It should have been the best day of my life.
But the one thing I was most terrified of, happened.
And that’s going to make for a pretty shit day for anyone. As a sufferer of anxiety, it was the highway to hell.
The day started with 20hrs of the worst pain I’ve ever felt – which had kept me awake the whole night, so I was shattered – and continued with a constant uncertainty about when to go into hospital.
Contractions intensifying and speeding up only to lessen and slow down again. The eventual fear we’d leave it “too late” and end up delivering our baby ourselves in the middle of the motorway.
To alleviate that worry we just went into the hospital. There I was subjected to umpteen barely consensual, excruciatingly painful vaginal exams.
It honestly felt like they were stabbing a knife into my cervix.
I said I would rather not have them because they were so freakin’ painful, but they did them anyway. Over and over and over.
I felt violated.
I hadn’t even got to 2cm dilated and had already had so many I’d lost count.
My spirit was broken. I wanted to go home.
But another midwife wanted to see how dilated I was, even though I’d just had one and could have told her. But she wanted to “make sure”. What she felt was a bum, not a head.
So she called in another midwife to “check” and she wanted “to see for herself”, and was perplexed at why I wanted the gas & air “just” for a VE. It barely even helped.
She confirmed it and it was declared.
I needed a c-section.
I had imagined a peaceful, relaxed, hippy natural birth in the water with nothing but gas & air. But I wasn’t unrealistic. I was prepared for needing diamorphine or even an epidural. I was prepared for the possible eventuality of requiring some form of intervention.
But a c section? Nope. Please no.
Surgery freaks me out.
So there I was, already crippled with anxiety, feeling thoroughly violated, about to be put through one of my worst fears.
Everything happened so quickly, I had no time to think about it, to process it, to mentally prepare myself. I was told to swallow the pre-surgery pill, given an ultrasound to confirm the breech (yes, in that order), and told my baby would likely die if I didn’t go for the c-section.
So I signed the papers and was wheeled off to the operating theatre.
I was so anxious by this point that I physically could not relax enough for them to get the anaesthetic in. They had to re-do the local anaesthetic because it wore off before they got the damn needle in. They gave up and called down another anaesthetist to give it a try.
I was crying.
I couldn’t see through the tears. I’m a snotty crier and I had nothing to wipe my nose on.
I was a mess.
I needed my husband, but he wasn’t allowed in the room.
I worried he was sat outside wondering what was taking so long, scared that something had gone horribly wrong (he was).
I worried they were never going to get the needle in and I was going to have to vaginally deliver a breech baby, which I had been told could kill him.
I worried the theatre staff were losing their patience with me because they were having to tell me to relax, lean further forward, over and over and over again.
I tried to apologise, tell them I suffer from anxiety, ask if my husband could come in to help calm me, but my voice was shaking so much it just came out as garbled noise.
I was a soggy, tense, snotty, shaking mess.
Finally, they got the needle in, laid me down, and confirmed my name, DOB etc. and the operation I was here to have – “elective c section”.
This was not elective!
I was told that my baby would die if I didn’t do this! Apparently, this was not the case at all and doing a c section due to breech alone is considered elective. I felt like I’d just went through all of that for nothing.
I was completely dismayed. And angry. So angry.
But it was too late now.
They finally allowed my husband in the room and I started to feel calmer. I can do this. It’ll be over soon. We’re about to meet our baby. He’ll need his mummy.
I started focussing so hard on my breathing to try and calm myself and prevent a full-blown panic attack.
I was just about coping when the cold crept in. Then the anaesthesia shivers. It was horrible. I felt like I was convulsing. I remembered every episode of ER I had ever watched.
I began to lose control.
One of my monitors beeped and they pressed a button to make it stop but didn’t tell me what it was and I was too terrified of the answer to ask.
I thought I was going to die.
I was trying so hard to compose myself, trying to be strong, because mothers are “supposed” to be strong for their babies.
But I was terrified.
I felt weak.
Unworthy of motherhood.
If I can’t even cope with his birth, how am I going to cope with parenthood? I felt like I would never be good enough for him.
I’d failed him already.
I should’ve done more research, I should’ve been more assertive. Instead I signed the dotted line and relinquished all control to total strangers.
Some mother I’m turning out to be.
They pulled him out of me and held him over the curtain so I could see him. But I couldn’t see him. They had taken my glasses of so all I saw was a blur. I didn’t even realise they were holding him there until my husband pointed it out.
I waited on them to cut the cord so they could bring him closer. Put him on my chest, skin-to-skin, like I was promised before I consented to this surgery.
But then they took him away into the corner behind me. I was told his weight and exact time of birth, but I didn’t want stats, I wanted my baby.
Why are they not giving me my baby? Is there something wrong with him?
Reinforcing this fear, I was informed they’d called down a paediatrician to check his lungs because he was bringing up loads of fluid. Another c section risk I was not told about, and another reason to feel like a terrible mother for putting him through this already, in the first minutes of his life.
Straight from the comfort of my womb to feeling like he’s drowning.
The paediatrician gave him the all-clear, so they swaddled him, put a hat on him and gave him to my husband. Not me. Not skin-to-skin.
My wishes were completely ignored.
My husband placed him on my chest close enough for me to see him without my glasses. I looked at him for the first time, eager for that rush of love everyone gushes about.
I felt nothing.
The angle was weird and he couldn’t move because he was so tightly swaddled.
He felt like a doll.
I tried to touch him but my arms felt so heavy and I was shivering so badly and I couldn’t even really control what direction my arm was moving in. My movements were jerky and uncoordinated.
I felt completely disconnected.
Disconnected from my own body as well as my baby. The miniscule human being staring at me with huge dark eyes could have been anyone’s baby.
I didn’t love him.
It was hard to even look at him. But I stared and stared, waiting for love.
It never came.
I don’t even remember the journey from the OR to the recovery room. My husband says I was holding our son while they wheeled me there but I don’t remember a single second of it, even immediately after, I didn’t remember getting there.
One midwife took my blood pressure and fussed with surgery socks while another changed my son’s first nappy, without asking. It doesn’t seem like a big deal now, but in the moment, I was devastated that I had missed his first First.
The feeling that he wasn’t really my baby intensified.
I finally got to hold him skin-to-skin. I held him close and stared at him. I was so desperate to love him. But I felt nothing.
Breastfeeding didn’t bond me with him either.
I actually kind of hated it.
Our breastfeeding journey was not getting off to a good start. He kept falling asleep after a few suckles. Then waking up hungry and trying to latch again. Then asleep again. I had no idea if this was normal.
The whole time in the recovery room was just latch, suckle, sleep, wake, repeat, while midwives came and went with all their tests, checks, small-talk and offers of tea and toast, which I felt too nauseous to eat.
After being wheeled down to the ward, it wasn’t long before my husband was told he had to leave, visiting times were over. We hadn’t yet been graced a moment alone, just the three of us. I’d barely even looked at my baby’s father since being taken to the OR, never mind spoke with him.
And I had never needed him more than I did then.
So there I was, a sleep-deprived, drug-hazed, hungry, anxiety-ridden woman, alone, thrust into a strange environment, surrounded by strangers, with a tiny newborn and no idea what to do with him.
He was struggling to feed. I was struggling to cope. But it was the nightshift and I was too anxious about disturbing the other mothers and their babies that I didn’t call for help.
I cried all night.
(Silently, so the other Mums on the ward couldn’t hear me.)
I wanted to run.
Had I physically been able to move, I would have left that hospital. I’d have walked the 11 miles home. I fantasised about it. Planned my route. Calculated how long it would take. I didn’t even consider the option of just calling my husband to come pick me up.
Anxiety is not rational.
Anxiety ruined what should have been the best day of my life.
It twisted it into something awful, something that, 14 months later, I still think about every day. I still have anxiety attacks about it. The slightest mention of anaesthesia or surgery or childbirth takes me straight back to that operating table, shivering and panicking and thinking I was going to die.
It’s getting to the point where I am tempted to avoid the motorway and take the long way because you can see the hospital from the motorway and it all comes flooding back. Every single time.
Anxiety has robbed me of many beautiful moments over the years but I’ll never forgive it for this one.