Looking back, the drive to the hospital was almost funny. I was clenching the door handle, bracing myself every time Simon turned a corner, any jerking motion intensifying the pain I was feeling in my abdomen. Meanwhile, he was driving like a mad man, desperate to get me out of the car and into the hands of people who knew what to do with me.
At the hospital, we entered the delivery suite (again) with my hospital bag, but this time we knew it was the real thing. We’d called the midwives already, and they were expecting me. I’d also told them about my birth plan, which included labouring in water, so they took me into a room with a large birthing pool. Because they suspected my water had broken two days earlier, they told me we’d wait a bit to get into the pool until they’d checked me over and everything was fine with the baby.
They attached me to a couple of monitors – one for me and one for the baby – and encouraged me to find a position I felt comfortable in.
At this point, ‘comfortable’ was out of the question. I eventually dropped to my knees and leaned over a chair in the room, breathing heavily and wondering how much worse the contractions could possibly get.
The answer? Much worse.
The pain was increasing so quickly I felt sure I was going to be sick. I hadn’t had any pain relief yet, and the first port of call was what folks refer to as ‘gas and air’ – a mixture of oxygen and laughing gas. The midwives told me to wait until my nausea passed, because the gas and air could sometimes make it worse. I didn’t know how anything could be worse than what I was feeling at that point.
Uncomfortable. In pain. Nauseated. Already exhausted.
Eventually one of the midwives who was looking after us (there were two, and they were fantastic, by the way), suggested I climb onto the bed in the corner of the room. She thought lying on my side might help. It did. So much so, that I was able to start the gas and air which is, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant inventions of all time.
The next few hours were spent like this: me on my side on the bed, sucking down the gas and air between contractions, moaning in agony during them; candles lit around the room; my current favorite Christmas album playing on the stereo; my husband holding my hand and whispering exactly what I needed to ear – that he loved me, that he was proud of me, that I was doing a good job…that our son was coming.
As far as the birthing pool went…once I was in a manageable position on the bed, they weren’t moving me. And, it turns out, that was for the best.
Because several hours went by like that before something happened. My temperature and the baby’s heart rate simultaneously shot up, and the midwives called in help, and everything then is a blur. I vaguely remember being wheeled out of the midwife-led room and into a more medical delivery room. There were people everywhere – several midwives, a doctor, two men (whom I later learned were the anaesthesiologist and a pediatrician)…they were all talking…one of the men was saying something to me about an epidural…I didn’t understand what was happening.
Later, Simon explained that the doctor wanted to give me an epidural to keep me from pushing, but the head midwife took a look and decided I was ready to push.
That’s what I remember most. Coming round to all these people standing around me saying, “Push!”
And I did.
I pushed and screamed and pushed some more. And my husband squeezed my hand. And my baby boy slid out into the world.
But there was no pomp and circumstance. No “Would you like to cut the cord, Dad?”
He was whisked to an incubator in the corner where the pediatrician stood with him for a few moments before his first tiny little cry rang out into the eerie calm after the storm.
“Is he okay?” I asked Simon.
“Yes, yes, he’s fine. He’s good.”
Drugged and weary, it didn’t occur to me then that it was strange they hadn’t handed him to me. That they were pricking his heels and taking his blood, and slipping in IV into his tiny, wrinkled hand.