B arrived, after a short delay with the second flight, at 12.30, just as I was coming to the end of the last Home & Garden. At this point the contractions were still very manageable and I would concentrate on relaxing as many muscles as I could find during each one and breathing from my diaphragm. I have no idea if it worked, but I felt virtuous about doing it for as long as I could. I tried to visualize Dr Grantly Dick-Read’s little diagram of the muscles running across the uterus that interfere with the muscles going downwards if you’re tense and afraid, and to see them relaxing. That bit probably didn’t work at all, because despite all his talk of “surges”, the contractions were pains to me. They felt just like fairly bad period pains, but with a slight edge of something different that I couldn’t put my finger on.
There was more bouncing, and as the contractions were getting stronger it felt good to move with them, to be doing something gravity-enhancing and hip-opening. By about 1.30 I had to close my eyes and stop talking with each contraction. Some time between 2.00 and 4.00 pm all the zen breathing and focusing went out the window and I was just making it through each contraction as best I could, sitting up on the bed and leaning forward into them. Vivienne came back from the other hospital, where she’d just delivered two babies, announced that I was 100% effaced and “four, almost five centimetres” and said that if I liked, we could talk about my pain relief options soon. Aha, I thought. The conversation she had kept avoiding every time I tried to ask her about it during my prenatal appointments. “So, talk to me about my pain relief options,” I said. She suggested Nubain, a narcotic, that they would put in my IV for immediate effect and also inject under my skin for relief that would last up to six hours. It would help me relax so that I could save my strength between contractions. I was a bit distressed that I was only 4 to 5 cm at this point (“almost five”, she said), and worried about transition, which is the magic 7 to 10 cm and allegedly by far the toughest part. I said I’d like some Nubain please. I knew narcotics can pass through to the baby, but mostly I trusted Vivienne, was pleased not to be screaming for an epidural around now, and admittedly was somewhat too distracted by the contractions to try and remember what it was the book had said about Nubain.
I think the Nubain started around 4.30 pm. The next contraction didn’t seem any easier; I’d been hoping that some “edge” would be taken off them and it didn’t seem to be happening. I nearly complained about it, but I thought that would be rude. Then somehow it turned out that in between each contraction my eyes would close, I’d hear the conversation going on around my head, but I’d practically doze off until the next pain started up.
Around now I suppose my memory of time all starts to get crunched a bit. The contractions came and went, as did the people in the room and the chatter and the instructions, some to me and some to others. At one point Vivienne said “She’s not in hard labour yet; she’s not sweating”; and then later B was mopping my brow with a damp cloth and it was noted that I was indeed in hard labour. With each contraction I’d grip the side of the bed and at some stage I registered that I was making noises of a groaning variety, and didn’t really care what anyone thought about it. They put B sitting on a stool beside me so he could hold my hand, and I tried not to crush his as hard as I was gripping the bedstead. Later on I discovered that putting out my hand on the other side and pushing out against both sides of the bed helped get through each pain. B described this as my “crucifixion pose” and said he’d been worried about the bed holding up to such mistreatment.
After x amount of time, where x is actually about an hour, maybe, though we can’t really be sure even though I wrote down the timeline as close as we could get it only a couple of days later, I heard Vivienne say that I was at 10, and ask if I felt the urge to push. I must have been in a lucid between-contraction state, because I asked, “I know this is a silly question, but how will I know if I feel the urge?” She explained, as I knew in theory, that the baby would be down so far that it was pressing on my, um, whatever places it is that bowel movements press on when they need to come out, so it would feel like I needed to go to the bathroom. Okay, I thought. That’s clear. I just need to wait for that. After another contraction or two I was sick of waiting, so I decided that I probably did feel the urge to push. Probably I wasn’t making it up, but mostly I just didn’t want to be there all day having contractions and not getting this darned baby out.
So the pushing started. B sat beside me – he’d been moved to the other side so that they could do something on my left – and whispered useful exhortations like “Push, push, push” and “You’re doing great”, and mopped my brow, and Vivienne told me to blow each breath out through my mouth. It all helped, and I did every time I remembered, until I forgot and somebody would remind me again, blowing out for me. Vivienne put me on my side with one leg up for me to grab with my top arm.
Clearly, any semblance of modesty was past at this point, and I just kept my eyes shut and tried not to think about what sort of view anyone coming into the room would be greeted by. With each contraction I’d muster all my energy to tell them that I was going to push, or that one was coming – evidently the Nubain was still having an effect – and then I’d breathe in, hold it, and push for as long as I could. They made me push twice with each contraction, or even three times if it lasted long enough. It never felt particularly like I had to do it – I could probably have let a contraction or three pass without pushing at all – but I was impatient to get it all over with.
I think I was under the impression that there would be less pushing involved than there actually was, so every time, I thought this might nearly be it. Lying on my side didn’t feel particularly intuitive gravity-wise, but it’s Vivienne’s patented method for getting the baby where it needs to be, and it obviously works. Half way through she turned me over to the other side, which is what makes the baby twist just where it needs to in the birth canal, and then she turned me back, like a pancake to be got just right. I know I was on my left side when they started exclaiming that they could see the head appear and disappear with each push, and then with an extra big push the head didn’t go back up any more. I could feel it myself now, a thing, there, in my vagina. It was good to feel concrete proof of my progress, since I didn’t get to see anything myself. B was encouraged to look and see – my eyes were still tightly shut, but I imagined him steeling himself for the gory sight and peering over to look. He said afterwards the whole thing wasn’t as … “Gross?” “Well, yes, I was looking for a nicer word” … as he had imagined it might be. Then everyone went to action stations around me, I felt my inner thighs and everything in the middle swabbed down with what I assume was iodine and it was clear that something was going to happen. The thing inside moved with every push, getting bigger, and I heard Vivienne say I had a little tear, but I couldn’t feel anything. On the final contraction, I pushed as hard as I could and felt the proverbial ring of fire – it felt like I split all the way up to my clitoris, and I thought regretfully of it and whether I would ever get to use it again. And people said, “Open your eyes!” and I looked and saw this huge round head, with hair on it, welling up from somewhere between my thighs and I couldn’t believe it. Another push and I felt a jumble of slippery limbs come after, and then it was all over bar the shouting. I considered my options and decided that “Jesus Christ! Did that come out of me?” would be appropriate, and thus my one profanity of the labour was uttered. (I think of it more as an invocation than a profanity, though. I really did feel it was quite reasonable given everything I’d just done.)
They cleaned up the baby and put him – it was a boy, of course, and everyone laughed at the inevitability of it – on my chest. He sucked away like a champion, both sides, for quite a while and they left him as long as I wanted before they took him away to make tiny footprints and prick his heel and whatever else they did. Meanwhile the placenta was delivered and my uterus was palpated and it’s all a bit of a blur, to be honest. Vivienne sewed up my tear and wouldn’t tell me how many stitches I had, since they’d melt away on their own anyway. She said it wasn’t a bad one – it didn’t go into the muscle or back too far; though on my hospital discharge sheet it says it’s second degree, which sounds quite bad to me. She anesthetised the area, though it didn’t seem to take on the left hand side and I could feel the pricks, but given the lack of contractions and the presence of a baby, nothing was too bad. At one point I was shaking uncontrollably, at another they poured what felt like a bucket of warm water over my bits and it felt wonderful. Really, what happened afterwards just isn’t important. They left the three of us together and we whispered to each other that we had made a baby, and that was the only thing that mattered.
I could write chapters more; chapters with titles like “Over-cautious paediatricians and why I dislike them”, “Nipplegate: the ouchening”, or “Jaundice and how to barbecue your baby”, but I think you’ll live without hearing those stories. Every day brings a new one – or two or three – but when my little alien baby gazes into my eyes – or somewhere in the region of my eyes, because I’m not sure he’s really focusing yet – with his big dark grey almond-shaped ones, and regards me with wonder because my face is the one he’s learning best of all, I forget how I need to get some sleep and just have to gaze back at him and wonder where on earth he could possibly have come from.