Tuesday 15 October 2019

'I thought my labour would be straightforward but my daughter had other ideas' - Rotunda doctor writes about her birthing experiences

Specialist Registrar in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Rotunda Hospital Dr Niamh Murphy writes about her personal birthing experiences

Dr Niamh Murphy, Specialist Registrar in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Rotunda Hospital. Photo: Owen Breslin
Dr Niamh Murphy, Specialist Registrar in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Rotunda Hospital. Photo: Owen Breslin

I consider myself very privileged to have two beautiful children. My little girl was born in November 2015 and her brother was born in February 2018. My approach to pregnancy and delivery probably differs from that of many people, as I also work in the maternity services as a Specialist Registrar in Obstetrics and Gynaecology in the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin. This gives me a unique perspective on my own experiences of pregnancy.

I had two very straightforward pregnancies and fully anticipated the first time round that my labour would be similar, but my daughter had other ideas. I went into labour the day before my due date and it was apparent very early on that she was in distress and not tolerating the process very well. It soon became evident that an emergency caesarean section delivery was indicated.

I was very fortunate to deliver in a unit where I knew all of the members of the team involved in my delivery, and trusted them implicitly, but I can appreciate how daunting it can be for people who are not familiar with the setting.

The Rotunda Hospital's multidisciplinary team members involved in an emergency delivery incorporate obstetricians, midwives, anaesthetists, neonatologists, theatre staff and porter staff. This means there can be a lot of people suddenly entering a room, which can be difficult for a woman and her partner. The prospect of entering an operating theatre can also be quite intimidating. It's good to remember that each member of the team is highly skilled in their own area of expertise and that all are present to assist with the best care of you and your baby.

Once a baby is delivered, and provided both are well, the baby is generally brought back to its mother for skin-to-skin contact. This, however, is not always possible. When my daughter was born, she had some difficulty maintaining her breathing and the team looking after her realised that she would need to be transferred to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for more specialised care. We got to see her briefly before this and my husband was able to visit her later on that night. He came back armed with plenty of photos for me to look at until I got a chance to see her properly the next day.

Most people going in to have their baby expect that their baby will be accompanying them to the postnatal ward after they are born. It is difficult to be in the hospital knowing that the baby you have carried until now is in a different room, on a different floor, and maybe in a place that you have never seen. In our case, I didn't anticipate that my daughter would require a NICU admission, but was very grateful that she was in the right place getting the most appropriate care. In fact, she was so comfortable there, she decided to extend her stay to 13 nights. This meant that I went home before she was ready, and this is also something that you don't anticipate with a full-term well-grown baby.

My own experience has given me a new empathy when looking after mothers whose babies have required admission to NICU or who have had any other unexpected interventions required in the course of their labour. In the world of obstetrics, it's good to expect the unexpected but this doesn't always mean that this is easy.

For the birth of my son a year ago, I had an elective caesarean section, and this was a very different experience. We walked into the hospital in the morning and he was born without any drama later on that day. He was two pounds smaller than his sister and his growth had slowed down at the end of the pregnancy, which necessitated the date of the section being moved to the week before. He has made up for this since and seems determined to try to eat us out of house and home.

In my line of work, it's important to be able to put yourself in the mother's position, whether you have experienced childbirth or not. I think it's important for people to recognise that no two births are the same. It's also a good idea for women to equip themselves with as much information as possible regarding the birth experience that they would like, but I would encourage everyone to keep an open mind, as the process of labour and delivery can be unpredictable at times.

There's no such thing as a "perfect" labour experience, because this is going to be different for everybody. We occasionally meet people who are disappointed after their deliveries that things didn't go as they expected. For example, some women are determined that they won't require an epidural, and are later disappointed that they opted for one during the course of their labour. As a healthcare professional, it's important to know how to care for a woman experiencing such feelings after childbirth and reminding them that they have just delivered a baby, which is a phenomenal achievement.

Since having my own children, I have a new-found understanding of what my patients are going through and all that's involved in caring for a new-born baby. This has led to me having conversations with mothers whose babies I've delivered about things, like the best brands of nappies and wipes to buy, which would not have been something I would have put much thought into prior to having my own children.

Having been through this experience, both as a mother and as a specialist registrar in the hospital, the most valuable piece of advice that I could give to expectant mothers is that you are in very safe hands in Ireland's maternity units. Our aim is to work in partnership with women and their partners to empower them throughout pregnancy and labour. The staff looking after you are professionals and it is their job to mind women and babies every day of the week. We are thrilled for you and your partner, and every baby we deliver is genuinely very special to us.

Giving birth is a huge event for a family. We are with you every step of the way to mind you in the best way possible.

Dr Niamh Murphy features in a segment on episode 3, 'Hospital Life', of the Real Talk With Real Mums podcast series. The 10-part series was created by the HRB (Health Research Board) Mother and Baby Clinical Trial Network and the Rotunda Hospital. The series is designed for both pregnant women and soon-to-be mums and is presented by broadcaster and journalist, Louise McSharry. A new episode is launched on the last Thursday of every month and available on iTunes, Spotify, Soundcloud and at realtalkwithrealmums.ie.

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