thoughts and things

‘When My Sister Gave Birth I Cried’: Birth from a Birth Partner Perspective (Guest Post)

I am very pleased that my sister was able to write this for me, the birth from her prespective as a birth partner. As I couldn’t remember all the details of my birth, it was quite interesting reading this myself! Thank you Lydia – you can follow Lydia on twitter: (@Boomboomcherie).

“When my sister gave birth I cried. I didn’t cry (at first) because of the miracle of witnessing a human being enter the world or because it was such a beautiful, overwhelming moment of love I couldn’t hold it in…I cried because my sister was in pain. My sister was crying. My sister was being put through unimaginable hurt and fear and stress and I couldn’t stand it.

It didn’t help that it didn’t go to plan. Anyone who knows my sister knows how she loves to plan and how she likes it when things work out as they should do. She has always been very practical – you save money/you buy things, you work hard/you go far, you play hard/you have fun. So when it came to having a baby, she knew it would be difficult and scary but she also knew it could be handled or managed well. She always maintained that the decision about pain relief and positioning etc. could only really be made on the day but she hoped that she would be able to go as far as she could without any ‘artificial’ help (my words).

This was the first moment of heartbreak – it didn’t go to plan. Emily as fine – ever philosophical and cool, perhaps slightly anxious but that was understandable. Emily was overdue. Not just overdue, she was so bloody overdue that we all started to doubt that was nine months pregnant at all. Emily was admitted to hospital for an induction on the Friday (I think…it’s all a bit of a blur now…). We had discussed this possibility and Emily was always fine about it but I knew that it was not what she truly wanted and after a couple of years of nothing being quite right, I just wanted this to be completely within Emily’s control.

The first stretch and sweep couldn’t happen. Something about a closed cervix. The second stretch and sweep resulted in the same. I was disappointed – I wanted this to be the only trigger Emily’s baby needed to start the process, to show Emily that her body only needed a small nudge in the right direction. No such luck.

I travelled down to see Emily on the Saturday (again, I THINK – I can’t quite remember….) her waters were due to be broken at some point if the pessary and/or stretch and sweep didn’t work. They didn’t and eventually – when a delivery suite bed became available, we were escorted down to where everything would start.

We were in good spirits but quite obviously – we were all shitting ourselves; not having a single clue what was going to happen at any point during the rest of the day. The room was not as I’d imagined – there was no birthing ball, room/space for moving around, separate bathroom (complete with bath)…There was an en-suite toilet with a shower in which was separated from the rest of the room by a thin separating wall. There wasn’t even a cot in the room. I wasn’t convinced that we would be staying in this room. It was so clinical – all white and bare and soulless. I could sense that Emily was also slightly apprehensive at the disorganised state of the room and the hustle-bustle of the ever changing staff but she knew this was the start of the desired end that she had been waiting so long for.

Thy broke her waters whilst I was out of the room and I waited outside until I was called in. This was the beginning. Something HAD to happen now. Emily was told to walk around – get things kick-started. We walked around the ward, around the maternity hospital – outside. It was a bright day – sunny but cold. Emily seemed happy that she had a part to play now – she could start this.

There were slight ‘pangs’ and twinges – nothing too significant though. We all desperately wanted to believe there were contractions bubbling under the surface but the truth of it was written all over our faces – this was going to be a long process.

The next part I remember is Emily being put on a drip. I thought the drip would be put in for an hour or so and then taken out once labour started but it turned out that this WAS the labour. I think Emily felt a bit disappointed at being put on the drip – simply because she had wanted an active birth with freedom to move and her midwife friend had text messaged me saying how she had hoped Emily would not be put on the drip.

It was a short while into the instigation of the drip that we saw what a real contraction was like. I didn’t like the look of it. Emily’s face turned from pensive and relaxed to pale and fraught. This continued for what seemed like hours. Emily tried her best to overcome the waves of pain with breathing and I was astounded at her strength – she was silent (aside from the breaths) and so focused on what she was doing. Dan and I watched Iron Man 2 n the hospital TV that we had put money on as Emily had told us not to speak to her. We still don’t really remember what happens in that film. It was a mere distraction from the inevitable anxiety which was to overcome us.

Soon, it became too much – Emily couldn’t move as she was strapped to a monitor and the drip and the contractions were coming thick and fast with no outward pain relief to hand. She started telling me that she couldn’t do it. It hurts. Help me. I can’t explain how much I wanted to help her – I was offering her water and talking to her…this wasn’t what she needed and I felt so hopeless at this. I thought my role would be ‘hands-on’, really involved and important.

When Emily was examined by the second midwife around this point of the evening, she was 3 or 4 cms dilated. We were thrilled – we didn’t think that would’ve happened so quickly (quickly for me and Dan – Emily probably felt it had already been an age). Emily had been given gas and air as the pain intensified but she had not managed the technique perfectly as the midwife had handed it over and told her to breathe it in within a couple of minutes – then she was off again. One of the worse points was when the student doctor had to examine Emily first and then the midwife did the same a few seconds later – the pain was excruciating – I could tell from Emily’s face! She kept focussing on her breathing but I could see that this was barely touching the surface of her discomfort. I have never felt more useless and pathetic – anything I had complained about up to that point seemed unworthy and indulgent!

I remember going to tell the midwife outside of the room that Emily had bled quite a lot on the bed. She assured me that this was normal but came in to check anyway. I was hyper-sensitive to Emily’s condition – I was taking note of her breathing, her movements, the monitor for the baby, the bleeding on the sheets. Emily threw up after a while on the gas and air – I thought this might happen but it was still a shock and a panic when she was throwing up, contracting, worrying about the mess and then contracting again.

We asked if Emily could have any more pain relief – the midwife suggested she try some pethadine. This was when it got funny.

I laughed when Emily needed the toilet. She kept on saying how much she needed a wee but couldn’t go. We kept telling her to just wee on the bed but it was just the sensation of needing to wee that made her agitated. And she was AGITATED.

I unhooked her from the monitor at one point so that she could use the toilet. We waited but nothing happened. A few minutes later Emily was convinced that she was going to go – the pethadine had kicked in by this point so she felt able to move. She pulled the leads out of the monitor and wheeled her drip quickly into the en-suite, she sat on the loo with her head in her hands as she realised she couldn’t go again – she apologised to me for not weeing and then said: “I haven’t got a Jeremy Hunt what’s going on”. I thought she was taking the mickey but when I asked her what she had said she didn’t know. Then she did a wee.

The pethadine induced gibberish continued and I couldn’t help but laugh. Emily had her eyes closed with the gas and air in her hand held to her mouth. She was lolling her head from side to side and her toes curled with every contraction. Some of the things she said I wrote down:

“If you put the thing in the thing with the something something…”

“I knew they would…in the paper…THE BROWN BUTTON”

“Richard Branson started off like this”

“I feel like they’re moving furniture…”

“(pointing) You must NEVER let them in”

The light relief was welcome after the tension at the beginning of the process. Emily no longer seemed consumed by pain – just distracted by it. All of a sudden she sat up with her eyes open – for the first time in ages. She seemed more like her usual self and just said – “I’ve got to push”. She also said that she felt like she’s snapped out of a dream.

I’ve never seen anything like what happened next. The pure focus was on pushing from that moment onwards; it was unreal. Emily just knew what she had to do. Dan and I were shouting our words of encouragement, feeling a little self-conscious as we did so but the midwife and doctor joined in with us. Emily put her head down and pushed until her face went deep red. Dan made sure that he was definitely stood away from ‘the action’ end so I stood with a pretty clear view of…everything. With every push Emily’s body changed and grew and stretched and leaked. It was awesome in the true sense of the word. When the baby’s head became visible I couldn’t quite take in what was happening.

Emily was exhausted to say the least but had done very well with the pushing – it had been under 30 minutes and she had almost got the head crowning. It was at this point that I got a bit worried. Although they don’t say much other than positive encouragement, you can always tell when the doctors and midwives are concocting a plan. There was talk of doctors and other midwives…I knew there may have to be some intervention which was worrying as I knew it was another thing Emily really didn’t want. I was scared about what they might need to do as the baby was already very overdue and had taken a long time to start coming.

Fortunately, a really lovely doctor came in and explained to Emily that if she could push the head out in the next contraction or two they wouldn’t need to help her. Emily did so well and got so close but the doctor started hurriedly explaining that they were attaching something to the baby’s head to help pull it out. After a full pulls and a lot more blood than I wished to see, the doctor then asked if she could cut Emily slightly to make room for the head and vontuse attached to it. She went ahead and cut anyway as there was no time to await an answer. It was surreal.

Emily just said – ‘It stings’ and then the head came out.

A baby’s head just come out of my sister’s vagina.

It broke my heart when after all the hard work, all the pushing, all the stinging, all the pain Emily looked up at me, holding my hand and said “It hurts, I can’t”. She had tears in her eyes and her lip was trembling just like she was little again and all I wanted to do was scoop her up to me and cuddle her until it was all better. The things that flashed through my mind were all the things we had done and all that she had achieved – this being the most remarkable.

Nancy was born into a flurry of talking doctors and midwives. She was scooped up and lifted high into the air. It took a few seconds for us to ask what ‘it’ was. They held Nancy over Emily so Dan could tell her what she had, and then they lifted her high in the air again and took her away. It seemed that everyone was talking except us. “The baby’s got the cord around her neck…”

“We’ve just got to wipe her down and warm her up a bit…”

“She’s very long…”

“…Just got to sew you up…”

Nancy cried for just a little while but seemed to be mainly shell-shocked. Holding her was an amazing feeling.

Emily looked beautiful and serene after it was done. She was also shell shocked and exhausted but was awake enough to sit for a while and take photographs with me and Dan and Nancy.

It’s an experience I’ll never forget and I feel privileged to have been a part of it. I couldn’t imagine not being there with my sister at a time like that. I felt so proud. And I cried.”

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