It's around 3 in the morning, and my little Peanut is asleep and making snuffling noises. I should be in bed too but I'm not that tired. Instead, I want to take this opportunity to write about labour. I hope that's not in bad taste; I did take a straw poll, and the consensus was more or less that if I flagged that up front, people have the choice to read/not to read. I want to remember the experience. Also, perhaps Peanut will want to read it later. So here goes. I hope to be not too gross but hopefully detailed enough so that people who have never experienced labour before get a bit of insight into what it was like for me (given that labour is different for every woman).
I'm also not sure how awake I'll be in a little while, so I'll try to write this fast. Also, I'm not 100 per cent on the ball at the moment (sleep deprivation and all that), so apologies in advance for any typos.
My last post was written when I was at around 38 weeks. From there, it was a waiting game and an extremely strange one. I think I said before it was like waiting for Jesus' second coming. I also started thinking of it in comparison to marriage, that other massive life-changing event. The thing is, with marriage, you know when it's going to happen; with labour, you don't.
I was doing stuff (including a fair bit of stuff for The Plan to Take Over the World, which I struggled to get through, but managed to accomplish more or less). But I was also waiting and starting to feel rather useless. It's funny how waiting for something means you can't relax (and therefore do restorative R & R things) but at the same time, you can't really start anything else. The condition is a little paralysing—as if you know you ought to make the best use of the time, but you're not quite sure how you can because of what you know will eventually happen.
The night before my due date, we went to dinner with friends from college and played game after game of The New Tetris when their kids were in bed. Ben thought it would be a funny story to tell to Peanut one day.
My due date came and went. I had another OBGYN appointment, and my OBGYN recommended making one more for the following week where we would talk about inducing. She looked at me sort of funny—as if she had expected that I would have given birth by now. After all, Peanut had dropped into my pelvis and had sunk even further; everything was ready to go.
Anyway, the week went on and life continued. Ben and I went to see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World with Guan (Guan and I both enjoyed it and giggled ourselves silly; Ben thought the film tried too hard). I got a bit down, then picked myself up again. I wrote a spur-of-the-moment review of Scott Pilgrim for WebSalt (no doubt the last review I'll do for them for a while). I missed church on the Sunday because I thought I was coming down with a sore throat.
It was midnight exactly.
During ante-natal class, we were given a book titled “A guide to labour” published by Royal Prince Alfred Hospital's Parent Education unit. In it, it outlines the three (four, if you count recovery) stages of labour, which go roughly like this:
|Stage 1: Early/latent labour||Regular/irregular; sometimes barely noticeable over a period of weeks, days or hours||Dilates to about 4 cm|
|Stage 1: Active labour||Last 50-60 seconds, 3-4 minutes apart||Dilates to about 8 cm|
|Stage 1: Transition||Last 60-90 seconds, about 2 minutes apart||Dilates to 10 cm (fully dilated)|
|Stage 2: Birth||5 minutes apart, accompanied by much pushing. The pushing can take anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours.||The baby is born|
|Stage 3: Placenta and first breastfeed||Contractions over—yay!||The placenta comes out|
That's not what happened to me.
My waters breaking felt like something popped down there and then all this liquid gushed out. I dashed to the bathroom to put on a pad to absorb the leakage. Then we range the labour ward at the hospital. The midwife on duty asked some questions (what colour was it; had I had any contractions, etc.) and then said that we'd better come in for them to have a look. When the waters break, there is always the danger of infection. But waters breaking does not always mean you will go into fully fledged labour straight away.
I added the last couple of things to my hospital bag (things like a hair dryer, which I couldn't really pack early; it was good I made a list, highlighting the things that still needed to go in. I stuck that list near the door). Then Ben and I set out for the hospital.
The good thing about rushing to hospital in the middle of the night is that there is no traffic. We parked out front in the 20 minute zone (again, good parking there at that time!) and went inside. We were both excited, but at the same time, it all felt very unreal.
At the hospital, the midwife we had spoken to on the phone (Natalie) put us into one of the consulting rooms and gave me more pads to absorb the leakage. Oh man, if I had known how much leakage there would be, I would have brought more underwear and another change of pants in the labour bag! (You normally pack two bags: one for labour; one for after—well, for the hospital stay.) She also took a look at the pad to check the colour (clear or pink is good; green, yellow and brown is bad because it means danger to the baby). Then she hooked me up to a machine that was a bit like a seismograph, with one sensor detecting Peanut's heartbeat and the other measuring my contractions. She asked me if I had had any; I said I hadn't because I didn't remember feeling any. But then I started having them as I was hooked up. She said, “Did you feel that? It would have felt like tightening.” I nodded and said, “Oh, so that's what contractions feel like!” because I honestly had no idea. And once I'd recognised what they were, they started coming somewhat irregularly—about 5-7 minutes apart. They also started becoming more painful. (At that point, I started thinking about the chapter on breathing and relaxation exercises in the book that Cath H had lent me—Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn—and started to do some of them.)
Natalie went away for a little while so the machine could record my progress. She said she was going to call my OBGYN, but soon came back, asking what we wanted to do. She was leaning more towards sending us home because when your waters break, it may take a while for labour to start, and I was obviously in the early stages of it. She said we ought to come back when the contractions were stronger. I felt disappointed because I want to get it over and done with, but I could see where she was coming from; she didn't want us to be here for hours, just waiting for something to happen. We also talked about being induced. When she had spoken to my OBGYN, she came back and we discussed options, which were, from memory,
During this period where we were discussing and thinking about options, the head midwife (Julie) came in and looked at my print out. She looked at me funny, then said, “How about another alternative? How about you guys walk around the hospital grounds for an hour, and then come back and we'll see how things are?” That seemed like a better option to us (I didn't really want to go home), so we stored my stuff in one of their storerooms, and then Ben and I took a walk. This was at around 2 am.
It wasn't the most pleasant of walks. Royal Prince Albert (RPA) is quite peaceful at that hour, which is a nice change from its normal daily bustle. We took the lift to the first floor and wandered around—into the foyer, around the gift shop, the chemist and the cashier's, up and down the stairs, and so on. We found where the café and the food court were. We ambled sort of slowly because of the PGP, but also because I started getting stronger contractions. I wasn't feeling great; my undies and pants were soaked through, and I think I continued to leak (ick!) Plus the pain got stronger.
In the end, we only walked for about 45 minutes because I was concerned I wouldn't be able to make it back to the labour ward. On our return, they put us in the waiting room with the reclining single lounge chairs and TV. The TV was broadcasting RPA's channel—all docos and stuff to do with health (very boring). There was another woman there in her dressing gown who was obviously in the throes of labour. Another woman was with her—her birth partner or whatever you want to call it. They were soon called away and presumably placed in a delivery suite. We waited, and meanwhile my contractions got more and more painful. I started flagging their starts and finishes to Ben so he could measure them. I think they were about 4-5 minutes apart by this stage, and I was feeling miserable and wishing we were in a delivery suite. I wondered what was taking so long, because we were in that room a full 45 minutes. Ben went to check and apparently they were waiting for another consulting room to become free; both of them had filled up in the time that we had been there.
Finally one became free, and once again I changed the soaking pad (which the midwife examined again to make sure all was okay) and once again she hooked me up to the machine, then went away to give the machine time to record stuff. The contractions were stronger. I lay on my side for a while because it was less painful, but then the machine couldn't pick up my contractions or Peanut's heartbeat because Peanut was so low in my pelvis.
At around 4 am they made the decision to keep me as I was obviously going into labour. Natalie did a cervical exam and told me I was at 2 cm. She said that, given it was my first birth, I would dilate at roughly 1 cm per hour, which meant that we would be there for the next eight hours. I think both Ben and I were quite dismayed at this piece of information. But anyway, they then moved us to a delivery suite, much to my relief.
As soon as we got in there, pretty much the first thing I did was get into the shower, remembering from ante-natal classes that hot water helps with the pain. It certainly did! I felt bad about wasting so much water (I had both the shower head and the detachable thingy going—one for my back and one for my front) but it really helped with the pain. Unfortunately I felt cold when I wasn't under the hot water, and the water was only catering to my back and stomach, not to my shoulders and legs, which became rather cold. I was mostly standing. I tried the plastic chair there, but it wasn't comfortable. I also tried the exercise ball, which helped to a degree, but I felt better standing (and they say that it's better to stand for labour anyway as gravity helps).
By then, it was about 4:30 am and the hot water was also making me sleepy. Ben suggested I lie down and have a sleep. He mentioned the wife of some friends of ours—how she had had little sleeps throughout her labour. I said how could I possibly sleep when I'm in such pain? The contractions were coming 3-4 minutes apart by this stage, and were lasting about 60-90 seconds. But I got out of the shower anyway, dried myself off, half-heartedly dried my hair (I should have tied it up or brought a shower cap), got into my nighty and had a lie down on my side. Ben held my hands as I would have a contraction and then nod off. Yes, somehow, even in pain, I managed to sleep!
During each contraction, to manage the pain, I concentrated on my breathing just as the book Cath lent me said to—in through the nose, out through the mouth (like Pilates). I also focused on the fact that my cervix was dilating, and remembered what our minister's wife said—that each contraction was bringing her closer to the birth. I also got Ben to tell me milestones for each contraction—quarter of the way through, halfway through, nearly done, etc. You'd think from the above table that I was in stage 1: active labour, and I probably was, but I figured that there was no way my cervix was dilated to 8 cm given that I had been at 2 cm before.
Every now and then I would get up—to be upright for bits of it, to go to the loo, etc. Also, roughly once an hour, Natalie or one of the other midwives would be back in to check Peanut's heartbeat and to see how I was going.
At around 5 or so, Julie, the head midwife, came in. I was still lying on the bed on my side. She suggested a bath. I said, “Not right now”, then thought that that was probably a good idea. So Ben filled the tub (taking out the exercise ball first, of course!) and I stripped and stood in the shower until the bath was ready. (This time I tied up my hair!)
My OBGYN popped in at this point to see how I was. By now the contractions were 2-3 minutes apart, I think. I couldn't really talk to her—I started having a contraction in the middle of the conversation—and she looked at me and said, “I'll come back later.” I felt like I was being very rude, but of course that was perfectly understandable. She also eyed the bath and wanted to know if I was going to give birth in there. I said something—well I hope I said something—that it was more for the pain. I got a bit hazy on things at this point.
When Ben had finished filling the tub, I got in and the hot water around me was certainly a relief. The contractions were very very painful. I concentrated on breathing and, curiously, pushing downwards. I thought I was still dilating (1 cm per hour, right?)
Then finally I asked for the gas. Natalie went to get it, but the shift must have changed because our next midwife, Beth, delivered it. She showed me how to use it (you put a mask with a tube attached over your face, then breathe in and out through your mouth as normal). I started having another contraction just as she was showing me, and began managing it on my own, and then went, “Oh right; I have gas now!” and put the mask on my face.
I'm not sure if the gas had any effect; it didn't feel that way (I started to wonder if the tank was a placebo), but it helped having something to concentrate on. Ben sat by the tub in the dried off plastic chair, and held the mask for me. I kind of floated in the tub and half-fell asleep in between contractions. When they started, he would give me the mask and I would fiercely concentrate on my breathing, with him saying, “Halfway” and “Almost done” and so on. Then at the end of each contraction, he would pass over the water filled with ice chips for me to drink as the breathing dried out my mouth. Things were very very painful down there (I felt like I was being split open), and yet because I was so tired, I kept drifting off in between contractions (in the 1-2 minute break I would have between them), clinging to the side of the bath and laying my head on my hands. Ben said later that this was the hardest bit; he was worried about me hitting my head on the side of the bath (he said the gas made me appear drunk), we'd both had no sleep, the sun was coming up and we were both exhausted.
It got to 8 am and I wanted to know if I had made any progress. (Remember, the last time they had checked my cervix, I had been at 2 cm. I figured by now I must be at 6 cm.) I felt like I needed to know how I was going in order to continue because the pain was getting the better of me. So Ben pushed the button for the midwife. Beth came and said that my OBGYN was in surgery, performing a Caesarean on another patient, and that she wanted to examine me herself. She went away to see where my OBGYN was up to, and I kept persevering through each contraction. It's a bit gross, but the bathwater was getting rather dirty, with bits of blood and stool from me floating around in it. Ben wanted to change the water but I said not to because it would take too long to fill it again.
Eventually Beth came back with my OBGYN. I got out of the tub, dried myself off and put on a hospital gown. I toddled out of the ensuite and towards the bed, and my OBGYN told me to get onto it. I experienced a really really strong contraction then and said to her, “How?”, and felt something coming out between my legs. My OBGYN, at that point, apparently said, “There's the head!” and then Peanut just slid out and was caught by her behind me.
It was 8:46 am and I had just given birth to a little girl. I think we were all in shock; I certainly didn't expect it to happen so soon like that.
My OBGYN said, “Well! If only all my patients delivered that way!” She passed Peanut back between my legs to the midwife who brought Peanut up to my front. The umbilical cord was quite short so they had to be careful as they did this as there was blood everywhere and Peanut was slippery. As soon as she was out, she took in a lungful of air and cried and cried. They got me onto the bed, then put Peanut up on my front so I could hold her. I was immediately struck by how much she looked like me when I was a baby. She had so much hair. She even had fingernails—and the extra bit of nail that you usually need to trim!
(Beth told me later not to tell my birth story at mother's groups as it would elicit envy. She also said that she thought I had a high pain threshold, and asked about the women in my family and what their labours had been like. I said I didn't feel like I had a high pain threshold, but these things are relative, I suppose, and obviously she and my OBGYN would have known what they were talking about. My labour was far from typical! Anyway, I am very thankful to God that everything went so well.)
While I was marvelling over her and feeling so relieved that it was over, my OBGYN got Ben to cut the cord. (He said it was surprisingly tough.) Then Beth injected me in the leg with what I assume was oxytocin to get the placenta to come out. My OBGYN told me to push (I thought, “Push? Wha …?”), and it came out fairly quickly—all gross and stuff. (Why you would ever want to eat it is a mystery … but then I don't live in a third world country …)
Then they put my legs in the stirrups so my OBGYN could give me a local anaesthetic and stitch me up. (I tried not to think about that.) She said the tear wasn't too bad, and she seemed quite satisfied with how things had gone. (I guess training with the EPI-NO really paid off, even though I only got to 8 cm.) I tried to breastfeed Peanut under Beth's guidance, and Peanut, with some screaming and squirming, eventually latched. (I'm not sure if she got anything; I assume she did.)
During this time, Ben and I also discussed names. If you remember, I had thought we had settled on a name shortlist earlier, but then everything was thrown out of the window because the names we had once liked Ben wasn't too fond of anymore. So we set up a Google docs spreadsheet and listed all the names we liked on it in one column, and then in the next two columns, whether or not we liked them. For the handful that we both liked, we ranked them in order of preference. Then we took the top two and argued over which should be the first name and which should be the middle name. (This all happened before the birth, of course!) This is how we managed to settle on “Astrid Winter”.
I think I was the one who suggested “Astrid” first. It comes from Old Norse, and it means “fair” or “beautiful” goddess. It's also related to the name for “star” (Astra, etc.). I first encountered it when I saw Backbeat, the movie about The Beatles' early years in Hamburg, starring Stephen Dorff which focuses on the friendship between John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe. Sutcliffe became involved with a German photographer named Astrid Kirchherr, who photographed the band during this time. The fact that it's also the name of the heroine of Jamie McKelvie's Suburban Glamour doesn't hurt either (although it makes me feel a little embarrassed because I don't want people to think I'm, you know, obsessed …)
Regarding “Winter”, as Guan was quick to pick up on, “Winter” is the name of Scott McCloud's daughter. (Scott McCloud wrote Understanding Comics, which really enhanced my understanding of the medium.) (Guan was also quick to pick up on the Astrid/Suburban Glamour thing too. He knows my nerdy tendencies too well …) But I encountered it first when reading Margaret Mahy's The Changeover, which is a book I keep returning to over the years. It's the name of Sorenson Carlisle's grandmother.
My OBGYN finished up and said goodbye, promising to come back later and check on me. I kept trying to breastfeed Peanut—sorry, I should say Astrid—and talked to her, welcoming her into the world. Ben took pictures of Astrid on his iPhone. Beth felt my uterus to see if had contracted (it had). Then she took Astrid away to weigh her (3.460 kg), measure her (51 cm) and do the APGAR test.
Then Beth asked if I wanted to have a shower. I certainly did, so she got me some more towels (since the ones I already had were sopping) and a maternity pad. She said to be careful because of my blood loss, and while I was showering, I did feel a bit odd and had to sit down for some of it. But it was nice to get clean. I washed and dried my hair, and got dressed (well, nighty and dressing gown; I didn't have any other clean clothes in my labour bag). Beth brought me breakfast (yoghurt, apple juice and toast) and told me I needed to pass some urine so they could be sure that my bladder hadn't been too knocked about by the labour. Once that had happened, I was right to go up to the post-natal ward.
While I was doing all that, Ben held Astrid and got acquainted with her.
I started eating my breakfast but then Astrid wanted to feed, so I stopped. She latched well and sucked, but then fell asleep. Beth told me not to let her treat my breast like a pacifier, and to keep moving her so she would keep waking and sucking. Ben fed me water. Time passed.
At around 10-11 am, Ben went out to call family as you're not really allowed to use mobile phones in the labour ward as they interfere with the equipment. Beth checked in on me but I still hadn't urinated. It finally happened so I called the midwife, but Beth was busy with another patient. More time passed. We packed up all my stuff so we were ready to go. Eventually Beth came back, we loaded everything up (Ben with luggage) and I pushed Astrid in her hospital bassinet as we made our rather slow (because walking was painful because of the stitches) way up to the post-natal ward on level 8.
It was so sunny up there! They put me in a room all by myself. It had this sign on the ensuite, which, at the time, I found absolutely hilarious because I kept thinking of “patient” as an adjective (must have been the fatigue):
(I also think the shower looks like a Dalek.) Peanut's bassinet was put in one corner. Ben put my luggage away. I was seen by another midwife (I think her name was Hannah). She told me stuff about breastfeeding, checked my stitches and gave me some information about the hospital in a thick A4 stapled booklet. Lunch arrived at that time, and I wolfed it all down. Then I slept for a couple of hours while Ben looked after Astrid.
Later in the afternoon, I looked after her while Ben slept. Even later, we had a steady stream of visitors who came to meet Astrid—the Beilharzs (around when dinner arrived), my mum, my dad and stepmother, Seumas and Little Rachel, and finally Arnjali and Elsie. Just as they left, I fed Astrid again (apparently if you breastfeed newborns in the first hours after they are born, they do not require any more for up to 12 hours). Then Ben went home to shower and do a few things before coming back and spending the night in the hospital with us on the fold-out single couch.
There is more I'd love to write about concerning those first few days. I'm not sure if I'll get the chance though. But it is nearly dawn and Astrid will be waking up soon, so I should stop. I leave you with a picture of our darling little girl that was taken just a few days ago:
A way of funding writing in the future: pitch and idea and get people to support it.
Place where you can hire play equipment for parties, etc.
How to recalibrate the home button on your iPhone.
Unsolicited manuscripts accepted by Pan Macmillan with certain conditions.
Thought Balloon is a group blog in which the writers tackle a new theme every week? month? with one-page scripts. This URL is for their Phonogram ones.