(Yes, this is long. I didn't want to forget anything!)
Miles' birth story really begins more than three years ago, when I gave birth to my daughter Rowan. Rowan's birth was planned in an enthusiastic, if rather naïve, crunchy spirit – it was going to be a drug-free home waterbirth, peaceful and serene. At 39 weeks, however, I developed fulminating pre-eclampsia and had to be induced. Rowan was born in the dingy, subterranean rooms of a maternity ward that was undergoing renovation. I laboured to the soothing sound of chainsaws, feeling betrayed, helpless and generally a snivelling, abject mass of self-pity. Months after the birth, I would go into panic attacks at the thought of having another baby.
Obviously, I got over that in the end. Still, getting pregnant with Miles was a brave step on my part – rewarded, unfortunately, with nine months of fainting, fatigue, loss of appetite and bouts of suicidal depression. So, y'know... that was fun.
I read up a lot on childbirth – Ina May Gaskin, Michel Odent, all the big names. I started practicing Hypnobabies early on. I struggled to maintain a zen-like calm about my pregnancy, despite the fact that my baby seemed determined to keep me in a state of panic – wrapping the cord multiple times around his neck for the 20-week ultrasound, flipping transverse at 37 weeks and maintaining an unstable lie for sometime thereafter, and even “faking” IUGR for a couple of weeks, just for kicks. I decided that the universe darn well owed me a Healing Birth, thank you very m uch. In the back of my mind, I knew that if the birth went like Rowan's, Miles would probably be our last baby. I wanted more children, but I didn't think my brain could take more births like that.
By the time I hit 40 weeks, I was experiencing the typical “not looking forward to childbirth, but really fed up with being pregnant” seesaw. My one caveat – I didn't want the baby to be born on June 17, my birthday. In early pregnancy, with a due date of June 9, it seemed highly unlikely... but as my due date came and went, the possibility loomed large. I bought an enormous bottle of evening primrose oil, went for long walks and thought cervix-opening thoughts. Nothing.
On June 16, I was 41 weeks. I woke up feeling vaguely cheated that the full moon of the night before had failed to wrest the baby from my womb. Ten minutes later, I was Googling “how long between bloody show and labour?”. The answer was, unhelpfully, anywhere from “almost immediately” to “three or four weeks”. Nevertheless, I decided to act as if labour were imminent. Rowan and I baked a chocolate banana cake, to persuade the birthing centre staff not to slip strychnine into my apple juice; I cleaned the house a bit in a vague sort of way, forced down some of that hideous brew known as Third Trimester Tea, did a Hypnobabies Fear Release session to ensure my uterus wouldn't explode, and went for a long walk in the park. Erring on the side of caution, I also whipped up a batch of chocolate mousse for my birthday dessert the next day.
By evening I'd pretty much given up, and switched with a violent clash of gears from “Come on baby, come out” to “Fine, stay in until Saturday”. Naturally, that's when my contractions started. At first they were almost indistinguishable from Braxton-Hicks, and it wasn't until 8 o'clock, when we were eating dinner and watching QI, that I started to time them – more out of curiosity than anything. They didn't really hurt, but they were pretty close together – four minutes, six minutes, three minutes – and I started to realise that this was it, and that my birthday plans now included ejecting a baby from my womb.
DH was thrilled. Not at the prospect of holding his newborn son, but at the prospect of getting to eat my birthday mousse a day early! I figured if we were going to be at the birthing centre for the next two days, we may as well eat it – so after half an hour of DH nagging “Are the contractions getting closer?” we bust it out, and consumed it happily while watching Blackadder – a show I'd been saving for labour, in the hopes it might take my mind off things. Every few minutes I'd pause the show to note down another contraction, or to reheat my wheatie bag in the microwave, but it was no big deal – nothing like early labour with DD, where I felt miserable and helpless from the get-go.
At midnight, still feeling vaguely like I was being overdramatic, I decided to call Mum. I figured if she were going to come over that night, it may as well be at midnight as 3AM. We'd considered having Rowan at the birth, but it was late, she was sleepy and it just didn't seem like the thing to do. Mum came around swiftly, trying tactfully not to look excited, and we spent the next hour or so vaguely puttering around loading the car with birth gear and reheating my wheatie bag every ten minutes, while Mum sipped herbal tea and knitted calmly on the window seat. The contractions still weren't awful, but I eventally had one or two “bad” ones and decided to call Julia (our midwife). She was cheerful and told us to go right on ahead to the birthing centre.
The drive there was a little nervewracking, as DH doesn't technically have his licence. He can drive just fine, but we didn't want to be pulled over on the way! Fortunately, being 1:30AM, the roads were pretty much empty... although we did get a couple of drunks trying to drag us off at the lights! The birthing centre was only a five-minute drive away in any case, and I only had one contraction in the car.
The birthing centre was quiet, and I had a wee bit of trouble getting buzzed in; but eventually a midwife materialised and ushered me in while DH was parking. She led me straight to the birth room, which was pleasant – not too clinical, dimly lit, with a CD player and a rather gorgeous photo of tandem-nursing twins on the wall – and hung about until Julia showed up, looking remarkably put-together given the time of night, with high-heeled boots and makeup. (Side-note: I have yet to meet a midwife who didn't have a short, sensible haircut. Anyone?)
I should say here, I'd been a little iffy about Julia during my pregnancy. Not that there was anything wrong with her, at all – I just didn't feel we clicked, and was somewhat sad at not having my previous midwife (who was away in June for a midwifery conference, so couldn't take my case). Nevertheless, during the birth Julia was awesome. Respecful, hands-off, quiet – she pretty much stood back and let me do my thing, and it was great.
Julia listened to the baby briefly with a doppler, just through two contractions – a vast improvement on the forty-five minute monitoring stints I had at DD's birth! She knelt and help the doppler to my tummy while I swayed – none of this straps-over-the-tummy, lying-on-the-bed nonsense. Marvellous.
It was about this point that I realised a regrettable truth: despite months of practicing Hypnobabies.this wasn't going to be one of those pain-free childbirths. Oh well. I hadn't really expected it to – which may have been the problem, I suppose. What can I say? My subconscious is a wily and mulish beast.
I knelt on a pillow by the bed, leaning my head and elbows on the bed, and swayed my hips through the contractions. Then I knelt on a chair by the bed and leaned my head and elbows on a pile of pillows on the bed, and rocked back and forth through contractions. Every contraction required adjustment – a position that worked for one felt too horizontal for the next, or a motion that was soothing one minute would be nauseating the next. Then during a contraction I felt a small gush as my waters broke. There was very little fluid – the baby's head was too engaged. I was rather excited – I'd had AROM with my previous birth, and suddenly it felt like my body was genuinely doing it.
The contractions were nasty enough now that I was looking forward to the birth pool. The staff midwife had filled the pool as soon as I arrived – I didn't feel I was far enough along to get in, but figured it would take an hour or two to fill. As it happened, it took about ten minutes – figures that a birth centre would have decent water pressure, really! I asked Julia whether she thought it would be OK to hop in; she looked a bit doubtful and offered me an internal exam to check (no, thank you!), but said that I could always try it and hop out again if it was slowing things down. I decided ro leave it for a few more contractions, but then disappeared antisocially into the bathroom and came out wearing only a bra and towel.
I decided not to make DH get in the tub with me, to begin with. The water was nice, but not the immediate blissful relief so many waterbirthers experience. I asked for it to be hotter and Julia added some more hot water, but when the contractions came along it just wasn't hot enough. The searing heat of a really well-nuked wheatie bag was just way better! (After the birth, I noticed I'd actually burned a big pink patch on my tummy with that wheatie bag! Totally worth it.) I kept moving about – hands and knees, sitting with my legs to one side, leaning on the edge, getting more restless through each contraction.
At this point, it was getting really hard. With Rowan's birth, at this point my mental state was pretty much craven abject snivelling, with a healthy dose of victim-complex thrown in. This time, at least, I had strategies. Just like my physical position, my strategies shifted with every contraction. Most of my Hypnobabies tools were useless, quite frankly. My Special Place? Yeah, no. Visualising each “birthing wave” as only pressure and tightening, not pain? Not happening. My light switch? I couldn't concentrate hard enough to make it work. I'd vaguely intended to listen to the Hypnobabies tracks dyring labour, but at the time I felt it would be cloying and intrusive (in fact, I remember thinking it would be "like eating cheesecake"; an odd comparison to make, because I love cheesecake... but apparently not during labour).
Oddly enough, the one cue that did work was the “Relax” cue – which DH and I had barely practiced! He'd squeeze my shoulder firmly and say “Relax” between contractions, and it helped me realise when I was tensing up.
Mostly, though, I was running through information gleaned from Ina May Gaskin, Michel Odent and other such birthy gurus. I kept thinking various mantras and catch-phrases - “This is an interesting sensation that requires my full attention”, “Keep your jaw loose”, “Every contraction is one you don't have to do again”, “Shake away the pain”. At one point I shook my tummy with both hands; at another I flapped my hands and wrists to keep them loose. In retrospect, I must have looked like a right loony. I focused on enjoying the rest between contractions, trying to welcome each new one as it came, and recognising the peak of each wave. I willed my cervix to open – not easy, as despite having seen many a diagram of female anatomy, I've never been 100% confident on where exactly my cervix is!
Eventually I decided the birth pool just wasn't cutting it, and decided to labour on the toilet instead. I tactfully tried to kick Julia out of the room and she tactfully took the hint; DH left too, but then came back a moment later to give me sips of water.
Strange things were beginning to annoy me. The toilet was too high. DH got me a low stool – nope, now my legs were too high. He brought me a padded cushion from the window seat. That was the right height, but after the next contraction I ended up kneeling on it instead, with my elbows resting on the stool. More wheatie bag comfort on my lower back, but DH just couldn't press hard enough. (After the birth, he was amazed he didn't break me with how hard he was pushing – I tend to bruise easily and scream if he tries to give me a back massage. At the time, it didn't feel nearly hard enough, and I kept on taking over myself and trying to knead the wheatie bag into my spine.)
I started vocalising – low-toned, open-throated “oh-oh-oh” sounds like Ina May had taught me. (Again with the “coming across as a right loony” theme, which figures large in this labour.) I tried saying “Ooooopen” a few times, but couldn't quite do it with a straight face, so I gave up... “Peeeeaaaace” never even got a chance.
At this point I started to lose it a little. It HURT. I said to Julia “My legs are shaking”, hoping she'd say “That's because you're in transition” - even though I knew it was way too early for that – but she diplomatically replied “That's because your body's working so hard to get the baby out”. Darn. A note of complaint crept into my vocalisations, and Julia started saying soothing things after each contraction. “You're doing a fantastic job”; “You're working so well with your body”.
Suddenly one particularly nasty contraction ended with a grunt, and me saying in panicked tones “I'm pushing!” Julia said “That's OK”, and I suddenly felt a great wave of amazement and relief that it was almost over, so soon! I snapped back into organisational mode and said “I'd better get in the tub; DH, can you come in with me?”
DH changed rapidly into his boardshorts, and Julia helped me back into the pool. I was barely in it, standing up, when the next pushing contraction came. DH stood behind me, holding the wheatie bag to my tummy, while Julia struggled with the birth sling, which I'd suddenly decided I wanted very badly. It was hanging by a carabena over the birth pool – a big double length of fabric, which could be knotted together at different heights to make a swing or just a rope. I wanted it knotted high, so I could hang in it from my armpits (no, really, it's a valid technique); but Julia tied the knot too low to begin with, and by the time she'd retied it I'd changed my mind again. I ended up hooking one arm through it and just pulling on it like a madwoman; oddly, it helped.
I still hadn't sat down in the pool. Julia warned me that I had to make a decision; I couldn't stand up halfway through birthing, or decide to sit down once the baby's head was out. I'd been planning a waterbirth, but decided on the spot that there was no way I was moving from my standing position. (Later I recalled reading a very interesting bit from Michel Odent about the need to be upright when birth was imminent. I guess he was right!)
With DD, the pushing had come as a relief – especially after an hour of being told not to push. This time, it was far more painful than I'd remembered. “Vocalisation” my eyeball, I was making anguished grunts. Internal monologue: AAAAAARGH this hurts, I'm going to tear; no, I'm NOT going to tear, ooooopen, loose, Ina May, this is nearly over, AAARRGH the pain, etc.
Julia said “Do you want to feel your baby?” and I vaguely reached down to feel the head as it crowned, but just felt mooshy wetness and decided not to explore. I've never fancied the idea of watching one's baby be born with a mirror, and touching the emerging baby wasn't doing it for me either.
A few more pushes - DH tried the "Relax" cue on me during a pushing contraction, which even at the time was hilarious! - and he was out! Julia was working busily to catch the baby, which was just as well as it was a bit of a plummet to the birth pool! I caught a glimpse of greyish, slimy-looking flesh; a torrent of amniotic fluid poured out with the baby; and we sank down exhausted into a birth pool that was by now far from pristine.
Later, looking over my birth notes, I remembered that Julia had quietly buzzed for a staff midwife as the baby was crowning. Someone entered the dark room discreetly, hung around for a few minutes and then left. I barely noticed.
With DD, my first thoughts had been a combination of “Thank goodness that's over!” and “Thank goodness she's cute”. In keeping with the whole healing-birth theme, I should theoretically have greeted this baby with an overwhelming rush of oxytocic love. Instead, I regret to say, it was more a combination of “Thank goodness that's over” and “Hmm, this one's not so cute”. DH's comment was “Wow, he's huge!” It was 3:07 on my birthday – it was less than two hours since we'd arrived at the birth centre. I couldn't believe it.
After that, things slowed down and felt strangely anticlimactic. DH and I passed the baby back and forth. A few more nasty contractions hit me – I felt unreasonably betrayed, as if it should be a universal law that the pain stops immediately after birth! - and eventually delivered the placenta, or mostly. It wouldn't quite come away, but Julia didn't seem worried, so I just hung out in the birth pool waiting for another contraction to deliver it completely.The cord stopped pulsing, and DH cut it. DH got out to shower and dress. The baby was gurgling a bit, and Julia considered giving him a whiff of oxygen to help him cough out the mucus from his lungs – but upon taking him away he screamed lustily, and she said “Oh well, that did the job” and brought him back! He breastfed for a wee bit. Eventually she took him away to wrap him in a blanket. I was getting a bit bored waiting for the placenta to finish detaching, so Julia had me squat over a dish and pulled gently. It turned out the membranes hadn't quite detached; when they finally came away there was a fair amount of blood in the dish.
Julia helped me to the bed. The baby latched on again like a pro, and proceeded to nurse for a solid hour. Julia donned gloves and proceeded to perform what can only be described as an autopsy on the placenta. It was fascinating. A few pieces of the placenta were dead and white, possibly from an infarction – apparently not a problem, as the rest of the placenta was perfectly healthy (and huge!). Julia measured the blood in the container and it came to a litre (!), so she warned me to keep taking my iron supplements.
Then she checked me for tears, which made me rather nervy – I have a bit of a phobia about being stitched up. Fortunately, I didn't have a scratch!
A week or so before the baby was born, Julia guesstimated his weight at 8 to 8.5 pounds. Rowan was 8 pounds 7, induced at 39+4, so it seemed reasonable. After he was born Julia and DH kept looking at him and saying “You know, he really is quite big...” When we finally got around to weighing him, he was 9 pounds 6! We tried to dress him in a little vest I'd knitted, and it barely did up over his tummy. Oh well!
The baby had now been evicted for nearly two hours, and I was sleepy. It was nice not to have him whisked away to be examined, and we were all quite happy hanging out in the dim lights of the birthing room, but well, it was 5AM. So I took a shower, we got the baby swaddled up, and we all passed out for a few hours. In theory we should have gone to the postnatal rooms, but they were all full; we ended up moving the next morning.
At about 7AM I woke up again, and couldn't get back to sleep. I was processing the birth. For a while I honestly didn't know what to think about it - it was almost like I had to decide whether it was a Healing Birth or whether I should be further traumatised, so I could file the birth away accordingly and get some sleep! A small part of me still felt slightly broken by the sheer pain of it all; another part was just shocked and grateful that it was all over so soon; and increasingly I felt proud at having (mostly) not succumbed to my dysfunctional brain, and using many of the techniques I'd read about over the preceding months. I was happy about all the plans I'd managed to fulfil – silly little things like wearing my favourite hairstyle, bringing a cake along for the birthing centre staff, and taking cal/mag tablets every hour during labour. I was surprised by the plans that I'd scrapped – labouring and birthing in water, giving birth squatting, and listening to my Hypnobabies tracks during labour. I was surprised that I wanted to listen to music during labour (Amici Defined, twice – lovely!); surprised that the pushing phase was more painful this time than last; and over all, incredibly glad I wasn't pregnant any more!
Later I asked DH what he'd thought about the birth, and he replied cautiously that he thought it was "quick and merciful". I could live with that. Like Rowan's birth, Miles' birth brought us close together - but this time the shared experience was more about accomplishment, and less about suffering. Apparently transition did make an impression on DH, though - he offered to let me use a baby name he'd been vetoing for months! Sadly, I knew he didn't really like it, and didn't want to use labour as a ploy to get my own way; so we settled on Miles, a name which had been our top contender for a while. Miles David, after my father - not the jazz musician, but we don't mind the connotation!