Induction, haemorrhage. Not exactly my birth plan.
My positive pregnancy test result has taken me on a trip down memory lane, remembering my pregnancy with L in 2006 and her birth in the December. Just in case you didn’t know, French hubs, B, and I used to live in the south of France, we only moved to London when L was three and a half, so my pregnancy with her, her birth and her early years all took place on the French Riviera.
I remember reading English books and magazines about pregnancy, where they talked about discussing your birth plan with your midwife. Well, along with everyone in France that I knew I had an obstetrician, not a midwife. So I rocked up to one of my later antenatal appointments with my birth plan duly printed out to share with her. Thinking back to it now it does make me laugh. It read something like this:
- I do not want to be induced.
- I do not want a C-section.
- I do not want an epidural.
- I do not want an episiotomy.
- I do not want to be put on a drip.
- I want to be able to move round as much as possible and have a natural birth.
- I want the baby to be put directly to my breast and not to be fed formula.
- I want my husband to have the option to cut the cord. (At the time he was baulking at the idea of this, but ended up doing it and being delighted about it.)
My obstetrician gave it a cursory glance before adding it to my shamble of notes on her desk (she got to keep all the notes throughout the pregnancy). I consoled myself that this was because it would be brought out when I was actually in labour.
Now what actually happened when I gave birth is quite the opposite to what I requested, which is why my birth plan does make me chuckle now.
My due date was calculated by my obstetrician in this way: date of presumed ovulation + 9 calendar months = due date. So my due date was actually 41 weeks and 2 days after the first day of my last period. Even after my scans she didn’t change this, maybe this is the French way. Or her way.
Anyway, on my due date nothing was happening so I went in for a check-up. Nothing doing so I was told to come back the next day for a 9am induction (at 41 weeks and 3 days) as maybe the placenta was deteriorating and oh as it was Friday it would also avoid any emergencies cropping up over the weekend. Now I look back I wonder how much of it was to get it done during the working week and to avoid working at the weekend, and how much was because it had to be done. All I heard was “placenta deteriorating” and “you’ll have your baby tomorrow”.
So I turned up the next day at 9am, feeling a bit weird as I knew that, despite not a hint of labour, I would hold my baby in my arms that day. Now I have no experience of induction in England and none of my friends were induced in France, so I don’t know if this is normal or not, but this is how it went:
- Lie on a bed in sterile garb.
- Do not take any books, magazines or music into the delivery room as they are not sterile. By the way, don’t forget the camera so you can capture those first minutes of your baby’s life. What was that about only sterile things in the delivery room again??
- Have your heart hooked to a monitor.
- Have the baby’s heart hooked to a monitor.
- Have a drip set up.
- Feel completely normal with no signs of labour.
- Have oxytocin pushed into the drip.
- Immediately go into full-on labour, lying down with nothing to distract you.
- Carry on like this for three hours with contractions every 1 to 2 minutes, with nothing to take your mind off it, and oh yes, do not move from lying on your back on the bed.
- After numerous checks and being told I was only 3cm dilated, and that it wouldn’t go any further without my waters being broken, and them refusing point blank to break my waters without an epidural, I finally gave in to an epidural after 3 hours. (Gas and air do not exist in France – it’s either all au naturel or with an epidural.)
- The epidural kicks in incredibly quickly and I no longer feel the slightest contraction. B gets sent off to have lunch and call the future grandparents to update them. I have a nap.
- On waking up I feel like I want to push, they call B back in, it’s time to get this show on the road.
- The obstetrician comes rushing in, ready to give me an episiotomy (despite the birth plan and a tiny baby), unfortunately for her/fortunately for me it’s too late as mother nature has already made the necessary natural tear.
- After 12 minutes of pushing (apparently – the midwives there have competitions over whose mum is the fastest and I won that day) I am told “C’est une fille!” and the previous 5 hours are all forgotten.
- 2.7kg (5lb15oz) of bundle of joy is then placed on my breast as B cuts the cord.
- Numerous tears are shed (mostly me, L was pretty cool about it all).
So that was the birth bit, pretty far removed from my perfect birth plan but with hindsight there’s not a great deal I’d change. L was born safely and well.
The only hiccup was 9 hours after she was born, around 11pm, when B had gone home and I was pottering around my hospital room (shared with just one other mum) getting ready for bed, and I felt a gush of something. My sister had warned me that you can wet yourself soon after having a baby so I thought that was it, until I looked down. Yikes! Chain-saw massacre on my legs! Despite the brick in my attractive post-natal knickers my legs looked like Carrie on prom night!
I called the on-call midwife from the en-suite toilet (where I had rushed to) who told me, in a rather bored tone, that heavy bleeding is normal after giving birth. That told me! So I gave myself a pep talk, dragged myself off the toilet and back to my bed, where I collapsed with the room spinning. Having never fainted in my life I decided this probably wasn’t right, and decided to risk her wrath and call back again, insisting this time that she come and see for herself at least.
One press on my tummy and it was a different story. Rushed to surgery I was asked if I wanted to call my husband “to say goodbye, just in case”! I declined when they told me they needed to stem the bleeding asap. So abandoning my newborn just hours after having her, I found myself in an operating theatre, shivering from cold and blood loss and being told to stop trembling by an anaesthetist as he needed to put a needle in my spine to numb me from the waist down, and that if he missed I could be left paralysed. Ah the bedside manner!
After what felt like hours of lying with my legs akimbo, with people wandering in and out of the theatre, as my obstetrician tried to discern if anything was left “in there”, I was finally told “it’s probably all ok, we can’t find anything”. 2 hours of lying in a delivery room alone, away from my baby (and B) and listening to other women screaming through labour ensued until finally I was allowed back up to my room and my little girl.
It’s not the best birth story, but it’s also far from being the worst. Luckily I didn’t hear until after this that the primary cause of maternal death in France is through haemorrhaging!
As I think back to my birth story and prepare myself to do it all again, I’m not worried or upset or angry or scared, just excited that there will be a new life coming to join us in a few months. At least this time round I’ll be more prepared (hopefully).
It is all worth it when you get this at the end.