Cowbag J The Midwife, and how Baby SM narrowly avoided turning up on an A Road in the middle of the night

Baby SM was late. Very late in fact. By the time I went into labour, I was 12 days overdue, had endured FIVE stretch and sweeps, and was booked in for an induction that day. I was adamant I didn’t want to be induced (with good reason it seems, based on the experiences of a couple of my NCT friends) and, it seems, Baby SM eventually got the memo. I’d had what I can only assume were Braxton Hicks contractions following every sweep which eventually petered out to nothing, but on the twelfth day, I woke up and I knew: this was labour.

I called my local birthing centre and asked to come in to get checked over, fully expecting to be sent home based on the experiences of the NCT girls who’d given birth before me. I’d dutifully timed my contractions using an app (fab invention, definitely recommended – just in case, you know, you need to PROVE to your Midwife that you’re in labour – more of that later) and they were exactly one minute long, five minutes apart. When we got in, the Midwife (H) examined me, told me I was 2-3cm dilated and might be more comfy at home for a while, and sent me on my way. As an aside, she also commented that I didn’t seem in much pain. Odd, I thought, but I patted myself on the back for keeping it together so well. Back home, I spent the morning on my birthing ball and repeating my pregnancy yoga DVD over and over whilst smashing my way through the carefully curated bag of ‘birth tapas’ (an expression from our NCT class – basically a selection of nibbles to pick at during labour). By lunchtime, yoga just wasn’t cutting it anymore, the ball wasn’t helping, and I wanted drugs. Back in the car to the birth centre, where this time, I was 3-4cm. If I’d stayed just that little bit longer, I could have had my carefully planned water birth, but Midwife H advised that I seemed to be coping really well back home (I wasn’t) and that I’d be best going back there with a TENS machine. We handed over a tenner for the privilege of being sent home with this little buzzy machine strapped to my back, and back home we went. The next few hours were total agony – the TENS took the edge off the pain, but it was still there, with my contractions now almost constant and my appetite now completely gone. I felt weak, exhausted and scared. Neither myself nor my OH had done this before and I just wanted some reassurance that everything was ok. My sister called me and, not being able to get a word out of me, ordered my OH to drive me back in straight away.

This time, we arrived in the middle of a shift change. There seemed to be some sort of staffing problem; I could hear the midwifery care assistant begging a staff member to come in over the phone, only to be told she was really sick and couldn’t make it. We sat, alone, in the birthing room for half an hour before a new Midwife, J, came into the room. Having just returned from the toilet, I went to sit back on my birthing ball, but she’d rolled it away and sat on it, bouncing up and down smugly, facing my husband.

“I’m Midwife J. What do you both do for a living? You work in professional beauty? Hmm. Ah, but you’re a military officer? Right. Well, I can tell just by looking at your wife that she’s not in active labour. When were you born? 1987 and 1989? I’ve been practising midwifery longer than you’ve been alive, and I have never, ever, seen someone look or behave the way your wife is who is in the active phase of labour. You’re in for a long run, and I’ve got a plan to prove it to you. At the end I’ll explain why I’ve done things the way I have, but for now, just go with it”

And we did. What on earth are you supposed to say to that? We were by ourselves with this woman, the only person in the hospital available to care for us, and she appeared to know what she was doing. Perhaps I was being a bit pathetic with the pain and needed to man up a bit. Sure, I wasn’t huffing and puffing and groaning, but after years of practising yoga and long distance running, I’d become pretty adept at managing pain and discomfort by breathing. Maybe if I was in labour properly I’d be making much more of a fuss about it…right?

Cowbag J stuck me on a CTG monitor for an hour, flat on my back, which anyone who’s been in labour knows is the most agonising position you can be in. The plan, it transpired, was to demonstrate that my contractions were neither regular nor strong enough to deliver Baby SM. Midwife H came in to say goodbye, checked the monitor and patted me on the leg reassuringly, saying that the contractions were really strong and regular and that it wouldn’t be long now – good luck. When she left, Cowbag J dismissed her completely, telling us that she didn’t know what she was talking about and was far less experienced than her. Eventually, the monitor readings being to her satisfaction, she finally examined me. Her face fell when she came back up – she’d made a mistake.

“So, you’re five centimetres dilated. Well, five to six. I’ll get your birthing notes.”

“Can you run her the pool then? We did say we wanted a water birth.”

“There’s not much point in running the pool. You’ll only want pethedin, and then you’ll have to get out. You’re not coping all that well so I think you’ll need extra help. I’d suggest you go in to Bath so you can have extra support.”

At this point, my waters promptly broke all over the bed. I’d seen the sign in the corridor; I knew in this situation that moving to another hospital meant a trip in an ambulance. I didn’t really want to go anywhere, but I couldn’t spend another minute with this woman. She started gathering up our things around us and I took this as our cue that we were leaving for Bath.

“The midwifery care assistant will help you to your car”

This wasn’t part of the plan. It was now late at night; we were both terrified, I couldn’t speak, and was leaking water and blood everywhere. Before I knew it I’d been shepherded into my car and was sat on a puppy pad in complete silence as my husband made the half hour trip into Bath. I couldn’t even muster the strength to reassure him I was ok. When we got to Bath, I waddled in to the birthing unit and bent double over the front desk, unable to speak, whilst my OH explained why we were there. We were ushered in to a side room and a young Midwife came in to examine me. She went quiet, then called in her supervisor to check me over.

“Um, do you feel the need to push, SM?”

“I feel like I need a poo” (all my dignity had gone by this point)

“You’re fully dilated. We need to take you into the delivery room straightaway.”

“But…pain…relief?”

“No time, I’m sorry. Not even gas and air.” To her supervisor: “Why did the birthing centre send her away?”

And then I was wheeled into a room to have my baby. 45 minutes of pushing, and he was here. The supervisor came in to join us after phoning the birth centre to advise Cowbag J of his imminent arrival, and ask her why on earth we were sent away. The junior Midwife was incredible; so specific with her instructions on how to push (you really do need that) and amazingly encouraging without being in the least bit patronising. I wanted to give them both a hug and thank them for being so compassionate and, well, so not like Cowbag J. The pushing bit was much more bearable than the contractions; at least I had something to focus on. I got my gas and air at last when I was having my stitches (better late than never, and I’m so glad I got to have some because it it GOOD SHIT) and then it was just me, the OH, Baby SM and the best tea and toast ever.

So to summarise, things I’ve learned from this experience:

  • Don’t listen to cowbag midwives; you know your own body. If you think something is not right, you can ask for a second opinion, though in our case this would have been over the phone with Bath hospital as Cowbag J was our only option in the birthing centre. Following a complaint to the head of midwifery, this is something they may look to change long term
  • Birthing centres are great in principle, but if they get the slightest inkling you might need intervention, you will be sent somewhere else. At least in a hospital you have all the resources you need at your disposal.
  • Birth plans are just that – plans. Whether you get to stick to them is at the mercy of your Midwife and your baby.
  • If you do have a bad experience – say something. The Midwife in question is currently being retrained and I’m awaiting a letter confirming her long term fate.
  • There is no trauma on earth that tea and buttered toast can’t take the edge off of.
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