They started at 6.30am on the Friday.
I usually wake-up this early, so early that it’s pitch black outside and I know I could be getting more sleep. This morning however it was late enough to start reading the news on my phone and wait for the light to slowly creep through the curtains so as not to disturb Josh before he had to get up for work. My right side has gone numb and my arm has gone to sleep so I need to move so that I can continue to read. As I make the slow turn onto my left side I feel it — my first contraction.
It feels like the cramps I used to get when I had periods, although this is long time ago. I question the gentle pain: was that a contraction or a Braxton Hicks? Braxton Hicks aren’t meant to hurt and this did hurt. Should another one come soon? If it is a contraction, then how great that it’s happened on my baby’s due date! How punctual of the baby I think. Josh stirs and I share the news with him although try to play it down. He gets up for work and I make him breakfast and as we fulfill these everyday tasks the enormity of what is about to occur dawns on me and I hide this excitement so as not to worry us both. He leaves for work and I head to the toilet where I see more telltale signs of an early labour. I text Josh and he calls back instantly asking what he should do. I tell him to head to work as think things will move slowly today and will call him if the situation changes. I cannot believe that it’s really happening!
So what does a women do who has been waiting 40 weeks to the day for the signs that her baby is on the way? She heads back to bed and that’s where I stay on and off for the whole day, making sure I get as much sleep as possible. I continue to feel mild contractions but it’s rather pleasant and easy to sleep through, so I do. I’m not actively conscious that anything will happen quickly but getting sleep makes sense.
In the afternoon I head to the doctor’s to get my blood pressure checked and share my current health with her and she advises me that things could move slowly.
“Take a walk”, she suggests and I hope secretly that I won’t have to as it’s a cold December day and my body has morphed into an incubator machine that’s not designed for walking.
I am so swollen I can just about manage the short walk back home. I waddle slowly with a body that leans far back so as to offset my balance. My face is puffy and I have thick ankles covered in a bright red rash, constant heartburn and sore hips. The only solution to these ailments: having my baby.
Josh returns from work in the evening and finds me in the bath. I have been listening to a meditation track that helps me to visualize the birth. I hope for a water birth that romantically ends with damp arms wrapped around limbs that are cradling the baby, looking at each other in wonder as we contemplate how on earth we managed to create such a beautiful creature. Yet where the baby’s face should be in my visualization is just a hollow flesh colored circle. I have had nine months to prepare for her arrival and I still cannot possibly imagine what she will look like or what life will be like once she arrives.
We try and have a normal evening. I call my mum and discuss the situation with her; I make dinner; we watch TV. It only occurs to me by late evening to start timing the contractions and they’re over ten minutes apart. As the contractions get clearer and stronger, it’s apparent that things could happen in the upcoming night. Josh can’t believe that these are real contractions and when I confirm that I think that I am in pre-labor his whole demeanor changes. He finishes packing the bags for the hospital and vows to sleep in his clothes so that he can wake up at a moment’s notice. He sets me up on the TENS machine so I can get some light pain relief and then heads to sleep on the sofa at midnight while I sit and try to relax. It’s now been eighteen hours since my first contraction and I wonder how long I will feel like this for.
I sit and watch TV with the cats until the TENS machine starts to drive my crazy as I feel more contractions than I do buzzing muscles , so rip it off and head downstairs at around 2am to call the triage nurse at my local hospital to let them know that I have contractions that are eight minutes apart. The nurse at the the other end of the phone is nice and friendly and compliments me on how calm I sound. I instantly regret not sounding more in pain as she suggests that I stay at home until the contractions are closer together. So I do. I pace the house and pace and pace and pace.
It’s 3.00am. Pain is intense.
Eventually Josh wakes to the sight of me looking very uncomfortable, leaning over the sofa (as I can’t sit down) breathing heavily through a contraction. They’re lasting to the count of thirteen at this point. I spend the next hour throwing up because of the pain and Josh calls the triage nurse again who still recommends staying at home until the contractions are closer together. I last about another half an hour before I insist Josh calls back and tells them we’re coming in.
It takes over my whole body for more than a count of twenty and as it happens I am paralyzed. My whole body pulses with an ache that is more intense than the period pain of earlier or the feeling that I need to make bowel movement. As the waves of pain approach, I itch, I ache, I sweat, I gyrate. I try not to fight it but know, really know deep down, that I need help and so we climb into a mini cab, the driver looking nervous as I proclaim that I cannot sit down and must kneel on the back seat instead. Thankfully our chosen hospital is only a five minute drive away and we arrive in the cold quiet and wait at the doors to be let in.
I walk with purpose towards the reception of the maternity triage department as Josh trails carrying our packed overnight bags and baby seat. Another couple are in the reception, all wild eyes and apprehension, although it is me that starts to make noises as I contracts. Deeps moans from my belly to help cope with the pain. They make me sit down to take my blood pressure and discuss how dehydrated I am and all I can do is stand every time a contraction hits while they wait patiently to talk to me once the pain has past. It’s near impossible for the nurse to find a vein to put an IV drip into or for me to answer any questions but they start to make noises about moving me to the birthing suite and I am closer to the end of this pain although as far as I am aware, my journey is only just starting now that I have reached hospital.
I am moved in a wheelchair to the maternity birthing suite and a big room with a double bed and birthing pool. It’s quiet and cold and the midwife who enters to meet me talks in a hushed voice. It’s the hour when no one should be awake. They try and link me up to a drip to try and get my hydrated again as my face has gone grey but the drip is knocked out and blood spurts everywhere. I haven’t even been in the room ten minutes before creating this catastrophe and seeing my own blood pump out of the back of my hand and onto the floor makes me feel even more woozy than before. Josh is horrified and insists that they are careful as they try to replace the drip and the connection into my hand but their repeated handiwork is ruined as I knock it out once more. It occurs to the midwife that they may be wasting time trying to hydrate me so I insist I can drink water for them and try and chug the bottle that Josh has brought in.
6.00am. Where are you?
She examines me finally to discover that my cervix is 7 centimeters dilated which I am astonished about! I did so much of the work at home and I never even realized it! However, there is still some work to go for me to be fully ready to start pushing, plus I’ll need energy to push too and I cannot even think when the contractions come. I microsleep between the pain dreaming of space and time, suspending in a bliss state between pain, waking harshly when it arrives every couple of minutes. I ask if I can have an epidural as not sure how I can make the transition between this state and pushing. I am so weak and still want to heave every time I feel the pain. The gas and air only helps so much. She agreed with me and Josh looks worried, his voice of reason questioning my decision. “Don’t have it, you can do it”, he pleads but he cannot feel inside of me. I look for reserves of energy that are not there and laying on the bed to be examined has only made me weaker. The midwife asks Josh
“Does her face go this grey usually when she is ill?”
We transfer upstairs to the labor ward. I decide to walk this and feel like a woman with purpose as I am even closer to the end of this pain. I may even been excited! I meet my new midwife Janelle, as the shift changes and have the chance to go to the toilet. As I pee, I hope that if I contract in the toilet that I do not delivery the baby in there and focus on getting back to our room on the ward. The room is smaller than before, with beeping equipment. It has a seat that Josh can sit in and it warmer. I note that my place is on the bed and even though there is a small birthing pool in there, all thoughts of a romantic water birth or even a birth where I am not lying down are dashed in favor of receiving pain relief. I ask when the epidural will happen regularly as mine and the baby’s heartbeat is monitored and I am told that it will happen when the shifts have changed.
My midwife and her student assistant are lovely. They manage to get the IV drip back into my hand with no drama. They make sure I am comfortable and that I regularly suck on the gas and air. The student chit chats with us although I scare her as one incredible contraction hits. “I can feel the baby’s head bearing down!!” I cry. She looks terrified and says “hold it in while I grab Janelle!” and dashed from the room. I writhe around when the contractions hits — they are far past the count of thirty at this point and I feel the stretch of my cervix as the baby’s head nudges against it. I remember what my mother said about this point and do not fight it. It’s much easier to let my body do what it needs rather than try and stop it. Josh has my hand at points and I must be crushing it as I pulse through this intense period. This wave. It never ends. It never ends. It never ends. Then I’m free and I can think again.
I look at the clock. 8.15am and still no epidural. Am told “soon”.
Janelle decided to examine me as I feel like I am bearing down and as checks to see how far I am dilated I look over to Josh. He sits quietly trying not to nod off. It’s a a warm room and the noise of the heartbeat from the ECG plus lack of sleep makes everything seem dream like. I had even jokes that the sound reminded me of being t a club night as techno plays. I then jump with a start as my waters break and flood across the bottom of my bed. “Oi! I exclaim to Janelle, “did you just break my waters?” “I did,” she states, “and you’re fully dilated!”
“You’re going to have this baby now!”
I can’t quite comprehend this statement and look to Josh for reassurance. Now? But I have pain relief planned and as I inquire one last time about this, the anesthetist walks in and asks if his services are needed. The midwives send him away and I jokingly call out after him “maybe later!” “We’re going to push now Victoria” Janelle states. “Are you ready?” Well, mentally I was not, not at all. I had already spent the past hours since being told I was getting pain relief, in preparing to be in hospital for a while. The epidural would have slowed me down and I would also need to stay the night in hospital afterwards. I had estimated another six hours getting dilated and maybe another six after that pushing. Baby would be arriving tonight, not now!
They focus intensely on me with clear and precise instructions about how to push, so I press my entire body into the bed, holding Josh hand and push with all of the energy in my body. It’s intense and I feel a slight stinging between my legs and I continue to push, pushing with every muscle, nothing is wasted. They call for me to stop and proclaim the baby’s head is now out. Josh looks, face contorted into wonder. I am guided to touch the baby’s head and she has hair!! No time for wonder as I am told to hold the push and prepare the next one. I must connect my chin to my chest and push from deep, deep within. I find a gear I did not know I had and on cue pulse again and start to feel an amazing relief as the shoulders are freed. Back to short breathing and it’s a beat before I am told to push again and maybe it’s one push or two but I feel all of the pressure from the past nine months disappear instantly as the body is freed and before I know it, the baby is placed my chest (it’s a girl!), she opens an eye and looks at me.
It’s 8.46am. Here you are!
She looks like a little alien to me right now and I try not to move her as the umbilical cord is cut. Josh is crying and I look to him, delighted that he is so emotional, but feeling nothing. I look down at her and her eyes are tight shut, writhing gently. I am clearly in shock. I was expectantly to see my daughter this evening and here she is now. Right here, right now.
She is given to Josh as I take off my robe so that I can have her on my bare skin. I know this much is important in my shocked state and as Josh holds her a rush of overwhelming, loving feeling washes over me and I am able to see the tenderness in Josh as he looks at our daughter and employ it to my own being. She is placed back on me and everything else in the world disappears apart from us three. Josh draws close and we stare into her beautiful pink face, marveling at her. A very punctual baby.