Freedom Day

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If it doesn’t have Lycra in it and requires ironing, it’s dead to me. I’m somewhere in between a size 12 and in denial. No idea what my style is right now. Comfortable? Functional? Clean? Or maybe just not publicly naked?! I can’t legitimately wear maternity clothing anymore….although that stretchy waistband gives me life most days! So for now I’m going with it! Baggy is totally in. Bed hair chic is back and I’m rocking it like it’s 99. 

Tiger marks are appearing in some obscure places but I’m loving the life tattoos. These battle scars are epic and the war has been won!! Well yes I’ve won, I have two beautiful children and I fought through the sickness, the exhaustion, the aches, the doubts, the tests, the sleepless nights, the bladder with a mind of its own, the garlic aversions, the breathlessness, the mumgry moments on the London underground during rush hour, and of course… the labour. 

The labour… the event that’s pencilled into your diary as a definite, with no definites, no calendar invite needed, this is your party baby! There’s no opting out of this one, no deferring, it’s the inevitable…that baby is coming to join the world by any means necessary. 

I didn’t give labour much thought initially. I attended a prenatal class, watched documentaries, my husband banned me from watching as I cried over every episode and read a couple of articles. But nothing really prepared me for the day it all happened. For medical reasons I was told that I may have to have a caesarean section. No one could really explain why, just that it was ‘best’. I spent months of the pregnancy with a small hope that I may be able to give birth naturally, but content with having a C section if that was best for both me and the baby. I have nothing against c sections, it’s just that I’ve spent the majority of my life in and out of hospital, and been on the operating table more times than I care to remember. I take surgery very seriously, and if there’s a path that safely avoids that route, I’ll take that thank you very much. 

One day I went into the emergency maternity unit as I couldn’t feel the baby moving as I had before. I was checked over and thankfully all was fine. Before I left, the doctor asked me if I had made a decision on whether or not to have a c section. I reiterated that I still didn’t quite understand why I couldn’t give birth naturally and if this was still an option I’d like to take it. The doctor told me that if I gave birth naturally I would end up having an emergency c section and that in those instances the doctors primary objective is to get the baby out quickly. According to her if in this emergency organs are damaged or arteries cut, that’s just collateral damage I’ll have to accept! Through tears of fear in that cold examination room, I signed the consent forms she shoved in front of me and agreed to have the c section. 

C section day arrived… I had my bag packed and my husband and I went to the hospital to meet our baby. The consultants did their early morning rounds before the day began. The consultant introduced himself and asked me how I was and what I was there for. I laughed and said ‘I’m here to meet my baby, and you’ve booked me in for a c-section I don’t even want’. It was a teaching hospital, and surrounded by a group of students they all gawked at me. The consultant then sat on my bed and asked me what I wanted… I explained what had happened and how throughout my pregnancy no one had explained anything to me and I felt invisible, I even had to write my birth plan myself as the midwife said I didn’t need one. 

No one knows how labour will go for anyone, and why was I any different? Unless there’s a clear medical reason that someone can actually explain to me I would rather not have surgery. The doctor smiled, and said ‘you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do’. He told me to go home. I went home and a week later gave birth to my son naturally. Whether it was possible or not, someone believed I had the right to choose. He empowered me that morning and gave me my voice back. He gave me the freedom to choose.

Two years later, pregnant again, I faced similar attitudes and an air of disconnection that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Last pregnancy I pretty much lived in the hospital, going in weekly for check ups towards the end and being treated like a glass shoe. This time I’ve been seen a handful of times for the mandatory scans and checks, nothing more nothing less. As I’ve given birth naturally once before there was no question as to my ability to do so this time, with the obvious disclaimer that anything can happen during labour! This time around no consultant checks, again no birth plan. Bewildered by the eerie sense of isolation I just got on with it. 

I went into labour in the middle of the night, awoken by feelings I’d had a dodgy burrito. Went back to sleep more irritated than in pain…clearly I don’t know what contractions feel like, as this apparently was the start of labour for me. I eventually gave into the discomfort and got dressed to go and get checked out at the hospital, during which the pain increased and I realised I was in labour. We got an uber to the hospital and I was literally struggling not to have the baby in the back seat of the car! We arrived at the hospital, it was quiet… just a dozing security guard who although manning the entrance to a maternity unit seemed mythed that a woman had arrived in the middle of the night in labour…cue eye roll.

My husband found a wheelchair and a nurse and I was taken in. I felt a certain sense of relief, that I was in safe hands and that they knew what they were doing, and that it would all be ok. As the pain increased and I begged for someone to help me and give me some pain relief I realised that this may not be the case. I was examined and they quickly assessed I was already 8cm dilated. I kept shouting that the baby was coming, at least give me some gas and air…they insisted on moving me to another room on a different floor! I got to the designated room and told to relax it would ok. I begged for gas and air and none came. I remember in that moment being silent and realising I was on my own. It felt like an out of body experience. I started concentrating on my breathing, focussing on slowing down and blocking out the noise of the panicked midwives. They were fumbling around trying to find the baby’s heartbeat. Amidst the confusion they finally gave me gas and air, my daughters head popped out, they all looked visibly shocked and the rest is history. No one was listening to me, I felt invisible and vulnerable. 

March 14 is #MyFreedomDay. Every woman deserves to be heard. To have the freedom to make informed choices about their bodies, to be listened to and understood. To be given the power of autonomy over their fabric, their mind, their uterus. Freedom to decide what’s best for me and my baby. When you take away a woman’s freedom, you strip her of her dignity, you extinguish her power, you make her invisible.

Women often like to share labour stories. When you’ve had a child it’s almost a right of passage, a conversation that creates bonds. So many people have asked me to share my story, so many have stories that hurt to relive. Labour can be traumatic for some, life changing for all. I don’t know why my cries were ignored, or my wishes mocked, but I hear all too often of the plight of black women in labour and it makes my heart cry. If it had not been for the consultant who sat down and listened to me, my story would have been very different. We may be strong, but we deserve to be heard, everyone deserves this freedom.