Members birth stories

My, what big feet you've got!

My baby Ben was born by elective caesarean in June 2001. At this time, I had had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (also known as ME) for 18 months and chose to have a caesarean section because of the CFS.

Although my pregnancy was generally good, with few of the usual pregnancy complaints, I had 2 CFS relapses - one in the first trimester, bad enough to make me have to give up work completely, and the other at about 5 months. During the second relapse, which lasted about 7 weeks, I was very depressed on top of all the usual symptoms. I hated this and wanted desperately to avoid having another relapse like it during the first weeks or months of my baby's life. But the more I thought about it, the more I became really afraid that a long labour could cause another bad relapse just like this and so, after reading a lot about birth options and talking to other women, I decided that it was important to me to be able to control the birth experience as much as possible and that I would request a caesarean. My doctor was happy to support my decision and referred me to a consultant. When I met the consultant, he clearly knew nothing at all about CFS but agreed to it as a "maternal request" - ie he would not recommend it but was satisfied that I had made an informed choice and accepted my right to choose.

It was a difficult decision to make as there is obviously a longer recovery period than from a normal labour and I had also never had an operation before and was very nervous about the prospect, particularly the anesthetic. Fortunately, I had been doing antenatal yoga for some months and in the days before the operation, and in the operating theatre, I was able to use the breathing techniques that I had learnt in the class to keep reasonably relaxed and calm.

My caesarean was scheduled for 3 days before my due date. I went into hospital at 8am for the operation at 9am. The operation itself went very well, not least because the operating team at the hospital was so kind and helpful. I had met the anesthetist the previous week and found her to be both knowledgeable about CFS and supportive of the idea of having the caesarean and was pleased to find her on duty again that day. Before the op, every member of the team came to my room to introduce themselves and tell me what they would be doing during the procedure and it seemed like this whole group of people were really focused on helping me to have my baby in a very supportive way.

During the op, there were about 12 people in the room, 3 of whom spent most of the time standing around me at the "head end" just chatting with me and keeping me distracted and holding my hand when necessary. The room was grey and clinical but some of the staff wore bright and colourful hats and there was some nice jazz music playing. Also, my husband was with me throughout (wearing a not very flattering green hospital gown!), which was what I wanted.

The operation took about an hour. This included about 20 minutes to administer the anesthetic, 10 to make the incision and get the baby out and 30 minutes to sew up. I was wheeled into the operating theatre on a trolley and then led on my side while the anesthetic (called a spinal) was administered. Then I led on my back while it took effect, which started from the toes up. The anesthetist tested thoroughly to check that I couldn't feel anything from the nipples down to the toes before the surgeons started. The anesthetic was the scary bit for me and during this time, I remember shaking quite badly for a short period. I thought at the time that it was a reaction to the stress but my sister-in-law has since told me that she had the same thing after having an epidural so it may be drug-induced but I don't know.

The odd thing about the spinal anesthetic is that it affects the nerves which control pain, but not those which sense touch. This means that although there was a big screen in front of my chest so I couldn't see what the surgeons were doing (you can chose to have it lowered when they lift the baby out if you want to but I didn't), I could feel some things they were doing. So just before the baby was born, I could feel quite a lot of pushing and pulling and then I felt one of the surgeons pushing down quiet forcefully on the top of my bump and then there was this amazing feeling of Ben being born, sort of slipping down and away up out of my bump. Some women worry that a caesarean won't feel like a "proper" birth - I hadn't had any worries about this beforehand but as it happened, I certainly had a very strong sense of Ben being born from me and that felt really nice.

When Ben was out, they took off my oxygen mask and handed him to me (after checking him briefly and wrapping him up) and I held him whilst I was being stitched up and my husband took some photos. The main thing I remember from this time was that I kept staring at his feet and eventually I just had to ask "His feet - they are so big. Is that normal?!" I guess that shows that there was nothing more serious to worry about - he was a perfect Apgar 10 and already a beautiful boy.

After the stitching, we went into the recovery room and waited there while the feeling came back in my legs and body. It took 2 hours but felt much quicker as time soon passed as I fed Ben and the nurse brought us a payphone so we could make some phone calls and we also had some water and tea to drink. Some women feel nauseous afterwards apparently - I was absolutely fine and just very thirsty.

I stayed in hospital for 2 nights (the minimum) and I was then ready to come home, although the staff were great and really couldn't have been more helpful. The catheter stayed in for the rest of the first day after the op which was great as it meant I didn't have to try to get up to pee (which was handy as I drank pints and pints of water!) but did mean I was pretty helpless. The next morning it was taken out and someone helped me have a shower and I felt much better after that and sat up in a chair for a while and started moving/shuffling around the ward a bit. I did find it difficult to get up and down to lift Ben out of his cot to change and feed him but managed sometimes, had help others, and spent quite a lot of time with him in bed with me to make feeding easier.

In terms of pain relief, I had voltarol (via suppository at the end of the op and via tablet afterwards), also paracetamol and codeine I think. I was also given a supply of these tablets to take home. After I went home, I think I healed quite slowly and I was taking paracetamols for pain relief for almost 6 weeks after, which I believe is a longer than average time (another sister-in-law took them for only 5 days after her caesarean, it seems to vary widely). But the pain was not severe and I generally felt very well during this time.

Looking back, it still feels like the right decision for me at that time. I certainly remember the first days and weeks of Ben's life as a very happy time. It could so easily have been so different and I appreciate that we were able to have such a happy time.