The birth of my son split me in two. It happened gradually, then suddenly. As far as children go, he was dearly wanted and now that he is here, he is dearly loved. I’ll come back to the part about being split in two – because sometimes it’s fitting to take it back to the very beginning.
June 2016. I was working in a stressful job. A gay woman stuck in a religious private school. After two years of loyal service, and after witnessing many fellow staff members take leave to undergo fertility treatment, I approached my boss requesting the same.
“Sorry, I’ll have to get back to you. No one has done this before.”
They had – they just weren’t gay.
In the months that followed, I timed my IVF appointments cleverly around the school day. My doctor was willing to see me at 5am, which meant I didn’t have to tell my boss. When the big day of egg pick up arrived, I needed the whole day. I rang my boss and told her I had a migraine.
“When you wake up from the egg pick up, the number of eggs will be written on your wrist,” the doctor said.
“Now just lay back. Soon, you will fall asleep…”
I counted back from ten. When I woke up, there were six circles drawn on my wrist. Six! I was 26 years old and I got a measly six eggs. I was despondent.
In the days following, our little future babies were placed in dishes with donor sperm. There, they made the fateful journey to conception.
Each day, I called to see how my dish-babies were doing.
Two! After all that effort, money, time, stress, and hormones, we got two embryos. One barely made it to freeze and was considered unviable for pregnancy but was placed on ice all the same.
“We are not doing part two of this process until you find another job,” my wife, Natalie, had said.
It took me over a year, but I finally found another job – in a state school. I loved it. It was inclusive, and I became part of the furniture. I took a paid sick day, and we went back to our clinic. When the day of transfer finally came, I laid back comfortably as my doctor readied his implements.
“This is purely diagnostic. It is unlikely to work. Don’t do anything differently, just live your life.”
He spread my legs and inserted the syringe. As he did, an entire waterfall of emotion washed over me. I sobbed. It was finally happening. But it might not work!
“Are you okay? We’re done here.”
“Yes, I’m fine,” I sobbed.
He patted my back.
“Best of luck!”
As we turned and left the clinic, I realised I had a two week wait before me.
“Don’t pee on any sticks,” was the advice given to me by a friend.
By day four, I caved. I peed on a stick. I sat anxiously on the toilet, tapping the test like I was trying to get ink out of a pen. About five minutes later, a slight line appeared. I kept my obsessive behaviour to myself. I didn’t even tell my wife about that first pee-stick. With every day that passed, I peed on another stick. By the end of the two weeks, I had confessed to my wife and we had a bag full of sticks, each line appearing darker than the last. They clattered in the bag, as we emptied them every day and lined them up like assembly line soldiers. It was amazing, the first signs of the miracle of his conception.
My luck seemed to continue after the easy conception. I stayed relatively slim throughout my pregnancy, didn’t have any sickness, and I managed to work until I was 34 weeks along. Sooner or later, though, I knew my luck was going to run out.
“What I’d really like to do is give birth in water.”
My midwife jotted this down and explained that it may be possible if a bath was available. Perfect!
Mere weeks later, the day finally came. I was four days overdue and it was time to see what was going on. The sliding doors at the Royal Brisbane hospital welcomed us. We sauntered down the corridor with giddy excitement. We were welcomed into one of the consulting rooms, where I lay flat on my back, wondering when they would suggest an induction. I had desperately wanted to go into labour spontaneously, but nothing had worked – vigorous sex, running, time in the bath.
The midwife poked and prodded my belly.
“The baby’s head is displaced, and I think he or she may be quite big. Had they told you that during the ultrasounds?”
“Yeah. They said the baby is measuring ahead.”
“How would you feel about being induced now?”
“We don’t even have our bag packed.”
“That’s okay, we can send your wife home to prepare everything. We can take you up to the ward shortly.”
“I see you’ve expressed a desire for a water birth. Because we’re inducing you, that option will no longer be available.”
I lay in a ball, awaiting the next step. Any time my stomach hardened with Braxton Hicks, I became excited that this could be it.
“Nope, not yet.” The midwife shuffled in and out, checking on me, then going to do her rounds.
The Earth inched towards evening as the sky lit up an intense orange, and then darkened; not that I could see it overly well through the hospital shades. As the darkness of night crept in, my labour was induced. My body had let me down – but I was not done. The contractions started and I knew I could do this. I crinkled my nose, proud of myself for how well I was handling the contractions. I laboured on for hours, with cervix dilating on schedule. As I started to become tired from a lack of sleep, the contractions intensified. It was a consequence of the induction hormones and it became unbearable very quickly. Nonetheless, I stayed strong.
“Hold onto me.” Natalie said, as I stood in the birthing suite, leaning forwards every time I contracted.
Time passed and I waved one midwife off as the next came in and wasted no time checking my cervix.
“It’s 8cm. You’ll have a baby in two hours.”
I beamed! It was finally coming together. I continued to feel the tightening of my body with each contraction as they became more frequent. Soon, I felt a sharp, choking feeling around my middle. It knocked the breath out of me.
“Is this normal?”
“Here do you want some gas?” The midwife passed me the inhaler.
I breathed in.
“Ugh, it’s not working.”
The midwife asked me to spread my legs so she could check my cervix. She looked inside me, then paused.
“Your dilation has regressed…” she trailed off and walked out the door to get another midwife.
“Hi, I’m Cheryl.” Another midwife walked in, accidentally brushing my forehead with her fingers as she turned around.
“Holy smokes, you’re hot!” she exclaimed. She took my temperature.
About five minutes later, a doctor arrived.
“You have an infection, which is why you have a fever and regressed dilation. Your baby’s head is still displaced. We need to call time on this labour for everybody’s safety.”
“Just sign this consent form and we will take you off to the theatre.”
I signed rapidly and a midwife came to remove my hormone drip.
“Your contractions should stop now.”
As soon as she said that, my contractions went from lasting around thirty seconds, to a continuous sensation.
“Ahhhh!!! It won’t stop!” I screamed.
They started to wheel me down to theatre, ready to prepare me for a caesarean section. When we got there, the doctor started to explain the spinal block.
“We’re going to insert some fluid into your spine. Then we’ll put some water on your belly to see if you feel it. Then we’re going to cut just below your bikini line to deliver the baby. Do you want your wife to say if it’s a boy or a girl?”
“Oh my God, stop talking!” I writhed in excruciating pain. The contraction that started when they took out the hormone drip hadn’t stopped.
The doctor stabbed my spine and I remained curled into a ball with an oxygen mask on.
I leaned towards Natalie and the doctor leaned into her ear.
“You have to stay strong, for her.”
My forehead was sweating and I couldn’t move.
“Can you straighten out, please?”
The doctor rolled me onto my back and patted just below my bikini line. The nurse poured a few drops of water on the area.
“Oh my God, don’t operate!” I yelled.
“Okay, we’re going to have to do a general.”
The anaesthesiologist leaned in and inserted a needle, which I couldn’t feel above the contractions. It all happened so quickly. This was all completely out of my control now. I had to let go. I inhaled sharply and expressed my only wish.
“Don’t tell her the sex of the baby before I wake up!”
That was the last thing I remember as the curtain of unconsciousness fell down around me.
The next thing I remember is that my eyes were too heavy to open and I felt disconnected from myself, like a butterfly outside of its chrysalis.
Was I dead?
I opened one eye. I could see the most perfect looking baby on my chest. No blood, no fluid, no bruises.
“He’s perfect.” I exclaimed, making an assumption about the sex of my baby before drifting back into the woozy stream of unconsciousness.
The next time I woke, someone was holding my baby up in front of my face. They swiftly yanked the nappy down to reveal the sex.
“It’s a boy!”
We had already named him Soren, for a boy or a girl. It hurt so bad, but I smiled.
“Why are you crying?” I looked over at my wife, confused.
“It was just a C-section. They do these all the time.” I assured her.
“You don’t get it. I almost lost you.”
“You lost almost half of the blood in your body. They had to resuscitate you and you had tubes down your throat. It took a long time. Soren was fine, but you nearly died.”
I felt like part of my emotional self was anaesthetised. I could see and hear my own mortality being shared around me, but I couldn’t feel myself hurting. It was completely numbing, as if I’d been sliced through the chest and I was watching my heart exist outside of it weeping and bleeding, but not feeling so much as a twinge. It was almost like my brain was dismembered from my body and I was merely a spectator.
The mental impact of his birth raged on and I still feel it today. However, I could not have had my son under any other circumstances. This was his birth. As traumatic and as violent as it was, it brought him to us.
Sometimes I still feel split in two, but together, we are family. Felix culpa.