I woke up with what felt like period pains radiating through me over and over again. I didn’t tell anyone because I’d been getting these all week.
They’d start in the night, sometimes so intense I’d kneel on the floor, lean against the bed and breathe deeply. By morning they were gone again but not without disturbing most of the night’s sleep.
I wasn’t making up for it in the day either, wrongly feeling that I needed to entertain my parents who had me on what seemed like some form of suicide watch. Upon reflection, it was probably just the hugeness, general discomfort and grumpiness at being almost two weeks overdue which made me feel negatively.
It was a Thursday and as the day progressed, the pains got more intense and frequent. I paused while hanging up the laundry. I texted Laurence to let him know but told him not to come home just yet. We’d already had a day earlier in the week when we’d called a midwife. She’d said the baby was very low and it would be soon but wasn’t happening yet. As soon as she’d arrived my pains had gone.
That night we became certain that this was no longer a start and stop labour. The contractions – I was now certain that’s what they were kept building and seemed regular to us. We took Ina May Gaskin at her word and decided to help things along by releasing natural oxytocin the fun way. I’ll let you guess how.
Needless to say, I didn’t really sleep that night. I only caught snatches between the pains.
The next day was induction day. To my relief the pains had not subsided. We really were going to meet our baby girl soon. We decided to ring up the hospital and tell them we’d come in for a check but we wouldn’t stay as something was happening and we were going to have the creature at home.
When we got there the midwife confirmed that I was not yet in established labour. I was disappointed but accepted the stretch and sweep she offered. I think this was my fourth one. It was my easiest. As soon as she began sweeping though, my contractions bumped up to a whole new level of pain.
Yet we had to wait. They didn’t want me to leave without speaking with a consultant because they felt we were potentially taking a risk by having a home birth at 12 days past the due date.
We stupidly hadn’t taken any food with us so there we were in that hospital room, bored, hungry and I was gradually approaching agony. We kept asking when the consultant would see us as time was running on. After observing the way I was breathing through the contractions I was offered paracetamol. I almost laughed. I was planning a drug free birth. If I took paracetamol at this early stage, I had nowhere to go.
Finally the – I think – junior doctor had mercy on us, interrupted something the consultant was doing and got the OK for us to leave. They’d had a look on the screen so knew the creature was still kicking away with enough fluid around her.
As we left, the midwife who held the door open said: “I think you’re going to meet your baby tonight.” We left excited. We laughed in the car that most people rush to hospital from home when they’re having a baby and here we were rushing from the hospital to home!
My parents had filled the birth pool, my father had vacated and my mother had cooked. Of course, by now I felt unable to eat anything. I tried with little success. We moved our comfiest chair into the living room. I sat on it backwards, leaning against its back. Laurence rubbed tiger balm into my back. I drank raspberry leaf tea and sniffed clary sage. I breathed deeply. He and my mother fawned over me. The kittens wandered around our feet and ate my mostly untouched supper.
I discovered that pain made me physical. I am by nature a toucher but often too worried about what others will think to act on my instinct. All inhibition removed by the contractions I asked my mother to let me hug her. It was one of the loveliest things to come out of the labour, to feel my mother’s embrace over and over even as I was about to become a mother myself.
The contractions seemed long and close together (we were checking them on an iPhone app) so we decided to call the midwife.
No sooner did she walk through the door than my body dropped the act. Everything slowed down. My contractions became a whisper of what they had been before.
She suggested that Laurence and I go to bed, cuddle and rest in the darkness and let things hot up again. I dozed on my side between contractions, leaping on to all-fours when one came by instinct, and breathing in and out as I’d learned in the NCT and NHS antenatal classes.
The midwife came upstairs to examine me. Meanwhile our tabby kitten, Bojangles decided to take a snooze on my bump.
She confirmed that things weren’t happening yet and warned me not to get into the birthing pool as it might stop things altogether. She and the other midwife left, fully expecting to return and deliver the creature that night.
We went back to bed. By now I was vocalising my pain even though I’d planned not to. My mother admitted later that it was terrible for her to hear from the other room. I don’t think either of them got that much sleep that night either.
I called the midwife again but we decided that since it wasn’t unbearable yet, she should not come back.
I finally fell asleep. When I woke up I discovered why, my contractions had slowed down and weakened considerably. It was now Saturday morning. Would the creature ever be born?
I received a call from my community midwife. She joked that she’d spoken to the midwife who had been on duty the night before and they thought I must’ve had a free birth (unassisted delivery) in the end. I assured her I hadn’t. She must have heard the sense of humour failure in my voice because she asked me to come in and see her at the hospital, packing my bag just in case.
She examined and observed me and confirmed that I still wasn’t in established labour. I was still only 2cm dilated. She offered for me to go home and she’d break my waters that afternoon or stay in hospital and have my waters broken there – but I’d have to stay for the birth.
I’d run out of everything. There was no food in my system and hardly any sleep to fall back on. I knew I had to stay. I was certain that if I went home I’d just be brought back in an ambulance later. I also was too exhausted to hang on until the afternoon.
She tried to get me into the midwife-led unit but I was thirteen days overdue so had to go to delivery suite. We walked in and I knew that it was the opposite of the home environment we’d planned to welcome the creature into but we smiled and decided to be cheerful about it all. We were going to meet our baby. That’s all that mattered.
My waters were broken and we were sent for a walk to the cafeteria where I finally ate something. The pains became intense again. Yes, something was happening.
When we got back the midwife checked my maternity pad. My heart sank. Green, thick meconium. It was a sign that our baby could be in distress. We had already discussed the next step, induction by syntocinon drip.
After checking again what it would involve we refused constant monitoring of the creature’s heart beat. We felt it could give a false view of what was happening with the baby. Having done the research, we preferred regular, intermittent monitoring.
The midwife would not proceed without constant monitoring. I still wonder what would have happened had we held our ground but what’s the use? In situations like that you make the best decision that you can. We decided to trust the medical team. Looking back, we have chosen to be at peace with this.
She failed twice to get the needle into my vein. It was a bloody mess and one pain distracted from another. Another midwife was called and she got it in. Could I just say – this experience alone makes me hope I’m never induced again?
The effect of the drip was almost immediate. The contractions were as intense but got closer together. In fact they’d keep coming too quickly and then they’d need to slow things down again.
I cracked. I deliberated and deliberated then asked for gas and air. Yes, I was sure. I needed something. I wish I hadn’t.
I don’t know whether it was just the gas and air or the induction or the fact that I was exhausted but the rest of the labour is an eerie blur.
I remember going down the hall with Laurence, my drip attached and wheeled along with us. I think that may have happened before the gas and air. Then I remember later waking up on a commode and trying to work out what it was that everyone else in the room wanted me to do.
I kept blacking out or falling asleep or something between contractions. Then one would come. I would think: “When this is over I’ll ask for an epidural.” Then I would be out again.
When I was conscious I heard fuzzy things said in the room, as if far away. Something about the baby’s heart rate and putting something in her head. Then about a C-section. There was some talk about dilating but I couldn’t make sense of it. I was happy to ignore them all, taking no breaks from the gas and air. I was scared to in case a contraction came and I started sucking it too late.
I reverted into some child-like state, content for Laurence to make all the decisions. I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to know. I just wanted to sleep. I just wanted this blurry nightmare to be over. I forgot why we were all there. I forgot that I was having a baby.
Then suddenly there was clarity. The gas and air had been taken away. I felt like I was doing an enormous poo and something was stinging. “Is it too late to have an epidural?” I asked. As soon as I did, I knew it was. I’ve watched enough One Born Every Minute!
I remembered why I was there: “Am I having the baby?” I asked. “Yes,” the midwife – hang on – a different midwife? – told me. I asked if I could touch her head. She encouraged me to. I reached down and felt a round, hard object with what felt like hair. It jolted me into reality. I was ready to push. Twenty minutes later – oh it felt so much longer – she was out.
Laurence didn’t cut the cord. They were worried about her because of the meconium so she was whisked away, cleaned up and examined. I can’t remember why but they didn’t want me to have a physiological delivery of the placenta. I was too tired to care so agreed to the syntometrine injection.
I was handed the baby. I couldn’t handle holding her yet so I asked Laurence to take his shirt off and he held her. I was stitched up and given the gas and air back.
Even now I don’t feel I can go into the details of that first encounter with my daughter. I didn’t feel any of the right emotions. I felt many wrong ones. I’ve since spoken with enough women who have given birth to know how common this is but I still maintain that it isn’t “normal”.
Though it took us a little longer, she claimed me as her mother. By the morning after another night of no sleep (she was born at 9 and didn’t settle to sleep until 5) I loved her. I laid a hand on the small bundle in the cosleeper in amazement. Each day that love grew and grew.
Today she is one year old. I look at her and know my love for her makes and breaks me. I could not have imagined a love so all-consuming before meeting her: once the creature, now Talitha. A piece of God has grown between us.
Laurence remembers these events with a lot more clarity. I’m working on him to write his own version. Apparently, he went home to get the camera. I don’t quite remember but I’m glad he did because otherwise we wouldn’t have these images he captured of our time in the delivery suite a year ago.