When I was expecting Bailey, birth was a bit of an enigma to me. It was this ever present event looming on the horizon in a sinister fashion, one that I knew from the general rhetoric was going to be pretty horrendous – pain, gore, screaming, pooping in front of complete strangers…. – but that also was meant to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life given that I would meet my child for the very first time. It was something I had no choice but to go through – there were no two ways about that – this baby had to come out one way or another! So it was hard to know how to feel about it to be honest. You regularly heard horror stories about it, yet millions of women, including many very close to you, had not only experienced it but chosen to experience it more than once. And then of course there was that magical moment everyone talks about, where your little bundle of joy is handed to you and the whole thing is forgotten. So could it really be that bad?? (Spoiler: Yes. Yes, it could!) It just felt like too big and too confusing a thing to really get my brain wrapped around, so I did what I do best – I buried it. I gave it very little thought. I found a very zen place where I accepted I couldn’t really plan for something that I didn’t understand, and other than a few ‘nice to haves’ (a pool, no strong drugs, as calm an atmosphere as possible…) I didn’t really have much of a birth plan – I truly thought I was ready to take on whatever birth had to throw at me. One thing was a given though. A C-section was probably the last thing that I wanted. I obviously knew that it was possible I might not have a choice in the matter, but to me a section was something I didn’t want to touch with a bargepole. And that is largely because of the way they are positioned in society – not just because of the gross way it has historically been labelled the ‘easy’ option for those ‘too posh to push’, but because in a medical context it is often framed as something that should only be considered in emergencies with the risks and dangers taking centre stage in any discussion.
As it transpires, I needn’t have worried and ended up getting exactly the birth I wanted with Bailey. It was very calm, it happened in the water and other than gas and air there were no drugs involved. Given this, and the fact I had followed all the advice that promised I would come away from birth unscathed – I did my pelvic floors, I only pushed with my contractions, I remembered my breathing and stayed as calm as I could – you could be forgiven for assuming that my birth was a very positive one, and in some ways it was – it definitely holds some magical memories and I was fortunate enough not to need medical intervention or suffer any major trauma. Yet I came away with a long lasting impact that I simply wasn’t prepared for. I tore quite badly and needed stitches. I ended up with fairly mild, but still noticeable, pelvic organ prolapse. It took me far longer to recover than I’d expected, both physically and mentally. And for reasons I struggled to explain for a long time, I just couldn’t shake the negative feelings I had about the experience. It was strong enough for me to insist for quite a while that I wouldn’t be having any more children, because I simply didn’t want to go through it again. But then of course, nature plays the cruellest trick on us. After 6 months or so those feelings began to soften around the edges. Slowly the experience became less of a traumatic memory and more an ‘unpleasant experience’ and somehow I found myself willing to give it another go! This time will be different, I thought. This time I am going in armed with experience and knowledge. I know now that losing control of my mind or body are huge triggers for my anxiety. I know now that hospitals are the last place I want to spend any large amount of time. And I know now that I don’t need to rush, I can slow down a little and let my body do it’s thing (that sounds stupid to me now, because in the throes of labour the only thing on your mind really is GET THIS THING OUT OF ME AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE!! But it made sense to me in hindsight!) I was adamant this time that I would be having a home birth. I wanted desperately to be in a place I felt safe and loved, particularly as we were just coming out of the other side of a worldwide pandemic – and to heal some of the scars left over from my first birth.
But it wasn’t meant to be. By 8 weeks we had received the bombshell that we were expecting twins, and suddenly all of that comfort I was anchoring to around the birth was shattered into smithereens. Even before doing any research or talking to my consultant I knew that the super chill, drug free, home birth in the water was off the table. For a woman made of tougher stuff that may not have been the case, but sadly I’m not that woman, and I knew I didn’t have the fight in me to go down that route, and in a move that frankly shocked me, quite early on I decided that a C-section was how I wanted to bring these babies into the world. I talked quite a lot in this post about how I came to that decision, so I won’t repeat it all, but I will add that one of the big factors for me wanting a section in the end was that, having now experienced a vaginal delivery that went as well as could be expected, it wasn’t the black and white decision I’d initially been led to believe it was. Now lets get things straight – a caesarean is a major operation. It carries more risks than a natural delivery and the recovery is very different to a vaginal birth, so it should never be something that is taken lightly (not that I believe any woman undergoing one actually does, mind…) It goes without saying that my experience is mine alone and this is something you should discuss with your health practitioners, not just take my word for it. But while I completely understand why a ‘natural’ birth (and I use that term loosely, because a baby coming out of the originally intended exit doesn’t necessarily make for an experience that feels in any way natural) would be the preferred option in a medical sense, purely for risk reasons, I feel the way it is discussed and pushed has polarised the two scenarios in a way that is actually quite harmful. Sections are often framed as the absolute worst case scenario, something that should only be done in an emergency and I know from my own and many other women’s experiences, something that won’t even be discussed without a lot of challenging (which can be hard to do for a woman who isn’t the expert in the room, is dosed up on hormones and is absolutely chock full of fear and anxiety about bringing their bundle into the world in one piece!) The flip side is that vaginal deliveries are framed as the ‘safe’ option, but certainly for me that left me under a false assumption that it was unlikely anything bad would happen to me. Aside from the myths I mentioned earlier that turned out not to be true in terms of my birth injuries, I was always told I ‘didn’t want a section’ because I would need to rest and recover, which of course suggests I wouldn’t have to do the same after giving birth vaginally (so far from the truth it’s not even funny…). In my experience, women just aren’t properly prepared for birth and what follows it, and as a result I was left completely shell shocked after Bailey was born. I strained every muscle in my body, making any kind of movement, particularly lifting Bailey, very painful for weeks. Stitches in your privates obviously makes life more than a little uncomfortable, and the heavy bleeding, which went on for a couple of months, felt relentless. And I was devastated to discover I had prolapsed despite doing all the things I’d been told would prevent it, feeling convinced I’d somehow ‘done it wrong’. I felt broken. It clouded the first few weeks we had with him and I didn’t want to go through that again, so I decided I wanted to cut out the unknowns and have something to anchor to. I will go on to write another post dedicated to my recovery as I think that’s a really important factor when making this decision, but this post is already long enough as it is, so for now, onto the big day….
The morning of my section I was up before the birds. I’m not even sure if that is an accurate statement, come to think of it, because by that point decent sleep was very much a thing of the past – particularly after the steroid injections I was given to help their lungs during an early term birth – so it feels more likely I was just already awake. Either way, rather than try to get back to sleep, I climbed out of bed (not an easy feat at 37 weeks with twins!) and headed to the kitchen to make myself a coffee. Partly, it was a simple act, born from the fact that I would need to be nil by mouth within the hour, and going without my morning coffee seemed too cruel a punishment on a day when I really needed to feel ‘together’. But mainly, I needed to take a moment of calm with my babies on what would be their birth day. Bailey’s birth caught me by surprise and I just wasn’t prepared for how sad I would find myself that my pregnancy was over, so I wanted to be sure I took some time for just me and my bump, to try my best to memorise exactly how it felt to have them there, moving inside my belly. All too soon though it was time to get moving as we had a 7am check in at the hospital. I showered, plaited my hair, pulled on my comfiest clothes and took an antacid as directed a few days before. I couldn’t resist sneaking a peek at my sleeping firstborn, even though I knew it was a mistake. I’d been holding it together until this point, in a kind of daze and not really acknowledging that within a few hours I’d be a mother of three. But seeing my tiny boy, so small in the middle of the ‘big boy’ bed he’d moved into only weeks before, brought on the tears. I’d struggled the whole way through my pregnancy with feelings of guilt about changing his life forever, and at that moment I felt it more intensely than ever. Just a few hours before I had tucked him in as normal, brushing his teeth, choosing a story and singing Tee & Mo’s ‘Go To Sleep’ before having a little cuddle and kiss and turning on his night light. But this time, when he woke up I wouldn’t be there, I had no idea when I’d be back, and that thought absolutely broke my heart, especially as when I did finally return I’d be bringing with me two new babies to compete for our attention. He just had no idea what a huge event was coming his way, and it killed me. But the time had come, and I had no choice but to leave. So after one final bump shot, a hug from my mum, who had come to stay to take care of Bailey, and a false start when I remembered I’d left the colostrum I’d harvested in the freezer, we climbed into the car and set off.
I couldn’t tell you what we talked about on the way to the hospital, that part is a complete blur. I know I watched the dark countryside whizz by outside the window, thinking a lot about Bailey and the similar journey we’d taken just over two years previously (though admittedly this one was far more comfortable and a lot less painful!) and I’m sure we must have conversed at least a little, but neither of us has committed whatever was said to memory. I think perhaps both of us were slowly coming to terms with the idea that this was it – the end of this little life we had so lovingly cultivated was over, and a new one about to take shape. So I think the majority of the half an hour journey in quiet contemplation. I had always assumed I would be more nervous about my impending surgery – having to have an operation has been a big fear of mine since a fairly young age – but somehow I don’t recall it taking up much room in my thoughts. I then quite vividly remember parking – mainly because we were pleasantly surprised to find a free spot close to the entrance after many, many, dramatic dashes to appointments where no spaces were to be found for miles around – and stopping to take another quick snap. The sun was just coming up, the birds singing somewhere far off in the distance and I remember noticing a distinct chill in the air after a very mild start to Autumn. This even further compounded the sense of my world tilting on it’s axis, but from then on in a strange sense of calm descended. It may be in part down to an assumption that I could have a long wait ahead of me since there are no guarantees of timings when it comes to planned sections, but when we checked into the ward at 7am we were cheerfully informed that there was only one other couple due in theatre that morning, and due to the fact we were having twins, we were scheduled to go first! In the back of my mind I still thought – maybe even hoped – there may be an emergency to push us back (that sounds horrid, but obviously I only mean in the sense that I didn’t quite feel ready, not that I wanted some poor woman to be having a traumatic birth!) but no emergencies came, and the rest of our birth story took place in just two hours!
I had often wondered what we would talk about as I waited to be taken into theatre, but as it happens there wasn’t much time to dwell on it. After being ushered into a cubicle and having a few basic stats done and paperwork checked I was directed to change into a very attractive hospital gown and compression socks combo, and from then it was all go! Dan was taken off to change, and the next time I saw him he was stood outside theatre in his scrubs, complete with a sticker saying ‘I Am Dad’, and from this point onwards, everything happened so quickly and calmly that I almost didn’t realise it was happening. I had imagined that in these last few moments with my babies inside me I would drink in every moment and say the proper goodbye that I wasn’t able to with Bailey, but it just didn’t happen. in a state I could almost liken to sleepwalking we seemingly floated through the introductions with all the medical team. I remember it being very bright and slightly chilly. I know I was talked through the procedure as they busied about me getting prepared, but I don’t really remember what was said. I remember the midwife on duty was the one who’d given me my steroid injections a few days before which gave a certain sense of familiarity and comfort to proceedings. And in no time at all I was sat with a cushion under my stomach receiving my epidural (which was undoubtedly uncomfortable, but not as painful as I’ve heard it has been for some people) The next half an hour seemed to pass in a blur as they got me comfortably laid down, had one last check of the babies heart rates and ran through checks of how progressed the anaesthetic was using cold sprays and various levels of pressure. Essentially, someone was talking to me pretty much the whole time and it all felt so relaxed and normal that it didn’t even seem to dawn on me that the moment had come when they made the first incision!
It felt like just a few minutes before I heard one of the surgeons tell Dan to get ready as the first baby was about to join us, and at 9.03am Dan laughed as he told me we had another son and I heard my Jesse cry for the first time. Unlike this moment with Bailey, where I felt strangely numb, I let the emotions flood me and felt the tears come as the midwife brought him round so I could see him. I let out a little gasp as I laid eyes on him as for some reason I felt surprised that he didn’t look even remotely like Bailey, but still beautiful all the same! She told me I could touch him and I reached out to stroke his soft little cheek, but before I knew it the surgeon announced that baby number two was on his way already! For some reason, in that moment, I knew in my gut that it was going to be another boy, so when Dan confirmed that it was I couldn’t help but laugh, along with the midwife who I’d told in that earlier appointment that I suspected it was inevitable. Our second twin, and third baby boy, entered the world so quickly after his brother that they had to check three different watches to confirm that they had, indeed, both been born at 9.03! Soon, Taylor was brought to me, all cleaned up and wrapped in a blanket with a little knitted hat on his head, and was laid on my chest. Dan explained to me that it was taking a little longer to get Jesse’s oxygen levels up, but no one seemed too concerned, and before I knew it he joined me too. I spent the next few moments quietly crying, switching my gaze between the two, unable to believe these two little creatures, who were both noisily bleating like little lambs, were really mine! They already seemed so different to Bailey – who was so quiet and serene in the moments following his birth – and I wanted to study every detail of their faces to try and work out who looked like who. But of course there were other things to attend to – namely stitching me back up. I’m pleased to report that this all went very smoothly for me – though a fair amount of blood was lost (I remember the surgeon making a passing remark about me being a bit of an ‘oozer’ but I still don’t really know what that meant) Now, the strangest thing about the anaesthetic for a section is that it doesn’t stop you feeling, it just stops the pain. You feel everything, which is a very odd experience. I’ve often heard it described as feeling like someone is doing the washing up inside you, but honestly, I think that’s a nice, rose tinted description. For me it wasn’t particularly pleasant. It felt quite brutal, violent almost at times (not through any intention or wrong doing on the surgeon’s part you understand, just in that it takes a lot of force and that took me by surprise!) There were times when I felt as though it surely wasn’t possible to stretch me open any more than they already were and feeling worried I was going to rip open, but of course I didn’t, and I was stitched back together expertly and neatly. I remember wishing for it to be over though. Apart from the obvious discomfort, I felt exhausted now. My brain had started to feel fuzzy, I felt woozy and a little sick and I felt a chill against my skin. I just wanted the warmth of my babies back and willed for the next part to be over as soon as possible so I could cuddle them again and go to sleep, and thankfully, as far as operations go, it wasn’t too long before we were lying in recovery as the midwife helped me latch my boys.
And for now I shall leave it there, with me basking in the joy of finally welcoming my babies safely into the world after months of anxiety, with Dan watching over us and keeping us safe. An awful lot happened in the hours that followed, and I will follow up soon, but for now I’ll end on this lovely memory. I’ve experienced two births now – both so different to each other in so many ways. But the one thing that both have in common is the incredible sense of euphoria that comes in those next few hours. I’m not sure I will every feel anything again quite like it – that sense that you have just undertaken something so life changing and incredible. For a while at least, both times, everything else just seemed to slip away. The bright lights, the noise and bustle of the hospital, the pain, discomfort and fear while giving birth. It’s all replaced with an amazing sense of calm, and the only people that seem to exist in the world are you and your newly grown family. It really is a magical moment, and I felt it no less than I did after labouring and giving birth ‘naturally’. In fact, if anything, the peaceful, calm setting for my section meant I could stay in the moment more and feel all my emotions. I’m not sure I could pick one over the other, nor can I think of a reason I would want to – both births had their challenges, their difficult and sometimes upsetting parts. Both were painful, gruelling and uncomfortable. But both had their beautiful elements too. And ultimately both hold the most precious memories I’ll ever get to keep – the moments I met my children for the very first time. It’s somehow poetic to me to remember those thoughts that ran through my mind after Bailey was born – that I would never do it again. Yet I did, albeit in a different way. Because for all the suffering that birth brings, welcoming Bailey into our lives and getting to watch him grow was just so wonderful that I couldn’t NOT want to do it again. He made it all seem worth it, and for that I am eternally grateful, for now I get to do the same with our new (or not so new now since it’s taken me so long to write this post!) baby boys. And I can’t wait.