A False Start
I never know WHERE to start a birth story. In many ways birth is a journey that begins at conception. In some ways, it begins even before that! Andrew’s birth definitely started before it actually started though. We had a quiet day’s rest at home together after a particularly trying week of tummy bugs and vomiting among the children. According to dates, I was one week “overdue” but was not stressed about that as my pregnancies tend to go a week or two over quite regularly (this being my fifth pregnancy). After a peaceful morning, we took the kids for a bike ride to the end of the footpath and back. On the way back I had a trickle of fluid. I started walking with one foot in the gutter and the trickle became a gush. Jon and I were very excited! We got everyone home and sorted out, called in our child carers, called our midwife, packed bags, fed everyone tea and headed in to Launceston, fully expecting to have a baby by morning.
I picked up the key to the birth centre from Anna then we drove around to find somewhere that sold castor oil – which was a bit of a challenge at that time of night. I took a dose, had a hot shower then we put a movie on the lap top and snacked on chocolate biscuits as we watched it. I didn’t even have a twinge! We went to bed and slept. At 3am the inevitable late-pregnancy bathroom call came and, feeling a little frustrated, I dosed myself again with castor oil reasoning that as it had NO effect, maybe I just needed more. It had worked with my third labor to kick things off, I couldn’t understand what was going on! I then spent the rest of the night getting up to go to the loo, but still no sign of baby.
By morning I felt completely miserable. My tummy was upset, but there was no sign of baby and to make matters worse it looked like my husband was getting the tummy bug that had struck the children down. I was worried that I would need to be induced seeing as my waters had broken and I would be birthing in the hospital without my Jon there as he had already started throwing up.
We called my in-laws to come and help out with the children as we were unsure how much longer things were going to take. We went for a walk along Charles street to try and get things moving. Nothing happened. Late morning, I got a call from Anna as we browsed a book shop. At my request, we met her at the birth centre and she gave me a “once over”. We talked about our next steps. I was relieved that as my waters haddn’t continued to leak, it was probably just hind waters so I wouldn’t need to be induced. We decided that the best bet would be a long, hot shower followed by a nap then going home. This was a course of action I could be happy with!
So after I had a long hot shower I climbed into bed at the birth centre while Jon (who was feeling better) went shopping for a teddy bear for the baby and ran a few last minute errands. I flipped my Bible open to read and my eyes settled on James chapter 4, specifically verses 13-15:
Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."
Everything I read seemed to be saying that God had a bigger plan than I did and I needed to trust Him and leave it in His hands. I needed to pray for peace rather than for specific “stuff” as His plan was going to be even better than mine. So I prayed then slept for a few hours. I woke feeling like a new woman and went home to my children. Where I had severe diarrhea for the next few days!
The Real Thing
Wednesday morning I awoke feeling AWFUL. I’m not talking a little bit queezy, a touch off or a bit peaky – I am talking “Dear Lord, Kill Me Now….PLEASE” kind of awful. After several days of putting off doing anything about the diarrhea (I had it stuck in my head that if that stopped, the baby would NEVER COME OUT!) everything from the waist down felt swollen and sore. Everything from the waist up just felt sore. And to cap it off, Jon felt pretty awful too. I called Anna to ask if she thought me taking anti-diarrhea tablets would be OK (she was too nice to say “Um, DUH, why didn’t you do that days ago?”, she just made sympathetic noises and told me to go ahead) and I shed a few tears of complete and utter dejected self pity.
Jon and I agreed that we needed help so I decided to call our good friends who were meant to be staying with us that night and warn them off (I cried about that too, I had been so excited about seeing them! I’m not usually a big crier, blame the hormones) and I was also going to call another friend to come and watch the kids while we lay in bed and pretended to be asleep. Somewhere between those two phone calls I realized that among the LOUD pain messages my body was sending, there was a more specific, familiar sensation that was trying to get through.
I took a deep breath and muttered “Ah well Lord, not my plans but yours” and called Anna back, telling her we’d get settled at the birth centre and call her when things picked up and called my child minding friend. I waddled around between contractions getting kids dressed, supervising the making of breakfast and organizing things to go to the birth centre. I have bizarre memories of vocalizing during contractions in the midst of changing nappies!
As I walked around it became evident that things were moving along a bit quicker than I had anticipated!! My concern for the grew as I hunted for places to stand during contractions where it wouldn’t matter if my water broke (not many in my renovator’s delight – between unsealed floors and rugs I was getting a little anxious!). I also worried that the car seats would NOT take kindly to a bath in amniotic fluid and I really didn’t like the idea of birthing somewhere on the side of the road. Jon asked me at the conclusion of one rather strong contraction if I thought baby might come before we could make it. We decided the best course of action was to change birthing venues to home.
Now if you had asked me the day before what my least preferred birthing situation would be (other than going to hospital) I would have said birthing in the middle of the day with a bunch of people in the next room. Here it was looking like I would be birthing in my dirty-laundry filled bathroom with my children and our child caring friend (Nola, an older lady from church who I know, but not THAT well) in the next room! Again I had to just give it over to God.
I called Anna and asked her to come to me then when Nola turned up I let her know what was happening while Jon ran me a bath. I was working my way through a contraction and Nola was chattering non-stop (which she does, it’s endearing usually!) and asking me if I was getting pain in my back etc. Thankfully, she is a beautifully sensitive, thoroughly practical woman who sensed where her groove was very early in the piece and took it all in her stride. She went out with the kids and started managing them eating their breakfast. Throughout my labour I heard her dealing with my children and taking care of them and it was a great source of comfort.
I sunk into the bath with a great feeling of relief. The warm water was just what my very sore, tired, laboring body needed. Jon turned on the heaters and hung some old towels over the column heater to warm. I got him to pass me a cold wet face washer which I slung over my neck. Usually during my labours I am LOUD. I keep my vocalizations low and relax my jaw to help my body with the job it is doing and in all my previous births this has been an important part of my working through the very active stages of labour. I was worried about this because my children were in the next room and while I had described the noises I made to them when we had discussed birth, I really didn’t know how they’d react and I didn’t feel they were really prepared for it.
I found that sucking the cold face washer really helped during contractions, and the fact that I had something in my mouth meant that my vocalizations didn’t sound quite so dramatic, so I was less worried about the kids. It led me to confess to Jon, after ten years of sharing a home and a life, that there was something he didn’t know about me. I chew on face washers sometimes, have done since I was a child. When I made my confession, he said “That’s OK honey” in a voice that said “you are weird, strange and a little scary, but I love you anyway”. I decided that was good enough and sucked away on my face cloth!
I found out later that Nola told the children that the noises I was making was me “singing the baby out” – one of them commented that it didn’t sound much like singing to them! But it really helped the kids to accept what was going on. Thank the Lord I was provided with such a practical, matter-of-fact woman who was willing to embrace the experience as positive. I could not have asked for anyone better to take care of the kids.
At one point as Jon went in and out of the bathroom I heard Nola ask him if he thought he could deliver the baby himself if the midwives didn’t make it – he answered that he could well not have a choice! As we chatted in between contractions (yes, I chat in between contractions all the way through pretty much) he said that “If Shane can do it, I’m sure I can!” referring to friends of ours who had an unplanned home birth a few years before. I giggled and started singing “Anything They Can Do We Can Do Better” – possible that I have a competitive streak there and the labour hormones were well and truly working.
Much to all our relief though, Anna and Jean turned up. I could feel a part of me wincing with embarrassment, even in mid-labour, about the pile of laundry and general MESS everywhere but nobody took any notice but me. I realize now that all this was part of God helping me to put my self perceived “failings” into perspective and just get on with the job of living!
I asked the midwives to put the birthing pad on the floor next to the bath as I wanted to get out to birth. They set me up a little area and immediately plugged in to what was going on and how things were progressing. Anna asked if I was hot and I thought it was an odd question, of course I was hot, I was in the middle of the ultimate work out! Apparently it was quite hot in the bathroom though so they turned one of the heaters off. Deep labour brings with it its own sense of time and climate, I doubt I would have noticed if it’d been an oven in there. Jean asked Jon for an icecream container or something for the placenta and I called out instructions on where to find a stainless steel bowl. Anna listened to bub’s heart rate a few times between her arriving and the birth, but it was never very obtrusive and it didn’t interrupt the flow of my labour.
Things were getting very serious by this point but I was worried about getting the urge to push too early because my south end was all swollen and sore and constantly felt pressure on it anyway. I asked for some hot towels on my back during contractions which was fantastic. I remember hearing one of the kids ask to go to the toilet and Nola say that they couldn’t because I was in the bathroom (we only have a toilet in the bathroom) so I asked someone to take the potty out so they could use that. Jean remarked that she haddn’t even heard anyone mention needing to go so I guess even at that point, I still had my Mummy hat on a bit.
At one point I moved to a squatting position with my back against one side of the bath and knees against the other (narrow, claw foot baths are horrid to try and clean under AND too narrow to birth in properly if anyone is interested!). As I was in this position I started feeling really pushy and gave a few involuntary pushes. During one of these I felt a pop and noticed some blackish, greenish fluid. I was a little concerned about this as I had never had meconium in my waters before and knew it could signal distress. I asked Jon to tell Anna my waters had broken and that there was meconium. She came in and checked it out. She assured me that it looked old and probably wasn’t a sign of distress, more likely because bub had decided to stick around in utero for a bit longer.
I clambered out of the bath and stood for a while, pushing during contractions only when I HAD to. I was still concerned that I wasn’t ready. My first birth had a premature urge to push for the last couple of hours and it is odd how that still affects the way I birth now, almost 6 years and 4 more births later. I kneeled down with my arms folded on the edge of the bath and gave a few pushes. My shoulder muscles ached for days later where I must have pulled myself up on the bath as I pushed. Anna suggested I put one leg up to open things up a bit which I did, putting myself in the same position which I had birthed 18 months earlier, an excellent position. After the next gentle push Anna said she could see the head, at which point I realized that I did NOT have a premature urge to push!
With the next contraction I gave a long hard push and felt my baby moving down and the head emerge into my hand. Anna checked for a cord and we waited for bub to turn. I had previously asked for Syntocin at this point because I have a past history of post-partum bleeds and this was my fifth baby so in consultation with Anna I felt it was appropriate to actively manage third stage. Jean told me what she was doing as she administered the injection but to be honest, I really didn’t care at that point. We had already discussed it, I had requested it and my mind was elsewhere! It hurt a lot to have the baby pushing everything and I realized that this was not going to be a tiny dot of a baby like the last one. I focused and put my hands down ready to catch my baby. With the next push out he slithered into my hands! I drank in every detail of him with my eyes and called out “Honey, we got an Andrew!”
I found out later that Nola had been reading “Hello Baby” to the children at that moment in the lounge room and they were all listening for the cry!
I asked Jon if he thought it was a good idea to ask Erin, our oldest, if she wanted to cut the cord. She has been obsessed with all things medical since before her third birthday. She came in and followed Anna’s instruction to cut the cord and examined the placenta – something I wanted her to be able to do because I knew it would mean so much to her. It was a very intense experience for her and having a good relationship with Anna was an important part of it being a positive experience. I am so proud of her and the way she conducted herself. We all cleaned up and I snuggled with Andrew on my armchair surrounded by my children, him still fresh and new and naked and them completely enthralled.
I realized that little of this birth had gone to my plan, but I had been given a beautiful gift. Not only my new baby, but the chance to share this birth with my other children in a wonderfully special way. It wasn’t my plan, but it turned out to be a darn good plan anyway! All up, active labour lasted about three hours and Andrew was 8pound 2oz, my second smallest baby.
We called back our friends who we had put off spending the night at our house that night and asked them to come anyway. Something seemed very right about our baby Andrew meeting his Uncle Andrew on his Birth Day! It was sheer coincidence that he and his lovely wife were moving back to Tassie that particular night. The rest of the day seemed to be one long celebration. Baby Andrew latched on and drank like a champ. I held him almost all day. Nola took care of all of the practical needs of the children and made us all tea. Jon and I made phone calls. And we cut a Birth Day cake with the words “Andrew Phillip” and a big number 0 candle on it. And that night, I snuggled down in my own comfy bed with my husband beside me, baby in the bassinette on the other side and my other children fast asleep in the next room. Like I said, not to my plan, but to a Perfect Plan!