Birth Story #3: Big Bang

We had our pigeon pair and that was going to be it as far as procreation goes and since I didn’t like what the pill did to my body, we adopted the Rhythm Method and it worked perfectly well … until that one time that it didn’t.

We were enjoying the adventure of Darwin at the time. The Princess was well over three and perfectly precocious. The Master was about nine months old and just starting to develop a sense of humour after a rough first six months of crying unless he was strapped to me via sling. Life was slowly becoming more manageable.

Then FoMDT was sent off on exercise for a month before coming home for a mere week before another assignment that would be three months long.  We behaved like teenagers, and despite the fact that I was still breastfeeding and my chart CLEARLY SHOWED it was a designated safe time to indulge, life (as the famous line goes) found a way.  After the initial shock, we were fine with it. We already had two kids – how hard could a third one be? My confidence in my abilities was absurdly high … and I’d forgotten to take into account that every kid is different – as is every pregnancy and labour.

It’s funny that you should find yourself questioning whether you’re in actual labour or not with your third child but I didn’t find it so amusing at the time. We were staying with my Mum and Dad, awaiting FoMDT’s marching-out day (aka resignation from the Army life) and the birth of number three before heading off to a new life and promise of work in the mines in WA.

I had contractions that were on-again, off-again for two days, leading us to head into the hospital on the Thursday night, only to be sent home again a few hours later. I was so embarrassed – how could I not know if it was for real or not?

I remember being so bloody miserable the next morning, standing at the big glass windows in the back living room of the house, rotating hips to ease the tightening of Braxton-Hicks whilst gazing out at the beautiful vista of the misty valley below through my tears. I was huge, tired, miserable and just wanted it all over.

My Mum was leaving that Friday morning for Hobart for a meeting and I was under strict instructions not to have baby until she was back on Sunday … so off she went to the airport; off Dad went to the office and after seeing how distraught I was, FoMDT took me off to the beach for a walk.

I love the beach. It’s not just the simple act of walking along enjoying the view, breathing in the fresh, salty air and being lulled by the rhythmic sound of the crashing waves  – scientifically speaking, the negative ions created by the movement of the water have been shown to boost your mood and energy levels.

But as we walked, I increasingly found it necessary to stop for a minute to let the contractions have their way. Unfortunately, as had been the pattern for the last few days, as soon as I stopped moving and sat down in the car, everything else stopped. To say I chucked a bit of a tanty is mild – I raged about how much I hated effing pregnancy and effing contractions and effing babies all the 10 minute drive home.

It was around 11 am and obviously someone needed a nap. I headed to bed and dropped off almost immediately to sleep but found myself waking up about every 15-20 minutes to contractions before dropping back off to la-la land again.  At about 12.30 pm I came to on all fours on the bed, panting and in pain.

Since the hot water trick had worked so well with pain management for the last one, I thought I’d try it out again and hopped into the bath about 1pm. I could feel the tightening sensation but pain was minimal.  In fact, I was so comfortable that I really wasn’t paying much attention to timing … until I realised that they were getting much closer together – like 2-3 minutes between each one.

It was around 2.15 pm when I called out to FoMDT that we might have to go soon … then stood up. BAM. A wave of immense pain hit me and I do believe my voice hit an octave that made any dogs in the area wince as I yelled “Ok, we have to go NOW.”

We called Dad to meet us at the hospital to take the kids then bundled everyone in the car for the 15 minute trip into town. I yelled through gritted teeth for FoMDT to slow down as we drove down the windy road and he hissed back that he was only doing 40ks an hour and did I really want to have this baby in the bloody car?  What can I say – gravity and contractions do not go well together.

We made it to the hospital carpark and while FoMDT transferred the kids and seats into Dad’s car, my darling father took my arm and walked me into the hospital foyer. I had to stop for a minute and pant just outside reception and I could see the girls on the front counter looking out at me with rueful smiles on their faces.

“Don’t you dare bloody laugh,” I said as we slowly made our way inside.

“Oh no, sweetheart. We’re not laughing,” said one of the girls with obvious sympathy as she gave directions to the birthing unit.

One of the midwives on duty was a close family friend of FoMDT’s – a down-to-earth, practical lady that I would have loved even if she was a stranger, as she examined me and exclaimed “Nice – 8 cm. This won’t take long.” Magic words to any labouring womans’ ear.

Not long after, I was hunched over the pillows and holding on to the bars at the head of the bed when the most extraordinary thing happened.  With previous labours, they’d had to break my waters – apparently my body makes a good strong membrane sac that don’t bust easily.  But this time, it popped by itself.

Wait .. did I say ‘pop’? More like exploded.

A huge “bang” then a gush of water, like a water balloon squarely hitting a target, causing the midwife and FoMDT to jump back from the bed simultaneously.  “I think your waters just broke” was quite possibly the understatement of the year.

Not long after, bustling was happening behind me and FoMDT said “Ooh, they’re gloving up! You’re nearly there, darl!”. After a few pushes, the Dr asked me to try turning over to face her and lifting up my hips. Next push and literally, out he popped!

Our beautiful third baby and second son was born at 3.35pm Friday 22nd March 1996 – in the record time (once he made up his mind) of 4.5 hours, with no stitches or grazes or tediously long second stage. I mentally high-fived myself on having finally ‘perfected’ childbirth – and a good thing too, because I wasn’t going back for a fourth go.

He was plopped up on my chest and went straight for the boob … and there he would have dangled for the next year if I’d have let him.  Once again, I sniffed that delicious newborn baby smell – but this time knowing  it wasn’t something he’d been bathed in.

We rang Dad at the office – barely 45 minutes after he’d walked me in the door – and gave him the good news. Unbeknown to us, The Princess was listening in on the phone line in the other room. She had been counting – nay, insisting – on a baby sister, going to far as to tell the GP in all seriousness that if it was a boy, she was sending it back.

Apparently upon hearing the news, she hung up the phone with a devastated look on her face, turned to Dad and said “I don’t think I can handle another brother.”

But handle him she did. The Master, on the other hand, took the attitude of “If I ignore it, it will go away”. To be fair, the poor little bugger was only 19 months old himself and still a baby in so many ways. After a week, he resigned himself to the fact the little bundle wasn’t going away so he may as well acknowledge the newest addition.

I was lucky enough to be let out of hospital by 11am the day after The Baby was born – with the midwives questioning my sanity all the while.  “Wouldn’t you rather stay? Don’t you have two little ones at home already?”

Yes, I did and yes they were loud and demanding … but they were mine and I missed them. I also hated hospitals (still am not a fan) and never felt comfortable or that the baby was ‘mine’ until I was home.

We drove out to pick up Mum at the airport on Sunday with baby in tow.  Thankfully she forgave me for not crossing my legs and waiting for her!

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Birth Story #2: Accidental Hero

My darling Dad working on the caravan – his last ‘baby’.

“I’m a bit nervous about seeing you in labour.”

This comment came not from NIH but from my Mum, who is flying over from Oz in a few days to keep me company in the last week of pregnancy and meet the fourth and slightly miraculous grandchild.  It was only then I realised that, due to one thing or another, she hadn’t been present at the lead-up or the hours immediately after the arrival of my first three kids, but my Dad had that dubious honour for two of them.

In 1994, we were in Sydney and FoMDT was in the Army and currently on course. The Army, at least back then, was notorious for being less than accommodating for family – the common saying being “If they wanted you to have a wife and kids, they would have issued you with some” –  so we arranged for my Dad to come down to be there as support both during and after the new arrival.

At that point in time, my Mum and Dad had their own business – a secretarial service that they’d built up from an electronic typewriter and photocopier in a small room to a two-roomed office complete with three networked computers, a giant photocopier-cum-printer, trainee, positions on the local Chamber of Commerce and regular customers.

Dad (according to him, at least) was the brains of the operation – the networking frontman who could dazzle with wit and intelligence, gaining peoples’ trust (and therefore business) with ease. Mum, on the other hand, was the one who actually DID the work … so she couldn’t be spared for a week or two to gallivant off to Sydney to hold her daughters’ hand, whilst Dad was deemed expendable.

He was allocated the task of being primary carer for The Princess so FoMDT could hold my hand in hospital when it came time to deliver the baby that was to become the thorn in her side for a number of years.  At that stage, there wasn’t paternity leave and being on course, FoMDT wouldn’t be able to take leave, so Dad was also my designated support person for the first week out of hospital.  This meant I could take advantage of the newly established “early release program” at Liverpool Hospital,  going home as soon as mum and bub were given the ok and the midwife would home-visit.

I have to admit this labour is the haziest of all three. I do remember things were not running to schedule and Dad and I did lots of walking around the block in the hope of getting things going. Labour finally started sometime after the 8.30pm Sunday night TV movie. This particular night was Accidental Hero starring Dustin Hoffman and Geena Davis.  There was something about a plane crash and a shoe … but that’s all I can remember of it. Obviously, I wasn’t able to follow the storyline and huff and puff at the same time … or it was a shit movie.

We headed to the hospital about midnight and I was introduced to the wonders of the hot bath. For me, sitting in hot water whilst in first stage of labour is the absolute bomb. It completely takes the pain away whilst still being aware of contractions. Liverpool Hospital had just done a major refurbishment of their labour rooms so there was big triangular bathtub adjoining the ‘business section’ of the room. After being convinced by the midwife to try it out, it was all she could do to get me out to deliver, as water births were not allowed.

When I did get out, the contractions hit me like a sledgehammer. Holy cow, how did second stage get here so quickly?  I really wanted to hop back in but they insisted on us moving to the bed as it looked like baby was not far off.

Now … I had figured that second stage would be a cinch for second baby, since my nether regions had become … let’s say ‘more flexible’.  What I did not figure on was the size of the head of the second baby.

The paediatrician doing the rounds the next day actually said out loud “That can’t be right” when seeing the 38.5 cm head measurement written in my file. He measured baby’s head himself and breathed “Damn”. I wanted to say “No shit, Sherlock” but I was too concerned with a doctor being in awe of a head that size. Was there something wrong with my baby?  Checks a few weeks’ later found nothing wrong – he just had a big head.

So, back to second stage (my nemesis) taking longer than it should. My OB/GYN finally arrived, announcing his arrival by popping his head in the door and asking if he had time to get a coffee. If I could have taken a breath, I would have yelled “No you bloody don’t! If I have to be here, so do you!”. Fortunately, the midwives took care of it for me and he (rather grudgingly, I might add) decided to join the party.

Not long after I recall him looming over my bottom half with a pair of scissors and saying to the midwives, “I’m all for natural, ladies, but perhaps now is the time to do an episiotomy.”

“Dear God,” I thought “Not stitches again!” so I put everything I had into it and pushed REALLY HARD.  We finally got somewhere and after a few more contractions, our darling boy was out.

But oh lordy, I would not be able to pee without sobbing for the next five days. Remember how it would sting so bad when you fell on cement as a kid and grazed your knee?  Now imagine that same stinging sensation on your foofoo. In hindsight, the episiotomy would have been a much better idea.

But at that moment – 3.35am Monday 1st August 1994 – I didn’t care. We had a beautiful boy safely laying on my chest … with balls swollen to a size that made FoMDT ridiculously proud.  Due to the longer second stage, he was also a bit swollen and puffy around the face … like a  footy player on a Sunday morning after a big game and an even bigger Saturday night at the pub afterwards.  And as we discovered, the size of his head had been the reason for the hold-up. The midwives actually congratulated me for only saying the “F” word once during delivery.

He went off with FoMDT to get properly weighed, measured and washed while I enjoyed that oh-so-delightful shower.  Then I got to keep him beside me for the remainder of my time in hospital, once again sniffing that delightful baby smell that I assumed was bath wash.

It was totally blissful, just laying in bed with him all bundled up next to me. I had missed out on this with his sister so really enjoyed that quiet time in the early hours before the bustle of normal hospital routines would begin, marvelling at this perfect little creature we’d made.

When Dad brought The Princess in later that day, I couldn’t believe how big and kinda scruffy she’d turned overnight in her brightly-coloured jumper,  fine blonde hair all over the place and the remains of something (a bribe, most likely) around her mouth. She was just shy of turning three but until The Master arrived, she’d been my baby and had seemed so small.

She clambered up on the bed and I gave her a hug and said “Have you been a good girl for Peter?” – Peter being my Dad. She decided when she was old enough to talk that he was Peter – not Grandad or Pa or Poppy. Everyone else called him Peter so she did too. He was so besotted with her that she could have called him anything – so Peter it was, for her and her brothers to come.

She looked at me with her serious little two year old face … and displayed not just her sense of humour that I’d grown to know and love but also her ability to read people fairly accurately.

“Yes … but he doesn’t like wiping my bum.”

Birth story #1: Ray Martin, Laverne and Shirley and Coneheads

My darling cousin (more like a sister – there’s only 4 months difference between us and we had a great friendship thanks to attending the same Uni together) had come to visit me for a week, met at the airport by a heavily pregnant cousin, anxiously awaiting the overdue arrival of bump number one rather than holding a squalling newborn.

Thursday 3rd October was her last full day with us so I sent her into the city to check out the Art Gallery and Museums (she’s an art teacher and a very talented artist in her own right). My parting words were “I’ll be fine. See you when you get back.”   Little did she know that I’d been having what I desperately hoped was mild contractions since 8am … sneaky, yes but some things you just want to do on your own and I didn’t want to freak her out.

So I pottered around, made sure my bag was packed and everything was in order. Since it’s been 25 years since this event, I only have vague snatches of the lead-up to the main event but I do remember watching The Ray Martin Show – back then, a popular lunchtime variety program of the blue rinse set.  It stands out because it was a special event show, held at Sea World on the Gold Coast.

The FoMDT (Father of My Darling Three) came home for lunch to find me leaning forward on a chair in the lounge room, watching TV while doing my breathing through contractions and we decided that maybe he shouldn’t go back to work that afternoon. As it turned out, he could have. Nothing like the impatience of youth and the long, agonisingly slow progression of your first labour.   Being young and having no prior experience, we ended up going to the hospital at about 2.30pm.

The nurse did an examination on arrival and gave me the dreaded “You’re only 3 cm dilated, lovey.”  What the hell?  I counted at least 6 hours’ worth of contractions – how could this be?  She broke my waters to hurry things along a bit – a common method of speeding up the process.

That was the strangest sensation I’d ever had (up until that point … there was more to come). It was like someone tipped a bucket of warm water over my crotch … warm and comforting yet wet and icky all at once.  It did get things moving but also tuned up the pain gauge – back pain and lots of it as baby was “sunny-side up”, otherwise known as Posterior facing.

It’s true that you forget the pain afterwards. Looking back, I can only remember the impressions – like being trapped in my own body and wanting desperately for the ride to stop so I could get off.  But at the same time, I am a complete control freak and the idea of drugs scared me. What if I became a screaming banshee? What if I said or did something embarrassing?

Thus, when the nurse kept asking if I wanted pain relief, I said no – even though it hurt like hell. I had decided I wanted a natural birth experience with little to no intervention (ah, the naivety of youth!) and I was sticking to the plan. By the time I said “Yes. Ok. I’ll take that pain relief now”, she replied with “Oh no, honey. You’re too close now.”  Say what, now?

In hindsight, I have no idea how I kept it together. Up until midway through the pregnancy, I’d been a quitter. If things got too tough, I found a way out. This was the first time in my life that I couldn’t just throw up my hands, declare “I’m out” and walk away.

I remember being mortally pissed at FoMDT, sitting in the corner of the hospital room watching ‘Laverne and Shirley‘ on the television. I hated that show. He knew I hated that show. How DARE he watch that show while I’m over here in extreme pain! It was about that time that I  decided that I’d had enough of this shit for one day and was going home.

I recall saying something along the lines of “That’s it. I’m done. Take me home. I don’t want to do this anymore”. FoMDT looked at me with fear and doubt in his eyes. The tone said I meant it but what the hell was he supposed to do?  Thankfully, the nurse entered just then and reassured both of us with a  “Well, hello Transition stage! Not long now.”

Actually, it was another hour before I felt the urge to push and they packed us off to the delivery room. And that’s when things got really interesting.  Baby had decided to turn to face the right way but either got stuck halfway or just couldn’t be bothered.

Two and a half hours of second stage labour; pushing continually and getting nowhere; trying different positions and angles.

At one stage I was hanging over a large round cushion-type bar they’d set up over the bed and watching the frustrating lack of progression of a small black-haired head in a mirror angled at my poor nether regions. My arms were aching from trying to hold onto the cushion – it was way too big to get a good grip and I was sweating with the exertion. My thighs were sore from squatting.

Eventually, my OB/GYN, who had quietly sat in the corner of the delivery room for most of the action, piped up with “Do you want some help?”

I’m not sure of the exact words but I do believe it was something along the lines of “Cut me open with a rusty saw if you have to. Just GET. IT. OUT. OF. ME”

And so he did. An episiotomy (which isn’t as bad as the alternative … but that tale is for Birth Story #2) was done and he pulled out a suction cap thingy with a pump on the end and inserted it onto baby’s head. Not completely comfortable for me but by that stage I could not have cared less.

And then he started the process of vacuum extraction.

Just when I thought I’d experienced every kind of strange sensation in the one day … Dr’s down one end of me, braced and pulling on what is essentially a sterilised plunger attached to a small creature’s head inside my body; FoMDT’s up the other end, hanging onto the bed head so the bed doesn’t go flying across the room … and I am the piggy in the middle.

Thankfully, it was only a few minutes and baby was out and oh my god, the relief of it.  After nearly 14 hours, at 9.45pm October 3rd 1991, our first baby made her entrance into the world. Not altogether gracefully, that’s true, but nevertheless she’d arrived in one piece, weighing a very healthy 8lb 11oz.

They plopped her on my chest and said “It’s a girl!”. We had no idea of gender but she’d been kicking me so hard, I’d just assumed she was a boy. I actually checked to make sure they had given me the right baby. Yep, still attached … only baby in here … must be mine. I was so delighted – I’d secretly hoped for a girl.

She was motley-purple, had a funny cone-shaped head and squinted up at us blearily as if to say “What the fuck just happened?”  The nurse patted my arm and said “Don’t worry, sweetheart. Her colour will improve and the swelling will go down in a day or two and she’ll look just fine”.

FoMDT and I, on the other hand, thought she was the most gloriously beautiful creature in the whole wide world and had already fallen in complete and utter love with her.

After that, it was a jab in the leg, delivery of placenta and then stitches (which I don’t really remember because, hey, baby on my chest!) then she was taken away with FoMDT to be properly weighed and measured and washed and I could have a shower.

Oh lordy, that shower. I remember how incredibly weak I felt but how amazing it was sitting in the shower chair under the warm running water. It was almost orgasmic. With each subsequent birth, I’ve used the goal of the shower afterwards as a means of motivation.

Afterwards, I was allowed an hour with baby.  I remember sniffing her as she smelt so delicious – I thought it must have been something they washed her in. I had no idea that, like a new car, babies have a distinctive smell that activates bonding.

Sadly, they took her away to the nursery for the night to “let me rest” but how on earth could I rest? I was on a high! I’d just had a baby! And lived! Holy cow!  If I hadn’t been so young (only 22) and she hadn’t been my first, I would have insisted she stay in the room with me. I only dozed on and off until they finally brought her back at 8am, marvelling at what I’d just achieved and desperately wanting to hold her again but not being game to ask for her.

It was definitely a turning point in my life. After that, pain had a whole new measuring stick to go by; patience was something I quickly learned to cultivate and forever-more one of my names would be Mumma.