wait until I come back in the morning”
At about 5.30, they brought me some dinner, and before I ate, I nipped to the loo. Just as I pulled my trousers back up, I felt a click and a thud, and my waters broke. I walked back to my bed to change and it wasn’t long before the contractions started. The pain was not like I had expected. It came on so strong and fast and I was pacing the ward like a caged tiger, trying to work out what I could do to relieve the pain. At one point I was pressing myself backwards against the wall, convinced it would help. Don’t ask why, it was just an instinctive thing. Most women dilate at about 1cm per hour during a first labour. I went from nothing to 5cm dilated within about 50 minutes. Because it was all happening so fast, I was moved to a delivery room where I went on gas and air and from here everything goes a bit fuzzy.
I have no concept of how time passed during this part of my labour, but I was hooked up to a monitor so that the delivery nurses could see my contractions, and I was huffing on the gas and air like my life depended on it. The nurse kept insisting that it “shouldn’t be hurting at the moment” and trying to take the gas and air away, but I kept trying to tell her that it bloody well was hurting. A more senior nurse came in and explained to her that, yes, on the monitor she could see that my contractions were going up at the worst point, and coming back down again in between, but the reason it was still hurting was because I wasn’t coming back down fully, my body had gone into a state of almost constant contraction.
As I said, it’s all a bit fuzzy from here, my Husband could give you a much clearer version of events, but the next thing I remember is shouting that I wanted an epidural to help with the pain (an idea that I’d previously been totally against), and they brought in the anaesthetist to sort it out. As soon as the spinal tap went in, and the epidural switched on, my blood pressure started to drop dangerously low, so it was switched off again and removed. All I remember is a cloudy room with people running around. They got me on my back to be examined, with my legs in stirrups, to test the baby’s blood oxygen levels by passing a tiny wire into the top of her head. They weren’t at all happy with the result and I was pushed through a set of doors into an operating theatre.
I remember someone spraying me with something cold. They had thought that the epidural had worked enough to give me a c-section there and then, but I could still feel everything. I started screaming, thinking that they were going to operate with no anaesthetic, and finally managed to communicate to them that I needed to be put out. They agreed and I was given a general anaesthetic. The last thing I remember thinking was that I would die and never get to meet my baby.
I started to come to in the recovery room, and all I was aware of was the fact that there was an enormous storm raging outside. The thunder was almost deafening and the room would be lit up by the flashes of light every few seconds. When I look back, I like to think that this was nature’s fanfare for my amazing little girl.
There were two nurses there, and I tried to ask where my baby was. All they could tell me was that she was being looked after and that I couldn’t see her at the moment. Tony gave me a Polaroid of our baby. She was tiny, swollen and covered in machines. She had one eye open and was looking at the camera with an expression that I’ll never forget. After some time, they decided to move me to a ward, where I spent a fitful night half-sleeping because of the anaesthesia and worrying about my baby.
I didn’t get to meet Sausage until the next day, or take in the full gravity of how ill she was. The trauma of the birth had left her unable to breathe, regulate her own blood sugar, suck or regulate her temperature. She had a tube in her mouth, one up her nose, and various canulas on her hands and feet. She was wearing only a nappy and although she was 7lb 5oz at birth, she looked tiny. When she was born, her APGAR score was 2, which is considered ‘critically low’ and her stomach was full of maternal blood, which they has to flush out, by injecting milk into the tube up her nose, which went all the way to her stomach, and then suck it back out again. As she has no suck reflex, she was also fed like this for about a week.
Back on the ward that I was on, Husband had to bring food to me as the staff kept forgetting to feed me. Because I’d come in in the middle of the night, no-one had added me to the list, so I was recovering from major surgery with nothing to eat or drink. After another night in hospital, the staff on the post natal ward started to hint that I should go home, and after they suggested that I was taking up room that could be needed elsewhere, I decided to leave. That was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. Walking out of that hospital and leaving my daughter there will haunt me for the rest of my life.
The next week was spent sleeping, waking up, and going to the NICU unit, coming home, sleeping, waking up, going to the NICU unit, and on and on. The first thing I would do when I opened my eyes was phone the hospital to ask how she was doing, and it was the last thing I did before I went to bed. Sausage went from strength to strength, coming off of the breathing tube quickly, and generally showing us what a little warrior she is. After 7 days in the NICU, we were told that she was well enough to come home, but I would have to spend a night in the family unit with her to establish a feeding routine. That night was the best night of my life. I’m still, to this day, gutted that Husband couldn’t be there too, but getting to sleep in a room with my daughter, being able to hold her, feed her, change her bum, all of those things that most new mums take for granted, was the best gift anyone could have ever given me. Up until that point, I’d had to watch doctors and nurses care for her, and though I was so thankful to them for looking after her, I did develop a huge sense of resentment toward them as they were doing all of the things that I wanted to do.
After a night of very little sleep, Husband came to the hospital and we waited for my Mum and Dad to come and pick us up to take us home. As if everything we’d gone through wasn’t bad enough one junior doctor, against the wishes of the senior team, decided to tell us that she thought Sausage was showing signs of Down’s Syndrome, and that she wanted her to be tested for it. We were mortified, but agreed to the tests, which would take a week to come back. Even when we were allowed to have our baby, we found it hard to enjoy that first week, worrying about what the tests may show, not because it would have changed how we felt about her, but it could have meant the our daughter would have a very different life to the one we’d envisaged for her. Walking out of the hospital with our daughter is a moment that I’ll remember forever. The feeling of victory, of relief, was overwhelming and I think we smiled and cried all the way home.
It’s taken us a really long time to be able to think or talk about any of the events of those two weeks. If it weren’t for the negligence of one consultant, I would have been given a routine c-section and my daughter could have avoided such a traumatic start in life. She suffered unnecessarily, and for that, I will never, ever forgive that woman. It may sound extreme; many people don’t understand and say that I should just be grateful that Sausage is okay now. Believe me, I am, but my hatred for that woman will burn within me until the day I die. Fortunately for her, the midwives, surgical team and NICU doctors and nurses at the hospital are incredible, otherwise she may have robbed Husband and I of even more than she already has.
I wasn’t the first person to hold my baby. I wasn’t the first person to feed, change, bathe, clothe or sooth my baby. I’ll never be able to get that back. But never mistake that for me not being grateful for what I do have, because I couldn’t be more so.