After more than 15 years of living with several phobias, I became pregnant in October 2004. My phobias, some of which have existed since childhood include childbirth, hospitals, blood and needles. I used to think that I would never have children due to the immense fear that I had. By the age of 33 I had been broody for years and with the help and support of my husband, looked to the future with both excitement and fear of the unknown.
Firstly, I had a record made in my hospital notes about my phobias and told the midwifery staff immediately of these fears and explained why I had them; I was taken very seriously. I was over the moon to begin with, and never really thought about the fears.
Early on I had to have blood tests and always took my husband to every appointment. Just the mere mention of the word "sharps" on the wall of the blood testing lab had me in tears. It was very difficult; even attending hospital increased my blood pressure. The hospital said they would arrange counselling for me through my doctor and this would involve 5 sessions only.
I strongly believed that being able to discuss how these fears came about would not make them better. Still, it was something that the hospital insisted on; they thought that the best possible scenario in this case was that I would be cured of my phobias and could have an epidural and a natural childbirth. I knew from day one that that would never be an option for me. I also started using hypnotherapy, to see if that would help, which I paid for myself.
The months passed and my doctor was slow at arranging the counselling; finally at around 7 months pregnant I was given the counselling, one session per week. For the first time in more than 15 years I started to "desensitise" myself; this took several weeks. I made myself watch ladies giving birth on the Discovery channel, I managed to look at drawings of birth in books, as well as reading reports of birth. I also read some reports about caesareans on this website and looked at scars. Sometimes this was very difficult. I would breathe heavily, get very nervous and feel ill.
I worried about a panic attack whilst being pregnant. I was told to cancel any parentcraft classes in case I had a panic attack whilst watching labour. I felt physically sick when workmates told me horror stories and it made me angry that people could be so insensitive about my phobias. Some people I deliberately avoided telling about my phobias as I didn't believe that they would act kindly; I did not want to be seen as some sort of mental case or weak. The Hypnotherapy helped and made me calm and I would recommend this, but I had 5 or so sessions - others may need more or less.
The hospital arranged that I could do my labour ward tour with a senior midwife and my husband, again because of concern about coping with my reactions if I was with the normal group. I was shown the delivery suites and was pleasantly surprised at the normality of the rooms; the equipment was hidden, the beds looked comfy, the floors clean and the stirrups (something that scared the life out of me) were discretely hidden. Next I was shown the private rooms where caesarean patients would be taken; these were nice. I was really happy that there was no one screaming and no blood on the floors, such as in the mental picture left from years of this phobia. I swore I would have run off the ward had it been so.
Next I was allowed to meet the anaesthetist which was very important to me. I explained my phobias to him, explaining that it was so important that everything went well with this procedure to avoid adding to my phobia with more trauma. Further trauma could mean I would never have another child; being an only child myself, I would never have wanted that for my own child.
All the time I was pregnant, the staff were very understanding and listened to me. I trusted them completely and believed in them, but as the months went past my anxiety heightened and I found it difficult to stop the negative thoughts. My consultant realised that in my case it would not be possible to go ahead with planning a natural birth.
I was so terrified I imagined that on the day of the operation I would run from the theatre; that I would have a heart attack and die leaving my husband to bring up our child; that I would catch MRSA (like my father did, 8 years ago, after surgery) or that I would have a panic attack during the birth.
I was tired of listening to people telling me that this was not the easy way out. I wasn't stupid and was aware of the risks; I read the NCT book on Caesarean Birth and prepared myself; finally I was ready for the day. When I was 37 weeks pregnant the date for my caesarean was set - the caesarean was performed at 39 weeks, but the consultant allowed me to pick the date for myself. Here's my account:
Pre op check, where I had a monitor attached to my stomach to listen to the fetal heartbeat and to discuss finer points; I was quite calm still at this stage. Blood was taken and that did make me feel nervous.
Made sure I was busy all day, including having a meal with my best friend, my husband and mother. However, when all the action passed I started getting worried, spending until 2am the next morning watching rubbish on TV.
After a few hours sleep I was driven to hospital by husband with mother in tow. I was very nervous despite the two of them talking ten to the dozen to distract me. I was very calm when I went into the delivery room, where I stripped off into a fetching theatre gown with my bottom hanging out at the back. The anaesthetist gave me a sleeping tablet as a pre-med to keep me calm and I started reading a magazine. I used some Ametop gel on my hand (available without prescription) to numb an area where a needle would be put in. My husband also put on his theatre gown; he would be allowed to stay with me as long as I only needed to be under sedation, but would not be able to stay if I could not cope and needed to be given a general anaesthetic. I had a canula (small tube) put in my hand (this I had had done before so was OK with this). I signed my operation consent form and was left alone by the staff for about an hour. We then went through some of our requests - I had previously discussed with them my dreams of my husband cutting the umblicial cord, wanting my baby cleaned up before I saw it and having the CD we had made up being played in the theatre.
The canula had a couple of drops of what I now know to be an amnesiac type of drug which I had discussed previously with the anaesthetist; I had told the anaesthetist that I was frightened that I would freak out when I knew that I was being cut open or stitched up if I was too lucid. I knew what friends who had had sections had told me, but with the fear of mine, calmness was not an option with medical procedures. The last thing I remember was that the drug in the canula started working and that I was being taken by wheelchair into the theatre; it was always at this point that I envisaged being so frightened that I would run away, a typical sign of phobia.
The rest of the time I have had to have relayed from my husband due to my memory loss. I went up a couple of steps to the theatre bed and had my spinal injected into my back. Apparently I was frightened, but because of the drugs I had been given I can't remember of course. The bed was moved to ensure that the drug had numbed the lower half of me and tests were done to check that the drug was indeed stopping any sensation. Then the incision was made and our beautiful baby Jessica was born within five minutes; so quick it surprised my husband sitting with me. He heard the midwives discussing her huge amount of dark hair and hurried to see what was happening behind the screen. Then the stitching up happened (approx half an hour I'm told). The baby was weighed and the apgar score was done.
The next thing I remember from being wheeled away was that I saw my husband in the near distance with a yellow bundle and I asked him if our baby had been born; he brought her over and I burst into tears; I couldn't believe it had finally happened; the tears to me signify perfect happiness and relief that my mental ordeal and worry were finally over.
I told my husband that the section was easy and that I want five kids now! I was wheeled into the delivery room with our new daughter and tried skin to skin contact. I was in no pain and was very happy indeed, we then were wheeled upstairs to my room and I was over the moon.
In bed I had after pains like after a natural birth and the lochia bleeding, although this subsided after a few days. I started feeling my legs bit by bit (as though I had pins and needles) but that was the only pain I felt from the caesarean. I was very tired because of the drugs and lack of sleep and I had backache as my stomach muscles were weak and I was sleeping in a hospital bed on my back only.
Saturday was my first shower; I was assisted by a midwife to a cubicle, a bit sore and very slow, hunched over. I was on morphine which was injected into my leg, plus painkillers. Sunday was so much better and really I could have gone home at this point, but was awaiting test results from the paediatrician for Jessica and I needed to be checked over. I met the consultant that did the scar and I thanked him as I was over the moon. I stayed in a couple of extra nights due to breastfeeding latching problems not any other problem. My milk came in on the Monday night and my breasts were very engorged and painful. Tuesday I left and I was over the moon.
Once I left hospital I took voltarol and co-dyramol for about two weeks. My stitches did not cause me pain, they did bled a little and so had to be dressed, but there wasn't any infection.
I would say to anyone that if someone with as many hang-ups as me can handle this and want to do it over and over, then I hope that this story shows how even such fear can be overcome and a positive ending can be assured with a caesarean. I would completely ignore the doom and gloom people; there are always those types of people and each person is different. It is such a positive experience. If someone doesn't have my phobia then of course they would be much more awake to experience the whole start to end experience. For me it was great as I wasn't traumatised to add to my phobia - it was perfect and correct for me. A caesarean is not something to be ashamed of, or to worry about; if anyone has the misfortune to be riddled with phobias I would say aim for sedation like me, and the anaesthetist will check how you are going along with sedation. If it's not enough, that person would then increase to a general; this was our action plan after all.
The only downside is not being able to drive for six weeks and this is the only thing. The scars these days are minimal and the pain is non existent with the drugs and then the drugs can be stopped when this has healed. I hope that my story gives hope to those a little worried about the experience and also to those who are frightened with phobias, as they are the worse things in the world. Be strong and honest with those who you deal with in the hospital and they will help you.
© Lucy 2005