I just wanted to be left alone, & I didn’t know I could to say ‘no’ to vaginal exams.

This is what mattered to me.

I had planned a water home birth. The midwives turned up and wanted to do constant vaginal exams.  It made me feel uncomfortable and was invasive. I’d start relaxing, opening up, and then they would go bam ‘want an exam’ and I would shut up shop.

After 2 days of labouring I was put in an ambulance & taken to hospital. On the journey I went from 4cm to 9cm.  I had an hour of fetal monitoring on a bed not moving.  I HATED IT.  It went against every instinct to stand.  Eventually I had an episiotomy.  Ventouse got the head out, and then forceps. Because of the extended labour my baby pooed inside me and ended up in SCBU FOR 17 days.  I didn’t want the vaginal exams. I wanted to be left alone and didn’t know enough to say ‘no.’

Second time around I did hypnobirthing. I declined all vaginal exams.  I didn’t call the midwife until the last minute and I had my baby at home in the birth pool with minimal assistance from midwives.

I still cannot to this day think about my first labour without feeling sick in my stomach. There is no joy of birth from my first birth, no happy feeling. Just disappointment, sorrow, violation, and feeling let down by the attending midwives. I just wanted to be left alone but their desire to know all left me with a birth that scared me mentally.
If it wasn’t for my hubby I would have free birthed my 2nd.


“Compassionate care and respect for a labouring woman’s choices, dignity and privacy ….. they matter. I will never forget her name.”

It was the third day of my induction.  I was contracting intensely, still not at all dilated, my body was exhausted, and I gave in and agreed to a synontocin drip.  I was pushing within a few hours, but things weren’t happening quick enough for the obstetricians liking and she came in and started talking about forceps and episiotomies. I had written this on my birth plan as a definite ‘no-no,’ preferring a C-section in the event of an emergency.  She didn’t even address me, instead she talked over my head and referred to me as ‘she’. In that moment, after having stayed mostly calm and even excited throughout what was certainly a feat of endurance, testament to the innate power of the female body-mind, I felt my spirit sink.  How, I thought, could another woman be so callous?

Thankfully, a midwife I can only describe as a gift from Mama Nature came in, all round cheeks and booming laugh, and all but demanded the obstetrician leave the room. She then turned to me, winked and said, ‘Let’s do this’.  I will never forget her name. I found a strength I didn’t realise I possessed and ten minutes later my son was lying on my breast, gazing up at me and making his first whimpers, while my husband cuddled us both. I don’t have the words to express the absolute power and joy of that moment. I felt absolutely triumphant, and madly in love.

Twenty minutes later a doctor came running in to announce I needed Clexane injections to prevent blood clots as I was over 34 and they were ‘a leading cause of maternal death.’ I was ripped right out of the moment.  My experience of the staff on both the induction and postnatal wards was ‘rude and uncaring.’  That mattered; as did the kindness of the delivery midwife.  The differences were glaring.  Compassionate care and respect for a labouring woman’s choices, dignity and privacy ….. they matter.

My list of what mattered to me…

1- No continuous blood pressure check up.

2- No continuous baby heart beat monitoring.

3- No contractions monitoring at all.

4- No continuous constant epidural analgesic effect because it was given manually after every time I felt pain – there was no electric syringe pump.

5- Anaesthesiologists just set the epidural and left hours before delivery and the analgesic dose finished 45 minutes before delivery.

6- IV infusion wasn’t functional until the last 10 minutes of delivery (though labour was 24 hours, and delivery took at least 2 hours.)

7- Delivery position wasn’t comfortable: it was a usual hospital bed – sleeping doesn’t help pushing!

Declining a vaginal exam denied me access to the labour ward. I was made to feel like a nuisance, I was not believed, they assumed I did not know my own body.

We have had two children with very different births and despite our best efforts they have not been hugely positive experiences.  Our first child arrived by emergency C-section at 36 weeks.  She had tried to turn but something went wrong and my waters broke gradually over the following few hours as she returned to a transverse position.  With moderate contractions coming every 5 minutes I called triage and attended as instructed.  I found it somewhat humiliating that the default assumption was that I would be wrong and my waters could not possibly have broken.  Even after convincing the duty midwife with two pads of amniotic fluid, I was subjected to a rough VE by a consultant (from which I still bare the scars) before they would believe me.  By this point they had scanned to find the position of the baby and told me that there was no point in trying to progress with the labour due to my baby’s position.  We consented to an emergency C-section and spent the next 6 hours on monitors, terrified our baby was dying because no one explained (or really deeply understood) the traces they were recording, until we could be fitted in.  The midwife and anaesthetist were friendly and tried to put us at ease.  Surgery was frightening, though very efficient.  I think I was shown my baby very briefly after quick checks, including weighing to see she met minimum weight for “term” before she was whisked away.  Talk in the theatre was all about finishing up quick so everyone could catch their trains home for Christmas.  We were obviously glad they all got home to see their families but it would have been nice not to be made to feel like such a dreadful inconvenience.  This theme continued over the next 6 days in hospital.  What should have been the happiest time left me feeling suicidal because I felt a complete failure and a dreadful mother because my milk came in late (4 days – so not extraordinary in the circumstances) and my baby couldn’t latch reliably (not unusual for 36 weeks.)  If I’d had trusted that anyone would care enough not to let my child die, it is quite possible I would have acted on this.  This was also partly related to undiagnosed anaemia due to blood loss. It mattered to me that the staff were too busy to show they cared and too busy to think beyond the standard charts.  It mattered to me that serious problems with both my baby and myself were seemingly dismissed as bad parenting.  It mattered to me that the standard response to anything was you’re stupid and can’t possibly understand your own body.  It mattered to me that every member of staff had a different idea about breastfeeding – some were extremely helpful, but having the plan vary wildly with every shift was extremely stressful! ….  Our second experience was clouded by our first.  We hired a doula and planned a home birth.  As the baby grew beyond 40 weeks my C.S scar caused considerable concern and we readied ourselves for a hospital birth with continuous monitoring – as we felt in case of scar dehiscence the journey would be too long.  As it turned out when we arrived at hospital the midwife on triage, who was in a huge flap because they had lost my notes, did not believe I was in labour.  After 20+ hours of early labour I was almost at transition.  I declined a VE after previous experience, and the obviously very angry midwife grudgingly found a place in pre-labour for me.  So ironically we were denied the continuous monitoring the consultants had been banging on about since our 20 week scan.  Labour slowed down until the triage midwife went off duty 2 hours later, then within 30 minutes I was ready to push my baby out. The very lovely pre- labour ward midwife alerted labour ward things were happening fast, started monitoring and detected a problem.  My baby was almost born by the time we reached labour ward and I think would have been fast, were I not surrounded by people yelling different contradictory instructions at me and trying to force me to move during contractions. Thankfully my doula was there.  I muttered questions to her in the 3 or 4 second gaps between contractions and she helped me to understand who to listen too.  The team constantly asked me to make life and death decisions mid-contraction and talked over one another while shining a light at me so I couldn’t tell who was who.  If my doula had not been there I don’t think I’d have made it out of there with my mental faculties even remotely intact.  I ended up with an episiotomy and my baby was born with help of a ventouse as his heart rate was dropping very dangerously.  This turned out to be related to cord around neck.  His initial APGAR was poor but he very quickly was okay and passed over for skin to skin.  After the panic the staff were relaxed and respectful.  Our midwife was visibly annoyed that I expected our doula, a breastfeeding expert, to help us with our first feed (I had one hand uselessly swollen after an allergic reaction and the other immobilised by a cannula). Not wishing to upset her I said she could assist – she grabbed the back of my sons head and thrust him roughly into my breast.  Baby was visibly shocked!  We waited until she had left the room to try again gently and successfully. Again I became anaemic (this time picked up!) and this time also had an infection that gave me a fever and made me extremely faint.  I was fortunate it was quiet and the midwife on duty in postnatal was fantastic and took me seriously.  I know it’s not the politically correct thing to say but for some reason she was able to better overcome the exhaustion that comes with the job, and although efficient was viewing each case as individual rather than applying the it’s so inconvenient for us that you exist attitude that we experienced throughout the rest of pregnancy, and indeed once this very special person went off shift.  It was important to me that declining a VE meant I was denied access to labour ward facilities and a pool birth (both pool rooms were free.)  It mattered to me that the decision of whether someone is in labour was decided solely by VE and screaming so if you’ve managed to stay calm through yoga breathing and relaxation techniques you can’t possibly be in labour.  It mattered to me that the triage midwife stated she couldn’t understand why I was there if I didn’t want an epidural.  It matters to me that my son may not have survived had I taken triages advice and returned home.  It mattered to me that the breastfeeding “help” would have failed breastfeeding 101, & it mattered that subsequent postnatal BF support was worryingly uninformed and unhelpful (this seemed worse than 3 years ago, fortunately we were okay this time.)  It mattered to me that my doula was with me – it is sad that the medical team were oblivious that they were unintelligible without her interpretation.  It mattered to me that although all the staff were beyond exhausted with overwork, two midwives (pre-labour and postnatal) and an auxiliary nurse took the time to view me as a person rather than just a nuisance.

My choices were removed, my distress dismissed, consent & information absent.

I planned a home birth for my first baby, but I was referred to a consultant when I started measuring big.  The consultant said she did not recommend a home birth due to the risk of shoulder dystocia with a big baby.  When I asked for evidence that I was at higher risk, she couldn’t provide it, but continued to say that home birth was ‘not recommended’.  I reluctantly agreed to a hospital birth.  I ended up going 12 days over my due date and agreed to induction.  I was not given information about what the induction process involved, or the risks it carried.  Had I been fully informed, I would not have agreed to induction.  During the induction, I was pressured to have an epidural, despite repeatedly stating that I did not want one.  I was not given any encouragement in my wish to labour without an epidural, or shown different positions to try.  I was instead told (during what I now know was transition) that I had hours to go and I should have an epidural because I wouldn’t cope.  I reluctantly agreed.  The epidural was sited wrongly, and instead I got a spinal anaesthetic which meant I was numb and paralysed from the waist down.  My blood pressure dropped and consequently my baby’s heartrate dropped and did not recover.  He was delivered by crash C-section about 15 minutes after the epidural was administered.  I found out afterwards that I had been 9cm dilated when the CS was performed.  The whole of my pregnancy, labour and afterwards I found a traumatic experience because I was not listened to and none of my wishes were respected.  I felt bullied into accepting interventions against my better judgement, and which proved harmful to me and my baby.  I was not given all the information I needed to give informed consent.  The people caring for me did not support and encourage me to birth in the way I wished, instead I became a problem to be solved.  What mattered to me was that my choices were taken away from me.  That when those choices were removed, it was not discussed with me as an adult, instead I was told ‘this is what is going to happen to you.’ That when I questioned it I was treated as though I was putting my baby at risk.  That my distress at the lack of choice I was given was dismissed as unimportant.  I had my second child at home, against medical advice, after reading and educating myself about natural birth and about all the possible risks of giving birth after a previous C-section.  I made an informed choice, and I had a wonderful, healing experience, but I feel sad that that healing was ever needed.

Release the fear of the ‘red-tape.’

With my first I hypno-birthed.  I hoped to water birth but sadly didn’t achieve it.  Still our midwife was patient, and even when the heart beat was hard to find and I’d been labouring for days, she stuck with the hypnobirthing and allowed us space to have a totally natural birth despite obstetricians waiting outside.  Baby two was very stop/start, then sudden.  At home the midwife turned up & created an air of panic and made me travel for an hour to hospital despite being 8cm and nicely progressing.  I almost gave birth in the ambulance parked up but made a it, and again (by the skin of my teeth) I had a natural birth.  I was really cross with that midwife though as I would have really loved a home birth.  What mattered most through both very different births was the stoic and unconditional love and strength of my amazing partner.  In another life I would like to be a midwife, capable of empowering the natural active birth, and to release the fear ‘the red tape’ seems to cause these days!

I needed more support!

When I gave birth to my first son I desperately wanted a home birth.  But it wasn’t to be. He was lying back to back and the contractions weren’t effective.  There are several moments of the experience that stick with me as very negative.  The first was lying in bed at home the first night after my waters broke that morning with my tens machine on. The pain was unbearable.  My husband asleep next to me and the doula asleep upstairs.  At every contraction I cursed their sleep (which the doula said they needed to support me later on.)  I needed support right then and it wasn’t there.  I transferred to hospital the next morning and spent another whole day in labour.  That night after pushing for an hour and a half I had had enough.  We asked to get the doctor in.  A woman was in there telling me I didn’t want the doctor.  I didn’t know who she was, no one told me.  She turned out to be the head midwife!  And I really did want the doctor!  After my son was delivered safely at just after 11pm, everyone seemed to disappear.  My husband cleaned me up as best he could and then left at 2am.  No one got me cleaned up or out of those sheets that I delivered on until 7am;  apparently they were too busy doing paperwork.  I had my second son at home with an amazing private midwife.  It was everything labour should be, but I am still haunted by that first experience.

From the moment I was diagnosed as diabetic I felt I was no longer in control…. I’m still suffering 3 years later.

I only have 1 child who is 3.  I was diagnosed as diabetic during pregnancy, & from that moment I felt I was no longer in control.  With no discussion I was told I must be induced at 38 weeks.  I was then attached to 4 drips and monitor so was bed-bound which made the contractions horrendous, and against my earlier wishes I begged for epidural.  After 16 hours I was told my daughter was in distress and her head was the wrong way round to come out.  Again without discussion or consent I was cut and given a forceps delivery;  I asked for C. Section but was laughed at!!  The baby came out blue and limp with the cord twice around her neck; luckily she’s fine.  I suffered bowel incontinence, then awful bladder problems and multiple prolapse.  I also developed post natal depression and PTSD.  Three years on I’m still suffering and wish I’d never had a baby … it’s ruined my life, I have no sex life, I can’t exercise, and any time I hear of somebody having a “perfect birth” I could cry.

It was stressful & distracting to be yelled at when I needed silence.

On the whole I had a really positive and respectful birth experience at York district. However one thing that totally took me by surprise was how I just wished for total silence during my pushing phase.  The midwives and my husband were so encouraging, but they were all yelling “push, you can do this, almost there!”  By this stage I had gone so far into myself that I felt silenced…as if my body didn’t want to waste vital energy by telling everyone in the room to shut up, and I had no words for them.  However it was utterly stressful and distracting to be yelled at.  Trouble is, I had no idea before giving birth that this would upset me, and I imagine some women like the encouragement.  I’ll get it noted in my birth plan for next time.

I had to stave-off unnecessary interventions… it was my husband who helped me to change position!

I had done a lot of research into labour during my pregnancy with the aim of making sure I had the best birth experience possible.  During my labour I felt let down by the midwife attending me as she didn’t seem prepared to try anything other than having me flat on my back.  I knew I should get into a position where gravity would help (particularly when episiotomy and forceps were discussed and my son’s heart rate began dropping), but I didn’t have the energy to say anything other than that I wanted to move, and was told that I couldn’t.  The midwife gave me 3 more pushes before she sent for forceps and my husband pointed out that I wasn’t in a position where I could push effectively.  He helped me adjust my position (still on my back) and gave me some instructions on how to push, and my son came out.  The midwife hadn’t said anything!  I had also planned for a natural delivery of the placenta and was surprised to find that the midwife was unaware that you’re not supposed to tug on the cord (I had to stop her tugging on 4 separate occasions during the 31 minutes that it took for my placenta to be born.)  Birthing my baby should have been the only thing I was focused upon, but instead I had to try an stave-off unnecessary interventions from medical professionals.  When we left the labour ward the next day we passed a feedback board which had one comment on it ‘could try more positions then just lying on back!’