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.