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.”

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Life journeys

jamesjeanbatgirl

James Jean – Batgirl

My beautiful, strong-willed (and just a tad judgmental) daughter is heading south to a close school friends’ wedding tomorrow and she’s not happy about it.

Not happy because she really doesn’t like the groom. At all. And to be  honest, I can’t say I blame her. He is mean to his future wife, knocking her down with cruel words in front of others and blatantly attempting to flirt with all her girlfriends. Not a nice character, really. Being older and wiser in these matters, I can see that trouble will most definitely find her down the track and whilst my daughter most vehemently agrees, she can’t understand why her friend seems to be oblivious to the danger.

I can, though.

But even though I’ve tried to explain the whole concept of life journeys to her, it’s not the same as actually living through them.  It wasn’t until I was 40 that I feel like I ‘woke up’ and that was only after incredible trauma stemming from a marriage breakdown and my dad dying at the same time. Some people wake up earlier; some never do. Either way, your journey is completely your own. You may share the path with others for a short or extended time, but what you go through is entirely your own experience. Of course, we all know this to some extent but often it’s only in the theoretical sense, not the ‘feeling in your bones’ knowing.

So whilst I may give the speech of “It’s her life to do as she chooses, honey, even if you think he is a dick and most who has come into contact with him agrees with you. She has to walk this path on her own. “, my lovely, strong-willed and slightly judgie daughter won’t feel this in her bones until she’s got a few more years under her belt.

My dad always said it but the adage that ‘Youth is wasted on the young’ has never been more true to me. 

A little bit grey today …

robin grey

An open face. A tired and troubled soul. His ability to make us laugh will be sorely missed.

Everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock (or on a hilltop in remote Iraq avoiding being slaughtered … but that’s another blog entirely) has heard the sad news of Robin Williams’ passing.  I really didn’t want to get on that bandwagon – I don’t know him personally, I’ve never met him, I have no real rights to grieve his death – and yet … it haunts me.

Robin Williams reminded me so much of my dad – who also died at age 63. My dad looked similar, his laugh was just as loud and instantly recognisable and he also hid a struggle with depression and disease behind the jokes and sociable outward face he presented to the world.

As anyone who has lived with someone with depression knows, there is really nothing you can do to help them. My dad described it as being stuck down a huge hole and just not having the energy to pull yourself out.  For a long time, I didn’t really understand what he meant. How could you just not make yourself happy?  Especially when you have a roof over your head, money in the bank, family and friends that adore you?  Then I went through a very stressful and, to date, the most difficult time in my life …

“Ah. Hello, hole. I believe you know my dad?”

And Robin Williams, apparently.

See, the thing with depression is you never fully recover from it. It’s always looming in the background, ready to tap you on the shoulder when life’s hurdles start making you jump. A little bit of stress and all of a sudden, there you are. In the bathroom. Trying to put your makeup on to get to work on time whilst sobbing for no apparent reason.

You know what the reason is, though. And you learn to adopt practices to try and sidestep that gaping black hole both terrifying and tempting. You know it will actually pass, if you can just make it through the morning. The day. This week.

Dad used to give himself 24 hours. He was allowed to wallow at the bottom of the hole for a day and then it was time to resume the mad scrabble up the sides to reach the light.

Life for me has become so much better since my dark hole days, but every now and then depression gives me a little tweak, just to let me know it’s waiting for me should I ever drop my guard.  But back in the days when it wasn’t so great, those days when I would wake to a crying jag, I knew I’d have trouble dragging myself to work but once there, the people I worked with would lift my spirits just by being themselves and by lunchtime, the light would be breaking through the thunderclouds.

I used to promise myself to concentrate on the fun jobs that I enjoyed and the crappy stuff could wait a day. (I was the boss, which was handy.) I was gentle and kind to my soul, making no demands and forgiving transgressions (“You want that cupcake? Have at it. You can exercise it off tomorrow”). I tried to go for a walk in the sunshine, or in summer tried to do a few laps at the pool. Or just settled for a bath.  Anything that would soothe and re-balance the chemicals in my brain causing me to feel funky.

Did Robin have little rituals and promises he made to himself? I’ll bet he did. But the recently revealed fact he was in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease must have been just too much. No amount of rituals or promises would spare him from traveling that path. 

I hope he knows that he took a piece of the world’s heart with him when he died.

He will be missed.