I wrote this the week before Freya’s third birthday but didn’t post it. I held back partly because I didn’t want to cast a shadow over her celebrations but mostly because I was worried it might seem like I didn’t realise how lucky I was to give birth in a safe place to a healthy baby, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact that it has stuck with me must mean something so I’m taking a deep breath and pushing publish.
“This time three years ago…” is a phrase that’s been uttered more than once in our house this week.
We are not generally ones for looking back but when it comes to the birth of your child, the day that changed everything, forever, I don’t think you can be off it.
“Was giving birth your worst experience?” Mark asks.
“Certainly top five,” I reply.
I feel guilty for saying it (and even more so for making it permanent by typing it here) but the further away I get from it, the more I wonder, did it need to be such a demoralising, fraught and, at the end, frightening experience?
It hopefully goes without saying that I am endlessly grateful that she eventually arrived safely and relatively healthy. Being a mum, while a huge challenge, is the best thing to happen to me. And I never take her (or the fact I was able to give birth in a clean, well equipped hospital) for granted.
However, I do wonder, was it the best experience I could have hoped for?
After two previous early losses, when I finally got and remained pregnant I had big dreams for giving birth.
I imagined myself on the midwife-led birthing unit we had visited floating in water, holding Mark’s hand, in a calm, maybe even candle-lit environment. Ideally I would have done it drug-free, although I was open to the idea of pain relief.
It would be the complete opposite of the last time I was an in-patient in that hospital (on that ward, as it happened); induced to miscarry my poorly baby at almost 13 weeks pregnant, writhing in pain, lonely and alone in an overly bright toilet (number one on my worst experiences list).
I get that plans change, especially when it comes to bringing new life into the world. At the end of the day I would have done whatever was needed to have her safe in my arms. From what I can fathom, though, the reason my plans had to change quite so dramatically when Freya was born was down to people not really caring. Or perhaps not having the time to care, is more accurate.
Freya’s labour is a long story – about 29 hours on a busy Bank Holiday to be exact. The only water I got near was in a jug sitting on the bedside table. I mostly felt like I was in the way, an inconvenience and then largely ignored because I wasn’t making a fuss. I had a panic attack because I felt sure something was wrong (and something was wrong). I guess I hoped that eventually someone might take the time to see me – in every sense.
Each time I tried to push, we listened as Freya’s heartbeat got slower and slower and then stopped…before eventually, after what seemed like a dozen minutes, thumping again.
The room was suddenly full of people.
We all began to hold our breath during each silent wait.
At 10lb 3oz and back to back she had no where to go and was in distress.
A doctor tried to turn her, which wasn’t fun for either of us, but when that didn’t work we were rushed to theatre.
Maybe, even if things had been different, I would still have found myself on the operating table? Maybe it was a blessing with such a big baby. I think why I struggle is because, to me, it felt like it didn’t need to get to the emergency stage.
At 3am, more than three hours after the c-section, I finally held Freya for the first time (she was taken to the NICU for checks while I was in recovery). After a quick attempt to breastfeed (and a rushed piece of toast) we were pushed from the delivery room to a ward (our things had already been removed while we were in theatre).
Mark was told to go home, despite the fact I couldn’t feel anything from the neck down. We had no time to talk about what had happened, the trauma we both felt or even to simply revel in the fact that we had a baby, that we were finally parents.
I was left alone in a dim, overheated bay. I was so sweaty it looked like I had been for a swim, my hair was dripping wet. I was unable to move, unable to get out of the bloody hospital gown. It was morning when the lovely lady in the bay opposite took pity on me and handed me Freya. It was the first time I could actually feel her.
We stayed on that noisy, hot ward for four days with people coming and going at all hours. There was no communication, it was almost like I didn’t matter. At one point, while I was in tears and begging to be released from what felt like a prison, a nurse said: “You’re a mum now, you need to put your baby first.” That’s what I was trying to do. I wanted to protect her, get her home, away from the chaos.
Even now, three years on, my heart feels heavy just thinking about that time.
Was it the best experience I could have hoped for? Is it wrong, selfish even, to have wanted something more?