Noreen, proud granny
However, I had held Noreen at arms length when it came to the whole birthing partner issue. This was mostly due to sheer stubbornness on my part. I think I partly felt giving birth 'alone' ( without a birthing partner) would have further shamed 'him' for his absence. I also think I wanted to come out being able to declare 'I did it all alone, look at how strong and stoical I am, I won't let the bastard(s) grind me down'. Most of all though, I was just being a drama queen. So I told noreen I'd like her be in the general vicinity during labour but probably not in the room. Once the time arrived however, I didn't let her out of my sight and so she had front row tickets for the whole occasion.
As I was saying, the world is filled with amazingly strong and supportive people. Another individual I include in this category is my kick ass midwife Kathy. I already knew Kathy, In what seems like a previous life she had encountered "us" through churchy connections. She was able to get me onto her special caseload, meaning I would have continuity of care through the pregnancy and delivery. It was extremely helpful to have someone caring for me who had a little more than head knowledge of my situation. She knew 'him', knew us, knew how out of character his recent choices where and therefore knew how all the more traumatic it was on me.
Kathy and Finch
And so it was these two brave and admirable women I took as my captive carers into the land of labour.
I was scheduled for induction at 8am. Nervousness incarnate can be found in the Royal Victoria hospital, maternity section at 8am every morning - 'induction time'. There were petrified faces everywhere, petrified and utterly fed up. And then of course there were the nervous husbands. I think having your husband/partner there means you can project a lot of your fear onto them. This time around I actually felt stronger due to the fact that I didn't have 'him' to fall apart in front of. Instead I was keeping it together. And when we all got ushered into the elevator and handed our files I even attempted to make loud 'ice-breaky' type jokes about how it was like exam time in high school. No one else laughed, but I thought I was funny.
I had assumed the induction would be a long drawn out process. I was induced with Molly (albeit 5 weeks early) and it took 4 applications of the gel, which needed to be applied 6 hours apart. long. drawn. out. process. This time around long and drawn out was not part of the equation. At 9am I got my first gel. I'd come equipped with a box set of The West Wing with me and was quite prepared to be watching the entire season that day. But by 11am I was already requesting pain killers so to ease the already achey contractions, happening 5 minutes apart.
It was around this time that I made a little playlist on spotify titled 'waiting for finch'. At this point you could have peeked behind the curtain to find an enormously pregnant woman (yours truly) having a little boogie all by herself to 'you can call me al' by Paul Simon.
Soon enough the contractions started to get particularly achey and I was longing for a hot water bottle. I recalled a trusty tip I'd heard from someone somewhere and ran one of the newborn diapers under hot water and applied it to my belly. I highly recommend these makeshift diaper heat packs during labour. I even made another one the night after the labour when I was getting after pains. (*the secret is that the gel in the diapers locks in the moisture and heat, much more effectively than a hot flannel*).
Me and my infamous addiction to diet coke
Me an noreen determined to watch an episode of The West Wing, whilst I rolled about on the birthing ball, huffing and puffing. We got about half way through and it all just became too distracting to concentrate on Aaron Sorkin's masterful dialogue.
At around 2:30 kathy, appeared in the doorway, took one look at me and announced 'goodness me that child's in labour!' It was reassuring to see my increasing discomfort was becoming so visibly apparent. Kathy handed me the gas and air (nitric oxide) and promptly starting filling the birthing pool in the room next door . The nitric oxide had me at hello. A few minutes from my first breath and I was staring intently at the face mask with hearts in my eyes, declaring aloud 'you. are. my. friend.' There were a few times when the mask accidently got disconnected from the rest of the equipment right in the middle of a contraction and the sheer fear in my eyes was comical.
My plan with the birthing pool was to stick it out in there as long as I felt comfortable and consider an epidural if and when it got too much. In hindsight, I'm glad I was so naive about how fast things were proceeding. Panic probably would have set in much earlier had I realised that by getting into the pool I was committing myself to a pain relief free labour. So instead of feeling nervous and serious about what I was doing when I dipped my toes in the pool, I was giggling like a school girl and telling everyone 'this is great, I feel like I'm on my holidays!!'. A trainee midwife stuck her head through the door and politely asked if I'd mind if she stayed in and assisted in her first water birth. By this time my inhibitions were entirely compromised and I was all 'suuuuuuurrreee come on in! everyyybodyyy, come join the party!!'
Five minutes later
'oh I didn't like that one'
another five minutes later
'I don't think I want another one like that. Kathy, am I gonna have another one of those?'
From this point on, with each contraction I became more fearful about what was ahead of me. My good old buddy, nitric oxide, had lured me into a false sense of security and tricked me into this pool with no other pain relief available and now she just wasn't taking the edge off anymore. oh, craaap.
Kathy told me that soon enough I'd be feeling pressure in my bum whenever the contraction came, when that happened it was time to push. The first time I felt the pressure I didn't even tell anyone, I hoped if I ignored it, it might just go away and i'd wake up from this like it was just a bad dream. Next time I couldn't ignore it and so the pushing began. Oh hell, I hated the pushing.
I couldn't breath through the mask and push at the same time so the gas and air became obsolete, but no one could have pried that mask from my grip, no matter how many times it was suggested, i'd open one eye, give them a dirty look and snap out 'NO!'.
The pushing took around 45 minutes. The whole time I was leaning with my back against the side of the pool despite the fact that I'd heard a million times that labour was much easier when you were off your back and either on all fours or squatting. But the pain had me pretty much paralyzed in that one position. Kathy recommended I turned over onto my knees, again, poor kathy received another dirty look and 'NO!'. it was around this time I opened both eyes, looked across at Kathy and the trainee midwife and said in a low, aggressive growl 'I don't know why you people would want to do this job'. It turns out delivering a baby brings out my inner bitch.
I find it difficult to access the correct words to describe this next part. The pain brought out such a primal fear in me. It was pretty distressing to know there was no turning back. This baby just had to come out of me, the painful and exhausting way. I kept whimpering 'i'm frightened', 'someone help me' , 'get him out, please just take him out'.
About half way through the pushing I looked down and saw a bulge coming out of me (sorry, i did warn you it was gonna get gory!). I assumed this was the head and my spirits lifted, I said 'I can see the head, he's nearly out!!'. To my disappointment, and confusement, Kathy explained that it was the membranes, his head was crowning but my waters still hadn't broken. this is very unusual and apparently in some cultures it's considered very lucky. The most impressive thing was that Mr bump (soon to be Mr Finch) was protected from the Strep B infection right until the last few seconds. Kathy told me that this was really good and was protecting my baby, to which my response was 'I don't care, he's hurting me just get him out of me'. I know...i'm awful. I was begging and pleading Kathy to get rid of the membrane as I could feel it was making the pushing harder. Afterwards Kathy explained that breaking the waters would have made things go quicker but only by about five minutes. At the time though, five minutes was not just any old five minutes, It felt like an eternity in excruciating pain.
I'd love to say that I had some sort of inspirational mantra or visualisation that got me through the pain. But I really didn't. my inner monologue was much more defeatist in tone ' I can't do this / I can't believe I have to do this / oh someone please make it stop'. I wasn't much of a screamer through the pushing. I've heard that many people make a groaning noise that they find helps. As for me, there were just a few times I threw out an angry yell at the top of my voice during a push. But Kathy quickly scolded me for wasting my energy on my voice. There are a few things that I recall to memory and shudder with a little embarrassment, like I remember going cross eyed with the effort of pushing (this mostly just makes me laugh) and I can remember repeating aloud "i'm frigh-tened" in a childlike whiney voice.
After a long time of pushing and feeling like I wasn't getting anywhere, I managed to let the team of ladies persuade me to change position. I flipped over onto my knees and gripped onto the edge of the pool for dear life. Here comes the part where I learnt my lesson and I advise you all to listen to your midwives and take their advice much faster than I did, because the very next push and POP out came the waters and out came the head. I felt everything.
I'd watched enough birthing videos to know that the next part was pretty easy so I gave a big sigh of relief. I'd also watched enough birthing videos to know that with a water birth, the baby can stay under water for a good period of time, it may look like they are drowning but they are still attached to the placenta and it's the same as if they were still inside. Noreen however didn't know this. So I'm all chilled and calm waiting for the next contraction to come along and get this baby well and truly out whilst Noreen fell deathly silent thinking the baby was drowning under the water. So waterbirth 101 - drowning isn't usually an issue.
Along came another contraction and tada, I flipped back onto my back again and was holding....MY SON in my arms. Amazing. Unbelievable. We've came along way little man and we made it.
After a few minutes of enjoying the snuggle time I started to feel more and more aware of how freaking sore I was. I made my way onto the bed and we waited for a doctor to come check out what the damage was. This was when Mr Finch latched on for the first time and boy did he latch. Molly was preemie and had a bit of a hard time figuring out how to latch. Finch was the other extreme, the 'oh my word did I just give birth to a baby vampire' kind of extreme. I'd like to mention, the breast feeding support I received here in the UK was abysmal. It seems that all the 'breast is best' posters is really just lip service.
Along came the stitches. I said I didn't yell out much for the pushing. It seems I was storing up all the yelling for the dreaded freaking stitches. Because this was a second pregnancy, I had naievely assumed that I was just gonna sneeze this baby out, do some lunges and walk home with a 'slight graze'. SO. NOT. THE. CASE. The doctor offered a 'spinal' for the stitches (they had to double check I hadn't actually tore all the way through - thankfully I hadn't but it was bad enough that they had to double check). I refused the spinal saying 'eh - I just gave birth pain relief free, I can handle a few stitches' and instead opted for a localised numbing injection, and of course my old buddy nitric oxide returned to the scene. As soon as the Doc started working away at me I became pretty unhappy and started to inhale the gas and air very quickly, which then made me feel extremely trippy and very, very emotional. At one point I cried out 'he looks like his daddy....the hard part isn't over'. I yelled, I wailed, I had a tight hold of all three women and pulled them right up in my face so I could cry right into their faces. Meanwhile In the back of my head I was panicking that the doctor would do a rushed job on my stitches and screw things up so I kept telling him 'just you take your time, I just need to cry and yell, it's not really about the stitches'. but they did hurt. a lot. and the 20 minutes he took to repair me seemed to last a lot longer.
I don't really have a very clear memory of the next few hours. But it wasn't long before I found myself In a hospital ward, left alone with my son and a whole night of cluster feeding ahead of me. It seems a little unfair that you have to stay up all night feeding your baby after you've just done the hardest physical work you'll ever do. But it was amazing to just look at him, my son. I have a son.
When I look at my son, I feel struck by the feeling that he is going to need me. I imagine him a lot more helpless than I ever did with Molly. I don't mean to diminish his abilities before he has even set out on life, but I can just imagine all the guidance and snuggles he will need as he tries to figure out the world. With Molly, i'll be lucky to get in a few suggestions and some high fives.
Although, I have a funny feeling this little man has a lot to teach me too. Redeeming my perception of the male gender for one. Looking at him with his genetic links to the man who has hurt me so brutally and knowing that, just like his sister, he will no doubt have similar traits, tastes, skills and no doubt, misgivings. It keeps my heart from icing over, from giving into hatred. I must make room for grace and generosity for the man who contributed to the making of this little wonder.
And a wonder he is
'Im gonna take care of you mummy'