A complicated pregnancy.
Months have passed since Norah was born and already there are grey, smudged spaces invading my memory. Exhaustion, pain and the clever innate ‘forget’ mechanism that keeps humanity procreating after perineal tears and pooing themselves, has kicked in. The fog of new-born sleep deprivation probably did not help. Or, that I clumsily type this at 3am with, what is very likely, sick on my spectacles. My son’s birth was traumatic, and it took me seven years to brave pregnancy again. The nine months were spent, quite frankly, in fear, denial, blind panic, listening to positive hypnobirthing tapes on repeat and frantically Googling EVERYTHING.
Because of maternal tachycardia (referring to myself as ‘tacky’ to medical professionals and then hastily emphasising I was referring to my fast heart, not my dress sense), my son’s birth and being, frankly, the size of a zephyr it was agreed I could be induced at 38 weeks. Some may argue that a baby will come when its ready and intervention is unnatural. For my emotional and physical health, it was the best choice for us. It gave me back a tiny piece of control, of the empowerment that I had so bleakly lost with Leo.
It began with a couple of ‘stretch and sweeps’ (not a name of a children’s TV programme or hipster workout), which of course I read horror stories about. No one who hasn’t seen their downstairs mix up in 4 months is a fan of internal examinations. Expecting agony, I found the process mildly uncomfortable (accidently yelping like an injured cow) as my cervix was ‘high.’ Unfavourable they call it. Basically, that means the midwife must lose half of her arm and you make bad jokes such as, ‘apologies if it looks like the Jumanji forest down there’ and think of England. Your cervix is given a Bishops score to note its readiness. Why the church-based name?
They didn’t work as my vagina it seems, is stubborn.
Next step a few weeks later was the RD&E, a Propess pessary that was to be left in your unmentionables for 24 hours and a bed on the antenatal ward. Triage. A ward of six bumps. Perhaps I have a downstairs like Batman’s cave as the first fell out in an hour. The second after five. You can’t have anymore. It triggered mild contractions and bit of the mucus plug to slowly disengage. Ick, a whole load of ick. Expect monitoring and internal examinations. Women were coming and going all around me, endlessly walking the corridors.
The midwives were kind, patient, more than I could ever ask for. Failure meant the next step was awaiting a bed on labour ward to break my waters (ARM) and have a Syntocinon drip. Three days until there was space. Then I nearly lost it, teetered on the edge of just walking off the ward, ringing the perinatal MH team and jumping a ferry to Cuba. Tears darkened my giant pregnancy pillow a few times. Looking back, it was the tiredness, the worry that the fragile amount of readiness and bravery I was holding onto would crumble and I would be left begging and helpless again. My advice, sleep, eat, relax. Don’t obsess over when things will happen, my mistake was my unrealistic expectations. I wanted to walk in and out with my baby in a few hours. Labour is not as simple as shopping for jeans.
Don’t be a dick to the staff, granted most pregnant mums are hot and hormonal but pre and postnatal wards are chaos. If people jump the queue before you it’s because they or their babies need medical help asap. Or they are already in labour and you can’t put that shit on pause.
Arrival on the labour ward.
Half an hour after sending my equally exhausted partner home to rest I dosed off and at 6pm a lovely midwife woke me. Momentarily my heart dropped as I irrationally didn’t want to do this at night, with the darkness gathering outside the window. Flashback to labour one. Half asleep I clumsily gathered my things and waddled the few meters to the birthing room. He arrived before things got going thank god. I was put on telemetry, being constantly monitored but able to move around freely.
Having the ability to see my contractions on a computer alongside our heartbeats, some might call it oppressive intervention. For me, it was peace of mind. Warm and open the midwife immediately made me feel safe by explaining how her Coccyx had been broken in labour too. I felt a sense of understanding. She broke my waters, and immediately I got the shakes and a wave of dizziness. I think it’s the smell…she laughed and told me some people think it smells like Hay. I was bought up on a farm. To me it smells like semen and bleach. Not a smell combination for the next Yankee candle.
A couple of hours failing to march and bribe the baby out was followed by a drip to flood my body full of synthetic hormones. Panic rose when the midwives changed shift but again we were gifted with another amazing midwife who had come in after reading my birth plan and did everything in her power to make this a positive experience. I handed her everything I was, bare soul, vulnerable, afraid, expectant, lay on the labour room floor and with perfect kindness she saw us through.
Just keep breathing.
I remember my waters gushing, soaking pads and pants over and over. Repeating to myself that I was safe, time trickled away listening to Hypnobirthing clips and I forgot about the contraction app. A few hours in I had my phone in one hand trying to change the song on Spotify and in the other hand trying to boost the Tens, got them confused and could not figure why neither were working. With the help of half of Devon’s supplies of gas and air I counted and hummed through contractions. I tried sitting on the ball and it felt like I had sat on a melon. The radio was on. I remember moving from rocking over the chair, to the floor to wandering round the room. Six hours first stage the paperwork said.
When I was 6 cm the midwife went for a break. She had bloody earnt it. At that time, I was bare bum to the world bent over the head of the bed. It’s a good position, but graceless.
Panic and a feeling of losing control had crept in and by the time she returned I was on the bed weeping about to have an epidural. Tears of terror. My partner said it was awful to watch, me trembling and hunched up. It blurs from then. Gas and air must have been having an intoxicating effect as I kept biting my hand. The soft bit between my thumb and forefinger, and pulling my hair. Angrily I swatted away his hand as he tried to stop me. The anaesthesiologist returned to check the drip was working. I was proper mooing in pain as the contractions were hitting back to back. He politely asked if I had pressed the button. I am pretty sure/hoping I said in my head of course I f**cking did, then pressed it six times for good measure. The midwifes herded him out quietly. I didn’t realise I had hit transition. What an emotional shitstorm that is. Leo I was numb from my chest down, with this epidural I could move, if clumsily, and could feel everything. Except my big toe was numb. It was a combination of it not being a spinal block, and as the midwife kindly reminded me-I wanted the drip turned up high, so my contractions were stronger than the epidural and it was not going to have enough time to build up.
I remember her calm and patient voice reassuring me, this is what you wanted. And it was.
I couldn’t vocalise the odd sensation I felt a couple of minutes later so with a bemused look at my other half said I feel weird downstairs. Then decided I wanted to push. My midwife doubted it but checked. I had zoomed through second stage in nine minutes. Pushing took twelve. Now, I never felt a baby crown before as I was in surgery…that stings, it is very powerful and very visceral. They just about got someone else in the room. Out flew Norah. She didn’t cry but I think it was the shock. A little girl, with a mass of dark har, all smooshed and sticky and beautiful. 7lb 10oz.
After labour I always find the putting back together time a bit overwhelming. My partner who stuck by my side the whole time with wet flannels and reassurance cuddled up having skin to skin whilst I get stitched up. The tugging of thread and blood on midwives’ hand, left me trembling. The enormity of what your body has gone through hits, the exhaustion and a glance and the physical damage. Its a lot. She bought tea and toast and we got that perfect snapshot moment together, safe and calm.
Then came the body effects of a super-fast birth and the backlash of me toking away on the gas and air like a madwoman. Moving onto a nice ward bed I was brutally sick, and it properly wracked through my exhausted self, at the same time as the afterpains came. These were a complete surprise and I think at one-point in-between retches I wondered if I was dying. They don’t warn you about that, after each child you have they get worse…also because my labour was so fast my body wasn’t quite certain contractions had stopped. The Midwife gave IV antiemetics, stroked my hair and said she was going off shift. I lay there smelling of sick, to spent to open my eyes and can remember saying thank you with all the emotion I could muster.
Induction was hard and fast, and I will never be a woman who finds labour beautiful, swaying along to Celtic bagpipes whilst Yoga breathing and maintain perfect calm. But my memory of Norah coming into the world at the speed (and feel) of a Boeing 737 is a good one. The fear that arrived with Leo has gone and my amazing partner and fantastic midwifes handed me back power when they passed me my daughter in her little woollen cap.