“OK. I’ll be along in a minute to check you over. You’re in this room here, make yourself comfortable.”
In the background, I could sense the bemusement of the labour nurse, and a distinct vibe of “Yeah, riiight…. See you in 10 hours, girl!” as she bent her head back to the task of sorting through a box of dressings.
Once in the room, I paused for a moment and closed my eyes to focus and breathe through another contraction. “That’s it. Let it come.” Observed Judith, encouragingly, as she came in to join me. We talked a little as I hunted out an old T-shirt to labour in and I took my position on the bed for an internal exam.
Two weeks earlier, I’d been idly wondering. Hoping, that these intermittent cramps and ‘rumblings’ were the start of something already. Seemed unlikely, given that all my boys were very firmly ‘late’ and I wasn’t quite at the 40 week mark, but it felt like there was something going on in there…
…but no. Nothing doing. Another week of waiting, more random cramps, only some occasional streaks of gunk to show for it. I was hopeful it was my mucus plug, and a sign my body was starting to prepare for labour and dilate. 40 weeks 6 days arrived – the others had all pretty much made a move by then, and I was optimistic. I had an appointment booked with the ‘sweep queen’ herself – Annemarieke. I’d had a restless night with cramps every 15 minutes or so for most of it, which then evaporated as the day began. Surely there would have been *some* movement by now? Nope. Still nothing. Not even a centimetre’s dilation! All that discomfort for nothing – Annemarieke couldn’t even offer a stretch & sweep to try and start things off, my cervix was still not soft or ripe enough. At this stage it was time to arrange the possible transfer to clinical induction for the end of next week. I was given a phone number to call & make an appointment for monitoring. This has to be done some time between 41w3d and 41w5d. The Saturday would have been inconvenient to say the least with all the children in tow, so Monday 22nd February it was.
That Saturday… all day intermittent cramps, not very strong, but regular and getting closer together. By the time evening rolled around, they were every 5 minutes or so. I called my friend Clari to ask if she could come and sleep over to stay with the kids, and rang the midwives. “There’s a leak in the kitchen ceiling, and water’s coming in through the back of the cupboards!” Steve informed me. Bam. All contractions vanished in a wash of adrenaline. I wondered if this baby was ever gonna make his move! Annemarieke had the ‘on call’ and arrived to check me over, maybe if there’s some dilation we can go in & get my waters broken to hopefully start things off again...? No. Nothing at all. Still not even a centimetre dilated! I felt rather foolish, and more than a little disappointed. My first ever false alarm! You’d think as this was my 5th labour I’d be able to tell the ‘real deal’ by now, but apparently not. I guess every delivery and every baby really is that different.
A quiet day, but a restless night on the Sunday. More cramps which were sharp enough to wake me periodically all through the night, yet evaporated with the dawn once again. Frustrating – whilst labour and birth itself holds no fear for me, I was very much concerned with childcare for the other three when the time came. We didn’t have a ‘100% coverage’ of friends & neighbours who could help at any given time and several of our volunteer ‘on-call’ folks were ill and unavailable. I’d long joked that a labour starting around 8:30am on a Monday, Tuesday or Friday when the kids were all safely in Daycare, all done & home safely with the baby before tea-time would be ideal! Indeed, this is pretty much exactly what had happened with Aaron.
I rang the ward at 9am that Monday morning as instructed and was told to head over there for 10:30 to be checked over, so Steve and I gathered up some books to read and went to catch the bus. Once at the hospital, they wired me onto a Toko to monitor baby Michael’s heart trace for an hour or so, and to log contractions, if any. All looking just fine, he was obviously happy & very comfortable in there. They then discussed whether I’d like an internal exam, and if I would like a sweep should my cervix be ripe enough. “Go for it if you can.” I said. They made a short phone call to Materna, my own midwife service, to check and ask their permission. This sounds odd, but this is the way it works here. At that stage I’m still Materna’s ‘patient’, not transferred to the hospital’s clinical midwife. It’s reasonable to ask, because for all the hospital knows, Materna might, for example, already have 4 women labouring and not really want another one started off if it could be avoided! Or they may have some other reason why a sweep would be ill-advised – the hospital has copies of my notes, but not my full history, or the time to read it through). I could hear Judith’s voice on the end of the line as she was the midwife on call that day. “No problem, do it!” She said.
“Ooh. 3 centimetres!” the clinical midwife announces, giving me a quick sweep – relatively gently compared to Annemarieke’s usual style.
We had a co-assistant with us, a trainee. She stopped to ask the midwife what it is like when the cervix is dilated, and how you’re supposed to feel it with your fingers. “If you’d like to feel for yourself, I really don’t mind at all.” I said. “Wow! Really..? Are you sure?” “Yes, of course. Go for it. Everyone deserves a chance to experience & learn.” “If you’re sure you don’t mind. Yes please!” She got herself a pair of examination gloves and tentatively stepped up to the bed. “Ooh. It’s completely different! So soft & stretchy!!” “It might help to try closing your eyes, and focus instead on what you can feel with your fingers.” I told her, having watched a succession of midwives do just that, over the years. “Oh yes. I see what you mean. Thank you so much! That was the first time I had the opportunity to feel a partially dilated cervix. You get to examine some volunteers in training, but of course they’re never pregnant and certainly not this far along. That was amazing. So helpful! Thank you for the lesson!” It felt great to have so obviously made someone’s day.
They sent us off on our way. We took the bus back and went to get kebabs for lunch. Nothing much doing. Two or three irregular contractions in the space of an hour or so. I tried not to think about it and to get on with the rest of my day. By around 3pm I was starting to wonder if this might actually be the beginning of something. Timing showed only every 20 minutes or so, but they were definitely a bit ‘pinchy’. By the time 4pm rolled around, they were coming every 7 minutes or so. I was pretty sure this was actually ‘it’ but after Saturday’s debacle, I wanted to make sure I didn’t call it too soon. I contacted Shuki to see if she’d be able to stay with the other 3 children that night. She could be there from around 8:30pm. Good enough, I thought. Let’s get the kids in bed as quick as we can and head over to the hospital.
I went to collect them from Daycare. By now I was 100% sure this was it. Contractions every 5 to 6 minutes, and pretty strong. “Any news?” the ladies wanted to know. “Yes. The baby will be here tonight.” I told them. “How do you know?” “Because the contractions are coming every 5 minutes.” “What are you doing here…?! You should be at the hospital!!” “I’m collecting the kids, of course!”
Aaron (18 months old) was really not very well at all. Fever, crying, overtired. Once we got him home it was one endless howl-fest. He wouldn’t eat anything, he wouldn’t sit on the potty. Steve took him upstairs. Bath was skipped for once & he screamed as his pyjamas were put on. He fell asleep in minutes once he was put into bed, mid scream.
Meanwhile, I’d cooked some pasta for the family to eat. At that point, I realised I might be cutting it a bit fine, because by now contractions were every 4 to 5 minutes and I really didn’t feel like eating anything at all, anymore! Steve came back downstairs & we had a thought about what to do. Getting the kids in bed and asleep as soon as possible was of course priority number one. With Aaron the way he was though, chances of him waking again and screaming the place down were extremely high. Imagine that happens and he’s faced with a (near) stranger instead of mummy or daddy…? Hmmm. A recipe for therapy for years, for both parties involved! Looked like I’d be going it alone to the hospital then, and Steve would see at 8:30pm when Shuki arrived how things were going, if Aaron was still sleeping peacefully or not, and if Shuki herself was prepared to deal with it.
Everyone in bed. Super early, but fortunately they can’t tell the time properly yet :-). At 6pm I rang the midwife. Judith was still on duty. “This is really it, this time.” I said. There was no doubt anymore. She suggested to meet me at the hospital at 7pm, so I booked a taxi, grabbed all my stuff and said my goodbyes to Steve for the moment. We were still hopeful he might be able to join me later in time for the delivery – although I was starting to wonder if I had all that long left. Those contractions were feeling a lot like end-stage to me. I decided not to mention that to Steve.
“8 centimetres already!” Called Judith to the delivery nurse, who was still in the hallway, sorting through that box of plasters. I heard a kind of ‘clatsh’ sound from outside the room, which I’m pretty sure was that box falling to the floor in the scramble! The only reason for me to be in a hospital poli-clinic for my deliveries is because I have a history of post-partum haemorrhage, so they need to get a line into me ahead of time, in case it becomes critical later.
Everything was kind of happening at once, now. I was calm & relatively relaxed, now that I’d arrived in hospital (just in time, after all!). In between contractions, I was joking around with Judith and the nurse. Judith broke my waters, and the nurse asked me to make a fist to get the cannula fitted. It took quite a mental shift of gears to perform this feat, given that my ‘take’ on labour is that only the womb needs to be doing any work, and as much as possible I try to consciously & deliberately relax all the other muscles in my body during a contraction. Sadly, the line in wasn’t a success and she had to take a second go at my other hand. “If you’re not quick, the baby will be here before the cannula is in!” I told her, cheekily, with a big grin to take some of the sting out of it. “Here comes the urge to push!”
The line was fitted in the nick of time. 2 contractions and 3 minutes later, Michael John Patrick was born and placed onto my chest. “That wasn’t a delivery - that was a launch!” joked the nurse as they administered a syntometrin shot for a managed 3rd stage (placenta delivery). I’d not even been at the hospital for half an hour! The line wasn’t needed – blood loss was minimal, estimated at less than 200ml in total. I had a small tear which required 3 stitches. If it hadn’t been for the fact that he came out with his hand resting on his cheek, I’d have probably escaped without so much as a graze.
Michael John Patrick Parkinson. 3,88kg. 51cm long. I’d left the house at 6:45pm and we returned there together just before 10pm. Total time in hospital, two and a half hours.
Love C. xxx
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