Your sister and I had a conversation yesterday, which went something like this:
Mouse: Mummy? I came out of your tummy didn’t I?
Me: Yes, that’s right.
Mouse: And Moo came out of your fan-fan?
Me: Er, yes, she did.
Mouse: Because she was the right way up and I was the wrong way up?
Me: Well, it’s a matter of perspective, but yes, you’re sort of right.
Mouse: Did you fart her out?
Me: Unfortunately not.
Your sister was a stubborn tinker, and when we found out at 37 weeks that her head was nestled under my ribcage, she refuted all attempts to put her on the right course. My dreams of a watery, drug-free birth went clean out the window as I was booked in for an elective caesarean. She wouldn’t take that on the chin either, and saw fit to begin her exit journey to her own schedule. As soon as the midwife realised I was dilating quickly, I was whipped into theatre and 30 minutes later, there she was.
She was lifted straight from my tummy into the open arms of another midwife, who carried her off to be weighed and cleaned. She was then passed to Daddy, who tried to tilt her so that I could see her tiny little face poking out from folds and folds of a starchy NHS towel. From my horizontal position I couldn’t see a thing, and it wasn’t until we were in the recovery room about an hour later that I was able to look at her, touch her, breathe her in. It didn’t strike me as being wrong, at the time. I didn’t know any differently.
Moo, this is your story.
You gave me a bit of a panic at 37 weeks, too. I had what was to be my final midwife appointment and he (yes, a boy midwife!) suddenly couldn’t be sure exactly which end he was palpating. You either had a very bony bum or a very round head. I was sent for a scan, and the nurse who called me in was the same bloody nurse who told me that Mouse was breech. “Phew, I’ve redeemed myself! This one’s good to go.”
Then came my meeting with the consultant midwife to sign off on my wishes to labour in the pool. Having had Mouse via section, there were (supposedly) increased risks and a water birth was not advised. I was told that while I was permitted to labour in a pool, there were no functioning pools on the labour ward at that time. If I really, REALLY wanted water to feature in my labour, I could sign my life away via risk assessment and have you in the midwife-led unit, as long as I understood the inherent dangers. I walked out of that meeting dizzy with relief – I was going to have my original birth plan, after all. Delayed cord clamping, skin to skin, physiological third stage followed by placenta encapsulation, the lot.
I don’t know why it was so very important to me to have a “natural” birth, but it was. Suddenly it marked me passing a test as a mother. It would enable me to say “I gave birth to X” with conviction, rather than faltering, as I do when recounting Mouse’s arrival, before settling on “I had her…”. I wanted to FEEL it. I wanted to help you to help yourself arrive fully into my world.
Five days later, I knew you were on the way. Something had changed within me: I was grumpy, weepy, heavy. I had nothing left to give to this pregnancy, I was done. Sure enough, while having a good old cough that night, I felt a trickle in my jimjams. I carried on trickling for a few hours, and then the cramps started. We held out at home until I started to panic that I might dilate quickly again, and I pleaded with the maternity unit to let me come in.
We arrived at 8am and I was assigned a little team of midwives. Within this number was the most incredible student midwife, who had just started her shift. She had read my birth plan and she just got it. She sensed how strong-minded I was about achieving as natural a birth as possible. Moo, I wish you could remember her, but I’ll do the remembering for both of us.
After I’d been having contractions for about 10 hours, I started to feel a bit frightened because the pain was unreal. Each wave was like having a red hot poker forced against my back. I accepted gas and air, and it helped to take the edge off. It was like being woozy drunk, with a delayed reaction to pain that gave me the space to cope with it. Another midwife told me to give her a little shout when I wanted to try out the pool. “Ok, thank you very much. I’ll let you know.” A nanosecond later: “Yes, I’ll have the pool now please.”
I think I assumed that because it was a birthing POOL, the taps would work at some sort of industrial speed. No, no. This thing took about an hour to fill, or at least it felt that way. By the time I finally got in, it was too late – I couldn’t get comfy in any position and what I wanted most of all was to just lay down and have five minutes rest. The contractions were a constant stream by this point and I remember shouting that famous phrase, “I can’t do it”, over and over. My lovely midwife and Daddy rallied, telling me I could, because I already was doing it, and it would be over soon. I kept asking the midwife, how long, how long? Soon, soon. I whispered to Daddy that I didn’t like the pool. “You’ve only been in it two minutes! You can’t get out yet, all that water….” He can be quite economical, your dad.
I solved the problem by announcing that I needed to push, before immediately releasing a small troop of brown shrimps into my plastic-lined rockpool. Suddenly everything cranked up a notch when I didn’t know how many more notches I could deal with. Hands pulled me up and out, and a net was cast about in my wake to collect ALL THE POO. I was mortified, but too spaced out with pain to connect with the shame of it. I was helped onto the bed when the shaking started – huge, juddering great earthquakes all over my body. Your dad looked terrified, but I couldn’t stop. More hands. Then “you’re fully dilated, you can start to push with your next contraction.”
Someone helped me to turn over and flip my arms over the top of the headrest on the bed. It’s true – when you’re ready to push, your body just sort of does it, without much active engagement from you. Still, with the first wave, my mind tricked me into fighting it, into treating it like just another contraction to “get through”. This time though, the pain was truly excruciating. My whole lower section felt like a chasm and I was genuinely terrified that I might die.
Then, a sudden clarity hit me. I’d gone past the stage where contractions were something to be endured until they passed. Where they were doing something internally, but I couldn’t improve the effectiveness of. This new stage, the pushing bit – THIS was where I had to re-engage and make stuff happen. These contractions were going to bring you to me. I nudged away the gas and air, knowing that I really had to concentrate.
“You’re doing so well. You’re doing it. You’re amazing. You’re doing exactly the right thing. It’s all ok. You’re brilliant. You’re doing really really well. You’re almost there”. This was the soundtrack to your arrival, in the soft, kind, calming voice of my lovely midwife. Everything else is a bit fuzzy now, in recollection, but her voice is as clear as day. “You’re doing it. You’re doing it.”
From somewhere within me, absolutely horrendous noises started to erupt. I scared myself – I was moaning like some sort of feral animal on a full moon. I’ve never heard anything like it, I didn’t know I was even capable of making such a racket. Yet somehow, they were helping.
“Shall I get my apron and gloves on?” I heard my midwife ask her colleague. “No, not quite yet, I think we’ve got a while.” I whipped my head around. “Oh god, please don’t tell me that!”
Another heartbeat later: “Actually, yes, get your gear on, this is happening a bit quicker than I thought.” I heard the snap of surgical gloves before I became aware of a tennis ball between my legs. This is a lovely illusion that Mother Nature brings to labouring mums in our time of need – of course a baby’s head isn’t as small and inoffensive as a tennis ball, but that’s what it felt like. “Baby’s head is born! Ok, with your next contraction—“
There was my next contraction. I looked down and watched you tumble onto the bed – a shouty, pink, gooey little scrap of a thing, all curled fists and masses of wet hair. I scooped you up, flailing and loud – another little girl. I somehow scooted round and took all of you in. Dark, dark hair. Minute pinprick fingernails. Big, blue eyes. Tiny, like your sister was. Within minutes, literally minutes, you were latched on and I was in the most breathtaking pool of calm.
Things went a little bit tits up after that, because my placenta got a bit stuck and my body resisted the first injection. Also, it transpired that as you emerged, you’d had one hand pressed against your cheek and executed a sort of royal wave at a very crucial moment. Suddenly, there was a lot of blood and a moderate degree of panic. The placenta eventually made its appearance, to be immediately deposited into a Tupperware ready for collection so it could be made into hippy tablets. The bleeding continued, and after a long LONG stitching process it was decided that I’d best be transferred down to labour ward and hooked up to a drip or two. I really, really did not care. I was utterly blissed out by you, and by the way I’d delivered you.
My midwife buzzed around, a constant little ray of comfort and congratulations and, dare I say, admiration. She cooed at you and stroked my blood-covered shoulders (the blood went EVERYWHERE Moo) and it was only then, two hours after your arrival, that she gently scooped you up to weigh you next to my bed. 5lb13oz, an ounce lighter than your sister – a second perfect little dolly. My midwife returned you to my arms, still covered in goo and all the better for it. She came downstairs with us when we were moved.
She continued to check in on me, and came to say goodbye when her shift finished. I think she’s going to Hawaii for her placement block, to study with a woman who practises in holistic birthing. She’s made for that.
I still don’t know why it was so very important for me to deliver you like that. Millions of women have vaginal births every single hour and it’s just a course of life, the most natural, inbuilt process in the world. You could argue that it’s SO tethered to our evolution that there’s nothing remarkable about it at all.
But of course there is. Birth is miraculous, however it happens. But the difference is, I know how it feels now. You gave me that gift.
-SJW September 2016
This was first published on Meet Other Mums on 6th August 2016. You can view that version here.