With hypnobirthing classes on the rise and the NHS pushing for more mums to have homebirths, there’s a pressure to ‘achieve’ a so-called natural birth. But it’s not the only way. Annie Ridout discusses her highly medicalised births, and why she’s happy they panned out that way…
When I was pregnant with my firstborn, I attended antenatal classes. During one of the sessions – about the environment we imagined giving birth in – we were instructed to move to one side of the room if we wanted to give birth somewhere with low lighting, maybe candles, a birth pool, calming music, a comfortable bed and cushions on the floor.
We were directed to go to the other side of the room if we liked the idea of a medicalised birth: bright lights, surgical equipment on display; a more sterile environment. Hospital staff walking around and reading our notes. Buzzing and bleeping and flashing things.
I took the second option.
What I hadn’t realised is that it was a trick. Or a joke. Basically, the teacher was ushering us towards a ‘natural birth’ by describing what she thought was a lovely environment to give birth in, compared to a hideous one; one not conducive to a positive birth experience.
Only, the medicalised, sterile birth sounded brilliant to me. There would be doctors. And an anaesthetist. Cleanliness. (Also, I didn’t want calming music. I’d already thought about the soundtrack to my child’s birth and it was going to be upbeat; the Gypsy Kings, David Bowie).
My husband had no idea about childbirth and it wasn’t particularly going to affect him either way so he followed me to the hospital side of the room. We stood there alone, looking over at the ‘natural birth’ people and feeling both a bit embarrassed and a bit relieved.
Relieved, because the hospital birth I planned was realistic. It felt safe. If anything went wrong, there would be help at hand. I could have drugs if I needed them (I did). There was also an option of a water birth at my particular hospital but only if I didn’t have an epidural (I took the epidural).
But embarrassed, because everyone was looking at us like we were mad.
Of all the births amongst that group of people – 8 women in total – there was one drug-free water birth (in the hospital). The others included c-sections. Forceps. Ventouse. Episiotomies. Epidurals. None of which had been planned for. Some of those mothers felt utterly traumatised by their childbirth experience.
My medicalised birth
Mine was a three-day labour, which was eventually sped up by the midwife bursting my waters. The contractions came on strong, and I lasted about five hours before the ward sister came in saying: GET THIS WOMAN AN EPIDURAL, NOW! At that point, I was rolling around on the hospital bed, growling and groaning – hungry, tired and in a lot of pain.
Almost as soon as the epidural was administered, I relaxed. It was heavenly. From an out-of-body experience, howling like a hyena, to feeling calm and in control. I slept for a few hours, so did my husband.
(My poor husband, who until then had felt so helpless – watching me as a rolled around sucking on the gas and air, which made my voice go all high but didn’t even touch the sides of my contractions.)
And then about eight hours later – after chilling, snoozing and chatting – I was fully dilated. I pushed for a couple of hours but then my baby’s heart stopped beating and so they cut a slit, pulled out the forceps – I pushed, they pulled – and out plopped my massive 10lb 7oz babe. Pink and fat and crying.
They plonked her on my chest, and I was elated. My husband couldn’t believe how big she was – we’d expected a tiny, fragile newborn baby boy but what we got was a toddler-sized baby girl with the plumpest cheeks and the squidgiest bum. She was perfect.
The recovery was tough – I had torn, been cut, the catheter insertion had been bad and so there was pain in that area. My body was shaking and bleeding – and everything else that happens however and wherever you give birth because the body is in shock. But a few weeks later, I was recovering well.
I never regretted anything that happened during that birth. I look back at that brightly-lit hospital room with fondness. I wrote cards to everyone involved: the various midwives across three shifts, the anaesthetist – that one was particularly gushing – the doctors that forcepped her out. I was so amazed by all the help I’d been given.
When I was due to give birth a second time, I returned to the same hospital; even though it was now a bit of a drive away. I wanted to replicate my first birth experience. Again, my waters were broken to induce me. Again I had a heavenly epidural. Again, he got stuck – this one was back-to-back – and had to be removed with forceps.
And again, it was the perfect birth, with the perfect baby at the end of it.
If you like the idea of giving birth in your bath, or back garden, or in a forest or lake or whatever – great. If you fancy a water birth at a birthing centre, supported by just midwives – fantastic. But if you want to give birth in hospital, with doctors and drugs and all the medical stuff – that’s fine too. It worked for me.
Did you like the sound of a medicalised birth, too? Or perhaps giving birth in a more natural environment appealed? I’d love to hear in the comments below…