Read on, if you dare.
On the morning of my 38 week obstetrician appointment I woke up at 7am with an overwhelming urge to drop the kids off at the pool [my gen Y sister told me about that saying!]. While on the toilet, I noticed some bleeding which I recognized to be my ‘show’. Fortuitously, Mark had taken that very day off for us to finalise the nursery so I bounded out and gave him a blow by blow account of my morning so far… at which point I felt a tightening across my swollen abdomen. Did I say swollen? Forgive me, I meant ENORMOUS. I had gained 20 kilos so far [contrary to more lies about the average woman only gaining 12 kilos during pregnancy]. In the time that it took me to explain, in great detail, what my show looked like, I’d had another tightening. Hmmm… these seem to be regular? Let’s time them. Hon, am I doing this right? Wow. I think this baby may come today. Put on the kettle hon, and I’ll just call the hospital [as my birthing classes had told me].
“Hello, it’s Tania P speaking. I’m actually not booked in for another couple of weeks but I woke up half an hour ago and had a poo and had some blood which I think was my show and now I’m getting this strange tightening which I THINK might be contractions, so my husband’s making me a cup of tea but I just thought I should touch base with you” I remember my voice had a sort of ‘lilt’ to it.
“Yes Tania, that all sounds great. How far apart did you say those tightening were?”
“Well they WERE every four minutes, but now they’re every three – that’s right isn’t it hon?” I’m practically singing by now… because I’m thinking – I can do this EASY.
“Tania, how far away from the hospital are you?”
“About 20 minutes in peak hour, which it is right now – why?”
“I’d like you to come in straight away” the midwife’s voice took on an almost unnatural calm and I vaguely remember wondering why she was speaking to me like a mental patient.
“Ok, well I have an appointment there at 2.15 anyway so I’ll finish my cup of tea, get organised and come on in”
“No Tania, just grab your essentials and come now. We’ll be waiting for you.”
So, I call mum and tell her the entire story of the morning and that I’ll be heading into the hospital soon and then head for my shower [maybe I was skipping?] and it is just as I have stripped naked that I am hit with the most excruciating pain I had felt [so far] in my life. I fall to the floor on all fours and scream a guttural cry that I had read only native women had ever used. Mark runs in and is terrified by the sight he is facing which is, a naked, 80 kilo woman on all fours with bed hair and a massive distended abdomen skimming the tiles screaming like an animal.
In this time my mum has called back to tell me that she had a dressing gown for me and would I like to pick it up on the way. She is surprised when I come to the phone, hysterical, but is calm when she tells me “it’s ok Tan, you can do it and I’ll see you at the hospital”. IT’S OK TAN. The fuck it is.
I CRAWL to the bedroom and put on whatever I had discarded onto the floor from the night before. I still have bed hair, sleep in my eyes and furry teeth when I get into the car to face the peak hour traffic on the way to the hospital. And here’s where the fun really starts.
Our chosen hospital was a private hospital which resembles a 5 star hotel. It has a cafe at the entrance which at 8.40 in the morning was full of gorgeous and fresh interns, doctors and nurses. Mark pulls up OUT THE FRONT of that café, puts on the hazards and helps me out of the car. I am unable to walk properly due to the almost heart stopping contractions which are coming every one and half a minutes. So my gait is not dissimilar to an ape. Nor is my face. Gorgeous doctors are looking. In my memory they may have even been pointing and gasping as the receptionist RUNS out of the hospital with a wheelchair and yells, dramatically ‘we’ve got a pusher!’
I’m feeling better from the moment I’m through those doors and comforted further as two midwives meet me in the lobby [yes, it’s a LOBBY] and one wheels me, while the other wheels a trolley chock full of every medical supply you would need. I find it weird that the birthing suite is clearly ‘BYO’ [I found out later it was in case they needed to deliver my baby in that very same lobby, outside the café with the gorgeous people] but I don’t ask. I can’t ask. I can’t speak. I just groan. A lot.
We finally get into the suite and they get me out of the wheelchair and on to the bed. Bottoms off and baby monitor strapped onto my belly at which point, I remember my birthing class advice and say “I’ll have my epidural now”. Midwife #1 steals a glance across my belly at Midwife #2 and then says ever so gently “Oh darling, your baby’s coming now”. WHAT THE FUCK???
At this stage I start to panic. BIG TIME. The pain is excruciating. It feels like my body is being torn apart from the inside out. They offer me gas. Gas. Whatever. I have the mouth piece and I make that bastard sing… for what it’s worth which is not much. The pain is so bad, so unnaturally excruciating that I’m sure there’s something wrong. I’m convinced in fact. No-one, NO-ONE, ever told me it would hurt THAT much and that quickly. Where was my 8 hour labour that came in stages? And why did no-one tell me that it is even harder to not push than push?
No-one broke it down and said it feels like you’re DYING. And you know, to this day, women keep telling that lie! When I break out my birth story, in all its glorious detail, in a group of women to an expectant mother, they gather together and try to shut me down. Shushing me like a gaggle of geese. “Don’t scare her!” “Don’t tell her that, it’s not THAT bad” “Why would you SAY that??” Really girls? Because it’s the TRUTH!!! It’s terrifyingly painful. It feels like you can’t go on. It feels like you couldn’t possibly survive such a traumatic experience. You are weak with exertion and screaming with fear and pain. That is what having a baby is like for a lot of women. Did I forget the moment I held my gorgeous new son in my arms? Fuck no. I still had to deliver the placenta and THEN I had to be stitched up because I needed to be cut and I needed to be cut because that HOLE IS NOT BIG ENOUGH!!!!
So, from go to whoah my labour took about 2 hours. I woke at 7.00am facing a normal day and Nathan was born at 9.40am. No cups of tea, no relaxing in the bath, no back rubbing, no breathing, no epidural. Stefan came much the same way.
Dear first-time, expectant mum, I am not really trying to scare you. Having my sons was the greatest thing I have ever done in my life. The entire, uncomfortable journey of pregnancy and childbirth IS miraculous and exhilarating and awe inspiring. It is, unquestionably, worth every bit of it. But it hurts and it’s scary and I’m fortunate that my story doesn’t include the need for other scary things like cesareans and needles the length of your forearm in your spine and breach babies and prem births etc, etc. I just think if you HEAR real life stories from real women who are honest and brutal in their account, and you head into your 38th week expecting the worst… then anything better than that may just make it not terrifying. Maybe bearable. Perhaps even wonderful.
So to break it down, my top ten bits of real advice:
- Ask for an epidural at 38 weeks
- Pack a camera [disposable if need be] in your hospital bag
- Have something gorgeous to wear on hand wherever you are so you’re not mistaken for a gorilla on arrival
- Don’t bother with that cup of tea if you’re having cramps every 4 minutes
- Prepare your partner to see you begging, screaming, crying and in excruciating pain. I have found so many partners did not expect to be affected by seeing a person they love so much in so much pain, without being able to help
- If you’re pushing, getting the head out is the worst. Go hard and listen to your midwives. It really does sting but the shoulders are easier and then you’re done. Except for the placenta. But that’s a walk in the park comparatively.
- If you find yourself without an epidural [makes my eyes water just thinking about it], then take the gas. It barely took the edge off for me, but it did help me to ‘not push’ which the midwives may ask of you
- Don’t bother to ask your obstetrician to ‘sew the whole thing up’ while they’re down there ‘cause you won’t need it anymore… take it from me, they won’t do it
- Pack something alcoholic in your hospital bag. At least one of you will want a drink after that baby comes out
- Be prepared to fall in love… but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t happen the moment they put your just-born, screaming, covered in blood and goo baby on your chest, still attached to the umbilical cord. It may take a minute for you to catch your breath x