“Childbirth is a time when a woman’s power and strength emerge full force, but it is also a vulnerable time.”
– Annemarie Van Oploo
If you’re new to my blog, welcome. And if not, then welcome back!
How are you? How’s life treating you?
Me I’m doing good. For those of you who have read my previous posts you’ll probably know two things about me.
- On September 17th after 41 weeks and 5 days of being pregnant, I welcomed the most adorable little boy named Matthew.
- My pregnancy and my delivery was very unexpected.
I was suppose to be due on September 5th and though we all know most babies don’t come on their actual due date, I didn’t expect to be 12 days overdue. I also didn’t expect to be contracting for 5 days straight and under go an emergency caesarean section (c-section). I had such a healthy pregnancy (despite the emotional roller-coaster) , so for the delivery to be so traumatic was a shock to me and my family.
Was it the ignorance of being a first-time mum or a failure on the NHS? I’m not sure. A part of me thinks it’s both and here’s why.
My contractions started on a Wednesday after receiving a very painful sweep the day before due to the fact that I was already 1 week and 1 day overdue. The contractions were light at first but they soon progressed and became very painful very quickly. On the Thursday I contacted my midwife to inform her about the pain I was in even after taking pain killers and how I was finding it difficult to sleep on either side because of the contractions but since they were not close together enough she advised me to wait. “This is expected for first-time mums” she said, so we waited.
The next day I received a second sweep in hopes of inducing the labour further as I was only 1 cm dilated. Getting the sweep done the second time was harder and a lot more painful than the first time. I remember when the midwife left my bedroom for me to get dressed I cried my eyes out. I was so tired and already in pain from 2 days of contracting that this time I couldn’t hold back the tears like I did the first time. I didn’t want to cry in front of her though. I thought, she was so calm about it despite my distress so the pain must be normal and I’m just being dramatic.
By the forth day the contractions had gotten so bad and I hadn’t had any sleep since they started that my family decided to take me to the hospital to see if there was something they could do there. I was petrified of them checking how far I’d dilated because of how invasive and painful it can be but I knew it had to be done. They checked and unfortunately I was still only 1 cm dilated so they sent us home to wait till I was at least 4 cm. I was due to be induced the following day so if nothing happened then we’d return to the hospital for my induction. I was in so much pain the whole night my mum couldn’t bare to see me so she tried to keep herself busy by cleaning, cooking and knitting downstairs whilst my sisters helped me through the contractions.
The next day my family and I made our way to the hospital for my induction. I expected to see one of the midwives from my home visits because they had said they’d be at the hospital with me but they weren’t. The midwives that were there checked to see how far I had dilated only to find out I was just 2 cm. I’d been contracting for nearly 5 days now and was only 2 silly cm dilated. This didn’t sound normal and we asked for something to be done but once again we were told it’s expected for first time mums so we should wait a little longer to see if things will improve on their own. If they didn’t I would then be induced.
So we waited. And waited. And waited. We were told to keep track of the contractions which we did but they were all over the place and I was still in excruciating pain that we gave up after a while. My mum kept asking the midwives if there was anything they could do but all they could say was wait. “These things take time, we just have to be patient. She’s doing amazing” they said. They seemed so relaxed about everything and made it seem like we were overreacting so we did as we were told and waited.
12 hours later, a BLACK midwife came to check on me whilst doing her night time rounds. She asked if anyone had done a CTG on me and I said no. She was surprised considering I was booked to be induced at 10am and it was now 10pm. She then asked if my pregnancy was high or low risk and I said low as this is what it has been throughout my pregnancy. “Okay, I’m going to do a CTG on you as this should have been done while you were waiting”, she said. Whilst strapping the CTG machine on me she explained that she would leave the machine to monitor me and the baby for for 30 minutes before leaving the room.
30 minutes later she returned to check the results of the CTG only to discover that my baby’s heart rate kept dropping significantly low during every contraction. My pregnancy had now gone from low risk to high risk because of this. She could see the worry in my face and the frustration in my mums face knowing our concerns had been ignored all day so she proceeded to explain that she’d take the results to the doctor who will likely induce me soon if there is a bed available.
An hour later I was wheeled to the delivery ward where again I was left to wait whilst the doctor and other midwives do another CTG. They offered me pain killers as they could clearly see I was in excruciating pain but this wasn’t enough so they then asked if I wanted other forms of pain relief such as Gas and air, Pethidine injections or Epidural. I chose gas and air as this seemed like the safest and easiest option to me at the time. As I was puffing away I see more midwives coming to look at the CTG and my mum started to get even more frustrated. Finally the doctor came to induce me and oh my goodness I was not prepared for the pain. I never in my wildest thought it would be that painful. I puffed at the gas and air so much but the contractions were coming in quick and fast I couldn’t get high enough to feel completely pain free.
They noticed that not a lot of fluid came out when they induced me so they asked me if my waters had broken already and I said no because I would have felt it, right? The puzzled look on their faces made me even more worried but I was too busy puffing at the gas and air to ask questions so my mum stepped in. She didn’t understand why they were waiting around if the baby’s heart rate kept dropping during every contraction and I wasn’t dilating enough to deliver the baby naturally.
The doctor then advised me to have an Epidural to help levitate the pain whilst they monitored me further. The process sounded painful and uncomfortable but to be honest I’d have said yes to anything to stop the pain. They kept asking me to move from one side to the other to help the baby’s heart rate but that didn’t work. I tried to explain to them that my contractions were at their worst when I was laying on either side but they didn’t listen. They just kept asking me to try and lay on either side. At this point my mum became furious. “What are you waiting for” she said “Can you do something now”. I’d been contracting for 5 days now, was nearly 2 weeks overdue and had 2 sweeps plus been induced and I still wasn’t dilating. To make matters worse, these same contractions they were monitoring were causing the baby’s heart rate to drop low. She urged them to perform a c-section but all they kept doing was saying “Let’s try and get the baby in a comfortable position first. Lydia you’re doing fine.”
But I wasn’t doing fine. I was exhausted, confused and worried about what damage these contractions might be doing to my baby. After going back and forth to consult with other doctors and my mum urging them to do something, they finally decided to perform an emergency c-section. It took for my mum to come to tears for them to stop monitoring me, stop saying I’m doing fine and actually do something to get the baby out. At this point I was in floods of tears.
Throughout my pregnancy I never thought I’d have to deliver my baby via c-section. I knew it could happen but never thought it would. I felt defeated. I’d gone through all this pain for nothing and now I’d have to undergo a procedure I wasn’t prepared for. As the number of doctors and midwives increased in my room, the tears just fell on my face even more. They were all talking to me at once explaining what is about to happen and asking me to sign some documents. I signed but my mum knew I wasn’t hearing them any more so she told them to speak to her and not me. I was tired, annoyed and scared and certainly didn’t have the mental, physically or emotion capacity to understand what they were saying to me.
As they wheeled me into theatre all I can remember is trying not to cry. Trying to tell myself that I was okay and this was all okay but the tears kept flowing. I’d never been to a hospital for any illness since I was 2 years old in Kenya and I don’t remember that so a c-section to be my first experience since then was traumatising. No one in my family had given birth in a UK hospital either so we were at the mercy of the nurses, doctors and midwives.
Moments later Matthew was born and my ordeal was finally over. They wheeled me into the postnatal word to begin my recovery and be reunited with my son and the rest of my family. As happy as we were that Matthew and I were okay, none of us were happy with the way we were treated. Three days later I was discharged and my family and I left the hospital feeling as though I had received substandard care.
Was my experience the norm in this country? At the time it seemed to be. They were so nice about everything that I felt too guilty to question the service I’d received.
But in all honesty I felt let down by the midwives who I’d spent so many weeks getting to know and feeling comfortable with thinking they would be there only to have them show up after the chaos. I felt let down by the hospital staff who ignored my complaints about the pain and insisted I wait. I also let myself down. I allowed the ignorance of being a first time mum and the black woman stereotypes prevent me from complaining about my treatment for fear of being seen as historical or dramatic.
This experience has shown me that the image of the “strong or angry black woman” disinclines black women to show vulnerability while also encouraging second-rate treatment. On one had society thinks black women can take any kind of treatment because we are strong yet on the other black woman are seen as historical or dramatic if we oppose that treatment. The sad thing is that when we fear the angry black woman stereotype we encourage the strong black woman stereotype. At least that’s how it felt like to me.
Would they have made another woman wait so long and be in so much pain? I don’t know. What I do know is I won’t allow myself to have that type of experience again. I’d rather look hysterical and dramatic than to suffer like I did. If my mother wasn’t there to fight for me I don’t know what would have happened. Mothers are amazing and I can only hope to be the same for my son!
As a first time mum, how was your labour and delivery experience? Let me know in the comments below.
Till next time.