I was going to save this story for a post on Bean’s birthday but this post by blue milk got me thinking. Positive birth stories really do carry power, and not just for helping the currently pregnant overcome anxiety. We are bombarded with images of medicalised birth and the idea of birth-as-trauma is practically part of our social fabric. I went to a new hairdresser the other day and when she found out I was a mother all she wanted to know were the numbers: how many hours, how many pounds, how many stitches. I guess the bigger the numbers the bigger the badge of honour and the more sympathetic the stare. I suspect my 9/7/0 was quite the disappointment.
Anyway – those of you who happen to know me and would prefer not to read about my vagina or aren’t in the mood for pontificating on natural birth might want to skip this post.
I felt restless all day. It was warm, but I had dragged the dog along for a walk anyway. I sweated, he panted. I had to stop to let the Braxton Hicks wave pass. It never seemed to. I was in a constant state of cramp but just figured it was the discomfort from lugging such a weight around. And stretching. And the exertion. It was only later that I realised I’d walked myself into early labour.
A couple of hours trying to get comfortable on the couch (not even The Sopranos could keep me there) and I decided it was time for a nap. Getting up at 5am had become normal and I needed to snatch sleep during the day. But it was futile. I felt like I might be getting sick. In a huff, I squatted down by the bed, pulling determinedly on the sheets to straighten them and releasing the tension in my back.
That wasn’t all I was releasing.
I felt a kind of clicking, a little like when vertebrae realign. And heard a funny sound. And wet myself.
Oh bloody hell, this is really beyond a joke, not only am I enormously fat and uncomfortable and unable to sleep or even walk properly but the ultimate of indignities has been heaped upon me; stress incontinence. Joy of joys!
But it wasn’t incontinence. It was spontaneous rupture of the membranes. Bean was on her way.
I rang my husband from the loo. He was almost home from work already. I told him we were going to have a baby tonight. Then I rang the midwives at the hospital and told them about the clearish pinkish fluid and they said I’d have to come in and be seen since I wasn’t having strong contractions yet. I think I babbled the full 30 minutes into the hospital. I had been waiting for the challenge and for my daughter and was full of nervous excitement.
In hospital they didn’t seem very convinced that anything was happening. As if I was senile and didn’t know what it felt like to wet myself, they kept checking my pad for fluid and telling me they weren’t convinced it was my waters. I began to feel contractions but their electronic gadgetry didn’t register them so they told me I wasn’t in labour. I sent my husband off to get the TENS machine from the car and while he was gone my body began to show its work. When amniotic fluid spurted on the floor from each surge that came as I paced the room, the midwives finally believed me. But I said I wanted to go home and they sent me off with instructions to have some dinner and get some sleep and come in for an induction in the morning. I strongly disagreed with the hospital’s policy of routine induction a maximum of 12 hours post membranes rupture and was horrified at the thought that it could happen to me. But not for long. I could feel what they couldn’t and I knew I’d be meeting Bean before the morning.
At home it soon became apparent that there’d be no sleeping. Or watching of The Sopranos. I tried the eating but when that backfired in the most spectacular way there was no denying that it was literally all systems go.
I actually found this part of labour to be pretty fun. I bounced on the fitball in the loungeroom and groaned however much I wanted to, and breathed deeply, and panted, and stomped my feet. My darling Ferris followed me faithfully around and nudged me with his nose periodically. His eyes said what his little doggy voice couldn’t – that he knew something momentous was happening and he’d be right there with me. I wished I could have taken him to hospital.
My other faithful supporter helped by bringing heat packs and rubbing my back no matter how ungraciously I asked. And noticing what was happening - because by this stage I’d retreated so deeply into my bovine-moaning self that I could have been on Mars and contractions could have been anything from sixty minutes to six seconds apart for all I knew.
A call to the midwives stopped all this labouring at home malarkey. I would later hear that after being treated to an aural exam of where I was at via the phone (somewhere between ow and moo), the midwife told the Fireman that if he wasn’t ready for a home birth on our carpet he’d best get me into the car. And so began a hilarious few minutes where I argued passionately in favour of staying at home (I hadn’t even used the shower yet! And I wasn’t tired! And the contractions weren’t that bad!) in between surges. Common sense and calm reason prevailed and I made it to the car.
Sitting was the worst part. The TENS machine was on full by now and I did my best to look out the window and concentrate on the radio. I didn’t want to put him off his driving. I was in pain but I was exhilarated. This was it! I was going to give birth to my baby. I was going to see her face. I was going to go into hospital with empty arms and not leave until they were full.
I had no less than three contractions on the way to the birthing suite. My midwife was called Lisa and she held me firmly and made me feel safe. I knew people might see me, or hear me vocalising, but I didn’t care. Everything felt right. I was on the cusp and I wanted to jump off.
We didn’t have time for the oil burner or the massage roller but we did put on some Radiohead and after the monitoring (hospital policy…. there is no way I would have lain on my back by choice) I was free again to let my body roll along as it wanted. Lisa had made a few attempts at conversation but I wasn’t interested – I actually felt largely unable to speak because I didn’t feel fully conscious. Not in a frighteningly out of control way, but in a deliberately absent way. At the time I didn’t think about it but later I realised that I must have reached the state that calm birth aims for – almost like meditation. I felt everything but experienced none of it as trauma. I felt safe and calm and confident. For the first time in my life, I liked my body enough to trust what it could do.
And so it did its work. It was less than two hours after we arrived in hospital that I was ready to push and push I did.
I’ll be honest: I found the pushing the hardest. I had some nitrous oxide during the fist stage and when it came to the second stage they withdrew that and I was on my own. When the surges came they were powerful but it felt like undirected power. I visualised pushing downwards and tried to feel my baby coming. I felt stretching and burning. I was close to crowning.
The description of crowning as ‘like a chinese burn on your vagina’ is pretty ludicrous. Chinese burns are what kids in grade one give each other when they’re bored at recess. This was definitely a game for grownups. It was painful enough that for a moment I got scared. I started to say ‘I can’t…’ but Lisa and my husband simultanously said ‘Yes you can!’ and I drew strength from them. I felt them there, attuned to me, buoying me, and it was all the urging I needed. I gritted my teeth and kept pushing. This may have been the only part of my labouring that required a conscious choice from me to continue. I knew that Bean was coming out. When I pushed I felt like I was going to rip myself a much wider vagina but I had little choice but to trust Lisa’s guidance and I listened to her every word, panting when she said pant, resting when she said rest. It probably took a few minutes but when you think your clitoris is going to tear up the middle a few minutes is rather a long time.
I heard Lisa say to her assisting midwife ‘I haven’t seen anyone push out her own baby for ages’ and I knew then that I was going to do it. Bean was almost here, and I had almost reached my dream of an intervention-free birth. And then I felt her little head. She and I rested for a moment – still one. Her body came out in a single, involuntary, almighty surge. I felt her limbs slide out of me and the fluids gush down my legs. I cried out for my baby and they lifted her into my arms.
‘Don’t drop her,’ said the midwife. As if I would!
I brought her to my face and kissed and kissed her. She was perfectly still and beautifully formed and she smelt heavenly – to me. I had not expected that. She did not move. I also had not expected that. There was no fear; no rushing. We waited, hushed. And then she opened her eyes and her mouth and screamed her first scream. It was louder than I could have dreamed.
I cried and my husband cried and I felt unadulterated joy. And that is how my obstetrician found me; kneeling on the floor holding my still-attached babe in my arms, shaking with elation, smiling up at him and saying ‘I did it! I had a baby!’
I think he felt bad for being late – at least, the midwives told me he’d boasted about how unexpected it was for a first timer like me to have had such a quick birth with no complications, no epidural, no stitches. In the coming days when new midwives came on shift they would come into my room and say ‘ahhh, you’re the one. You must be proud!’
And I was proud. I know that so long as she was healthy, I would have been glad of however she came into the world – like any mother. But to have her come naturally, as I had planned and prepared and hoped for, was a gift.
The cherished child of my womb was born with such grace that for a moment she didn’t even realise she was here, and the first arms she felt around her were mine.
It’s what I would wish for any mother. It’s the pinnacle.