(Warning - hideously
long, and not very 'protective bubble'-friendly.)
Morris' birth story was supposed to start on Wednesday night – and in a way, I suppose, it did. I was 40+2, nervous about having a big/late baby, and had already spent a week walking on kerbs, chugging raspberry leaf tea and getting far too familiar with evening primrose oil capsules.
On the Wednesday morning I had some bloody show – a phenomenon which, in my last birth, had been followed by labour within the day. So I spent Wednesday in a haze of anticipation, putting the finishing touches on some baby clothes I'd sewn, packing for the birthing centre and watching the occasional episode of One Born Every Minute on YouTube in order to get into the spirit of things.
That evening was idyllic. The house was clean, we had a lovely homecooked meal with dessert, and the kids chatted happily about the baby being born that night. I started jotting down the times of my barely-there contractions. I was Ready.
I was still Ready a few hours later, when I decided to follow the time-honoured advice to grab a few hours of sleep while I could. I was Ready when I woke up ten times during the night with pregnancy insomnia or (occasionally) decent contractions. And I was murderously beyond Ready when morning dawned and my contractions dwindled to one an hour.
They didn't pick up again until that night. Thursday night at our house is Pig Night, on which the kids get to pick the meal and we watch a children's movie. On this particular Pig Night we were having spaghetti bolognaise followed by homemade straciatella ice cream, and watching Andre. Only by the time we were halfway through making the mince, my contractions became regular and grunty enough that I realised the evening wasn't going to work out as planned.
We called Gran. Gran had been rendered a little nervous by the comparative speed of Miles' birth (we headed to the birth centre at 12 and he came at 3 – not lightning fast, but a good improvement on Rowan's 18-hour marathon!); so she turned up quickly and kept nervously recommending we leave. I started to get nervous in turn, so we left her serving up the spaghetti and beat a hasty retreat.
Well, we would have; except DH, in the dark, rapidly backed the car out of the driveway into the side of Gran's car. Oops. Short pause while he ran inside to confess and I had a fit of giggles.
It wasn't an auspicious beginning. But we got to the birthing centre without further mishap, despite rain and Fieldays traffic. The birthing centre is lovely – calm and warm, with terra-cotta-coloured walls and arty black-and-white photos of babies all over the place. It feels like a hotel, not at all hospitally, and I'm extremely fond of it.
Unfortunately once we got there, my contractions basically stopped. We got settled in; Bnonn unpacked (and promptly dove into) the birth snacks he'd been lovingly collecting for weeks; I realised I'd left my handbag at home, which was a minor calamity as it contained my chapstick; and we discovered the birthing centre CD players were so ancient they didn't recognise the CD-R on which Bnonn had burned my carefully-selected labour playlist.
So Bnonn sent out an APB on Facebook for a speaker and began recreating said playlist on YouTube. This took a good two hours.
Two friends showed up at the same time with speakers, and remembering which songs I'd wanted was quite a good distraction, really – it reminded me of that party game where you have to remember all the items on the tray. I did suspect Bnonn was diving into the project partly because he was more comfortable with technology than back-massage; but never mind, the contractions weren't that bad.
Which was the problem. They were getting stronger – sort of – and closer together – sometimes – but nothing resembling a regular pattern. It's funny – with Rowan's induced birth, I spent labour fighting the contractions and wanting them to go away. With Miles' birth I put a ton of mental energy into staying on top of them and welcoming them. With this birth I came full circle and spent the whole time hunting them down!
So we climbed stairs (oh, so many stairs!) I rocked and swayed and discovered little tricks, like being able to induce a contraction by moving rapidly from a hands-and-knees position to upright. The birthing tub had a step built around it, and I walked around it with one foot on the step. I drank like a fish to make sure dehydration wasn't a factor. And with every contraction I lifted the baby and rocked forward to correct his still-annoyingly-posterior lie.
For the first few hours it was kind of fun. I felt in control and proactive. The birthing centre was lovely and calm, and our midwife basically left us to it, only coming in every half an hour to listen with the doppler. The music worked surprisingly well as pain relief, as did my beloved wheatie-bag.
But eventually I started to get tired – I was moving around a lot and had had next to no sleep the night before, remember! I asked the midwife to check me – voluntarily. And I hate internal exams. This one wasn't pleasant (I sucked heartily of the gas and air), but “4-5 cm and very stretchy” was promising.
My midwife suggested I try to really ramp things up. Honestly, in retrospect I should have just stopped trying for a few hours, had a nap and waited for labour to pick up by itself. But I was afraid of wasting the midwife's time, afraid of being sent home and seriously tired of being pregnant.
So, no more lazily lounging on the bed after each doppler-ing. No more 'once up and down the stairs and then back to the room'. Bnonn and I climbed those stairs – rapidly – I don't even know how many times. Let's just say he's a mountain-biker and his calves were killing him the next day! We'd blitz up and down them until a contraction came; he'd 'chung' my hips and bottom through it (an Ina May thing I always wanted to try – I was very pleased that it worked!); and then we'd keep on going, pausing only every fifteen minutes so I could rehydrate.
Regrettably, the glass-fronted staff room was right in front of the stairs. The midwives kept grinning at us as we laboured – my midwife said some of the older ones were commenting that they couldn't climb those stairs as fast as me while not pregnant! (Neither could I, probably. Nothing like motivation!)
The whole time, Bnonn was carefully timing the contractions. (Again, he enjoyed it – it gave him something manly to do. He found a contraction-timing app, even, and was disappointed when I wouldn't use it – you had to input when each contraction started and stopped, which I found intrusive and hard to judge. I insisted we stick to pen-and-paper, and the resulting neat columns now give me a great sense of pleasure. I should really count 'em all up so I can hold the total over Morris' head when he misbehaves.)
Eventually we got to the apparently magic three-contractions-in-ten-minutes mark, and things finally seemed to be chugging along on their own. I allowed myself the luxury of a half-hour (between doppler-ings) in the shower, with the hand-held shower-head playing on my lower back or tummy during contractions. It was utter bliss. I stood there calmly shouting “Contraction!” through the bathroom door at Bnonn, and hearing “OK!” in between snatches of Spanish. Because my husband had chosen labour as a time to really get into this Spanish-learning app on his tablet. He's a strange man.
The contractions were definitely intense by now, though, and when I started to feel a bit of pressure during them I was thrilled. This must be transition! I proudly reported this to my midwife as she wrested me from the shower to be dopplered. She was annoyingly dampening, telling me it could just be pressure from the bag of waters or the baby's head descending. Well. Hmph. But it couldn't be long now, surely? I was getting so tired!
It could. And here's where everything started to fall apart. I was just so sleepy! I started to feel like I was in some hellish Twilight Zone where I'd be in labour forever. I wanted it to be over – not because of the pain, just so I could go to bed! And to top it off, I'd been saving the gas for when the pain got really bad. But I tried it once, while having a contraction on the birth ball, and it made me feel nauseated and faint and horrible. Having that ace up my sleeve taken away was dismaying, to say the least.
At about 12:30 in the morning we agreed to break my waters. Again, not an intervention I'd normally want, but anything to get things over with. She checked me first – of course I was hoping she'd say “Never mind, you're fully dilated!”, but nope. 6-7. Gah.
From there on it was just plain tough. I went back into the shower. The water still helped, and I was trying to be very Hypnobabies about it all, consciously relaxing and flapping my wrists and all, but boy, it hurt! I started singing through contractions – a few actual songs, then a vaguely Gregorian sort of oohing I made up as I went along, trying to keep my throat open. Probably sounded as eerie as heck from the other side of the bathroom door! I'm not sure it really helped with the pain, but it probably helped me maintain some semblance of sanity.
In between contractions I'd give myself stern talkings-to in birthing-lingo cliche. “The only way out is through”; “You did that one, you can do the next one”; “Here it comes, let's do this”. But I could feel the feral, victimy, whiny child lurking behind it all.
She came out at transition, of course. Not too overtly, I hope, but I started feeling this really outraged sense of “How can this possibly be happining to meee?” I made puppy-dog eyes at Bnonn, who had finally come to join me in the bathroom for company. I retained barely enough dignity to avoid saying “I'm never doing this again!”, true, but I was overwhelmed with a profound sense of horror at the thought that if I ever had another baby I would have to do it again, and how could anyone ask that of me, it was too horrific, it just wasn't fair!
To make matters worse, my midwife – who up until then I'd rather liked – didn't seem to be appreciating my suffering. At one point I ended up on my knees on the shower floor, and asked if she could hold the shower head against my lower back. She did... for a while. Then she asked “Do you really need this water?” “YES”, I muttered – it was like asking “Do you really need the anaesthetic?” during a C-section! But a few minutes later she muttered half to herself “I can't do this any more” and took it away. I came very close to snapping “Awww, is your arm sore?”, but then a contraction hit and the pain – ten times worse without the water – blew me away from rational speech. But the injustice of it rankled.
Worse, a few minutes later she told me I'd have to stand up, because she couldn't see properly while I was in that position. (Actually what she said was “I can't see any progress from here”, which for a horrible minute I took to mean “there isn't any progress happening”, which didn't help my mental state.)
I didn't mean to be disobedient, but standing up seemed like a ludicrous impossibility. I think I just flat-out dismissed the suggestion from my mind as absurd, and she had to repeat herself and enlist Bnonn's help to get me on my feet.
I wish she hadn't. Giving birth standing with Miles had been empowering and awesome, but I wasn't exactly standing standing – I was more hanging by one armpit from a birth sling, over a birth pool.
The bathroom didn't have a birth sling, and I couldn't see myself walking all the way (ten feet!) to the other room where the sling was – plus, I was still hoping the shower-head would find its way back to me. So I ended up standing very awkwardly hanging onto Bnonn's neck for dear life. Worse, whether due to tiredness or stress or just plain ol' transition, my legs were shaking badly.
So when I started pushing – and I realise this sounds odd – I was not only overwhelmed with the agony of it all, I couldn't get comfy. I tried clutching Bnonn around the chest, around one arm, around the neck – it all just felt wrong and wobbly and like I was going to fall down and also, incidentally, die. Of the pain. Did I mention the pain?
At this point my midwife summoned another midwife (birthing centre policy). It was clear the baby was finally coming; I tried to focus on the whole “meet your baby”, “this will be over soon” thing, but it wasn't exactly coming through loud and clear.
Apparently my legs were too close together. My midwife kept telling me to put them further apart and squat. I felt like I was doing the splits already, but I tried. Eventually she had me put one leg up on a chair, which helped a bit. But oh, the pain.
I roared and panted and made anguished squeezy sounds. My midwife made the usual noises - “Well done. You're doing so well.” She sounded kind of bored. Having watched (as previously mentioned) rather a lot of One Born Every Minute recently, I didn't buy it.
Finally his head was out. Then his shoulders got stuck. The other midwife held my leg because I was shaking so ridiculously. More One Born Every Minute lingo. “Push, push, push, push, push! Keep it coming! Nice big push, BIG push!” I can understand why midwives have to repeat themselves so much – I'm pretty sure I ignored about 70% of it. It just didn't seem relevant to my current otherworldly situation.
His shoulders and body came out in one big rush. With one swift, rather impressive movement the midwife caught him and swooped him up onto my chest in a towel. I had a split second of “Seriously, you expect me to hold a fragile newborn when I'm this shaky?” followed by “Well hey, they take skin-to-skin seriously; cool”; automatically I grabbed him. Luckily I was still being held up by Bnonn and a midwife.
Interesting fact? When I had Miles, my waters broke during labour, but most of them were 'corked' behind his head, so he was born in a gush of fluid. Morris was also born in a gush, but this time it was blood. “Whoa”, I thought. I was instantly stabbed in the thigh and hustled over to the bed, clutching my baby and leaving an impressive trail of gore.
My midwife started rubbing my tummy vigorously; a second later, someone gave me another shot. I'd never had a managed third stage before; luckily I was still so dazed and shell-shocked from the birth that the unpleasantness of it all rather went over my head. Within a few minutes I'd delivered the placenta.
I kept peering vaguely at the baby under the towel on my chest. He appeared purplish, largeish and cross. It was 3 AM.
The midwife checked me (gas and air again – I do like it under the right circumstances!) To my severe annoyance I had a tear – another new experience for me. It was only a small second-degree tear, but it did need stitching up. I jokingly asked my midwife if she sewed, and she said seriously “I do! I sew, and cross-stitch, and knit, and crochet... you're in good hands.” And it must be said that she was right – at least, the healing so far has been far less atrocious than I expected.
Eventually we got around to weighing the baby. 9 pounds 14! Well, no wonder. And on further examination he was indeed a porker – fat at the back of the neck, fat on the fingers, fat on the shoulders. Not one of your petite, delicate babies – more like Mr Plod.
I was given an hour or two to breastfeed and regain the ability to stand before we transferred to the postnatal rooms. Bnonn immediately volunteered to go out to the all-night kebab place for a well-deserved dinner. Unfortunately it shut early that night for once, and we ended up making do with McDonalds! Oh well – more traumatic things had happened that night.
Today's Monday. Unbelievably, Morris is only three days old! The birth, the two days at the birthing centre, even coming home seem like vague, fuzzy memories already. The horrific parts of the birth are – scarily – beginning to recede. Morris is utterly delightful – he has the most expressive little face, and how can you not love a baby whose cheeks are apparently liquid and ooze over the collar of his onesie when you tip him?