Motherhood when you’re completely Unprepared
If you are an expectant mum looking to surround yourself with positive birth stories, then this story may not be for you. This story is something I would classify as negative experience.
If I had to use one word to define my first birth experience when my son was born, it would be unprepared. I was a young mum, at just under 17 years old. While I had attended the hospital antenatal classes for teenage parents, I found the classes much like those here in Ireland. While I was introduced to the types of pain relief options available to me along with being given information on what pitocin (synthetic oxytocin) is, there was no discussion during the classes about the benefits, risks or alternatives to having any of those interventions. They also didn’t discuss when such recommendations would be made or when/how someone could exercise informed refusal. Membrane sweeps were not discussed, nor was the “cascade of interventions-” how one intervention is more likely to lead to another and another and another.
My son’s biological father was not in the picture at this time so I attended these classes alone and left with the information I learned in my brain only. My parents hadn’t attended with me so they did not know what information or advice I was being given one way or the other. By the end of my classes I decided I wanted to have a birth with few interventions and with no pain relief, if possible. I remember telling my mom that I wanted a “natural birth” like she had. I thought if she could have five babies without pain relief, I could too.
I went into labour with my son at 1 am in my parents’ home. The first thing I did, and what I regret now, is going to hospital so soon. I only had contractions for maybe an hour and they were not very intense. I did not time them but went into hospital anyway because although I was a bit anxious, I was also excited to meet my baby. I made the mistake of assuming that because the hospital staff heard I wanted an unmedicated birth that they would help me achieve that. While some nurses were supportive, for the most part I was encouraged to lie in bed and be monitored although there was no medical reason for either. I did get out of the bed to take a shower for a very long time, I walked the halls of the hospital and sat on the bed upright for awhile. I remember having vaginal exams and being told I was only 3 cm dilated or that things were taking longer than the hospital staff liked. During all of this time my baby and I were doing really, really well- no need for concern at all. **I knew this at the time and when I later requested my medical notes, there was no medical issues of any kind indicated. Despite this, I remember feeling pressure like I had to somehow will my body to labour more quickly.
Let’s be clear. Many hospitals would like mothers to dilate at the rate of 1 cm per hour, however, research has shown that women’s labours are as unique as they are. Some women labour for days and others for only a couple hours (or less!). The expectation that ALL women should dilate at 1 cm an hour is flawed and at its worst, can put mums and babies in danger when unnecessary interventions with real potential consequences are suggested for no medical reason. I didn’t realise just how long a first labour could take at sixteen years old. I was ignorant to the fact that the less dilated you are when you arrive in hospital, the more likely you are to have a caesarean birth! (Research here) I was ill prepared in having to advocate for myself and tell the nurses what I did and did not want. Back then birth preferences weren’t even a thing… not in my area of the United States anyway! My labour was attended by my mom and sisters. While having them there for support was great, none of them knew enough about birth or enough about my unique wishes to support me fully. In hindsight, what I really needed was a birth doula!
Anyway- after being pressured by medical staff for fifteen hours, they suggested and I “consented” to a pitocin (aka syntocin) drip. Again, nothing was explained to me. I was told my contractions would come on more quickly but I was not told any risks of use- like hyperstimulation of the uterus, my baby possibly going into distress, a higher risk of perineal tearing, a higher risk of postnatal depression, etc. My manageable contractions soon turned into what I call “monster contractions.” Although I originally did not want pain relief, I turned to that option because I simply couldn’t cope with what was happening to my body so quickly. I remember crying because I felt like things were going spinning out of control and headed in a direction I didn’t want, all the while nothing was being explained to me! The nubain (narcotic pain relief similar to pethidine) was put into my IV and instead of it helping with the pain, it barely took the edge off. To make matters worse, it also made me incredibly high so I found it difficult to focus and remember the rest of my labour. Most of the rest of my birth story is fragmented bits and pieces that I have managed to piece together with the help of my family who were there with me.
What I do remember is it became clear that my uterus was being hyperstimulated and I went from 4 to 10 cm dilated and pushing in an hour. Considering the slow start to my labour, there’s no way I think my body would have dilated that quickly and intensely on its own. I remember pushing while on my back and finding it really challenging. My head felt so heavy from the nubain and wait, what!? It feels like I’m pooping! I said this to my mother multiple times as she kept a cool cloth on my forehead. The #1 thing that surprised me the most about birth was how rectal (versus vaginal) the pressure is when your baby is about to arrive! If you haven’t had your baby yet, you will soon know what I mean! While this pressure may feel overwhelming, I know now that it is not something to fear, as it means your baby is really close to arriving!
As I was pushing I remember the nurses had to page the doctor on call for the evening. They kept telling me NOT to push. I remember thinking “Are you fucking kidding me!?” They cranked up the pitocin to speed up my labour and now that my baby was ready to arrive, they wanted me to STOP!? The doctor walked in, I was annoyed and told him “hurry up please!?” These are the bits and pieces I can remember but again, I was high off my head after one administration of nubain. My son was born at 6:50 pm on the 22nd Dec. To this day I still think his “real” birthday should have been the 23rd. Had I stayed home longer, been left alone to labour at my own pace in hospital and without constant interruptions and pressure, I think the pitocin would have remained unnecessary. Its use wasn’t medically indicated and that still bothers me to this day. If I didn’t have the pitocin, would I have needed the nubain? The nubain is what blurs my birth and stole the memory of my son being born from me. I remained feeling high for hours once he arrived, which is also unpleasant and heartbreaking. Some of the first pictures of my son and I together are still difficult for me to look at. You can tell the nubain made me drowsy and high.
While this birth story isn’t the most high-intervention out there… it was still very negative for me. I was a young mother so perhaps that’s why the medical staff treated me how they did. I don’t know. When I think back on my first son’s birth I feel like things were happening to me instead of being involved and informed in my own care. Things went down a path that I wasn’t anticipating and I didn’t know how to handle it- and I had no help. I wish I had the words or the knowledge that I do now. My son was born happy and healthy but that doesn’t discredit the fact that my experience is something I look back on with disappointment. It is also true that this first negative experience is why I hired a birth doula for my second labour!
I am thankful that my following three births were when I was older, more educated, prepared and when I had a supportive partner by my side. Don’t underestimate the importance of feeling prepared and confident as your baby’s estimated birth date nears! While my first birth story is negative, I hope anyone reading this understands that you can absolutely have a positive experience, no matter what direction your labour takes! I really think I could have had a positive experience, even with the pitocin drip and nubain, if the medical staff would have involved me in my own care. Maybe it could have felt more positive if I felt respected and like I was making the choices instead of them being made for me. Your birth can be positive! Surround yourself with positive people, positive stories, read books, attend a workshop, hire support like a birth doula if you feel the need, create your birth preferences and choose the healthcare provider that you feel can best support your journey. And as always, I’m here if you would like to reach out!