My baby girl was born at 8.07am, during a rainstorm that hit after a month of bright blue May skies.
I say ‘she was born’ rather than ‘I gave birth to’ because I didn’t. To me, giving birth implies I actually had an input into the proceedings.
I did not.
As she and I approached our due date, her snugly enveloped in amniotic fluid and a duvet of fat made mostly from the Cadbury’s Whole Nut that I pretended to crave, and me waddling as quickly as I could manage, I proclaimed to all that I reckoned she would be early.
“Baby just feels ready to come out!” I’d predict to anyone who would listen. “I’d be surprised if we go full term!”
I remained convinced of this until the due date of May 14 got closer and closer and then sailed merrily past without even glancing our way.
I started to worry.
My sister had been induced 18 months prior and I’d managed to see a text message my mum had sent to my sister’s baby daddy.
“She’s just been induced. It was incredibly painful for her.”
That stayed with me and whereas most expectant mummies are determined to have a water birth or not to have an epidural, the only thing I cared about was being induced, or more specifically, avoiding being induced.
So in the run up we ate spicy curries, went for walks and tried getting her out the same way we got her in. She wasn’t budging. Two sweeps failed because my cervix was too far away. In desperation I saw a masseuse who specialised in pregnancy massage. He pushed pressure points on my walrus-like body and said he reckoned she’d be out by the next morning.
She was not.
They only let you go two weeks past your due date before they get quite insistent about inducing the baby, so it was with a heavy heart that I schlepped my hippo-self to the hospital on the Friday two weeks after my baby was supposed to have voluntarily entered the world.
I was ushered to a room with a mural of birds in a tree on the wall.
“Which is your favourite bird?” Ian asked in a valiant attempt to distract me.
I burst into tears. A midwife came in and looked baffled. Understandably; I’m sure most mummies to be only start crying once the contractions ramp up rather than before they even commence.
But they agreed to let me have gas and air whilst being induced, so ladies, just turn on the waterworks.
If you are unaware what being induced is, it’s when your midwife goes up your foof with a tiny hormone-packed tampon and shoves it behind your cervix.
It’s not great, all things considered.
Here is my advice if you or your ladyfriend ever have to go through this process.
GAS AND AIR!
Get on the gas and air asap. As soon as you walk in through the door. Just answer every question with GAS AND AIR. Don’t let anyone near your foofal area without a few drags on the gas and air. You, that is, not them. Don’t let them near it.
My sister’s friend Imo summed it up by saying “gas and air is like being in the nightclub after they’ve turned the lights on but you’re really drunk and can’t see properly and you’re not sure where all your friends have gone.”
It’s just like that. I had so much gas and air that I told the midwife she was my best friend and tried to stroke her.
So once induced (really not as bad as I’d feared, thank you my loyal friends gas and air) I skipped out of the hospital under the distinct impression that the worst bit was over.
IT WAS NOT.
But I am jumping ahead.
We went for lunch with my family where I started to feel “a bit odd”. Is this it, I wondered. Is this contractions? Am I in labour?
I was not.
Some hours later I was bouncing around on my exercise ball thinking “Is THIS contractions? Am I in labour? It’s a bit uncomfortable. But not painful. Hey, maybe I am one of those women who push out babies as though they’re shelling peas, with just a grimace and an “oof” noise. I knew I had these child bearing hips for a reason!”
Spoiler: I am not one of those women who push out babies as though they’re shelling peas, with just a grimace and an “oof” noise.
At 10pm I asked Ian to drive me to the hospital just to check that baby was doing okay.
The midwife hooked me up to a monitor. I apologised for wasting her time. She smiled and looked at the monitor, then frowned.
“Baby’s heart rate keeps dropping.”
“Oh,” I said. “Shall I tell them that when I come back in tomorrow to be re-induced?”
She shook her head.
“You’re not going anywhere now. You’ll be here until the baby arrives.”
In the run up, if anyone asked about my hopes for the birth, I made a big fuss about not having a birth plan. “Birth plans only go wrong!” I yelled gleefully at anyone who would listen. “No birth plan for meeeeee!”
But of course I did have a birth plan, I just hadn’t realised it. There’s a book by Caitlin Moran in which she describes her first birth (went horribly) and her second (went remarkably better than the first) and I had read and reread her account of the second birth over and over again, as though knowing it off by heart would make her experience my own. Her second, better birth was a slow marathon as she paced the hospital aisles, embracing every contraction and letting the pain flow through her, relaxing so it wouldn’t find a place to snag. That’s what I’ll do, I thought to myself. No lying on a bed for me! I’ll walk and walk and walk til this baby comes out like a podded pea!
But in my foolishness I didn’t realise that I had accidentally made a birth plan, and birth plans only ever go wrong. Instead of a waddle through the halls I found myself strapped to a bed as the contractions ramped up and my baby’s heartbeat dipped. The pain snagged every time it hit, and I dealt with it – barely – by imagining I was a window pane covered in sparkly raindrops, something the shrieking pangs of each contraction could pass through without leaving a mark. That, and the gas and air.
And because of my old pal gas and air, the night passed in a haze of fragmented pain and confusion and I remember very little.
I don’t remember them telling me they were going to break my water, but Ian tells me I did know beforehand. I just remember walking to the delivery room, suddenly wetting myself and being mortified. I felt bad about that for several days after it was all over until suddenly realising it was my waters properly going rather than a sudden lack of bladder control.
Once in the delivery room the contractions amped up, and I started making noises like the ones they make on TV when pretending to give birth. My mum always rolls her eyea at those melodramatic moans, declaring that the women were making a big fuss over nothing and it wasn’t like that at all. So I was determined not to make any noises, and yet here the noises were, coming out of me with no warning and no regard for whether I wanted to make noises or not. I apologised desperately to the midwives between each one.
After I don’t know how long, a doctor came in and told me I was going to have an epidural. My heart sank, not because of the risks of the epidural, as I deliberately hadn’t looked into it to avoid frightening myself even more (though I do still have a numb bum I’m not sure will ever go back to normal), but because a friend had told me they assess how you’re coping and try to avoid an epidural if they think you’re handling things okay. For them to jump straight from gas and air to epidural meant I Was Not Handling Things Okay.
I felt like a failure. I felt more of a failure than the time the doctor told me l wouldn’t be able to get pregnant without medical assistance, due to a over-enthusiastic prolactinoma. More of a failure than I felt after each negative pregnancy test.
I’d always told myself it was okay that I was a curvy girl as it would make having babies easier, but it was rapidly becoming apparent that this was not, in fact, the case. Giving birth was something I was failing at and all the childbearing hips in the world couldn’t help me now.
So I huddled on the side of the bed and sucked on gas and air as though it was keeping me alive and waited for the epidural. Hours earlier two midwives, a doctor and a surgeon had failed to get a cannula into my arms, jabbing me in six different places before finally an anaesthetist got a vein to play ball. That memory poked at me and I worried we’d have the same problem getting the epidural in.
An hour and six attempts later, the epidural was in.
I was only a couple of cm dilated, so I reckoned I was in for a long wait.
I was not.
A sudden flurry of activity filled the small room and high on gas and air I peered blearily at the contract being waved under my nose.
The doctor who had been by my side for each important step of the process was earnestly explaining something. I tried to focus.
“You need to sign this now please. We didn’t want to worry you before but we are very concerned about the baby and you’re going in to theatre.”
The moment my pen left the paper people descended. Two midwives put socks to avoid dvt on my tree trunk legs (they struggled). One started taking my earrings out, got half way and whispered “fuck it, you’ll be fine” in my ear and started doing something with my hair.
My sister also had an emergency c section after her ill fated induction and she said she had a few hours to psyc herself up for it.
“When do you think I’ll be going in for it?” I managed to ask the doctor.
She glanced up from the paperwork she was hurriedly filling in.
“You’re going in now.”
And I did.
It was over in moments, yet every person in there took the time to come over, smile at me, introduce themselves and explain their role before scurrying away to get on with it. I went from feeling helpless and frightened to suddenly feeling totally safe, even though I was about to be cut open.
I shut my eyes and breathed in gas and air.
“Here is your baby!” said a voice behind the screen, and a baby wrapped in a white towel came into view.
I cried. They brought her round and shoved her face against my face – skin on skin is how mummies and babies bond, and the only skin I had on show was my face. We eyed each other with something a little like suspicion and then they whisked her off to be checked and I got sewn back up.
That’s when I found out that the cord had been round her neck. They had saved her life, and probably mine too.
As they wheeled me out to meet her for the second time, I glanced up at a window covered in raindrops and wondered for a surreal moment if I had conjured it into being.