'There's blood splattering all over the curtain': Read Louise Thompson describe her childbirth ordeal in an exclusive extract from her book, and how labour 'destroyed everything good in my life'

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Childbirth destroyed everything that was good in my life, yet of course when I learned I was pregnant with Leo I was overjoyed. But I was also very anxious. A couple of months previously I’d miscarried at around eight weeks, so my happiness was tempered by persistent fear it would happen again.

Reaching the 12-week point felt huge. I remember sitting at the NHS Chelsea and Westminster hospital in a room of other pregnant women waiting to be scanned.

I was part of a club I’d wanted to join for a long time.

But from then, I began feeling pushed about in a system where I wasn’t being listened to. I was sure I wasn’t capable of a vaginal birth – I’m only 5ft and my hips couldn’t be less childbearing if they tried.

All the scans had shown my baby had a very big head and was probably going to be on the 90th centile for size, taking after my partner Ryan who’s 6ft 3in and over 100kg.

At around four months I asked a midwife about the possibility of an elective caesarean. But then, and every time subsequently, my concerns were brushed aside. I was told I was fit, healthy and low risk. I should actually be considering a home birth. As the pregnancy progressed, my fears around the birth only heightened. Our house was being renovated, so we were staying at my mother’s. Weeks before my due date, I was woken in the middle of the night by the smoke alarm.

I opened my bedroom door to find the landing engulfed in smoke, I couldn’t even see my hand.

My mother, Ryan and I fumbled our way downstairs and on to the street. It turned out the wine cooler in the basement had exploded. The smoke alarm saved us; five minutes later we’d have all been killed.

After a few weeks moving between friends’ houses, my father vacated his flat so we had somewhere to live. But amplified by the fire, my anxiety skyrocketed. At midwife appointments my concerns were still batted away. In the end, I gave up asking for a c-section and resigned myself to my fate. Now I feel stupid and naïve that I didn’t fight harder.

My contractions started in the early hours of Leo’s due date, Sunday 14 November. I was awake most of the night, but the pain was manageable. By late afternoon the pain was increasing and by the time we arrived at the hospital, the contractions had shot through the roof. I’d gone from very little pain to extreme agony with no build-up in between, to the point where I was hallucinating.

I was terrified.

In the birthing centre, we were ushered into a room with a bed and a birthing ball. The pain was so bad I wasn’t able to hold a conversation. I was sweating, screaming and very stressed. We’d been in there alone for over an hour, with someone only occasionally popping their head in, before a lady who I’d previously seen at the assessment unit kindly came in to check on me just before she finished her shift at 8pm. She put a cool wet towel on my neck and was clearly shocked Ryan and I had been left to fend for ourselves and not even  shown how to use gas and air.

Louise Thompson with her son Leo, who is two years old

Louise Thompson with her son Leo, who is two years old

Long past the point of being able to withstand the pain I asked for an epidural. They agreed, but it took several attempts by numerous different people over the course of an agonising two-and-a-half hours to administer one. Even then, I was still in out-of-this-world pain, the baby back-to-back and grinding against my nerves and spine.

I was rapidly losing faith that anybody in this hospital knew what they were doing. Nobody seemed to be co-ordinating anything. No one appeared to be in charge. My temperature was really high, my blood pressure going crazy. I felt that things were going very wrong – why was no one doing anything?

I asked repeatedly if I could have a c-section, but the junior doctors just toldme to keep going. It’s their job to tell me that but I knew my body. I’d known all along. I was left in this state of distress overnight, the pain beyond endurance.

At 8am, a midwife established Leo’s head was stuck at an awkward position in my pelvis, exactly what I’d always feared. I’m narrow with a tiny pelvis and had a baby with a larger-sized head. He was never going to get out that way. The midwife said immediately that I needed an emergency c-section. Was I OK with that? OK? For months, a section was what I’d been begging and pleading for. Of course I was OK with it.

Please God, can we just get this baby out?

Ryan was handed a set of scrubs and we were wheeled down to theatre within minutes. Loads of people came rushing in including the anaesthetist, who was frantic.

The energy in the room put me on edge. Why was everyone so agitated?

No one had talked me through what was about to happen, but from what I understood, most c-sections were over within half an hour and that’s what I focused on, Ryan by my side. In about 30 minutes I would have my precious baby in my arms and everything would be fine.

It didn’t take me long to realise that things were very far from ‘fine’.

And it would be a long time before anything felt fine again.

15 November 2021

I am lying on a surgical bed and there is panic all around.

I can see immense amounts of my blood splattering all over the curtain where they are cutting me open and then splashing on to the floor below.

A lot of technical terms are being shouted across the room and there is alarm in the voices. More medics come dashing in; it feels like chaos. Pandemonium.

I know I am losing blood and they can’t stop the bleeding. I know this because I can feel it. They are right up against my lungs trying to stem the haemorrhage.

Ryan’s face is next to mine and I am turning to him to look him in the eye. ‘Am I alive? Am I alive?’ I keep repeating. ‘Yes, you’re here, I’m with you,’ he tells me. But I believe that I am dying and I can tell from his face that he does too.

And I think: at least Ryan is with me. At least I’m not going to die alone.

Louise posts a special sunny moment from the hospital ward on Instagram

Louise posts a special sunny moment from the hospital ward on Instagram

There is no reassurance coming from anyone on the other side of that blood-soaked curtain. No communication. No eye contact. There is no one I know or recognise from the medical team in the room.

They pull the baby out and I hear a tiny cry before more unknown people from the paediatric team rush into the room and take him away and he is gone.

I don’t see him. There are no introductions, there is no skin-to-skin. No one tells me I had a healthy baby boy. I don’t know if he has survived.

‘What’s happening? Is it nearly over?’ asks Ryan.

‘We’re just finishing now,’ comes the reply. ‘We’re going to close her up.’

And I’m relieved I’m going to live; I have enough energy to keep myself in this survival state for just a few more minutes while they bring this nightmare to an end.

Then something else goes majorly wrong.

Again, they can’t stop the bleeding and there’s another scramble to fix whatever they’ve obliterated inside me.

For more than three harrowing hours, I am worked on in that operating theatre. I’m awake throughout, hearing the panicked voices, feeling every pummel, witnessing the loss of blood, without a single word of comfort or explanation of what is happening.

Eventually they staunch the haemorrhage and I black out from exhaustion. The next thing I know I am being moved on to a metal trolley. In my brain, I am one hundred per cent sure that I’m in heaven.

I am dead. The surgery has failed. It’s my dead body on this trolley, waiting to be put in a bag.

In a recovery room, I gradually came to, incapacitated on the bed, in a huge amount of physical pain and without my baby, who was stable in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Leo-Hunter Libbey had been born at 9.44am, weighing 7lb on the nose. He’d had to be resuscitated after being pulled out of me because he’d stopped breathing. But he was, apparently, recovering well. He was going to be OK.

Not that I asked about him. My brain didn’t have the capacity or the initiative to consider my child. I couldn’t make sense of what I had just witnessed and how the hell I was still alive having been subjected to such savagery.

It wasn’t until the next morning I was heaved into a wheelchair and pushed, screaming in pain, to NICU to meet Leo.

He had tubes attached to him and was in a glass incubator, but he looked strong and healthy.

I touched his perfect little hand through the glass, suddenly overcome. The numbness I’d been submerged in was replaced by a heavy sadness that this was how things had turned out.

I was heartbroken for both of us.

Louise Thompson’s memoir Lucky will be published by Ebury Spotlight on May 23, £22. To pre-order a copy for £18.70 until 26 May, go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937. Free UK delivery on orders over £25

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