I am a home birth supporter, and I believe women should have the right to breastfeed, and have plenty of support. However, my birth experience is one where I - or my child - would have died if at home. And I hated breastfeeding so much I stopped it. This is a long post.
In my records, it says I had spontaneous onset of accelerated labour, first stage 8:15 hours, second 1:37, third 0.04.
It's the last bit that is startling. In this case they don't mean delivery of the placenta (which is what I was always taught the third stage was - I asked about this in the documentation later but was told it was not. Weird). The delivery of the placenta took a very, very long time, comparatively, because I was blacking out and couldn't push. They mean that the baby was born after transition in four seconds.
And then there was:
Labour complications: Posterior presentation, abnormal CTG, Primary Post Partum Haemorrhage of a litre of blood, Forceps delivery, episiotomy, technical second degree tearing (however tearing occurred in multiple areas around sphincters).
The surgeon got the head surgeon in the hospital once the placenta was delivered and he had a look, and then left the delivery room to get an expert to do the repairs. It took them an hour and forty five minutes to stitch me back up. I had the baby (her nickname during pregnancy) almost all the time to hold but I had no strength to hold her. I vomited on her, to be honest, and while she was trying to nurse, I couldn't do a thing but lie there while people kept her balanced on me. I kept blacking out. I wanted someone to take the baby away in case I dropped her, and because she was flailing and stank of my blood. I didn't want anything except for it to all stop.
My partner showed me a photo of me and the baby after they had cleaned her up (she was boiling hot when they put her on me, covered in red, and smelled like fresh, raw meat). I am completely white, eyes closed, in an oxygen mask, with a conscious baby, without me moving. It's a startling photo, even though I remember what happened to me.
I remember the whole birth very clearly - I remember going into labour at immediate full force when my waters broke by surprise at home, with contractions that had a total downtime of thirty seconds apart. We were told early on to come into hospital, and I had to crouch up in the back of the car, unable to sit.
It was far too much for me - I managed to stay in the birthing center for five hours, but could tell something was not right. The pain was causing vomiting, it was shocking, far worse than any broken bone I had ever had. My body was doing all the right things, but the baby wasn't really going anywhere, and at that point we didn't know that she was far too big for me. She was positioned badly, and I was in too much pain, and nothing relieved it. They tried gas, a hot bath, everything, but I had no break between contractions, as is supposed to happen in labour, and I couldn't really function. I was dialating at more than a centimeter an hour, which was good, but none of the hormones that help you deal with pain had time to affect me.
We got moved to the delivery suite because I had become convinced I was in real trouble - I got an epidural, which meant I could relax for a bit. My partner went to sleep for a little because he knew I was safe. I remember thinking 'This epidural is the best thing in the world, I will never regret it, ever'. I can't remember feeling any pain from getting it whatsoever - they did give me needles, but the labour was so excruciating that I didn't feel the cannula or the dilation check. I felt nothing but unrelenting, pounding agony until the epidural took effect.
A little while later the baby went into distress. The labour was too intense - the gap gives the babies time to rest as well, and she wasn't getting it. Her heartbeat was starting to drop because she was running out of energy. Even if I couldn't really feel the contractions, they had become constant, with no gap, and my body was getting worn out too. Then they lost her heartbeat and I became panicked. My heartrate hit so high that it mimicked hers, and they could no longer tell the difference between either of us on the monitors.
The doctor there was young and nice but did not understand how to give information - he kept saying 'We've lost the fetal heartbeat' and shaking his head, which was terrible. I thought she must have died, and everytime the midwife hissed at him and said 'But we still can tell the baby is alive!' he would shrug. She tried to reassure me but I thought everyone including my partner was just lying to me to keep me from despairing. They ended up putting a clip on the baby which showed that she was still alive, but not doing well. She couldn't really go anywhere, everything was ready for her to come out but for some reason she couldn't move. I was fairly bad by this point, with a consistent heart rate of about 155.
They explained she had to come out, I was frantically agreeing. They explained they would have to do all the things I had gone to the birth center to avoid - more intervention, forceps, episiotomy to avoid a bad tear, I really didn't care. I agreed to absolutely everything. They said if I couldn't get her out in three pushes, it would be an emergency Cesar right then and there. They did all the intervention. She came out very fast. I tore very badly anyway, intramuscular.
The baby was unimpressed with the world - she screamed like hell, which was so reassuring. She screamed so much she never had a chance to be purple, she was pink right from the start. I started to lose a lot of blood. They gave her to me, with my partner there talking to me (he was trying to be really reassuring and had held my hand the entire time), but I wasn't very conscious by that point. I was vaguely aware that the 'something is wrong' feeling hadn't gone away. There was blood everywhere. I knew at least it was mine and not hers.
One of the nurses said something like: "What a big boy!"
My partner said "She's a girl!" in surprise.
I had an oxygen mask on, and a mouthpiece for nitrous, and so forth, but I couldn't control myself and was soon vomiting. It took a while to get the placenta out because I couldn't push effectively and was too tired - the epidural was perfectly placed in that I could even move my legs, it was just that I had lost too much blood to be able to function. Once they stopped the blood loss, I fell asleep on the table for a while. They were still stitching me.
Eventually I found myself in the delivery ward with my partner and the baby, surprised to be alive, with her.
The next few days were pretty bad, to be honest - they had to put a lot of blood into me, and I was in an incredible amount of pain, especially at night. It was so shocking I sometimes fainted. I had various painkillers, but they didn't really do much at first, and I couldn't feed the baby properly. She would latch on and chew, but her latch was perfect - she knew what she was doing! It turned out my body was in too much shock to produce very much, so she wasn't really getting anything. So she would start chewing, which was very painful and which raised blisters. I developed a panicky dislike of midwives who would say that unless I was bleeding quite a bit I 'had to' keep breast feeding. I was in so much pain that this as well was utterly demoralising. I felt like I couldn't cope. They were quite disappointed in me. I had not even had a Cesarian and I was acting like this.
They had to do a number of tests, but I started to just lie there. I let them do whatever they wanted. I no longer cared or had the energy to ask questions. They stuck things in, pulled them out, and I did not bother to find out what they were doing by the end. Whatever. My arms became utterly covered in bruises. All of me felt ruined.
My partner took such good care of me they sent me home only four days later. I wasn't really ready to go, but I could no longer cope with being told off for not changing the baby in the middle of the night by nurses who had not read my file - I couldn't get in and out of bed by myself, and couldn't lift her. Some of them would get quite aggressive about it, and I was unable to cope with their disappointment in me and the pain I was in while breastfeeding. I was listening to other women who had Cesarians being given stronger pain medications, and felt desperately jealous of them. Even though I could barely walk, I didn't want to stay in hospital unless it was with a very supportive group. Everyone seemed rather disappointed in me.
It was also a bit rough at home with the horrific pain, and lack of appetite. I stopped eating. At first, I think the issue was honestlyjust lack of blood - I had very low haemoglobin, and while they needed to take blood samples, even the best phlebotomist they had gave up. My veins were slack and invisible, and they tried five times, jabbing me in different areas, but they could barely get me to bleed at all.
Gradually, breastfeeding became one of the worst things in my day. It was less a matter of disliking one aspect of it - though if I had to pick that part it would be the pain - but more hating so many things about it that I began to dread it. Any time the baby slept through a feed I rejoiced silently, and while I did not try to make her go without feeds, I wished I had the option. I hated the sensation, the pain, the hormonal surge that made me weep, the resentfulness, the exhaustion, the being awake multiple times a night, the having only an hour or so's sleep a day, the way my appetite had ceased, the way the baby had no interest in me for anything but milk but would watch or smile at my partner, the feeling of distance between her and me, the time, the being unable to do anything or go anywhere, the god awful time spent stuck there, the constant washing of clothes and sheets, the sheer agony of swollen breasts, the fact I still could not sleep because I only sleep on my front naturally, the surprisingly horrible itching pain of let down, constant pumping to get supply up, not being able to enjoy my recreation since it affects breastmilk adversely and is too dangerous to do while breastfeeding.
Physically the agony was shocking, on top of the other pain I was in. I was still on codeine and a few other drugs for the damage, and often I was unable to sit down, I could lie there while she fed, but blisters were being raised. My pelvic girdle made grinding noises when I walked, and I began to have back spasms. When they happened, I had to put the baby on the floor and lie next to her while she shrieked, as I could no longer stand. When near me, the baby would roll her head frantically to get to latch on - there was no feeling of connection. I dreaded being near her in turn - the moment feeding stopped, I could not wait to hand her to someone else, to get away from her as fast as possible. I told a lactation consultant about this, they checked her latch.
She latched perfectly, I was told. Just as I had been in the hospital. I was told to harden up - the blisters were tiny (and they were, pinhead sized, with only a little blood) - and that breastfeeding was the best thing for my child. Of course I wanted the best thing for her, didn't I? And that was breast feeding. They said she was very hungry - she was a very large baby and I am a small person and I would eventually create enough milk if I kept putting her to the breast. I wasn't putting her needs first, and her needs had to come first. And it was so important for bonding, breast feeding, and her immune system, and I did need to do the best thing for her.
I began to realise that the best thing for her given how much I hated being near her would be adoption, or perhaps she could stay with my partner and I could leave because I had ruined his life. Of course, horrible though the idea was, if maybe she died of SIDs then I could stop suffering so much, and maybe I would not have destroyed his life? But the idea was really horrible, given that she was such an innocent little thing, so maybe I should die instead. I spent most of each day crying, and when I was not crying, I was trying frantically to tell myself that it would only be ten or so years, right, of hell? I could get through ten years of being an utter shut in. Or maybe five years. Or maybe fifteen. No, it seemed too long, maybe I could kill myself, or something. I couldn't nap during the day - I have never been good at napping and my life was nothing. I wasn't sleeping for more than an hour or so at night, and I could barely stand up from exhaustion and pain. It didn't seem like suicide, it seemed like a chance to get peace. Besides, now she cried endlessly, it seemed, and I'd stand there and watch her cry and feel nothing but a desire to be away.
I kept seeing the birth in my head, her being handed to me, and me not wanting her, hearing midwives telling me I was silly for asking about a Cesar given her positioning, being told that breastfeeding didn't hurt if you had a proper latch. I had nightmares. I wasn't trying hard enough to do anything properly, and I realised that to do what I needed to to breastfeed, to bond, was beyond me. I accepted this because I had realised that dying would not be so bad and that it was actually an option.
In the end, my partner, desperately went and purchased formula. The chemist asked him why, and when he explained, she told him I was doing something terribly wrong and must breastfeed no matter what. He, being frantic by this point, asked to speak to her manager, who told her off.
I got to sleep that night, because he fed her formula. The next day was not quite so bad. I just hated the hours instead of thinking about killing either of us. We worked out that if I had a night of interrupted sleep, I had severe depression the next day. I tried expressing for a while, which was less painful, but then it lead to terribly engorged breasts the next morning and pain and more pain and more pain and my life became again nothing but pain and wanting to escape somehow, anyway possible.
Eventually I agreed to see a doctor, though I was horribly embarassed about it since it was not like I wasn't just whining about it all - the midwives had certainly given me the impression I was. The doctor talked to me about post natal depression and the symptoms. The doctor examined the stitches after I asked for them to be checked and said the tear was at least third and more likely fourth degree since my intestines had apparently been visible - my partner admitted that later, as he had not wanted to tell me earlier. I had ridged scarring now, and constant perineal pain - I had no desire to have sex ever again - and the risk of pregnancy is terrifying. The hospital still considers it a minor tear, apparently, because it did not tear through the rectum, but rather around on both sides and continuing up. The doctor asked if I was breast feeding, and I said that by that point we were doing formula and EBM. She asked me to stop, and prescribed anti-depressants.
Since then I've had a tentative diagnosis of PTSD rather than PND, I am responding incredibly well to the anti-depressants - the sudden change in just two weeks has been astonishing to me. And my life has become bright again since stopping breast feeding. I no longer hate having to be near my child. There was some guilt over the breast feeding thing, but I now like picking her up. I really could physically have kept going - I could have taken different anti-depressants, done research, and powered through. So although my supply had had issues, and though I was taking prescription drugs, I do not like to say 'I could not breastfeed'. I could have. I chose not to, in the end, because of how much I hated every single damn second of it - the decision was about me, not her. And I went in intending to do it for two years. I am happy enough to own that, to say that yes, in this, I have been selfish. I don't even really care about being judged for it - I have the same emotional response to that as I did to the tests in hospital - people do things to you, and you just watch.
I went back later to the 'graduation class' of our postnatal classes. The midwife leading it asked if I'd do anything differently. I said "Yes, have a Cesar."
She said "Oh, surely you don't mean that. Aren't you proud of what you did? Cesars take so long to recover from."
"No. A Cesar takes six weeks. I have sixteen before I can lift anything. I'm full of scarring. I'm not proud. I wish I'd had a Cesar. I hated the birth."
And she said "Oh, you don't mean that. If you come back we can help you to see it as the positive thing it was."
But I do mean it, and I am not going back there. Still, in the last week or so, I've enjoyed being around my baby, and even started smiling at her, holding her, enjoying playing with her. I like being near her, finally.