This blog post has been sitting in my drafts folder for months.
I've been writing it bit by bit, on and off, because the truth is that my birth story is still something I'm trying to wrap my head around. I think back to the craziest, most intense day of my life and can't believe that things went so differently to what I expected. I remember the excitement of realising I was in labour, the intensity of each contraction bringing me closer to my baby girl. I remember walking up and down the passages of the hospital, my husband holding my hand as I doubled over in pain, and then casually chatting as it subsided. I remember smiling while I bounced on my pilates ball, not caring about the hours that had passed. But I also remember how quickly things changed. How I started to lose control, how I suddenly felt like I was in a scene from West World. And I very clearly remember how I feared for my baby's life.
Yes, this is tough one for me, but I want to share it so that other women know that every story is unique and everyone has a different experience. I want to empower women to take charge of their bodies and situations and to know that they have a choice. I also want every woman to feel proud of her journey, no matter what.
So here goes.
On the 21st of December at 12:25pm Georgia Luna joined us earth-side after a very eventful 14 hours.
On Tuesday afternoon after my friend Leyash left my house I went and lay down on my bed because I was exhausted. 38 weeks pregnant in the middle of December is no joke, so I propped myself up under the fan and examined my belly like I so often did. It started to take on strange shapes, and thinking this was hilarious I started sending photos to friends and family members laughing at my torpedo tummy. Later that night Warren and I jumped in bed and started watching series. At around 10pm, while it poured with rain outside, I started feeling some pain and discomfort coming in ebbs and flows, but I put it down to Braxton Hicks because I was still 2 weeks away from my due date. By 1:00 am on Wednesday I was sitting on my pilates ball with a cup of tea timing my contractions. It was the strangest thing, I knew I was in labour but it wasn't registering in my head. I kept thinking it would somehow pass and I'd go back to being pregnant for the next 20 years. Warren asked me if I was ready to go to the hospital, but I wanted to be at home for as long as possible. By 3:00 am I woke him up and said we needed to start packing the car because the contractions were becoming much more intense. After painting my nails (so bizarre, but I just had to), having an argument about packing my pilates ball (Warren was in denial and thought that there would be time to come home and get it before the real action started), we were on the road. We didn't talk much in the car because I was working through some pretty strong contractions and trying to focus on the journey ahead of me. We arrived at Sunninghill Hospital at about 3:30 am, awkwardly walked into the maternity ward and told the nurses on duty that I *think* I'm in labour. They seemed quite relaxed, and I didn't take me too seriously.
After a quick change of clothes I was examined, and to the nurse's surprise I was indeed in labour and already a few cm dilated (nothing could prepare me for the personal invasion of an internal examination). We filled in some forms and then we were scooted off the the labour ward where I spent the next few hours labouring. I spoke to my family, walked up and down the passages, and bounced on my ball trying to make it through the excruciating pain of each contraction. It was tough, no doubt, but I was so happy and excited that it was finally happening.
I had a birth plan. But really I had two birth plans.
The one plan, I now realise, was one that made other people happy.
I would go into labour, head to the hospital, have an epidural when the time was right, and consider a c-section if it was necessary. A lot of people lead me to this plan. My doctor was one of them. She was surprised by my choice not to opt for an elective caesar, but supported it as long as we did it without all the screaming... in other words, take the drugs. Some people close to me were not happy with the 'dangerous' route of going natural but settled on the idea because I'd have my baby in a conventional hospital, "What if something goes wrong? You'll always carry the guilt of putting your child in danger". Others applauded me for going natural but laughed when I mentioned the idea of going drug-free, "It is crazy that people birth without an epidural, give me all the drugs". My husband and I decided that we wanted the calmest, most serene birth and that an epidural would probably help make this a reality.
My other birth plan was one that I kept to myself. It was my initial plan, but it got pushed to the side so many times because I started to doubt myself as other people's voices filled my head, and quite frankly I got scared.
My plan was to birth this baby with as little intervention as possible. I wanted her to come into this world without drugs, without stress, and without the craziness of a hospital (I have never felt comfortable in a hospital). Slowly this plan shifted as I agreed on the hospital birth, then decided against the water birth, and finally decided that an epidural made sense. People don't have their wisdoms pulled out without drugs, why would I birth my child like this?
So after a few more (very invasive) internal checks my doctor told me that they were calling the anesthesiologist to give me the epidural.
I remember turning to Warren saying, "I can do this. I don't need the drugs. I can do this". My gut told me not to take the drugs... But within minutes this very grumpy man was in the room, complaining about the fact that he should be on his way to Plett already and that he can't wait to get out of Jozi. He propped me up, waited for me to signal the end of a contraction and stuck the needle into my back. It really wasn't as painful as people had warned me, but that might be because I was enduring some crazy intense contractions by this stage.
Half an hour later the doctor returned, shocked to see me moving my legs freely, still working through contractions. So I was given another epidural. And another. Let me tell you something, once you've surrendered your mind to the idea of not feeling the pain and then realise that the drugs aren't working and that you might have to do this naturally after all, you panic. I remember grabbing the nurse and asking , "What does this mean? What if the epidural doesn't work? What are my options?", and she turned and said, "Not much actually".
3 rounds later and finally I was losing feeling in my lower half. It was bliss. The pain was completely gone, and the exhaustion was starting to hit me. By this stage my waters hadn't broken, so my doctor casually stuck her hand up and did it for me. I didn't feel a thing, but the thought made me uncomfortable.
Warren and I studied the fancy machines that were running around me for a while. One was showing the baby's heart beat and another the intensity of my contractions. The contractions started to slow, and my impatient doctor said "We're going to be here all night at this rate, let's get things moving", and before I knew it they had administered some 'juice' into my drip that would help the contractions get stronger.
By this stage I started to doze off watching the numbers on the machine climb as my body contracted without me feeling a thing. Just as I felt my body fall into a deep sleep, my eyes shot open and I saw Warren running out of the room calling for a nurse. My heart dropped and I knew something was wrong. He had been watching the baby's heart beat while I tried to sleep, and with each strengthening contraction, her little heart beat dropped. And the contractions were coming in hard and fast. They called my doctor who came swooping in, quickly studying the results of the machines, and with a blank look on her face she told me that we needed to get my baby out. Now.
We were heading for a c-section and I burst into tears. I turned to Warren and asked him if this is the right thing, and with tears running down his face he said "Danielle, I'm not leaving this hospital without both my girls".
15 minutes later, a fourth epidural in my back, I was watching my worst nightmare unfold.
New doctors introducing themselves, my husband in scrubs, masks, bright lights, metal clinking, and the sickening thought of losing my baby girl.
I was having an emergency c-section.
It all felt so surreal. I could hear the doctors chatting about their weekends plans as they cut through my stomach, and the next thing I knew I was being lifted up to witness my perfect, screaming baby being pulled out of my body like something out of a movie. Relief washed over my body as I saw her face but it wasn't until she was placed on my chest and I whispered loving secrets into her tiny baby ears that I could finally breathe.
The next few days were a blur of people, breastfeeding, naps, and cuddles. This child has forever changed me and I cannot express how grateful I am that she is healthy, but the truth is that things didn't go to plan and I can't help but think that it has so much to do with the fact that I didn't follow my gut. I let people get into my head. I felt like I was at the mercy of the system because I was inexperienced, and it resulted in a birth that was so far off plan (both of them) that it might as well never have existed.
So here I am, a mom to the most incredible little summer solstice baby, pleading with you to do what feels right for you.
Be it a hospital birth, via c-section, a water-birth in the damn mountains, or having someone else birth your baby for you.
Do what works for you, and then even when things don't go to plan, be damn proud of your journey!