To tell you the story of my second son’s birth, I feel I must start at his conception. Not the actual act of conceiving him, you understand, but at the moment it was decided that we would ‘try for’ a second child. It occurred in the attic. I was packing away our first son’s tiny baby clothes when BAM, my womb started talking to my brain and, basically, nine months and 3 weeks later I found myself on all fours howling as my son nonchalantly consumed a bowl of Weetabix on the floor below.
Badda bing badda baby, as they say.
Pregnancy with my second in no way resembled pregnancy with my first, despite my expectation being that everything would feel entirely the same. It didn’t, in a way that made pregnancy numero deux feel an entirely unique experience.
So you’ll be surprised to hear, perhaps, that I didn’t learn my lesson re ‘no two babies are the same’ right from the the word go, and maybe even shake your head in a resigned manner when I confess that I assumed my second birth would be a grainy photocopy of my first – ever so slightly different but, who am I kidding, 100% exactly the same right down to the child it would lead to. (Birth #1 here, if you want to swot up before we move on to Birth: the sequel) You may also be surprised to hear that, despite this, and knowing my first was a whopping ten days late to his own party, I was in a very bad mood when my due date came and went with no sign of a child emerging. I stomped, I scowled, I cursed Lucifer and all of his minions for what I knew to be their doing, I did a few squats, and I went to bed alone – having driven my husband into hiding – absolutely no signs of labour to show for the so called day of my child’s so called arrival.
And then the clock struck midnight. Exactly one minute had passed since my due date had officially ended. And I shot out of bed, into my bathroom, and emerged some time later with the words “I think my waters have gone, either that or I’ve just weed on the floor.”
It was time.
Quick sidebar, I know how ridiculous it sounds to say ‘I didn’t know if it was amniotic fluid or if it was urine!’ I KNOW. And I mean I really do know, because every time my own mum describes her waters breaking with me as ‘what I thought was a never-ending wee’ I think ‘are you an idiot?’ But honestly, when it happens unexpectedly and without the fanfare of accompanying contractions, your mind truly does go between both ‘THE BABY IS COMING’ and ‘MY PELVIC FLOOR HAS COLLAPSED WHY DEAR GOD DID I NOT DO MY KEGELS’ at a truly alarming speed.
Anyway, long story short, it was my waters. Thank you baby cheeses, my PF is still in tact (for now.)
After what I will refer to as ‘the first gush,’ my husband jumped out of bed and we moved on downstairs, in order to monitor the situation away from our not-so-easy-to-wash mattress. We put on the TV, sat on the sofa, and waited for my contractions to get started. They did, in a very mild and polite manner, indicating that we were on the move. It wasn’t until I stood up, though, and ‘the second gush’ came about on said sofa (“I’m so sorry I think I’ve done another wee”) that we decided to give triage a call, to find out what was what. What was what was that they wanted us to come in ASAP to be monitored, as waters going before contractions properly begin can be an issue. And so it was that the in laws were called in, I had a little sob about both not being ready and about my first child no longer being my one and only (I also sobbed when I got a positive pregnancy test for poor Noah, woopsy daisy), and we were away.
Maternity care in the age of Coronavirus has been a funny old thing. I might one day go into the intricacies of how different pregnancy in the real world compared to pregnancy in the upside down has been, but for now I will just say that a midwife(#1) once told me off for not seeing her in person for a check up, despite another midwife(#2) telling me I absolutely would not be allowed to attend an appointment in person, and after I told midwife(#1) what midwife (#2) had said midwife (#1) followed me into the waiting room to tell my husband to tell me I had to attend in person. An infuriating tangent I did not mean to just go on, so please excuse me when I backtrack to the start of said tangent and begin again from ‘for now I will just say that…’
For now I will just say that I didn’t know what to expect, in terms of COVID protocol at the birth of my wiggling fetus. But that, in the end, the only real difference was that everyone in the room, bar me and the impending baby, had on a surgical mask, making it even more impossible to remember any of the faces of the people that helped keep both myself and my child alive. I didn’t even need to be tested, as I had had the virus a month previously and so had ‘done my time’ in isolation, as it were. Huzzah, etc. In your face BoJo, you menace.
After being checked into the midwife lead unit in the early hours of the morning, we were lead to triage, and told to take a seat. And so we sat, with intermittent visits from the midwives on duty, until 6am, when we were sent home to ‘see how things go.’ In that time I read a Nora Ephron classic, had some small yet infrequent contractions that could easily be dulled by my best mate, Miss Ellie TENs, ate toast and drank tea, and had a frightening conversation about induction (“I’d rather have a C-Section if things don’t kick in” “That’s not an option you want to take” “It is though”) followed by an even more frightening fetal heartbeat check that resulted in no findings for a good few minutes, setting me back to 30 minutes between surges, after having carefully breathed my way down to eight.
I told the midwives, as they pushed me out of the door from a strict social distance, that my last labour ramped up from nowhere, and that going home was a risk. They gave me knowing looks and frustrated hand gestures. I gave them stuttering back talk. They gave more knowing looks. I shrunk down to the size of a Borrower and proceeded on as commanded.
And, lo and behold, contractions went from 0-60 almost the instant I arrived at my front door.
I won’t say I told you so, triage midwives, but we both know how this ends.
(You dismissive bishes, I bet there was a bloody bed on the bloody labour ward wasn’t there?)
The car ride home was uneventful. Contractions were beginning to ramp up again, but not beyond anything my TENs could handle. My husband refused to drive home via McDonalds for a hash brown breakfast, which I’m clearly still bitter about. And we were back in time to welcome our first born back into the waking world, following an oblivious night’s sleep. Beginning to feel things getting their groove on, I said a quick hello to mother and father G, gave my little boy a kiss – I like to think this kiss resulted in an oxytocin rush that handily ripened my womb, but that may just be my deep foray into hypnobirthing talking – and took myself up to bed. I had hoped to get some sleep. My womb had other plans.
Within what felt like mere minutes, the TENs machine became extraordinarily ineffective when compared to the force of my contractions. No longer could I ride the wave calmly whilst reading about Nora Ephron’s love affair with a ridiculously expensive New York apartment and, instead, found myself on all fours panting like a dog in heat, very much a moment reminiscent of my first go round with labour. From chatting mildly with the family members below deck, my husband emerged at the top of the stairs in a state of bewilderment, realising that the content-to-get-some-rest wife he had left behind had been transformed into a rocking, keening, wild woman in the time it took him to get a tap water and give his first child a passing high five.
He took over, calling the hospital to let them know that yes, we had just come home, yes, we had sat in triage with no real movement and yes, if they didn’t admit us this baby would be born perhaps not in a barn, but most certainly on a really quite old and absolutely not sanitary bedroom carpet.
Luckily, the shift had just changed, and the new midwife took us seriously.
With great difficulty on my part, we again left the house to go and have our baby, I had a contraction, and we got into the car. I don’t remember much of the journey itself, but know that on arrival there were several more contractions en route from the car park – at least two of which involved me hanging off metal railings and shouting ‘OOOOOOOH’ whilst trying desperately to hypno-breathe – and that we were ushered in very quickly by a doorman appointed to keep out stragglers and anyone that sounded like they might have COVID-19. He said something that my husband responded to as I lumbered through the entrance, though whether it was a well wish or a joke about my mad state I could not tell you.
We reached the MLU, and were met with a different scene to our earlier visit. I was clearly in full blown labour by now, and so it was that we bypassed the clinical/frankly quite nerve-wracking land of maternity triage, and set up camp in a big room that came equipped with an already filled pool. As my husband set up our bits and pieces and the midwife tried to get some sense out of me, I stood next to the bed screaming the words ‘PAIN IS POWER’ at myself internally (#PositiveAffirmations) before quickly moving on to a simple internal screech of ‘POWER’ each time a new wave hit. As all of the books promised, it helped. But not enough to stop a particularly powerful contraction from pushing me into fear land, a place inhabited by recently unearthed memories of my previous birth, and the torturous pain it included. It was at this point, then, that I began begging for an epidural.
I have never, ever, dear reader, wanted an epidural outside of this moment. But it suddenly became very important to me that I no longer be a part of this experience without one. And so I moaned in a breathless stream ‘I want an epidural please I can’t do this please R had one and she said it was great why won’t you help me’
The kindly midwife joined forces with my husband to remind me that I did not, in actual fact, want an epidural, and had explicitly stated as such in both conversations with my spouse, and on paper in my birth plan. Balls. She assured me, however, that if I truly did want one, she’d call for me to be drugged, but that it wasn’t something she could get for me immediately, and maybe as I was already 7cm along and appeared to be in the phase reserved for labouring women that are about to pop, I might want to try getting in the water with some gas and air first?
After several more repetitions of the word epidural, I agreed to what was being proposed, huffed on some gas and air, declared through rolling eyes (my own) that I was ‘absolutely fucked,’ and lumbered over to the pool – my husband quickly removing my TENs as I moved, near on electrocuting himself in the process, due to a) a failure to switch off the machine prior to removal and b) my insistence that it be ramped up to its absolute highest setting.
The pool, it has to be said, offered instant relief, and my favourite phase of labour began.
Suddenly, the pelvic floor shattering sensations were replaced by a different sort of feeling. An almost pleasurable sort of feeling. And as ‘pain is power,’ my aforementioned mantra, started to feel like it meant something after all, my contractions evolved from pure agony to a deep seated sense of gratitude that every tightening was bringing me closer to my already much loved boy.
Through jelly beans and proclamations that the carefully curated, unused, birthing playlist I had put together had been, as with last time, a complete waste of time, I started to feel like I wanted to push. And so we progressed into what I can only describe as the most empowering moments of my existence, gas and air (I love you) in hand. It went a little like this:
Me: I think I want to push
Nice midwife: OK chick, push when you feel like pushing
Me: *huffing on laughing gas* OK
I pushed. I felt the bizarre feeling of my child beginning to descend from my stomach into my birthing canal. More laughing gas.
Me: I can feel the head
Nice midwife: OK chick, you’re doing really well
Me: The head’s out
Nice midwife: Great, keep going
Me: Why isn’t he crying?
My husband: *laughing in the moment as he laughs every time he recalls it* he’s underwater
Me: He’s coming now
One final push, a Simba-esque lifting from the water, and there he was. My newest bundle of joy, delivered safely by the hands of his own mama. I was the first person to ever touch him. The first to ever hold him. The person that brought him into this world in every sense of the word and the experience was – and I feel most uncomfortable using this word due to being fidgety around open displays of sincerity (can I interest you in a sarcastic comment? gum?) – beautiful.
Leaning back in the pool, I sat with my child in my arms in warm yet murky water, his masked father sat leaning over us, and felt so very much ‘I am woman hear me roar’ that I believe I may have passed into a new level of being. A ‘god women really are amazing aren’t we?’ level, that I don’t believe I will ever step down from.
We waited a while for my placenta to emerge. It didn’t. I had an injection. It was fine. I washed and napped and had a terrible NHS tray meal (amazing free healthcare, absolutely god awful food), had a sneaky vomit into a bedpan and then, within four hours of Rafiki’ing my lion cub, headed home to introduce my boy to my boy, and begin life as a family of four.
Birth can be many things. It can be harrowing. It can be traumatising. And it can transcendent.
For me, this time, it was the latter, and for that I will be forever grateful to my little Noah, his correct position in the womb, and his perfect existence outside of it.
Next time, a home birth.
Watch this space 😉