LUCY & DAUGHTER
I want to share this story as I think that we don’t talk about birth, and for that matter death in our culture nearly enough. Birth is an incredible, but everyday, natural, normal event Western culture has made it into a taboo subject, spread fear amongst women and mis-information. By sharing my experience I hope to do my part to dispel myths and empower women with real knowledge, especially those women like me who also happen to have epilepsy.
The first night of the 38th week of my first pregnancy I woke in the small hours, the world was quiet and dark, still. The day before my mucus plug had started leaking out, thick and gooey and yuck, but a midwife assured me that could happen days before labour even began so I didn’t pay much attention. I squinted at the clock; 3am, the world was asleep. I couldn’t get comfortable. I felt like I had period cramps, steadily they became a constant dull ache low in my belly. I tried not to wake my husband, I stretched and rolled and eventually got up. I remember sitting on the loo, still not believing that this was it. Then a wave hit, a surge across my belly deep inside, I opened my eyes looking at the soap in the sink next to me and thought “I’m going to be sick” and I was. Violently and quickly. My husband appeared in the bathroom door. “Here we go” he smiled, so calmly “Here we go” I nodded and threw up again. I tried to go back to bed. Every now and again my belly tightened, usually I was sick. Sometimes I wasn’t. ‘A final bout of sickness’ I thought grimly clutching the edge of the bed, sweating.
Over the next hour we put on our hypnobirthing tracks. They helped massively. Hearing the familiar words relaxed my muscles and soothed my brain. We kept the lights off and in the dark rocked and swayed through the sickness. It was like nothing I’d ever felt before. I lost all sense of time. As it grew light we called the midwives and our doula arrived. She squashed onto the floor at the side of our bed, held my hand and a sick bowl. She stayed with me as my husband gathered our things. I didn’t want to move but I knew it was only going to get harder.They wrapped me in love, with socks and blankets, I made a glamorous sight, but I was past caring. I hung between them and we staggered into the dawn. It was the most beautiful morning. It felt like the first day of winter. Frost glistened on the cars and the last leaves swirled round our feet.
I had never appreciated quite how bad a state the tarmac is in between our house and the hospital. I felt every bump, every lump, every acorn and pebble jarred my stomach. Somehow I managed not to be sick in the car and we made it to the hospital just as the night shift ended.
Later we discovered it was the hospitals busiest day of the year so far. I was shown into a room on level 13. It must be one of the best views in Brighton. But I could hardly focus on it. I rocked on the floor and buried my head in a chair. I was dimly aware of my husband, doula and my mum holding space for me, hands pressing on my naked back, fingers gripping mine, soft words of encouragement, and more glamorous still, holding pads between my legs to mop up mucus and pee and other such delights. Fielding midwives questions, dimming lights, playing music, filling the diffuser. Time seemed to stand still and speed up all at once. I breathed and groaned, sweated and froze. Determination sunk into my pores. I opened my mouth, kept my lips soft. Thought of Ina May Gaskin. I stopped caring where I was, what the world was doing, what I was wearing, I wanted it to be over. Almost every contraction I threw up. Exhaustion clawed at me. I wanted to stop, but there was no stopping it. I shut my eyes, it was just me and my baby and the only way out was forward. Someone wheeled in some gas and air. I sucked on that thing like a kid who’d never had a lollipop. It took the edge off. Calmed me down, but I think I got a little over-excited, started to trip, got higher and higher. All the while contractions got stronger and stronger, taking my breath away, freezing my brain. Then an extra big one came, I opened my mouth, to breathe it out, visualised myself on a wave, there was a rush of pressure and then the room erupted into laughter. I opened my eyes confused and saw my mum dripping wet beside me- my waters had broken in spectacular fashion exploding all over her!
At some point they put a drip into me. And then with exhaustion sitting heavy on my chest they suggested an epidural. I wanted out. I wanted a break. So I said yes. It wasn’t pleasant, the epidural. Sitting still when my body want me to groan and sway was hard. But then it was done, I expected relief but it never came. ‘Sometimes epidurals don’t work’ they said. I remember listening to a Krishna chant, dragging on the gas and snapping “Fuck Krishna, fuck this hippy shit it’s not fucking working, turn it off!” and then turning to my incredible husband and saying “and fuck men too, you all have no idea!”
And then the midwife spoke some magical words “you’re fully dilated”. I grinned with relief, bizarrely I realise now in retrospect I think I somehow thought that that was it. That when I reached that point the baby would somehow magically just fall out of my now wide open (- donut sized according to the charts!) vagina…oh how wrong I was! Little had I realised that that is when the true work of labour begins. That’s why you need energy, need rest. Until that moment you’re along for the ride and then you need to work.
I feel like the English language falls down when it comes to describing the next part. It was primal and animal and base. I was the lioness and the she-wolf, I was the mother and the crone and every woman who has ever birthed all rolled into one. A wall of fear rose up and slammed into my chest, I blew it away and growled “I can” right on the heels of “I can’t”. My groans became roars that no power on earth could’ve stopped. I knew in my core the only way out was through. It hurt like nothing I’ve ever felt and yet it wasn’t painful. I curled my toes and roared, again and again. It was too different to be painful. The word pain is somehow familiar, a concept we deal with daily and this, this sensation was something other entirely. The midwife by my feet was a beacon of calm and light, I roared my energy towards her. She took away the gas and air, turned off the redundant epidural told me I was doing it, told me to roar downwards not up, told me to breath my baby down.
And then suddenly all the hurt stopped. Something soaked my thighs, there was a new cry that wasn’t mine and a squirmy warm body was placed on my chest, the cord slipping between my legs. And there it was. My daughter blinked up at me and the world stood still. She’d been caught by her daddy, she was pink and warm, healthy and very much alive. I was dimly aware that people around us cried and kissed us. A towel was wrapped over us and I stared and stared and tried to drink her in. It was too wet between my legs, I knew I was bleeding, but it seemed a small matter, when they said I needed syntocinon to deliver the placenta quickly I just nodded. Moments later it flopped out softly and they stitched me up and I barely noticed so lost was I in our baby’s gaze. The cord was already white and soft, my mum cut it.
Two weeks on, I still find it hard to look away from her. Can’t quite believe she’s here, can’t quite believe I’ve made the rank of ‘mother’. For me, labour wasn’t spiritual or painless. It hurt, it was primal and intense hard work and it was also the most incredible experience of my life so far. It was not only the birth of my child but the birth of me as a mother, I faced the unknown and it was beautiful. All together I laboured for roughly 14 hours, 6 hours active and just 40minutes of pushing. I bled, got dehydrated, used drugs and have a second, almost third degree tear. And still I think our birth was as perfect as can be. It wasn’t luck, I’d worked hard to ensure I feel that way whichever path my birthing took. I’d studied and prepared. I felt safe, supported and listened to, I had choices and respect. I hope all women can be supported to feel this way. Everyone around me knew about my birth wishes. No one mentioned epilepsy and through it all epilepsy never even raised its ugly head despite the many gloomy predictions I had faced. And now I can safely say that I would do it all again, right now this moment, just to hold my baby once more for the very first time. No trip, no adventure, no drug, no adrenaline rush will ever compare to that incredible moment.