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A 32-hour labour and an emergency C-section: Leigh Campbell's birth story.

For three years, Leigh Campbell and her husband Rich tried to have a baby.

But what started as an exciting, life-changing decision soon became fraught with anxiety and distress. There were miscarriages. Unsuccessful rounds of IVF. Bad news over and over again. as the idea of becoming a mum seemed to slip further away.

By the end of 2018, Leigh was ready to accept that her future wouldn’t have a baby in it. Then, she fell pregnant. Naturally.

Writing for Mamamia in February, Leigh said that while she’d expected to be overjoyed, that’s simply not how she felt. She felt scared, and guilty. She was terrified something would go wrong.

It didn’t.

In June, Leigh and Rich welcomed a healthy baby boy, Alexander. Just two weeks after the birth, Leigh sat down to share her birth story on Mamamia’s podcast This Glorious Mess, hosted by Holly Wainwright. She wanted to share the unpredictability and unvarnished truth of giving birth, where even the most well-intentioned of plans can be derailed in an instant.

“I didn’t have a birth plan. I had one wish.”

Leigh says one of the advantages about having a tumultuous fertility journey was that she had learnt not to expect things.

As a result, she didn’t have a clearly delineated birth plan. She just had one wish.

Watch: Midwife Cath busts some birth myths. Post continues after video.

“I didn’t want to go through 30 hours of labour and then caesarean,” she says. “I wanted to either have a vaginal birth, that was my preference, or a planned caesarean. Just something I could plan around.”

In the weeks leading up to the birth, Leigh was booked in for a medical induction, which relieved some of her anxiety. “I had huge anxiety around stillbirth,” she says.

Leigh’s induction was scheduled for 8pm, and once she arrived at the hospital, she says the process was efficient. By 9pm, a gel had been put into her cervix to induce contractions, and she was told to wait six hours.

“They come and check on you at 3am, and of course I hadn’t slept at all,” Leigh says. “I’m so excited, I’m so nervous, and the gel induces what I would call moderate period pain so it feels like stuff is happening.”

Despite the pain, Leigh was only slightly dilated, so the gel was inserted again, and she was told to wait another six hours.

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By 9am, with her parents and husband in the room, the doctors started to try and break Leigh’s waters, with a device that looks like “a knitting needle with a hook on the end of it”.

“They’re kind of fishing around to try and pop this balloon,” she explains.

At this point, Leigh says she was still very much in her Type A work mode, wanting to know how long this was all going to take. Again, the doctors applied the gel to her cervix, and she was told to wait another six hours.

By 4pm, she had dilated a little more, and the contractions were becoming unbearable. It was then she asked for the epidural.

“At about 2am, I felt a slither of pain down my left side.”

The doctors advised Leigh to wait until 8pm to get the epidural – but by 7pm, she couldn’t cope with the pain any longer.

“They want you to wait,” Leigh explains, “because once you have an epidural you can’t get up and move, you have a catheter, you can’t get up and walk around, and obviously gravity really helps with labour so they want you to do that as long as possible.”

But once she said she needed the epidural, it happened quickly.

Listen: Leigh Campbell’s birth story. Post continues after audio.

“The epidural was crazy to me,” she says. “They do it in between contractions, and they’re telling you not to move, they put it into your spine… but it was really quite an involved process, I didn’t realise. They’re trying to get it in the exact right spot in your spine.

“Then it kicked in, and it was heaven. I loved it. Everything felt fuzzy.”

By this stage, her husband had been given a roll out bed and they were settling in for night two in hospital – reassured that their baby would come in the morning.

Then, at 2am, Leigh felt a slither of pain down her left side.

“I’m looking on the monitor and obviously you can see the contractions but you can’t feel them with an epidural, but I could feel it just within that few centimetres, then that few centimetres widened, and the epidural wore off across my body,” she says.

“I’ve got the buzzer thingy to top it up… I’m buzzing it like a mad woman, and I’m saying I can feel half of this, and they checked, and for some reason, we don’t know why, the epidural stopped working on me.”

Leigh was 5cm dilated – halfway – and started to panic.

“Your baby’s in distress.”

All of a sudden, her baby’s heart rate started to rise. It hit 190, and Leigh’s fever was skyrocketing.

Her obstetrician told her: “This baby’s trying to get out, and it can’t.”

“They said, ‘your baby’s in distress, it’s probably not going to come out this way, we need to do an emergency caesarean’,” Leigh says.

The obstetrician started to explain the risks of a C-section, but all Leigh cared about was getting her baby out safely. She started to think that she can’t have come this far for something awful to happen.

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Once she gave permission for the caesarean, she was wheeled into theatre. “I just think people who work in the medical industry are so wonderful,” Leigh says. “They do everything in theatre to make it feel like a really warm environment, so it’s not a real clinical operation.

 

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This past week was Birth Trauma Awareness Week. I gave birth for the first time three weeks ago and can now categorically confirm women are fucking amazing and clearly the superior sex. While I wasn’t attached to a ‘plan’, my birth ended the one way I was hoping to avoid (which was an emergency C section after 32 hours). I still loved my birth because any path that lead to my son is absolutely okay with me, however I have compassion for all women who have had a difficult, scary or traumatic birth experience. Birth is hard. Motherhood is hard. Personally (and it has only been three weeks) it’s all joyful-hard, whereas infertility is painful-hard, but it’s hard nonetheless. If I was wearing a hat I’d take it off to all the women all over the world. Because we run it. And to those who have experienced a traumatic birth, I send my love. You can hear me telling my birth story on Mamamia’s parenting podcast, This Glorious Mess, through the link in my bio.

A post shared by Leigh Campbell (@leighacampbell) on


“They explained what was going to happen, they used the same epidural spot to put something else through. They use ice to roll up and down your body and ask when you can feel it’s cool. You can still feel it’s cool up until about your boobs, then it stops.”

The obstetrician put the sheet up to begin the caesarean. At this point, Leigh had been in labour for 32 hours.

“It’s a boy.”

Rich was by Leigh’s side during her caesarean, alongside a nurse who kept her calm and had her phone ready to take photos.

“What amazed me was they said, ‘OK, we’re dropping the sheet now, the baby’s head’s out, look up,’ and I said, ‘no, I don’t want to’, and they said, ‘no, no, you do want to’…  and my obstetrician made me, and I looked up and it’s this head sticking out of my belly,” Leigh recalls.

The obstetrician then told her she was going to deliver the baby now, while she was watching.

“She pulled it out, and the genitals were right in my face, so it still very much simulated a real delivery as much as possible,” Leigh says. Her obstetrician asked her to tell everyone the sex, so Leigh announced: “It’s a boy.”

“His boyhood was right there,” she laughs.

In that moment, she felt bewildered. She was still so scared. The doctors had warned that her baby probably wouldn’t cry, because he’d be shocked by the emergency caesarean.

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“He was just startled.

“These big bug eyes, and then the obstetrician gave him to the paediatrician, who takes him to the table and does all the checks, and Rich went over and cut the umbilical cord.

“I think I cried a little but I was so shocked, I was speechless. Then they brought him over and put him on my chest and he’s all gooey and wrapped up, and he had a dimple chin, like my husband. I couldn’t believe it.”

As she looked at her son, Leigh’s obstetrician and assisting obstetrician started sewing her back up. She found it particularly comforting when they started chatting about what they were doing on the weekend. “It made me feel like they’d done this a million times before,” she says.

When she shared her son’s name – Alexander – the assisting obstetrician smiled. It was his name, too.

“He stopped breathing.”

The real rollercoaster, Leigh says, starts after the birth. She hadn’t slept for days, and suddenly she had a woman she’d never met milking her breasts for colostrum.

Then, just five hours after birth, Alexander turned purple.

“Rich ran out into the corridor and he’s yelling, ‘help me, help me’ and he’s holding him,” Leigh says.

Alexander went to special care, and they learnt that when babies are born through caesarean they can have mucus on their lungs, and stop breathing. Ultimately, their baby was fine, but it was a terrifying experience.

“The guilt started.”

When Alexander was in special care, Leigh was wheeled in to try to feed him some colostrum.

 

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Through the hardest parts I would daydream of you. Alexander. ????

A post shared by Leigh Campbell (@leighacampbell) on

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“By that stage I hadn’t slept for I don’t know how many hours, and the lovely nurse in there is obviously good with babies and special care but I don’t think she’s dealt with many mothers,” she says.

“She was trying to get some colostrum, couldn’t get colostrum, then made me sign a form to give him formula, which was fine… but I felt confronted with this decision. She’d asked if I wanted to give him formula, then the next day another midwife was saying he shouldn’t have formula, it’s too early.

“I found that really hard in hospital, because all the midwives are well-intentioned, but they have their own way of doing things. So on day four, when he’d lost a little bit too much weight, the head breastfeeding midwife put him on a formula supplement plan, but then the breastfeeding person the next day said he should have never been put on that, he shouldn’t be on formula.

“It’s really disheartening.”

The same sense of guilt came with the decision to use the hospital’s night nurse. While some staff encouraged it, other staff reminded Leigh she wouldn’t have a night nurse at home, so she should get used to looking after Alexander overnight.

Either way, she felt like she was doing something wrong.

It’s been three weeks since Leigh gave birth to Alexander, and she’s madly in love. She can’t stop crying (which she puts down to hormones), and says motherhood is “joyful-hard,” whereas infertility was “painful-hard”.

While her birth didn’t go to plan, she still loved it.

Because, she says, any path that lead her to her son was the right one.

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