‘There was not one singular moment where I acknowledged that it would happen’

Harriet Brennan, who blogs at ToughBubba, writes about her traumatic journey to parenthood through preterm labour and transverse birth.

Baby Finn

Tommy’s guest blog, 08/06/2017, by Harriet Brennan from Tough Bubba

All mothers hope for an easy pregnancy and an uncomplicated birth, but sadly it does not always happen like that.

Sometimes things can go wrong which can be a very frightening prospect to be faced with.

Harriet Brennan’ pregnancy journey was complicated when she experience spontaneous preterm labour at 23 weeks.

With 60,000 babies being born too soon in the UK every year, Harriet’s experience is by no means unique.

She is writing about her experiences to raise awareness of the realities of the NICU, the risks and trauma, but also the positive and hopeful outcomes of having a baby who started life very poorly.

Here is her story: Transverse

As I sit typing on this rainy May afternoon, Finn’s vest is coffee stained from throwing his arm into my already cold Cappucino, the dog howls along to the repetitive jingle of VTech’s version of “Old Macdonald had a farm” and I’ve thrice had to sprint the length of the bedroom to wrestle my miniature escape artist from attempting to crawl off the top step of the stairs.

This, you see, is why this is not a forum through which I seek sympathy. You may read things you find confusing, disgusting, hard-hitting and quite frankly devastating, but how lucky am I, despite everything, to have had the morning I just described?

The title of this post is Transverse. For the squeamish, yes, this is a birth story!

Once it was clear the baby was not going to shimmy back up the birth canal, the Consultant Obstetricians and the Consultant Neonatologists, in their ways, debated the pros and cons of a C-Section from the point of view of the mother and the point of view of the baby respectively- I was left to decide.

“The baby is too small, you may end up requiring a hysterectomy” said the Obstetrician.

Twenty-six, first baby, hysterectomy and still birth are not what one ideally should ever have to hear in a single conversation. 

“A caesarian will give the baby the best chance of survival,” said one doctor. “The head is already passing through the cervix,” said another.

A vaginal delivery it was, because to call it natural really points out its unfairness.

What I remember really vividly is that despite being given a stack of Tommy’s and Bliss leaflets telling me everything to expect about having an early baby, advice on dealing with bereavement, a list of everything that may very possibly be wrong with my child, there was not one singular moment where I acknowledged that it would happen.

In those hours I was my only ally. I could cry and accept my fate, mourn the almost inevitable loss of my first unborn child, or I could cling to positivity because that was all I had - I had to align myself with a mindset.

As the Obstetrics team sympathetically offered me an epidural to make it as pain free and calm as possible, I knew they were preparing me for the worst.

‘Will it make the baby any more docile?’ I asked. ‘Potentially, yes’ was the response. So I knew then that I had to do everything I could to give him the best chance!

In some sort of determined denial, I gritted my teeth, I breathed, I got on my knees and I pushed with all of my might.

Shocked by the speed of it I fought the spasm-inducing oxytocin, the bile rising in my throat, the acidic burning that was Magnesium Sulfate traveling intravenously up my right arm into my chest, my neck, across my face and in some delirious exhausted state with no pain relief I pushed, at times without contractions, until my baby was born.

Transverse - yes, sideways, that is: right arm, episiotomy, head, body, blue, floppy, no respiratory effort, no detectable heart rate and placed in a plastic bag onto the resuscitare.

I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

Women in preterm labour are given steroids to help mature the unborn baby’s lungs and this can reduce the risk of dying by 40%.

Magnesium Sulfate, which is a terrifyingly painful drug, is delivered in two doses intravenously for a time slowing down contractions, its administration also reduces the risk of Cerebral Palsy for babies born too early.

If you’re wondering, or are confused about my mention of oxytocin, oxytocin is actually a hormone naturally produced by the body to start contractions and a drug form is used to induce labour.  

Odd then isn’t it, that I was given it?

Once it becomes clear that the baby is better off out than in, so to speak, oxytocin is administered to speed up the labour, causing painful, strong and very frequent contractions.

So painful and frequent in fact that having already been contracting regularly for two days with virtually no sleep and having to use a bedpan for a week as the doctors were doing everything they could to keep Finn in,  the administering of oxytocin meant that Finn was born within two hours, and as you’ve read, quite dramatically.

You might also be interested to know that up until the day that Finn was delivered, my waters still hadn’t broken. Some preterm babies are actually born in the waters intact.

The sheer force of the contractions sped up artificially through hormones caused my waters to burst at the pushing stage, followed then by a placental abruption which meant Finn was not receiving oxygen via the umbilical cord and the delivery room on the labour ward suddenly filled with what felt like one hundred people in a state of emergency.

My mum, I think, was screaming and that’s why I was forced to push without contractions; the longer Finn was deprived of oxygen, the more likely… well the rest hardly needs to be said.

Truly though, despite all of this, facing labour with all of the heartbreaking possibilities that could have been our outcome, Danny and I were the perfect team!

He was an unwavering motivator: hopeful, encouraging, excited and then ecstatic at the knowledge of hearing we had a little boy for the first time! He never once showed me he was scared.

And the pain? I joke sometimes that I only had to push out half a baby; weighing less than 2lbs he was minute! But being transverse, the pain at the final hurdle is just indescribable.

I do know though that I got into a rhythm; you can work through contractions, you can find a way to cope because once it’s all over all you really need is a strong sugary cup of tea and a good night’s sleep.

And at the end of it all, regardless of the outcome, you know you have tried your very best for you and your baby.

And that, quite simply, is the only power you have.

More information

Birth can be a scary and overwhelming time, particularly in you are faced with complications like Harriet. For more information, head to our labour & birth information, including our 5 positive ways to prepare for labour.

Sometimes not everything goes to plan and you find yourself faced with the unexpected. At times like this it can be comforting to know you are most certainly not alone. You can read more stories from our supporters about their experience of early labour or preterm birth here.

If you've enjoyed reading Harriet's blog, you can follow the rest of her journey at Tough Bubba.

Read more stories about premature birth

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