Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Labour of love.

Having babies is the best, and every time one of my children has a birthday I'm reminded of this. Two of them have a birthday soon, and on their birthday I like telling them all the gory details about their birth day. Not that there are gory details to tell because for me having babies was a bit of a breeze. My mum likes to tell me about mine, too. Each birthday she rings me up, and says, "this was the time they told your father to go home from the nursing home and said you weren't going to be born for ages, but they were wrong." Or, "this was the time when they gave me the pethidine." Or, "this was the time when I was high on the pethidine and singing Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini just as you were being born." I always wonder what effect that had on me.

Don't ask me why, but my labours were straightforward affairs. I like to think it's because I approached each one like I was about to run a marathon, or swim the channel (the midwife who delivered my first baby told me swimming helps develop muscles that aid labour) but it's probably because I'm a peasant, one of those wenches who in the olden days would have crouched in a field and had the baby and then carried on threshing. Like something out of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, except without the rape and the lost letter, and the interminable misery.

Whatever the reason, I immersed myself in pregnancy, revelled in it, read up on it, took classes in it. All of them. At one point I attended six hours of classes a week, if you include active birth yoga, which I think you should. Basically I did an MA in having a baby because I was delighted by it. Pregnancy made me feel joyous, ripe, fecund, and quite frankly just a little bit clever because I got pregnant the moment I tried, although I do realise there's no cleverness involved and any old sixteen-year-old can manage it up against the bike sheds. So here below is the tale of my first labour, which has its 21st anniversary coming up.

When my waters broke in the middle of the night and contractions began immediately lasting for a minute, and at five minute intervals, I ran a bath and rang my mum. For years after she kept the tape of that conversation because it was accidentally recorded on her answer-machine. I don't know if she still has it, but I remember that in it she tells me I must get out of the bath and into the hospital, and I tell her I mustn't because our NCT teacher told us first babies take ages and I will probably just get sent home again. Eventually she gets me to hand the phone to Husband and she persuades him that I should get out of the bath and into the hospital, but first he has to be persuaded to stop trying to get ice cubes into a flask. This is because it was one of the things on my birth plan. I'll come back to my birth plan later but I can tell you now you do not need ice cubes to suck during labour, as our NCT teacher had told us, and making your husband put ice cubes into a flask so you can do this in hospital, when he should be by your side having his hand squeezed off as you writhe in agony in a bath, is stupid. Also, you do not need a birth plan.

Husband did eventually help me to get out of the bath, and dressed, and into the car, where I found it impossible to sit in the usual forward-facing position (because it turned out I was in the fairly advanced stages of labour) and he drove us to the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital INCREDIBLY SLOWLY as I suggested he should go a bit faster and not stop at the sodding traffic lights when the roads were clearly deserted, and definitely not take that stupid sodding left turn after Battersea Bridge because that is completely THE WRONG WAY.

At the hospital I also managed to persuade him not to take the car straight up to the door at A&E, as he was about to, but instead abandon it outside main reception for the few minutes it would take to deposit me there, because was I was HAVING A BABY.

In the delivery suite there was an Australian midwife called Jane, and no one else. Jane was lovely but she hassled me with irrelevancies. Like, did I want to put a gown on? Or to have gas and air? I was unable to reply to this, or anything, as I had retreated, animal-like, into a dusty atavistic corner of my mind. Instead of answering, I stripped off, climbed on the bed, and would not lie back. I did not want to be mithered, as they say in Yorkshire. Instinct kicked in. I just hoped Husband was handing her my birth plan, which said, among other things, that I wanted a water birth. 

Jane must have managed to examine me at some point, though, because I do remember her saying, "you're in the final stages of labour, Elizabeth. You're going to have this baby within the hour," which helped a lot, because there was pain. Of course there was pain. Lots of pain. Pain beyond pain. But knowing it wouldn't last, that if I could just breath and count, as I had been taught, and ride each wave of excruciating contraction, there would be an end to it, soon, helped immensely. I think that's what got me through without gas and air, or anything. 

So that's what I did, I took the pain. You might say I welcomed the pain because I figured the more it hurt, the closer I was to having that baby, and I was right. The baby was born in little more than three hours from the moment my waters broke and I had that first contraction.

During that labour all those years ago, on that summer morning, crouched on that hospital bed about to give birth to my first child, I had the most powerful experience of my life, almost, you might say, transcendental. Watching dawn break over rooftops between contractions, as night gave way to sunny skies, I knew I was about to bring a person into the world all by myself without drugs or medical intervention, just with two kind people close by who were there to support me, and there really aren't words to describe how that felt. Only these come close, and they are life-affirming and euphoric.

Love E x


P.S. "That would have been a beautiful water birth," Jane said, after the baby was born and I told her about my birth plan. And I laughed, because by then I was so elated, I couldn't have cared less.

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