In the lead up to the birth, everyone – friends, my massage therapist, my parents, co-workers, the baker even – would ask me about my birthing plan. I found it absurd to plan something that was so completely and utterly primal.
Plan what, exactly?
I knew that once my waters had broken and the labour pains were in motion, there was little I could do to change the trajectory. The baby had to come out. To me, it was like planning how exactly how you were going to go down a water slide.
It was an odd quirk, because I normally exercised a lot of control in everything I did. But I suppose, in some small way, refusing to think about a plan was one way that I exercised control because quite frankly, birth freaked me out.
If I could’ve had it any way, I would have liked to have given birth in water, managing the pain along the way using any of the relief they could offer me. I imagined being a full Earth mama, with my long hair framing my baby bump, as I grimaced and groaned, breathing my baby gently into the world, as my wife whispered encouragement into my ear.
I knew that there was a chance the bath at the hospital may not be available when I went into labour, so I accepted that this may not be my truth. I remained open minded to a standard vaginal birth, or even a caesarean section, if it was needed to bring my child into the world safely. After all, you still got to see the baby immediately and have it on your chest. I looked forward with anticipation to whichever birthing experience would give me the child I so longed for.
When I got to four days past my due date, though, I was all out of patience.
“This baby needs to come out now.” I spoke assertively down the phone, expecting that the hospital would just fit me in because I was done being pregnant. It was December the 11th – a day past my due date – and I had been having daily and nightly panic attacks.
“No, no. You’ll be fine. Just rest up and come in on the 20th, dear.”
“But this baby is kicking me in the ribs and I’m panicking.” I knocked my ankles together on the couch, nervously.
“We’ll see you on the 20th.”
The very next day, I spoke to my general doctor and demanded that she change their mind. She picked up the phone and told them that I had a history of mental health issues, I was anxious, the baby was getting larger, and my anxiety was not abating.
“Sure. We can see her on the 13th of December.”
The sliding doors at the Royal Brisbane hospital welcomed us. We sauntered down the corridor with giddy excitement, then went up the elevator to the midwife’s consulting area.
The whole place looked like Santa Clause had screwed up his entire village, loaded it into a bazooka and shot it at the walls. Christmas posters and ornaments were slathered all over every conceivable space, and then some. 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 as the baby writhed and kicked in anticipation. She furrowed her brow and avoided my eyes.
“The baby’s head is displaced, and I think he’s quite big. Had they told you that during the ultrasounds?”
I moved uncomfortably.
“Yeah. They said he’s measuring ahead.”
“How would you feel about being induced now?”
I paused, swallowed and gathered my apprehension.
I looked over at my wife, who had raised her eyebrows.
“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.”
The nurse explained the various methods of induction. After quiet consideration, we decided upon a balloon catheter, which would be inserted either side of my cervix and then filled with water to induce dilation.
So much for a birthing plan.
“It’s uncomfortable, but sometimes it can bring on labour all by itself.”
I didn’t particularly like my chances.
They took me into a room that was so brightly lit, it nearly burned my retinas. I started to feel anxiety welling up inside me. Not because I was scared of the labour, but because I could feel control was slowly slipping away. I didn’t want my labour to be one artificial intervention after another.
“Now, I see you’ve expressed a desire for a water birth. Because we’re inducing you, that option will no longer be available.”
The doctor came in and propped me up on the stirrups, spread legged like a loose woman. He shone a blinding light inside my vagina, and I thought if he leaned a little closer, he might be able to shake my baby’s hand.
After the balloon catheter had been inserted and filled, I lay on the ward, relaxing as my cervix opened – not like a flower, but like the stiffened top of a Milo tin that had lay untouched for months, with a teaspoon being used as a slow but hardy lever. I inhaled and exhaled as my inner self stretched, preparing for the joy of birth.
“So do you know what you’re having?” The midwife asked as she inspected my cervix.
“No idea. Hopefully a baby.” I smiled.
We were both convinced the baby was a girl. We’d taken to calling it a ‘she’ whenever we rubbed the belly. Prior to finishing work, I had spent the last few months on a teaching contract in learning support. I had been working on-on-one with a student on the Autism spectrum who required intensive modifications to his learning program. He only attended school two hours a day, two days a week so I had a lot of time to myself.
On a day off, I had pulled up my ultrasound video. Pausing on one still, I saw a set of testicles. I took a screen shot and showed all of my friends, convinced that maybe I was wrong.
“Nah, that’s three lines. That’s a labia. I think it’s a girl.” My friend offered me her view, because she’d had two babies before me, so she knew. I hung onto that, still believing that our baby was a girl.
The midwife kept popping in and out.
“If labour still hasn’t started by three AM, we’re going to break your waters and give you a hormone drip.”
I lay in a ball, awaiting the next step. I changed positions occasionally and the sensation felt like period cramps, with an added knotting and twisting feeling. Any time my stomach hardened with Braxton Hicks, I became excited that it was finally happening.
“Nope, not yet. Sorry, love.” 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. As the darkness of night crept in. I lost a little more control as I became aware labour was not going to start on its own.
My body had let me down.
At that stage, I was still hopeful of a vaginal birth, even though the interventions were starting to pile up. As the night wore on, the midwife changed over. A freckled woman called Janine walked into the room. She felt my belly and noticed the baby was kicking quite vigorously.
“Wow! You’ve got an all night rager in there!” she exclaimed.
As excited as the baby was, it still wasn’t three am. I held feebly onto the hope that labour might kick in, but it never did.
“All right, it’s time to break your waters.”
She leaned towards me and tilted the bed back gently.
“Okay, put your legs up girl. I’m going to get the doctor.”
I took my position and waited.
The doctor came in, and Janine handed me a breathing apparatus.
“All right. You know those cannisters that all the kids are breathing in at the festivals? This is basically the same thing as that. It will enable us to break your waters with minimal discomfort. Don’t think about what we’re doing – just lay back and think of nangs.”
I giggled, assured that I was in good hands.
“Okay, breathe deep!”
I breathed in the cold but pleasant air and it was like breathing in the universe. It hit me instantly and I threw my head back, in fits of laughter.
“No way! She’s a one-pot-screamer!” Janine couldn’t believe what a lightweight I was.
While I was in fits of euphoric laughter, the doctor guided the plastic stick inside of me and I suddenly came back to Earth, with a sobering wash of warm water around my ankles.
“Hooray, you did it!”
I looked at everyone in the room through slitted eyes, still slightly giddy from the gas.
The next step was to give me hormones through an intravenous drip. Within a short while, I was contracting.
“That was a good one. Your littler rager thinks so, too.”
I crinkled my nose and grinned, proud of myself for how well I was handling the contractions.
I laboured on for hours, with the 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.
“Is it too late for an epidural?” I asked.
“No, I can organise that right away.” Janine replied.
Within a half hour, my spine was being sized up for the injection. It was a painful ordeal, but as soon as the block was injected, the labour became a lot more bearable. I lay back on my bed and peacefully drifted in and out of sweet sleep, being occasionally woken so that my cervix could be checked.
“Well, that’s me done for the day. Such a shame that I didn’t see the baby born. That’s why I do this job.”
I waved Janine off as Jenny the midwife quickly introduced herself, then wasting no time in checking my cervix.
“It’s 8cm. You’ll be pushing soon, and you’ll have a baby in about two hours.”
I beamed! It was finally coming together. Despite the interventions, I felt in control. This could end well after all.
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.
“Hey, I can feel this now. Is this normal?”
“Just turn up the epidural. Here, like this.”
Jenny showed me how to dial up the machine that was controlling my epidural.
“It’s not working.”
I became slightly anxious at the excruciating contractions I was feeling, which were apparently far beyond the intensity of what I would’ve felt in a spontaneous labour.
“Here, keep dialling it up.”
I pressed the button rapidly.
“It’s seriously not working.”
The epidural specialist came in and tried to fix the problem, but nothing was working. Jenny asked me to spread my legs so she could check my cervix once more.
“You should be 10cm. These contractions are stretching you out for birth. I know it’s hard but hang in there.”
She looked inside me, then paused. I knew enough to know that the pause was not good.
“Your dilation has regressed to 7cm…” she trailed off and walked out the door to get another midwife.
“Hi, I’m Cheryl.” Another midwife walked in, speaking in her thick New Zealand accent, accidentally brushing my forehead with her fingers as she turned around.
“Holy smokes, you’re hot!” she exclaimed. She swiftly pulled the thermometer out of its device and took my temperature.
All the nurses in the room shuffled around and then left the room, leaving me anxious about what was going on.
About five minutes later, a doctor stepped into the room.
“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.”
The idea of a natural birth slid completely out of my reach.
“Just sign this consent form and we will take you off to the theatre.”
I signed very quickly and a midwife came to remove my hormone drip.
“Your contractions should stop now. Don’t worry about the epidural.”
As soon as she said that, my contractions seemed to intensify. They went from lasting around thirty seconds, to being a continuous sensation that wasn’t going away. I rolled over and curled up in a ball, unable to straighten my body out.
“Ahhhh!!! It won’t stop!” I screamed.
They started to wheel me down to the 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 between the spaces in 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 and just insert the epidural!” I writhed in excruciating pain. The contraction that started when they took out the hormone drip hadn’t stopped.
“Okay, I’m sorry.”
The doctor stabbed my spine and I remained curled into a ball with an oxygen mask on.
“Oh my God, I’m going to vomit!”
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?”
I tried my hardest but I couldn’t move my back at all. 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, I still feel the water! 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. Even on my back, I was still curled up. As I started to lose consciousness, I felt myself losing all control. 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.