In the first few days after my son was born, I couldn’t shake the feeling I’d let him down in some way. I was happy, don’t get me wrong, we were both alive and doing OK. I was having the most wonderful time getting to know him. But in those moments as I lay down to try and sleep, I would replay the birth in my mind, looking at all the little moments I should have done something differently; I could have pushed harder, or called the hospital earlier, bounced for longer on the fit ball, or sat another 20 minutes inverted off the couch to make his entry into the world a little calmer, a little safer.
It all happened so fast.
I’d been classified as a high-risk birth from the start. This was the first pregnancy to stick around after a number of miscarriages due to a diagnosed clotting disorder. It was a medical pregnancy. A pregnancy of doctors, scans, fear and isolation. I didn’t feel I could really talk properly about pregnancy with others. I couldn’t handle being told ‘not to worry’. People tried to understand, but they spoke of pregnancy in such a foreign way to my experience that I just stopped discussing it. We simply weren’t going through the same thing.
To make matters worse, for 36 weeks our baby had been positioned transverse across my body. I tried to move the baby. I bounced for hours on the fit ball. I crawled in our garden. I climbed backward over the couch. I went to a chiropractor. Nothing helped. In the end, I booked in for an External Cephalic Version, an ECV.
Listen to the first episode of Mamamia’s pregnancy podcast Hello, Bump, where one woman takes us through her agonising pregnancy struggle. Post continues after audio.
The night before the ECV I felt a sharp sudden pain startle me out of bed. Immediately everything settled down and I went to bed feeling normal. When I woke the next morning I felt different. I couldn’t say what it was but I knew something had changed. My stomach, which had always been high and square, sat lower and heavier. I moved differently, I wasn’t hungry and I felt irritated.
I went for a long walk to calm down but I just knew I should ring the hospital. The midwife who answered the phone seemed disinterested but because of my previous pregnancy complications, she said I should come in anyway, ‘That way you won’t spend the next three weeks worried.’ We had showers, picked up coffee, got the newspaper and headed to the hospital. My husband bought his laptop and was preparing to work while we waited.
When I was examined in the consultation room they discovered my water had broken. I felt so stupid, but they said it happens. I thought it would be like a tidal wave. It wasn’t. Sometimes the baby slips down over the opening and plugs the water from coming out. They had to assume my water ruptured late the night before. 10 hours ago. I was given a steroid injection and was going to be induced. When I said the baby had been laying transverse I had an ultrasound.
On the ultrasound, we all saw the baby was now breech. The midwife also informed us the blood flow to my placenta had 'changed' and I was showing signs of sudden onset preeclampsia. Our baby was hooked up to monitors and the staff prepared us for surgery. With a breech baby, I had to have a caesar, the risks were just too high. Our baby was at risk of oxygen deprivation, bleeding complications, soft neurological complications, cord prolapse, head entrapment, and trauma. Not everyone who has a breech baby has to have a caesar, but I definately did.
It was OK. We had time. I hadn't started dilating and labor hadn't really begun. We were left alone in the consultation room. I read the newspaper, messaged a few friends and sat on Instagram. We met the doctors, signed forms and mucked around with the medical equipment in the room. I played Two Dots on my phone and felt a little pain and discomfort that hurt enough for me to shift around on the bed a little.
An hour before the caesar was scheduled I was suddenly crippled with pain. I hit the floor and could barely breathe. I was shaking and all my skin was on fire. It felt like I'd been sliced down the middle of my body and all my insides were spilling out. It was excruciating. My body cramped and I couldn't move my back. I was sweating and crying, and trying to throw up. My partner called down the hallway for help.
The midwife approached me like you would a wild animal, on all fours. She crawled towards me on the tiles, keeping her voice low. She discovered I was having a contraction that wouldn't let go. My uterus had seized and wasn't releasing. I was stuck at the peak of the pain. When she managed to internally examine me, I was eight centimeters dilated and she could feel feet. I had dilated within 15 minutes and was having a footling breech baby. My husband pushed the big emergency button and people came from everywhere. We were rushed to theatre for a caesarean. I remember the walls rushing past as I was taken from the room, my husband frantically pulling on scrubs.
Only minutes later, at the door to the theatre, I was fully dilated and pushing. The doctors were yelling to stop pushing but I couldn't. It was too late for surgery. I begged for a caesar. I begged for pain relief. I begged for everyone to help me. I looked in their eyes and they wanted to give it to me but there was nothing they could do. The room was full of people. The theatre staff were there. My doctors were there. A paediatric team arrived. Others kept walking through the door, it was incredible. I didn't know at the time, but people had come to watch. I was lifted onto the theatre table with everyone rushing and calling out around me.
His body came quickly, the contraction went away and everything stopped. The room went quiet and I had a moment of relief. He just hung there. Something no one tells you about breech birth is that for a long time you feel the cold lifeless body of your baby dangling between your thighs. I said to the doctor. "I think he's dead." Everyone fell away.
His head wouldn't come. No contractions came. Nothing happened. No one did anything. They said he had to come now and I had to push on the next contraction, but there was nothing. I kept saying 'No contractions, there's no contraction'. My husband and I can't agree on how long our baby was hanging there. It doesn't say in my theatre notes. It felt like a few minutes to me but he says it was much longer.
It was getting serious. My doctor gave me an epsiotomy and told me we had to get him out. A midwife started pinching my arm and slapping my hand to get a contraction. The doctor put her hands inside me, and grabbed his head and chin. I pushed him out without a contraction, with no pain relief. It hurt so much I screamed till I lost my voice.
I knew childbirth would be painful, but I think my experience hurt in a very different way. It hurt in a terrifying way. It hurt in a sudden, forceful, chaotic way, where I could see fear and confusion on the faces of the midwives around me. It hurt because I knew I was in trouble. It hurt knowing the doctors weren't comfortable with what was happening. Those reading this who had a frightening birth will understand the different kind of pain that is inflicted - that added element of terror.
I didn't realise at the time the magnitude of what happened during our birth. I was in shock. Our baby was handed straight to the paediatric team with 'minimal tone'. I looked around at the wreckage of the room and everyone was so strange and quiet. I didn't realise everyone was watching the corner of the room waiting for my baby to breath.
I felt like I had done nothing. I didn't push hard enough. I didn't try hard enough to get him out. He was caught for too long. He finally cried and was held up across the room so I could see him, then taken with my husband to the NICU. I was left in the operating theatre with busy doctors around me. I saw my name on the white board with a big red X beside it. I knew something huge had happened. I was lifted from the bed and a midwife wiped and dried my body. I tried to look at the bed but she turned my face away gently and said, "You don't need to worry about any of that dear.'
Our family stayed in hospital for a week. Our baby was under weight, badly jaundice and didn't feed well. He was in the ICU for nearly two days. I cried a lot and whispered to him, "I'm sorry, I really was trying to push". I kept thinking, I could have done better, I should have got him out faster.
In the days following the birth, midwives and doctors popped their heads into our room, beaming proudly as they told us they were in the room, telling me what they saw and what role they got to play. One midwife almost ran in saying, "I was the one holding your head, do you remember?" Those who didn't see it came in sulking, "I can't believe I wasn't there," asking heaps of questions and peering over our bub. Everyone was talking about it. When I confessed my guilt to a midwife she slapped my arm and cried, "Are you kidding? That was f**king amazing! I haven't seen anything like that. We'll be talking about that for years."
There are few people who've experienced or been present during a breech birth. The only other people I've found are the mothers of twins, with the second baby breech. When I spoke to a woman who delivered a premie breech twin we ended up hugging and crying and buying each other drinks all night. The more I come to understand what happened, the prouder I am about everything. I don't believe it's possible to ever really tell your birth story. When I talk about the birth of my son, I find my words falling so short of the mark, but this is my birth story and I'm so proud of myself. I'm glad I trusted my gut when I knew something was wrong.