I was so sure it would be the Tuesday. No particular reason, just a hunch.
Due date was the first or second of September; the midwife seemed to waggle back and forth between them. I was full and heavy, the most pregnant I'd ever been before. Maybe I thought Tuesday because I wanted the pregnant part to be over. I was very apprehensive about the labour part though, so I just kept pushing it away in my mind.
Magically this process was going to be:
- Baby and mother healthy and well
By 10.30pm I'd given up waiting to feel my first ever contraction and I headed to bed.
In a nightmare once I needed to knee a man in the groin. Sadly for my partner I actually kneed him in the groin, in my sleep and his. I can only imagine that being awoken by a full-on contraction, out of the blue, is somewhat akin to being awoken by a knee to the testicles.
There commenced hours of contractions between five and ten minutes apart and from thirty seconds to a minute in duration. To start with I would haul myself up on the bed and sort of wriggle on my hands and knees through it, then slump down again and try to sleep for a few minutes before the next one. Soon that became insufficient. We tried all sorts of things; heatie wheaties, bath, shower, massage, moving around, staying still, standing, leaning, crouching, being quiet, making noise. To be honest very little seemed to help. Something that would help a little with one contraction would be useless with the next.
We called the midwife at 3am, a bit alarmed that things were still going so heatedly, sometimes for up to a minute and only five minutes apart. What happened to the two to three days of gentle build-up many of my friends had experienced? This looked like it was close to the end of the wave diagram thingy in the book, not the start, and yet it'd only been a few hours. The midwife was unavailable, not because it was 3am but because her father-in-law had died. We called the back-up, who we hadn't met, and she sounded pretty calm about the whole thing. She and I talked on the phone, including through a contraction where I paused for a while, and her assessment was that it didn't sound like there would be a baby pushing through in the next few hours, so to continue as we were and meet her at the hospital at 7am.
We discussed how soon we could ring Wriggly's grandma to come get him. He was sleeping through all the drama, despite his bedroom sitting between ours and the bathroom. 6am was the appointed time - it would take her half an hour to get to ours, then half an hour for us to get to the hospital. My partner got various things together between contractions. I already had my bag packed and needed to lean on him during contractions so I think I yelled at him a bit. Still Wriggly slept on.
Finally, finally it was 6am, and we called my mother-in-law. As she was getting ready and driving over the sky got lighter, and I got very fed up with the pain. I started to dread the drive in the car; how could I sit through a contraction? Mostly I pushed this stuff away, trying to just live in the moments when I wasn't having a contraction and simply endure when I was. Attempts to wriggle away from the discomfort and pain were unsuccessful, but still I tried.
Most of the drive to the hospital is forgotten now. I can still remember one contraction had on the way, on the North Western Motorway a little east of the Te Atatu off-ramp. I braced my legs under the dashboard and tried to sort of stretch myself out into the gap between the front seats. The sun was fully up now, and by the time of the next quaking I think we had made it to the maternity ward, with my partner off finding a carpark and me trying to walk into reception as the pain hit again. There was no one there, and I was a bit preoccupied, so I must have stood there, leaning against the back of a sofa and making urgh-type noises, for about a minute before someone walked past and noticed my presence.
Then I was in a delivery room, and I don't remember the intricate details of that really. Impressions I can recall: it took a really long time for the back-up midwife to arrive but I didn't really care as there were hospital midwives in the room and I knew as long as one was around we would most likely be ok. Various people wanted me to get on a propped up short bed, and I didn't really want to. I kept remembering a story I'd read about an African American woman who wanted to labour standing up on her hospital bed and how at the time the system was very much against any diversion from the so-called normal way of delivering lying down and doing things "the white way." Despite nine hours of contractions where I'd failed to find a position that suited I was still pretty sure if I could just find the right way to stand or move around I'd find it felt productive, like I was helping this child to be born, rather than just enduring a pointless grinding pain that would apparently never end or even give me a significant period of rest.
I sat down anyway, and then the monitors were afixed and I couldn't really get up much. I wasn't totally flat, sitting up at at least a 45 degree angle. My partner was holding the gas mask and I gave that a go. I'm not sure if I was doing it wrong, but frankly it didn't help at all, just made me even vaguer mentally, but didn't ease the pain at all. I know gas has been really effective for other people at taking the edge off and making things more bearable. I kept trying with the gas, just in case this time it would make a difference, but no dice. My partner would get distracted by the medical stuff going on from time to time and I'd have to remind him that I couldn't reach the gas without his help, poor dear.
At some early point in the hospital someone told me I was 9cm dilated and I relaxed a bit. There was general praise that we'd stayed at home to this point, and lots of "good girl", "you can do it"-type boosting; the "girl" grated, but not enough to make it past the urghing to actual words.
After a while I seem to recall being asked to push. There was some pushing, but my waters weren't breaking. The midwife broke them, telling me beforehand, and saying I'd feel a big gush and then things might start moving quite quickly. Gush yes, movement no. Things were stuck, and the general consensus in the room was that an emergency caesarean would be wise. I was fine with that, and told them several times, but people kept telling me it really was the best option. Especially once the monitors indicated some fetal distress beginning and the midwife suspected the cord was around the neck. An anaethetist, a man about my own age, came in and started rabbiting away at me about epidurals and risks and so on, but I had had this discussion with an obstertrician a few weeks back and had a prior caesar, so I was pretty fed up with this and keen to just get a move on. I signed the consent, sort of, then it was off to theatre.
I was quite relaxed. I knew how the rest of this went now. Scube had told me beforehand that when there is high risk of a bad outcome the medical staff move very quickly. It might have been the gas, or wishful thinking, but they didn't seem in a rush to me, so I figured we were going to be fine.
I hadn't counted on needing to sit perfectly still on the edge of the operating table while they inserted the epidural. I assumed when they said "ok, stay still now" and I responded "I'm about to have another contraction" they would stop and wait, but nope. After that it was a case of slowly feeling the cold prickle through me and losing feeling to most of my body. There was pushing, and tugging, none of it hurting, and relief for me that I could no longer feel the pain. Shortly a baby boy was pulled out, and I got a quick look at him, but mostly he was out of eye-shot for me, which was a bit sad as I remember quite wistfully my time with Wriggly snuggled up to my neck while my abdomen was sewn up. Snuffly was off having skin to skin with his dad, I found out later, as I think they were a bit concerned about me, in particular my blood loss. While I waited for that to all be over I sang to myself quietly and I was just starting to get a bit panicky about where my baby was when he came back, with his dad, and then we were wheeled out to recovery together.
Later on that morning I got incredibly nauseous and they put something else in my drip, and I occasionally feel a twinge in my back even now, from where the spinal block was I assume. The caesar scar still hurts sometimes too.
The days and nights in the hospital were pretty hard; my partner and older son I saw maybe once a day, and I wasn't even on to it enough to read. Breastfeeding was a difficulty from an early point, although not as awful as the start with Wriggly. The third day was bad, and the fourth. I was moved twice, and on the second move I was sharing with a woman who was very nice but had an awfully loud partner and a lot of visitors regardless of time of day. Plus I couldn't reach the phone which operated as a call button. I needed help with every feed, and the ward was very clearly short staffed. At one point, when I couldn't raise a midwife at all, I plodded painfully down the corridor, weeping, to the nurses' station, knowing that my tears were not the real problem, trying to stop crying because that's all anyone would notice, not the real reason I needed help (and I can't recall what that was now). I just kept saying, "don't worry about the crying, it's just *sob* the third *sob* day" and eventually they heard that properly and assisted with what was really wrong. By and large the staff were great, but there weren't enough of them, and I was pretty happy to go home, despite my nervousness about coping with two children. Snuffly was here, much loved by us all, including somewhat surprisingly his brother who was proud and filled with wonder by the new addition. He has had a great first year of big brotherness, still insisting constantly referring to Snuffly as "my baby" . When he gets older I'll share with him how this baby came into his life and maybe then he'll feel less proprietal.
Some of the rest of the last year I've chronicled here previously. Much of it I haven't, not because I didn't want to share it, but because since Snuffly's birth our lives have unexpectedly become a whirling dervish, with little time to rest from the dance, rub our weary feet and reflect. When Snuffly was born his father and I were in the throes of campaigning in the local body elections - mostly his dad out in the real world, as I was helping out with behind the scenes stuff and releasing him from child caring duties to knock doors and put up hoardings. The campaign continued while Wriggly was with his grandparents and Snuffly and I were in hospital, and then when we were all home again it was largely back to the pre-Snuffly days, just with less sleep for both the parents and a lot more pain for me in particular. At five weeks our midwife (who was excellent), Plunket nurses and sundry others were all talking postnatal depression, and so was I. I made an appointment with my GP for the six week mark, to check out both of us, and then two days before I was due to go, both of Snuffly's parents were unexpectedly elected to the Local Board. Meltdown ensued for me, but we just kept going around that, and anti-depressants have helped a lot, and so have friends and whanau and having the resources to help. Then, just as the new baby and the new job were starting to be manageable my partner became, again quite unexpectedly, the Labour candidate in a parliamentary by-election. That was a very challenging six weeks. Once it was over it was time for me to go back to my other part time job, as a union organiser, and since then it sometimes feels like I am so far behind on most things that I will simply never be finished.
I'll certainly never be finished cuddling Snuffly and Wriggly and listening to them laugh.