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What happened after the birth: part 2

At my request, Karen came over to help me breastfeed my baby for the first time. I was still lying in the same place I was in for the birth, with Amelia draped over me. The midwife simply picked her up, and plopped her down, face-first, onto my breast.

“Can she breathe like that?”

Call it mother’s intuition, call it common sense, but it just seemed to me that she would have a hard time getting air into her lungs with her face smothered by my boob.

“She’ll move if she needs to.”

Amelia was off and away in an instant, sucking intently. Karen moved away to fill out some paperwork and I chatted to the others in the room – for the life of me I don’t recall what about. Then I noticed that the sucking had stopped. Looking down, I saw that Amelia had turned a peculiar purple colour.

“Um, is she like, dying or something?”

“No, why would you think that?”

The midwife turned around, cruised over to the side of the bed, and looked at my baby. She took out her stethoscope, wordlessly applied it to Amelia’s tiny chest. Then she dropped the stethoscope and grabbed my child off my chest – still, she said nothing, and now there was a grim look on her face. I saw my baby thrown down onto that special bed they have set up in the corner, all lights and dials and special equipment. Her limbs were being flailed around quite violently, and the second midwife had joined Karen to help her. She wasn’t breathing. The words “code blue!” rang out over the loudspeaker and suddenly the room was filled with people all swarming around my little girl. I had just given my all into birthing her, and as I watched the nurses reviving her, I felt oddly detached. All I knew was that I couldn’t stand it if my baby died.

I didn’t get to watch for long, though – even as the nurses and doctors worked away at Amelia, another team was turning their attention to me. I was about to experience something far worse than giving birth had to offer.

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What happened after the birth: part 1

A second midwife had appeared at the very end of the labour, and the two women together tended to me as I absorbed the experience of finally holding my daughter in my arms. I was losing too much blood, they said, and they needed to cut the cord so they could administer a drug to help stop the bleeding. My preference had been to birth the placenta naturally, but of course there was nothing to be done about it. Sean cut the cord, and the midwife stabbed my leg with a needle. After a little time for the drug to take effect, Karen took hold of the umbilical cord and when I had my next contraction she gently pulled on the cord and squashed my belly down. The placenta came out easily and she held it up for me to see.

Next, the midwife inspected my nether regions. To my very great dismay, it was announced that I had incurred a tear to my perineum, and that the doctor would have to take a look to assess the extent of the damage. In the meantime, though, I was able to simply lie there and hold Amelia. This precious time seems a mere moment in my memory, as what took place next quickly overtook the happiness and joy of the birthing experience.

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Birth

“Don’t push – just breathe through it! Just breathe.”

Suddenly the contractions seemed to stop. I was experiencing the ring of fire. If you’ve ever made a good attempt at doing the splits, and felt your muscles stretch so far they felt like they were about to snap, then you’ve felt what it’s like in that moment when the head appears at the vaginal opening and just sits there. It wasn’t a consuming pain like the transition phase of the labour. Like so many before me have said, it was largely just a pressure that brings a sense of urgency, an irrepressible need to relieve that pressure. All I could do was wait, trying my best to breathe and resist pushing, as the opening stretched in preparation for the next contraction.

It was with a terrible burning feeling that I pushed that head right out, my mouth involuntarily uttering “f*ck, f*ck, f*ck” as she eased out. Sean was suddenly crying and neither of us recall what he said but he was clearly overjoyed as he took in his very first look at his daughter.

Meanwhile I had the distinct feeling of having an octopus up my hoo-ha. I was waiting again, and I had not the slightest ounce of patience. It was the weirdest physical sensation, and I was about to meet my child for the first time. My brain was struggling to keep up with what was going on. I squeezed a little – nothing. I was still waiting, her head like a weight on the outside, her body feeling soft and squidgy on the inside. I was squirming, waiting.

“Get this thing out of ME!!!”

One final push, a tsunami-proportioned sloosh, and the octopus came sliding out. There was no time to process this once-in-a-lifetime experience, this split-second of the most incredible thing a human body can do, because then the octopus was flying through the air toward me.

“What is that thing?!”

It was dark purple and slippery-looking, dark hair slicked down under the blood, a smooshed little face above a limp collection of limbs and little body, the rope of umbilical cord darker and more bloody still. For those first few moments I just couldn’t make sense of what was happening. Then she was on my chest, the stickiest thing I’ve ever touched, bleating quietly, moving around just a little. I could only watch her in wonderment, this little person who was mine, quickly turning pink, towels wiping away vernix and blood to reveal her features.

For a time, perhaps twenty minutes, we lay together, me and my newborn Amelia, while my husband, mum and best friend peered at her and took photos. This was the best part of it all – of course. But all good things come to an end, and I was about to go through something far more traumatic than the birth.

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Pushing – the second stage of labour

Active labour entailed more than an ‘urge’ to push – it was something that happened as my body took over. Contractions became less painful but more intense, and I found myself grunting through them in a primal fashion (a surprise for me, as I never thought I’d be the vocal type during labour!).

I leaned over the head of the bed, resting on my knees, but each contraction forced me down until I was pretty well sitting on the bed, legs wide, arms still clinging to the top of the bed. The midwife, Karen, used a handheld doppler to monitor the baby’s heartbeat after each contraction. Because of the way I was positioned, she struggled to reach under to get the heartbeat. She asked me to flip around, onto my back, so she had better access and could get a better look.

Of course I did as requested. I was in no position at that point to argue, or discuss my birth preferences. Sean later disclosed that although he wanted to speak up about it, he figured that since I had agreed so readily I must have wanted to be on my back. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. Through the pain and the sheer force of the contractions, I remember wondering why she was making me go into that position when I had specifically written it into my birth plan that I would like to try more upright positions.

From there it was just like a scene from One Born Every Minute. Karen grabbed one leg, Sean grabbed the other, and pushed them up; I was directed to wrap my hands around my thighs and pull with each contraction.

“Chin onto your chest, and push down into your bottom!”

Sean says he never saw anything, and I honestly couldn’t tell you if I pooped. It felt exactly like pushing out a really big poo. With a bit of coaching from the midwife, I soon got the hang of it: as a contraction started, I would ‘catch’ it like catching a good wave. If I pushed down hard enough, cheeks puffed and lips tight, blowing out hard and using the extra pressure for leverage, my body would suddenly respond. The muscles would engage and a noise like an angry rhinoceros would come screeching out. Sean was watching the business end, and quickly figured out what was going on.

“Can you see the head yet?”

“Nearly…!”

Feeling the baby moving down, I asked this several times – can you see her yet? Nearly, said Karen. Nearly, said Sean. It seemed a lifetime that they were telling me “nearly”! I don’t remember the pain, I remember the effort from this time. The exhausting, draining effort of using every last ounce of strength to push. Then something incredible happened.

“I can see her head – she’s got hair!”

My efforts ramped up – now I was getting desperate and determined. We were near the finish line and I was on my second wind. Again, though, this time seemed to drag out forever. I could feel my baby moving further and further down, but what I couldn’t see was that for each contraction she would inch down – then pull back a little. Sean watched the painstaking progress while I wondered how on earth it could take so long, how she had not already slooped right out.

Then it was announced that were approaching an hour of pushing. I was on the clock. As we hit the hour mark, Karen was obliged to hook me up to a CTG monitor. She was still writing down the heart rate after each contraction, much to my consternation – several times she was slow to get back for the next wave, and push my leg up. It wasn’t until both legs were pushed right up that the pushing became truly effective.

The contractions were coming thick and fast, and my husband and my midwife were cheering me on, “keep it going, keep it going!!” I knew she was coming. I was so exhausted that I was falling asleep in those thirty-second gaps between contractions, but when they came, I dug deep and somehow drew out the strength to keep going. I needed her out! And then she was crowning, and we hit the most intense part of the birthing experience.

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Transition – from first to second stage labour

Each contraction was stronger than the previous one. I needed to find a comfortable position, but I was struggling – suddenly it seemed as though there was no relief between contractions, and I could barely move. No matter which way I sat or lay or crouched or leaned, I couldn’t escape the pain. The midwife offered to run a bath for me, and Sean ran downstairs to fetch my labour bags.

Karen was standing there filling out paperwork. No bath was being run. I didn’t hear her say to Sean that it was too late, I was only half an hour away from my internal examination. All I knew is that she’d said she would run me a bath, and instead she was filling out paperwork. Burned into my memory is a particularly painful contraction where my groans turned into frantic cries and I begged her with my eyes to make it stop. She just stared at me as if to say, “what did you expect? A cakewalk?” I didn’t understand what was happening, why she didn’t seem to care, and I was starting to panic.

Sean came back and helped me into the shower. The hot water was an incredible relief, and for a time the pain was muted. Sean tells me I was in the shower about half an hour. The relief wore off, and all I could think was that if this was the start of the labour, I couldn’t keep going like this. In spite of my long-standing conviction that epidurals are unhelpful and to be avoided, I knew in an instant that that’s what I wanted.

I told Sean that I needed an epidural and he told me I was doing amazing, and I didn’t need drugs.

“Please, just support me!”

I cried for the midwife, and a lifetime later she came in, looked me in the eye, and told me that I was doing amazing and didn’t need an epidural. Then she offered that I could try the gas and air, and pethidine. But not now – it was time for that internal. Reluctantly, I peeled myself away from the hot water and lay on the bed. Karen left the room temporarily, and I began to feel this incredible pushing feeling; I could literally feel my uterus pushing the baby down. I told Karen when she came back – don’t push, she said, because you might not be fully dilated.

The next contraction came, and the pushing feeling came – then something happened. My body took over. I grunted, this primal animal grunt, and felt my stomach muscles tightening involuntarily. For just a moment, I was pushing! I questioned the midwife – just go with what your body’s telling you to do, she said. Then she began the internal.

“I can feel the head – but I can’t find you cervix.”

She fished around for an eternity, and then finally moved aside as the doctor came in and had a go. He successfully found the edges of my cervix, and declared in a matter of fact way that I was completely dilated, and ready to start pushing. Within minutes I was completing what may be the hardest stage of labour: transition. All up this had lasted about an hour; now, I was heading into second stage – pushing!

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Early Labour

By the time we reached the hospital, I had soaked through my maternity pad and onto my pants as the amniotic fluid continued to leak out in little gushes. The contractions were still manageable, and I walked myself up to the delivery suite. Once admitted we were ushered into the familiar room where a few previous “false alarms” had been sussed out (mostly the result of intense Braxton Hicks).

The events that took place over the following hour and a half have become chronologically displaced in my memory – I’ll tell what I remember, but can’t promise any particular order.

A spunky midwife with short blond hair all spiked up came in. She took a look at my pad – it was tinged pink and soaked through. There was no mistaking that I was in full labour, and the midwife told the doctor that an internal examination to establish such knowledge was unnecessary.

I was hooked up to the CTG fetal monitor to check for baby’s heart rate. This time there was no little paper record – when I asked about contractions, the midwife sat and felt them by hand and counted the time on the wall clock. Two in ten, she said – two contractions every ten minutes.

A student doctor came in. It was his very first experience of seeing a woman in labour. He looked perhaps a couple of years older than me, and somewhat like a startled rabbit. He sat on a chair in the corner looking awkward and asked me how I was feeling. I was just starting a new contraction, so I scrunched up my eyes and let Sean explain what was happening. As it eased I was able to introduce myself, and chat to him, trying my best to put him at ease a little.

The midwife – Karen – came into the room again, and told me that they wanted me to go home. She said I would be best off relaxing at home for a while until the labour had progressed further.

“Once you’re admitted, you’re on the clock.”

I thought about the twenty minute car ride home, and what it would be like to come back down the hill with more painful, more frequent contractions. They were already becoming very painful and strong. I felt the increasing wetness of my pants from the fluid, and felt even less compelled to go home.

I ended up sitting on the toilet, pants off, fluid gushing into the toilet. Sean left to fetch clean, dry pants from the car (we hadn’t brought our bags up as we’d anticipated going home again). Sitting there, with a doctor and midwife and awkward student doctor just outside the door, I felt the contractions growing. I knew I wouldn’t make it home. I told the midwife that I was anxious about going home, that I wouldn’t be able to relax as I worried about what might happen if labour progressed quicker than expected. Unable to persuade me, she went to consult with the doctor again.

Sean returned, and so did Karen. They had decided on a compromise: I could wait there for two hours, and then they would do an internal examination to determine how far along I was in the labour. Next thing I knew, I was in the delivery suite. Sitting on the bed, I held out my wrist for Karen to strap on a wristband – and then it hit me: I was being admitted. Looking around, it occurred to me that I was in the very room where my baby would be delivered.

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Waters Breaking

We were still at the dining table, our plates emptied of shepherd’s pie. I’d finished it in spite of myself – I thought, “I’m only going to be hungry later if I don’t.” I groaned and told Sean I hoped she didn’t come out tonight, I’m too full! Minutes later I felt and heard a big POP! in my lower belly.

“I’m not sure if that was my intestines, or if she just kicked me really hard.”

“Maybe it was your waters breaking.”

My eyes widened, and I suddenly couldn’t concentrate on what my husband was saying. We had both read about this phenomenon – that when the waters break you might hear a pop. He noticed my distraction, and I announced my plan to go to the toilet. I eased off my chair and walked to the bathroom. Buzzing with anticipation, I sat down and peed. Shifted position. And then it started.

Just like so many descriptions given by other women, it felt like urinating – but without the same feeling of bladder muscles engaging. As I rocked from side to side, it gushed out out a bit more. Sean insisted on being let in to – see? At any rate, with eyes wide and incredulous, and a string of questions asking “are you sure” coming out, he listened for the sound of amniotic fluid splashing into the toilet bowl.

“We’re having a baby! It’s actually happening – we’re having a baby!”

I called the birthing suite, and they told me to come in to be checked out. The midwife explained that I would probably be sent home afterward to rest and wait for labour to start; they would discuss plans for inducing me if contractions didn’t start naturally. The water continued to gush out each time I moved, so I sat and tried to keep still – already my maternity pad was full and the gushing felt terrible!

We didn’t rush to get ready. Sean organised what we needed for the hospital and I texted Mum and my best friend Sarah – my birth supports (besides Sean, of course!). Sitting there, I felt some pain down below; it was a strong, achy pain, kind of similar to the blunt-but-intense pain of slamming your finger in a door. I put it down to baby’s head moving in a now un-cushioned environment, and the pain passed about half a minute later. 

And then it came back.

The first contractions weren’t too strong – I could still talk through them easily, they were just unpleasant. By the time we had driven the few minutes to the petrol station, perhaps an hour after the waters broke, they had become more intense and I needed to breathe through them. For the twenty-minute drive down through the Hills of the Dandenongs where we live, we started timing the gap between contractions. They were coming about once every five minutes…

The final Bump shot - 37 weeks and 3 days gestation, taken just before we left for the hospital

The final Bump shot – 37 weeks and 3 days gestation, taken just before we left for the hospital