baby

"After my epidural I realised I was still feeling it. All of it." Olivia's twins birth story.

Mamamia wants to break the code of silence when it comes to telling your birth story. Here, we share detailed, raw and real accounts of what it’s really like to have a baby. 

Legend has it that if you are lucky enough to have an easy pregnancy, you are almost certainly guaranteed the kind of labour that precipitates some form of elaborate post-childbirth secrecy code whereby you never instil the horror of what you experienced to any expecting mother, or basically any woman ever, for fear of stalling the ongoing survival of the human race.

It’s like some kind of universal score-evening, fairness policy that means no woman who has decided to bear children truly escapes at least a small helping of “oh my effing god, the closest I’m going to come to bumping uglies with anyone ever again is watching Zayn Malik’s Pillow Talk video clip”.

If this is to be believed, legend would also have it that if you have a good twin pregnancy… Well… when it comes to labour, you’re absolutely screwed.

At least this is how it played out for me.

Olivia with her twins soon after birth. Image supplied.

Only a handful of people closest to me know the details behind my twin's birth story. In some ways this is because of my attempted adherence to aforementioned post-labour secrecy code and my commitment to the continuation of the human race for future generations (you're welcome), and in others it's because there was a good portion of the year following their birth that I couldn't discuss it without crying, so I chose, rather, not to discuss it at all.

But I'm hereby breaking the code, because whilst their birth was traumatic and imperfect (and has possibly left me with a few emotional scars and most certainly an irrational fear of men with large hands), it still brought me two of my three beautiful children, my first son, my first daughter, it made me the mother I so longed to be, and there was absolute beauty beneath the brutal.

I was lucky. My twin pregnancy was a breeze. I am one of those irritating people lots of women would love to punch in the face who glowingly adores every moment of pregnancy and basically waltzes around barefoot in a field with sparrows weaving flowers into her hair feeling like an early spring peach blossom as she sprouts forth new life unto the world.

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Yep; me.

Apologies to my long suffering friends who have had to hear endlessly (still to this day!) about how much I loved being pregnant with my twins. But I'm pretty sure it's the first thing I've ever been good at, so I was keen to revel in all its glory.

I had so few pregnancy symptoms that I found it hard to believe I was pregnant with one baby, let alone two. This did, however, mean that I basically lived for the ultrasounds (which are blessedly more frequent in multiple pregnancies) because I wanted to check the babies were indeed still there and OK.

Henry and Tilly, Olivia's four year old twins. Image supplied

It also meant that "x weeks pregnant with twins and no symptoms" was a constant in my google search history.

Out of all the pregnancy symptoms I didn't have however, I most certainly, decidedly, definitively did not have constipation.

In any way.

Which is all well and good until you're on your own in the car, stuck in traffic, in the inside lane of a four lane road, with no way of escape, wearing a white mini skirt and all of a sudden you feel even less constipated. Did I mention I was wearing a white mini skirt? Despite my protestations that pregnancy brings with it an inherent series of grossnesses, thereby creating among mothers a sisterhood of shared seemingly-unsharable stories, my husband didn't think I should tell this tale at the expense of my own personal dignity (can't imagine why!), so let's just say, the rest is shitstory.

Other than getting the front seat of the car reupholstered aside, my twin pregnancy was nothing short of entirely enjoyable (yes, yes, groan, eyeroll, vomit, swift kick to the throat etc). I walked 7km every day up until the night before they were born, I didn't have morning sickness, I didn't feel overly heavy or exhausted or cumbersome despite carrying around 11lbs of babies by the time I made it to full term. I was without doubt one of the lucky ones, and I don't take it for granted for a second. Twin pregnancy is not smooth sailing for everyone but I seemed to be on a yacht in Antigua.

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My (very experienced) OBGYN was comfortable with me delivering the babies vaginally, as twin A, my little boy Henry, was head down, paving the way for twin B, my daughter Tilly, who was breech. His one stipulation was that I would need to have a full block epidural for the safety of my breech baby, as we had no way of knowing what position she would move into once Henry had been born and she finally had her womb with no view, to herself.

Watch: Midwife Cath busts some birth myths. Post continues after video. 

I was weirdly disappointed in some ways because I would have liked to have attempted a natural, unmedicated birth (which I ultimately succeeded in having with my third baby three years later) and I remember saying to my OBGYN that I wanted to "feel something".

No you do not. Idiot. Next time I want to feel something, can someone please just get me a copy of The Notebook?

I was induced on a Friday morning when I hadn't gone into labour naturally by 38 weeks. It was slow going initially, I didn't have much more than a modicum of discomfort but I knew I had an anaesthetist booked mid morning to give me "the epidural I had to have". Frankly, I was feeling slightly uneasy about it after the midwife on duty told me countless stories of her recent trip to Africa and how the women there had no pain relief but still had beautiful, natural, peaceful births. #thanksforthat

To be honest, I felt like a big fat failure. I actually didn't want to go straight to an epidural before even being in established labour but I knew it was for the safety of the babies which was obviously paramount. So, despite feeling like I was letting the side down, we proceeded as planned, but not before my OBGYN came in and broke my waters with an instrument that looked like it should have been attached to Captain Hook's arm stump; a small insight into the delightful array of toe curling, teeth gritting, mind numbingly painful sensations to come.

Olivia with her husband. Image supplied.
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After my epidural had been given, I didn't feel much, particularly, aside from an intense full body itch, but I was barely 1cm dilated at this stage, so what I didn't know was that I wasn't feeling anything because I wasn't really having any contractions, not because my epidural was working.

Because the induction gels had failed to achieve any progress, by lunch time I was put on high dose of syntocinon, the drug that induces contractions, and almost immediately the true intensity of labour began. And, strangely, given the catheter of drugs supposedly pumping into my spinal cavity, I was feeling it. All of it. No matter how many times the midwives attempted to "top up" my epidural, the pain wasn't abating.

As it turned out, where my epidural was failing dismally, the syntocinon IV was an overachiever. I was having contraction on contraction with absolutely no break in between and they were strong and hard and unbearably painful. At one point the midwife told me I was having more contractions than is medically "allowed" to induce, and she turned down the drip. But it was like a runaway train and it wasn't going to stop at this point.

I remember begging my husband, like a woman possessed, to make it stop, pleading with him that it was agony, sobbing to him that I needed help with the sort of lack of inhibition you only have when you feel like you have nothing more to lose. There was something so unnatural about the way the contractions hit me wave after wave with no moment between to catch my breath, right from the very word go.

The hospital called the anaesthetist back to reattempt the epidural; the relief I felt on his arrival was palpable but short lived.

It felt like a frenzy of activity as he attempted the epidural for the second time, but again, no relief. I've been told since, that there is apparently a percentage of the population an epidural doesn't work for even when it's positioned correctly, and in an outcome I like to call "bloody typical", it appears that I am a part of this percentage.

One centimetre dilation became 10 centimetres in what was a very short space of time because of the speed and intensity of the contractions, but felt like an eternity of desperate pleas for somebody to please help me have at least a moment free of pain to catch my breath and regain some control.

It became clear that I was going to have these babies with no epidural after all, and it was was also pretty obvious to me that it wasn't going to be the silent peaceful birth I was told earlier in my induction that women were having daily in Africa.

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I was in the throes of an agony that wouldn't end but I didn't swear, I didn't scream, I simply sobbed and begged for help. I was offered gas but it too fell short, I felt no pain relief but the room started spinning, everything went blurry, and I couldn't handle the feeling of even less control than I already had, so we didn't continue with it.

The moment I saw my OBGYN physically roll up his sleeves, I knew we were about to do this thing, my babies were going to be born, epidural or no epidural.

So like many birth stories, there was a fair bit of pushing involved, pushing that felt a little bit too much like pushing out a poo the size and consistency of Uluru for my liking. And maybe even an actual poo, although my husband says not, but I'm not convinced that's not part of some (equally important) elaborate husband secrecy pact to make you believe you haven't lost your allure by doing a shit in front of him.

Forceps appeared. Aka vaginal salad servers.

And then.

My son Henry entered this world at 6:01pm on December 30, 2011.

I cried heaving, emotional sobs as his slippery squalling body was placed on my tummy and I finally met my boy for the first time. Sobs that said to him "at last, you're here. I love you. I wanted you so much. You're mine" without saying any words at all. I'd been waiting for this.

But I had another baby to give birth to, and in typically female fashion, she was going to be my biggest challenge.

When Henry was born, Tilly, who had been breech, slumped down into a transverse position and her arm came down through the cervix. As it turns out, there's no way of giving birth to a baby who is horizontal across your uterus (go figure!!), so my doctor had to use his GIANT HANDS to push her back up all the way into my uterus with his GIANT HANDS and spin her around to a position she could be birthed from. With his GIANT HANDS. And tiny scissors. Because, just quietly, nothing says 'let's get this baby out' more than scissors cutting your vagina.

Even having had a completely natural, unmedicated birth of my singleton since, there is nothing in my life that has rivalled the pain of the nine minutes it took for Tilly to be repositioned and then brought into the world. It was the kind of inexplicable pain that your brain won't let you remember or comprehend after it's all said and done. I simply remember feeling like I was absolutely going to lose my life if the pain went any further.

During the process of turning Tilly (note: giant hands involved) just about everyone in the room except me, heard an audible snap. My husband to this day describes a look passing between himself and the doctor. A look that said, in a word, "shit".

When she was born at 6:10pm, 9 minutes after her twin brother, Tilly was quiet.

I remember shouting into what seemed like an inexorable silence for the first time in the entire labour, "is she ok???" over and over again.

After an apparent eternity passed, I heard the blessed sound of her tiny little mew of a cry, but my second baby wasn't given to me to hold immediately as my first had been.

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Our doctor approached us and told us solemnly that in the process of turning Tilly back into a breech position so she could be born, her leg had been broken. We were later to find out it was her femur, the strongest and longest bone in the human body, and it had been completely snapped in half.

I wasn't allowed to breastfeed her, she was given to me to hold only briefly before she was medically evacuated to another hospital.

I had just given birth to twins, and yet I was left with one baby.

I can't write about it without feeling an overwhelming sense of loss and grief, even now, four years later.

We were lucky, really, so many parents of multiples go through so much worse. Premature babies; weeks, months in NICU's, going home without their babies and having to return daily to visit.

Tilly was returned to us after 29 hours apart. 29 hours of very limited communication from the hospital she'd been taken to however, as it was the middle of the festive season, hospitals were on skeleton staff and it was difficult to get a hold of specialists. When we were given the go ahead to collect her, my husband picked her up himself, and whilst we didn't have answers about her broken leg and what that would mean, we did have our little girl back.

It was New Year's Eve and we watched the fireworks that night from our hospital room window at midnight, and my husband and I cried tears of joy that we were a family, together in that moment, after everything that had gone before us and everything that was to come.

Henry and Tilly, with baby Rosie. Image supplied.

What I can say is that the absolute agony I had experienced giving birth, having back to back intensely painful contractions followed by a podalic version (turning of the foetus in the womb during childbirth) all without any pain relief, was nothing in comparison to the pain I felt in my heart when my baby girl spent her first night of life away from her mummy.

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When my husband had visited her in the hospital the morning following her birth, she was alone and crying when he entered the special care nursery. When he held her, she stopped immediately. The story breaks my heart every time I think of it, my baby alone without her brother for the first time, without us, the ones who were supposed to be there to soothe her cries. I've always believed that moment formed a very special bond between Tilly and her dad. They have something inexplicable and, despite the circumstances, I'm so glad they do.

Somehow, and in some way, what happened feels like my fault still to this day. As though perhaps the epidural failed because I had been mentally resisting having it at all. I wonder if I had a working epidural, would my doctor have been under less pressure to turn Tilly so quickly, because I wouldn't have been sobbing in agony and begging for help all over the place, I would have been calm and pain free, and maybe the following course of events wouldn't have happened. My rational brain knows these thoughts aren't helping anyone and won't change the past. I was convinced for months after her birth that Tilly wouldn't love me or feel as connected to me because she hadn't been with me after she was born. I wasn't the one to feed her, hold her, soothe her, in her first 24 hours of life. And still to this day, I don't even know who did. I wish I did.

Today, however, my beautiful, 4 year old Tilly is my shadow, and not only are we as bonded and as connected as a mother and daughter could ever hope to be, but her femur has also recovered to the point that you would never know it had happened. Sometimes people tell me how lucky she was, but I know we are the lucky ones.

I was traumatised beyond comprehension after the birth. I couldn't even get out of bed for days, my milk didn't come in for almost a week and I was told this can be the result of a traumatic birth. I was trying to learn how to tandem feed two babies, with low milk supply, juggling one newborn with a broken leg that we didn't have any knowledge of how to even manoeuvre and I'd never even changed a nappy before. But we got through it, and after eleven days in hospital and an incredibly steep learning curve, we brought our twins home and started our lives as a family.

We have been blessed with, now, three beautiful children, Henry, Tilly and Rosie, and my two birth experiences couldn't have been more different. One went horribly wrong, and the following turned out exactly as I had been hoping it would. But one thing stays constant for all three of my children; we are nothing if not entirely privileged and honoured to have had these little lives bestowed upon us, no matter what the circumstances of their births, and we are so incredibly lucky to have experienced both twins and a singleton in our lives as parents. Our three little humans have taught us humility, perseverance, resilience, and complete and absolute unconditional love, and are more than we could have ever hoped for.

And, moreover, I will never again wear a white mini skirt. Just sayin'...

Do you have a birth story you'd like to share? Email us at [email protected] with subject line: My Birth Story.  

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