My birth story.
Before my due date, I was NOT ready to think about labour. In fact, it wasn't something that I wanted to think too much or too long about until my MW Kathy made the ‘if you go over your due date’ plan which ultimately culminated in an induction and delivery that she wouldn't be able to attend because of a family wedding. This thought horrified me and I started hoping for the slightest sign that things were happening… and therefore preparing myself as best I could. I watched some labour/birthing DVDs, read what I could, but could not get my head around the fact that this would be soon something that I would be facing. I worried about how I would cope, and whether I would be able to ‘surrender’ myself to the experience in the way that the women in the DVDs had.
Two days after my due date, I thought maybe something was happening. I was cramping and suddenly couldn't cope with the idea of moving off the sofa. I didn't want a bar of the outside world. MW came around and checked me out, said it was early days but a start of things to come. I was quite excited! The pain got a bit worse in the evening, but I slept well and when I woke up, it had all stopped. I was disappointed, I felt like the boy who cried wolf, and was not consoled by the news that this was normal. It felt like nothing was going to happen now and I was in a cranky, irritable mood all day. I had some cramps again at bedtime but barely paid attention to them.
At 2am I woke with unusual and new pain in my hips, upper thighs and butt. I was vaguely aware that I was getting stronger pains but was unwilling to commit to them being possible contractions after the earlier disappointment. At around 3am something told me to get out of bed and rush to the toilet- I just made it before my waters broke. I was cautiously excited again, however my intense literature review of the preceding days had warned me that this was not a sign that the baby was going to pop out immediately or anything, so I settled back in bed and spent the next few hours timing contractions (I was prepared to call them contractions now) and bolting for the loo every time another dramatic gush of water appeared. Once it got to an hour that I thought it was safe to contact people without waking them, I texted Kathy and Darlene (birth support partner). Soon enough I had plans for a visit from Kathy and had spoken to Darlene, and said that there was no reason to rush up and that I was just going to stay quiet. Kathy came – there was less progress than I had thought there would be, but she gave me another stretch and sweep so I thought maybe things would happen faster. We made plans for me to go down to North Shore hospital for IV antibiotics that night. I spent the day quietly pottering around. I wasn't worried about the fact that I was going to the hospital – I assumed that things would stay slow and the plan to birth at Warkworth Birthing Centre would go ahead. Contractions were 5 minutes apart and lasting 1 minute each – it had gotten to the point where I couldn't talk during them, but a bit of quiet breathing got me through it. Comments that it was going to get ‘more intense’ were difficult for me to grasp as the discomfort had become ‘pain’ and I didn't have a frame of reference. Soon, it was time to go down to the hospital. I was to take my bag, ‘just in case’. I was relaxed, prepared that perhaps I'd be sent home again, but at least confident that something was going to happen that weekend, at least, and it wasn't going to get to induction stage.
In the car park at the hospital, Darlene drove over a speed bump and kicked the contractions into a bit more intensity – not so intense that we couldn't laugh about it though! Once up in the birthing unit it was great to see Kathy's calm face and efficient demeanour – the small spike of nerves I had walking into the unit calmed again. Another stretch and sweep – I was starting to think I had offended karma in some way – the insertion of the hated lure and what seemed to me a truck load of injections, and I was given the news that I was staying overnight for more antibiotics. Once again, I envisaged a night's sleep then maybe trucking up to Warkworth the following day, especially when Kathy gave me a pethidine injection for me to sleep. Before long, I was alone in quite a sterile, isolated room in the unit. I felt a little scared but soon enough the drugs calmed me, but did not seem to dull the pain of the contractions. My thoughts weren't coherent enough to realise that the contractions were getting stronger, even when I had to get out of the bed shortly after and pace around. Finally, I pressed the button for the nurse. Someone arrived very fast, I just told her that the pain was getting worse and was surprised when her response was “oh you could be in active labour now lets have a look”. This hadn't occurred to me! She checked me out, I was apparently 5cm dilated and she wandered off to call Kathy and arrange a birthing suite for me. I was taken into the birthing suite and left alone again – someone may have popped in to check on me before Kathy and Darlene got back but I don't remember. All I remember is leaning up against the door frame and trying to remember the advice about breathing and going inside myself that Kathy had told me that had been more difficult to imagine applying. Baby was clearly still posterior as I felt each contraction as searing, grinding pain in my lower back. I had been reading about what to expect with a posterior baby so the back pain wasn't a surprise to me, but how quickly it ramped up into a total inability to talk did take me by surprise.
I remember that Darlene was instantly amazing and seemed to know just what I needed – hot flannels on my lower back, sips of water… and it didn't take long before I felt comfortable doing, saying or groaning whatever I felt I needed to. I was kneeling up on a big comfy lazy boy chair, hanging over the back. I know that Kathy arrived. A few hours passed, all I remember is staring at the wall and breathing as deeply as I could. I remember that pushing the breath out as hard as I could felt good, and I remember that taking each breath in took strength and resolve each time. I remember working out that once a contraction started that a ten slow breath repetitions would usually count through the contraction. I remember how good that felt when I got down to ‘four more’, and how much of a mountain to climb each countdown felt at the start. I remember the seemingly impossible moments when all I could think was “I can't do this, I can't cope”… but then thinking at the same time that I WAS doing it and I WAS coping. It was a strangely ‘timeless’ process for me, I wasn't thinking about it being over, or ‘how much longer’ or anything like that, it was 100% being in the moment and tapping into whatever I could find to get me through it. Darlene and Kathy were perfect in this time, encouraging me without distracting me and literally holding me up when I needed it.
It was getting harder to battle gravity, so when Kathy said I could get in the pool after she had done an exam I was relieved. That examination was something I found extremely difficult – it was so painful, and I was also starting to feel quite panicked about the pain and how when I was up on the bed I couldn't do anything to control it. I remember sobbing from the pain and emotion at that point and gripping Darlene's hand for dear life and really not making Kathy's job very easy at all…and then what a change in atmosphere when we went into the pool room. It was warm and quiet and the water seemed to both caress and hold me up. In the respite between contractions it was relaxing to look up at the little twinkling stars they had there. It was very peaceful, the lighting was dim and warm. Hearing Kathy say “good breathing” reminded me to KEEP breathing like that. I never thought it would take so much focus and determination to do something as simple as breathe!!!
When things were starting to feel really overwhelming, Kathy quietly told me that I was starting to enter the transition phase and this was going to be the hardest part. Yep, it was! The words ‘searing’ and ‘unrelenting’ spring to mind at this point… I wanted to say “I can't do this anymore” but I couldn't get the words out – not that it would have made a difference!
I clearly remember Kathy saying “You look beautiful…the goddess”. This was such a strengthening, profound thing for her to say to me at that point… it tapped into all my ‘mists of avalon’ tendencies and boosted my emotional stamina at a point where I really needed for that to happen.
The break came – I felt a slow energy washing over me, I remember holding onto the edge and leaning backwards. The lack of pain for that short time was something to savour and I remember thinking that I should never take for granted lack of pain again! The contractions that soon started up again bought me back to earth with a thud – well, actually, it sent me shooting upwards, away from gravity and from the feeling that the baby was pushing DOWN. It was at this point that Kathy was finding it difficult to pick up the baby's heart rate anymore so I had to get out of the pool so that she could get a good reading. Once back in the birthing room everything gets a bit hazy…suddenly everything hurt like hell again and lying on the bed was agony…Kathy telling me that after all that, I was only 6cm dilated and she was pretty sure he was still posterior… I was so deflated and disappointed and scared…more people in the room, holding Darlene's hand and sobbing that I couldn't do it anymore – sobbing because I knew how futile those words were! Kathy, I think, leaned over and kissed my forehead and consoled me…being told that it was the best idea for me to have an epidural so that I could have a break – relief, but disappointment that I hadn't been able to do it. A scalp electrode, more people in the room…I was trying to calm myself by listening to the beep of the baby’s heart rate – I remember the beeping slowing or stopping or something and Darlene looking worriedly at the screen… more people and just concentrating on breathing in the oxygen mask…getting the epidural and feeling that lovely cold sensation… then just letting myself check out…
When I woke, I don't know how long later, the room was calm again. The day passed calmly and restfully – well, for me at least. Later in the afternoon the news came that it looked like he was turning (finally) and that I was dilating as I should. Everyone was so pleased – I was just scared! My calm peaceful day wasn’t going to stay that way and I didn't know what to expect. It was one thing to comprehend pushing that baby out when you are in the ‘labour zone’… it was quite another to have a day of dozing in a bed and then think about firing up that energy and drive again.
The obstetrician had come in and told Kathy when I needed to start pushing, and Kathy explained to me what was going to happen.When Kathy and Darlene stood on either side of me, and grabbed my numb legs and got them against their hips and Kathy explained how and where to push, it seemed ridiculously impossible. I could feel the contractions in a section of my stomach that had been letting the pain through for the past hour or so – not unbearable however and at least let me know what was going on. I was really struggling with pushing hard enough, and with getting my lungs full enough to feel that I could actually do a good hard push. In some ways it was harder than the labour – it wasn't painful, I just felt so frustrated that I couldn't do what I needed to do. As the room started filling with people after about half an hour of pushing, the obstetrician took a sample of his scalp to see how he was coping, when she came back she said that we had ten minutes to get him out otherwise I would have to have an emergency c-section. She said she was going to use a ventouse to assist me – I had no idea what this was but I was more than slightly panicked regardless. Once they started setting up these leg stirrup things and taking the bed apart and wheeling in a large machine, I was even more scared and worried. Kathy must have noticed, she put her hand on me and told me not to be scared, that it was the right decision. Darlene was by my side holding my hand and I think I was gripping it pretty tight! I still didn't know what to expect and was thanking God for the epidural as the obstetrician fiddling around getting this contraption inside me. It is all a bit of a blur – I could feel him being pulled and I pushed as hard as I could… vaguely aware of the cries of encouragement from everyone and then Darlene said that his head had been born! I was asked if I wanted to put my hand down and feel it, but I was in shock and didn't want to break my concentration until he was really out. One more push and I felt his whole body slither out and sense of elated energy filled the room with exclamations and a bustle of activity. I couldn't believe it, I didn't know what I was feeling. I know they put him up on my chest for a moment, then had to take him to check him over, I know that my eyes filled with tears but I was still too overwhelmed and shocked to even know what I was feeling. As they checked him out and I heard him cry and wail, and then as he was placed back on my chest I felt more confused and panicked and happy than I have ever been in my life. I felt inadequate and responsible and more than a little sorry for this tiny squirming little creature who was going to depend on me for everything. I remember taking a deep breath, and looked at my little baby, Tom, in amazement.