Sunday, 29 April 2012

An admission of guilt

G & T - 29 months   M - 6-and-a-half months

Most days, I just can't believe my luck. Three beautiful, bright, funny little girls. I wouldn't change a thing in my life because it's all brought me to them. But I am struggling with something. Birth guilt. Ever since M was born, I've felt like a bit of a failure. Like I cheated. When I was expecting the twins, I made plans for as natural a birth as possible. No more than gas and air, lots of moving around and absolutely no epidural. I hated the idea of being out of control far more than the idea of the pain. Then a scan at 32 weeks showed my girls were breech, and with two in there, there was nothing I could do to turn them around. I was gutted to be told I'd need a C-section. In the end, I went into labour five days before the scheduled op, so we did the whole waters breaking in the night, husband finding a cab at 3am while I tried to get dressed through the contractions thing. In the taxi, the pains came with barely time to catch my breath between them. When I was examined at hospital, less than two hours from the first contraction, I was 6cm, G's bottom was starting to come out, and suddenly, the room went from calm to medical emergency as I was rushed into theatre. Until the spinal block went in, I hadn't had a drop of pain relief. Don't get me wrong, those contractions were mind-blowingly painful, but I could handle them, and by 5am, I'd met my girls. Expecting M gave me a second chance at a natural birth. She gave me a scare by turning breech briefly during the third trimester, but dutifully flipped round again, so we were all set. Then I started to get the false labours. With G and T, I'd had hundreds of Braxton Hicks, but they were intermittent, short-lasting, and I never mistook them for the real thing. This time, almost every night in the week leading up to my due date, the pains came, gradually getting closer together until I felt I had to write down the timings, just in case, only for them to tail off again. Teamed with watching two toddlers all day, I was exhausted. Finally, at 40 weeks and two days, I woke up at 3am with contractions coming every five minutes and getting worse. We headed to the hospital and, sure enough, in the cab, they got closer and closer. But the time we got there, they were two minutes apart and pretty intense. I was examined at 7am, fully expecting to be pushing my little girl out in time for breakfast. I was 2cm. Just 2cm. I was stunned. Just how long could this go on? The pain was already crippling, as though someone was trying to rip my insides out every couple of minutes. But worse was the fact that there was no respite. I'd hardly have time to muster a sob before the next wave of pain hit. At 11am, I was examined again. Please, 7cm at least... No, just 5. Oh God, I can't do this. They broke my waters to try to move things along. As they went and another contraction hit, I screamed like a woman possessed. The pain was indescribable. And I knew. I just couldn't do it any more. 'I need a break, chicken. I need a break,' I sobbed to my husband, over and over. He got the message. 'Are you sure?' he asked, looking into my wild, teary eyes. When I nodded, he took charge and, after a couple of missed attempts with the needle, the epidural went in, and the pain vanished. The rest of my labour was a positively lovely experience, chatting with three great midwives, periodically topping up the epidural... Until it came time to push. I just couldn't feel anything. The drugs hadn't had time to wear off. For an hour, we waited to see if M would move closer on her own, I threw up violently, then for another hour, I tried to push, with the midwife guiding me. But I couldn't feel a thing. In the end, a doctor was called in as M's heartrate was erratic, and a ventouse finally helped her out. She was placed on my chest, but before I had time to breathe, she was whisked away. Without a sound. I can barely even type the memory of seeing a little mask being put on her face. The midwife was fabulous, calmly telling me she was fine. But they're probably trained to say that. My husband was the real hero. As I sobbed hysterically, begging to have her back, he stood between us, reassuring me, saying he could see her move. In fact, he admitted later, he was terrified. She was totally still, and those two minutes were the longest in his life. Then the most wonderful relief as she let rip a wail, and was finally handed back to me. Just a little shocked by her sudden birth after so long stuck, she was fine. She is totally fine. Reaching every milestone, a happy, funny, loveable little angel. But I can't kick the guilt. I let her down. I couldn't push her out. I put her in danger. Turns out, I was topping up the epidural too much, thinking it was preventative, rather than responding to the pain. Having shunned the very idea of having one, I hadn't bothered to find out anything about them. And frankly, when it was going in, the surgeon could have been telling me I was signing my soul over the the devil and I wouldn't have cared. I guess when I was having the twins, the pain was easier to handle as I knew an end was in sight. I just wasn't prepared for the intensity of the agony second time round. I thought that either my labour would be as fast as with the twins, or it would be more like the textbooks. Ten minutes between contractions, then nine, then eight... Not seven hours of constant pain. So, I feel like I failed. Most of the time, I don't care. M is my little angel. It doesn't matter how she got here, she's here, and she's wonderful. It's more important that I raise her well, and each time she lets rip with a cheeky wee laugh, I know that I'm doing OK. It's just hard to let go of the memory of that tiny little mask. Perhaps I should take a leaf out of Daddy's book. I brought up the subject of M's birth one day, worried he'd nod and say: 'Yes, I was disappointed in you.' So, did he have any regrets? 'Yeah,' he said. 'You kept calling me chicken. It was so embarrassing...'