At 5am on Sat 1st April, six days before my due date, I got up to pee and felt a dull, period pain-like ache.
“Aaron, I think we’re cooking on gas now,” was the first thing that popped in to my head to say as I walked back in to the bedroom.
We’d spent a wild amount of money and time on hypnobirthing classes, and spent the day putting our techniques in to practice. I wanted to be as chilled out as possible before the main event started so I sat on my birthing ball watching Netflix for most of the day while Aaron roughly timed my contractions. I had a bath and listened to my birth affirmations one last time.
At one point we got down to 6 minute gaps, then further apart again, but eventually at about 9pm we phoned the Midwife-Led Unit to let them know we were coming.
I’d had to battle to be allowed to birth in the MLU (that’s a story for another day), so I felt incredibly grateful to be there. About half an hour after we arrived, there was a pop like a champagne cork and my leggings were soaked through.
After my waters broke, the contractions got real. On my first examination, they told me I was only 2cm dilated. “You fucking what?” I said. “Is that all?” There was a long way to go.
The main reason I had fought to use the MLU was for the birthing pools, and as they were both free we went to use one for a bit of pain relief. I floated about in the water for a while, Aaron playing our hypnobirthing tracks on repeat, and the water really did help with the discomfort. At some point, after about an hour, the midwife told she thought it was time to start pushing, so I did. I hadn’t had any pain relief but was in the hypnobirthing zone, it was like an outer body experience. I was completely focused on my body. Aaron said he’s never felt more helpless in his entire life, that the noises I was making weren’t human, but I don’t remember any of that. I pushed for maybe two hours (although to me it felt like no time at all), and if I’d had the Dream Birth I’d have pushed out my perfect little kid then and there. But this was not the Dream Birth.
They wheeled a bed in to the birthing pool suite to examine me and it turned out I was only 4cm dilated, and by that time exhaustion was already starting to take hold, I’d been up since 5am and all those wasted pushes had taken it out of me.
At about 3am, we left the birthing pool room and although the contractions were manageable, the pressure baring down on my pelvis was getting to me, and I asked for gas and air.
At some point, and I have no idea when or why, I asked for or accepted the offer of Pethidine. The only thing I really knew about my birth was that I wasn’t going to take Pethidine, but I did, and I think that’s why I can’t remember shit. (Most of this birth story has been pieced together by things Aaron told me in the days and weeks after the birth.)
The hours of pushing in the pool had started deep, fierce, surging contractions in my body that I couldn’t stop, and yet I was nowhere near ready to birth. To calm the contractions, they transferred me upstairs to Labour Ward for an epidural.
Aaron phoned my Mum at 6am because he was crashing, exhausted, and I think scared shitless. She was with us within an hour, just in time to watch them wrap me in a bedsheet and wheel me through the hospital.
Aaron went to the car for a couple of hours to sleep, regroup, and my mum dressed me in my maternity PJs so I wasn’t completely starkers anymore. Then for the next 12 hours, I just lied in the bed, off my tits, talking nonsense, being fed bites of Rice Krispie cake and sips of orange juice and water, my cervix making glacially slow progress.
I was put on a drip for dehydration and given epidural top ups so often it was like they were offering cups of tea. Every time my contractions got out of control, the epidural would rein them in again.
But I was exhausted, my body was getting to the point where it wasn’t strong enough to birth. My contractions started to get further apart again, and then there was some sort of inducing process to get things moving again. I have no recollection of it!
When I was finally fully dilated, I tried to push him out. My hypnobirthing classes advised against ‘pushing’ the baby out, instead breathing them down, but by this point Aaron and I were so tired we couldn’t remember any of our techniques, and just did whatever the midwives told us to do. We had completely lost control and I kept getting in trouble. I was told off for making noise, told off for pushing when I shouldn’t be, even though it was body was involuntarily doing it. I remember I kept saying, “I’m not, I’m not!”
But nothing useful was happening, and when they examined me again, I was back to 9cm. A new doctor came in, and after a brief conversation about intervention, she shoved her entire hand up my vagina like I was a farm animal. I screamed and screamed “Please, stop! Please!” but she wouldn’t. No one else in the room made a sound, and the distress was palpable.
When she left I told the midwife that even though I was on a lot of drugs, I was still a consenting adult. “If I say stop, I need that to happen. I need you to make sure it stops.”
The doctor came back and told me they wanted to go straight for a c-section, and I agreed. I knew in my heart he just wasn’t coming out any other way.
The doctor that had violated me sat next to me on the bed, put her arm around me and read me the disclaimer I had to sign. She was extremely comforting now about what was to come, and I signed even though I couldn’t see straight enough to read my own name.
Aaron came back wearing scrubs and Crocs and my mum made sure to get a photo to make fun of him later. The theatre was brighter than I had imagined, and full of people. The night shift that had just come on would be performing the procedure, but the day shift wanted to stick around to meet Lincoln, so it was a full house.
I perched on the table for an injection in my spine, Aaron holding one hand and a nurse holding another. I was laid down, sprayed with something cold and poked with pins. I was talked through every single step before it happened, and I I can’t stress enough the warmth and kindness that enveloped me in that theatre. It was the first time in the entire labour that I felt things were calm and under control. I wasn’t panicked, or frightened, even for one moment.
According to my paperwork, the first incision was made 8:19pm, and he was born at 8:22pm. They asked Aaron if he wanted to see, and from just behind my head, he said “No, you’re alright.” He told me afterwards that what he could see was already enough, my body being moved violently from side-to-side as they tugged and pulled.
They lifted Lincoln over the screen like he was a lion cub, and he was just a perfect, cone-headed, red-faced little sunbeam. He disappeared and there was a very brief cry somewhere off to the side and then he was with Aaron. Aaron had his skin-to-skin time, holding him up so I could see until his arms ached, and we talked to the anaesthetist. We asked her how many partners say yes to looking over the screen, and she said it was about 50/50.
The day shift started to leave, popping their heads in to my view of the ceiling to say congratulations. Aaron took Lincoln for his Vitamin K shot while they finished sewing me up.
“How long will it take?” I said to the anaesthetist as they left.
She peered over the screen. “About 20 minutes.”
I met back up with Aaron and Lincoln in the recovery room, and I finally had Lincoln on my chest for skin-to-skin. I had really, really hoped for a breast crawl and he eyeballed the nearest nipple but was so utterly fucked from the birth he didn’t make the move.
My mum was allowed in the recovery room very briefly before she went home, and she took the first photos because Aaron hadn’t realised he was allowed his phone in the theatre. Aaron made the calls to the family we’d left in the dark for the last nine hours, and I remember lying there and just thinking none of it mattered. I wasn’t freaked out, upset or angry, I was completely serene, and I knew I’d have done it all again the next day just to have this kid in my arms.