Since Sebastian’s birth, I have returned to my birth story several times. Mostly when I’m staring out in front of me while Sebastian sleeps peacefully on my chest. Sometimes in the middle of the night while I sit in the dimly lit living room expressing milk from my breasts for Sebastian to eat in three hours time when he next wakes. I remember step by step leading up until Sebastian entered this world. I feel a roller coaster of emotions when I recall these moments and the moment he took his first breath in the delivery room. But I don’t remember this, the moment he took his first breath. For when he was born, he was not breathing. Sebastian had a ‘traumatic birth’. This is what his medical file says. Traumatic. Trauma. We both experienced it. What does it mean?
We spent Saturday afternoon walking around Kew Gardens. I was already close to a week overdue and wanted to get out and about rather than just sit at home. It was a long day and as I settled into bed that night around 10.30pm, I felt my water break. I was excited at the idea that the time was coming. I didn’t find out until later that since my waters broke I wouldn’t be able to have the water birth I had so hoped for and planned, but it didn’t matter, my baby was getting ready to be born.
We phoned the hospital and they told us to come in. After monitoring the baby’s heartbeat and doing an internal check, the midwife found that I wasn’t dilated and my contractions hadn’t started. They sent us home. In the middle of the night the contractions began. My mom, Ali and I sat up in the living room working through my contractions as my waters continued to flow. We were advised to stay at home as long as possible. We didn’t go back into the hospital until late Sunday night, about 24 hours after my waters had broken. After another internal exam I hadn’t dilated, and according to the midwife, my contractions weren’t strong enough.
The doctor on duty came and prescribed a drug to induce me on Monday morning. I really didn’t want to be induced because after watching The Business of Being Born, I knew that going down that road usually meant a c-section and I wanted to avoid this if possible. I was sharing my thoughts on this with the doctor and he became quite rude, saying that ‘they wouldn’t do the c-section if I didn’t want them too even if that meant my baby would die’. I was appalled that he would say such a thing and my response to him was that I would certainly do what was needed for the safety of my child. At this point I had not been told that there was any need to rush things along. No one told me how long I could go with broken waters before I needed to be induced or why I would need to be, ie. risk of infection, etc. I was given the option to stay the night in the hospital or to go home. I decided to go home as my contractions got worse, I needed the support of Ali and my mom and they wouldn’t be able to stay at the hospital with me as I would be on the ward with other women.
We were up again all night and went in on Monday morning. The induction was scheduled for 8am, so we planned to arrive by then. I asked for another internal check to see if I was dilated enough to avoid induction. I was dilated to three and as my contractions were closer together they decided I was in labour and could be admitted to the ward. I requested the Mother Suite, which is meant to be set up more like home and less like a hospital room. Finally, after taking everything to the hospital three times, each time in a taxi (I’m not even going to go into details about how uncomfortable that was), the hospital said we could stay. We set up the room with my snacks and birthing ball. My mom continued to record each contraction and how far apart they were. Ali continued to support me physically as I leaned on him and breathed through each contraction. It was amazing to feel so normal in between each squeeze which sent pain up my back, through my pelvis and around my belly.
The hours went by, the midwife came and went. Eventually her shift ended and another woman came to take her place. Around 3pm (so about 6-7 hours after being admitted), she did another internal examination only to find that in all of that time I had not dilated any further; I was still at three. I needed to get to ten. They decided they needed to move me to another suite which was equipped to have intervention and that I needed to be put on the syntocin drip which would increase my contractions and also make them more painful, but bring labour further along faster. I knew that once I was put on the drip, the likelihood of my baby being in distress was greater so I also agreed to an epidural. I told the doctor I would do this so that if there was a need for an emergency c-section, I would be ready. Of course everyone knew I wanted a natural birth, but I also wanted them to know that I wanted to be prepared to have an intervention if needed.
The anesthetist came in and administered the epidural. I felt a rush to my head and a strong headache coming on that disappeared once the epidural had been topped up. Each time it was topped up I felt the same sensation, although the anesthetist vehemently denied this could be happening, as if I was making a personal attack on her. She was very rude and seemed put out each time she had to return to help or check on the epidural. This was not just my feeling, but my mom and husband noticed it as well. We did have to call her back a couple of times because although my waist and pelvis region were completely numb, I was still feeling the contractions as well as a strong pain in my right side. I was on my back and unable to move due to the epidural and being hooked up to the monitor which monitored my baby’s heart beat and the contractions. This was so different from where I’d been hours ago, walking and breathing through contractions, sitting on the ball, and feeling the breeze against my face from the open window; but I knew we were getting closer to my baby arriving.
At 10pm I decided not to have another top up with the epidural because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to push since I couldn’t feel anything below my waist. I wanted to feel our baby being born as well as try to use all the techniques I had learned in yoga class for the delivery. At around midnight I wanted to push, but the midwife (now the third one on duty with us) told me I had to wait another hour to start pushing as we were waiting for my baby to drop into the birth canal. I was dilated further, but not enough and the registrar (doctor) came in and requested my syntocin drop be increased to increase the contractions. At one point during this time I vomited all of the ice chips and water I had been sucking/sipping on and the crew had to change me into another dressing gown, which was tricky being hooked up to so many things with cords everywhere. I was exhausted. I had been in labour since Saturday night and it was now Monday night/Tuesday early morning.
The registrar came in at one point towards the end of my labour to ask if I wanted help with a ventouse, I had been imagining this help as I wasn’t sure I could do it on my own, being so exhausted and having been in labour for so long. She offered me this option because I was so tired. I was never once told that I needed to have intervention because my baby was in distress. I was never once told that my baby was in distress and his heart rate had slowed. I decided I would try another twenty minutes to push on my own and then if I was unable to do it, have the intervention.
The doctor came back twenty minutes later and I asked for another five minutes because while she was gone, our baby’s head had crowned and I had been able to reach down and touch it. This encouraged me to keep pushing, which I did with all my might. I never knew something would be so hard. I was being told to hold each breath as I pushed, which was opposite from what I learned in yoga, so it was very confusing. My mom was encouraging me, telling me I could do it: I had climbed mountains, I could do this. Ali was holding my hand the whole time. The midwife was chanting me on. I knew I could do it. We were so close. But time kept going by and I knew our baby needed to get out and I couldn’t do it fast enough. When I asked for the intervention, the doctor was busy with another patient and they had to find another doctor on duty to help.
During that time another midwife came in to assist the one on duty with me. They asked if they could give me an episiotomy. [What was with all this asking? If they needed to do something, why didn’t they just tell me and do it? I am not in the medical profession; I don’t know what has to be done. I don’t know that my baby is in distress because no one is telling me. I don’t know the urgency to get him out because no one is telling me. I don’t know that we can’t wait for the doctor to get there, because no one is telling me.] They cut me after inserting a needle to numb the area and after that I felt a rush of his body come tumbling out after his head. I did not know he was a boy until they lifted him up and all I could see was his tiny penis. ‘It’s a boy!’ Ali exclaimed at the same time. But he wasn’t crying. There was a silence that I was not expecting. They did not place him on my abdomen so he could crawl up to my chest. They did not place him on my chest so he could suckle from my breast. The placed him onto the resuscitation table that you don’t expect to be used. Suddenly the room was filled with doctors and nurses, surrounding him. I looked down. He had passed meconium. I knew this was bad. Generally, if a baby passes meconium before birth, an emergency c-section is given. But we didn’t know that he had passed meconium which meant that he must have passed it as he was coming through the birth canal. I was wavering between the knowledge I had and being in complete shock, unable to react to what was happening.
I watched as they inserted tubes into his nose to extract the meconium he had injested. It was difficult to see around the doctors. Ali told me not to look, but I wanted to see what they were doing to my baby. I remember feeling shock and panic as I continued to listen to the silence. How long had he not been breathing? Was he breathing now? No one was talking to us. No one was telling us what was going on. The midwives were delivering my placenta. I looked down and saw green everywhere, an after effect of the birth with meconium. I wanted to see it to make sure the placenta was a healthy size and colour because sometimes with late term babies it can lose oxygen. To my relief, it appeared to be exactly as it should, providing the correct nutrients for our unborn baby. After the placenta was delivered, I was waiting for my stitches while the doctors continued to stabilize our son. It’s a bit of a blur as everything was happening so fast, I had trouble keeping track with what each person was doing. I just kept praying that he would cry. All I remember is a light shining down on him as the doctors extracted the meconium from his nose, and I think I heard them say something about his lungs. I’m not sure at which point they decided to leave, but it seemed as suddenly as they were there, they were gone. They did not show him to us, they did not tell us what was wrong. They just took him away.
The midwives stitched me up. The doctor came in to see that I had delivered. I know she spoke to me, but I don’t remember what she was saying. I remember just staring at her, wondering why she was there now, thinking she was a little late. She made a reference to my vaginal delivery, that I had done it without intervention. I remember saying that I just wanted to see my son. I later read in my medical records that she said I ‘was happy with myself that I had a vaginal delivery all on my own but I seemed concerned about my son.’ How could she write that? How could she treat so blithely a first-time mother who had been in labour for over three days, having had little to no sleep during this time, congratulating her on something so insignificant when her baby was in NICU, rather then in her arms. Why did she fail to mention that my son had been in distress and I was not told, therefore I did not know the urgency to use intervention? I later wanted to rip her smug smile off of her face.
I wanted to get into the shower to wash off. I wanted to have some sort of normalcy, something tangible that I could do to help me move forward. Because I had just been pregnant for nine months. I had just been in labour for three days. My arms were empty. There was no baby lying in them. There was no crying in the background. My mom helped me into the shower and Ali went down to check on our son, Sebastian, in the NICU.
Sebastian Joseph Sharp was born at 3:05am, 6th May 2008, weighing in at 6 pounds, 13 ounces. We don’t know how long he was because they didn’t measure him. At 6 weeks he was 54cm. Praise God, he didn’t suffer after-effects from ingesting the meconium and all of his organs are healthy. I later read in his medical records that the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck twice. I was never told this. He also had seizures for the first few days after his birth in response to the lack of oxygen during delivery. While long-term effects are as yet unknown he no longer has seizures and continues to grow into a healthy, happy baby.
I couldn’t have done it without Ali and my mom.