(Written by the birthing mother)
Part One: Waiting
Thursday 19 July 2018
It’s the middle of winter, and now four days past my due date. The cat is underneath the doona, curled up next to my huge swollen belly, purring as I feel that swooshing live fish flop of the baby’s movements inside me. I worry about how I’ll miss that sensation, that constant reminder that I am my baby’s most safe and cosiest home. I attempt to roll over in bed, squint at my phone and choose to ignore well-meaning messages from friends and family all wanting to know if they’ve missed the crucial news of this kid’s arrival.
By early afternoon I’m in an acupuncture appointment to give baby the hint that it’s time to move on out of his comfy room. But also – can something please be done about the carpal tunnel in my hands and wrists I plead, flipping my palms open, showing off their swelling. Not much about pregnancy has been pretty.
Something in the session – maybe the pace of the practitioner and the calmness in her voice, maybe just my frustration and exhaustion – releases deep and hard, and I sob to the point of dizziness. I suddenly feel my most ready to have this baby. She holds my hand and looks me in the eye, and says gently, Your baby is coming soon.
Laced through my emotional exhaustion is a deep cynicism about this prediction. It’s like telling someone who’s star sign has their birthday that month that they’re going to have a milestone celebration.
I shuffle my huge body off for another cheese pie. I’m not tired of waiting but I am tired.
Friday 20 July 2018
Today I can drop in to the Pregnancy Day Care Clinic at the hospital for a check up. Either Friday, or wait until after the weekend – said the midwife casually earlier this week. I opt for Friday morning, knowing that I’m not much use for the other thing I could be doing that day: finish moving our belongings into our brand new house. Building on that house started as soon as Jimmy and I found out that we were pregnant. For months now it’s been a giddy, stressful race as to what would come first: the house or the baby. Electricity was connected to the house on Monday, the baby’s due date. Now we wait on the official word that we’re allowed to live there, our furniture already waiting for us. The hospital bags and all the baby things are still at my sister Claire’s* apartment, limbo land.
My last check up at the clinic had been a bit cute, listening to the baby’s heartbeat with anticipation. The check up had been quick, too. So this time I asked my Claire to come along whilst Jimmy moves house things. We get there about 10am. I leave at 5pm, after hours of waiting, three scans, and a requested second opinion. The second doctor was more resolute than the first: I need to be induced, and soon. The amniotic fluid is too low, there was a danger the placenta is packing up. I try to bargain, trying to evaluate true risk versus intervention-prone hospital procedure. The doctors tell me that there’s no real negotiation to be had: Your baby could be in distress. This is very serious. We’d induce now but there is currently no space in the Birth Ward.
I’m to be booked in for 3pm tomorrow, Saturday. I try to resolve the dissonance between the urgency being impressed on me and the fact I will need to wait anyway.
I eat a full packet of Allen’s lollies from the gift shop downstairs and cry in the hallway into cheap hospital tissues. I call Jimmy, tell him not to panic. I call Erika, our doula, and she talks me through our options. She urges me to get a scan independent from the hospital, and with the details she sends through I book this additional ultrasound in for tomorrow afternoon.
Jimmy, Claire and I walk around Princes Park in the cold afternoon air, past the makeshift memorial to Eurydice Dixon. I think about grief, endings and hope, and luck, and pain.
Saturday 21 July 2018
I wake with Jimmy next to me. It’s been weeks since we’ve spent a night in the same bed together, despite being such affectionate sooks for each other. I’ve been too large and plagued by insomnia to share a bed. But now here he is, warm skin pressed against me in reassurance.
Slightly jangled by the notion that it might be a long while until we are alone whilst frisky again, we kiss and fuck and have a long hot shower.
Reality kicks back in with my overlooked need for a GP’s referral for the additional ultrasound we’re getting at 2pm that afternoon. We slide into our family GP’s reception as the last appointment that Saturday, and have the good fortune of seeing our regular doctor. She approves of our plan to get another opinion and writes the referral.
We have just enough time to have brunch before that scan, and we tell ourselves it might be our last uninterrupted hot meal for a while. All these lasts are weighing on me. I don’t have the capacity to process all the firsts at the same time.
The obstetrician recommended by Erika is kind, clear and down to earth. His precise manner and tidy office are reassuring. He peers carefully into the blurry internal constellations on the screen, noting measurements. He leads us through the numbers and what they mean. The baby is measuring small. The amniotic fluid is low. These things lead him to the same conclusion as the hospital doctors yesterday: induce, soon. He can tell that it’s not really what we want to hear, but that we want to do right by our baby. One day your kid won’t want to go to school, he says. They’ll want to stay in bed. And it will be your job to get them out the door, as that’s what’s good for them. Today is like that.
We walk straight out of that 2pm appointment across the road to the hospital, where I feel like I’m surrendering myself to the police for a crime I don’t remember committing. The hospital staff are expecting me. Jimmy meets me in a birth suite, with our mountains of carefully packed bags.
First up is to have a Cook’s Catheter inserted. It’s like a slightly longer, slightly more painful procedure than a pap test, the doctor tells me. He’s right. I start feeling cramps like period pain immediately. It’s a 12 hour wait now until they check my cervix, in the hope that it will have opened enough then to break my waters.
We’re shifted to the maternity ward, where I can hear newborn babies crying. It makes my boobs hurt. I text close friends with an update. Jimmy is allowed to stay overnight, which feels like rich luck. We watch cuddle and watch ‘Friday Night Lights’, which I’ve been bingeing on during the past few weeks of waiting. The Texan homilies and the shiny American hair strike me as extra cheesy tonight. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.
I know I need to rest as much as I can as I’m having a baby tomorrow. But I can’t. Because I’m having a baby tomorrow.
Sunday 22 July 2018
We’re woken at 3.30am to be taken to the birthing suite. All the bags are shuffled again. I ask if we can have a birthing suite with a bath. I’m gently told that because the labour is being induced that I’ll not be allowed to use one anyway – the baby heart-rate and contraction monitors need to be strapped on at all times. This is the first time that it really dawns on me that in this context birthing a baby is a series of procedures and rules, just like we’d been warned in our natural birth classes.
A lovely midwife called Charlotte is set to take the Cook’s Catheter out, and break my waters. There’s so little amniotic fluid left that she needs to take the evidence of the ruptured membranes out to be inspected by the doctor on the ward, like newlyweds’ bedsheets. We ask to stall the start of the Syntocinon drip, in the hope that labour will start without the IV drugs. At some point a doctor bustles in to tell me that the best hopes of a natural vaginal delivery will be with the drugs. I ask for an hour please, and to be able to go walk around. I try to shimmy down as many steps as I can find, swaying my hips like I’d been taught in prenatal Pilates classes. Contractions start and are carefully timed by Jimmy on an app.
We wander around outside the hospital in the crisp winter morning air. When we return to the birth suite the doctors have forgotten about us, buying us some extra time. By the time the ward doctor sees me and we push back again about the Syntocinon, the contractions are gone.
Part Two: Knock Knock
This is not waiting. Syntocinon floods through my veins.
There is no timed waiting and resting between contractions like birth classes had detailed.
It’s hard and painful and here oh yes here are the deep animal groans. And here again. And again. Again. Again.
Cinched in with monitors and the IV stand.
I don’t like this new midwife’s perfume.
I don’t like her, actually. She already seems exasperated by me.
And now, if I ever had modesty it’s gone as my clothes are shucked off, tangled around cords and tubes.
Jimmy and Erika keep the heart-rate monitors in place.
Sometimes when monitors slip, which is pretty much every contraction, a doctor from an office somewhere down the hall comes to inspect.
Hours pass and the centimetre measurements I’d asked to not be told – in my carefully worded birth plan, sheathed in an A4 plastic sleeve – are all dutifully marked against the clock as medical progress.
With the gloopy mucus plug landing on the ensuite floor, my swollen belly and tits swaying, and my throat growling like Patti Smith I think: this, this here is the most fucking wild punk thing I’ve ever done.
I’m told 5 cms – half way – and the others in the room are buoyant at this news. For the first time I feel that my stamina will not match my ambition.
There’s a knocking at the front of my pelvis.
The doctors don’t like this.
There’s talk of epidural, caesarean. There’s talk of nil by mouth.
Jimmy and Erika bargain on my behalf.
Erika is the halo of this room.
She binds us all in her encouraging, confident glow.
The right words, the perfect tone, a calm power, a neat collusion between her and Jimmy. She kneads into my layers of muscles and lets the baby know what’s what, as the drugs thrum through my big body and his tiny one.
The gas, try some gas. I might’ve had higher hopes for childbirth drugs, frankly. But I had firm lines around what I feared as further intervention.
So – here, inhale long, exhale longer. Focus on breath. Just like yoga class. Jimmy and I lay on a sticky floor mat together, my feet pressing against his as I arc in pain with each contraction as them tumble one upon another.
Jimmy is utterly steadfast with support. He tells me I’m powerful and amazing. He is quick with the vomit tray, gentle with suggestions, completely unfazed by the gore of it all. And, as ever, truly genuine in his care and hopefulness.
At 8cm my body still needs to push on every contraction but the doctor says not to.
The midwife – a new one, Jess – and Erika tell to trust my body.
Jess says she can decline the next vaginal examination on my behalf.
And asks me what position I’d like to deliver in.
I opt for the bed but on my side, where I can face Jimmy, leg up, and the midwives say they can help minimise any tearing.
Jimmy is playing my powerbabes playlist.
Luckily I made an extensive mixtape for this occasion, as over an hour later I’m still pushing. The midwives cheer when Beyonce’s ‘Girls’ comes on. Who run the world? These supportive women. Then Tori Amos croons about ‘Putting The Damage On’. I reach down past my wide tummy and touch the slick head pressing in and against me. That’s him. One more push, one more, then one more and more and more and one more again, for ever and ever.
The clock lands on 9.25pm, with the baby – the actual real baby, our baby – born to ‘Love and Affection’ by Joan Armatrading, a raunchy ode to the zipless fuck in the cloak of a crooning folk song:
Little darling I believe you could Help me a lot
Just take my hand
And lead me where you will
Our baby placed on my chest, and Jimmy and I cry and kiss urgently.
The baby is slippery and his head is a strange warped jellybean shape.
But he is perfect and his dark eyes are open and already he is a person in the world.
The overhead lights are flicked and suddenly our gently fairy-lit cave is a hospital again. There’s a placenta squished out of me and dished into a clanky platter.
I’ve lost more than half a litre of blood. I don’t know what that means other than a new IV bag to be hooked into.
I’m stitched up by midwife Charlotte – the same one who many, many hours and two shift changes ago broke my waters – and then re-stitched by a mumbling surgeon whilst I am high on gas and new baby.
This scrunched-up baby face on my chest is real, too real.
Erika helps him to his first dozy feed, my huge dark nipples contrasting against his delicate, furrowed little face. By the way, the ultrasounds were totally wrong: this baby is not small. He’s 4.2 kg. I just made, sustained, and then pushed a 4.2 kg baby out of my body.
Part Three: Here, Love
Monday 23 July, 2019
In the early morning blue not-darkness of the hospital room Jimmy is sleeping next to me. And you are too, in a plastic tub, wrapped tightly.
You you you you. You marvel. You’re so tiny and pink, with little crusts of blood still pasted on your skin. Your cry is an unpracticed warble. We’re both a bit clumsy in our new roles.
I’m tired and raw and caught between replaying the revelations of what has just happened, and this here now, and everything ahead. Your whole life ahead. What adventures we will have.
We get the news that we can now officially move into our house. The next day we bundle you into the car for the first time. We take all that hospital luggage, and squishy little you, and together we step over another fresh threshold.
Part Four: Learning
What I didn’t know then. The list is too long.
I expected life with a newborn to be lonely, and feel endless. Instead I have felt more deeply loved and loving than ever, and keenly aware that time is even more fleeting now measures come in the mere days my little love has been outside of me.
I meet other new mums, and at times their solidarity makes me feel utterly invincible. I can’t stop marveling at the deep reserves of patience and joy mothers have.
Fathers, too. I look at Jimmy’s tenderness and sense of responsibility with our baby, and adore both of them even more.
I said yes a bit too much in those early days. I wanted to share our delicate world but didn’t really know how to do so with proper care. The boundaries I didn’t know how to protect were instead dissolved.
But I will likely always struggle with how to protect him and how to share him.
Because this new love is everything.
The boundless, sublime love I have for this creature that I made.
His googly newborn eyes, and those cheeks that now parade his deep dimples with every frequent smile.
The best thing I have ever done.