FRANCES & CHARLIE
As a midwife I was expecting the worst – going overdue, induction, syntocinon, high forceps, haemorrhage etc. Just because you work in the business it doesn’t make babies come out any easier, and a number of my midwife friends had not had a smooth ride. So I reckoned that if I expected the worst then I could only be pleasantly surprised if things were more straightforward.
We went to antenatal classes, mainly to make sure my husband listened to someone else telling him what might happen, and dutifully massaged my perineum. I had one session with a midwife hypnotherapist, and was disappointed that there was no falling asleep and “look into my eyes” chanting, and had glorious massages and reflexology with Anita Boos. I didn’t believe her when she said I wouldn’t make it to my due date, so concentrated on making my CD of birth tunes, which was all the rage back then.
She was right though. At 38+4 weeks I woke up after a solid night’s sleep (midwives ARE good and sleeping and have fantastic bladder capacity) with a few griping pains in the gut. It took me an hour to realise that this was really it, and we wouldn’t be going to the christening were supposed to be attending that day. Neil went to get the Sunday papers, as we reckoned this would be the last chance in years we had to lie in bed and read them in peace, and I settled down with a hot water bottle. By lunchtime the TENS machine was on and I’d started pacing, but I still managed to eat the best bacon and avocado sandwich I’ve ever had. It may be too much information but I was on the loo all day – to start with I wanted total privacy, as I didn’t think my beloved should see me doing a poo. After a while I just didn’t care and needed him in there perched on the side of the bath to be in control of the TENS boost button. (BTW the plus side of this was that there was no poo left to come out in the pool!)
While I was flicking through the Sunday magazine, I spotted an article about famous men and their heroes. One politician had said his hero was Nelson Mandela, and had written very movingly about him. I had read Mandela’s autobiography and visited Robben Island not long before, and as I looked at the picture of his warm and loving face, I told myself that if a man could endure 27 years of brutality in prison and come out with forgiveness in his heart, then surely I could put up with 27 hours (or so) of labour, when the prize at the end was great. I tore out the picture of Mandela and took it with me to the hospital – at points when I felt that the pain was too much to bear I would look at his face and it gave me the strength to keep going.
I’m a great believer in distraction in labour – I haven’t done another Sudoku puzzle since then, but I did watch “The Incredibles”. There is a point however, half way through “Hell Boy” where I still to this day think “God it really hurt” and I knew it was nearly time to go to the Birth Unit. By this time it was lashing with rain and as I tried to get in to the back of the car, I dropped my TENS machine into a puddle, which resulted in an unpleasant electric shock. However it did suddenly make my contractions ease off, or maybe I was just distracted by trying to get the darn thing working again.
When I got to the Birth Unit lovely Anna was there to greet me and I felt so safe and protected. However much you know about birth, there comes a time when you have to switch off your knowledge and just let someone else take over. I discovered that all I wanted was regular reassurance that I was doing well and that everything was OK. Labour is a strange time – my memories are hazy but there are certain moments that are still so vivid. Time bends and stretches, and what I recall is very different from what is written in my notes. I thought I was vocal and talked a lot, but the conversation was with me in my head, as Neil says I was very quiet (he may be exaggerating the truth but who cares?). I don’t think I said much to him apart from asking for more “Orange Shit” (Lucozade Sport) and telling him when I wanted the CD changing. I remember feeling so hot, and pressing my face against the cool of the window and watching the rain pelting down outside. In the pool I used the breathing technique that Sarah the hypnotherapist had shown me, where you concentrate on your breathing and visualise the colour of your breath as it goes in and out. When I was coming up to transition I remember being amazed to find I was breathing out flames.
I’m often asked what it’s like having a baby, and there’s only one way I can describe second stage for me. Have you ever had food poisoning so badly that you’re sitting on the loo with a bucket on your lap, and as that wave comes over you, you cannot stop your body expelling everything? It’s like that, only less disgusting – when the contractions came, everything in my body just made me push. I’m not sure how people manage to just breath their babies out! I could feel the head so low, but getting it round under my pubic bone was just beyond my reach (Becky was right, it feels like a Chinese Burn in your vagina when you’re crowning!). So I thought “F**k this, I’ve had enough!” and gave one almighty push and out he came, head, body and the lot. I didn’t follow the advice of gentle pushing and slow delivery of the head at all, but I didn’t care and I wouldn’t have minded at that point if I’d been torn to pieces. I cannot describe the overwhelming feeling of euphoria and relief, love and joy that comes at that point. If I could bottle it and sell it I’d be the richest woman in the world.