When I was pregnant and would talk to Dr Davis and the midwives about my previous childbirth experience with Emma and my hopes for a better one this time, they were generally very positive about it.
“Second births tend to be quicker and easier,” Dr Davis assured me, more than once. “With a bigger baby.”
I put in my order to the universe for quicker and easier, but not bigger. Emma was 3.6kg (7.9lb) which was big enough.
At my 39 week appointment, the midwife said to me she hoped my second birth would be ‘healing’.
Despite all my hopes, I didn’t dare hope for that. I didn’t dare hope for much, really – mostly, I just wanted it over and done with. The ‘healing’ part would be the fact I never, ever had to do it again.
And now here I was at 4am on Saturday 27 June, draped over the back of the bed, digging my fingernails into Toby’s hands (he didn’t complain, because he knew better), thinking to myself, “Oh this is much worse than I remember. Much, much worse.” Which is saying a lot.
And then the doctor told me it was time to push. Really push. No more breathing through contractions, no more resisting. I had to get this baby out. Dr Bek and Carlene the midwife were fantastic coaches, telling me when to push, when to breathe, when to stop breathing. I pushed and pushed and pushed. More than once I declared it was impossible and I couldn’t do it. At this stage there was less pain and more effort – unimaginable effort.
When the best bit happened – aptly named the ‘ring of fire’ – Dr Bek and Carlene reminded me what was happening. ‘You know what this is, it means the baby’s coming.’ And then: ‘Don’t be scared,’ they said, more than once, which surprisingly was an excellent thing to say to someone who feels like they are about to split in half. It’s good to be reminded that is not going to happen. Toby’s job was to let me dig my fingernails into his hands and to keep me comfortable – mostly providing water (like at Emma’s birth we had water in the camelback so I could suck on it – tip!) and literally mopping my brow. I couldn’t believe how hard I was working and how sweaty I was getting. Equivalent of a marathon indeed, although it felt more like the world’s hardest strength workout. (Eat your heart out Crossfit.)
I’d been pushing a while and could tell he wasn’t progressing all that well – slipping back up each time, which must be the most frustrating thing on the planet. There wasn’t the same worry as with Emma, but still – it was slow, frustrating going. Dr Bek and Carlene suggested I turn onto my back. Since I was convinced that being on my back had slowed things down with Emma’s birth, I wasn’t all that keen. But then I reminded myself of my promise – I was going to do what my coaches told me. If they thought I should turn over, I was going to turn over. I asked for help, and then I turned over.
And oh, the pain. I don’t know where he was lodged at that point but it was an incredibly uncomfortable, awful feeling. I don’t really remember pushing again but I must have – because all of a sudden a baby slid out and was placed onto my chest. It was 4.43am and he was perfect.
I loved him immediately, just like with Emma. And just as strong as the love, was the relief. He was here – healthy, in one piece, finally. That was a relief. Also a relief – I wasn’t pregnant anymore! The neverending pregnancy had indeed ended. And my final relief – I never, ever had to do that ever again. I was ecstatic, about all of it.
They threw some blankets over us and we got busy snuggling. He was much calmer than Emma – not surprising since he’d slid out, rather than been vacuumed. Toby and I kept commenting on how quiet he was. Toby also wasn’t running around cleaning up poo like with Emma, so that was pleasant too. We didn’t name him right away – Cormac had been our first choice of name but within minutes of him being born we agreed he didn’t look like a Cormac. So it was just a matter of getting to know each other, try a little feeding, and relax finally. Despite my thoughts of it being even worse than I remembered, at this point I remember thinking, “Oh no, that was so much better.”
I’d torn pretty badly but they all said it would have been even worse if I’d shown less control, so I guess that’s good? Dr Bek stitched me up under the watchful eye of Dr Davis who then proclaimed she’d done such a great job she could go next door and do the other woman who’d just given birth. I could tell how excited Dr Bek was about starting her weekend stitching up some perineums. Carlene lifted up the blanket to prick his heel and exclaimed over the beautiful little foot – “That makes it worth getting out of bed at 3am,” she said, and I thought that woman is in the right job. After cuddles and a feed he was taken away to get measured and it turned out he was 3.97kg (8.7lb) so just as well he came a bit early.
He was put into Toby’s arms and Carlene helped me to the shower. At this point I was feeling on top of the world. Unlike after Emma’s birth where I felt pretty broken, this time I really did feel like singing I am woman, hear me roar. I was invincible. The shower was blissful; I remember saying to Carlene as I washed my hair, “I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time!” I put new pyjamas on and we went up to our room with our little boy; the same room where we’d sat the afternoon before waiting to see if my waters really had broken.
It was still early – I guess around 6am at this point – so we didn’t want to call the parents just yet. (Although as mum pointed out to me later, none of them would have minded and they were probably all awake at this point anyway.) Instead we texted my sister, who was due to drive to Melbourne early that day so I knew she’d be awake. As it turned out she’d postponed her trip once she’d heard I was in labour, which was even better – she’d be able to visit. Toby went to get us some Macca’s breakfast since the hospital wouldn’t be serving food until later. We rang the parents about 7.30 which is a great phone call to be able to make.
The Macca’s breakfast was nearly as good as the shower. I was just feeling amazing. I remember a couple of midwives came to visit and I was like, “I had a baby!” I wanted to tell everyone. I was incredibly proud of myself and just so happy. I couldn’t wait to see our families. I was desperately trying to get a message to my other sister, who was at a music festival somewhere in France without good mobile reception – I wanted to make sure she knew before the rest of the world did via Facebook.
We decided to name him Finn Brendan. Finn had always been on the list and during the week when we’d been discussing alternatives to Cormac it had come out as a top contender. And Brendan is my dad’s name and I always knew I wanted it as a middle name, because my dad is awesome. In fact some names I liked were vetoed just because they didn’t work with Brendan (like Lachlan and Declan). Seeing my dad’s face when we told him what we’d chosen was priceless; I wish I’d had a video camera to capture the smile. It was a good moment.
Emma meeting Finn was pretty special. I was desperate to give her a hug when she arrived, but she was pretty entranced. She was excited to give him the present we’d let her choose a few weeks earlier. It was a fantastic start to life as a family of four. I was in hospital until the Monday and loved having her visit; our room was really big as it was a double room with the other bed missing, so she had lots of space to play. We had a laptop so we could still watch movies (Finn had seen Frozen before he even left the hospital) and in general it was an easy few days. I was lucky enough to have lots of visitors, including my friend Gemma who was visiting for the weekend from Sydney – we’d been planning a play date for the Sunday but instead she hung out with me in the hospital and even mixed up my laxatives for me – a sign of a true friendship that has endured for over 20 years.
I’m so glad I never have to do it again; but I’m also really glad that I did it again. Firstly – most obviously – because Finn is great and a baby is totally worth all the hassle of pregnancy and childbirth. Seeing Emma as a big sister is pretty special too. But also, because having the opportunity to feel like that – on top of the world, like I could do absolutely anything – well that is pretty awesome. I am a lucky woman.
The midwife had been right, in the end – Finn’s birth was incredibly healing. I am not haunted by memories of either of my birth experiences. Emma’s birth was unpleasant but the outcome (Emma) was perfect and I did the emotional work I needed to do in order to bring her brother into the world. I chose the right hospital and the right caregivers, and the right husband.
And when I think of Finn being born, I keep coming back to this quote which is in a lot of my books:
Stronger than some of us had ever imagined ourselves to be. Seriously, give your mum a hug (or a phone call).