Anna is currently learning how to manage a small curious baby and a horrific stinking cold.
I had decided some point midway through pregnancy that my baby was going to arrive 6 days before my due date, on December the 29th 2011. It seemed like the kind of date a baby of mine would like to arrive, and seemed like something I could look forward to, hold on to, and have some control over. I liked the idea that if I picked a date, and aimed for it hard enough, that’s when my baby would arrive.
I was, of course, wrong.
Not only had my baby decided not to turn up on December 29th, he’d also decided against turning up on my due date of January 4th, even though we tried to tempt fate by arranging to go to the theatre that night. And the days ticked by, with frequent phone calls from family and IMs from friends online. Nothing. So in the afternoon of January 9th, we went for my 40-week midwife appointment. She’d performed an exam, declared me to be 1cm dilated, done a sweep, and given me a sheaf of photocopied leaflets about the induction that I’d be needing to book in for unless things got moving by themselves within a few days. Having planned a home birth, and having everything in place and set up for it, we wanted to avoid that as much as possible. Not that I have anything against hospitals – as with any home birth, I knew there was a fair chance we’d end up there – but given that we live in a health authority where home births are relatively common and extremely well supported, there seemed no reason not to try for one – I’d be more relaxed at home, I’d feel less intimidated about moving around and making noise, and, most importantly, no one would separate my partner and I after the birth; no one would send him home and leave me lying in a hospital bed with no idea what to do with this new baby.
We’d walked home, briskly, carried on with some work.
My waters broke on Monday evening, at 7pm. My partner Bobbie had just, ten minutes before, phoned for a curry. I’d been sitting on the birthing ball (well, exercise ball) in my living room, gently bouncing up and down watching television when suddenly, something popped. B fetched towels, and I stood there, in the middle of the floor, not knowing what to do. Stand up? Sit down? Clench? Still have the curry?
I knew I was supposed to phone the labour ward when my waters broke, but also knew the 36-hour-to-induction clock was ticking from whenever I did. So we decided to wait until later in the evening. Boj walked to the curry place to pick it up. I stood there, stunned and excited and scared and aware that this was it. Our baby, Doozer (as we’d been calling him) would be arriving. And soon. I grabbed some towels that B had thrown to me on his way out. Tried sitting down. Standing up. Sitting down. I phoned my mum, my sister. I phoned our doula, just to keep her informed. I tried to remember everything I’d been taught in birth classes, and everything I’d read. I couldn’t remember a thing. But here we were. This was it.
But, of course, this wasn’t it, though. In my NCT class we’d been warned that, unlike in the movies, waters often didn’t break until way after labour was established – but hadn’t really thought through the information that waters can break way, way before labour starts. so while there was a gush of water, and my stomach felt flatter and emptier than in months, there were no contractions. Nothing. So we ate the curry, phoned the labour ward, went to bed, and slept for 8 hours. This was not what I was expecting from labour.
At 8am on the Tuesday, the community midwife came round. She asked about the waters breaking, and checked the pad I was wearing to see if there was any discolouration to the waters. Then she booked me in at the hospital for an induction the next morning at 11. The clock was ticking.
The rest of the day was spent in the spare room, the room we’d already started setting up for labour. Lights dim, curtains drawn, a candle lit and a floor mostly covered in tarpaulin, I spent my time sending emails that I didn’t know when I’d next get the opportunity to send, napping, nippling, bouncing on the birth ball, mainlining raspberry leaf tea and listening to labour-inducing music. As night fell, we went for a march down to the silent seafront, one man and his very large companion from the ministry of silly walks, raising her knees high and stepping hard, feet outturned with each downstep, trying to encourage Doozer downward.
I started feeling Braxton HIcks type twinges regularly at about 11pm on Tuesday. Or rather, soft cramps, like gentle period pains – not painful, but noticeable. By midnight we realised they were coming in a pattern, every 12 minutes or so. We went to bed, and slept, lightly, too excited to sleep much, but knowing that, if this was it, we’d be able to stay at home rather than attend our booked 11am induction. And, whatever happened, Doozer was on his way.
By 4.30 I couldn’t sleep in our bed any more – the contractions, if that’s what they were (I was never convinced, although the eventual arrival of a baby should have tipped me off) though not painful or much more frequent, were noticeable enough to raise my excitement and deny me any more sleep. We moved into the spare room, put music on, and lay on the bed, waterproof covers crinkling under the old sheets. At 6 or thereabouts we called the labour ward, to ask for a community midwife to come and check that we didn’t need to turn up for the induction.
At 7.30am or so, she arrived, first visit of the day. She did an exam, declared me to be 4cm dilated – did a painful sweep (“And now you’re 5cm!” “Ow. Thanks.”) dropped the useful tip of using a breast-pump rather than fingers for nipple stimulation in order to help labour along (“Quicker, and FAR less boring.”), then she phoned the labour ward to let them know we wouldn’t be coming in for induction, and left again.
The contractions, still milder than I ever expected, kept coming, every 10 minutes, then every nine. We broke out the breast pump. It noticeably increased the intensity of the contractions, but still not to anything I thought “real”. I kept thinking a midwife would turn up and say “Oh no, you’re just making it up, these aren’t proper contractions at all”. I don’t know what I was expecting, but rather than being painful, per se, they were like waves – the main indication that was one was arrving was that I’d feel the need to move. And I just kept moving: swaying from side to side, rocking back and forth on the ball, crouching on all fours rotating my pelvis. Having been informed by the midwife that Doozer was still lying with his back on the right rather than the left, I spent time between contractions trying to swing him – crab-walking up and down the stairs, doing handstands on the stairs while B held me steady, leaning on the ball and bouncing gently, getting B to use a scarf to lift the weight of the bump and try and shuggle Doozer round (I forget what this is called, but it’s bloody lovely and very, very comfortable).
At lunchtime, when the contractions were closer to 7 minutes apart, and both of us were feeling a bit tired, having been at it a while, we called Agnes, our doula, and told her we were ready for her to come now. We’d met Agnes through our NCT classes – she was our teacher for the birth class – and feeling that she was the right mix of sensible, rational, funny and supportive, we engaged her as our birth doula.
Though she’d been in hospital for two nights with another client (whose due date had been a safe distance from mine, but apparently our babies had not been informed of this), the other baby was literally just arriving as I rang. Half an hour later, Agnes arrived and sat with me while Bobbie slept a while, then went through the birthplan with Bobbie while I catnapped between contractions.
That was one of the surprises, to me. The fact that I wanted time on my own, and that that was ok. I had imagined labour as being a time surrounded by people very closely all DOING things and being very engaged with me ALL THE TIME (which isn’t something I like at all) – but I was able to say “I want some time alone, just to concentrate.” – and everyone would disappear down to the kitchen to have a cup of tea. Of course, there were also a couple of times when Agnes, having presented at some other point the theory that the natural chemicals found in semen might help to open the cervix even more effectively if swallowed, tried to leave us alone for some ‘private time’, although stopped after being assured, very firmly, that, frankly, no one was in the mood for a blow job.
Labour seemed to be progressing, in that the contractions were getting closer together, but they weren’t getting noticably more intense. They made me want to move around, to squat, shift around, walk the stairs. but not hurt. I realise now – as I realised then – but it seemed to me as if something wasn’t correct. It was so far from what I’d been told, and what I’d been expecting, I thought that somehow, this must be wrong.
Still, the frequency of the contractions continued to increase. When it got to 5 minutes, we called the labour ward, and they said the community midwife would be with us shortly. She arrived around 3.30, I believe. After asking a few questions, observing a couple of contractions and excusing herself to read my notes and birth plan, I asked Agnes if she could take the community midwife downstairs and give her some tea. We carried on labouring upstairs, B and I, just taking contractions one at a time, walking the stairs often, and relaxing inbetween curled up on the bed. At some point in here Agnes brought me a wholewheat pancake with maple syrup – the only food I’d seen since breakfast – which I initially refused, then inhaled as soon as I’d taken a first bite.
Some time between 4.30 and 5, the pain started. That pain that I’d been complaining about lacking earlier, plus some extra, just for good measure, arrived. It was like someone was firing a laser directly at the small of my back, and it was burning through the skin, and the flesh, and searing through the bone. It wasn’t very nice. I didn’t like it. I wanted the other, less hurty contractions back. Suddenly I realised what people had meant about using the downtime between contractions to pause, and collect, and ready yourself for the next one.
My memories from this bit are jaggedy. I was suddenly ravenous, and demanded food. A jar of peanut butter, to be precise, which was brought with a spoon. There was a fruit bowl in the spare room, and I remember peeling a banana, sticking it straight into the jar, and eating the whole thing in a small number of bites, while gearing up for the next laser attack.
While I was collecting myself between contractions, bobbie went and got Agnes and the community midwife from the kitchen. They came up and checked out the new developments – Agnes helping me find new positions and getting out the tens machine, the community midwife … frankly I have no idea. I can’t remember. I know it said in my birth plan that I wished for midwives to leave me to get on with things as much as possible, and talk to Bobbie first about medical developments, so it could be she was doing that, and heart rate, BP checks etc.
She was soon to go off shift, however. There’s a shift change around 6pm in Brighton, when the community midwives of the day are replaced by hospital midwives sent straight from the labour ward.
Before this happened, the community midwife did an internal exam. I’d wanted to know the results of it, as finding out I was 4/5cm dilated at 7.30am had been a great encouragement. But she didn’t tell me. She left the room, went to make her notes and, as the hospital midwife arrived, to hand over.
(I found out later I was still 4/5cm dilated during the exam at 5.45pm. Nine hours of labouring, and my labour was apparently no further along than it had been when I woke up. As far as I was concerned, that was how it worked. You went from 0-10cm dilated slowly but gradually, and then, BAM, a baby! Apparently not. I was angry at the time that no one was telling me the results of the internal, but I can see why they weren’t. As encouraged I’d been by going from 1cm-4cm dilated apparently without knowing, it seemed likely, especially as the intense pain was wearing me out fast, that I might be as discouraged by the fact it hadn’t advanced any more. I think I knew this was the case from the fact no one was telling me, but still wished I’d known something – anything – at that point. I had nothing firm to hold on to – I wanted information about ANYTHING at that point)
The tens machine helped, but not as much as it might have done if I’d started earlier and ramped it up more gradually. But the onset of the painful contractions was so sudden, the tens machine could barely keep up. Once the hospital midwife, Katrina, had spent an apparent eternity reading through my notes and having her handover, she offered me some gas and air – probably around 6.15pm – but though I had it for a couple of contractions, I didn’t like it. It was like being drunk – which was great, obviously, but meant I couldn’t concentrate on the contractions, and that was all I wanted to do, focus on them completely from the second they began till the moment they faded away.
Every contraction was piercing at this point. Fire burning in the base of my spine, it was hard to imagine how I’d get through each one, let alone the next one. Around this time, I started viewing Katrina, the hospital midwife, as some kind of angel of medical intervention. “Katrina: How long will this last? What’s happening to me, Katrina? When will it end?” I begged her, making sure I inserted her name as frequently as possible, to make my argument seem more reasonable, more rational, and ingratiate myself to her more quickly. “How can you let this happen to me, Katrina?”. “Please, Katrina,” I said at some point “isn’t it time for me to go to hospital, perhaps? Wouldn’t that seem like a good idea? Katrina. Please: Take me away from these fucking hippies”. (I’m not sure who I meant by that. My partner, my doula, the community midwife – even myself. Whoever, basically, had decided that this crazy homebirth thing had been a good idea. I wanted removing from them all, being attached to an epidural needle with greatest haste, and all of this business taken out of my hands. Luckily, Katrina didn’t listen).
It appears that, without anyone realising – perhaps due to shift change, perhaps because I wasn’t being as clear as I might have hoped – I was in transition. The baby was turning, and heading down.
I think some time around 7, I announced that I needed to go to the toilet. I needed to poo, I said, and took myself off to the toilet, closing the door behind me. After the next contraction shocked me – it felt weird, and different, I called Bobbie in.
Agnes came in to the bathroom, after asking permission. “Ok.” she said. “Katrina and I have been talking, and perhaps, you know, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to maybe go into hospital, you’re getting very tired, and you need to have enough energy for the journey ahead…” etc, or something like.
“Oh NOW you say that” I said, foul in temper and short of gratitude. “NOW it’s too late, I think. NOW I have to push. I want to push. I have to push.”
Katrina was called and, after doing a quick exam, and confirming that yes, pushing wasn’t out of the question, started to try to persuade me to leave the toilet. Agnes ran and fetched some warm water with honey dissolved in it, I remember that. I downed it, and that, I think, gave me the energy to get up and move. Well, that and not wanting my son to be born on the bog.
There are four steps between the bathroom and the spare room. I stopped halfway up them to have a contraction. One person behind me, one person in front, I was guided back into the room, where the lights were still low and my wall of photos and maps and drawings looked down on the bed that I’d covered in waterproof bedding, the quilt I’d laid out the day before as a contraction mat in the bay window, and the tarpaulin that covered the floorboards between the two.
I made it just through the door. A spot I hadn’t thought to cover in tarpaulin. I heard the midwife asking someone to phone the labour ward – how it works in Brighton is that you have one midwife with you from the point of established labour, one to help with the birth – and, as I went into another push, I heard her say “Oh, tell them not to bother, he’s coming now, they’ll never get here in time.”
And then another push, standing by the door, leaning on the bed, and with a whoosh, he arrived. At 7.21pm. Swept up straight into my arms as I moved onto the bed. As requested, the umbilical cord was left until it had stopped pulsing, allowing Doozer to get the last bit of lifegivingness from the amazing placenta that had kept him alive for nine months. When it stopped pulsing, Bobbie cut the cord. And there we were. Lying on the bed, a tiny, long-limbed creature on my chest, breathing, wet, staring up at me. The official notes we got sent a few days later had the pushing stage at 6 minutes, but I think it was more like 11. Or 13. Not very long, anyway.
25 minutes later, Katrina got me to stand up again and deliver the placenta just as I’d delivered Doozer – except instead of being caught by waiting arms, it fell, into a waiting metal tray.
This was the point at which I was really pleased for having Agnes. In the relatively painfree bit, having a doula had seemed more luxury than necessity. But now with the midwife running in and out doing the important medical checks on the placenta etc and filling in paperwork, and no second midwife on the scene to help, it was good to have someone supporting as we lay there, skin on skin, trying to encourage Doozer to latch on. More importantly, when Katrina came in saying that she couldn’t piece together the whole of the placenta and that there seemed to be a bit missing – which would have meant a trip into hospital and a series of internal exams to find it – Agnes got her to check again, and then again, and all the time asserted that she was sure she’d seen another piece as well, and eventually Katrina agreed that I should just monitor for any extra pain or blood loss and didn’t have to go into hospital then and there. If we’d been on our own, I know we wouldn’t have had the energy to argue this.
By 9.30pm, everyone had left. Well, Katrina and Agnes – Bobbie and Doozer and I stayed. The house was still and quiet, and we were ringing round family, doing facetime on mobile phones with those who could, and introducing Doozer to his new extended family.
We tried feeding again, we moved from the spare room into our bedroom and, amazingly, by about 11pm, both father and son were fast asleep, one in bed and one in the bedside crib (for the last time in 12 weeks, but that’s another story). And I was wide awake, hormones pulsing through me, no one to expend them on for another couple of hours. So I went online. I was looking back through archives the other day, alarmed to see myself chatting away on twitter five hours after giving birth, nowhere else to put my energy. Even the next morning, when the community midwife arrived to do her check and finally weigh Doozer (he was 7lb1oz the morning after his birth, and by the next day, when he was alarmingly orange and jaundicey, we had decided on a name, and he was called Linus Benedict) I bounced down the stairs with baby in arms to let her in. There were some rough weeks ahead – but the birth itself was a good start.
It was good. My experience of giving birth. It was really good. We were lucky, and I’m very grateful. I’d go as far as to say I enjoyed it. Though of course that may be something to do with those hormones. If anyone knows where I can get some of those hormones on a recreational basis, that would be brilliant.