Tuesday, 5 December 2006

From here to maternity...

More shrieking today; then I put the infant into a very naff vibrating chair, which it decided it liked. Oh no - what if it grows up to have *really terrible* taste??

I'm getting behind myself, and the birth is seeming increasingly distant, so it's time to play catch-up.

So we went to see the omniscient Mr Lim, and lo and behold... well, he didn't exactly see through the baby's head, but *something* happened, because suddenly my uterus was free of placenta, and a home birth presented no more risk than it would to the next person. Callooh! Callay! I went shopping to celebrate, and bought many more tiny garments in the charity shops of Mill Road. Also a fishing basket - I like baskety things to put toys in, and this one can also be sat upon.

Spookily, as though my body had just been waiting for the okay from an expert, my waters broke the next morning. Unfortunately, nothing else happened. I'd persuaded A to swap haircut appointments with me - we share the same hairdresser, which is handy - so as there was no action I headed into town to be snipped. Did a whole lot of Christmas shopping - in Halfords, glamorously - and came home. Drank raspberry leaf tea, then went out to a gospel concert and joined in the choruses, but nothing seemed to be getting going. The amniotic fluid went on leaking - it's an endless supply, the books said. I was yomping through maternity pads until A reminded me that we had a house full of nappies, so I road-tested a few terries.

By the next day, we were beginning to worry slightly, as you only have a certain amount of time after your waters break before they want to induce you - which, surprise, means ending up in hospital after all. NOOOOOOOOOO! So we started working our way down the list: eat a pineapple, drink more bloody raspberry leaf tea (filthy stuff), have a shag, have a curry, go for longish walk with friend and hyperactive pug. Also struck by cleaning urge and nearly asphyxiated myself spraying some vile orange kitchen cleaner into the under-sink cupboard then sticking my head into it. Coughing for ten minutes didn't start anything. Curses! And so to bed... we've read that the prostoglandins in semen that are supposed to get labour going are even more effective taken orally, and A has spruced himself up accordingly, but as it happens we're too knackered for any hanky-panky and pass out as our tiny heads hit the pillows.

I wake up at six the next morning, again, and wander downstairs to finish the rationalisation of the under-sink cupboard. Information design segues neatly into domestic ergonomics, and I'm trying to find the perfect location for a nappy bucket. At about half-past seven I decide I can't be botherered to have breakfast, and it might be a good idea to get some more sleep. So I go back to bed. And then not very much later, there's a funny kind of feeling that's sort of in my front and mostly in my back. And fifteen minutes later, another one. A is beginning to stir, and has done this twice before, so I ask him if he thinks it might be a contraction. He says yes. Oooooohhh...

And so they continue. They don't feel like anything contracting: the most localised pain is at the base of my spine. An hour or so later, they're getting closer together and rather more painful. And then suddenly quite a lot more painful, and nasty because you can feel the pain approaching and know it's goinbg to hurt, but also that nothing you can do will stop it. The only thing you can do is shout "Noooo, please..." and crouch over the sofa. At about nine-fifteen it seemed like time to call the midwife, and time to see if getting into the bath might help the pain. It's a big cast-iron rolltop which I habitually spend hours steeping in, next to a pile of snacks and paperbacks, but of course not ideal... we'd thought about a birthing pool (you can buy them on eBay, naturally), but then there'd been the possibility of a Caesarean, or at best a hospital birth. And bugger, we hadn't written our birth plan yet, either. I'd been pretty sure I'd be early - I've got a fast metabolism, and my menstrual cycle is only 24 days, so I reckon my body generally doesn't hang about - but hadn't, of course, acted on this assumption....

So by quarter to ten it hurts quite a lot, and I'm shouting "Where's that bloody midwife?" (Answer: trekking over from Cambridge) and "Get that bloody bubblewrap down!" (We have a brick floor, and I'm only prepared to take authenticity so far.) By about ten o'clock I've had enough of the bath, and want to be ON all fours, IN the living room, ON the bubble wrap, so I do that. I see what they mean about things being very clear when you're in labour. The midwife arrives with a great clattering of metal things - cylinders of gas and air, I discover later, which we never actually use. There isn't really time for introductions. "I don't suppose I could get you to lie down so that I can do an examination?" she says. "No," I agree. Being examined isn't high on my list of priorities at that moment.

We're apparently in second stage already. My blurred memories include lots of people's mobile bloody phones going off, and idiotic conversations - there's no reception in our house unless you stand in the garden. Surely there ought to be some situations in which you simply don't answer the phone? Thank heaven I'm not in a hospital room full of bleeping instruments: I need to concentrate and I don't multi-task at all well. An assistant midwife arrives and starts filling in a form with a very scratchy pen. I ask her if she could please not, and it comes out much more polite than it is in my head, weirdly. Our ante-natal teacher had warned us that language inhibitions might be loosened, and A was worried that my language might be even more - erm, colourful? than usual, but oddly there's no urge to swear, and I yell inarticulately instead. My throat hurts for days.

This bit hurts less because you can feel the purpose. But it's not as obvious as it could be: there's one huge urge to push, but after you've taken it as far as you can - like singing a very long phrase in music - you have to decide how far back to come and how much to breathe in before pushing again, and this time there's no involuntary urge to help you. I get frustrated because I can feel that there must be some trick to it: if I could only get the breathing right, it would all be easy... For much of the time, it really does feel as if you're doing a very big, hard pooh: so much of the pressure is on your perineum, and that's right next to your bum, so there doesn't seem much difference. And you push and push, and then *have* to give up for a bit and relax, and you feel everything going back inside again. Hell! At some point the midwife says I can feel the baby's head, so I reach underneath: it's warm, but squishier than you'd think. After that we don't seem to get anywhere for ages: I grit my teeth and push when the urge comes, and the midwife says "Excellent!" and I have to ask her to be more specific - "Push!" or "Don't push!" because I don't know if excellent means nearly there or go on. But she's good: she doesn't say too much, but what she says is worthwhile: she suggests shifting my weight from foot to foot (this shifts the baby about in your pelvis so it can find the best way through); later she suggests turning the other way around. I've been leaning back against A, who's sitting on the piano stool - who'd have thought *that* would be a useful birth accessory? - but turn and grip his ample waist instead. He is perfect: I mostly ignore him but know he's completely solid and reliable, and what's more know that being ignored won't upset him: he's left his ego behind for this one. Wonderful man.

Eventually, when I feel as though I really need to just give up - and I'm fairly fit and healthy, so how does anyone who's not get through it? - we get to a different place and the midwife says to stop pushing just for a moment while she does something, and then a baby comes out. Head-first onto the bubble-wrap, A says later. It's 1221 - nicely palindromic. Goodness knows why or how, but I remember our lack of birth plan and manage to gasp that we don't want to know what sex it is, we want to find out for ourselves, so the midwives wrap it up in a towel and hand it over.

Yuck, it's horrible. Its head is really pointy and its nose has a Bajoran-style fold in it, quite apart from the waxy covering. Oh well. We sit down and look at it anyway. It feels like ten minutes, but is actually about an hour, just recovering and meeting the baby, and giving it its first feed, which seems quite straightforward. My most coherent thought is that it has no eyelashes so is probably a girl, since boys always seem to have long fluttering ones and therefore it's desirable for girls, with the typical perversity of sexism. The midwives come back now and again and say "Haven't you looked yet?" and eventually "We can't fill in our forms until we know..." We've had a change of assistant and the new second midwife is the one we met at the NHS classes we started the week before to supplement our NCT classes, in the hope that we'd meet some new parents both more local and less spookily from an identical social demographic. It's she who points out that - damn and blast it! - we still have the third stage to do.

There's nothing in the whole world I want to do less than push again. My first try is pathetic. For the second one, I try a bit harder and eureka! There it is! But wait. I have in fact passed a blood clot much the size of a placenta. Yuck and double yuck. In fact there is quite a lot of blood around by now, as the second midwife calmly points out. Give it one more try, she says, and then she strongly recommends the syntometrin injection, which is the one that speeds up the delivery of the placenta. Having had a totally drug-free birth up to now, I'm strongly tempted to get fetishistic about refusing this, but luckily sanity prevails. And anyway, the third contraction never happens. We have to cut the cord so she can use it to pull the placenta out. Nobody has mentioned that A has done this twice before, so when it's presented to him it's not quite the Big Moment that seems to be expected. Ah well. The injection in my thigh is stupidly painful - how the hell can THAT hurt? But thankfully, the wretched placenta comes out and is complete. My original midwife had a horrible tale of a woman who had a normal home birth, then couldn't deliver the placenta, so got taken to hospital, where it turned out to be attached to her uterus, so she had to have a Caesarean to get it out. Labour and a C-section - how crap is that?

Around now I lie down on our handy divan thing, and look out of the window at the glorious autumn day - which begins to fade alarmingly, and the light to yellow, and I think I'm going to die, after finding the perfect man and having the perfect baby... It's the blood loss, but the fade to black is just how they show death in the movies, and for a few moments I stare death in the face. And then I remember to say something, and am told to get my head down, and call for food - I missed breakfast to rationalise the cupboard, and lunch to give birth - and start stuffing food into my mouth. A little while later, the first midwife suggests taking a bath, but not standing up, and so I crawl across the ceramic-tiled floor of the hall to get there, feeling suitably penitential.

The bath is lovely. I shall stop in there for the moment. To be continued...

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