The Birth, Part II

I can’t believe how lucky I am. Two days ago, I was facing induction, and two hours ago, contemplating an epidural. Now I’m floating around in a warm, deep birthing pool, listening to Palestrina and chatting and laughing with OH. When the midwife asked what I wanted for analgesia, I was surprised to find myself reverting to my original birth plan, but the gas and air is marvellous. It takes the edge off my contractions and makes me not care about the pain.

I was admitted to the birthing centre at 6 pm, and got in the pool at seven (it would have been sooner, but apparently the midwife forgot to put the plug in). Now it’s 8 pm and shift change time. The new midwife asks whether I’d like to give birth in the pool. I hedge my bets, because I assume I’m nowhere near fully dilated yet. At the water birth class, we were advised against using the pool too early. Seven hours (one hour per cm, plus an hour pushing) is a long time to spend in the water, and apparently most women want to get out at some point. Then they find the pain harder to manage and end up on drugs that mean they can’t go back in again. I’m OK with the idea of switching from water to diamorphine, though. After all, this is my one legal and safe opportunity to try heroin. 😉

I think about this a little later, when the contractions become more painful, but I don’t relish the thought of having to leave the pool and wait 20 minutes for an injection to kick in. I count through each contraction in time with the music, knowing that by the time I reach 12, on Entonox, the pain will have started to subside. Soon it isn’t 12, it’s 20. But after just a few hours on the unit, I’m surprised by what happens next. “I want to push!” I shout, coming off the gas and air abruptly. “Call the midwife!”

Somewhere along the line, probably from watching One Born Every Minute, I’d got the idea I needed permission to push. I thought the midwife would examine me, then give directions. But she tells me just to go with my body, which is terrifying. I don’t know if I can trust myself to get this right. For a couple of contractions, I’m too scared to push at all (the midwife offers some reassurance by sticking a mirror in the water and saying she can’t see any cervix). Then there’s the one where it doesn’t quite work because I’ve forgotten that I need to be breathing out, and that it’s not possible to breathe out while sucking on Entonox. But finally, it happens. It doesn’t feel as though pushing as hard as I can will do anything, but after a few seconds, something deep inside me takes over. I am astounded by the unearthly noise that fills the room – it starts off as a moan of pain, goes through a severely constipated grunt and ends up as a piercing scream. I’m half expecting to be told off (this is also something I’ve seen on One Born – you’re supposed to use all your energy on pushing, not screaming) but the midwife says I’m doing marvellously.

It feels as though it only takes a few contractions. First the midwife says our baby has a good head of hair. Then the head is out, and OH and the student are scrambling to switch places so OH can catch her. Then (I’m not conscious of any stinging, but I really don’t like the way this stage feels) I push the body out quickly, and an actual baby is floating across the pool. Our daughter is born at 10.25 pm, 4.5 hours after I was admitted, to Lauridsen’s O magnum mysterium.

Our daughter 15 minutes after the birth.

Our daughter 15 minutes after the birth.

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The Birth, Part I

“Next time I see you, it’ll be at home with your baby!”

“Hopefully,” I say.

She looks at me as though I’m stupid. “You will have your baby, because either you’ll go into labour or you’ll be induced.” The community midwife doesn’t understand that I take nothing for granted. Severe sickness aside, this pregnancy may have been textbook, but I know too much about what can go wrong. I’ve met people on this journey who never got to take their babies home. (Spoiler alert: I’m writing this with an almost-three-week-old wriggling around in her bouncer. 🙂 )

Being overdue reminds me a little of the two-week wait, over-analysing every twinge and feeling left behind when my due-date buddies announce the births of their children. I’m relieved to have an end date in sight. I don’t particularly want to have my daughter on the 13th anniversary of 9/11, or to spend labour chained to the bed by a monitor and a drip, and induction isn’t great for OH either: it means waving goodbye to the birthing centre where she can stay with us the whole time on a sofa bed, and being admitted to a ward with limited visiting hours. But if I go past 42 weeks, they won’t let me use the birthing centre anyway, and at least I know we will get to meet our baby soon.

Two days later, I sing my last Eucharist and Evensong with the choir and have my last homeopathic gin (= tonic water) in the pub. Everyone wishes us good luck as we leave. I don’t dare mention that I’ve started to feel rather uncomfortable and I’m wondering if This Could Be It. I don’t want to jinx anything. But when I lie down in bed that night, I realise I’m having definite contractions. I ring the midwife at the birthing centre, who says it does sound like early labour, and advises me to get some sleep. It looks as though the wasaabi peanuts did the trick where all those curries failed.

I spend the next day monitoring my contractions. The birthing centre don’t want me to come in until they’re lasting at least a minute (which they are) and coming at least every three minutes (which they’re not). Eventually, they become more frequent in the evening and my dad drives us to hospital. I’m fully expecting to be sent home again with some codeine, but gutted to find out I’m only 1 cm. Twenty-four hours of (early) labour, and my cervix is no more dilated than it was at my sweep.

The next 24 hours are hell.

The codeine doesn’t work. The TENS machine doesn’t work. The contractions have become excruciating, but they either come every five minutes and last long enough, or every three minutes and don’t last long enough. OH rings the birthing centre at 1 am because I’m crying out in pain and the midwife is totally unsympathetic. There is nothing they can do for me and I just have to wait. I realise I can’t keep waking OH like this, but the only way I can tolerate the pain in silence is if I stand and rock. So for the rest of the night I doze between contractions, then leap out of bed every time one comes. The day isn’t any better – I try walking around, baths and napping and nothing seems to make a difference. The midwife thinks my baby is back-to-back, and that’s why I’m having such a long and painful latent phase, but still says they can’t help until I’m in active labour. If this is what the latent phase is like, I have no idea how I’m going to cope with the rest of it. I realise I’m going to need an epidural, which – like induction – means no comfortable birthing centre and no sofa bed.

By late afternoon, the pain is even more intense. I don’t care that my contractions are still only every five minutes. I get OH to tell the birthing centre that I’m coming in whether they like it or not. (They say they will almost certainly send me home again.)

Halfway to the hospital, we realise we’ve forgotten my maternity notes. It’s rush hour, and the traffic is almost stationary in the other direction, but we need to turn around. Then once we’re on the move again, there are the speed bumps. I cry out in pain with another contraction and my dad accelerates, jolting me over the bumps and the level crossing. Later, we wonder if that’s what did it. I’m too much in the zone to notice that my contractions have become more frequent, but when the midwife examines me, I’ve reached the hallowed 4 cm.

To be continued…