Lessons in Humility (Part 4: The Birth)

No one who has given birth wants to read other people’s stories, since they have their own. Even when it was pretty obvious I was going to give birth, I didn’t want to read stories. People who will likely never give birth certainly don’t want to read stories. So here is a bullet point version of Emma’s birth story, since it forms part of my Lessons, and I like to be comprehensive.

  • Monday morning (day before due date): Went to hospital to get monitored, because at 40 weeks baby’s head still wasn’t engaged. Baby is considered happy and healthy, but no sign of movement. The ultrasound lady says she’ll be ‘between 8.5 and 9.5 pounds.’ My eyes begin to water. We are advised to try various things to move labour along.
  • Monday afternoon: I bake cookies, due to a chocolate craving. Neighbour who receives cookies tells me later she knew I was close.
  • Monday evening: Started feeling contractions while having dinner at Toby’s mum’s house, but don’t say anything. Surely we can’t get a baby on her due date, that never happens.
  • Monday night: Definitely these are contractions. Time a few, but nothing major. They are mostly in my back. I’d heard this can happen but it’s still a surprise when it does. It also makes it difficult to tell myself, “It’s just the muscle working,” like we learnt at Calmbirth. Go to bed, try to sleep.
  • Tuesday morning: Get up around 5am, since I’m definitely not going to sleep anymore. Eat porridge. Toby goes to work to finalise a few things, send an email. At 6.30 I get in the shower and stay there until the hot water runs out. At 7am I ring mum, with whom I’m supposed to have lunch, and tell her instead of lunch I think I might have a baby today. Much excitement. Call hospital to let them know we’ll see them later.
  • Later Tuesday morning: Eat peanut butter toast. Watch Dirty Dancing. Marvel at how normal I feel in between contractions, which are still mostly in my back.
  • Even later Tuesday morning: Drive to hospital. Contractions getting more difficult. Looking forward to being in the bath. Drive feels longer than it did before. Have contraction in the carpark and again in the lift. Think man in the lift must think it’s kind of exciting to see woman bending over breathing and about to have a baby. Midwives are slightly surprised to see us, 24 hours after they told us the baby wasn’t moving. Labour is established. I climb into the bath and proceed to breathe.
  • Six hours later: It’s suggested I get out of the bath, so they can check on how I’m going. I’m scared that I might be told we’re only 3cm along, but eventually I am hauled out and onto the bed. We thought my waters had broken in the bath but when the midwife goes to check me I’m suddenly lying in a lake, and it turns out they hadn’t. But now they have. There’s meconium in the waters, so I can’t get back in the bath and I’ll have to be monitored from now on, which makes movement difficult. Luckily though I’m 9cm so it’s all systems go. Or so we hoped.
  • Two hours later: Wishing I read more of the books that focused on the pushing part, and wishing I hadn’t trusted the Calmbirth instructor who assured us that women in comas give birth and therefore don’t worry about the pushing part. I am worried about the pushing part. Despite all my planning and preparation, I’m not very good at it – and neither is the baby.
  • 10.45 pm, nearly 26 hours after labour started: Emma is born, via vacuum extraction, me flat on my back, with a team of maybe six people there, hooked up to the CTG machine, resuscitation equipment ready to go. Not the calm birth experience I’d hoped for, but there is a healthy screaming (8.2 pounds) baby in my arms and I am, miraculously, despite my fears of just a few minutes before, still in one piece.

We name her Emma and I spend the next few hours in the same bed while the medical team does what they have to do and Toby counts fingers and toes and cleans up the poo that’s everywhere. Her head must hurt like hell but she manages to feed a bit and we call our parents – can’t even imagine what their day was like, waiting to hear the news – and take some photos and mostly feel amazed. By about 2am I’m so tired I’m afraid I’m going to drop her if I have to keep holding her, so the midwife tells me to get into the shower and don’t come out until I’ve done a wee. I am nothing if not obedient to figures of authority.

After the shower I put on new pyjamas (bliss!) and we wheel Emma down the hallway to our room and it’s time for everyone to try and sleep. Already I am loving not being pregnant, being able to curl up in the bed without the belly in the way. And already I recognise that I’m not empowered by this experience. I don’t feel like singing I am woman, hear me roar. I feel small, and sore, and humble. Mostly, I am relieved she is here and in awe of what we’ve just done, me, her and Toby who never gave up on me, who loved her on sight, and didn’t even faint when the needles came out.

I’m glad that I planned and prepared the way I did, both mentally and physically. I’m glad that we chose Queanbeyan, because even though our relief doctor’s bedside manner left a little to be desired, the midwives were fantastic from start to finish. But the whole experience was one big lesson in the fact that there are things greater than us. I felt like our preparation – especially Calmbirth – had got us through the first 22 hours, keeping relaxed at home, and feeling so out of it in the bath I was almost asleep between contractions. I’m not sure we would have gotten through without it. But I felt like the last few hours were completely out of my control, it was a whirlwind and very intense with not much room for self hypnosis or calm breathing or visualisation or anything else. I remained drug-free, which was the plan, but that’s mostly because at the moment when I thought to myself, “Maybe I’ll ask for some drugs, this is pretty tough,” my thoughts were quickly taken over by the work at hand and I never quite got around to asking since I was too busy being in labour. So I can’t even claim that I was strong or tough enough to not take drugs, like some people do. I was just distracted and I just wanted it to be over.

Much like a natural disaster, we can prepare and plan all we like, but at the end of the day there are natural processes at work and they will do what they have to, regardless of what we mere humans do. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t good at pushing or that Emma wasn’t keen to be born – she was going to come out somehow, some way. And so she did.

(Parts One, Two and Three.)