I have read and cried my way through many birth stories since having Mr Boo. Reading them makes me realise how fortunate we were, and not just because Mr Boo survived. I didn’t have a tortuous pregnancy, although it wasn’t much fun as you’ll see. I didn’t have preeclampsia, PROM or any of the harrowing conditions that so many fellow premmie mums have endured, often for weeks or months lying flat on their backs in hospital beds, hoping that labour can be stalled for as long as possible. I can’t imagine how hard that would have been. And I wouldn’t trade my experience for another’s. Although having Mr Boo wasn’t a walk in the park, it was quick and I had no time to worry beforehand. So how come I can’t stop this lump welling up in my throat and this knot from forming in my stomach as I write this?
Let me begin at the beginning, which isn’t April last year. It’s November 2007 when Sissyboo was born.
My first pregnancy was a doddle. Of course I didn’t realise that at the time, just like I didn’t appreciate until watching Mr Boo’s struggles and endless setbacks how miraculous it was that she met all her milestones ahead of time. My first labour was no fun at all, though. I’d been to my NCT classes and listened attentively while my partner, the Grumposaur, looked mildly terrified and a wee bit disgusted. I’d read about the three stages of labour and had a birth plan. I must have missed the class or page about precipitate labour. The first I knew about it was when my waters broke, Niagara style, while watching TV. I was in agony. No wave-like contractions followed. I was in immediate, constant agony and Sissyboo wasn’t moving. I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew it wasn’t right.
I phoned my maternity unit and was told I was making a fuss. As a first time Mum I was panicking unnecessarily and I should have a bath. I probably wouldn’t need to go in for at least 24 hours. Really? That couldn’t be true, I thought. But I tried to get in the bath. I thought I was going to collapse. The Grumposaur, suitably alarmed by my screams, phoned again and said we were coming in. They reluctantly agreed I could, but advised that I should expect to sent straight home when they confirmed that my labour had just begun. I arrived at the hospital barely able to walk, vomiting the vegetatian chilli and raspberry leaf tea I’d hoped might hurry things along (ha!) all over the corridors. (It’s so dignified this motherhood lark!) As a midwife went to examine me she started to say it was probably just my nerves getting the better of me, when she stopped mid-sentence. I was 10cm dilated and had skipped the first stage of labour. Sissyboo was coming out “like a bullet out of a gun”.
I was very lucky, I was told. It would be quick. No 48 hours of labour like so many of my poor friends had endured. But there was also excruciating pain and no time for pain relief. Sissyboo clearly wasn’t listening anyway. She got stuck and our luck was starting to run out. They tried to turn her manually in the hopes that she could make her own way into the world. I nearly passed out. Then everyone’s expression changed and they quickly got me to sign consent forms. They were going to try forceps in an operating theatre, but wanted the option of performing a c-section if necessary. What no one told us, but my partner knew as he quickly learned to read the monitors, was that Sissyboo was in distress. They quickly administered the epidural, abandoned the forceps, pulled her back up the way she’d gone and cut her out.
We were lucky after all. Yes, it was frightening. Yes, it was excruciatingly painful. But she survived. She was unscathed. That was all that mattered. I was grateful, but not nearly as grateful as I now know I should have been. Because now I know things can be so very different. Even when you’re lucky enough to have your baby live.
It didn’t sink in at the time, though. How serious it had been. Not even when the surgeon came in and told me three times what a near miss we’d had. We only realised later that she was trying to explain, albeit in surgeon code, why they’d done the section. Why they’d messed it up in their understandable haste. Why I’d be in pain every month for the next four years. The epidural numbed the pain and blocked out the reality of the situation we’d flirted with in the previous couple of hours. But nothing was as soothing as my beautiful daughter’s face, even though she would look like she’d been in a vicious rugby scrum for the first weeks of her life. The only thing I remembered clearly from the surgeon’s chats was her repeated advice for future pregnancies. ‘If you have any more children, have an elective caesarian. We don’t know what went wrong, but we don’t want it to happen again’. Too right, I thought.
So when I went to see a midwife at 12 weeks pregnant with Mr Boo (I phoned them at 5 weeks, but this was the earliest they could book me in), I explained my history and she agreed, yes, I should have a section. Past experience, plus the painful cyst I had gone to A and E with when 5 weeks pregnant with Mr Boo, coupled with the fact I was over 35 – a geriatric in the pregnancy stakes – meant this was a high-risk pregnancy and was told I would be put under a consultant and prepare for more than the normal number of appointments. Mr Boo, she warned, could make his entrance in the world even quicker than Sissyboo. Second-time precipitate labours are often, but not always, quicker than the first. And if a baby is early, a second can be earlier. So there was to be no working up until my due date as I had done with Sissyboo. I hardly called 39 weeks early and there had been no premature babies in my family. She was just being cautious, I thought. I didn’t have a chance to ask her to explain in more detail what she was trying to tell me might happen. She changed jobs the day after my appointment.
Two weeks later, at Christmas, when visiting my parents and therefore out of area (the site of most of Mr Boo’s medical scares, you’ll find), I had some bleeding. Not much. Enough to worry me. I saw a lovely doc who did lots of tests. Mr Boo seemed OK. I heard his heartbeat for the first time. He was OK. It was probably a urine infection. But I don’t know. Because in the next four months, despite numerous calls, my doctors failed to get the test results from the hospital we’d been seen at. Nevermind, I thought, the consultant would examine me. Except I didn’t get to see a consultant. Not until 5 days before Mr Boo arrived.
My pregnancy was a catalogue of cock ups, administrative rather than medical, but stressful in their own way, nonetheless. When I went for my first “consultant” appointment, which replaced my 16-week midwife check, I saw a registrar who did the VBAC talk. I was expecting this talk at some point in my pregnancy, but I wasn’t expecting the aggressiveness of it or the blame being thrown in my direction for wanting the caesarian the surgeon who had delivered Sissyboo had urged.
This isn’t the place to go into the rights and wrongs of elective caesarians, but I’ll return to this in another post in the future. Long story short, I had two more “consultant” appointments, where I was never examined, but was aggressively lectured about my irresponsibility in choosing a section (read: my local hospital has a very high rate of sections and had been told off). I was accused of not doing my research (if you knew what I do for a living you’d know why that incensed me, but regardless, it’s not how to talk to people). I was told I could not have a section, despite the two registrars I saw admitting not having read through my notes, despite the embarrassing flood of tears and uncontrollable shaking that followed this pronoucement. And just to make matters worse, the midwives at my local surgery wouldn’t see me (despite the cyst, the bleeding, the high-risk pregnancy) because they were chronically over subscribed and I was under a consultant. Never mind I hadn’t seen a consultant and I was heading into the third trimester.
I phoned PALS (the Patients Advisory Liaison Service) and they were fabulous. Within two days I saw a consultant who said it was clear I needed to have caesarian, not only because of my past medical history, but because of the obvious state of anxiety I was in. I was a wreck throughout my pregnancy. (PLEASE tell me that this wasn’t why he came early, that this is all MY fault…) I was terrified that what had happened with Sissyboo would happen again, but that this time labour could be even quicker, potentially without medical staff nearby. My baby could die in the living room, or in the car.
That was when I was 28 weeks and 4 days pregnant. I was advised to go for a growth scan the next day as I was measuring big for dates and at that appointment I was told Mr Boo was going to be a whopper. 11 lbs or probably rather more. Whether it was the fear of lugging around this enormous baby, the stress of 28 weeks of pregnancy with one midwife appointment, a handful of VBAC talks and constant condescension and frustration at not seeing the people I needed to, the cause of the bleeding or something else, I went into spontaneous labour at 29 weeks and 2 days.
I was at work. I was 65 miles from home. I was totally unprepared. I couldn’t understand why it was happening and I still don’t know why it did one year on