I’m a doctor. So when it came to giving birth to my first child, you might assume that I approached things calmly, armed with knowledge and experience. But in fact, I found it deeply terrifying – at a pivotal moment I became completely incapable of making decisions, didn’t know what to say or do, and desperately wanted someone else to be in control. I froze.
At the time, I was training to be an anaesthetist and my husband was working towards becoming a GP, so the medical field was a huge part of our lives. Perhaps that was why pregnancy terrified me.
I’d seen all the bad stuff: I’d undertaken placements in midwifery, obstetrics and gynaecology, shadowing people looking after those needing urgent care. For part of my pregnancy, my husband was on an OB/GYN placement, which was hard; he’d come home and talk about work – including the horrific things he’d seen.
So even though I knew the vast majority of pregnancy and labours were fine, I also found myself overcome with fear.
I tried to take a practical approach to the idea of labour in my head. I accepted that births rarely go to plan – and that what matters is that the baby needs to come out safely. That was a good approach because, as it happened, my birth didn’t go to plan.
At 38 weeks pregnant, my waters went. It was before I felt any contractions, so I didn’t realise at the time things were kicking off, and went to hospital thinking it was nothing. But at 8pm, when I was examined, I was told this baby would be coming soon – and, because my contractions hadn’t started, it was likely I was going to be induced.
“Can you give us a minute?” I asked when they told me. I could feel myself spiralling. “I’ve changed my mind,” I told my husband. “I’ve decided I don’t want to have this baby.”
He acknowledged my fear, but simply said: “I think it might be a bit late for that.”
“If I was induced and I had a contraction, there was a risk the cord would prolapse and come out first."”
Hopeful that labour might come on naturally, I asked to go home and the midwives agreed. They asked me to come back in the morning, which allowed me to get some kip. But by 9am the following day, I was back in an extremely busy labour ward. No contractions, no further ahead.
And also no available doctors to examine – and subsequently induce – me. My examination kept getting pushed back, and back. We were still in a daze I think, my husband and I. We were in doctor mode – but actually, we were the vulnerable ones.
After the examination came the next bump in the road: my baby’s head wasn’t “engaged”, which basically means it wasn’t down far enough. If I was induced and had a contraction, there was a risk the umbilical cord would prolapse and I would give birth to it first – taking away my baby’s blood supply.
My choice was to take that risk or have a c-section.
I froze. I couldn’t make a decision. Words escaped me, and I lost the ability to think clearly. It’s strange, looking back now, because as doctors we’re taught to respect the patient’s choice – but in that moment, I just wanted someone to tell me what to do.
“You make the decision for me,” I begged my husband, who reminded me he couldn’t give his consent for my surgery.
The safest option would have been to have a caesarean and just get the baby out. But while I know that now, in those moments I didn’t know what to do – I was becoming a mother and really felt the pressure to do the right thing.
“I’d done this with patients many times, but it hit me – it was me having this baby.”
Someone I’d previously worked with came and sat with me. “You need to remember who you are when you’re not pregnant,” she said. “Who are you, and how do you think? Take yourself back, forget about the pregnancy. Just think about this objectively.”
I think she knew what I was going to do. In fact, I think everyone did. After 45 minutes, I finally got there: this is insane, I thought, why am I even debating this? I knew a c-section was the best option.
I felt comfortable with my decision as I was wheeled into theatre. I had a slight wobble when I had to read through the risks and sign the consent form. Of course, I’d done with patients many times, but as I looked through it myself, it hit me: It was me having this baby.
The other major struggle was trying to get all the images I had of c-sections out of my head. I’d seen everything! There’s a reason why they put the screen up! I couldn’t get what I’d seen – blood and all – out of my mind. I knew exactly what they were doing to me. But I also knew, confidently, that I was in safe hands.
My son was born safely – happy and healthy.
I felt a deep sense of duty and compassion when he was handed to me. I can’t say I was a woman who fell in love with my son the moment I clapped eyes on him, it was a process for me. C-sections give new mothers a bit of a disconnected experience; you don’t feel anything, and then someone gives you a baby. But now, I couldn’t be more grateful.
My birth advice?
Make sure your birthing partner knows exactly your way of thinking so they can help you come to a decision, should they need to during your labour. Be with someone who shares the same vision of what it means for you to feel comfortable.