I’m not sure birth was quite what I was expecting, it does however in many ways, play out precisely in the stages you talk about during prenatal classes. A universal western frustration with first births – from what I can gather, is about ‘when to go into hospital’. They say, ‘you’ll just know’ which is frustrating – but you kind of do just know… However much you can’t prepare for birth there are things that you can do and we are extremely happy with the choices we made, including our original decision of (hoping) to have our baby at a Birth Centre rather than via the standard hospital system. Birth Centres accept non-complicated pregnancies and aim for minimal intervention re. drugs, which is essentially better for the baby – there are also some great perks such as the partner being able to stay the night nd a more ‘home-like’ environment. If you want an epidural you get moved out into the main birth suites. If you get gestational diabetes, you’re out. The pregnancy wasn’t devoid of issues – including some strange ones like low platelets and two trips to the ER but on the whole things went smoothly.
Even if we could afford private healthcare, the idea of an obstetrician didn’t really float my boat. My sister is a midwife and I am confident in the care that they offer. Midwifery (simplistically) is a happy medium between doctor and doula. It didn’t bother me at all that I saw different midwives almost every appointment, I kind of liked it better that way. Going public barely cost us anything and the care and service was exceptional. On the other end of the scale, we’re not home-birth kind of people at all, I’d rather have the medical backup if required. The Birth Centre was a great middle ground. We’re not hippies… we’re nerds.
Claire graced us in coming essentially a day after her due date (the second date – and the one the midwives were running with). My revised guess the week leading up was that she’d come on the 29th, and I wasn’t too far wrong. I did spend a fair amount of time sitting forward/scrubbing floors etc. in an attempt to a) speed things along as I was getting bored b) she was partially posterior and I was hoping she would turn. I also entirely completed my ‘to-do’ list including the one last random DIY – which I had banked as completely optional.
A few days before Claire was born I was researching birth photography online to give Geoff some idea of the kind of photos I’d like him to take and I came across Spikey Hedgehog Photography, I enquired, entirely not expecting to have anything of the sort happen so close to the baby being due but because I was curious. A back and forth email conversation in the early hours of the morning and Jill was on-board, I met her the next day.
Labor kicked in about 3am on Wednesday morning (27th June) we decided that Geoff should stick around at home rather than head in to work. We spent the day watching Grand Designs, eating from our stockpile of snacks and timing contractions on the iPhone. Things stalled early morning, frustratingly, and didn’t pick up again until late afternoon. I used a heat pack and we put the TENS machine on pretty early and kept that going. Such a smart decision to hire one, I cannot recommend them enough! So we stuck it out. By evening – whenever I got into the shower things would speed up considerably (between 2-4 minutes). We called the hospital and they said wait a bit to see how things went and come on in when we thought we should. A few hours later we decided to head in, they weren’t terribly busy and we thought things could keep progressing with the use of water.
Things slowed down again with the change of location. Once there we tried the shower again and sure enough things picked up. We hit a shift change pretty soon after our arrival, which worked really well. I knew the first midwife from a few clinic visits but hadn’t really met the second. The familiarity of the first midwife was great was she is lovely and was perfect for us to get settled. I was praying for someone through labour who would be a good fit for us and the shift change bought pretty well exactly the kind of midwife I needed, not overly saccharine, respectful and present but not in our faces.
Jill showed up not long after we arrived and met Geoff, I probably vaguely acknowledged her but that was kind of it. You’re not terribly interested in concentrating on anything much except contractions. I alternated between the shower and sitting on a birth ball (yeah a gym ball people – nothing more special than that) as I preferred the TENS to the shower – although I’m not sure I actually let anyone know that verbally. Geoff was extremely wonderful throughout. I was pretty vocal – more so than I thought I would be.
After who knows how many hours the midwife suggested I try the bath, and I remember wishing it would hurry up and fill up faster as I was pretty desperate for a change. The bath was not the immediate mind blowing relief I was hoping for – I think I thought it might magically take a lot of the pain away, it did work really well, just not quite as beautifully as I unrealistically hoped. It was great having the room for Geoff to be there too to help hold me up – along with the rail. We were both exhausted and I felt Geoff doze off a few times (apparently it happens a lot with that room… warm and comfortable – not quite your Peninsula Hot Springs…) and it was goodly (sic) distracting to have to pay attention in keeping both keep him and myself awake.
At 4am my waters broke spontaneously – in the bath, another thing I was extremely happy about not having happen prior to hospital as the risk of induction and the use of intervention jumps if your waters break and things don’t move. Things progressed a bit more rapidly then. I had extremely bad back pain – it turns out Claire was posterior – which I didn’t really realise at the time. The midwife suggested sterile water injections as an option but aptly warned me – this was something I had discussed with my sister, who is a midwife only a week before. Foolishly (or wisely) I requested them. Sterile water injections are four injections given simultaneously with a contraction. They are literally just water beads injected under the surface of your skin – and work on nerve gateway principles and block pain. They work insanely well. I had two midwifes during a contraction. I had no idea I could make that kind of noise. They hurt. They hurt. They hurt. They work. Geoff marks this as possibly the most terrifying part of the whole labour. They tell you they hurt like a bad bee-sting… this was some kind of mutant bee.
Things moved pretty quickly after that. I did get really ‘pushy’ quite early. Too early. They got me out of the bath and back to the room where they put me on a drip as the babies heart rate was quite high as I was dehydrated despite my best attempts to drink. Red Powerade makes for nasty vomit… I got stuck at 7cm dilated. I couldn’t pee. They put a catheter in. Thank goodness. You’re not meant to like these things but glory it was good. The concentration of transition and having to breathe through and not push was genuinely horrible. The catheter meant things could actually keep moving.
The pushing bit of having a baby is not the worst bit. I’m not sure why this bit is always understood as the worst. It’s difficult, it’s bloody painful but you get a chance to rest and genuinely stop between pushes. It’s helpful having the end finally in sight and yet frustrating when you think each push is going to be ‘it’ but it doesn’t quite get you there.
Claire Matilda arrived at 8.11am on the 28th of June. She was posterior – face out (a real treat for the midwives, Geoff and Jill – not so for me). Geoff knew she was a girl when he saw the top half of her face. It was emotionally foreign and wonderful and entirely overwhelming. She was tiny and amazing.
I delivered the placenta physiologically (no drugs again) despite being offered an injection – which I half accepted and then figured I’d got this far, I might as well go the whole way, far less rewarding this bit – you kind of just want your uterus to stop working and to sleep/enjoy your baby. Prior to birth I was rather scared of tearing. I tore. I asked them if it was going to hurt – I’m not sure why I didn’t factor in that you get a local before they stitch you up but it was an odd (and somewhat ridiculous) relief. I did use gas then and the local and it wasn’t bad – the recovery hasn’t been bad either (all things considered).
And then we were. Tired. But new. With a little girl 3.5kg, 51cm long, a head of hair and little mole on the right side of her face.
Such a huge thanks to Geoff for his incredible support, to Zoe especially and Christina and the Mercy Family Birth Centre for their experience and wisdom and to Jill for her stunning photographs and help through the whole labour. I am so grateful we had the opportunity to record this life changing event.
It is two and a half weeks on. The days are kind of blurry – which I think keeps you sane. The Tour de France is on and helpful in keeping company at 1am. People have bought us so many meals. We have been out and about a bit, to grandparents, to bookclub, to the shops, to church.
We are adjusting, and loving it. She make hilarious faces and cute ‘smiles’ and has a deep cry. Breastfeeding sucks (pardon any pun, but it does) despite probably going considerably well.
She’s good. It is good.