This is the story of the day you were born. You will be 14 weeks old tomorrow, and I want to write this story while the day is still fresh in my memory. I’d like to think that I’ll never forget a single detail, and maybe I won’t, but most likely my head will soon be full of potty training and temper tantrums and preschool and times tables and pierced ears and boyfriends, so I want to tell this story now, while it’s still fresh.
You were six days late, according to the “experts,” but I think a baby comes when it’s damn well ready. I think you were exactly on time. When you went past your due date and they started talking about induction I was scared. I know that inducing labor before the baby has decided it’s ready is miserable for everyone.
But I didn’t have to be induced. I woke up at 8 am on the morning of Thursday, February 10th, 2011, went to the loo, and had a contraction. I was so excited I woke your father up by leaning over him an inch from his face and grinning like a hyena on Prozac. He went back to sleep for 2 more hours.
I started timing the contractions, and they were regular at 3 minute intervals, and lasted about 15-30 seconds. I recconned that was pretty good. I knew we’d have a baby by the end of the day.
Your dad wanted to go to the gym, but since he couldn’t take his mobile phone with him, I told him “no.” I didn’t want him out of my sight. He agreed reluctantly. But there was a tiny bit of blood spotting in my underwear, so I decided to phone the birth center and ask their advice, and about the timing of the contractions. They said not to be worried, and phone back with the contractions were closer. They said I might not even be in active labor, that it sounded like it was still in the latent phase, and that I should let your father go to the gym. I agreed reluctantly.
While your dad was at the gym I got hungry, so I walked to McDonald’s. I knew that I should keep on my feet and keep moving as much as possible, to keep things progressing. I noticed on the way that there were three daffodils blooming in front of our neighbor’s house, the very first daffodils of the spring. “That’s lovely,” I thought. “Pirette will be born on the day the first daffodils opened.” I knew the labor was active. I didn’t care what anyone else said. I knew you were coming.
I felt special as I walked to the roundabout where the McDonald’s is. I felt like I was hiding a great, wonderful secret. I knew something marvellous that no one around me knew. I knew you were coming.
The contractions were strong, but not painful. I got my favourite lunch (2 cheeseburgers and a strawberry shake) and ate while I walked back. I didn’t want the people in Mickey-D’s to see me doing my breathing exercises.
Your dad got back from the gym shortly after I got home from lunch. He wanted to go to McDonald’s for lunch. I said I would go with him; the walk would be good for me. So we set out together. I showed him the daffodils. He said he saw a cherry tree blooming on his way home from the gym.
Walking back from the restaurant the contractions were getting strong. I had to stop walking and lean on your dad for support. I said we should call the birth center when we got home. They told us to come on in. That was about one thirty in the afternoon.
We listened to the first movement of Beethoven’s 7th symphony on the way. I wanted your dad to hear it. I love that piece. The first time I heard it, it made my heart soar. It still does. It makes me think of horses charging across the open countryside. It’s rapturous.
When we arrived I could hear them filling the birthing pool. There was a midwife on duty I’d not met before. The contractions were hard enough that your dad had to help me through the breathing, but when the midwife examined me she said I was only one centimetre dilated and two centimetres effaced. She said things were moving slowly, and I was in for a long night. She wouldn’t let me stay in the birthing center. It was too hot in the room and I threw up 3 times. She sent us home. That was around two thirty.
In the car the contractions were getting strong. During the 25-minute journey they lengthened, and by the time we got home again they were starting every two minutes and lasting a full minute. I laid on my side on the living room floor and clutched a pillow.
They gave me a TENS machine at the birthing center, and with the start of each contraction I pressed the button to increase the intensity. Your dad sat with a stopwatch and timed my contractions by watching me click the button on the machine. For two hours we sat there, me pressing the button on the TENS with each contraction, your dad pressing the buttons on the stopwatch. I vaguely wondered if our neighbours on the other side of our semi could hear me moaning and grunting.
Shortly after five I told your father to phone the birth centre back. I know it was after five because they are only staffed during the day. After hours you ring a different number and they get someone to phone you back. A few minutes later a midwife named Claire phoned us back. Your father took the call. I couldn’t talk.
I could tell there was a disagreement. I remember your father saying, “She’ll be devastated,” or something like that. I knew they didn’t want me back so soon. It was less than 3 hours since they’d sent us home. I shouted “We’re going in!” between groans. Your dad spoke for a few more minutes before hanging up. He said she agreed to meet us.
I transitioned in the car. By the time we got to the end of our road I was already pushing. Now it was a race between you and your father: could he drive faster than you could climb out?
I had to hold myself off the seat by hanging from the handle over the window. Sitting felt wrong. I was pushing hard, and I was scared. Your dad kept saying, “This is good, this is what we want.” I didn’t have enough time or breath between contractions to explain that if I was pushing before I was fully dilated I could bruise my cervix and cause it to swell shut, and I knew that was a real possibility.
It was dark, and it was raining. I told your dad we might not make it. I wondered if we should pull over and ring for an ambulance. He said we’d make it. We kept going.
My water exploded.
When we arrived your father dropped me at the door so he could go park the car. I stumbled in to the small community hospital and called for help. A small, dark-haired nurse, who had seen us leave earlier in the day, came running. She grabbed me up under the armpits and called for a wheel chair. A pump, grey-haired nurse (don’t ask me why I remember these things) came with a wheelchair that looked like it was made between the wars. I climbed on, but couldn’t sit.
They took me upstairs. We got off the elevator as your dad arrived at the top of the stairs with all the bags of Stuff. Bloody slow elevator.
Claire had only just arrived. I didn’t wait for an invitation. As soon as I was in the delivery room I took off my trousers and underwear. They were wet and dirty looking. It dimly registered that there must have been some meconium in the amniotic fluid, but I didn’t have enough brainpower left to be worried. If there was worrying to do, let someone else do it.
I climbed/fell/rolled onto the bed. I knew there was no time to fill the birthing pool. Claire looked at me. You were crowning. Immediately she turned away, grabbed a nearby phone and said, “Get another midwife here. I don’t care who, send whoever is closest. Get someone here now.”
I knew then you were close. It’s the policy of the birthing center to have two midwives attend every birth, one midwife to deal with the mother, and a second to deal with the baby. That way if things get messy there are enough hands to go around. It was clear they didn’t expect to need two midwives so soon. They didn’t think you were coming, but I knew better.
This is where your story loses some cohesion. All I remember is sensations, disconnected feelings. I remember I wanted to sit up more, to be propped up more on the bed. They raised the back of the bed for me.
I remember it was hard to keep my legs apart. Claire didn’t talk much, but she did keep telling me to keep my legs open. It’s counterintuitive, that. When you have pain between your legs, you want to close them. That was hard, keeping my legs apart.
I remember there was no place to put my feet. They seemed to be floating in air.
Then Claire told me to push in short, controlled bursts. Control? What control? My uterus had a mind of its own. I was just along for the ride by that point. I had no say in how I pushed.
I remember crying. It was hard work. It stung.
They told me your head was out. That heartened me. I knew it wouldn’t be long. I knew I only needed one or two more good pushes to get your shoulders through.
And then Claire said “Time!” and your father looked at his watch. He started calling out intervals of 10 or 20 seconds. I found out later why.
And there you were, not all blue and goopy like they’d told me to expect, but pink and surprisingly clean. Not squalling, either, just sort of whimpering a bit, and only for a minute or so.
I lifted my T-shirt (an Empire Strikes Back T-shirt I’d had since high school) and held you right against my chest. And of course you were perfect. Everything about you was perfectly circular: your head, your dark, dark grey eyes, your (warning: cliche’ imminent) rosebud little mouth.
Claire said you were wonderful and healthy, and then explained that I had some tearing. Your arm had been pinned to the side of your head by the umbilical cord, which was wrapped around your neck. (That was why she asked your father to keep track of the time. She needed to know how long after you emerged the cord was on your neck. But your arm, which made you a damned funny shape to push out, was good for you: it kept the cord from being too tight around your windpipe.)
While I was holding you, mezmerized by this mysterious, tiny creature, another woman walked into the room. “I see I’ve missed all the fun,” she said. Her name was Janie. She was the second midwife.
She said, “Sorry to barge in on you.” (My knees were in different time zones, and I was facing the door.) “I know it’s not very dignified.”
I said, “Don’t worry about it. I have no dignity left.”
Claire said I needed to get stitched up quite quickly, but she couldn’t begin until the placenta had been delivered, and would I consent to a shot of some drug that would speed it up and minimize the bleeding. I had read about it before so I knew what it was. I agreed.
If anyone ever tells you that once the baby is born all the hard work is over and you barely even notice the placenta coming out, hit them in the mouth.
Then the nitty-gritty started. I handed you to your father. He took off his shirt and held you against his chest. Claire and Janie tried to find the stirrups to attach to the bed. That took a while. They were very familiar with delivering babies, but not very familiar with the cupboards in this particular birthing center. I remember there was a lot of bumping around and improvising. I said it felt like camping.
The two midwives had known and worked with each other for almost thirty years. They had some great banter. There was a lot of laughter in that room.
Janie had to do an internal examination to find out how bad the tearing was. Neither woman was qualified to sew third degree tearing, and Janie said it looked bad. If I had torn all the way to my rectum it would have meant a transfer by ambulance to the hospital. That would have been miserable, but Janie said it was as bad as it could have been while still being second degree. Good news, of a sort.
Janie had grey hair in a bun and silver-rimmed glasses. She looked like the sort of woman who did a lot of needlework. I was glad she was doing the stitching.
I didn’t use any pain relief while in labor, but for the stitching I took the entonox. It didn’t do any good, but it was nice to have something to bite down on.
It seemed to take a long time. I was freezing cold. I shivered. Claire brought me blankets and a cup of tea appeared from somewhere. (You have to love the English. There’s a medical crisis: quick, make tea!)
While Janie was sewing, Claire took you and your dad in the other room to take your measurements. I could hear you complaining, loudly and lustily. You didn’t like being weighed. Being naked when you’ve only just been born is cold and miserable. By the time your dad brought you back into the room with me you were quieter, but grizzling. I knew you were hungry. They wouldn’t let me feed you until I had been sewn back together. It was taking forever.
Finally, the midwives took my feet out of the stirrups, dimmed the lights, and skedaddled. We got to be alone, the three of us, a family. I fed you straight away. You were hungry.
Claire came in briefly to check that I wasn’t having any difficulty feeding you, but we were doing fine. Your father stood next to the bed, proudly declaring that this is how a baby feeds when she hasn’t been born all drugged up on pain killers. He wasn’t wrong; you could suck crude oil from the ground.
Eventually we bothered to dress you (all the clothes we brought were too big), and then we called our parents. That was a couple hours after your entrance into the world. Your grandparents were ecstatic, and rather surprised. We had let them know earlier in the day that I was in labor, but no one expected news quite so soon. You surprised a lot of people. You surprised everyone but me.
Then someone said they had drawn a bath for me. That sounded nice. You were asleep. So was your dad. He had crashed out on the tile floor of the delivery room. I told him, “Go in the other room and lie down on one of the beds.” He seemed grateful for permission to leave.
I think someone took you and put you in a cot. I stumbled into the bathroom and slid into the tub. I was still bleeding, and the water quickly became gross, but I didn’t care. The tub was huge and warm and I could stretch out and really rest for the first time all day. It was almost ten at night.
Your dad came in and asked, “What do you want on your pizza?” Good man.
I needed help getting dressed. I couldn’t bend over (it pulled my stitches), but there was a string to pull to summon help. Your dad came and helped me.
I hobbled in to the “ward” (a bedroom with 2 beds, a small telly, and a kettle) where your dad was waiting with the pizza. There was some discussion as to whether I should stay the night there or go home and come back in the morning for an exam. It was decided it would be much easier (and save me some very uncomfortable car rides) if I just stayed put.
Your dad was shattered, so I sent him home to sleep and look after the cat and the fish. They put a rail on the side of one of the beds so I could keep you in bed with me. That was nice. It saved me having to get out of bed to check on you (it was really, really difficult to move), and meant that we could spend the whole night snuggled up together.
It was hot in the ward. I was sweating until my hair was wet. You were bundled up in every article of clothing we’d brought, plus several blankets. Because of the meconium in the amniotic fluid they were worried you might have swallowed some, which can give you an infection. So they kept taking your temperature and it kept reading low, hence all the blankets. It turned out the thermometer didn’t work. Well done, the NHS.
But that night was wonderful. Despite all the discomfort I just laid in bed in the dark room looking at your beautiful face by the light of the green night light. You spent a lot of time sucking on my pinkie finger. It was warm and quiet and peaceful, just the two of us in that room. There was a woman down the hall if I needed anything, but we were fine. You fussed whenever I got up to pee, but quieted down as soon as I was near again. You didn’t want to be alone, but you knew who I was and when I was close.
Slowly the lilac curtains lightened. I drew them back and saw crocuses blooming around the tree by the car park. You were asleep. I ate the rest of the pizza for breakfast, and drank several more bottles of Lucozade. I’ve never been so thirsty in my life!
In the morning a breast-feeding counsellor came to see me feed you and make sure we were doing OK. She said we could teach master classes. Then a midwife came in to make sure I knew how to change your diapers and dress you properly. She said I must have lots of younger siblings, because no new mother is ever that confident handling a new baby. I loved putting your lovely, soft bamboo diapers on you. I felt so smug, like the best mother in the world because I’d found the best nappies that would be the most comfortable for you.
I phoned your dad to come pick us up. I told him to go hire some special cushions first for me to sit on, because I wasn’t going to get in the car without one. He arrived with the fancy cushions (what a god-send they were!) and we put you in your snowsuit to take you home. (That was the beginning of your love-affair with your courduroy snowsuit. For 10 weeks you wouldn’t sleep without it.)
As we buckled you into your car seat you started to cry. Your father looked at you said, “You don’t really mean that. Now stop it.” And by god you did. That was the first and last time you ever did what your father told you.
We went downstairs and the nurses who helped me through the door the previous night were on duty already. The dark-haired nurse spotted me and said, “Oh my goodness, I barely recognized you! You’re a different woman!” I was beaming ear to ear, a far cry from my state that last time she’d seen me.
And on that sunny, mild, February morning we brought you home.