The Total Botch Job That was My Baby's Birth
I had planned a home birth because I have cerebral palsy, osteoarthritis and a replaced hip joint. I figured that being able to move around in my own environment, not being strapped to a bed and in familiar surroundings that were already kitted out for disability was the way to go. I read that the biggest reason for dislocations of artificial joints were doctors and midwives trying to force the woman into a 'flat on your back' position. I also knew that the caesarean section rate for women with prosthetic joints was 50%. Indeed, a doctor on my own orthopaedic team had said I should get a C-section in case I dislocate. Having surgery to avoid surgery seemed rather nonsensical to me and I didn't want to become another statistic in the 'unnecessarian' epidemic that is occurring in first world countries. Home birth, then, was important to me.
Fast forward to 29th May 2019 - my older son's 12th birthday, I had felt 'off' all day but couldn't place exactly why. I told my friend who joined us on the birthday outing that it felt as if baby's head was just 'sitting there, waiting to come out'. She laughed it off and told me not to call her in labour later. I then had two contractions while we were sat in IKEA, but they were mild so I thought they were braxton hicks.
This occurred throughout the day but with gaps of two hours or more, a stark contrast to my earlier labours where contractions happened every two minutes from the get-go. This contributed to my belief that it wasn't the real thing. I let my son stay up till midnight, building his new lego sets because it was his birthday, before I realised that actually I was in labour. My birthing room was now covered in Lego and other toys and I implored him to tidy it away to be ready for baby. He said he'd rather wait till morning. I said we didn't have time to wait till morning.
I put my TENS machine on and set up the birthing space with waterproof sheeting, flexible lighting and a changing station for the baby, complete with clean fluffy towels. Once I was sure the space was perfect, my water broke and the contractions suddenly began coming every few minutes and strongly. Then was the time to call the midwife.
"I Can't Cancel My Contractions, Can I?"
Imagine my horror when I called, only to be told -
"I'm sorry, we've cancelled the home birth service overnight."
I was so shocked I asked the woman to repeat herself.
"Well, what am I supposed to do? I can't cancel my contractions, can I?"
She told me I must come into hospital. I protested, the room was set out, the house was disabled accessible, I had osteoarthritis and needed to be able to move freely in my own environment. She steadfastly refused to listen, telling me they only had one midwife and they needed to send two. By this stage, I was feeling pressure from the baby's head every time I had a pain. I was nearing the pushing stage and no one was there. I told her this and the fact that my previous son was born in one hour and 39 minutes.
"So leaving me to give birth on my own is better than sending just one midwife!?!" - tell me if you understand their logic because I didn't.
Strapped to a Stretcher with Agonising Arthritis
She told me she'd call an ambulance. I had told staff I didn't want to lie on my back due to arthritis in the spine, my hip joint and the fact it makes childbirth hurt more, but the paramedics insisted that I had to be strapped onto a stretcher for the half hour journey to hospital .They refused to allow me to sit up so I was in agony the entire time, both from my arthritis and final stage contractions, while they tried to push gas and air on me multiple times, despite me saying I wanted to do this naturally.
The Inaccessible Delivery Room
When we got there, we were ushered into a room where they tried to get me onto a bed. The bed was too high up even on the lowest setting and I couldn't climb onto it. Several minutes was spent trying to get on so they could palpate my abdomen, followed by another several minutes trying to sit up and get off the bed. The midwives couldn't seem to help me change position and I was stuck on my back in terrible pain. I began to feel as if I wasn't coping because they were doing everything to me I had said not to. I shouted at them to get me off the bed and let me be on all fours. After several failed attempts to move me, they finally managed it and one of them brought me a mat to kneel on. I got on all fours and asked the midwife rather meekly
"Actually, can I have a codeine tablet?"
They'd taken me out of my comfort zone and forced me into positions incompatible with my disability and now I wanted drugs despite having natural births at home with sans painkillers before.
And They Didn't Even Catch the Baby......
The midwife turned and went to leave the room to get the codeine when I suddenly felt the baby being born.
"He's coming out!", I shouted at her.
No one had anything ready, I'd only got there about 30 minutes before and they didn't seem to realise how advanced I was. One of them hit the emergency button because they were unprepared. I'd given birth without their assistance and they had to fish my baby out of my pyjamas which were still on. How could this have been safer than a planned home birth? I remember thinking, why did I go through that agonising ambulance ride strapped down when I gave birth on my own anyway and could have done this with less pain in my living room?
My older son - who had not wanted to attend the birth - was left in the corner of the room to witness the whole thing, including the pools of blood on the floor. He was as white as a sheet and almost passed out. I had organised a friend to sit with him in another room during the home birth - getting ferried to hospital and giving birth minutes later in front of him was not part of the plan.
Stirrups with a Hip Replacement?!
For the third stage, the midwife said she would put me in stirrups. I protested that I have cerebral palsy and she couldn't actually do that. Apart from anything else, that position is completely contraindicated in women with artificial joints because they can dislocate them.
"Well, what do I do, then?" the midwife asked me, in almost an exact replay of my eldest child's birth 23 years earlier.
"I don't know", I shrugged, "You'll just have to make do."
Stuck in One Place
Once the birth was over it didn't get much better.
The paramedics had left my wheelchair at home and the only one I was given in hospital was not self-propel, so I could not move myself around and after the birth while we waited to be discharged, I had to ask to be taken to the toilet (humiliating) and couldn't go and get food for myself so apart from tea and toast I was given at around 9am after his birth, I wasn't given anymore food until 5.30pm, when we were discharged shortly afterwards anyway.
The birth of my son was a happy occasion anyway - and I was bowled over by him - but his birth wasn't safer by me being asked to transfer to hospital and they not only increased my pain but put me at risk of giving birth in a lay-by and they were not at all equipped to deal with my disability.
A complaint will follow as I believe disabled women (and all women) who book a home birth should be guaranteed one in the absence of medical emergency. This is particularly true for women where facilities at home are more suitable than those provided by a hospital.