This is going to be a long one, it was a long labour but more importantly it was filled with lots of learnings for me that I am going to try and reflect on here.
It began at 12.45am on Friday, 3 September. Gemma had been praying all year that Nina would wait for her arrival and it seemed those prayers paid off as she had arrived the day before. Although perhaps it was one of those “be careful what you pray for” moments as I think it was pretty heavy going for her. The first contractions were coming pretty irregularly about 20 minutes apart and not that strong so we tried to sleep in between. I was also trying not to get too excited in case it didn’t amount to anything. At about 4.30am though they were getting stronger and coming more regularly so we went and got mum and Gemma up. I continued to labour at home until about 8am when they were coming between five and ten minutes and we went to the hospital.
I was going pretty well when we arrived at the hospital. The contractions were painful but I was feeling positive and we were managing them well with massages from Martin. The midwife did an examination after we’d been there for about an hour and said I was three cms dilated. I would have liked to be a little more but she thought it was all fine. So we continued for a few more hours. I walked around, had a bath, lay on a fit ball etc. Basically I was able to do exactly what I needed to get through the contractions. The midwife was so supportive and Martin and the family were amazing supports. I had, had no drugs at all and was still feeling positve despite the contractions getting stronger and more frequent. It was exactly what I wanted and had been raving about for the months before. An active, non-medicalised, woman focused birth.
At about 2pm a doctor came in and wanted to know where things were at. So they checked again and discovered I was still only 3cm dilated. This was fairly disappointing but nobody was freaking out yet. 2 hours later though when it was still the same it was decided that I should have some syntocin (not sure about spelling) to really get the contractions going as nothing was happening naturally. This was a bit disappointing for me but we were all getting tired and I was pretty hungry and not moving was getting frustrating. These artificially induced contractions were intense. I laboured with them for a few hours but then it became impossible for me. I was getting very distressed and screaming out in pain. Martin and the family stayed with me and continued to be incredibly encouraiging but that was helping less and less. The midwife offered me an epidural or some morphine, she thought I was beyond the point of gas being helpful. Still hoping to avoid an epidural I accepted the morphine. Gemma thought this bit was hillarious as it made me a little bit dopey and I started saying some fairly ridiculous things which I have a limited memory of. Although it calmed me down and I was screaming a little less, it didn’t help the pain though and by about 11 (I think although time was now fairly lost to me) I got an epidural.
I was pretty devastated. I was now hooked up to about 10 machines pumping in pain relief and monitoring the baby and me. I couldn’t move anywhere. My hope for a non-medicalied birth was gone. The epidural was amazing though. I could no longer feel a thing so was able to calm down. Although another check revealed I was still only 3cm dilated. We began to discuss a ceasarean. I still wanted to avoid this though and the Dr expressed some hope that now I had an epidural they could really up the syntocin and this may get things moving. I opted for this option so they upped the syntocin one last time to give it everything we could. Thankfully I couldn’t feel a thing and I was even able to get a little sleep through it as was Martin and the family. We were all exhausted as you can imagine. I hadn’t eaten anything either apart from an apple, muesli bar and a few pieces of chocolate.
At 1am they woke me for a last check. Still only 3cm dilated. Again a caesarean was raised and this time no one saw much hope that it could be avoided. I asked them to give me some time to decide so they left us to decide. I asked, as Quakers do, if we could sit in silence for a bit and see if we could get some guidance from God. I wanted to pray for a miracle but instead felt a strong sense of God saying, “Emily this is not the time for miracles, this is the time for trust in defeat. Trust, that even though it has all gone wrong and everything you didn’t want to happen has happened, all will be well. Trust that I am here.” So when they came back I told them I would have a caesaeran.
They prepared me for that, which meant more machines, needles etc and wheeled me up to the operating theatre. There were about 10 people there including a delightful African nurse who called herself big nanna. They cut me open and at 2.28am on Saturday, 4 September, our precious Nina was born. They had to check her over first but she was in Martin’s arms a few minutes later. I had to wait about half an hour though as they stitched me up. I couldn’t hold her due to the operation but they lay her next to me in bed and I just cried with joy. I was more tired, hungry, thirsty than I had ever been in my life, as well as still reeling from the disappointment of it all but the midwife said to me, “look at you, you can’t stop smiling.” And I couldn’t. At 4am they wheeled me back down to my room in maternity. Mum and Gemma left and we were all, after 27 hours, able to get a little bit of sleep. Although it wasn’t long before I had to feed her etc.
Over the following days I reflected on the event. I had always been afraid of birth as mine was a fairy torturous event for my mother and I thought I would take as many drugs as I could to ease what ever pain but as mentioned I had become really inspired over the months of my pregnancy by “active birth”. The idea that birth was a non-medicalised, woman focused event. I had also, as I prepared myself physically and emotionally for it, heard God say to me over and over “Emily, do not fear”. What did all this mean in the light of what happened. Was it all just crap? Had I got it all wrong? I don’t think so. Birth is a natural, beautiful thing but sometimes it goes wrong. In the past or in places like Africa women die. I was blessed enough to have kind and talented people around me to help out. While I hope other women don’t have to use it I shouldn’t despise the intervention but be grateful for it. And I did not need to be afraid. When God calls people away from fear and to courage it doesn’t mean that everything is going to work out exactly how they wanted it to. It doesn’t mean they will be spared all heartache and pain. This certainly wasn’t the case for Mary or many others who heard this call throughout the scriptures. What it means is that God will be there. There is a bigger picture that even though we do not understand it we can trust. This I suppose is the mystery of our faith.
So I am grateful to God. I am grateful for all the midwives and dr’s who helped me. I am grateful for the time I did labour even though it was painful and I had a caesarean in the end. I am grateful for my amazing husband, mother and sister who stayed with me throughout it all even though it was also incredibly hard for them to watch me writhe and scream in pain. And mostly I am grateful for Nina, my beautiful, beautiful girl.