The following is my birth story in the Missioklinik in Würzburg.
Around 6am on the 28th of January, I was turning over in bed when I felt my water break. I quickly dashed to the loo (and managed, somehow, to keep my bed dry thankfully!) and realized that this was it: the day our son would be born. I woke up my husband and told him what had happened. Our midwife had said during our birth preparation course that we could stay at home up to 12 hours after the water had broken, but being first-time parents we thought it best to err on the side of caution and phone the hospital and ask what we should do. They said that since I wasn’t having any contractions yet, it would be better to come within the next hour or so. My husband and I quickly showered, made sure the cat had enough to eat, and gathered our things.
When we arrived at the hospital, a midwife hooked me up to a monitor and did a quick exam. She confirmed my water had, indeed, broken (as if there could be any question at this point, with liquid gushing out of me in periodic bursts). She next suggested an enema to try and get contractions to start as I still wasn’t feeling too much of anything, or at least not any real labor contractions. This is apparently a popular contraction-inducing method in Germany. Afterwards, she told us that we had to go and check-in at the hospital in an office in another wing. She suggested that I go with the Mr. as walking and moving around can help labor to progress. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t done this, and I’ll explain why.
Part of my preparation for labor was reading Marie F. Mongan’s Hypnobirthing book about her method for a calm and relaxed labor. The basic idea behind it is that you put yourself into a deep state of relaxation through self-hypnosis so that you feel little or no discomfort during labor. Having now experienced labor and labor pains, I see that that’s a pretty tall order to fill. Contractions hurt. Like crazy bad. I don’t think it’s impossible to experience less pain if one were really properly trained (you ideally attend Hypnobirthing classes with your partner and learn the methods from a certified instructor) and had really mastered the self-hypnosis exercises, but in my case, I had only read the book and listened to the relaxation tracks that come on the accompanying CD. We also printed out a script for my husband to read to me. The script ended up being the most useful tool we had as what he said to me did actually help relax me a little bit and helped me to better cope with the pain for the hour or so that he was reading to me, but I was never really able to put myself into any sort of deep state of relaxation (and that’s obviously vital to the method working). So anyway, I ended up walking to this office with the Mr. to check in when I should have been lying in a darkened room listening to my relaxation tracks and attempting to put myself into a deep state of relaxation. I think my reasoning at the time was that even if I did start to experience contractions, they would probably start out mild enough so that I would still have time to get back to our room and start listening to the tracks to get myself into a deep state of relaxation. That was a major misjudgment as the contractions started kicking in while we were in this woman’s office talking to her, and they felt very uncomfortable very quickly. We finally headed back to the labor ward after what seemed like an eternity.
The rest of the day, to be honest, is much of a blur. Once the contractions set in, I pretty much lost all sense of time. Each contraction felt like an eternity. I spent about an hour or so in one of their birthing tubs, and while it did help to relax me a bit, I began to panic at some point that I wouldn’t be able to get out again when things would progress to an even more intense level. At some point, I think in the early afternoon, I started asking about the epidural. My thinking was to get it as soon as possible so I wouldn’t have to suffer more than necessary. They told me I had to wait until I was dilated to 4cm, and we think that happened around 3pm or so. They said things would likely progress more quickly now with the epidural, and I did end up dilating from 4 cm to 10 much more quickly over the next few hours than it had taken me to slowly get to 4cm.
The epidural was great, and I felt a bit of relief after hours and hours of lots and lots of icky pain. But, unfortunately, it didn’t lead to the calm, relaxed birth that I saw in this video and was anticipating. The epidural only took on one side, so while it was a huge improvement over having no epidural, I was still experiencing the most intense lower backache of my life on one side. (I kept thinking I might get sick from the pain, though thankfully I never was). The other problem was that even though it had only taken on one side, I still couldn’t feel enough to push. And they determined, at some point, that he was in the wrong position. So for at least a couple of hours, they kept making me turn positions from side-to-side, on my hands and knees, and my back, to try to get the baby to move. I remember I kept asking why it still hurt so much, and I think it was because it had only taken on the one side, plus at some point the midwives made the call to turn it off because I wasn’t pushing right. They also started to give me something to “make me feel the contractions more,” which freaked me out as I thought I was feeling them pretty damn well, thank-you-very-much. They assured me that it wouldn’t “make them hurt more,” which didn’t make sense to me at the time (and still doesn’t); how would feeling them more not mean more pain?? At some point, they called in a doctor and she had a look with an ultrasound to try to see the baby’s position. They determined that the baby still hadn’t moved positions, and the head doctor needed to be called in.
He finally arrived (this was around 9pm so he had been at home), and determined that they needed to try to use a vacuum extractor to get the baby out. At this point, my epidural was empty. I distinctly remember them saying that in German. But the plus side was that I could actually feel how to push, and I finally started doing it “right.” Together, with the doctor using the equipment and me pushing when they told me to, I threw all my (quickly fading) energy into trying to get the little guy out. But alas, it was not to be. Despite my best pushing efforts and the doctor trying several times with the suctioning equipment, his head wouldn’t budge. The doctor made the call for a c-section.
The Mr. and I were both prepped for surgery. While he was getting suited up to be in the operating room with me, they began doing needle tests on my abdomen. Now that my epidural was flowing again, they needed to make sure that it would be sufficient for me to feel nothing during surgery. Remember how I said the epidural had only taken on one side? Yeah, that ended up being a problem. While the one side was completely numb again, I could feel them pricking me with the needle on the other side. The head doctor quickly made another decision, this time for general anaesthetics. Tom was told to unsuit and head outside, and I was knocked out with gas a few moments later.
When I awoke a couple of hours later, I was told congratulations on my little boy. I remember asking if he was healthy, and they told me yes. I also remember being incredibly thirsty. I think I basically hadn’t had anything to drink for hours (at least that I can remember) during labor, and now that I had just had surgery I wouldn’t be able to have anything for quite some time. I did have an IV drip with pain meds and fluids, but it wasn’t enough to quench my thirst. The first real drink of water that I had in the morning tasted like heaven.
The Mr. said it took a couple of hours after the surgery until I was wheeled into a room in the labor ward with him and the GABOJ. Although I was groggy and exhausted, it was pretty amazing to have his tiny little body put on top of mine for the first time. We spent about 45 minutes in that room where I breastfeed him for the first time before I was wheeled up to my hospital room.
Preparing for my own labor, I read birth stories of other women and some would say that they’re still troubled and haunted by a bad birth experience long after their bodies had physically healed. I remember thinking how surprised I was by that. After all, their babies survived, they survived…isn’t any birth with those two outcomes a “good” one? But now, I have to admit, I do think a lot about what happened and wonder…did I do something wrong? Did I screw up somehow? Maybe I should have stayed at home longer after my water broke, and just trusted what my midwife said. Maybe the contractions would have naturally come on more slowly, and I would have been better able to relax myself, making the entire process go more smoothly and quickly. Maybe I should have waited longer for the epidural. The Mr. thinks me having had one (and therefore not being able to feel to push) maybe slowed the whole birthing process down and made it difficult for the baby to position himself right. And clearly I wasn’t able to push properly for quite a while. There are so many “what ifs” and question marks that I can see why some women say they are haunted by the experience. I am trying really hard to just accept what happened, and not blame myself, but it’s crazy how feelings of guilt and failure threaten to overtake those efforts (maybe this is due to hormones??)
I’ll leave the story here for now, as I need another post to talk about my recovery in the hospital. As difficult as this birth was, I’m so thankful that the little guy came out just fine in the end, with an Apgar score of 10 out of 10. He’s continuing to thrive and do really well, and it’s amazing how much bigger he already seems to be after just two-and-a-half weeks! And for that result, I’d go through it all again.