When you’re pregnant for the first time, all you really want to know is what giving birth feels like. You ask everyone you know who’s done it and no one really explains and a lot of people say things like, you won’t know until you’ve done it, which it very unhelpful, though basically, a half-truth.
Eventually you give birth to the baby and you realise it’s one of those things it’s really are to remember. Your brain and body are so full of new hormones and sensations your memory fails. I realised this when I was pregnant with my second child and discovered that, far from being a now full of new confidence in my body’s ability to do this one single most amazing thing it can do, I still had no idea.
All I could remember – all I can still remember – about my first go at giving birth, was the dim lights in the delivery room, the Christmas music playing and the fact I’d still got my socks on by the end of it.
There was also a baby.
So, after I’d given birth second time I wrote it down. I am not sure how I managed to do this with a new born baby and a toddler, but I did. And I published it on my now deleted Live Journal.
Anyway, people liked it, and I’m as surprised as anyone it is still on my computer, and it was 10 years ago today that my son was born, so here it is again.
On Sunday I saw my midwife and told her I didn’t want to be induced and I still wanted a home birth no matter when my baby decided to be born. She was totally supportive. She gave me an internal examination and said I was 3-4cm dilated and 50% effaced. She also swept my membranes, which can get labour going.
During the night, that night, I had a few contractions in my sleep. I was sort of half awake and semi-dreamt I was in labour. I got up to go to the loo and had another show of mucous, which was slightly pink. In the morning I wondered if I had dreamt the contractions. But then I had another two. And then nothing. These contractions were pretty mild. More than the twinges and tightenings I had been having, but nothing much.
My partner and our daughter all got up and decided to go out to the library for some fun. I also wanted to buy a gym ball to use when I actually did go into labour as I had heard they were pretty cheap at Argos. We drove to the library, which was closed, and then went and had some tea in Tesco’s café. Then we took the car to the place miles away from our house where we have to park it if we don’t want to worry about tickets and walked back through the park. All through this I felt a bit crampy and I was wondering if today would be the day, but I also felt very calm and content. It was a lovely sunny day.
Back at home I had some toast and went online. My partner took our daughter into the bedroom where they both fell asleep. I started having mild contractions again. About an hour and a half later partner and daughter woke up. By this time I knew I was in labour and told them, although I wasn’t in any real pain. Partner asked if I still wanted to get the gym ball and I said no, but then my daughter got upset about us not getting the baby’s ball and so we decided she and partner should pop out and get it.
While they were gone I called my mum and told her that I thought it might be tonight. She said she would call me again in an hour.
When partner and daughter returned they inflated the gym ball and I rolled around on it for a bit. The contractions began to get quite definite and were coming about every ten minutes. While daughter had her tea I called the midwives’ office and they said they would send a midwife round. I felt a bit panicky and so also called my mum and she began making the four hour drive from Derby to Brighton.
When the midwife arrived I was really pleased to see it was one I knew. My usual midwife was on holiday and the midwife who arrived was my favourite of the other midwives I had met. Once she was talking to me my contractions seemed to totally stop, which made me feel a bit dumb, but she just chatted to me about my birth plan. She said she was only ten minutes away and to call back when my contractions were five minutes apart and lasted for one minute each.
I had a bath.
My partner took our daughter to bed and I sat on the sofa feeling a bit weird and trippy. I watched Coronation Street and Tonight with Trevor MacDonald and then the second Coronation Street and then Wire in the Blood. The contractions were painful enough to make me squirm they were still okay. By about nine thirty I had to get off the sofa and watch telly on all fours leaning over a footstool.
My mum arrived just before ten and rushed straight into the room asking if I’d already had it. I assured her I hadn’t and sent her to look after daughter (who was still awake as she knew something was up and she had had a daytime nap) so my partner could be with me.
We watched Look Around You. The contractions were getting more and more painful, to the extent that I was having to shut my eyes for them and I was missing visual jokes in the show. When that finished at 10.30 my partner put on an Alan Partridge DVD and decided to call the midwife.
The midwife arrived about ten to eleven as I was having a contraction. I heard her asking my partner how long they had been like this, but I don’t know what he said.
I lay on the sofa for her to examine me and was quite shocked to be told I was 7cm dilated and very stretchy. I suddenly felt terrified. I didn’t want to be 7cm already. I kept saying I wasn’t ready.
At some point I remember putting my hands between my legs in a total panic, of, how one earth could this even work. Even if I had, apparently, done it before. You don’t even have to be that in tune with your body to feel confident that there isn’t a hole anywhere in it the size of a human being. Even the smallest human beings they do.
The midwife said she was going to phone a second midwife as the delivery wouldn’t be long.
I got back on all fours for some more contractions. I had a bit of gas and air but it was rubbish and confusing and the mouth piece tasted of antiseptic. Then the midwife suggested I walk about a bit to keep things moving. I did and my partner followed me so that I could lean on him for the contractions. At some point I got back on my knees over the footstool because that was my favourite. The second midwife arrived – and probably got a fantastic view of my bare arse when she walked in.
I was coming right up high on my knees for each contraction and moaning in a high pitched voice. In between I was almost falling asleep. It is hard to say how painful this was as I already have no memory of any pain at all. I know I didn’t like the contractions, but it’s more like extreme sensation than pain, for me. I thought this was probably transition – but didn’t ask in case it wasn’t. Then I had a pushy contraction. I told the midwife I wanted to push and she said that that was fine, but then the push feeling went. I didn’t have it with the next contraction. The midwife said that this was normal. She suggested I walk around again as my knees were probably sore.
After a couple of contractions stood up, I wanted to lie down. I lay on my side on the sofa, telling the midwife to make me stand up if things looked like they were slowing down. God, that sofa was comfortable. That bit of giving birth where I lay down on the sofa was the most comfortable I have ever felt in my whole life. I had a couple of contractions like that and then one so strong I had to get on my hands and knees, and then kneel up over the back of the sofa.
Then things happened. I felt something in my vagina and was told it was a lot of ‘show’ (mucous) coming down. Then I shat myself – because you do. (Giving birth is a rare opportunity to shit yourself with no shame. Take it.)
And then my entire arse/cunt area seemed to open up like the under carriage of and aeroplane – I felt it happen – it actually changed shape.
Giving birth, I have said subsequently, was for me like sneezing, or being sick, or any of those big important set pieces your body does that are far too crucial for survival for your body to let your brain get involved.
Like my body suddenly turned up, a bit late and distracted, rushed over and went, shit, shit, is this now? Okay, you’ll be needing me to do this then. And I’m like, yes, body, thanks for noticing. You’re in this, you know. And body is like, shush, stop complaining, I know what I’m doing.
Even 10 years later, me and my body have a complicated relationship. We used to be so close, but now it’s more difficult. We want different things. And even though I am hardly ever nice to my body at all, the thing is, we go way back. No one knows either of us like we know each other. And when I really need my body, really, really need it, my body shows up and takes over, like, of course I’m here, for you. I’m always here. Now get out of the fucking way.
Body is here. And body is all eye-rolly because body is always there doing all the important things like breathing, but you never notice body until those moments where things are actually important and body turns up like hi, sit down, I got this.
It’s like you’re there trying to land a plane. And you have no idea how to land a plane, and a voice comes over the radio saying, well I do know how to land a plane so just do what I say and we’ll put this mother on the ground, okay. (I don’t why it’s easier to understand this scenario – something that has happened to very few people – than the actual thing I’m describing, that happens to lots of people, but that’s how it works.) Your body steps in.
I suddenly realised that, yes, I did know how to push a baby out. And what’s more I just had to do that and all of this would be over. I was very happy with this realisation. And then my waters broke.
That felt great. Some of the pressure was gone and the water was all warm and nice. The extra midwife coached me to push. It took me about four contractions to fully get the pushing idea, it seemed like a complicated thing to do, but then I did and I fell the head coming down. The midwife said she could see the hair. The baby had black hair. I pushed again and felt everything start to stretch. Weird, painful, but so definitely right I didn’t really mind the pain. I didn’t feel bad, just bizarre. The head was emerging – and just as it was halfway out my contraction stopped. Yikes. The head was half out. I was very, very stretched and it felt scary. The midwife told me to breathe and wait for the next contraction. I waited. It came. I pushed. And then there was a strange slithery sloppy sensation as baby’s body followed baby’s head. I heard him cry and my partner told me it was a boy.
I pulled my top off as they passed baby between my legs. I held him carefully as he was still attached to the cord, which was still attached to the placenta, which was still attached me, and we waited for the cord to stop pulsing. I felt it pulse with my fingers. It pulses hard.
My partner cut the cord and they took the baby out of my arms. My mum appeared. I felt another contraction and the midwife told me to give a gentle push. I delivered the placenta naturally just then.
They checked me for tears with a torch and I was pronounced intact. I was so happy. It was nice to be at home. I had two baths and some oven chips. I watched The Top 100 Cartoon Characters.
I think I feel asleep for about an hour between 5.30am and 6.30am on the sofa.
Oh, and here are my fantastic stats from my medical notes.
Labour established: 11pm
Full Dilation achieved: 12.30am
Third Stage Completed: 1.10am
Not to blow my own trumpet or anything, but I am really pretty good at giving birth. I probably won’t ever do it again, but I would. Like if someone needed me to do that and I had a free afternoon. It’s fine.