For any pregnant woman, the first midwife appointment is probably always going to be a pretty big deal.
For someone with extreme health anxiety, however, plus a generous dose of what I’m starting to suspect would probably be best described as Tokophobia (fear of pregnancy and childbirth), it’s an even bigger one. This person, after all, has the power to completely change the next seven months for me, and I went into that first midwife appointment feeling pretty nervous because of that. I knew that if the midwife was sympathetic to my fears, and willing to advocate for me on some of the decisions I have to make, she could be the best ally I’d have in this journey (Terry aside, obviously).
If, however, she turned out to be the kind of person who’d just be all, “Now, don’t be a silly girl: baby comes first!”, before trying to strong-arm me into something I didn’t want, then that could easily have the power to destroy the last remains of my sanity, and condemn me to seven months of even GREATER terror than I was already experiencing.
So, yeah, I was pretty worried…. and, honestly, a little confused. All of the pre-appointment literature I’d been sent seemed to revolve around me deciding which hospital I’d give birth in, which seemed a little bit premature to me – er, forgive the pun. I mean, I was still only 8 weeks at that point, and there’s SO much that could still go wrong at that stage that neither Terry nor I had really allowed ourselves to start thinking of the pregnancy as “real”. Making decisions about childbirth, on the other hand, seems very REAL indeed, and, to be perfectly honest,I wasn’t sure I was ready for that: it seemed like tempting fate. I obviously knew that if something went wrong at that stage, nothing would to stop me feeling devastated – I mean, it’s not like I’d be thinking, “Oh well, it’s not like I’d picked a hospital or anything!” – but I also knew that the more ‘real’ it all started to feel to me, the harder it would be if the worst did happen: you get the picture, I’m sure.
With that said, the choice of hospital is something that’s really important to me, and it was something that I wanted to address sooner rather than later, to be able to stop myself worrying obsessively about it, so while I was worried about the whole “tempting fate” thing, I was also quite keen to talk to someone about my fears, and see if anything could be done to help.
So, my main issue here is that the policy in our area is that you’re expected to give birth in the hospital closest to your home. This would generally seem like sound logic to me, except for two important points:
- I have a phobia of hospitals – and of childbirth.
2. Our local hospital has a policy of not allowing partners to stay with you at the hospital after a certain time of night: I think it’s around 10pm. I think exceptions are made if you’re in the final stages of labour at that time of night, but in general, they will ask your partner to leave as soon as the clock strikes 10 – after which you’re on your own – even if you’ve just given birth, or are in the early stages of labour.
This is something that strikes me as so unnecessarily cruel that I wouldn’t have believed it could be a hospital policy, until I saw it happen to some of my friends. I totally get that it would be inappropriate for partners to be there overnight on a shared ward, obviously, but I also find it hard to understand why anyone would think that NOT having the support of your partner would be the best thing for either mother OR baby, and it’s something I’ve been worrying about quite obsessively.
Quite honestly, I don’t think I would cope well on my own, under the circumstances, and the thought that I could quite literally be stuck in a room and told to get on with it, without anyone there to support me (This has actually happened to friends of mine, even ones who’ve just had traumatic births, or who were in the early stages of labour etc, so it’s not an idle worry. I know people will probably just tell me I won’t care when the time comes, but all I can say is that the various friends who had this experience DID care, and none of them have health anxiety or a phobia of hospitals, either…) actually made me delay the decision to even TRY to get pregnant for quite a few years, and the only thing that helped reassure me was reading that the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, which is the next-closet hospital to home, DOES allow partners to be present throughout, and that I would probably have the option of giving birth there.
The ERI also has a much more specialised unit which deals with what they describe as “complex births and caesarean sections,” and while there’s nothing so far to suggest that mine would be a “complex birth,” my health anxiety obviously tell me that it definitely WILL be, so I find myself in a very contradictory kind of position, i.e:
- I am absolutely terrified of hospitals.
2. I want to give birth in a hospital. Ideally one with the best, most advanced surgical team on hand, for the complex medical emergency I am SURE will unfold.
I also want to know that someone I trust will be with me at all times (Well, at all times that I want them to be with me, obviously: I would rather go to the bathroom etc on my own, although I’m told that I probably won’t care about that much either, when the time comes, so…) (That actually freaks me out, too, by the way. I can’t even imagine a pain SO great that I won’t care about pooping on the table or whatever. WHY DID I DO THIS TO MYSELF?!): ideally Terry, who is the person who is best able to calm me down when I start freaking out. Without this, I will… well, I will freak out, basically.
So, I went into the midwife appointment with all of these issues swirling around in my head, along with a very real understanding of how totally crazy I was going to sound to this poor woman, who probably thought she was just going to meet a nice, normal pregnant lady, and who’d find herself faced instead with a hysterical hypochondriac, utterly convinced that, by getting pregnant, she’d essentially just condemned herself to certain death.
(Well, this explains A LOT…)
I needn’t have worried.
As it turned out, the midwife was absolutely lovely, and seemed to instantly get where I was coming from with my anxiety, and with my many hospital-related fears. She was quick to reassure me that there was no need to worry about any of this. “Our aim,” she told me, “Is to do whatever we have to do to get you through this safely and happily, and we’ll do whatever’s necessary to achieve that.” (I was going to ask for a miniature pony next to my hospital bed at this point, but luckily I caught Terry’s eye in time…)
She went on to say that, while the local hospital DOES, indeed, have a “no partners” policy, this is about practicality rather than outright cruelty (I should say here that I didn’t ACTUALLY think they did it just to mean, although it did sound that way in some of the stories I’d heard…), and they’ve actually just been issued with new guidelines stating that every effort should be made to allow partners to remain at the hospital as long as possible. Unfortunately, those rules won’t come into effect until after my due date, but she said that, given the effect my anxiety is likely to have on me, it shouldn’t be an issue for Terry to stay with me as long as needed.
(I know I sound like a complete prima-dona with this: I’m honestly not trying to demand special treatment just for the hell of it, or because I think I’m super-special – my anxiety about hospitals and medical situations, particularly childbirth, is so overwhelming that it’s really important for me to have someone there to support me, who knows how to best handle the situation. I feel so bad about being difficult, and I know how it all must sound to people who haven’t had to deal with severe phobias like this, but I’ve been worrying about this since before I got pregnant – LONG before I got pregnant, really – so it was a huge comfort to me to know that help is available!)
(And no, home birth or midwife-led units aren’t really an options here, as I’m convinced I’ll end up needing an emergency c-section or something, and I need to know I’ll be close enough to surgical care to not die en route.)
The other thing I wanted to discuss was my phobia of general anaesthetics. As I described to the midwife, I am generally able to cope with medical procedures themselves (although, of course, I don’t have much to go on here, so I’m really just thinking about things like having blood taken, getting stitches, etc): it’s the thought of being rendered unconscious that absolutely terrifies me – and, to put this in context, when I was told my last pregnancy was ectopic, and that surgery was a possibility, I told the consultant that I would rather they just let me die. Again, totally ridiculous – and I know that – but the phobia is THAT bad, so one of the things that has been really worrying me here is the possibility of needing an emergency C-section, which I know is often done under general anaesthetic.
I was expecting the midwife to react here with the same amusement/bafflement most people have when they hear about this phobia, but, again, she couldn’t have been nicer or more understanding. She said that one option would be to have measures in place which would ensure that, if I gave birth naturally, it would never be allowed to progress to the stage where an emergency c-section would be necessary: so, basically, if it seemed like I was possibly going to end up needing a cesarean, I’d not be allowed to continue to labor, and they’d (hopefully) have enough time to administer a spinal block, and do the c-section that way.
Another option, which would more or less eliminate the risk of general anaesthetic, would be to have an elective c-section. I know I’ll get a lot of strong opinions about this, and that most of them will be from people wanting to scare me out of it (Please, please don’t try to do this, by the way: I know it’s an emotive subject, but given that, even with the best will in the world, I could STILL end up having to have a c-section, regardless of how I feel about it, it would be actively cruel to try to scare me any more than I already am!), but honestly, it does sound like a possible option, so I’m not going to dismiss it out of hand, even although I know I’m supposed to be reeling backwards in horror at the very suggestion, and crying over the idea of missing out on the opportunity to try to expel a live person out of my body.
That’s just not me, though, I’m afraid. I’m really not the earth mother type, and I honestly don’t give a crap how the baby gets out, as long it’s OK, and we’re both alive at the end of it. (There’s a birth plan section in the folder they’ve given me, and all I can think to write in it is, “BOTH BE ALIVE.”) I’m doing this because I want to have a baby, not a “birth experience,” and although I’m sure this will make me an absolute monster in some people’s eyes, as long as we both it make it through the experience alive, I don’t intent to feel even a shred of guilt over how it all goes down – honestly, I just feel really lucky to be able to do this in a time and place where medical advancements have made childbirth so much safer, and where I know that help will be available if I need it.
The outcome of all of this, is that the midwife’s referred me to a consultant to discuss the various options for birth (This is apparently standard for my age group anyway, as I’m automatically classed as higher risk due to my age), and she’s also going to refer me for some kind counselling: I can’t remember the exact name of the department, but it seemed to be specifically for people who are pregnant and dealing with anxiety, so hopefully that should be another source of support.
The rest of the appointment was fairly routine: the midwife took some blood, plus a urine sample (Because of my health anxiety, this kind of thing would normally scare me to death, because I’d be convinced the results would show I had cancer, or some other hideous disease), but while I DID spend the next few days feeling vaguely anxious about the results (They all came back clear, by the way…), I actually managed to deal with it better than expected. I think the fact that I know I’m pregnant, not ill, is helping me in this respect, so long may that continue.
Other than that, most of the time was taken up with paperwork, which involved both Terry and I answering lengthy questions about our medical histories (“Are you related?” was one of them…), and those of our nearest and dearest. We left clutching a giant pile of literature, which Terry will have to flick through before I do, just in case there are any other images like this one:
Reassuring, huh? Either this chick is just seeing her belly for the first time, or labour is really freaking traumatic: thanks, NHS!
[P.S. Speaking of things that are traumatic… I know a lot of people reading this haven’t experienced health anxiety before, but, it basically prevents me from being able to rationalise things the way “normal” people do: my anxiety is a form of OCD, so when I hear a traumatic story about childbirth or miscarriage, say, I will obsess over it to the point where the anxiety it causes is really debilitating. I’m not for a second trying to minimise anyone’s experiences, and I know no one would intentionally try to upset me, but I would really, really appreciate it if you could avoid posting traumatic/sad stories in my comments/social media etc – even ones with happy outcomes, as the “broken” part of my brain will just skim over that and choose to obsess over the traumatic element instead – fun times, huh? Thanks so much for understanding!]