This time last year I was the size of a minke whale. I had gone for a long walk with M through the back streets of Koo Wee Rup. Not the location that immediately springs to mind when one thinks of looming life changing events, but there you go. We walked. Well, he walked, I lumbered, for about an hour or so.
I went to the public toilets before we got in the car to go home and there were [ahem] signs of movement. Very subtle ones. I wondered whether the PartyPie was going to make itself known at last. That evening, back at the trailer, I felt nauseous and M made me my hangover food – brown rice with soy sauce on it. I began feeling like I had food poisoning. Then, as M was in the kitchen, I was intensely aware of all the banging BANGING noises and the BRIGHTNESS of the lights. I grumped off to bed, feeling mostly vile, and didn’t think too much of it. I mean, if this was really IT then what was happening was inevitable, and if it wasn’t, I wanted to sleep it off.
At 2am I was woken by something. Had to go to the loo. Extensively. While I was in the bathroom, something hit me that made me suck in air and hang on to the wall. For about six months I had been wondering what the hell a contraction felt like, and I still can’t describe it. The good thing was that while I had been wondering, I had done so much information gathering that there was no fear left in me about what was going to happen. I was ready for the utter worst and had worked on how I was going to cope with it. I had been using the Pink Kit for the previous three or four months.
Naturally, I grabbed my laptop, and loaded up contractionmaster.com – oh THANK YOU INTERNET. The space bar became my friend. I hit it at the start and end of every contraction. They started off about twenty minutes or so apart. I wandered around for a couple of hours and then woke M at around 4am. He seemed to take an inordinately long amount of time to emerge from the bedroom. In the end I asked him what the hell was taking so long and then another one hit me. I hung off his neck. He then realised that it was on (although he must have had some idea, because he had put his bathers on under his trousers – knowing that I was determined to have a waterbirth and did not plan on being in the water by myself).
I saved my contraction master record from about 5.45am (see below). I found the whole labour thing so weird. Where was my ‘pre labour’ when contractions were supposed to be small and easy to ignore? Didn’t happen. Why wasn’t I like my friend E, who sat on a chair backwards with her partner rubbing her shoulders, or like another girl I’d met who used her fitball? I couldn’t stay still. I couldn’t find many bearable positions. All I could do when I knew a contraction was about to hit was either kneel on one knee, hang on to the back of a chair and step up and down like I was on hot sand, or kind of pace about.
START END DURATION, FREQUENCY
07:53:44 am 07:54:31 am 46 secs 4 mins, 0 secs
07:49:43 am 07:50:57 am 1 mins, 14 secs 4 mins, 18 secs
07:45:24 am 07:46:44 am 1 mins, 20 secs 4 mins, 0 secs
07:41:24 am 07:42:42 am 1 mins, 18 secs 14 mins, 19 secs
07:27:04 am 07:39:17 am 12 mins, 13 secs 4 mins, 30 secs
07:22:34 am 07:23:44 am 1 mins, 9 secs 3 mins, 17 secs
07:19:16 am 07:20:21 am 1 mins, 5 secs 3 mins, 31 secs
07:15:45 am 07:16:51 am 1 mins, 6 secs 4 mins, 22 secs
07:11:22 am 07:12:28 am 1 mins, 5 secs 4 mins, 22 secs
07:07:00 am 07:08:07 am 1 mins, 7 secs 6 mins, 20 secs
07:00:39 am 07:01:57 am 1 mins, 17 secs 6 mins, 59 secs
06:53:40 am 06:54:57 am 1 mins, 17 secs 3 mins, 11 secs
06:50:28 am 06:51:32 am 1 mins, 3 secs 4 mins, 39 secs
06:45:49 am 06:47:21 am 1 mins, 32 secs 4 mins, 8 secs
06:41:40 am 06:42:41 am 1 mins, 0 secs 3 mins, 23 secs
06:38:17 am 06:39:18 am 1 mins, 1 secs 7 mins, 26 secs
06:30:50 am 06:31:57 am 1 mins, 6 secs 3 mins, 10 secs
06:27:40 am 06:28:36 am 55 secs 5 mins, 10 secs
06:22:30 am 06:23:49 am 1 mins, 19 secs 5 mins, 0 secs
06:17:30 am 06:18:31 am 1 mins, 0 secs 4 mins, 5 secs
06:13:24 am 06:14:37 am 1 mins, 12 secs 5 mins, 39 secs
06:07:45 am 06:08:55 am 1 mins, 9 secs 3 mins, 26 secs
06:04:19 am 06:05:22 am 1 mins, 3 secs 5 mins, 10 secs
05:59:08 am 06:00:17 am 1 mins, 8 secs 7 mins, 37 secs
05:51:30 am 05:52:48 am 1 mins, 18 secs 4 mins, 17 secs
05:47:12 am 05:48:23 am 1 mins, 10 secs
M was getting me glasses of water, which I would sip, put down and then lose track of. For some reason I needed to have a warm neck (?!) and had found a scarf to wear. By around 7am he was on the phone to Relle, our doula, to tell her that it was action stations. I had my TENS machine electrodes stuck to me by now and was cranking up the register. Could. Not. Speak. In. Sentences. M had put on my birth compilation cd. I couldn’t stand to hear it, couldn’t concentrate with it on. I was working on breathing in a bell curve. In and out through the nose at the beginning of the contraction, in through the nose and out through the mouth at the peak, and then trying to ease it back again. While keeping my bum relaxed. Tension equals pain, pain equals fear, and fear equals tension. Rinse. Repeat. Better to just not be tense, if at all possible. I tried hard to focus.
M had been in touch with the hospital and they told him to call back once things really got going. The second time he rang while he was on the phone I felt a sort of gush and said (in another one-word sentence) ‘WATERS’. They had broken. By this point I was just in The Zone. The contractions were about four minutes apart and about one minute ten long. The midwife suggested to M that we could head into the birth centre. My aim had been to stay at home as long as absolutely possible so as not to arrive and be sent home. Also, a change of environment early in labour can slow things down. However, I was past thinking of all this, and relied on M to sort it out.
He called Relle back and told her to head straight to the birth centre instead of the trailer. He heaved a big bag into the car, while I stood next to it (having forgotten to pack any other clothes for myself except for many pairs of VERY LARGE UNDIES – as recommended by Kaz Cooke, bought in the Boxing Day sales for a dollar apiece) wondering how I was going to survive the 20 minute journey. The car was running. I said “Need. Water.” which I immediately regretted, as it meant prolonging our departure. I told M not to worry, but he raced back inside and got a bottle anyway. We headed down the driveway.
Being in a confined space was torturous, but also very focussing. I had two big contractions on the way that had me forgetting all my breathing, bell curves and left me shrieking and clawing the roof of the car. The TENS machine was by now cranked to eleven. M stuck to the speed limit all the way and I remember feeling disbelief as he almost missed the turn off to the hospital, which I gracefully pointed out by pointing desperately and yelling “NOOOOOO”. I was conscious of being sort of slumped and semi dressed, looking delirious as we were stopped at traffic lights, and vaguely wondered what people in the other cars would think.
We made it to the hospital, but didn’t really know where to park and ended up in the emergency vehicle bay near an ambulance. This was a good thing. I could hardly walk. M raced over to the ambos, who rang through to the birth centre. One of them brought me over a wheelchair. My memory is so clear of being unable to look at anyone, unable to lift my own feet up on to the footrests. I resumed my position as I was wheeled through casualty with my head on my hands. A midwife met us. Going in the lift (I am assuming we did) is something I can’t recall.
We were suddenly in the birthing room and there was nice calming music on. M raced in, pulled the cushions from the couch and put them on the floor for me. I tried to get comfortable. They gave me a fit ball. I couldn’t sit on it, couldn’t lie over it. I remember just groaning with despair and one of the midwives looking ruefully at me. They motioned M aside, picked up the cushions and put down a proper waterproof mattress. I knelt on it and rested my head and arms on the bed. I was conscious of M asking someone to do something with the car, which was still in the emergency bay with the bag in it and the keys in the ignition. Relle arrived. I remember feeling relieved.
Nicole, the midwife whose shift I had stumbled into, asked me to get on to the bed for an internal examination. I refused. I knew that they could do it with me upright and I was not moving for anyone. They told me that I could not get into the bath unless I was more than five centimetres dilated. I didn’t say anything, remained where I was and let them get on with it. I had requested in my birth plan NOT to be told how far along I was, and that was how it went. They asked if I really did want to go for the bath and I yelped YES! at them.
Relle told me later that after the examination Nicole had given her the big nod. I was way more far along than I could have ever guessed and was almost in transition at about nine centimetres. They ran the bath. From that time on I had my eyes shut most of the time. The room was dark and warm. I got into the bath with M, and it was very difficult to find a comfortable position. The water wasn’t quite warm enough and the plughole was in the MIDDLE of the bath. The plug kept poking me. I was a minke whale in M’s arms.
They drained some water, and contrary to OH&S regulations they got some hotter water from somewhere else (other than the crappy hot tap) and dumped it in. Thank god. It was instant relief. Relle had been poking over M’s shoulder like an angel, giving me sips of water through a straw. She was also taking photos – with a flash – and I had NO idea. My eyes were shut shut shut. M was encouraging me, saying “PartyPie is going to be here really soon. Try to relax your butt. Take a deep breath. Let it out.” He was so good and so calm. I couldn’t get over how calm they ALL were. Hello? Couldn’t they see they were all in a warzone? Of course, Relle, Nicole and Colleen (another midwife) had seen it all before, and M? He’d been rehearsing with me for months.
They kept saying to M, “Where are you going to be to catch this baby?” I had no idea why. I thought there would be hours to go, and couldn’t have cared less because I was just barely getting from minute to minute. I had no knowledge that they had a waterproof torch in the water, and a mirror, to see what was going on. I began to have an inescapable urge to push. It wasn’t constant, but took the place of contractions.
I managed to say to M that I needed to get into one of my birthing positions to get it all going. I faced him in the bath, one leg kneeling, one leg bent, one hand gripping M and the other hanging on to the side of the bath. From that time I recognised where I was. I had watched many waterbirths on YouTube, and one of them had been exactly like this – a huge contraction and urge to push, and then silence for a few minutes, as I remembered how to breathe and the water settled around us. The urge to push was primal, but better than contractions, as I felt a bit more in control. I tried to let my body do it’s thing (although I was hardly thinking as clearly as it sounds now when I write it.)
Michelle told me quite a few times to make sure my butt was under the water when the baby was being born. The point of (my) waterbirth was to have the baby born into a similar environment and temperature to the womb, making the transition into its new environment as smooth as possible. I kept nodding that I understood. I knew that if the baby felt the air, it would have a breathing reflex, which would not be a good thing if I then wigged out and plunged back down into the water.
The pushing and then the pauses seemed to go on and on. I sensed the midwives trying to manoeuvre M into a good position for catching. I felt myself slowly stretching and a great weight between my legs. I couldn’t believe that PartyPie wasn’t out. “A couple more,” said Michelle quietly, “There’s no hurry, you’re doing so well.” By this time I thought the entire baby must be pretty much halfway out and saying a big HELLO! I couldn’t believe that the head had not crowned. Finally, after a particularly hard push, when I felt sure the baby was born, M gasped “I can see the head! I can see the head! Keep going sweetie! You’re almost there! You’re so close!! Little PartyPie is almost here!”
I breathed. I breathed. I pushed. I paused. I waited. Everything was quiet, warm and I had no sense of what time it was. It could have been going for two hours or ten. I pushed and breathed some more. I tried the hardest I have ever tried. Finally PartyPie‘s head was through. M said he saw the little shoulders rotate. It seemed to be about five to ten more minutes before I felt a huge release, and the baby was out and under the water. M caught PartyPie with a little assistance. I collapsed back against the back of the bath. To use the term ‘utterly spent’ doesn’t even touch it with a barge pole.
They put PartyPie on me, half in and half out of the water. It was very quiet. PartyPie made no sound. I had not even looked at the baby. I opened an eye and was, not horrified, but flabbergasted at the size. The baby was so big! Most of my bump had been baby. And nothing else! The midwives encouraged me. “Blow on your baby, sweetheart.” It was all I could do. PartyPie was covered in warm wet cloths. M said later that he didn’t really know what to do at this point, and so he began singing softly to PartyPie the song he had sung for the past nine months…Womble up, womble down, wombling free, the Wombles of Wimbledon, common are we…”
Michelle started to cry. I looked up at Relle and thanked her with my eyes. She had been everywhere and nowhere – never intrusive, but always available with water and calm words. Relle started to cry (she had warned me that if I pulled off a drugfree waterbirth, she wouldn’t be able to help it). Our little baby was purply coloured, and still had its eyes shut. PartyPie‘s lips were very red, and PartyPie‘s body began pinking up as we watched. We all waited for the cord to stop pulsing before M severed PartyPie from me. We had not yet looked to see whether PartyPie was boy or girl. One of the midwives suggested that M should check. He looked. “It’s a little boy!” he whispered. For some reason I doubted it. One of the midwives suggested that he take another look. “It’s a little girl!” I could hear him grinning. I assumed that there was no third option.
“Hello Zoe,” I said.