I knew long before I even thought about conceiving baby number two that I would opt for an elective c-section. My first labour was long. I was induced on the Saturday morning (on my due date, owing to growth scans predicting one whopper of a fetus), and it wasn’t until 30-hours, two walks around the hospital, three games of Scrabble, an M&S meal deal, one epidural and a c-section later that I met my son.
I wanted to avoid the risk of anything so lengthy and traumatic happening again, so when I had my booking appointment with a midwife from the comfort of my sofa back in February this year, I told her I’d like to opt for an elective from the get-go.
She accepted my choice without question, and from there the ball started rolling – I was booked in for a meeting at the hospital later in the spring to go through my decision, and from there a date for my surgery would be arranged, likely for the 39th week of pregnancy. But little did we know that the planet was about to throw an almighty spanner in the works.
I spent my entire first trimester crawling between bed and the sofa, feeling weighed down by nausea, exhaustion and hormonal guilt for not being able to be a sprightly and adventurous mum to my toddler. In my 8th week of pregnancy we paid for a private scan to check there was really a baby in my womb (there was), in my 11th week we moved house (would not recommend) and in my 12th week we sat in front of the TV surrounded by boxes completely dumbstruck and bemused as BoJo started his first of many evening press conferences surrounding the new buzzword of 2020: Coronavirus.
We went into self-isolation two days later when my two-year-old came home from pre-school with a cough, and with that came a cancelled 12-week pregnancy scan and a cancelled glucose intolerance test.
I spent the next 14 days desperately sure something was wrong with the baby and unable to leave the house to take my mind off of it.
I went to my first hospital scan alone. Something that now feels like the norm. But back then on that optimistically sunny April morning, it felt like the most unnatural thing in the world. I actually cried when the receptionist asked me to take a step back from the desk: partly because I hate confrontation but mostly because I felt so anxious and out of my comfort zone that I think I would have cried even if a stranger had smiled at me. I was a pregnant woman on the edge.
My scan went well and confirmed the baby was healthy, but it was discovered I was now too far along for the nuchal testing to be accurately performed so I went without.
Over the next few months I had a handful of midwife appointments (all held at a different GP surgery to mine because they’d closed to help contain the virus), a 20-week scan (we were having a boy!), a 20-week repeat scan (said baby boy didn’t want to stay in the right position for measurements). And I did them all on my own, whilst wearing a blush pink face mask and sweating out of every pore on my body because spring 2020 was a bloody decent one for weather, if nothing else.
Every member of NHS staff I met over those few months treated me with so much kindness and made me feel so incredibly looked after. And I have to give a special shout out to the sonographer who pointed me in the direction of the hospital coffee shop as I left the appointment and told me not to ‘rush home’. Something I so desperately needed after 8 weeks without pre-school or grandparent daycare.
My hospital appointment to discuss my surgery was moved to a phone call, and we were finally given a date in late September to count down to.
Admittedly those long hot summer days where the lockdown leash was loosened saved my mental health and gave me a much needed pre-baby boost. I spent my days swimming in the sea, reading, and having daily park dates with mates and toddlers. I went out for dinner, drank mocktails with my girls and enjoyed being able to breathe in some level of normality.
My 31st birthday came and went, and then before we knew it, it was Baby Eve. The day before my surgery I had a pre-op appointment which lasted about half an hour. I had the usual maternity checks: my blood pressure and a blood sample taken, the baby listened to, my urine checked, and then of course the latest test to be introduced… the test for COVID-19.
I was prepared for this to be horrendously unpleasant, but the back-of-the-mouth swab I barely noticed and the up-the-nose one felt less like someone ramming something into my brain and more like just for a fleeting moment I needed to sneeze.
Spoiler: it came back negative.
I went home, double-checked my hospital bag and tried my damn hardest to get a decent night’s sleep (spoiler: a toddler, two cats and the wonderful delight that is pregnancy insomnia ensured that in fact, I did not).
We were told to arrive on the labour ward for 7.30am. I’d taken two tablets (I think they were something to do with stomach acid but I kind of glossed over the details), had been given compression stockings to wear and had been nil by mouth from 6am. At my local hospital there is usually two planned c-sections in a day, and both patients come in early and then the surgeons decide which case is easier and that one will go first to get it out of the way.
I didn’t end up going into theatre until 2.30pm (I was the harder case owing to my previous surgery and there was an emergency section which obvs took priority). Seven hours in a window-less room without food and one glass of water to stretch across the day wasn’t exactly my idea of a heavenly Tuesday, but hey there was WiFi and the bed was comfy and I could stream Grey’s Anatomy on my phone via good ol’ Amazon Prime. I was also lucky that rules had changed earlier that month which allowed me to have my partner stay with me in hospital from the moment I was admitted, rather than as I went into surgery, so at least I wasn’t alone.
I was given twenty minutes notice that ALL THINGS WERE GO and given a gown to put on and some more medication to take. My boyfriend was given scrubs, and then he was left behind whilst I was led to theatre where the real prep began.
This was the hard part for me – mostly because the first time I’d had a c-section I had been so out of it by the time the surgery took place that I wasn’t really present and didn’t have time to process what was going on. This time I was all there. But, I mean, it’s still a blur to recall every detail.
I was sat on the bed, introduced to some people in the room, and then had my cannula put in my hand. Then I was given a pillow to lean on, had something super cold placed on my back, before a sense of pressure as the epidural went in. I was helped to lie down and then – as sometimes happens – I went quite woozy and felt nauseous and like the world was spinning and I couldn’t speak. But it was over as quickly as it began.
The drapes went up, my catheter went in, and my boyfriend was escorted into the room, and a short while later – following what everyone describes as ‘feeling like someone’s doing the washing up inside you – we met our wonderful almost-9lb son.
Of everyone in that room I was most grateful to my anesthetist, who seemed to be not much older than me. He sat by my head and chatted to me from the moment I entered the room to the moment my bed was wheeled out. He kept me distracted and informed and I will be forever grateful for him for how at ease he made me feel.
Our son was handed to my boyfriend to cuddle whilst I had another half an hour of placenta delivery and stitching up to get through – honestly, none of it hurt at all, it’s just a surreal tugging sensation that you quickly get used to.
And then we were taken through to the recovery room where we were allowed to spend two hours as a family. And honestly, in that little bubble, with my newborn having his first feed, and me having a cup of tea and a slice of marmalade on toast – well that, that was my favourite moment of pure, simplistic joy of 2020.
My vitals were checked and the feeling in my toes began to re-emerge, and we took lots of photos that we didn’t get round to taking with my first birth. I am so glad of just how much more prepared we were the second time round.
My boyfriend made a quick run out to Waitrose to get me hospital snacks (mango chunks, smoked almonds and white chocolate biscuits) as I was taken onto the ward to continue my recovery. And then that was it, me and the baby were alone.
I could see the midwives were run off their feet – made harder by the fact September is a notoriously busy month for babies, and that I had been wheeled into my bay just shy of shift crossover time which is where things tend to get a little more hectic. But I quickly realised that I hadn’t been shown where my call button was and at this stage still couldn’t lift my baby out of his bedside cot on my own. I was getting increasingly hot (antenatal wards are kept super warm for the babies) and seriously itchy (a side effect from the epidural) and hadn’t seen a midwife to flag down for over an hour. And so, naturally, as my hormone levels started having an absolute field day, I crashed. And I cried. And I felt helpless. And in my moment of need I was saved by a midwife walking past who helped me change into a nightie, brought me a bowl of water to have a clean with, prescribed me anti-histamines, found my phone charger for me, and my toiletry bag and most importantly – made me a cup of tea.
At around about midnight my catheter came out and I was helped to stand and take a few steps around my bed. My baby continued to feed well and entered that wonderfully sleepy fresh-out-the-womb stage – sadly, whilst he slept, the inevitable noise of the ward and other babies kept me awake all night long.
I entered the next day keen to get myself discharged, but pushed myself too hard with a stand-up wash in the ward bathroom and ended up getting dizzy on the walk back to my bed. Sitting down on a chair didn’t do the job, so I, rather graciously, had to lie on the corridor floor whilst several midwives, healthcare assistants and a registrar all peered down at me. My vitals were checked and I was fine and it was all put down to blood loss and sleep deprivation.
Visiting hour arrived at 3pm – a gaggle of dads arrived all wearing masks and aprons, and curtains around each bed were drawn to help minimise contact between bays. It was a weird 60-minutes in which the ward fleetingly became too loud for a conversation, and then as soon as the dads and the noise went away, the fresh silence was broken by the sound of women sobbing. First the new mum to my right, then the one across from me. It was heart-breaking, and I found myself joining in.
I continued to push to get myself discharged – not necessarily because I felt ready to go home, but because I needed to be somewhere else. I needed help and I needed comfort, but more than that, I needed to be able to sleep. Even if it was only in hour-long increments.
And at 10.20pm, a glorious midwife (the same one who’d helped me have a bed wash the night before), pushed through my discharge papers and allowed my boyfriend back onto the ward cradling a car seat to take us home. She handed me a bag of medication (a set of 10 injections to prevent blood clots – at least that’s what I think they were for – iron tablets and lactulose to help prevent constipation, glam). Her parting words were: ‘Ah and just to let you know that you can only really have one more c-section – we never recommend more than two or three. So just something to think about.’
And just like that I found myself back in my own bed with fresh bed sheets and a second baby ready to introduce to his big brother the moment the sun came up.
It was an odd experience. Surreal at times, unfair at others, but full of more compassion and kindness at every turn than I could have hoped for. It wasn’t perfect, but I was able to carry, birth and bring home a healthy baby boy, and really, what more could I have asked for?