Have you been watching The Rotunda? For those that don’t know it is a six part tv series and in each episode they follow the births of four babies in the oldest maternity hospital in the world -The Rotunda in Dublin. It is a brilliant piece of television and can have you laughing and crying in one episode, and you can’t help but admire the professionalism and compassion of the staff.
They were filming it when I gave birth to my baby there earlier this year so watching it has been especially emotional for me. Seeing staff members I recognised, and all the adorable newborns brought back so many memories of when my girl was just a few hours old and so helpless. Her face was still red and puffy and she would open and close her mouth at the new sensation of sucking air, and I couldn’t stop staring at her in wonderment.
Luckily I wasn’t approached to be filmed. I don’t think the world would want to see my pushing face, but I really admire the women that were brave enough to take part. Watching it has got me thinking how lucky I am, but also maybe I should write down my birth story. It isn’t particularly dramatic, but it’s special to me, and in years to come when my daughter asks me about it, it would be nice to have a record before the memories have faded.
I was pretty lucky and had a fairly easy pregnancy, with a few aches and pains, but nothing a warm bath and a back rub (thanks to my husband) couldn’t solve. I was on the public community nurse scheme so all my appointments were in the local health centre, and I never had to wait more than 10 minutes for an appointment.
On the day I went into labour, it was the second day of my maternity leave and my husband was off work by coincidence. I went for a pedicure and back massage in the morning, and then we went for a nice walk in the park. It was a very cold day, but crisp and bright, so we went to warm up in a bar and I had a massive burger. Then we spent the evening watching tv.
That evening two friends sent me pictures of newborn babies (of family and friends), so looking back with hindsight I like to think that triggered something.
I started getting small twinges of pain in the evening but I just thought it was indigestion from eating too much. I’d read so many stories of women going over their due dates and having to be induced, and my due date was still a week away, so I thought it was probably just practice contractions or more probably trapped wind.
Then at 11pm just as I was dropping off to sleep I heard a pop and a dramatic gush of water as my waters broke. I had been worried I wouldn’t notice, but there was no mistaking it. I rushed to the bathroom and sat on the toilet marveling at the volume of water coming out of me.
I woke my husband up and told him he might not be going to work the next day. I think he was as surprised as me, and he was keen to go into the hospital straight away. We had done the Gentle Birth classes and they kept saying you should stay at home as long as possible because home is a more relaxing environment, but the leaflet I had got from the Midwives said to come in for a check when the waters have broken. I also looked out the window and saw flurries of snow falling, so about midnight we decided to head into the hospital, rather than risk getting stuck.
I ditched my soaking pyjamas on the bathroom floor (which was a bit of an unwelcome sight when I got home from hospital 3 days later) and changed into the outfit I had prepared (tracksuit bottoms and big comfy shirt). I packed the last few things I needed into my bag then grabbed a towel because I was still leaking and we jumped in the car.
The journey to the hospital was very surreal. The roads were eerily quiet and the snow swishing past the windscreen made it seem even more isolated. It took us about 30 minutes and I think we were both so pumped up with adrenalin we couldn’t concentrate enough to hold much of a conversation. I was getting contractions about every 7 minutes, and I was trying to describe them but I just couldn’t put it into words.
When we arrived at the hospital we were seen in the evaluation suite within 10 minutes. The nurse said I was dilated about 2cm but it was deemed not enough to go to the delivery suite yet. I kept saying I was getting contractions, but she said I didn’t seem to be in enough pain for them to be real, and was talking about assessing me the next day for an induction. However because my blood pressure was a bit high she couldn’t let me go home again either. She advised I should go to the antenatal ward and try to get some sleep which I agreed to, without really realising what it entailed.
The next few hours were probably the worst of the whole experience. My husband was sent home and I was admitted onto a bed in a ward where everyone else was sleeping and snoring loudly. They advised me to sleep but how is anyone meant to sleep through contractions. It was so utterly different to how I’d expected labour to be. I had assumed I would have my husband by my side and would be able to talk, moan, move around and listen to music. Instead I was expected to stay in bed in silence. After a miserable hour I got up and started pacing up and down the corridor and spent a lot of time in an empty bathroom with a wide window sill that I could lean over.
At one point I popped into the nursing station, because the watery flow had some large blood clots in it, which worried me. They assured me that was perfectly normal, and then I noticed one of the nurses was holding and feeding a tiny baby. It suddenly struck me that I might have one imminently, which seems silly, but it made it feel real.
Around 6am the Nurse did her morning rounds to check on the ward, and she immediately said I was much more dilated and in active labour, so she rang to get me a bed in the labour suite. She also got me some gas and air to help with the pains.
When I got to the labour suite they were quite surprised my husband wasn’t there, so I rang him. He hadn’t slept much and had just dropped off when I woke him. I told him I was in labour but not to panic, as I knew he would be heading into the rush hour traffic when the normally short journey can take forever.
Because my blood pressure was still high the Midwives were recommending me to have an epidural. I had hoped to have a natural birth, but I’d always said I would see how it went, and wasn’t adverse to the idea of an epidural. I asked how much worse the pain would get, because I was coping OK at that stage, but it’s so subjective they couldn’t tell me, they just said it would get worse, so I decided not to be a hero and take the pain relief.
It took a few hours for the Anaesthetist to come and give the epidural and during that time the Midwives were great talking to me and explaining everything that was going to happen. My husband and the Anaesthetist arrived at the same time and I’m not sure who I was most pleased to see, because the pains were building up by then.
The next 5 hours were very chilled and relaxed. I was looked after by one Midwive and a student, and they were both great (I wish I could remember their names!). I wasn’t in any pain so they were chatting to my husband about anything and everything, from sport to favourite pubs. I wasn’t really joining in much, but I enjoyed listening. The only slight discomfort was I felt thirsty, so my husband was on hand to give me sips of lucozade and water.
Every hour they checked my baby’s heart beat and my dilation and they were happy things were progressing steadily, so they were predicting I’d be ready to push around 3.30pm.They arranged cover while they took lunch breaks, and sent my husband off to get a sandwich. I was really jealous because he went to a good local deli and I was starving by this point, but I had to make do with a flapjack.
There was a funny moment when he got back and they asked him to lay out a baby vest and baby grow. I could see the look of panic as he looked through the things I had packed and wasn’t sure what a vest was. He looked at me, and I started to doubt myself, were the long sleeves vests I had packed the right sort? But we just giggled and shrugged and laid them out. They looked so tiny hanging up!
Right on time about 3.45pm they told me it was time to start pushing. I couldn’t feel the contractions but they could see them on a monitor so they coached me and told me when to push. It wasn’t painful but it was tiring. I was pushing nearly an hour, and the Midwives seemed keen to get it over in that time, otherwise a Doctor would have to be called in and they were more likely to want to give assistance. They were really encouraging and kept telling me the baby was moving, but I was starting to think they were just saying that to make me feel better. I was starting to give up, when they announced one or two more pushes should do it. Sure enough on the next push the head came out and then the body came on the one after. What most surprised me was how long the body seemed to be, it seemed to take forever slithering out. It had taken exactly an hour and she was officially born at 4.45pm weighing 3.7kg.
Straight away she was put up onto my chest and I was just stunned. She seemed so red and covered in white gunk, but there was none of the angry crying I had expected. She seemed content and busy rooting to find a nipple.
Then she had to be taken away to the examination table. My husband cut the cord and she was checked over. They were momentarily worried a bit about her tone (movements) but a Pediatrician came straight away and checked her over and said everything was fine. It was only a few minutes but it felt like a lifetime seeing her on the little examination table out of my reach. I needed a few stitches so a Doctor came to do that, but once that was complete she was back in my arms.
After that I was given tea and toast, and we had a short while to just enjoy the moment. Unfortunately we kept meaning to get a picture of the three of us together, but in all the blur it never actually happened.
In what seemed like no time we were moved to the post-natal ward. It was an eleven bed ward, and much more congested than the antenatal ward. It felt like the beds were right next to each other. It was constantly noisy and bright, so any chance of sleep was out the question. Some of the noises I heard made me feel so lucky not to be in so much pain, and that my baby was healthy.
At 9pm I got another shock when all visitors were sent home. I had just kind of assumed my husband would stay with me, so I was pretty scared when he left, but at least I got some time with him. I heard women arriving later whose husbands were dispatched straight away.
The epidural had started to wear off but my legs were still pretty shaky so I needed help to go to the bathroom or stand to change my baby. The Nurses were so busy dealing with sicker babies and mothers that it really felt like I was alone. Eventually I just wobbled to the bathroom myself whilst my baby was sleeping in her little plastic crib, and I spent most of the night with her in my arms, but somehow we got through the night and the next night.
During the day I managed to have a shower and tucked into the food which was surprisingly nice, and we spent the whole day taking turns to hold our baby. She spent a lot of time on our laps while we just stared at her, still amazed that she seemed so content. She did cry and I remember a Nurse advising me to swaddle her, but she wriggled free of that, and just laying her on my chest seemed the best way to calm her.
I was desperate to get out and home to try and get some sleep, but I was also pretty nervous about being at home with a newborn. She still seemed so tiny and vulnerable, and wasn’t latching to feed very consistently. However one of the community Midwives came to see me, and told me they would be coming to visit me at home for the next 10 days, so that gave me a real boost to get home.
We were discharged on the Friday morning. As my husband was bringing up the car seat, I overheard a conversation where the Nurses had found drugs in a baby’s system, and that made me so sad, but also even more determined to get home, because even though we are inexperienced we would always try to do our best for our girl.
The drive home was pretty surreal too, I sat in the back and just kept staring at her, amazed that she seemed to be taking it all in her stride. We got home and it really felt great to finally have some quiet to enjoy being our new little family together.
Overall the care I received from the community Midwives and Midwives in the labour suite was first rate. Everything was explained to me so well during the delivery, and even though it wasn’t easy it certainly wasn’t an unpleasant experience. After the delivery, the hospital is old and the public wards are a bit crowded. It’s a real lottery who could be in the bed next to you. I would have loved to have had a private room, and a few other frills and luxuries, but when I think that the service is completely free I’d have to say The Rotunda really is a world class facility.
The tv show doesn’t show all the realities of life on the wards, but it certainly captures the dedication and spirit of the staff, and just how amazing women are. It also shows how every birth is a unique experience, and makes me realise how lucky I am that mine was a good experience.