Vikki was hoping to give birth with as little medical help as possible but ended up having to have an assisted birth in theatre. Here she shares what she wishes she’d known about forceps deliveries before she gave birth.
“As my husband put his arm around my belly, my waters went with a ‘pop’”
My husband Stephen has night terrors, and one night right after my due date he woke us both up early in the morning through screaming. When we went to go back to sleep, Stephen put his arm around my belly. As soon as he did, he felt my belly pop – my waters had broken.
At first, we weren’t sure what had happened because there wasn’t a big gush of water, just a gradual trickle. Stephen was quite scared, thinking that maybe he’d done something wrong. But we called the hospital and they calmed us down and explained that this is one of the ways that labour can start.
“The contractions were like no pain I’d ever had before”
Around half an hour after my waters broke, I started getting contractions. I slept through them for a bit, but then they were getting stronger. It was like really intense and overwhelming period pain; like no pain I’d ever had before.
I got out my big bouncy exercise ball and sat on it while Stephen massaged my lower back which really helped with the pain. I also had a bath a bit later on and the warmth and comfort of the water was so relaxing. I felt as though everything was moving in slow motion and I was able to control my breathing.
Around 8am, I just knew it was time to go to the birth centre where I was planning to give birth. Stephen helped me put my clothes on and packed the car.
When we arrived at the birth centre, all the rooms were busy so I was labouring on a sofa in the kitchen. When we finally got into a room and they examined me I was already seven centimetres dilated, which surprised me.
My first blood pressure and urine test showed that my blood pressure was slightly raised and I had some protein in my urine, so they were worried that I might have pre-eclampsia. As a precaution, the midwives at the birth centre sent me down to the labour ward, which was in the same hospital.
“It was disappointing to get so close to the birth experience that I wanted”
As soon as I got to the new ward, my tests were retaken and at that point my blood pressure was normal. The midwife explained that the protein in the urine was probably from my waters having broken, and the temporarily raised blood pressure came from the stress of going to the hospital in labour, so I didn’t have pre-eclampsia.
Although I was completely fine, I wasn’t allowed to go back to the birth centre and had to stay at the labour ward from then on. We’d been on a tour of the birth centre earlier in my pregnancy and loved the look and feel of it, so it was really disappointing to get so close to having the birth experience that I wanted, but then not be able to.
“I was told I had to hold off pushing for two hours”
On the labour ward, I used gas and air to work through the contractions. Stephen was helping me out with anything I needed and he’d made a playlist for us to listen to with music on to relax me.
The midwife that had seen us initially at the birth centre came down to visit at one point too, she wanted to make sure we were OK and that we had someone who we’d already met.
After a few hours with the gas and air I was fully dilated, but the midwife told me I had an anterior lip on my cervix and had to hold off pushing for two hours. I was really uncomfortable at this point, but they told me I absolutely had to wait to give birth.
Towards the end of those two hours, my contractions were starting to ease up, and everything became a lot more difficult from that point on.
A doctor was called in, and they were very concerned that I’d been told to wait for too long. To get my contractions started again, the doctor recommended that I should be given a hormone drip. However, the cannula wasn’t inserted correctly. Instead of going into my vein, it just went into my tissue.
“I had no option but to go to theatre to attempt a forceps delivery”
After another hour, I still didn’t have any contractions because of the wrongly inserted cannula. At this point, the baby had also started to retract and move her head, so she was no longer in a good position to be born naturally.
The doctor explained that even if I were able to push now, the baby still wouldn’t come out, so I had to go to theatre to attempt a forceps delivery, and if that didn’t work they’d have to do a c-section.
I didn’t know what a forceps delivery meant before I went into labour. It had been mentioned briefly in my antenatal classes, but I had no idea of everything that would be involved in the procedure. Both Stephen and I would have to wear scrubs, I had to have a catheter inserted and a spinal injection so I couldn’t feel anything below my chest.
I was very tired and upset at this point. I felt like an assisted birth or c-section could have been avoided if everything had been done correctly. An epidural or spinal injection was the one thing I’d known from the start that I really, really wanted to avoid at all costs. I desperately wanted to be able to push my baby out myself. Yet here I was, and I had no choice but to have the injection.
“I’d lost all sensation with the spinal injection, but I was still asked to push”
I had to sign a form to say that I understood the risks of the forceps procedure and that if it didn’t work, I’d have a c-section straight away. It was really tough, I couldn’t even take in what was happening and yet I was asked to sign a form.
Stephen was a really big help here, the doctors could explain to him what it was all about and he’d let me know it was OK for me to sign it before we went to the operating theatre.
I lost all sensation from the chest down when they inserted the spinal injection, but I was asked to push all the same. It was a really odd experience because I had no idea if I was doing it right when I couldn’t feel anything.
The surgeon was having a really difficult time getting the forceps to work. It got to the point where they said they’d give it one last go, and if it didn’t work I’d have to have a caesarean. I wasn’t really fazed how it happened at this point. All I could do was wait to know that the baby had been born.
“I took in every little bit of my new baby”
Then all of a sudden, I heard a baby crying. I was so overwhelmed and focused on trying to push that I didn’t hear them say that the baby had been born. Amy was held over towards me and I got to rub noses with her for a moment, but I couldn’t hold her because my arms were down under the covers and I couldn’t get them out.
Still, seeing Amy was so amazing and emotional. I couldn’t believe she was here after everything that had happened. I took in every little bit of her and thought “ten minutes ago you were in my tummy”.
I’d had an episiotomy which had to be stitched up and I’d lost a lot of blood, so the surgeon had to make sure I was OK, which took almost an hour. During that time, Stephen was with the baby being checked over on the other side of the room.
It could have been really lonely for me, but the anaesthetist was sitting with me and explained what he could see. It made a big difference that he was there and made sure that I was comfortable, and it meant that Stephen didn’t have to worry about me as well as Amy.
“When I woke up, Stephen and the baby were gone”
When I finally got out of surgery at around 9pm, all three of us stayed one night in the high dependency unit because I had a temperature and they wanted to monitor the baby.
I didn’t get much sleep that first night, but at one point I did nod off. When I woke up, Stephen and Amy were gone. I got really worried, but the staff explained that they’d gone off to do a couple of tests on the baby and they didn’t want to wake me up. It was done with the best of intentions, but it was really scary to wake up without them and not knowing what was going on. After that, I didn’t want to sleep any more, and I didn’t want anyone to leave.
Everything was fine, and the following morning we were moved down to the postnatal ward where we stayed one more night. All other women on the ward were recovering from c-sections and it seemed to me that their recovery was a lot more straightforward than mine. I came out of it wishing that I’d had a caesarean instead, which is something I never thought I’d say!
“There weren’t enough staff on the postnatal ward”
I felt very exposed and vulnerable on the ward. I was sore, my body was tingly, and I was trying to get used to the sensation in my legs. I was lying on a pad to soak up the blood and I had to call someone over every time I needed the pad changed or more medication. It wasn’t deliberate, but there really weren’t enough staff to go around.
Stephen stayed with me and Amy the whole time. Having someone there – whether it’s your husband, partner, mother, a friend, or someone else – makes such a difference and helps take the burden off the staff as well. I tried to share my bed with Stephen for a bit so he’d get the chance to rest, but it was a lot of pressure on me to sit up as I was still so sore and tired.
I wish that the hospital had a different approach to partners staying overnight and gave them meals and somewhere comfortable to put their heads. The early days after birth should be a much better experience than it was for us.
“I never could have imagined what it would be like before I had my baby”
I was discharged two days after the birth, but coming home wasn’t quite as enjoyable as I thought it would be because I was still in a lot of pain – the journey home in particular wasn’t enjoyable.
The minute our front door shut, I suddenly thought “Oh my God, I’ve really got to do this now”. I just wanted to sleep and not feel the pain, but knew I’d have to look after this new little person at the same time. It was really overwhelming.
A few days after the birth, I couldn’t stop crying and I was constantly worried that something would happen to Amy. I just loved her so much and wanted to keep her safe in every way possible. A bit later I was diagnosed with postnatal anxiety which explained why I was feeling the way I was. I’m receiving therapy for my anxiety now, two months on from the birth.
Stephen was home for a full month after Amy was born – the usual two weeks of paternity leave and then an extra two weeks’ holiday. It made a huge difference to me; I really don’t know how I’d have coped if he’d gone back to work after just a fortnight.
“Nobody opts to have a forceps delivery”
Physically, the weeks after giving birth were really difficult. The midwife who came for my first postnatal appointment at home wasn’t qualified to check if I’d healed correctly from the episiotomy and said I had to go to my GP or have another midwife come over. It surprised me that not all midwives are able to offer the same support to women after birth.
It’s now been 10 weeks and I still don’t feel like I’ve fully recovered. I keep having to go to the doctor to try and get help. I think I’ve developed an infection, but it’s taken me three weeks and different tests to get it checked out.
There needs to be more education around what assisted births are, why you might need one and what your recovery is likely to be like. People ask if you’ve had a caesarean or natural birth, but there’s nothing natural about a forceps delivery and nobody opts to have one.
- How to choose your birth partner: Having someone to support you during labour can make a big difference to your experience.
- What happens in an assisted birth? More than one in 10 babies are born by forceps or ventouse in the UK – find out what’s involved.
- Coping in early parenthood: The first weeks with a new baby can be daunting – read our advice on what to expect and where to find support.