blood and profanity
I have been itching to write up the labour experience before it gets all misty, but was unsure where to put it. I’ve decided my lengthy reminiscences can be posted here and ignored at will - perhaps this way I won't inflict the story on other people ad nauseam.
So, Tuesday afternoon, after a day of chores and interruptions, I finally get into bed for a short nap. Bang! As soon as my head touches the pillow I feel a strange griping sensation just below the bump and an urge to visit the loo. Now, I’d had something similar occur much earlier in the pregnancy and demanded TA come home from a party as I was convinced something was happening but it turned out to just be a stomach upset so this time I didn’t want to get worked up with nothing to "show" for it.
The crampy sensations came at around 15-minute intervals for the rest of the afternoon as I pottered about and cooked a roast beef dinner for us. TA rang on his way home from work and I told him that I thought just maybe this might be the start of labour; however, we were both somewhat sceptical since there was no "show" yet. It was at this point that I rang our volunteer dog sitter to say that perhaps we’d need her help on Wednesday or Thursday as I might possibly be entering the early stages of labour. Unfortunately, she said she was unavailable this week. I tried not to panic at this news.
By the time TA got home the cramps were coming harder and faster, perhaps every ten minutes or so. They weren’t terrible, but I couldn’t sit down through them so periodically through dinner I’d get up and pace around for 30 seconds or so. Yet another desperate need for the loo revealed the "show" had arrived, but since we were eating I decided to hold off telling TA.
At this point - around 8pm - I was in denial that we might need to go to St Thomas’s that night. I was convinced that these cramps would continue for hours before anything really got moving. TA insisted that I get ready to go, just in case. I showered, washed my hair, trimmed the foliage, plucked my eyebrows...perhaps I thought I was about to go on a hot date.
At around 10pm we decided to time the cramps, which I suppose even I realised were contractions now. They were regularly coming at five minutes and lasting 30-40 seconds. Also, there seemed to be more blood than the “show” warranted. I rang the hospital and was told to wait until the contractions were three minutes apart and told not to worry about the blood, just take a paracetamol and go to bed. TA went to bed - there was no way I was going to lie down through a contraction so I stayed in the living room. I sent emails to people, changed my IM status to "in labour" and tried to stay calm in the intervals between the contractions. I kept up the pacing every time a contraction came. Another visit to the loo - my bottom was very sore by this point - now there was a truly scary amount of blood, surely this couldn’t be "show-related"? At a little past midnight another call to the hospital and now I was told to come in.
I woke TA and we got ready to go. He rang the 24-hour minicab office that is just down the road, only to be told that there would be a 45-minute wait. We decided to take our chances on the Old Kent Road, figuring that in 45 minutes we’d either be able to get a bus or hail a passing black cab. As we walked down the road I reminded TA about having to hail a cab on Greys Inn Road to take us to the Register office when the minicab didn’t show on the morning of our wedding. It seems a recurring theme. We found a cab quickly and sped to St Thomas’s.
After a couple of false starts - most of the doors were locked - we found our way up to the maternity centre triage waiting room. St Thomas’s has two birth centres - one is called home from home (HFH) this is midwife led and supposed to mimic having a home birth; the other is the more medically oriented hospital birth centre (HBC). There were two other pregnant women waiting to be assessed in front of us - a black woman with two attendants and a stereotypical mid-thirties white couple. I took an instant irrational dislike to the white middle class couple - a few things stand out: they had TWO roller suitcases with them (as compared to our modest rucksack - more on which later); she was plugged into a TENS machine (no idea why this bugged me, but I thought it was overkill); she was gasping and puffing every five minutes or so, which I thought was hamming it up a bit; her husband/partner kept whispering "you’re doing really well, really well"; she looked as if she hadn’t brushed her hair. Like I say, it was irrational. Anyway, there was no way I was going to huff and puff no matter how uncomfortable I was, so I tried to keep my pacing fairly low key and stay static, but standing, or perched on a chair and when I did need to pace I covered it up be getting water for TA and myself. TA wasn’t fooled, he timed my pacing - I was now contracting every three minutes.
Finally, after about 30 minutes, it was our turn to be seen. I was ushered through to a room in the HFH and questioned about the blood. The pad didn’t do it justice I tried to explain to the brusque midwife - most of it had ended up in the toilet. She seemed to piss-fart around a lot - I guess there’s a lot of paperwork to do during admission - and I needed to have blood pressure and temperature readings taken. Now it was time for the internal exam - I braced myself as I knew that lying down was not going to be pleasant. The good news: I was 5cm dilated, in other words I was in established labour. The bad news: I was bleeding a fair amount and needed to be transferred to the HBC so that the baby could be monitored. Yet more fucking around. And by this stage I was in no mood to put up with it. The brusque midwife disappeared and now it was my turn to huff and puff. Pace, pace, pace. "TA, I can’t handle hours of this. I want the drugs. It’s only going to get worse and it’s bad now. I know I said I wouldn’t but once we’re in the new room I want an epidural." Pace, pace, pace.
Suddenly a euphoric feeling of release and a loud pop - loud to me anyway, somehow TA didn’t hear it - the waters broke. I started to laugh, it felt almost orgasmic. I was suddenly standing in a puddle. Brusque midwife was back and trying to get me in a wheelchair. "I want to walk," I said but she wouldn’t listen. The contractions were more intense now and what the books call "the urge to push" kicked in. Now, I don’t know what it’s like for other women, obviously, but this was no urge. My body was pushing and there was nothing I could do to stop it - "Jesus Fucking Christ!" I shouted. The brusque midwife was really angry, both at the profanity and the pushing, "You’re pushing!" she said accusatorily. "I can’t fucking help it!" She left the room and TA told me off for inappropriate swearing.
We got to the HBC - me in the wheelchair getting my hands bumped against walls, doors and various pieces of medical equipment - and brusque midwife disappeared yet again. She flitted back in "I want drugs - where’s the gas and air?" my voice was plaintive. I finally got hooked up and started inhaling like a desperate stoner. At least I was able to stand up again now and the gas and air began to work its magic. Nice midwife arrived, but had no clue what was going on - more minutes ticked by as she tracked down brusque and got a rundown of what had happened so far. Puff, puff, push, puff, puff. "I want an epidural." Puff, puff, push, puff. Nice midwife tried to explain that the anaesthetist was unavailable. "I want an epidural." This time she said there was no time. I didn’t believe her. I tried to send TA home to look after pupster. "Nothing’s happening here, it’s going to be hours, you must be so bored..."
Now came the really crap bit of the whole experience. I had to have various things attached to me to monitor the baby and this meant lying down. That was done and I’d hoisted myself back up on to all fours - no easy task - when they decided they needed to stick a canula (?) in my hand and I needed to be on my back again. "No!" I shouted. "It’s for the baby," they tried to reason with me. "Fuck the baby!" Somehow they dealt with my compromise measure of sticking my arm out while remaining on my knees.
With all the periphery nonsense sorted out, finally, we got down to business. I was told to stop with the gas and air and concentrate on pushing. I still thought that the birth was hours away and when the midwife said she was checking for hair I thought she was eyeing up my bikini line. TA told me he could see the head. I have no idea how fast the contractions were coming now, but they still seemed a little spaced out. I was able to get in three or four pushes per contraction and thought I really couldn’t push any harder. "Push down with your bottom" the nice midwife said. The inevitable happened and was cleaned up. "Stop holding back with your stomach muscles - you’re pulling him back in!" I was getting pretty cross now as, as far as I was concerned, there could be no bigger push in the world. Quite soon after this she said "I want to get the head out on the next push." It didn’t quite work out that time, but soon afterwards - now that I was focused on it - the head came out with a burning stretching feeling. Then there were a couple of contractions where she manoeuvred the rest of Sprout out - very odd and uncomfortable squirming. I rolled on to my back and saw our son. Disbelief. Total bewilderment. Was that it then? Joy! Suddenly I was back with the birth plan - since entirely against my will I’d managed to fulfil its terms so far - "I want a natural third stage; don’t cut the cord," I declared. It wasn’t to be as I’d already been bleeding, so with an injection in my thigh the placenta was out in minutes. "With onions for breakfast?" I said to TA smiling weakly. The midwife rushed the placenta away in a kidney-shaped bowl before I could make good on my threat. TA checked the time - it was 3.40am, about two and a half hours since we were admitted.
Then it was a mixture of forms, tests and skin-to-skin time. It passed in a blur. I had a shower while the midwife cleaned up the bed - the forms say I lost about a pint of blood, but I can tell you I sure did spread it around. The bathroom looked like a crime scene. Sprout had his first feed and I asked when I could go home. I felt a little weak and shaky, but mainly fine so I got dressed and ready to leave. I was told that I could probably head home at lunch time so TA and I parted company and arranged that he would come back after 10am when I’d be on the postnatal ward.
The rest of the day was really boring. I sat on the edge of the bed, rang people whose numbers I could remember - somehow I had TA’s mobile and he had mine - and asked every passing member of staff if I could go home. We had to wait for a paediatrician to check Sprout over and there were babies in the queue ahead of us. I was press ganged into attending a breastfeeding propaganda session just as I was about to go to sleep; a session where some of the information was inaccurate and some of the flip charts were misspelt. I was not amused and learnt nothing. All the other women seemed to be either crushed or enjoying their stay so much that they had settled in for the long haul. I ignored all the things I had brought with me in my rucksack - pyjamas, moogie, book - and concentrated on looking as though I was about to leave. TA turned up and lunchtime came and went. TA went home to take care of pupster. Finally at around 3.30pm we saw the paediatrician and Sprout was declared fit and well and good to go.
I summoned TA back in. While we were waiting for my discharge papers I overheard a conversation between two other women on the ward - they were discussing how long it takes to be discharged and the consensus was days. I began contemplating discharging myself, wondering if this would mean Sprout would get put on the “at risk” register. At 4.30pm we were finally back in a cab and coming home.
I sent emails and changed my IM to “proud mum”. I played with pupster and got back to normal, or as normal as one can be when there’s a new person in the house.