A little later then I hoped in posting this for a couple of reasons. The first is lack of internet due to a house move. The second is I felt a bit worried this might offend some people particularly those who work in midwifery. I thought about this for a long time and I'm deciding to post it as this was my experience and what I write is honest account of how I felt. I do not blame anyone but I feel I have the right to discuss my birth just as others do. I have read so many birth stories that are so positive but I do not feel mine was, it has however made me stronger (although It has taken a long time to realise this).
To my midwives,
Let’s make something clear straight away, this letter is not meant to be neither positive nor negative; it is merely a collection of words I wish I could speak to you. This is not wholly a thank you nor is it completely a complaint. It is my experience.
My daughter is 9 months old when I write this and there have been very few days where I haven’t thought about her birth. Some days it is all I have been able to think about.
I am left with questions from the birth. I am not sure I will ever have answers, I am not looking for answers now. I am not sure there is anything you could say that could change how I feel about my experience. It is something that I must own however, I would like it if you could listen to my story.
My birth started in an ordinary way. In fact I was over the moon that my body had started labour of its own accord. I did the usual things, I took paracetamol, I tried to rest, I sat in the bath and actually quite enjoyed myself.
Time went on, I became tired, I became scared and I came to see you. You advised me I wasn’t dilated enough to be admitted and I should go home and rest. You are the experts in this respect and your advice was appreciated. What wasn’t appreciated however were your comments that complimented your advice. You said to me during a contraction, ‘you don’t look in that much pain’. I ask you, who are you to judge? I am the expert of my body, not you.
I continued to labour at home feeling embarrassed and ashamed that I couldn’t cope even at this early stage in the game. How I felt and what I did in response to your comment is not within your control and therefore not your responsibility but your comments were still unhelpful. At one point I thought my waters had broken and I felt excited that something was happening. I looked down to see my legs and the bathroom floor covered in blood and my heart stopped.
‘She’s dieing’ I thought. ‘She can’t die now, not now’. I have never been more fearful in my entire life. I came back to see you straight away.
My bleeding was assessed and I was monitored for a period before being admitted. I know you were extremely busy, I’m a nurse I can tell. I also knew something wasn’t right from the look on your face. I know that look, I give it to my colleagues sometimes when I am concerned about a patient. You talked to each other about what was happening to my body right in front of me, discussing me and my baby using words I didn’t understand. I was so afraid. I felt like my world was collapsing and on top of all that I was in pain that I knew was only going to get worse.
I plucked up the courage to ask you for pain relief. ‘What about it?’ you asked as if it were something strange. I asked for some and you offered gas and air which was very much appreciated but I felt embarrassed that I needed to ask for it.
I continued to labour and bleed, terrified, not knowing what was happening. You came to check on me intermittently giving little information as to how my baby was doing. I was in pain, I felt exhausted, I was terrified and completely out of control. I didn’t know how much longer I could take it so I asked for an epidural.
You said there wasn’t enough staff. You said ‘we don’t normally do them on the birth centre’.
These words have haunted me for 9 months. For a long time I felt so ashamed that I even asked for an epidural. I felt I must be pathetic, how dare I ask for something that doesn’t happen on the birth centre. How embarrassing.
I don’t feel this way now.
I was a woman in labour for the first time.
I was bleeding, no matter what I am told I know this is not normal for labour.
I was terrified, I had no idea what was happening or if my baby would survive.
I was in pain.
Asking for an epidural was not me failing as a woman, not being able to have an epidural was a failure on part of my care. This is not your fault even though I am making it sound that way. I know how short staffed the NHS is, I am also employed by them and I am proud to live in a country that provides a service like the NHS. But inadequate pain relief because of staffing is not good enough.
I found the pain of labour combined with fear and lack of control almost unbearable. I just wanted to get control of something and to me the easiest thing to control would be the pain.
I continued to labour on gas and air until the time came for my daughter to be born. Just prior to this YOU came in, the midwife who made sure one part of my hospital experience was a positive one.
I know your name but I won’t write it here, maybe one day I will write to you personally. I want to say you are the reason the actual birth of my daughter wasn’t as traumatic as the labour. You asked me what position I wanted to give birth in, you made sure my husband was fed and watered even though hospital policy would say you shouldn’t have. You asked me whether we had a name for our daughter and then addressed her by that name throughout the end of my labour and birth. You gave me hope that I was going to meet her instead of her passing away. Just using her name made more difference than you can imagine. I remember your calm soothing voice, your professionalism and most of all your warmth.
Finally my daughter was born. You welcomed her to the world and placed her on my chest. You told me I had done well which meant so much. When I was unwell after my daughter was born you came to see me in recovery to see how I was. You went above anything you had to do and I am eternally grateful.
My labour and hospital experience left me feeling broken and it has taken nearly 9 months to start to feel like me again. There are things that happened that would have left me feeling this way no matter what but there are things that could have helped, tiny things that could have made the world of difference.
Please don’t presume I know what’s going on because I don’t. I would never in a million years expect you to come onto my ward (I work in mental health) and deliver the same care I do to my patients. You didn’t train for 3 years to become a mental health nurse just as I didn’t train for 3 years to become a midwife. You need to spell things out to me.
Please try not to become complacent just because you see countless women in labour every day. You see women in pain every day but no 2 women are the same. Do not presume that because I am only 3cm I should find the pain easy. Maybe I have a low pain threshold? Maybe I’m exhausted? Maybe I’m terrified? Remember how you feel when you are in pain and please treat me kindly. Also if you are thinking I’m being dramatic or foolish because I have no idea what is to come, keep these comments to yourself.
Remember that just because I’m a patient doesn’t mean I can’t hear what you are saying to your colleague when you are stood 2 feet away from my bed. I might not understand but I can hear. Please treat me with respect and either explain yourself or talk in private.
Remember birth is an everyday occurrence for you but it is not for me. This is some scary shit I’m going through and I need your support.
Finally please please PLEASE keep doing your job. Keep turning up to work every day even on Christmas to deliver tiny humans and help families grow. My daughter is the best thing I have ever done and no matter what the circumstances I have you to thank for her coming into the world safely.