Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The Naivety of a First Time Mum: My Pregnancy & Birth Story

I took up yoga. Granted it was for beginners and took about 15 minutes a session, but it was a step in the right direction. I had struggled with my weight for years, slowly gaining steadily and becoming less and less comfortable in my appearance (relationship weight is a real thing!) so along with trying out some new supplements and a cleaner diet, the yoga finally seemed to be doing the trick. Then I got those two lines. 
We hadn't planned to conceive at all, but after a day or two to let it sink in, we were happy. 'We can do this' we told ourselves over and over again. From the beginning of the pregnancy I was experiencing very painful cramps and pregnancy related ovarian cysts, so of course I eliminated the yoga for fear of losing the baby, an unavoidable paranoia that accompanies pregnancy I'm afraid. To be honest, I think I was destined to be a gainer regardless of exercise as with no excessive eating I was getting heavier by the week. And by the time I swapped to the hospital I wanted to deliver at, I was 13 weeks. 
The hospital carried out their routine evaluation of newly pregnant women; blood tests, urine tests, an abundance of questions and the ever unreliable BMI calculation. But of course, I wasn't newly pregnant, I was 3 months and fully aware I was on my way to a 2 stone weight gain at this point. But as a size 14 and still fitting into all of my clothes, I thought the doctors and midwives would see that I was carrying my weight well and was quite healthy. Oh was I wrong. 
From the moment my BMI was calculated, I was treated horrendously through my entire pregnancy. Fat shaming is a real thing and it is particularly present in the prenatal world. To the medical professionals, it didn't matter how I physically appeared, it didn't matter that I wore my own size 14 clothes until 8 months pregnant, it didn't matter that my blood pressure, urine and blood work always came back normal, it didn't matter that I had a tiny bump and could still sit cross legged, touch my toes and shave my own legs. My BMI was through the roof, therefore to them, I may as well have needed a crane to lift me onto a hospital bed. I had to meet with an anaesthetist so she could evaluate whether I was too fat for an epidural if I wanted one. Surprise surprise, of course I bloody wasn't. I was spoken to horribly by several doctors and midwives who made me feel as though I didn't deserve a baby because of my BMI. And probably the biggest factor in this entire story, I was pushed to do a GTT (Glucose Tolerance Test) to check for gestational diabetes. 
Now, GTT's are offered to all women usually somewhere during their 2nd trimester. You drink this really sugary liquid and then your blood is checked a few hours later to see how well your insuline is working. I passed this test, however after 2 hours they noticed I was 0.1 over the limit. And let's not forget, to them I was Jabba the Hut so they diagnosed me with diet controlled Gestational Diabetes. I had to test my blood sugar 4 times a day, 1 hour after eating. But for the remainder of my pregnancy, I still ate whatever I wanted and my sugars never even came close to the limit, in fact, one night we ordered Dominos and afterwards my blood sugar was too low! I honestly don't believe that if a skinny girl had gotten those same results they would have diagnosed her with anything. 
So the reason I'm writing about the fat shaming I experienced and the GD diagnosis is to set up why my labour and birth were so horrendous, why it was like a punishment for not being skinny and why it was all completely avoidable. Because I had been diagnosed with GD even though I was absolutely fine, the doctors and consultants pushed me into a scheduled induction. The baby was perfectly healthy and on track with her weight gain and besides this 0.1 over the limit, I was a completely healthy pregnant woman. But it was my first pregnancy, I'm very young and have anxiety through the roof. I had no idea I was within my rights to decline. So of course, I nodded quietly and allowed them to schedule me in for my due date, 5.4.15. 

We got to the hospital at around 8am that morning. Leading up to my due date, I'd had no contractions real or fake, no bloody show and had only lost a touch of mucus. They checked me and I wasn't dilated nor was I effaced. My cervix wasn't soft and basically I was no where closed to going into labour. 
They started me off with a pessary. Which is basically like a tampon soaked in a hormone that sits behind your cervix, super painful to have inserted and super painful to... Wear? (Poor word choice, sorry!) after about 6 hours, I was checked - no change at all. So they left it in. I was in a room which was extremely hot and the midwives kept promising to bring me a fan but they never did. I got so warm and by that night I felt feverish and ill as if I was going to pass out. No one was listening to me and instead stuck me on a machine to monitor the baby's heartbeat. At some point I overheated that much that the baby's heart rate escalated into the 200's and wouldn't come down, I began getting excruciating pain in my back and hips and no one was listening to me. I had the biggest panic attack while stuck on a monitor in the hospital bed which was soaked in sweat. It was so scary that Declan and my mum began to panic too and I was finally rushed upstairs to the labour ward where I was put on a drip and kept there until the baby's heart rate came back down to normal. They took me straight back to my room downstairs after that, but this time Declan had stolen a fan which, no word of a lie, stayed on for the remainder of my stay. 
24 hours after they first put that horrific pessary in, I was checked again. Those cervical examinations by the way, are the most painful thing ever and they got increasingly worse each time to the point where I needed gas and air just to get through them. In one entire day I had not progressed at all. My body and the baby were just not ready yet. They decided to try and induce me with a hormone gel instead. It can take up to 3 doses every 6 hours to work but most women usually go into active labour after the 1st or 2nd. After another 24 hours and all 3 doses I was getting regular contractions but physically had still not progressed at all. By this point I was getting very depressed and all I wanted to do was go home; I was in a lot of pain and was really uncomfortable. Declan even had to bath me because I was so drained.
I woke up on the 3rd morning and as soon as I stood up I felt a gush. 'Yes!' I thought, 'finally we're getting somewhere.' I was examined and my water had broken but not completely and, surprise, I had still not dialated, softened, shortened, whatever else my poor downstairs was supposed to have done 3 days ago. 
But finally I was taken upstairs to a delivery suite where I was put on the notorious pitocin drip. Pitocin is a hormone which can bring on your contractions hard and strong, it's known that women who are given this drip are more likely to need pain relief than women who go into labour naturally. After a couple of hours, they broke the rest of my water and turned the drip right up. 
I had planned since early in my pregnancy that I wanted a drug free Active Labour, which basically means a lot of walking, kneeling and squatting, allowing gravity to do its thing like nature intended. But because of the GD diagnosis, they refused to let me move from the hospital bed as they wanted to monitor the baby constantly. Again, because I was a first timer, young and scared to speak out, I didn't realise that I could decline constant monitoring as long as baby was doing okay (which she was). I felt like this was another way of them punishing me for being what they deemed as fat. I felt like they were making labour extra un-enjoyable in order to make me feel bad for being overweight and restricted in my options. I understand that some overweight pregnant women do encounter complications and I'm aware that someone else with a similar BMI to me may have been a lot larger than what I was. However there was no individuality to their treatment, no subjectivity, they didn't base their rules on me individually but on the weight bracket in which I came under. 
So the midwife continued to increase the pitocin I was receiving and I went a good 3-4 hours with no pain relief besides gas and air. It was excruciating. The only way I can describe the pain of contractions is: dehabilitating. You can't focus, you can't concentrate, you can't speak or get across what you want. When people touch you or try to comfort you, you just want them to leave you alone because the only thing your mind can capacitate is writhing around and groaning like an idiot. After being checked and only being about 2cm the doctors and midwives were trying to get me to agree to an epidural but I was determined to last as long as possible. So we finally compromised and I got a dose of diamorphine straight in the thigh. It was utter bliss. 
To be quite honest, that entire night is a complete blur to me now. I remember flashes but other parts I have no recollection. I can't remember midwives doing the change over, I can't remember Declan taking selfies next to me, I can't remember the doctor coming in and convincing me to have an epidural and I can't remember having my cervix checked and being told I was 7cm. All I remember is throwing up the entire time, my mouth being dry and my lips so cracked from the gas and air and feeling this insane pressure and urge to push when sitting on the edge of the bed for the epidural. 
By the morning of the 4th day I was fully dialated and they checked the baby who they found was back to back (head down but facing my stomach instead of my back). Another reason I believe she was not ready to come. So they had me start pushing. I pushed so hard the midwife said she could see the baby's head, but her positioning was making it impossible. So they wheeled me into theatre, gave me an episiotomy (a cut) and turned her around with forceps which meant I could finally push her out. 
She was so warm when she was placed on my chest and I could feel all of her hair under my chin. 'She doesn't even have a cone head!' One of the doctors said, knowing I really didn't want that to happen. And I remember just turning to Declan and saying with genuine shock how beautiful she was. Neither of us cried because we were so drained by the past 4 days. Instead he got to take the baby off to get dressed and show to my mum while they stitched me up. 
Eden was born at 8.59am at 7lb 7oz, but she looked like a 5 pounder. She was tiny, completely healthy and just perfect. There was nothing wrong with her blood sugar at all and I was even told by a midwife that we could have gone home that same day if it wasn't for the fact I had the GD diagnosis. Instead they left me lying with no bottoms on and a catheter in until around 10 that night. It was so devastating after the high of giving birth that morning. 
We were discharged the next day and I had never been happier to be home. The baby settled in perfectly but I struggled a lot. The pain of an episiotomy is unlike anything. I couldn't sit, stand, walk, lie down. I had to pee standing up because sitting on the toilet would make me feel like my stitches were popping open. I cried non stop for the first week because the pain was so bad. I felt like a useless mother because I needed help with everything, I couldn't kneel down to change her nappy or bath her, it took around 10 minutes to carefully sit myself up in bed to see to her when she cried. People were visiting and I couldn't enjoy introducing Eden to them because all I could think about was how no matter what I did, my stitches felt like they were tearing open. 
I think I was about a week post partum when I went to the toilet before bed one night and as I stood up and was gently trying to pull my bottoms up, I passed 3 huge clots. They looked like something from an alien movie, so much so I even called Declan in and we stood staring at them in disgust for a good few minutes. And no word of a lie, I woke up the next morning and the pain was gone. I still had to be careful when I sat down but I finally felt like I was progressing for the first time since Eden was born. 
I can't help but feel like if they had just focused less on my BMI and more on my own individual health then the entire trauma that was my labour and delivery could have been avoided. I wouldn't have been induced, I would have gone naturally when both me and baby were ready, I would have contracted the way I wanted to at home for the majority of my labour, the baby may have turned herself around by then and I probably would have delivered vaginally, unassisted and without the need for an episiotomy. I think a lot of it also had to do with Naivety. I was a 21 year old first time mum who didn't feel she had the right to make her own decisions about her birth. I would always have done what was best for my baby, but all was well and sometimes, just sometimes the midwives don't actually know best. You are told always to trust what your body is telling you, my body was giving blaring signs it was not ready to go through labour, yet we forced it and it has left me with not the greatest memories of my daughter's birth.

However, Eden is 3 months old tomorrow! And she is the most intelligent, strong and beautiful little baby I have ever known. She is still absolutely tiny but the biggest figure in so many people's lives now. No matter how traumatic her birth was, I would do it all over again if it meant I got her at the end of it. 

If you are young and pregnant and feel like you're being railroaded into a decision you are not comfortable with, just remember that it is your body and you have the right to say no. Of course, please always do what keeps your baby safe, but if, like me, your instincts tell you it's not right, don't feel like you can't trust them. (And don't take shit from judgmental doctors! I wish more than anything I voiced how rude they were to me back when I was pregnant).

Leigh xo


Twitter: www.twitter.com/leighbop
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