Both the births of my sons were traumatic. I went past forty weeks and with them both I was medically encouraged to deliver. With my oldest it took a sweep (a procedure where the membranes of the amniotic sack are ‘swept,’ away from the cervix by the fingers of a midwife or doctor) my labour began. It was astonishingly painful, as in there were no words to describe the strength of the contractions that followed. I was left in pain for nine hours, the nurses in the Qatari hospital I was in making it very clear that I was a trouble maker for crying and asking for help. Eventually at 6am an anaesthetist was available to give me an epidural. I feel asleep and was then woken at 2pm to be told that the baby needed to be delivered in the next hour or I would be having a c section. The whole time I was on my own – my husband was not allowed to be with me and due to family circumstances could not be with me as much as he wanted to. So alone and scared, attended by staff who did not speak english, who I had never met before, I delivered my son to a doctor who cut me without permission and who left the moment his job was done. The birth was so scary that it took me a good few months to really bond with my son, I loved him and took care of him but found it hard to engage with him – it came when I recovered mentally from my experience but it took time that I won’t get back.
My second son was delivered here in Bahrain. We moved here when I was seven months pregnant and found a hospital that we were happy with pretty quickly. Again I went ten days over and was ‘helped,’ to deliver. This time I was induced (this is where the mother is giving medication to stimulate the uterus and cause contractions to begin. This medication can either inserted into the vagina or through a drip) and whilst bouncing on a ball in an attempt to get things moving I felt a pop! Water was everywhere! And then the pain again. Excruciating agony as I was told to get on the bed. The pain was so bad my husband was told to hold me down whilst midwives held my legs open so our boy could be born. No one told me it would be that quick. Rami was lying across my torso to stop me bucking off the bed – I was like a woman possessed. Our son flew out of me – I tore again, there was no sense of control, of empowerment, all I felt was terror and pain. I was bruised all over from where I had been held down and my husband found it difficult to cope with and had difficulty being with his new extended family – it was a really really hard time.
When I became pregnant with our daughter I decided that I would be in control. I would decide what was happening and when it would take place. We had a routine scan at twelve weeks and were told that the baby had an enlarged head and that the foetus was not compatible with life. We were devastated and decided to fly back to London for another scan to check and decide what we would do. The scan was negative. Our baby was perfectly healthy. Six weeks of stress because a trained radiographer could not read a machine. Nothing was wrong with her in any way shape or form. That made me wary of hospitals and coalesced, reaffirmed my decision that her birth would be one I would control, it would be done my way.
I really wanted to have a home birth but that was not an option where I live. So I began to mentally prepare myself, if I had to stay on a bed then I wanted to be able to move to a comfortable position on the bed be that on all fours, on my knees I knew that I wanted movement. I also began to prepare mantras – I am in control, I don’t want you to do that, give me more time, I can do this, I do not consent, I am strong, I am making myself safe. I prepared myself to defend my birth. I also began thinking about my ‘home movie,’ which was the birth I wanted to have which was in a bathroom, in a quiet, dark place.
The day she was born was like any other. It was a week before her due date and we were doing chores – washing chair covers to be exact when I realised at about 2pm that I was leaking fluid. Whenever I moved a little bit more would come out. The feelings came more and more and I decided that I would head to the bathroom at about 1015pm. I had written affirmations to myself on the bathroom wall in the weeks prior and just felt that this was the place I wanted to be – it was small, safe, the perfect birth bubble and being ever practical could be cleaned easily afterwards. The whole time there was no pain, it was power, I didn’t feel like I was in labour – I was waiting for it to hurt more and I think that saved me from more stress and pain as that never happened. I felt amazing! So strong and in control. So female! Unbeknownst to me Rami was outside frantically trying to get an ambulance – the hospital that we were registered with refused to come as we were too far away, other hospitals wouldn’t come as we were registered somewhere else, ambulances get lost, the whole thing was ridiculously stressful for him. He came back and sat with me and asked me what he should do so I asked him to keep an eye on my jaw! I had read that if my jaw was tight, then that would tense my pelvis and I wanted to be as open and relaxed as possible (read Ina May Gaskin ‘Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.’) I made stupid noises to relax myself but it worked – it made us laugh! Imagine that after my previous births I am on my knees, in a bathroom, having a baby and laughing and my husband is there and we are enjoying this experience TOGETHER! It was wonderful! He kept wanting to time the surges but as they didn’t hurt I didn’t feel the need for him to do so and I wasn’t sure when they were! I had a movie playing in my head – one where I was in the back seat of a car and my body and baby were driving – I was a passenger and I just surrendered to their control and that helped me so much – I just went with it with no worry, no stress and no one making me go at a pace I was not happy with – the control was all mine, I made an effort to separate my mind from my body. Transition hurt – I am not going to lie but then there was a few pushes and she was there, in Rami’s hands. I held her straight away and again had more discomfort when the placenta came away but other then that it was blissful. Jojo arrived at 11.55pm nearly two hours after I had headed to the bathroom. We had lots of skin to skin contact and she was attached to the placenta for a good half hour till the paramedics arrived and cut the cord.
Having control over birth has empowered me so much. My experiences mean that I now have very little faith in doctors and Jojo’s birth has given me the confidence to stand up for myself and my family. I had my baby, my way, with very little pain, much love and laughter and it was the most empowering, strengthening, life affirming thing I have ever and will ever do.