It was a cool Sunday on May 17, 2009. I was 40 weeks and 9 days pregnant and incredibly impatient. I was planning to have a homebirth with the St George Hospital, publicly funded homebirth program. One of the criteria to have a homebirth with this program is that you must give birth no later that 40+14 weeks (ie. 42 weeks). I was becoming nervous that I would have to be induced in the delivery suite at St George, the absolute last place I’d choose. I had tried almost every method of self-induction; long walks, hot bath, sex, clary sage oil, evening primrose oil, internal exam to sweep the membranes, spicy food, reflexology and herbal remedies. I remember asking everyone I knew, to pray that this baby would finally come out. But as night came and the eternity of that day drew to a close, I thought I might try and take matters into my own hands.
Now there’s something you should know about me for the next part to make sense; I have irritable bowel syndrome. I had been managing my IBS with a dairy-free diet since June 2008. I had slipped up occasionally and succumbed to a sticky date pudding here or Devonshire tea there, but on the most part I’d tried to behave myself. So to “take matters into my own hands” as I mentioned previously, I ate a huge piece of the cheesiest lasagne, accompanied with the most buttery garlic bread I’ve ever had.
The theory behind this method of self-induction, is that if you “irritate” your gastrointestinal tract(GIT), this will rub against your uterus and thus “irritate” your uterus into starting contractions. And irritate it did! At first I was fine. I went to bed no problems, but woke at about 4am with a bout of diarrhoea. I managed to go back to sleep, then woke again at 7am on monday morning with mild period-pain-like waves and more diarrhoea. The waves came about every 3 minutes, even at the start, though they were very mild then. I knew my midwife was coming for a checkup at 9am so I didn’t bother to ring her. Hubby went to work and I continued about my day, hanging washing, mopping the floors, tidying up etc. All the while I was having to stop every 2-3 minutes to breathe through the mild contractions.
My midwife arrived at 9am and I remember beaming to her “it’s happening!”. She and I were both so excited. She felt my belly, observed a few contractions, asked if I was ok and they baby was moving, and because all was ship shape she left again, as it was still early days, with the reassurance that I could ring and ask her to come anytime.
After she left, the waves became stronger and more painful. I could no longer use distraction. Instead, I sat on a gym ball and rocked and used deep breathing, then when the pain eased, I laid my head on a pillow on my dining table. I liked this. I liked being on my own with my baby. I liked thinking that in a few hours this would be over and i could finally see my baby’s face.
It got to 12pm and I clearly recall thinking “I don’t have time to get up and get a drink of water before the next pain so I think it’s time to call hubby back” and at that precise moment he walked in the door! He sat with me for a bit and we decided to call my midwife back. She arrived at about 12:30 and I was in my bedroom. She assessed me for a while but it wasnt clear if I was progressing so she asked if she could do a vaginal examination. I agreed. Man, now I understood the reactions I’d seen in so many labouring women that I’d looked after, even when performing a gentle exam. It HURT! Especially the being on my back bit.
At this point my mother brain turned off and my midwife brain turned on. I wanted to know. I wanted to know everything. How dilated? How high was the head? How soft was my cervix? Was the presenting part well applied? How effaced? (Sorry to my non-midwife readers, all those terms are important to assess progress, I might explain in another post one day). Imagine referring to my precious baby as “the head” or “the presenting part”. Unbelievable. I just couldn’t turn my midwife brain off and focus on myself and my baby. All I managed to say was “how much?”. She didn’t have to tell me how high the head was, it felt like her fingers were up near my ribcage.
My midwife informed me that I was 2cm dilated. Shattered. All that work, all that pain, for 2cm? I regrouped and thought, “That’s ok, well it sux but I can do this, I can manage this pain”. Then she left again. I really didn’t want her to leave. But I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want her to think I was a wuss. Continuous barely-there thoughts kept running through my mind, “I’m a midwife, I’ve seen lots of people do this, I should be able to handle this pain, I’m only 2cm, it’s going to get a lot worse”. Throughout the labour I had also continued to have diarrhoea which had caused me some pain even in between contractions.
My mum and sister arrived a few hours later. I had lost track of time. I was in a cocoon. Just me, my doona, my windchime music, my breathing and my pain. When rocking on hands and knees became too uncomfortable I stood and did the hula. By now the contractions were still 2-3 minutes apart but lasting longer and were much stronger. Mum was getting worried because the way I was acting was the way she behaved right before giving birth (mind you her longest of 3 labours was about an hour in total!). So we called my midwife back yet again.
When she arrived she could see I was working really hard so she encouraged us to move downstairs so I could get in the birth pool if I wanted. Sliding down into the silky warmth of the deep inflatable birth pool felt like heaven. I could not believe that such a simple thing could make such a gigantic difference to how I was feeling. Sweet relief. I remember saying “this is almost orgasmic” haha! I like hot baths. Like cooking-a-lobster-hot. So I enjoyed the pool for an hour but then I was too hot and needed to go to the bathroom yet again (the IBS was absolutely killing me). By this time my contractions had slowed down to 5 minutes apart but returned to 2 minutely quickly after getting out of the pool. I really felt that since I had been working so extremely hard, I deserved to be transitional (almost at the pushing stage). I was also behaving and sounding like so many of the women I’d cared for who were “nearly there”. There I was again, not being able to turn my midwife brain off. My midwife examined me again. This is when my world broke. 2cm – STILL 2cm?? I cannot describe in words how upset I was. I think this is when I gave up on being calm. My mantra changed from “come on, you can do this” to “I can’t deal with this useless pain that’s serving no purpose”. I remember yelling to my midwife through the tears “so I’m not even in labour?” (technically labour is when your cervix is 3cm or more, with regular painful contractions). My beautiful midwife friend, through tears of her own, reassured me that of course I was in labour but my cervix just needed more time. So… I picked myself up and carried on.
It got lots worse. I think my loss of confidence in my body overtook my brainspace. I lost my calm and focus. I started screaming through every contraction. I was screaming like a banshee. I kept repeating “I can’t do this”. A few more hours passed in this way. My IBS was excruciating and I was having to be in the bathroom most of the time. My midwife said she needed to examine me again. I yelled out at the end of a contraction “if I’m still 2cm I’m going to hospital and getting an epidural”. I didn’t really mean it. I thought she would rally me and encourage me to keep going. It was only when she quietly said “ok” that I realised this wasn’t normal labour. I had been in rip roaring labour with no progress for almost 12 hours. There are a few reasons why I think this happened but I’ll go into that on another post.
So I was examined again. She didn’t even have to speak. I could tell by her face. She was so upset for me. She wanted my hopes and dreams to be realised, and they weren’t going to be. But me? I was resolute. Right! That’s it! Call the ambulance, call the hospital, call the VMO anesthetist- I don’t want any bloody trainee sticking a needle my back! The wait for the ambulance was unbearable. I was screaming at the top of my lungs “I’m going to die”.
When the ambulance officers arrived they gave me a penthrox inhaler (like morphine). At first I threw it away but I was in so much pain I couldn’t move to the ambulance. So I took it, then it was all over, you would have had to chop my arm off to get me to give that thing up! Bit of a scary drug though because from the time I got into the ambulance, I recall nothing until the sound of the delivery suite doorbell.
I arrived at the hospital at about 11pm. Contrary to what you might think, I was actually really relieved to be there. I saw the familiar faces of the incredibly experienced midwives that I work with, I saw familiar surroundings. I remember rolling over and seeing the blue recliner in the corner, which for some reason made me feel calm. I was 5cm. Finally. Some progress. Must have been the brain numbing inhaler pain relief that enabled my body to relax and start to dilate. I was renewed, reinvigorated. I was still in unbelievable pain and was sucking on the gas like my life depended on it, but I no longer wanted an epidural. I began to think positively again – “I can do this, my body is finally working”.
An hour later I had only a small anterior lip of cervix left. Through the contractions and gas sucking, I began that incomparable uncontrollable deep groaning of pushing. I was told to try not to push as I was not yet fully dilated, but there was nothing on God’s green earth that could stop me pushing. I had never felt anything like that. Absolutely indescribable.
I felt my waters break. It just felt like wee coming out, over which i had no control. After about half an hour of pushing, my midwife, who had sacrificially stayed with me, quietly told me that the liquor (technical term for amniotic fluid, pronounced ‘lie-core’) was “mec stained”. In other words the baby had done a poo. This can happen in babies for a number of reasons, namely for post dates (overdue) or because they are distressed. Because I was overdue and bub’s heart rate was fine, I wasn’t really worried. Later, my midwife told me she had never seen such thick meconium in all her 20 years of midwifery. Scary. I still praise God that nothing went wrong.
I soon began to feel the burn of birth. I felt like my labia had chains with concrete hanging from them. Such a heavy, dragging, burning, ripping sensation (and my labia didn’t even tear). I think a lot of that feeling had to do with the fact that i was on my back, as i was too exhausted and off my face on gas, to move. The pressure was incredible. I continued pushing and in under an hour (though it felt like only minutes), a tiny perfect head came out. I remember only then, seeing that little person’s head coming out of me, clicking back into reality and realisation “oh I’m having a baby, that’s what this has all been about”. I really think the gas had knocked me off my perch til I had stopped using it to start pushing seriously. One more contraction and out came a perfect body to match the perfect head.
“Oh my goodness there’s a baby, there’s a baby, that’s a baby, that’s MY baby, my baby, oh my baby, you’re finally here”. As my absolutely precious baby was lifted up to me I caught a glimpse of HIS nether regions. “It’s a boy, I have a baby boy, OF COURSE I have a baby boy!”. I had had a hugely strong feeling this baby was going to be a boy and I was right! He was covered in meconium but I didn’t even notice, to me he was perfect. Through tears of relief, love and exhaustion I kissed and hugged my beautiful, perfect angel baby. “This is Levi Aaron Helm” my husband pronounced proudly to the room.
A few minutes later I pushed the placenta out no problems and was stitched up. Levi was already having a great feed. I’ll always say, that first shower after giving birth is the most glorious sensation. So restorative and relaxing. I felt almost normal again. Except I was a different normal. I was a mother.