31 July 2008

Jenna's birth story (maybe sensitive)

This is something that is still hard to talk about nearly four years later but finally I've managed to write a version I am happy with. For a long time after Jenna was born I was in denial that the birth could have had any effect on me, and heavily bought into the "live baby = all that matters" thinking that still makes this a story I can't tell in many circles. The most important thing was always, and still is, that Jenna is here with me safe and well. But something else important was taken from us, even was given up willingly by me in my ignorance.

A few months on I began to look back and feel angry about Jenna's birth. What I was let down by wasn't a person or a hospital, just by the world as it is, and there was nobody to blame. I've tried to keep out my later feelings about it as far as possible and stick to memories (I understand that some of you will still feel I'm sensationalising having heard the bare bones story before, but remember that back then I was dishonest with even myself about feeling that, essentially, I hadn't given birth to my own baby).

* * * * *

I had Jenna in hospital - I didn't know as a first time mum that I had the option of homebirth anyway (possibly because I had moved house and had so many different midwives in the course of my pregnancy). I was full of positivity about what birth could be like and would be like for me - much like my attitude to breastfeeding, I was just going to do it and it was all going to be fine.

At five o'clock in the morning I had given up trying to sleep because I knew I was in labour and I was just so excited, I'd been having strong contractions for hours and they were only a few minutes apart but they weren't lasting too long and I was just feeling on a high. I was going to meet my baby!

My mum brought some chocolate croissants for breakfast, our celebration food since I was small, and we sat in the living room of my rented house with Martin trying so hard not to fuss over me every time I put a hand to my stomach to rub away stretching pains. On the ride to the hospital I felt myself getting into a rhythm and knowing when the next contraction was coming. It was peaceful and my heart was rising with each fresh reminder - I was having a baby, it would be soon.

The hospital was quiet but the staff were rushed and businesslike. I felt like a nuisance. I tried to remember what questions to ask, confused by the process and a bit intimidated - but it looked like we were going home anyhow because so far I was barely dialated. I felt defeated, as if somehow I had failed to perform, and had no idea that first babies are often long labours! So up I got from the bed, and my waters broke with a pop and flooded all over the floor. Faint black staining, meconium, and back on the bed I went and a midwife entered the room to tut over what a disaster that was and how it meant my baby wasn't coping and would probably need emergancy help.

The remainder of my feelings of confidence and capability evaporated. I wanted someone to tell me what to do; I wanted to go home; I wanted to see my baby and just know that it was OK. Then we were left alone for a couple of hours before being wheeled to a side room and again left alone. More than anything else I was impatient! Why was this taking so long? And if it was an emergancy why wasn't anyone doing anything to save my baby?

I got up and walked around a bit, still feeling I was coping really well with the contractions and repeatedly telling Martin in shock and amazement, "This isn't as bad as I expected, I can do this!" interspersed with, "What if the baby doesn't make it? I just want to know it's OK..." Someone came in and put a monitor round my belly and someone else came with the birth ball I'd asked for and tried to show me how to sit on it. It seemed wierd and unfamiliar and I wished that we'd been able to book in for some birth classes. I really couldn't get over how long everything was taking and how serious the situation seemed to be, coupled with being left totally alone and nobody directly telling us anything more.

A different midwife and some more tutting - had I done something wrong? The heart-rate thingy wouldn't stay put because I was pacing around so much and could I please sit up on the bed? I resisted but was confronted with the idea that I was putting my baby in danger, so I did as I was told. I couldn't tell if the contractions were more frequent and stronger or not but I was definately starting to think that perhaps I was not very good at labour.

Through the next few hours there was a lot of being left alone and not knowing what to do or say, and every now and again people coming in and fussing over the monitor and not answering my questions. It felt interminable, but when I complained about it I was offered pain relief which I refused, confused as to why I'd want pain relief to stop me feeling tired and sick of people coming in and out. This was nothing like I'd expected, and challenging in totally different ways to what I'd been led to believe - I wasn't helplessly screaming in agony but I wasn't in control, I wasn't "coping" like I thought I should be, I was bored and tired and couldn't stop myself from worrying.

Next came a doctor and another midwife, trying to explain to me why they thought we were in danger and looking at the monitor readout again. I wasn't keeping still enough for the monitor to stay put, and my leaning right forward to rest on my knees with the harder contractions was knocking it loose. I needed an internal monitor which would clip to the baby's head. I still wouldn't be able to move around so much, but now when I rolled around in the bed they would still be able to monitor the heartrate from the nursing station outside. Sorry baby, sorry, I'm doing my best.

From then on I was stuck. I asked a few times if I could lower the bed so I could lie on my side and was told that would slow labour down so I would have to stay on my back propped up. I was offered an epidural and again said that I wasn't struggling so much with the pain, just with exhaustion. Could I please please be allowed to sleep for a while? No, I needed to stay awake. If I had an epidural I could rest, but wouldn't be allowed to go to sleep.

I was asked at one point if I would give permission for them to do scratch tests on the baby's head to see if it was in distress. I said no but they kept asking and telling me what a risk I was taking with my child's life until I told them to do the test. I regretted it immediately as I felt the baby pull away from the instrument.

The panic flooded me, with absolute certainty that what had just happened had violated my baby. "I'm so sorry, I'm so so sorry baby, we just need to know you're OK, I'm so sorry...." It took five minutes for the kicking to settle down again afterwards. I was crying and frightened by that and even though the test came back ok they did another three tests in the course of labour (each time causing red bleeding scratches on that little soft head, as I saw after the birth). The last two times I wasn’t even asked – and when I asked them to stop I was told that it would “only take a second”.

When the doctor was walking out of the room the second to last time, I asked if someone would come to talk to me about pain relief. The man who came told me that I ought to have an epidural and get some rest, and that it was what his wife had chosen for both of her babies, and that he hated to see anyone in pain. I said I just wanted the whole thing over with, and anything that would just mean I could stop feeling tired and fed up would be fine. I'd been in labour for about twelve hours, which seemed forever to my inexperience! Enotox was brought in and made me feel sick and dizzy while the epidural was being put in, so I decided to stop using it.

The contractions stopped.

Something in a drip and the contractions were persuaded to start again. I wasn't told what it was and I didn't ask, I just didn't care any more as long as I got my baby out OK. It seemed like it might never happen after the day we'd had. The epidural wasn't really working very well and basically contributing pins and needles to the, now very strong, contractions. I asked for Martin to bring my mum in, tell her it was almost time. In the end she stayed, unable to get out again! Having the two of them there was immensely comforting.

The room literally filled up with people so that Martin, holding my hand very carefully around the needle in it, was pressed up against the side of the bed. Permission was being asked and someone was talking to me about what was happening - was it OK if this student stayed? If a student doctor comes in as well? The consultant is going to come to see you now. And the midwives are changing shift but the one you've seen before (once in the last four hours) is going to stay too so that you have a familiar face. You're ready to push now. Let's get this baby out. Etc.

Pushing lasted a few minutes, before someone said that it needed to be hurried along. The venteuse cup was brought in and my feet went in stirrups. I was told that an episiotomy would be necessary and I said I didn't want one but it seemed that nobody heard, and I got one anyway. Another two pushes, with the heart rate blips on the monitor speeding up a little each time to great critical aclaim; "The baby is really not doing very well now, Sarah, if you can't push it out in the next few minutes we will have to take you to theatre." I gritted my teeth a little, that was NOT going to happen to me. I pushed for one last time, hopelessly trying to keep up with their demands, harder, harder, PUSH, push NOW!

After the baby was born I was shown, and told what I'd had. A girl! We looked down at her and I told her that her name was Jenna and she was ours. Not for nearly long enough though - she was whisked away from me to be put under lights. I was on the enotox again because the pain from the stitches was worse than the labour pains.

Then came the confusion, asking for my baby back and trying to make the doctor doing the stitching understand that the pain was really bad. No-one could understand me. I told Martin afterwards that it was like being under water, or trying to make someone hear you from a great distance away. He at least had understood some of the cause of my distress, and followed our newborn to the table to try to shield her tiny eyes from the glare. Even now I feel cheated that I missed that time, and proud that he knew just what to do and stayed close by her.

It was another half hour, though, before he dared to pluck up the courage to ask if he was allowed to pick her up (his own baby)! He brought her over to me and stood there by the bed, and finally everyone seemed to drift off satisfied that it was a happy outcome. The lights were turned off and we sat there in the dark together, me holding our baby now and singing softly to her in perfect peace. When I look back at Jenna's birth, that's what I see first - the three of us alone in the dark, while I hugged my baby tight and nursed her, singing my heart out while the storm raged outside the window.


  1. This is the first time I've read any version of Jenna's birth story, and it's so sad to hear how they tresated you. It's certainly not discouraging me from wanting to have a home birth when/if the time comes!

  2. God this is so sad I am crying (but beautiful too if you know what I mean)

  3. I had a similar birth with my eldest - started as a homebirth, she got stuck, transfer to hospital, ended in a ventouse birth. I felt brutalised, traumatised, had post-traumatic stress and flashbacks for ages. I can sympathise. It's taken me over 5 years to make sense of the whole experience and realise that I didn't 'fail'. I hope this time round you get the birth you want.

  4. I also find it both very sad and very uplifting reading this again. I adore my Jenna and I don't cling to any regrets about what happened, but I still wince at the memory of her pulling away in terror...

    Morgan's birth story two years later is the first ever post on this blog. :) I always wanted them both to be written up "properly".

    At the same time as searching out this to edit and post I found a list I made when pregnant with Lael about our plans for the next pregnancy and birth - so I guess I'll be looking at and editing that next.

    I'm so excited to think of going into labour, I LOVE giving birth (so I hope nobody finds this, my first birth story, discouraging). Read the other one too! :D

  5. I had to be induced with my DD and I managed with a tens machine and gas and air ( I was more terrified of an epidural than of giving birth). I had a 2nd degree tear and felt like they were taking hours to stich me when all I wanted was to hold my baby (DH got the long first hold) and I agree the pain from them doing the stiches was worse than any contraction.

  6. Ironically (or perhaps not), my totally natural home water birth still resulted in a 2nd degree tear, because of the scarring (it took many months to heal because the stitches turned out to be uneven and too tight in the first place after Jenna was born).

    I refused stitching that second time, and was totally back to normal in under a fortnight. As I've said many times, it would take a LOT for me to let a doctor near me in future pregnancies/births. ;)

  7. Reading this has just made me even more certain that we want a homebirth - glad you got that chance with Morgan.

    The Broken Man


  8. Sarah

    reading your birth story i can totally understand your feeling of being cheated and almost like not having given birth yourself.

    ruth is now 4 and it took me two years at least to stop feeling guilty about how she was born. i wrote the birth story ages ago but it is a basic tale of my way and the hospitals being opposite but having to accept their judgements. i ended up seconds away from theatre etc too.

    i remember the anxiety it caused was so severe it affected our first months together (for me at least - she was more resilient). At one point when she was a week or so old i had to ask James to confirm he definitely saw Ruth coming out of me and there was no way she had been invented or swapped etc - mad but that is how detached i felt from my role in it all due to the extreme intervention!

    i hope for home birth this time but at least i will be in control enough to say no to things i don't want even if i do go in to hospital.

    thank you for sharing it, your tales are always so enlightening.


  9. Hi Sarah

    I'd not realised until now that you'd suffered such trauma with Jenna's birth. It makes me angry that the 'medical model' is so rigid and unfeeling and I'm sad that your positivity and peace was squashed in this way. I'm fortunate that my Midwife hates Doctors! She pointed at me at our last checkup and said with passion "No Doctors - got it?!" which suits me fine. Efa's birth was beautiful but Jenna's birth story has just doubled my resolve to keep things as peaceful as possible. So many woman feel they've 'failed', when really it's really them that have been failed, by the system.

    Sara (Hex) x


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