In short, I had intended to have a natural birth in a birth centre. I was very afraid of tearing and had heard lots of horror stories about epidurals and general "interference" leading to assisted births, forceps, tearing and emergency cesareans. I started reading up on so called natural births and became more and more convinced that I absolutely did not want to have an epidural. I wanted to give birth in a pool without pain relief. In control, natural, you get the picture... I knew that water could help relieve the pain, as could the correct breathing. I knew that squatting was supposed to be more effective than lying on your back. In theory, I knew it all.
Early on in my pregnancy I was presented with two options for my delivery, the labour ward or the birth centre. The labour ward is over crowded, dirty and understaffed. Staff are rushing up and down the corridors. There are barely any seats in the tiny waiting area, so partners have to stand to let all the pregnant women sit. The rooms are tiny, only just accommodating a bed and an armchair. In addition to this, after giving birth at the labour ward you are quickly transferred to the maternity ward where you stay with your baby in a room with around 5 other women until you are released. Visitors, including dads, are allowed for a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the evening.
The birth centre is a whole different story. It's brand new and beautiful. There is a large reception area with sweet and helpful receptionists, comfortable seats and a jug of water on the table. It has huge rooms comprising of a birthing pool, bean bags and couches, a kind of swing from the ceiling that you can lean on for support, dimmed lights, a big flat screen TV and speakers for music. You also have your own en suite bathroom. It's very much like a luxury, private birthing facility. You have your own midwife with you in the room through the whole process. When your baby is born, you get your own private en suite room with a double bed and a cot where you can stay with your partner and baby. Anyone who has a normal, straightforward pregnancy and goes in to labour on their own within 2 weeks of their due date can use the birth centre. Now here's the clincher, in the birth centre you are not able to use any pain relief (apart from gas and air).
When I found out about the birth centre I was delighted. I wasn't planning on using any pain relief anyway so it seemed perfect for me. The facilities are aimed at getting you through the birth naturally, the music, the dimmed lights, the pool. It all made sense. It is staffed only with midwives, which is why they are not able to give you any drugs, if you need more intervention you get transferred upstairs to the labour ward. It all made sense to me then. But when I think about this now I feel outraged. The message they are sending is clear: if you are a good girl and do this "the right way" you get rewarded with all these benefits. If you can't cope and chose "the easy way out" you get sent away to the big bad labour ward.
Why should a woman be punished for needing pain relief and rewarded for coping without?
Every labour is different and all the interventions and options are there for a reason. There are no universal answers. Epidurals are not good, nor are they bad. They are sometimes, for various reasons, necessary. Diamorphine is not ideal but it is sometimes the best option. There are benefits of giving birth in a sqauting position, but some women can not cope in any other position than on their back. The mother, as well as the midwives need to constantly re-evaluate the situation and take any action that is necessary. You want a birth to result in a living and healthy baby, but you also want a living and healthy mother. In my book that includes sparing the mother from emotional trauma.
My labour was very difficult. Una was big and I am quite small. She was lying face up, meaning it was more painful and slow to move her down the birth canal. After a few hours in the birth centre I asked (demanded) to be transferred to the labour ward for pain relief. The only thing I can associate the pain with is torture. My body was in total shock and I truly believed I was going to die. I was desperately hoping someone could do something, anything to help me. Hours later, I had an epidural and, after talk of a c-section, Una was born with forceps. Because Una was lying face up and so was not coming out with the smallest area of her head first, as babies normally do, my pushing was to no avail. I suffered a third degree tear, also known as an anal sphincter rupture, and had to be taken to theatre to be stitched up for an hour.
Sometimes people say things like: giving birth is such a natural thing, a woman's body knows exactly what to do, women have been doing it for millions of years without hospitals. Of course we know this is all true, but we also know that far more people died in childbirth only a century ago. I truly believe that there is no way, with all the positive thoughts and breathing techniques in the world, that Una would have eventually been born healthy and alive in that birthing pool. I believe that if I could have got through the pain and been a "good girl" I would have eventually been rushed upstairs for an emergency cesarean section.
A century ago would Una and I even have survived?