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Thirty eight weeks ago, my belly was sliced open in an operating room. I had an emergency caesarean following an agonizing 20-hour labor, despite what I had detailed in my birth plan, which was a desire to have a natural birth.
Here in the UK, the dominant view on pain relief among prenatal teams favors natural births, with minimal medical interventions. I was convinced of this, and dutifully relaxed into a state of calm in the final weeks before our baby girl’s arrival.
For 17 hours I did my best to deliver a baby with positive thinking despite the agony. But after no advance on two centimeters I saw the look on my midwife's face--this wasn't going well. I felt like my legs were ripped apart by razor blades over and over again.
Finally, the pain was too much. I screamed into my fiance's face like a demented person, begging and pleading for the agony to stop. All I could think about was my baby and me coming out alive. My plans to have a natural birth had long since fallen by the wayside.
One of the midwives suggested an epidural, something which had most definitely not appeared on my birthing plan, and I readily agreed. By that stage, I was experiencing pain like nothing I'd ever felt before; I was terrified that something was going badly wrong, and desperately needed a break from the physical trauma that my body was being put through.
I was told it could take 30 minutes before it worked.
"Make it work now," I cried out. "I think I'm dying."
Lights went from dim and warm to stark and glaring. Suddenly there were people around, lots of people and I was being pushed on a bed along a corridor. My boyfriend disappeared, and re-emerged wearing a blue cap and gown, like a cast member of ER. I was taken into a bright room, with a curtain pulled in front of my face to conceal my lower body and legs.
The anaesthetist held my hand, told me to let her know when I can no longer feel something cold against my flesh. It felt like ice touching my stomach, moved further up, less cold, got warmer, warmer, and then I couldn't feel anything anymore.
"You won’t feel pain but you will feel a tugging sensation," she told me. Then two surgeons, both with tattoos all the way up their arms, begin to slice me open. Where are they from? Are they doctors, with tattoos like that?
It felt like someone was kneading bread dough, but the dough was my insides. I heard the baby cry, then she was lifted up and away, over my head. She looked huge – how did she fit inside me?
The midwives who helped bring Lily into the world were the epitome of professionalism throughout. The day after Lily was born, one of them popped in to see me to explain what had happened and why I wasn’t able to give birth as I had so explicitly detailed in my birthing plan.
Lily’s head was pointing upwards, causing her to endure a protracted journey down the birth canal, and putting immense pressure on my lower back. In addition, the umbilical cord was wrapped around her several times, and she had begun to show signs of distress as the labor progressed.
It's impossible to say whether she would have been born safely had nature been allowed to take its course, but I suspect that she may have struggled.
Proponents of hypnobirthing suggest that remaining calm is all that is required to have a natural birth with no medical intervention. And for 17 hours, I focused on staying positive, visualization and attempting to use all that I had learnt about hypnobirthing. And yet despite all this, I was unable to give birth naturally.
In the end, I feel no disappointment or bitterness about Lily being born as she was. The only thing that mattered then and now is that she is healthy and happy, and here at all. But of the four couples we got to know during our prenatal classes, every one of their babies’ births involved medical intervention to varying degrees. Three of us were given C-sections.
It would have been comforting if all possible birthing methods had been presented as being viable and OK in the classes prior to our labors, in order to have allowed us to fully consider the outcome that most of us ultimately ended up with. We were led to believe that a natural birth is simply something you can choose, but as Lily proved to my fiancé and I, that is not always the case.