Trigger warning mentions birth, c-sections and NICU
As soon as I found out I was pregnant I knew I would have a c-section again. My birth with Oscar had been very calm and non-traumatic and I wanted a repeat of the positive experience that I’d had with him. So much has been talked about in terms of birth trauma and I will hold my hands up and say I’m slightly terrified of ‘natural’ births. With Oscar I’d had pregnancy complication at week 34 so a c-section became a necessity, whereas this time it was all set to be down to personal choice.
I had a great experience with our consultant for Oscar and our birth at the Lindo Wing and there was no doubt in my mind that I would go down the same route for my second child. From very early on we had the time and date of the c-section booked and the type A in me absolutely loved the organisation and the fact that there would be no surprises… until there was.
As I mentioned the end of my pregnancy was very difficult and I was in constant pain, especially in my back. If you’re anything like me, being in pain will cause a lot of anxiety and I was constantly on edge and worrying every little thing could be an issue. One night about a week before my due date, Mr S came home from work to find me in bed in even more pain than usual plus anxious that I’d felt very little movement from the baby. I also started feeling occasional feelings of pressure. Were these contractions? I didn’t know as I hadn’t experienced labour before.
‘Well we need to call the hospital straight away’ said Mr S. Fortunately we had emergency child care for Oscar in place as after ringing the hospital they told us to come in immediately. They always take reduced movement very seriously and the hospital will inevitably ask you to come in for checks if there are any episodes. We arrived at the hospital and the midwives immediately hooked me up to the CTG machine to monitor the baby’s heart rate and movements. Though I hadn’t used one of these machines this time around, I was very familiar with it as I had to go on one every other day towards the end of my pregnancy with Oscar. I was strapped into the CTG machine and as soon as I saw the baby’s heartbeat I could relax a little, after around ten minutes the machine beeps to show the baby had passed the movement tests. Ok, all done we can go home now!
The midwife checked the results and said ‘Let me just call your consultant’ … the midwife then came back with a phone in her hand saying the doctor wanted to speak with me.
‘Angie – we’re going to take the baby out tomorrow at 8am… you will need to stay in the hospital overnight.’ Wait what.. the baby had passed the tests surely we can stick with the original plan? I had to pass the phone over to Mr S as I found the sudden change of plan difficult to comprehend. The Dr reconfirmed what she’d just told just told me and explained I would need the monitoring again in two hour plus with my worry about potential contractions (which just turned out to be Braxton Hicks) I was better staying in hospital.
(My last bump shot!)
Then I started crying I hadn’t been able to say goodbye and spend my last night with Oscar as my only child… then I pulled myself together as realistically you can’t 100% plan your birth and if I had gone into natural labour I might not have had that chance anyway. I also had to admit that I was quite relieved to be having this baby as I’d been in constant almost unrelenting pain. I was nervous as I was 37 weeks and the plan had been to give birth at 38 weeks but 37 weeks is considered full term and the baby is ready to be born. I hadn’t even had a chance for dinner so the midwives made me some famous hospital toast while Mr S went home to collect my already mostly packed hospital bag and nipped to the supermarket to get food. After eating he had to head home to relieve our childcare and look after Oscar overnight.
Though I had a private room, it was on the labour floor so the surrounding noise, the discomfort of the bed and my nerves meant I got a very poor night sleep. I also had to wake up at 6am to take medication to prepare me for the operation and after that I was due to fast for the next few hours before the C-section. I then got up and got ready, some might think it’s silly but I did my hair and make up as I wanted to look nice in preparation to meet my baby. Mr S returned at 7am and then it was just a nervous waiting game before the C-section scheduled at 8am.
At about 8.30 our doctor came in to tell me my operation had been delayed due to an emergency coming before and I would be rescheduled at 11am. I took that opportunity to have a nap as I was exhausted from the lack of sleep the night before. Fortunately that made the time go quicker and it wasn’t long before various people came in to prepare me. The anaesthetist to ask me about allergies and explain the process of the epidural that he would administer for the c-section. Our midwife, Millie, came to introduce herself and to put on my compression socks – her smiling face and kind manner immediately drew us to her and she was a godsend for our next few days.
It was soon time and I was led down to the operation theatre. The cannula going into your arm is a little painful but the rest – the epidural and catheter – I didn’t feel at all. So anyone who is worried about these can be rest assured. Although obviously I’d already done this once before and I was still incredibly nervous. Soon the doctor and the rest of the team arrived and introduced themselves – there’s around ten people in the operating theatre which certainly adds to the feeling of overwhelm.
Mr S set up our playlist and soon we were listening to a few favourites like ‘here comes the sun’ and ‘better off together’ songs that already reminded me of Oscar. Of course, unlike many major operations you are wide awake during a c-section so you can witness when your baby first comes into the world. But a sterile screen is put up so you can’t witness the more gory parts of the operation, and your birth partner stays by your head so they don’t see it either. Being completely numb from the waist down of course you don’t feel anything happen but there is some feeling of pressure as the doctor operates on you. I remembered in my first c-section Oscar being taken out very quickly but this time round it seemed to take longer. The doctor explained to me that this is always the case with subsequent c-section due to the scar tissue but still you’re lying there on tenterhooks waiting to make sure your baby is healthy.
Though it felt like ages, finally Noah was held up and welcomed to the world, he let out several cries, being thrust from his safe womb into this bright operating theatre. Mr S cut the cord and Noah was awarded high APGAR scores indicating his overall health. He was then immediately placed on my chest for that amazing skin to skin moment and we were able to talk to him gently as the doctor finished the operation.
After a further forty minutes, the doctor was finished and we were wheeled out of the operating theatre into a room to recover.
It was at this point I was able to have the first breast feed with our little baby, this is such a special moment! I’d been nourishing for nine months and I finally had the chance to give him that nourishment in the outside world. Mr S also got to have his skin to skin moment, that new baby soft skin is just the most wonderful feeling against you own!
Millie, our wonderful midwife, had been helping us all this time getting the latch correct and making sure baby, Mr S and I were comfortable and having a light lunch. But soon Millie began expressing a concern… she noticed that Noah made a grunting sound while breathing.
‘I’m just going to take him to the paediatrician to check out that noise, it does sound a little concerning’ she said.
The next half an hour happened very quickly and was difficult to process. One minute Noah was taken to the next room, the next minute we were told he was being put on oxygen. As I was still numb from the waist down after my C-section, it was Mr S who rushed to his side.
‘We’re going to have to take him to intensive care…’ next thing I knew, my tiny baby was wheeled into my room in a giant incubator covered in wires so I could say goodbye. I was offered a photo with him but I couldn’t fathom it at that moment and said no.
Feeling totally shelled shocked having been pregnant for 37 weeks, had a c-section and being sat in hospital but with no baby honestly felt surreal. I was however, somewhat prepared for this to happen as I knew a c-section can lead to transient tachypnea of the newborn. Babies with TTN have extra fluid in their lungs because it failed to clear as expected, which can happen particularly in the case of a c-section baby as they are not pushed through the birth canal.
My sister and mum arrived expecting to meet our baby but of course there was no baby, it was reassuring for me to see their familiar faces though. And it wasn’t long before Mr S could be taken to intensive care to get news about Noah. He sent me a picture and we were told he was on oxygen but he was stable, he also had to have multiple tubes and pipes inserted into him because he had to be fed through a tube and he had to have a cannula on in case he needed to be administered antibiotics very quickly. And speaking of feeding, that was my next question. I was really looking forward to breast-feeding Noah as I had with Oscar but how was I going to breastfeed him while he was in intensive care?
‘Don’t worry’ Millie said ‘ We’ll help you to express colostrum.’ Colostrum is the first form that your breast milk takes, it’s nutrient-dense and rich in antibodies and antioxidants. Expressing colostrum into syringes to feed our baby would be my way of feeling proactive and like I was really helping him.
Later that evening I was keen to try and visit Noah. While I had the feeling back in my legs, I was still only around six hours post surgery but I felt like I could do it. I had to do it.
A wheelchair was bought to my bedside and I managed to get in it. Now whilst I had Noah in the Lindo Wing (the private wing of St Mary’s hospital), the Winnicott baby unit was in the NHS part of the hospital. The two were connected by an underground corridor. Whilst realistically it was only about a five minute walk down that corridor, it felt much longer as my sore post birth body was taken over ramps and bumps in the wheelchair. I also started to feel very hot, nauseous and dizzy. This was a mistake.
Finally we got to the Winnicott unit and washed our hands thoroughly before being allowed in. Already on the knife edge, seeing Noah in the incubator covered in tubes was the final push. I couldn’t do it and asked to be taken straight back to bed, sure I was going to faint. I was also going on very little sleep and not much to eat either. I was whisked back up and given a fan plus something to eat and drink. I also got a visit a from our consultant who explained why the sudden decision to get Noah out. Basically the episode of reduced movement had prompted her to immediately take the baby out given the risk of still birth due to me being over 40. She’d weighed up this risk versus the potential chance of TTN and made her decision. We were unlucky that Noah did develop TTN but for reference it is a common affliction, fairly benign with an excellent prognosis being resolved in a few days with no lasting effects. Despite the positive prognosis, it is still incredibly traumatising to have your newborn taken to NICU and only being able to spend a few hours with them.
Determined to help Noah as much as possible, I set my alarm and expressed colostrum every three hours throughout the night. Mr S had been planning to stay in hospital but with no baby to look after, we decided it was best for him to go back to Oscar.
After a (relatively) good night sleep and some recovery from my operation, I felt ready to visit Noah the next day. Parents have 24 hour access to NICU and I was able to visit him straight away. After the bone crushing journey in the wheel chair and plenty of sanitation, I was able to visit him in his incubator hold his little body against mine and even give him a little feed. We did take a few pictures of him whilst in NICU but I feel like these are very personal to us so I won’t post any here.
Noah spent five nights in NICU whilst I stayed in the hospital myself. My days were spent resting, visiting him, expressing colostrum and then pumping milk when it came in. I was expressing every three hours including at night, and though it was tiring the extra time in hospital and fantastic care from the midwives did help with my recovery.
After five days the midwives gave the happy news that Noah would be coming back to me and at midday he returned. The feeding tube was left in his nose just in case and task of the day was to establish breastfeeding. Being fed through a tube was very easy for him and so now he had to learn to feed properly. Despite having fed Oscar, I’d forgotten all the proper positioning and it did take quite a few attempts to get it right but soon we were feeding together like old pros. The next day Noah was weighed and he’d gained sufficient weight to have his feeding tube removed… just in time to meet a very special visitor… Oscar.
We had worried about Oscar being jealous of his little brother but actually the first meeting couldn’t have gone better. He absolutely fell in love with his sibling and wanted to give him lots of cuddles. He even put a sheep on his head which if you know Oscar is a sign of love! We also had visits from my sister and Mr S’s brother that evening and arranged to have the famous Lindo Wing afternoon tea!
The next day it was time to go home, the paediatrician was happy with Noah’s progress and discharged him!
I’d arranged a hospital photographer to come and get some special pictures. It was the same lady who had taken our pictures with Oscar and it was amazing to come full circle and to meet her again! Here are a few of the pictures from that session, I was really pleased with them!
That’s my birth story with my second son, Noah. I feel like it’s very bittersweet. The day we had Oscar was the best day of my life, it was perfect in every way and I expected to have the same experience the second time around but instead we had the trauma of NICU and the separation from our baby. I know we are lucky though, now we have a happy, healthy baby with no lasting effects.