Arrival

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This is Miriam Eleanor. She arrived on December 16 at 1:50 in the morning, the day after her ‘due’ date.
I thought I’d tell her birth story, though honestly, there’s not much to it.

A week before, Monday, I had an afternoon and evening of back pain and belly contractions that felt exactly like my labour with Devin. We all got excited – but I woke up the next morning still pregnant. The rest of the week passed without incident, and I became increasingly frustrated and a little miserable – it was hot, I was tired, and we’d expected baby to have arrived already. What’s more, because my first labour was just over four hours long, we had to be ready to go at the first hint of serious pains, and it was exhausting being on high-alert.

That Sunday, I was awoken by the same pains, and though the felt slightly stronger, they still didn’t establish into any kind of pattern, even after 16 hours. I eventually fell asleep at 11 that night, fully expecting to wake up the next morning to nothing.
But, I woke up at 12:20am to something. I sat and waited. They were starting to hurt, and they were very close together. I woke Jene and called my midwife, and we left for the hospital while Devin and his Aunty Amanda slept soundly in Devin’s room.

IMG_8186This was 34 minutes before Miriam was born. The look on my face is the break after a contraction, and the knowledge that another is coming soon.

I was examined at around 1:30 upon being admitted to the birthing unit. “Only 4-5cm?” I thought to myself. “Holy fuck, I’m not going to be able to do this.”
We moved to a delivery room – and we had our pick, the entire ward was completely empty after several weeks of non-stop births. I hunched over the bed and got undressed while my midwife started filling the bath, but I knew as soon as I was there that I wouldn’t make it to the bath. I wouldn’t even make it on to the bed – I wanted to push baby out right now. So, I did.
I managed to yell, “Pushing!” so that someone could, you know, catch, and after three contractions there was a tiny, slippery person being handed up to me.

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Miriam fed for two and a half hours before I gave the ok for her to be checked and weighed. We all thought she would barely be 3kg (6.6lb), but she was a surprising 3.38kg. (During that time, three more women presented to the birthing unit, and all three gave birth less than an hour after arriving!)
Because I was under the care of a case load midwife we would have been able to go home straight away, but I sustained some damage from Miriam’s speedy exit and had to stay until the afternoon. Nonetheless, after my (rather unnecessary) four day stay following Devin’s birth, being home in twelve hours was amazing.

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Devin was weaning off a very strong steroid and didn’t show much interest at first, but as the days went by he began to open up again, and now he adores his sister. Stroking her head, giving her kisses, asking to hold her, watching me change her, repeating the soothing phrases we say to her… He also has a funny habit of calling her “Ah-Miriam”, though he knows her name and we often shorten it to Miri.

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We were surprised by her hair, just like we were with Devin’s. Both of us thought Devin was a fluke, and this baby would surely have dark hair.
Nope. Another ginger. Almost a strawberry blonde, even. Genetics are weird.

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The other thing I expected was a very alert baby. One, Devin had his eyes open from the minute he was born and they were barely closed from then on. And two, Miriam pummelled the bejeesus out of me when she was inside, so much that it was painful.
But actually, she’s quite sleepy, and only now at two weeks old is she opening her eyes more. What she is is a little wriggler – her legs are almost always stretched out, and she moves around like the hands of a clock while she sleeps.

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We’re totally in love with her, and I already suspect that both boys will be at her every beck and call.

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Express delivery

Even now, I sometimes get stuck on the fact that Devin was born so quickly. I feel lucky, I suppose, that I didn’t have to endure the pain for very long, but I also feel like I missed… well, everything. The only word I can think of to describe the first few days after his birth is shock.

Obviously I knew I would have a baby, but through all the pregnancy books and personal recounts I read, two things were really drummed into my head – because it was my first pregnancy, I would almost certainly be overdue, and almost certainly be in for a long labour. I believed that so vehemently that for the first half of my labour, I honestly didn’t think I was in labour. And even after my water had audibly broken, even as I was hunched over the car desperately trying to ignore the urge to push, I was still positive it would be hours before anything actually happened. I expected to be in that pain, and worse, for a long time, and I felt dread about that. I really wasn’t expecting a baby to come flying out of me thirty minutes later. Neither was my partner. Neither was the poor baby, judging by his stunned silence and floppy-ish start to life.

I was in labour for about four hours, but only two of those felt like labour. The actual pushing and birth was minutes. I spent more time in the delivery room getting the cuts from his fingernails sutured than I did delivering. I was so shocked that I couldn’t feel much else, including a rush of love for my baby. It was more a sense of, here is the new person who I will love forever. Just fact. Not a feeling.

I have always felt silly holding on to these feelings, until I read this really gripping story of a woman who gave birth in a taxi, and especially this –

I remember what Shara, our birthing class teacher, told us about quick births. Sure, you have LESS time in labor (aka less pain), but some part of the process goes missing.

In all of my reading and classes, this was never mentioned. The fact that labour might actually be an important part of birth, and not just for the obvious physical reasons. You might be tempted to say I had nine and a bit months to get ready for a baby, but it’s not as simple as that. I mean, think of it this way – I had nine months of waiting and wondering and planning. Nine months of sharing my body with someone I hadn’t met yet, of getting used to his constant company. Nine months before the rest of my life. Then, with barely a few hours warning, he was out and in my arms. It was a sudden, harsh transition, and yes, I still think about it.

I loved being pregnant, and nothing has ever been that exciting for me. I may be pregnant again one day, but it won’t be the same excitement and unknown as my first time. So the fact that I can barely remember the birth has not been easy to resolve. It has not, ironically, been easy to forget.

The funk soul brother

The things that I remember most clearly about Devin’s birth, I am embarrassed to say, are not the moment he was actually born, nor the first time I held him. Those things are actually very, very hazy in my memory, because it was a fast labour and delivery.

When I think of that moment, the first thing that comes to mind is how the gas and air made all the noises sound funny while I was getting stitches. And especially, I kept hearing the part in Fatboy Slim’s Rockerfellar Skank where ‘now’ is repeated. You know? “Right about now, about now, about now… now, now, now, now’. It’s actually similar to my memory of the 20 week ultrasound – one, Devin wouldn’t open his hands so the doctor had to keep prodding and the gel ran out and it was uncomfortable. But two, I Shot the Sheriff was playing over the speakers when we found out he was a boy.

The second thing I remember is realising that Devin and Jene were back in the room after getting Devin’s official measurements taken. I was snapped out of my gas high by Devin sneezing.

I mean, honestly. That really sums up being human to me. There are lovely moments, but sometimes life is marked by the really silly, trivial things.

HE’S (been) HERE! (for four months)

People love to tell you – perhaps with more than a hint of schadenfreude – that your first labour will happen after your due date, and it will be long. I had my fast-approaching due date marked on every calendar I could get my hands on but, though I continued to wistfully hope my baby would be one of the fast ones, Jene and I were positive that that date would come and go before our baby.

22 weeks
28 weeks
32 weeks. Waiting...
35 weeks... still waiting...
37 weeks... Cold, and waiting...
38 weeks... Baby planning exit strategy...

At 39 weeks, just before we went to bed at 12:30, I complained to Jene offhandedly that my back hurt, but at that stage in my pregnancy there wasn’t much that didn’t, so nothing more was made of it. By 2am, though, the pain had been coming and going in such short succession that I hadn’t managed to sleep at all. Armed with a hot water bottle and a healthy dose of denial, I moved to the lounge room, convinced that I simply had some bad digestion pains. I had had no warning whatsoever of impending labour, the pain was coming in short but erratic intervals – not building up over time – and I felt no discomfort in my belly.

After two hours of writhing on the couch, though, I heard a pop, felt my waters break, and finally had to concede that it wasn’t just a tummy ache, and I should probably wake Jene. The midwives at the maternity ward advised me to come when I felt ready, but I needed to leave immediately, as Jene doesn’t drive and I was going to drive myself the (thankfully) one block to hospital – something I do not recommend. As I leaned over the car bonnet waiting for Jene to get some hot water to defrost the windscreen, I had to concentrate hard to resist the urge to push – a detail that I kept to myself as we finally got going. (A detail that he later told me he knew, anyway, but was trying not to think about.)

Once at the hospital, after practically running up the stairs to maternity, it took two contractions before the midwives coaxed me to let go of the banister, and another two before I could be persuaded onto the bed in the delivery room. I was so far along already, and moving so quickly, that the 3cm dilation I had to go occurred in the time it took to administer one dose of Strep B antibiotics.

It didn’t take many pushes – two or three – before baby’s head was out, and after a brief pause to cut the cord from his neck, another one or two before he was born. Jene told me he came shooting out.

Devin James arrived with no complications on the 10th of August 2009 at 4:59am, after thirty minutes at hospital and four and half hours of labour, weighing 3190g (7lbs) and measuring 49cm (19in). He was a lovely little thing, with lots of (surprising!) red hair, and wide-open eyes. I couldn’t believe he’d come from me, Jene couldn’t believe he’d made it through the birth, and Devin couldn’t believe the big bright world he’d just entered. We spent a long time quietly gazing at each other.

I’d spent most of my pregnancy reading anything I could about birth, attended antenatal classes and fretted about what to pack for labour, and in the end I didn’t need any of it. In fact, the most painful part of the whole event was the ninety minutes it took to stitch some internal grazes – and all I was required to do then was cling to the gas.