Chapter 4: This Is Serious Mum
So far, chapter 1 covered pre labour, and chapter 2 & 3 the dramatic waterfall from my nether regions. The serious action continues in chapter 4.
Of course, on arrival at the hospital, the car park was full. Hub-in-boots decided to drop me at the entrance and send me in solo. It was a bit nerve wracking. I’d sent out a few messages on the car trip, and the contractions were sitting at about 8 minutes.
People in the foyer looked at me, but didn’t do anything, and I didn’t ask for help. I limped in to the lifts and waited. I probably should have sat down right then and there and hollered, but it’s just not my style.
In the elevator, a contraction started and continued as the doors opened. I leaned on the door, not quite making it out of the lift.
“Hello! You certainly LOOK like you’re in the right place?” A lovely older lady with a clipboard, obviously having just left a meeting, (clearly some kind of nursing unit manager) came and grabbed my arm. Shall I take you around to delivery?”
“Yes please. My husband is coming but, no car spots.”
“Okay. Just around here.”
She walked me around, chatted, got my name and details out of me, and shouted out to the midwives and I was taken through. I started to get really nervous being in the delivery room alone. I checked, and sure enough it was the ONE room without a bath. Bugger. Then no one came. And no one came. It felt like ages. Finally, hub-in-boots arrived with bags, a bit stressed. I emphasised we would be moving to a room with a bath, if I had to cross my legs for two hours it would happen.
Finally the midwife came in. They took details. I nearly forgot the printed birth plan and medical history.
“Are you guys in medicine? These are very thorough.”
“No no. Just control freak first timers.”
She read through the birth plan and I started to feel better. .
Then nothing for ages again. My sister arrived, armed with freshly made rice paper rolls she snaffled from their morning tea at work. I hoed into them like I’d never seen food before. I had changed into a hospital robe (I think).
I was hooked up to a monitor to monitor Gumby’s heart rate and my contractions. At first, his heart rate dropped a little each contraction, and I stared at those graphs just waiting and waiting whilst they monitored things. My head wasn’t in hospital yet, my head was still at home in bed getting ready to kill time for another day. I couldn’t quite catch up.
Louise came in, the midwife that was to take us through to birth. She asked could she do an examination, waiting til a contraction had passed. I was 2-3 cm dilated, and my cervix was “paper thin”, which I guess is the effacement part. This was brilliant news.
“You’re doing REALLY well” she said, weirdly exactly the same phrase that was used in visualising this on the calm birth meditation about the day of the birth. At this stage I was joking around a bit, and hub-in-boots put on the ipod. Eric Idle from Monty Python “Always look on the bright side of life” was playing as I had the first examination. Ironic. What a shit disturber.
Louise assured us we’d get a room move, and sure enough we did. It didn’t take too long. I think it was about 11am when we arrived at the hospital, and maybe 11:30 when we moved rooms. According to the printed report, this is when active labour started.
At this point, it didn’t seem to take long for things to ramp up pretty quickly. I suddenly, after my batch of vague, remembered the Labour TENS machine I’d hired, to give electrical impulses to my back, with a booster button for contractions. That $5 extra to get it express post was a good thing…it arrived Monday, and here we were on Thursday hooking it up. Hub-in-boots got the electrodes on and yeah, now I’d call it pain.
I donned my big white towelling dressing gown, popped the TENS machine in the pocket, and wandered around in a figure eight around the room. Hub-in-boots followed me, massaging my upper back in contractions. My sister followed me trying to get my patient ID to log on to the hospital wireless network. That almost got her a broken arm. She was captain communications & catering though, so it was probably a good thing. The TENS machine was good, and gave me something to focus on, though I often forgot to turn off the booster as the contraction ended. It allowed me to get my focus back, which I’d completely lost, and come back to the breathing, and it was good to be free of monitors so I could move and move and pace and pace. So much had happened in the last hour, it was hard to maintain focus.
The pressure element ramped up, and the pain moved more into my back than it had been. I still managed to upload the blog post I’d typed at 5am and answer some texts in the break between (what a dag), but i knew I was quickly running out of time for anything except labour.
I wasn’t hooked up for monitoring anymore….but on my contraction timer I realised they were now coming every two minutes. As they lasted about 45 seconds, it was basically a minute on, a minute off.
There came a point where the TENS machine became more of a nuisance, as one contraction seemed to run into the next, and Louise suggested I hit the bath. It was a good call. She made all the right suggestions with the right amount of emphasis at the right time. The hot water, as I slipped in to the deep bath, was amazing. I believe this was the last time I saw clothes during the labour! I didn’t realise it was true, but you REALLY DON’T GIVE A SHIT about modesty when you feel like a disposable extra in the cast of Alien. I always wondered whether you’d feel your baby kick at all during labour, how he’d be doing. And to tell you the truth, I have no idea. The contractions become so all encompassing, so demanding of your attention, that anything else is just screened out. Kind of like having an itchy foot when you’ve just broken your arm. The itch just doesn’t cut it in the brain’s attention ranking.
Another funny music moment came in the bath as the pressure ramped up, and ACDC’s “A Long Way to the Top” was playing…and in contraction land, it sure is “A Long way to the top if you want to rock n roll”. I’m not sure if this was in trip to the bath number one, or number two. Outside, I had started to vocalise with the contractions, a freaky primal sound that wasn’t exactly voluntary. It wasn’t moaining, it wasn’t screaming, it was just this noise I felt like a bit of an idiot really, and quite surprised at myself. Inside, I was mucking around as I breathed, singing the joke lyrics :” It’s a long way to the shop if you want a chiko roll”. So whilst it sounded like game on, inside I was doing pretty well.
After goodness knows how long in the bath (maybe 20 minutes according to Hub-in-boots), Louise decided that despite the inconvenience she needed another look. It really hadn’t been long. The aim of the bath was to get the contractions lengthening out, as they were kind of short at 45 seconds and needed to be around the minute mark to get my body doing what it needed to do. We waited out a contraction leaning on the bed, now most certainly long enough,(and hollering) then she hooked me up to monitors, and on examination found I was 7cm dilated. What the hell? I was so surprised. This was going rather quickly, and the change in sensations was a real roller coaster…just grab the “Jesus!” handle and HANG ON FOR THE RIDE. I started to stress out a bit about how much worse this was going to get, and Louise yelled out from the other room that they don’t get any closer together. A minute long and two minutes apart is IT. Okay. I never knew that. Okay. I can do this. No closer together? I can do this.
Then it was back in the bath with Hub-in-boots by my side, and Louise explained I would start to feel more pressure but I needed to breathe through it and not go with any urge to push, but instead to buzz her back straight away once that occurred. It sounded like I was on hold to a call centre, this phase would take a while, judging by her tone of voice.
I reckon she was out of the room 30 seconds when it hit, and MAN did it hit. Through clenched teeth (sorry Calmbirth) I said to Stew “BUZZ HER. MUST PUSH. BUZZ HER.” She was back in in a flash, and kind of surprised. “Sorry Jo but I’m going to have to get you out again. I think we need another look. Is that okay”
“Bloody oath it’s okay, I think you need to check it out. Its moving fast.”
“We’re going to wait out the next contraction…..”
“…hang on to the basin here”
“Aaaaaaaaagh…..okay. Fucking Calm birth. Riding fucking waves of freakin pressure to meet your fucking baby my ASS! This HURTS. LIKE. HELL!” She cracked up laughing. Apparently, this was the only time I swore during the whole labour, and this time it was deliberate, and, for those that know me, incredibly unlike me. The Calmbirth description was apparently shared in the corridor and cracked the other midwives up. For those that know me, not swearing is pretty unusual.
We literally limped back to the bed, and I believe, from memory , that was the last time I was on my feet until we had a baby and it was time for an antenatal shower.
I was 9.5cm dilated, so I couldn’t quite push. The baby had moved to a transverse (sideways) position. She went to get another midwife to reassess. Louise asked softly I know you want a natural birth but would you consider using gas to help you breathe through and not push.
Inside, I was saying “Hell yeah. Are you insane? Give me the gas. Give me the FUCKING gas.”. Outside, I was totally focused on my Calm breathing. Not pushing was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
I was helped onto the bed, completely inward at this point. I could no longer drink water, and was being fed pieces of ice by my sister and the midwife in between contractions. The crunching eased the tension in my jaw, and the cooling effect was so welcome. I felt like I had a raging inferno inside, burning up my face. It was weird.
Then something in my head said “It’s ok. This is all ok. This is supposed to happen. This is transition. 9.5 cm. This is transition. You get HOT in transition.” Somehow this eased my worries and from this point on I was in complete control…complete moaning vocalising shouting control, but control nonetheless.
Around this point, Cathy dashed out to move both cars and avoid parking tickets, as things began to ramp up pretty damn quick. I began to worry she would not make it back. Time had slowed down and sped up all at once. It had no meaning. I was on internal time, which ran fast between contractions and slow during one. I had to dive deep deep deep within myself to get through them now, and somehow I managed to shut down all my senses. I could not hear properly, I could not see, even with my eyes open. I could hear Stewart’s, Cathy’s and occasionally the midwife’s voice, and I could hear the balls rattle in the happy gas pipe and the music. I could feel the ice crunch between my teeth. The only thing that stressed me out a bit was that they would be doing an internal when the contraction hit, but they managed to time it well with my rather vocal encouragement to get out of the way as the waves rose again.
The calm birth meditation had said “you will find your partner’s voice very reassuring at this time”, and although I expected him to annoy me, I did find it incredibly reassuring, even if sometimes the meaning of the words passed me by. He had to repeat every instruction from the midwives, as it was really only his voice I could hear with any clarity. That and the music.
I could no longer joke around, or even talk between contractions. I did, however, manage to test my own blood sugar (the midwife was astounded) just before a contraction rolled around, as her test kit had gone missing in another room, so I whipped out the kit, pricked my finger, inserted the test strip, and tested away. And I could manage to dictate exactly which track I wanted playing on the ipod! Repeat! Repeat track 1 I said.
I struggled to use the gas at first, as the Calm breathing was through your nose, and the gas was through a mouthpiece. Cathy, who had finally made it back (blessed relief), kept saying listen to the balls rattle, and this helped me understand what I was supposed to do. I felt thick and foggy outside, and sharp and powerful inside. It was a strange contradiction.
The first few non pushing contractions were horrible. It was so so hard to do what they said. I had Stewart keep hitting replay on this track O Magnum Mysterium. This track I had sung in a several hundred voice choir on Bondi beach a few years ago, called Dawn Chorus. You can see it on Youtube by clicking on the name above…it makes a nice accompaniment to reading the blog :-). This was the piece we sang as the sun came up over the beach, as about a thousand people watched for the Sydney Festival. It was written by an American composer in the 70’s, about the birth of Christ. I loved it, and having rehearsed it a gazillion times I knew every little piece of phrasing inside out. I was INSIDE the music. I could visualise it moving around the stave. I could see the sand between my toes as we stood, dressed all in formal black, on the beach and sang it, I could see the first rays of the sun coming up and the gentle swaying of the conductor, Brett Weymark’s arms, as he swept us along to the sunrise. I breathed to the music, and I was through two or three non pushing contractions, sucking back on the gas like my life depended on it. My focus was like a laser, as it had to be.
Then they let me have a “trial push.”
Oh my god.
It was a relief, but it was also hard to let go of what I’d been holding back so hard. It took just as much concentration to remove the barrier I’d put up in myself. YOU CAN’T PUSH. The midwife had to say “try pushing” quite a few times before I really understood. I mentally took down the barrier. I once again listened to my body’s screaming for release.
And I pushed. It felt like the baby, and I could feel him, was a million miles from where he needed to be, like my body only had the most tenuous grip on him. He was at the end of a long long road. I could just feel him, but I thought it would take such a long time. He was such a long way away.
There was a hurried conversation between the two midwives about when to call Dr North Korea. I clearly remember the phrase “No we need to. I just trialled, she’s a CHAMPION pusher. It’s not too early.”
My head went back to the TV show One Born Every minute, the US version having been on in the past week. I remembered women on there who couldn’t seem to get the hang of pushing, and at the time, I wondered would I be one of them. Apparently not! I also reminded myself of what they said about a “burning ring of fire”. Oh ouch. But if you felt this, it was the baby’s head, and in a few pushes it would soon be over and you would have your baby, if you could just get through it. I reminded myself of this, and I hung on to it, to motivate myself to go on. I knew it was coming.
Finally I let hub-in-boots move the music off track 1 in my “Big day out” playlist. I had never even played this playlist to him, having come up with it one night at about 34 weeks when I couldn’t sleep. He’d only loaded it onto his ipod the night before.
I could feel the baby had moved, and moved significantly closer.
I continued to breathe through the music, and I had one or two contractions without any urge to push at all, even though Louise said that I could. I also remembered this from what I’d read. Some women get this, but by no means all, and it’s called the PAUSE. My head gave me the information, just as I needed it. Louise explained it to Cathy and Stew. I already knew. My body was resting and gathering up its resources for the last hell bent charge for the finish line. I loved the pause. It was only two or three contractions, but it was such a huge relief to be able to relax without the demand by my body to push, even as the contractions arced over my head.
“You can push! You can push!” they were saying, but I went with what my body wanted. I breathed, and I regrouped.
Then I was ready to rumble. Some women get a pause for an hour. Geez that would have been nice!
Then it was on. And the “burning ring of fire” arrived. A little part of my head started singing Johnny Cash’s “I fell into a burning ring of fire” then I told myself to shut up and focus, and I went back to the Chopin piece that was playing (Etude # 3 in E) , following the complex piano line up and over and through with my mind and my breathing.
The pushing at this stage was bloody horrible. It wasn’t pain, it was burning. Just burning. (Which may have been the feeling of me tearing myself a new one!). But i told myself to just suck it up and get through it. Teaspoon of concrete and harden the F#$% up, girlie. I was egged on by the “we can see his head” comments. And thankfully, no one offered to get me a mirror. NO MIRRORS, said my birth plan. Later, I kind of wish we had video of this, but my visuals of what was happening were pretty clear. Who needs technology? None of us had time for photography.
Apparently hub-in-boots at this time was away from the business end, as I wanted, and was sponging my forehead with cold wash cloths. My sister called to him, “Come and see your son Stew!” and he moved to the end of the bed, to see the dark hair of Gumby / Jensen about a third of the way out.
“Oh my god! His head’s not out and he’s trying to cry!’ said one of the midwives.
Gross! Said my internal voice. I needed to focus on what I needed to do, not deal with him as a little person just yet. So I let that comment slide through to the keeper and went back inside, deep down. Back to my breath.
As Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks Menuet began to play, the midwives started with the “just one more push and you’ll have your baby” calls. Hub-in-boots repeated their instructions. The midwife said “put your hands down Jo. Here comes your baby. Deliver your baby.”
Musical aside: The menuet is a bit less showy than the main part of the fireworks suite, and rolled out by orchestras a bit less often than the main movements. It spoke to me of a quiet but grand entrance into the world. Unbeknownst to me when planning our accompaniment, it is one of hub-in-boots’ favourite pieces of music. Poetry.
Not a doctor in sight. No Dr North Korea. No Dr South Korea. No doctor at all. Just two nice midwives and my sister and my husband. Afternoon sunlight streaming in the white plantation shutters, the overhead lights dim, Handel playing, and I reached down to hold our boy.