Midwife blog, July 2014
I’m sure many of you are familiar with this scene: you’re sat around the table at a dinner party when one of your fellow guests announces that you’re a midwife.
Before you know it, the whole conversation has turned to birth stories, and the men are starting to look a little uncomfortable!
But the women want to tell their stories, and quite rightly so after such a life-changing event. Talking about it can be very therapeutic, a mini debriefing session if you like.
Sometimes the stories appear a little inaccurate to the trained ear, as women’s perception of what happened and why may be distorted due to lack of understanding or information giving, and reinforces the importance of debriefing following even a nice ‘normal’ delivery – which may not have been the woman’s perception at all.
So what about midwives’ own birth stories? We listen to lots, but rarely get the chance to share our own stories, I think because we tend to take on our professional role when people share with us.
As midwives there is sometimes pressure from our colleagues, family and friends to do everything by the book because we are perceived experts in this childbearing malarkey!
Apparently we know it all (maybe we like to think so too sometimes!). However, personally I often found it hard to emotionally detach enough to be rational about things. Often my ‘mummy head’ was too firmly screwed on and I needed the reassurance from my friends and colleagues, just like any other pregnant lady.
So assuming most of the people reading this are experts in listening to birth stories, I would like to share mine with you. It’s a good example of how things don’t always go to plan when you are a midwife, and an experience I learnt a lot from.
My birth story
It had been an extremely hot and sticky day, and I was frustratingly exhausted. Just climbing the stairs left me out of breath and needing to lie down.
The mother-in-law had arrived to look after my daughter and I was more than ready to have the baby. But there were no signs that it was going to make an appearance, despite explaining to my bump that it was indeed time to come out and the eviction notice was served.
That night I made sure my hospital bag was ready and even gave instructions to my mother-in-law – if labour started, I needed my notes and bananas in my bag to keep my energy up. Oh yes, I had it all planned!
I had written a birth plan that was straight to the point, and was hoping for a midwife that shared the same beliefs as me, and if not it was all in there.
I didn’t know the hospital or staff because we had not long moved, so I was a little concerned that it would be very different to where I had worked previously and had felt comfortable. I was probably going to be a complete nightmare if I’m honest!
This was my first birth in the UK following an induction in Germany for IUGR (intrauterine growth restriction), and I was hoping to have a bit more ‘control’ this time seeing as there was no language barrier to contend with.
At two in the morning I woke with a strong but short contraction. My husband stirred and I told him things might be happening, but that it could be a while yet.
My contractions were irregular in frequency and duration but very intense. When the first one came I immediately remembered what contractions felt like, and suddenly changed my mind about doing this!
Mother Nature is very clever. She makes you forget about the first time so you’re willing to do it all again. She had obviously worked extra hard to erase my memory because I certainly didn’t remember the first contractions being this painful!
I do remember worrying that I wouldn’t be able to cope with them for much longer, a thought made worse by the knowledge that I probably still had hours to go.
Suddenly my waters broke and… meconium! My heart sank as I knew I would have to make my way into hospital. But with the next contraction I heard an unmistakable sound, it was me bearing down with the most uncontrollable urge to push.
I shouted to my husband that the baby was coming and stupidly attempted to put some trousers on. There was no way I wanted to be caught out at home with meconium, and with the added embarrassment of being a midwife too.
With the next couple of contractions it dawned on me that I was in fact pushing and there was nothing I could do to stop it. That’s when I felt it… the ring of fire! So there I was, ready to give birth in my bedroom at home wearing a pair trousers, the dreaded meconium, and a two-year-old who had woken up with all the commotion!
This was not my plan. It’s not how midwives are expected to do it, and I certainly didn’t want to ruin my mattress and army carpets (any army wife will understand the impending doom of a stained carpet before march out).
Even non-midwives can’t mistake the ring of fire for anything but the head crowning. I checked anyway not wanting to believe it was true, but sure enough I could feel the tight stretch around a hard head. My baby was on his way – whether I was ready or not!
My husband was already on the phone to the emergency services. I could hear the operator asking all the usual questions to establish if we needed an ambulance. I couldn’t help it, I just shouted, “I’m a midwife and this baby is coming right now!”. I could only hope that, despite my predicament, my professional opinion may still be valid.
My husband handed the phone to my mother-in-law, telling her that he was going to deliver the baby… then he walked off. On enquiring just where he thought he was going, he informed me he was just washing his hands. Ah, of course, just like any good midwife!
I just hoped he had learnt something from all my tales from work, because I had my mummy head firmly on and was absolutely useless. Not to panic, I thought, my husband is a bomb disposal officer in the Army. If anyone can deal with the potential of something going off in their face, it’s him.
Look of horror
I guess our professions must share some important skills: keeping calm and in control during stressful situations, and a steady, precise hand.
He appeared to have everything under control, and was beginning to think that this could actually be ok. But just then a look of horror spread across his face as I felt our baby’s head delivered, and I wondered what on Earth I had produced!
As the body delivered I realised the reason for his confusion; my son was born in the membranes, which must have been very strange for my husband to see. It was 02:42, just over 40 minutes from first contraction to baby. After pulling the membranes off, our baby boy took his first breath and screamed to let us all know he was fine.
A few minutes later the paramedics and the sleepy community midwife had arrived, and asked my husband if he would like to cut the cord. “No, thank you,” he said, “I think I’ve done quite enough!”, which I had to agree with. He was suddenly very pale as the shock of what had just happened began to sink in.
Being new to the area, I hadn’t met the community midwife before. She was chatting to me and asked what I did. The embarrassment of having to admit that I was a midwife was pretty acute!
I babbled on explaining how everything had just happened so quickly. Yes, I looked a right wally. No midwife wants to see BBA (Born Before Arrival) written across her notes…
Despite the embarrassment, I learnt so much from the experience. Even us midwives don’t know it all when it comes to birth.
Every labour and birth is unique and nobody knows the women’s body better than her. I was lucky to learn the importance of listening to women early on in my midwifery career, and have been guided by the woman instead of the text book many times. Women never stop surprising me (and evidently that includes myself!), and that’s the beauty of midwifery.
Women are often interested in how many babies I’ve had [in other words, have you actually been through this?], how long I’ve been a midwife [have you got enough experience to help me through it?] and what kind of birth I had [because if it was quick and normal, you can’t possibly understand what I’m going through].
So although we can learn a lot from our personal birth experiences, they’re unique to us. It doesn’t really matter if you’ve had 10 babies or none, it has little benefit to the women who will have their babies their way. We must never assume we know everything and must listen to the woman and her body, just like we tell them to do.
It’s always good to remember that although midwives are probably mostly recognised for ‘delivering’ babies, actually the women do that, we just ‘catch’ and facilitate a safe environment.
Anyone can deliver a baby, if you want to call it that, though it’s important to point out that the job of a midwife is undoubtedly more intense, skilled and complex than that.
I am, however, very proud of the way my husband handled the situation, and looking back I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. We were a team and he got me through it, and the bond he has with my son is very special.