This time last year I was a couple of days away from Callum’s due date. With his birthday coming up this month, I thought I’d mark it by writing up his birth story. If you don’t like details of labor and birth, this post is not for you, but I don’t think it’s something that should be stigmatised or considered unseemly.
After the disempowerment and trauma of Elliot’s birth, we were going for something quite different with Callum. I went through the midwifery group practice at Adelaide’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital with the plan to stay home as long as possible, and have as little interference as possible though I would still deliver in the hospital’s birthing suite. We hoped to have Elliot there for the birth and had prepped him for that, and asked Red Twin to be his dedicated carer and emotional support for that time, and she co-ordinated a visit from Central Asia to be able to do so.
So I’d been having contractions on and off since Sunday night and wondering when things were going to take off, and then at 1:15am on Wednesday, I woke with a start as my waters broke. There’s nothing quite like that ‘whoosh’ sensation! Contractions started almost immediately, 30-40 secs in duration and 2 mins apart. I put on my TENS machine and called the WCH and spoke to the midwife on call. She said I should get someone to come look after Elliot and call her back when the contractions were 45sec-1min in length. 20 mins later Red Twin arrived and it was already time to call the WCH back again, so they said they’d call my midwife, Tamara and we called Annie, my advocate and herself a midwife.
They both arrived around 3am. Contractions were about a minute and I was pacing between contractions and rocking through them, murmuring to myself ‘opening, productive, go with the flow’ which were phrases from the hypnosis I’d done in preparation from the birth. Everything was very peaceful – the lights were down low, everyone spoke in whispers and every now and then Tamara would listen to the baby with the doppler. Annie told me later that she wrote down that Arthur’s voice seemed to be calming and centering for me – this was one of the post-hypnotic cues, although it is also true in life generally for me!
Half an hour later Tamara was talking about whether we should go to the hospital or whether she should go home and return later, but shortly after that I started vomiting. I am horrendously sick in pregnancy so this was nothing new, but Annie explained to me that this was a sign things were progressing: my body had a big job to concentrate on and didn’t want to have to do other things like digest food! She had such a good way of explaining things so they made sense to me.
Tamara started talking about getting me to the hospital. I thought she meant in a couple of hours but the time frame was more like half an hour! She left to run the bath at the hospital and we followed with Annie taking charge and getting us in the car, leaving Red Twin with sleeping Elliot, saying we’d call her when it was time to come in.
There are lots of speed bumps between our apartment and the WCH and we caught all the lights on East Terrace! Annie parked the car while Arthur and I headed in and started signing forms. I was already wanting to push so we called Red Twin to tell her to come in with Elliot. I was keen to get in the water and possibly to have a water birth so we headed up to the delivery suite where I immediately stripped off my clothes and the TENS machine and hopped into the bath. The hospital environment was so different – lots of activity and processes and I was getting a bit panicky but Annie came over, looked straight in my eyes and told me to concentrate on feeling the water, and I calmed right down.
Tamara told me I had to hop out so they could hook me up to the telemetry and check I was fully dilated and then I could hop back in the bath. I hopped on the bed for that, got the all clear on dilation but the bub was coming down side-on instead of front or back so they called a dr in case they needed to do a manual rotation.
Things got pretty chaotic at that point – the dr wanted to put in a drip and was saying she was concerned about the amount I was bleeding since it was a vbac. The dr didn’t address me at all, just talked about me. Tamara tried to negotiate with her but Annie just came straight out with, ‘Tamie doesn’t want a drip!’ We’d discussed this beforehand as the drip had been especially bad for me during Elliot’s birth but I had felt myself become uncertain again in the face of the doctor’s insistence. But hearing Annie say that gave me the confidence to express my wishes and I started yelling, ‘I don’t want the drip!!’ They settled for putting the heart beat clip on the baby’s head. I don’t think I was very cooperative because every instinct within me was telling me to get off my back on the bed, and all I could think about was getting back to the bath!
The technology wasn’t cooperating either though – the monitor kept showing an error message. The dr was concerned about decels but I wasn’t worried – Annie had told me earlier that while it can be an indication that something is amiss, it’s also true that all babies’ heart rates drop just before they’re about to be born. She was great – while everyone else was buzzing around, she was the one making eye contact with me and explaining what was going on, why, and what my options were. At some point the dr packed her stuff up and left and I quickly got off the bed.
The thing was, I couldn’t make it to the bath! The urge to push was too strong! It really is like they say, a completely different sensation from stage 1 – it’s effort rather than pain. And it’s irresistible. So I just stood next to the bed.
They were telling me not to push because the bub’s head wasn’t in the right position but I felt I couldn’t help it, and Annie had told us that the contractions don’t just push a baby down, they also get him into the right position. So Arthur was saying to me, ‘The baby’s just turning’ (as if he knew!) and when he said that I felt like that was what was happening, and what the contractions were doing.
Where were Red Twin and Elliot? Arthur went out to call them but I was worried he’d miss the birth as well so I called to him and he came back and Annie got on the phone with Red Twin. Another push turned the bub and his head started emerging. I wasn’t worried when it slipped back – I knew that would help to stretch my perineum and prevent tearing. The midwives were telling me to just do little pushes though whether that was for my perineum or because we were waiting for Red Twin and Elliot, I’m not sure.
The bub’s head was halfway out and they told me I could reach down and feel it. It was so soft and squishy – it didn’t feel at all like a skull! His head was half out when Red Twin and Elliot finally arrived. They’d ended up having to run from the other side of the hospital after they couldn’t get in at the women’s entrance. Elliot was alive with excitement, both because of his ‘night time adventure’ and because it was time for the baby. One more push and the bub’s head was out, another and, as Elliot said, ‘my baby brother was born with a big splash of blood!’ Annie called it as 5:05am. They passed him through to me and a few minutes later I climbed onto the bed, holding Callum to me. The whole thing had been super quick – just shy of 4 hours.
Elliot was dancing around, almost slipping in all the mess, very excited. He came to give me and the baby gentle touches and Arthur picked him up so he could see. He was quite excited about the placenta too, and observed that they put it in a dish. The midwives were all talking about how big the cord was, and the placenta had no signs of calcification, which was a vindication of my refusal to be induced. I was shuddering which Annie explained to me was just the effects of the adrenalin. After a while Callum started rooting around a bit so he had his first breastfeed.
The next bit was the hardest. I hadn’t torn but I had some grazes and there was a fair bit of blood (I am a bit of a bleeder!) so there was a discussion about whether they should sew them up, though considering what came next, maybe not. At the same time, my uterus wasn’t contracting properly and was boggy and over to one side so I needed a shot of oxytocin. Everyone relaxed after some big clots came out and my uterus started going down, but then they couldn’t get the anaesthetic in the right spot for the stitching and they said the tissues were really too fine to do much with. The midwives tried, then a doctor who was sympathetic, then her superior who got quite frustrated. That took 2 hours in stirrups. Elliot was interested at first, coming to look and exclaiming, “What is going on with that vagina?” but became very concerned later on as I was clearly being subjected to quite a bit of pain. We had various snacks and activities for him, which mostly absorbed him, but every now and then he would look up to ask me if I was OK. For me, this was hardest part as well – this wasn’t productive pain. Eventually the frustrated doctor insisted I have some gas which I had refused because I thought it would make me feel sick. It did, but they finished the job. It took me half an hour or so for the effects of the gas to wear off.
We called our families to tell them Callum had been born, I took a shower while Callum got his shots and checked out, and then Red Twin, Annie and Elliot left while I breastfed Callum again, and we were out of there by 10:30am, getting Hungry Jacks on the way home!
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.