Lack of information or choice, premature labour, medical crises, insensitive or undignified care can all conspire against an active birth and a positive start to mothering. Jane Palmer describes how her son's birth didn't go according to plan.
I was 35 weeks pregnant and had found out the previous week that my baby was breech. My doctor had tried to turn him unsuccessfully (twice). He referred me to a specialist at Westmead who again tried unsuccessfully. He did an internal examination and said it wouldn't be long until the baby would be born. When I arrived home from seeing the specialist I was feeling some discomfort and felt sick. I laid down on the lounge to get some rest. Moments later my waters broke with a gush. I couldn't believe it was happening. I was at home with my teenage sister Karen (14); my parents were away (I was living at home). A neighbour took Karen and myself to the hospital. Once I'd booked in they took me to a room to see how things were going. It was 5 pm and they hooked me up to a monitor. I was having contractions but I wasn't feeling them yet. After an internal examination they declared that I was 2 cm dilated. Nothing much was happening; only light contractions that I could just feel. My sister went home.
At about 10 pm I was sent down to x-ray to have a pelvimetry to see if my pelvis was large enough so the babies head could pass through it. At this stage the contractions were coming stronger, but they were not regular. The X-rays were okay so they decided to let me try to give birth to the baby in the breech position. Nothing much was happening at 12 midnight, so they decided I should try to get some sleep. They gave me some sleeping tablets and I tried to sleep. As soon as I did, the contractions started to come and they were quite strong and regular.
I was moved to a delivery room at 2 am as things were moving along quite well. I was coping with the pain and it seemed everything was great. I rang my sister to come in, as she was my support person. At 4 am everything stopped. I managed about half an hour's sleep. I was very tired and only getting the occasional contraction. I was trying to walk around as much as I could but I was hooked up to a monitor most of the time. I was growing to hate the monitor. I'd had three showers and found they were great. They made me feel heaps better but again they were limited because of the monitor.
At 6 am they decided to induce me to get the contractions going again. It was another intervention. My idea of natural childbirth had flown out the window. I proved much too sensitive to the drip. My contractions didn't stop: the peaks kept getting higher and there were no breaks. I somehow managed to breathe through this but the drip had to be stopped. I kept going by myself for an hour but again the contractions nearly stopped. They did another internal examination at about 10 am and I was 6 cm dilated. The specialist came in and told me in no uncertain terms that if I wanted a vaginal birth I had to do exactly what he said. This took me down a few pegs. Nothing was happening as I'd expected. He told me I was going to have an epidural and be induced again. When it was time to deliver the baby I was to be in stirrups, have an episiotomy, forceps delivery and to do exactly what he told me. It was turning into a nightmare.
The epidural was given and the drip to induce labour was started again. The contractions started and I couldn't feel them. My mother had arrived at about 2 pm. Karen and Mum stayed with me. I was now monitored all the time. The baby had one monitor, inserted in me attached to his bottom. This had to be put in three times. I was bed-bound. The epidural was topped up twice as it wore off quickly. It was one that you couldn't feel normal contractions but you could push. The third top up didn't have any effect. Hot packs and breathing were the only things that got me through.
At about 5.30 pm on Wednesday, I felt an incredible urge to push. I'd been told by the specialist not to push until he said. He was called in. The pain was incredible. Tears streamed down my face. I couldn't cope with the urge to push any longer. I had to push. But I was told to wait. It was agonising. The specialist arrived and did an examination. He said I wasn't quite ready. I felt out of control and was extremely tired. Nothing could alleviate the pain. The specialist came back and said it was okay to push when I wanted to. It was so difficult. I was exhausted. They put me in stirrups and heaps of people arrived - doctors, nurses and onlookers. I felt like a sideshow. I remember trying to push but I couldn't feel anything happening. It was like an uphill battle. Then I felt the most painful burning sensation. His foot came first; the other foot was near his head. His body was relatively easy to deliver compared with the head. I just wanted to scream. I let a noise out and the doctor told me to shut up and concentrate on delivering the baby. It seemed to take ages to deliver the head. It was like pushing against nothing. Joshua came into the world and was placed straight on my tummy at 7.26 pm. He was so tiny and perfect. They took him away to check him out. Moments later he was back with me with a bag to assist his breathing. I couldn't believe the emotions that over took me. I was so enthralled by Joshua I hardly noticed the fancy needlework they were doing to me. Even though the birth was difficult and not how I wanted it to happen, it was the most precious moment of my life. Joshua suffered a few problems being five weeks premature, but soon over came those.