Here’s where I’m going to post up the (unedited!) stories sent to me through my ‘In Our Hands‘ project. It makes me realise that birth has all the right ingredients for amazing drama!
Submission 1: Reading
1. How was/were your birth experience(s)?
I was rather naive prior to the first birth of my daughter Evelyn. We hadn’t really planned her and probably if I had left it until i was ready then it might have be another 3 or 4 years. I imagine that there would have always been something else that I needed to do first. I am so glad that she did come along out of the blue because I know there would have never been a right time and looking back I wouldn’t want to have left it any later. I was studying for a Masters at the time and having graduated on a hot summers day in the Albert Hall with a very large bump and swollen feet, I then gave birth a couple of weeks later. It was quite a busy time! Not knowing many people who had had babies at that time I think i thought I was super woman and would adjust to it all quite easily. I purchased a birthing pool, set it up in the tiny dining room of our terraced house and waited for the big day to arrive! I woke up on the 20th July (to later be one of the wettest July days for a few hundred years and floods occurring all around us!) with mild cramps and excitedly told my husband that this was it. He cancelled work and we pottered about. When the mid wife came mid morning she checked me out and said I was only 2 cm dilated and it could be another week yet so she booked in the weep for the following week! I was devasted! I felt like the cramps were getting quite painful and she was already a week late ( I was now the last one in my N.C.T group to go and felt very nervous from the stories etc I had heard!) I had no idea of what was to come!! and I think that I thought the birthing pool was the answer to it all!
At a time when I should have slept and taken some paracetamol I just pottered about and waited. My mid wife went off duty and as we approached early evening the pain got worse. Ignoring everything I had been advised to do I lay on the settee hoping the pain would disappear.The next mid wife came and we seemed to have to wait ages before I was four cm so that I could go in the birthing pool. Finally when I got in,it felt amazing for a few minutes! I suddenly chatted to the mid wife and laughed a bit and relaxed a bit,the candles were on and some nice music, everything was perfect ….. until the pain can back ! I was gutted, I Honestly thought the pool would make all the pain disappear!. I started to use gas and air and that was all that I could focus on. My husband was on heating water duty which kept him busy as all I was interested in was gas! I was on my own and nobody could help me! i DO REMEMBER THE SMELL of fresh coffee being made for the midwife and him and feeling very cross with him for daring to make coffee whilst i WAS IN all this pain! As the pain got worse I had decided I was going to die. Surely it couldn’t be this bad, I must be experiencing something much worse than most women! As we headed past midnight i WAS AWARE THAT i WAS GETTING THROUGH the gas and I remember the midwife telling my husband there was only one left. I felt scared! What was I going to do when i ran out?! I can’t remember why i HAD TO GET OUT OF THE POOL BUT i THINk the midwife was coming to the end of her shift and another one was coming and I had probably been in the pool for four hours or so!I remember going up the stairs to my bedroom and everything getting much worse. Everyone was down stairs as the mid wife was swapping noted etc with the next, and they had told me not too push yet. but all of a sudden thats what I wanted to! I pushed and my waters burst. They came back up stairs and i there was some poo in the water so they called for an ambulance and we seemed to have to wait ages due to all the floods and accidents occurring around the place. Evie seemed to have no interest in coming out and I had run out of steam. I think i had been up for 24 hours and not eaten much and was exhausted.
I remember only having a short dressing gown to put on as it was summer and having to climb into an ambulance in the middle of our street with no trousers on! and then crouched on all 4’s in an ambulance for what seemed like the longest journey ever at five in the morning! when they finally got me into hospital I was beyond caring, I just wanted this thing out of me! I think they used ventures or forceps in the end. I had no energy to push and was ignoring my body when it told me to. but i must have gathered some energy from somewhere and finally she came out! I have never felt such relief in my life!! at last the pain was over and suddenly i had a little girl (who i FELT SURE Would have been a boy!) I was shattered, but the one thing you are not prepared for when you have a baby is that there is no time to recover and after such an exhausting physical 24hours you now have somebody who needs you 24 7. Don’t get me wrong I was delighted but I had no idea how exhausting what was still yet to come. I know all the focus os on the birth and it is hard to think about anything else other than that big day but I found the trauma of the birth followed by trying to breast feed. lack of sleep, stitches, pain an absolute shock to the system! Obvioulsy I did get over it all as I went on to have more children, but that first year knocked me for six. I had a lot of problems with breast feeding but I became obsessed that that was all she could have, formula almost seemed like poison! She didn’t put on weight for months and suffered from reflux as well. I was unaware of this and just thought i had an incredibly sicky baby and it was only after having my second who wasn’t that i realised that I could have had help with that (which when my third had reflux I then got help) ,She also had a tongue tie which we had snipped and i think after 4 or 5 months or so things improved. I was probably doing too much and lost a lot of weight very quickly so probably didn’t have the best milk supply either. We had bought a house just before she arrived and my husband was busy trying to do it from 7 – 11 everyday so we could move in by the end of the summer. It was a total wreck and a totally crazy thing to do and everyday I was there too trying to help if evie was asleep. Things could only be better for when we experienced the arrival of number 2 (Theodore or Ted) two years later.
I spent most of my second pregnancy worrying about the birth after my first experience. I was still quite traumatised by just how painful I found it and how long it had gone on for. As it got nearer I worried who would look after evie. We don’t have relatives near by and most people were working and it is the one thing you can’t plan for ! Anyway on the morning of Sep14th I took Evie to playgroup and felt some cramps but just ignore them this time. When I got home i took some paracetamol and carried on doing bits around the house. Jon was teaching and I and mentioned i had a bit of cramp but nothing to worry about for now and kept myself busy hoovering the house from top to bottom (I had vowed need just to sit around like last time. I wanted to be busy and moving!) By two things were getting quite painful nd i suddenly panicked and realised it wasn’t going away. Most people i knew worked on a monday so I rang an old friend who lived about 40 mins away and she aid she would be over a.s.a.p. She then had to wait for her mum to come over to look after her little one so she didn’t arrive until about 4 at which she just looked at me and was about to drive me straight to the hospital with Evie.Luckily Jon got back at that moment and we headed off. I arrived and was quickly taken into a room and had Ted within half an hour! all 9ib and 15oz’s off him. He was the exact opposite to Evie, fed (I suddenly had so much milk then i remember having with evie/ slept so much better and stayed on the top percentile all the way through. I put down the negative experience of the first as being a first time mum and presumed it was the mum rather than the baby who had the problem!
When we had Stan I quickly realised again that it is the baby, he suffered with weight loss, reflux, and awful cramps in the night and almost replicated the experience of Evie. (However one thing he didn’t replicate was the birth. I was confident there was no way he would be late as by the third I thought he would slip out! He then went on to be 16 days late and induced! I wasn’t overly keen on the procedure but by that point it was time for him to come out! I thought it would happen straight away and didn’t realise it would take another day to kick in. It was quite a luxury of time for my husband and i in the end. s my folks came down and he stayed with during the day in the hospital. They encouraged my to walk so we went off to the uni cafe opposite the hospital (I am not sure if we were meant to leave the building and I did have those big blue socks on and hospital tag around my wrist but it was hot and nice to get out).joN and I had met at the university so it was nice to sit in the grounds and drink coffee and reminisce (something you don’t get much time for with kids!) We had chosen Martha as a girl’s name and i felt sure it was going to be a girl but as babes went more and more overdue I thought we’d better have a boys name in place in case we were wrong. Out of no where we both suddenly agreed on Stanley! And i think that must have been when Stanley decided he was ready to make his appearance now he had a name! Back in the hospital, I read a book in the evening (something I hadn’t done for ages!) jON AND i PLAYED SCRABBLE and chilled out for the first time in ages! The next I got cramps in the afternoon and they steadily increase but i KEPT MOVING AROUND THE ward and playing a game of scrabble with Jon. I still have the scores with the contraction times next to it! It got to the point where I couldn’t focus on any words and my waters had broke and I was ready to push . uNFORTUNATELY i wasn’t on the labour ward and there was no rooms free. by that point I didn’t crd, i just wanted to push wherever i was. I remember in a lift and non JOKED ABOUT NAMING THE baby Otis AFTER THE lift manufacturers! We managed to get out the lift and I was quickly put in a room and Stanley was probably out after one swig of gas and air! i felt so elated and in control. I was so much more in tune with my body and had been so much more relaxed. I felt like a professional at giving birth and was ready to do it again!! It was such a nice feeling compared to my first experience!
2. How has becoming a parent changed your life (things you’ve found hard to deal with, the most joyous things)?
mY HUSBAND AND i HAVE FOUND IT HARD and challenging as well as joyous! Every stage has had it’s challenge and continues to and there is a relentless amount of things to worry about. I had Evie straight after an amazing two years doing an MA at the RCA. However I think the birth, the feeding and the house renovation did bring me down and I lost a lot of confidence.I lost touch with people from my course (who were all a bit younger than me and pursuing their careers) and I think I was quite lonely as most people I knew or met had left a job and had quite a direction of going back part/ full time. I could not afford to be making art although I did manage to continue painting in our front room ,which we turned into the studio, in the evenings and when Evie napped. But i LOST A LOT OF CONFIDENCE IN Myself during that first year and was exhausted and anxious for the majority of it as she was a really bad sleeper and i think i was constantly running on empty.
I really enjoyed having Theo as the experience was so much better, less scary and you had the knowledge! I enjoyed having the two of them and that was probably a better period when i LOOK BACK THEN THAT first year with Evie. There was a s lightly bigger gap between theo and Stan (nearly three) and that was a different experience again. Evie was at school so there was more to juggle and as Ted was a bit older it was a bit harder entertaining them both. Theo was quite jealous of Stan for a long time which made things quite hard, although Evie was fabulous with him and it was lovely seeing her being a proper big sister. Theo and Stan are now 6 and 3 and there relationship is evolving and they are really starting to enjoy each others company which is lovely to see after a tricky start.
We have found not having relatives nearby very hard. We did make new friends and we all depending on each other in those early years.As people have moved different directions for schools and work we probably see less of each other now. My husband and i have worked freelance since having children and this has been handy at times because of its flexibility but also scary at times as we moved into the period of recession as soon as Evie was born and work and pay dropped. While Jon probably did the majority of the financial work during the first five years, with me fitting in work around him or when we could get child care (grandparents over!) over the last three years i have been working more (teaching and getting back into the studio) I realised how much the studio (not in the house anymore) restores my energy levels and fills me with a calm that being around the children too much zaps! Much as I love them, life is pretty hectic and child centred and it has been nice feeling a bit of my confidence being restored by producing work again. I did enjoy the fact that either myself or Jon has and always is there for the kids while they have been growing up and i hope that has been good for them. We are hitting mid life crisis points of lives now and I have found myself wondering what if I had done this or that instead for a career or done something differently as a mother? However, i do think our creative careers don’t follow the usual route of most people and i need to stop comparing and worrying about others and focusing on mw and my family. I am heading into my fourth decade next year and I do feel that my third decade has been devoted to pregnancy and bringing up my children. As Stan starts school next year i realise that that is has been an amazing decade and they will probably never need us as much as they have in the first decade, or at least in quite a different way! I am hoping to have a bit more sleep in the next decade, focus on me a bit more, getting out, socialising etc, and pushing my art practice on to the next stage! Fingers crossed!
3. Is there anything else you’d like to tell me about your experience of having children – from trying to get pregnant to getting used to having a baby around or coping as your children grow up, change, develop?
i can honestly saying my husband and I were quite patient people before having children and we have surprised ourselves with how angry they have sometimes made us (probably as they are getting older) We never expected or knew we could feel so cross or angry at times and that is quite hard. As you always think you will never be like that parent shouting at their child in public etc! but oh yes you can be!
Something more positive though, some of the best moments have been when they have been performing or awarded something etc and thou see them hunting the audience to see you and the delight and pride in their faces when they spot us.it reminds you how important you are in their life even if they are not always showing it at home!
Submission 2: Longford, Ireland
I have been terrified of birth my whole life. When I was a child, and before I even knew such a thing was possible, I would tell my little sister that if she gave birth for me I would by her a Faberge Egg. That must have been the fanciest thing I could think of to exchange! I suspect that such a deep-rooted fear informed my dislike of children through my teens and twenties and determination to be permanently child-free, well into my thirties.
When I found out I was pregnant I immediately realised just how much fear I had about birth and parenting. I knew then that my indecision about whether to have kids would have remained until I no longer had to make one, time would have made it for me. This is despite being in a stable, fulfilling relationship for 2 years with a man I have loved for 16 years. As the months passed I unpacked layer after layer of my stuff, my mothers’ stuff, her mothers’ stuff and a whole load of society’s stuff; about being pregnant, giving birth, being a parent and my own identity. I dived in with both feet, as is my tendency, and explored each fear as it arose.
Birth was going to be painful, traumatising and utterly horrific. I had no idea how I would get through. I knew there were plenty of health benefits to me and baby to have a natural, drugfree birth so I started researching how to achieve that. I was upset to find that most women in hospitals do not have the birth they wanted. When I dug further it seemed that the way hospitals work; with bright lights, busy wards, and a policy of managing labour along strict timelines was part of the cause for difficult painful births. One simple intervention leads to another and before you know it you are having an episiotomy or C-section. Some hospitals in Ireland have a 40% C-section rate and 80% episiotomy rate. Way beyond what should be needed according to the WHO.
I began seeking alternatives and discovered that home births are still offered and are shown to be just as safe with happier outcomes than hospital births! Hurray! I felt so much hope. I thought I could just call up my local homebirth midwife and book one. I was outraged to be told that the HSE is not providing enough support for the 10% of women who request one and as a result only 1% of women are granted a home birth. There just aren’t enough midwives and the HSE rules keep making it harder and harder for them to do their jobs. I phoned all 18 midwives on the list and eventually luck was on my side. I found a midwife available for October but it required being 2 hours from home for the birth. My friend who lived nearby was going to be away so we could use her house. Helen did all my prenatal checks at home, no hospital queues for me, except for a scan.
The other tool I found was called Hypnobirthing, a course that educated me about the physiology of birth, and helped me understand everything that would happen in my body during labour. It also gave me a practice for staying relaxed during labour and a whole range of techniques for reducing fear, pain and worry during pregnancy and birth. I never deeply believed it would work but as it was the only techniques I had I decided to allow myself to pretend a little and believe it would give me the ‘comfortable easy birth’ it said it would.
It is now 4 weeks before my due date, I just got off the phone from my friend. The home she offered us to birth in, way back in March is no longer available! Panic stations! We have to find another place within our midwife’s area. A stressful 2 weeks of research and calls ensues and eventually I find a place on Air BnB that I instantly know is the place! Its called Fairy Fort Farm and the owners’ picture is salt-of-the-earth kinda guy, I like him instantly. I type yet another ‘no room at the Inn’ email. He responds with warmth, excitement and a resounding yes the stable, converted into a cottage, is available! I could not make this stuff up. He would love a baby born on the farm, the first in 100 years! We are heading to Tipperary! We decide we will book a whole month, not knowing when I will deliver exactly with my estimated due date the 12th.
Its October 3rd and we are moving today. I had a ‘show’ of a little blood last night, which scared the shit out of me to see but a text to my midwife put me at ease; with no other symptoms of labour I could still be weeks away from going into labour. I’m weepy and emotional to be packing up and leaving my folks and everyone I know. I know that the next time I am home everything will be different and, all going well, we will have a baby! Its scary. I feel mopey and have a bath instead of getting on the road like we should.
We leave after lunch, mum is dropping Jordan and I down. About an hour and a half into the trip I eventually realise I am having super mild contractions. They are no big deal and I don’t mention them, I just stretch my body out as flat as I can in the passenger seat and breathe. After a couple more Jordan realises what’s happening and then decides to start timing them. I reassure him there’s nothing happening and not to bother. After another in quick succession he times them anyway. They are 3 minutes apart. I laugh and say there you go! Its just the emotions of the move. The Braxton Hicks sessions I’ve had on and off for the past 3 months have all been way more intense.
We stop off on the way to pick up supplies and I am feeling…subdued…as I walk in the rain down Westport main street managing mild, mostly just annoyingly barey-present, contractions. Mum and Jordan comment on how miserable I look. I’m not sure that I am miserable but I’m not happy.
We arrive at the farm, I am more actively managing contractions now…that means its taking a little energy and effort to focus, breathe and stay calm. As we drive up the little country lane a Cockerel begins walking slowly in front on the car, right down the grassy line in the middle of the lane. Turning his head from side to side he looks like a proud welcoming representative. We laugh and I start to feel excited to be in such a magical place. When we enter the courtyard of the farm buildings there is Michael, smiling and happy to have us arrive. He has a farm volunteer with him and I get a sudden surge of panic that he has put her in the same cottage as us and that I have made a big mistake and won’t have the privacy I need for this month. I get into a stressed state and it starts to escalate gradually. Now I’m in the bedroom…upset…panicky… that this was a stupid idea that there’s no lunch and no dinner…and maybe these contractions do mean something. They are getting quite intense…actually they are painful…I don’t think I can do this…I need a poo. Yes. I have read that some women will need to empty their bowels before labour begins. That must be what this is. I have a strong urge to…poo…I am a little frantic in energy now. Jordan and mum are trying to assure me they will unpack and have food ready and I should just go lie down listen to my Hypnobirthing tracks and relax. I try but no. I NEED TO POO. I go to the toilet…nothing but a rising stress level and a need to push out a poo. So I try again to relax. Nothing. I jump up. Trying to stay calm. “This is bullshit. What was I thinking having a home birth? In the middle of nowhere? OMG. I can’t do this. I am going to end up in hospital with a section.” “You won’t. I know you can do this, that will not happen to you!” mum says and I believe her. Jordan is being loving and supportive and desperately trying to get me in the hypnozone. Its not working. I head back to the toilet.“Are you pushing Kat?!” he shouts through the bathroom door. “No! I need a poo ok? Jesus give me some privacy!” I shout. “You’re pushing! Stop it, its way to early! You’ll do damage!” He comes in and tries to get me to come for a walk outside with him. I am reluctantly allowing myself to be led until we get to the door and then NO, I am not going. I need Helen! Call Helen. I need support. I can’t do this! She said she would be there for support if I freaked. I am freaking. Call her. I head back to the bathroom to continue to follow my urge to poo. I am holding onto the towel rail which is mounted strongly into the old stone wall. I am pulling it with all my might. Pushing. I listen through the door as Jordan, in his typical calm way, calls Helen and tells her I am asking for her support. She says she will be right there.
I feel an immediate sense of calm and head to the bed with Jordan’s encouragement. He puts on the Hypnobirth tracks and I get in the zone now easily. I feel in control and content but in a slightly altered state. Kinda hazy and zoned out. I have some more contractions and I feel calm, centered and very in control of the experience. This is good. Now I feel relaxed and there is no pain just the gentle rising and falling of my uterus as it tightens its muscles.
Helen enters the room like a gentle breeze, no drama, just sweet gentle understanding. “Whats going on Kathryn?” she breathes in the calmest most supportive of tones. “Oh Helen, I’m just so afraid you’re going to tell me I am not even in labour proper and this is already intense and I am afraid I can’t do this”. “Ok, what do you need?” “I need an internal exam to tell me what is happening”. I barely notice the procedure it is so unobtrusive. She looks at me and I can see subtle surprise on her face. “What’s your best case scenario Kathryn?’ I think to myself, that is a really mean question to ask a labouring woman! But I respond truthfully…”10 cms and ready to push”… “you’re 10cms and ready to push…actually the baby is already 2cm out of the cervix”…what…what…what! No!!!..elation…wonder…”You’re some woman! How did you do that!?” I have no idea how I did that.
Helen says she must call the 2nd midwife, and the hospital as procedure. Keep doing what I am doing. I feel absolutely no concern. I trust that birth is natural and my body is doing what it needs to do. I remember hearing that even if you are in a coma your body will still give birth. That information transformed me. I am pretty effortlessly surrendering to the experience and its not scary, or painful. In fact, if I allow myself to be honest, I am enjoying it…not in an “Orgasmic Birth’ kinda way (yes they exist! What!) more in a “Wow, look what I am feeling…I can sense EVERYTHING. I can feel the gentle movements of my body slowly and gently moving a baby down…isn’t this interesting…oh this must be what I read about when it said the body will continue to just open and the baby will move down effortlessly and painlessly…”
I had been so afraid that I was ‘not embodied enough’ to have a natural pain-free birth, that my over-analytic mind would get in the way and I wouldn’t be able to surrender like the books said I should. And yet what actually happened was that I never left my brain…I used all my mental capacity to help me connect more deeply with what was going on in my body…mind and body working as one in the most embodied way I could never have imagined. I feel so elated and liberated at this realisation…like I am not broken or ‘too in my head’…I have an inquisitive mind and was able to find a way to use that knowledge to access my own body wisdom…or something like that…
So, I am 10 cms and ready to push! Mum comes running in from the other room where she had been praying, she is elated and loud and congratulatory “You did it! You did it! OMG I knew you could!” I am happy but I am trying to stay calm and in the zone so I tell her that and she tries to calm herself a little. I am aware of how lovely this is…that I have only done part of the labour, how wonderful it is to have her there (she was meant to drop us off and leave) and how typically supportive she is being.
I continue lying there and breathing for a while I don’t know how long but maybe an hour. At some point I follow the urge to change positions regularly and begin jumping effortlessly into various ones.
Jordan, who had been in and out of the room trying to make dinner, unpacking the car, filling the pool, preparing lunch, is now completely with me. I am requiring constant pressure on my lower back, MORE PRESSURE! I shout regularly. He is very strong so I can’t understand why he is pushing so lightly. I am up on my knees a lot. I begin to feel very hot in the body and call out for something cool. I then promptly forget and the next sensation is a shock; a wet cold heavy material thrown across my back. I think I scream and probably curse. It was the 2nd midwife I am annoyed she didn’t give me a warning. It felt like an eternity between request and delivery. It was probably moments.
Time is hazy now, lots of movement, leaping about the bed to change positions frequently…making demands; chocolate, water, pressure, coldness, dimness…more…and then I decide I am probably tired and should lie down.
I lie on my back, Helen says I shouldn’t that it’s the worse position for labour but I think I will just have a minute to rest here. The discomfort and unbearableness of the position is almost instant. I leap up again. No wonder hospital births are often experienced as difficult!
I lie on my side resting. It seems like things have gone quieter inside and I am not feeling the uncontrollable urges of pushing nearly as strongly, I’m not aware of that until Helen says ‘Just keep following the urges to push’ I tell her they are not really there any more. She says give me your hand. She outs my hand down where I can feel the bulge of the sac of unbroken waters! Its kinda gross and intense and as much as I would love to be one of those ‘wow that’s so beautiful’ women I’m more ‘ugh god that’s full on’. She asks me if I want to look with a mirror and I shriek NO and half laugh. She says we are close. I say things seem to have slowed down…why would that be? She knows I like to understand things biologically and emotionally so she matter of factly says ‘well some women have a little fear when it comes to the pushing out stage’. That seems to me to be true and I nod. The second midwife asks if I want some herbal support and then holds a bottle of Clarry Sage under my nose. BOOM contractions and urge to push hits hard as a high. We are off again. I remember making a deep but loud note…operatic almost and holding it for what seemed a long beautiful moment.
At some stage shortly after I catch a whiff of nervousness from the midwives, almost imperceptible and well covered, I catch it nonetheless. I am still hyperaware of my surroundings when I need to be, despite this altered state. I think they have just done a check on me, and Helen says ‘Ok, lets move this on more quickly. I want you to do a couple of big pushes and lets get this baby out’. I am really quite taken aback. I was assured that there would be no coached pushing in a homebirth. No midwives or doctors shouting push, because there is simply no need in a natural, physiological birth. And yet they seem to be telling me to push. I had been doing the Hypnobirth ‘breathing down’ technique. A very gentle breathing that nudges the baby down little by little with each contraction. I was loving the ease and trust it was generating in me. And now things are fast and stress is building a little, ‘ok Kathryn, take a big breath and push down hard!’ What…what? How? Like this? No. Ok…like this? No…Jordan speaks now ‘No, close your mouth and push instead of breath. Push down hard with your mouth closed. With all your might’. Helen ‘we only need two of these…I can see baby’s head…just two big pushes and they will be out!’ She tells me she is going to break the waters and I want to argue but don’t.
I try another time but am feeling pissed off that this is happening…I pick up on the urgency again and take it seriously. PUUUUSH. Ok. It feels intense but not painful. I can feel a stretching and a burning. I know this is called Ring of Fire and is common and means birth is imminent. It is not taking a lot of energy to do this. I am just pushing with maybe 50% of my capacity. I shout MUM to call her in from the other room to witness the birth. She runs in. ‘One more push Kathryn, a big one’ I push again with maybe 70% just to see what happens really…I know I am afraid…of something being wrong, of pain starting now, and of tearing and of all this beautiful birthing being over and of parenting beginning.
But there’s no choice now, no time for anything else. I puuuuuuush and woosh and…no slop…I look beneath and baby is not on the bed…but in mid air! Arms reach out and support, things happen and then slop…legs roll down and there is a baby boy lying as clean as a whistle on the bed! I go into self-care mode. Again, I wish I was one of those women who went straight into gushing and looking and watching but I don’t. I am a little overwhelmed by the physicality of what I just did…I am not in ‘parent mode’ as the birth videos show…I am in ‘am I ok?’ mode, ‘aren’t I amazing for doing all that’ mode, I look to connect with Jordan and he is peering excitedly past me to the baby. We have a brief moment to exchange looks, he jumps up and goes to the baby. Things are happening with the baby. An oxygen mask gives a single breath of air. Things are calm though and there doesn’t seem to be any need to worry. They all take the baby to the other room, just beyond the door of this 2 room converted cow shed we are renting. I can see them all in the half-light. Smiling and excited and laughing. Helen is weighing him in a little white cloth, tied like in the cartoons of a stork delivery, and calling out the time of birth. Its 9.20pm. About 4 hours since we arrived at the cottage and 5.5 since labour began in the car.
I lie back on the bed, watching from a distance. Feeling a little left out, a little excluded from the celebration. Brenda tells me we should deliver the placenta now. Shit! I had forgotten about that! That’s like a whole other delivery isn’t it? Oh no! Its not over after all. No, she says, just kneel up on the bed there. She puts a bowl beneath me a plop, the placenta just drops out! I can’t believe the ease and I laugh with the relief of it!
Helen comes back in and says she needs to check me for tears as its best to do stitches quickly to reduce pain, cause the birth hormones are still high. She is so swift and gentle and immediately tells me I have not a scratch! I am so so pleased. My big fear was tearing and stitches and unbearable pain. And I am now through the whole thing and none of those things happened! There are no words for the relief and pride in my preparation and accomplishment. I feel big. I feel strong. I feel capable. I did it!!!!! I had a baby! At home! With no pain! No tears! No drugs! I am celebrating myself and am not really connecting to the reality of having a baby.
The baby is brought back into the room and I am told I should breastfeed. It feels rushed and forced on me…no time to really look at this baby…to see him…to connect…I must latch him on!
Now breastfeeding is a whole other thing. I have never done this either and have no idea what to do. Helen lifts him onto me and I think I am in shock now at the reality of having an actual baby. I had been so focussed on the birth, on getting through it unscathed, that I really hadn’t expected that there would be a baby at the end. And now here he is. I know I am meant to feel gushy and overwhelmed but I don’t. I feel shocked and surprised and a bit invaded. I was busy congratulating myself and now there is work to be done!
Everyone elses’ joy and excitement makes my overwhelm invisible and I feel glad about that. I get on with the task of being sucked. Trying to get the latch right. Trying to hold the baby gently. Trying to know what to feel. Trying to feel free to feel what I am feeling.
I look at the baby and he is so tiny and so perfect and so utterly focussed on me. His eyes are open and he is looking at me. He is beautiful. Dark hair and a lovely colour to his skin. Tiny hands grasping and he seems to know what to do about feeding. Time slips away…vague memories of phone calls being made…photos, midwives leaving advice for the night, food, bed, fire, hugs, excitement, joy, looking, watching, fear, confidence. Jordan’s support and love, my mum’s ecstasy. And a baby.
Submission 3: Reading
How was/were your birth experiences;
I was initially absolutely terrified about giving birth; I had nightmares during my pregnancy! I did NCT classes and this totally changed my outlook. I went from wanting an epidural to hoping I could labour in water without too much intervention. I practiced hypno birthing, had a relaxing playlist and bought essential oils to help me? My baby was late so I went for a sweep, at this stage, despite being told my baby was engaged at around 30 weeks, the midwife told me things didn’t feel right. I went for an ultrasound and they confirmed my baby was breach. They said we would need to schedule a section for the next day; I asked about turning the baby but was told she was too big and it would be more painful than giving birth!! Whilst we talked, my contractions started and so it was agreed I would have a section immediately, I called my husband to get to the hospital ASAP.
2 hours later and my contractions stopped. The staff said they did not want to do an “out ogof hours” section unnecessarily and so I would stay in overnight and have one tomorrow. I had been very calm until this point but suddenly, the change of plan and different pieces of info I kept getting (you will be next, no you won’t, your husband can stay, he can’t stay etc.) became overwhelming and I was very upset. The hospital staff eventually said my husband could stay as they had a room for us. I had a difficult night, mainly as they told me I couldn’t eat or drink as I needed to be ready for surgery but did not come and do my drip until the next morning (despite me repeatedly asking about it) so by morning I had an awful headache from dehydration.
That day the surgeons came to see me and said they would do my section as soon as there had space, unfortunately there was no room (!?) on the elective list and I was not in labour so I wasn’t an emergency so I had to wait. This went on for another 24 hours – on the drip, off the drip etc. Eventually I had Elodie 2 days after going into the hospital, by which time my contractions had re-started.
I was very scared as I walked down to theatre, the stress of knowing I might meet my baby any minute then being told to wait caught up with me and I had a panic attack. My husband calmed me down. The section itself went as expected, I did feel slightly less present though, de4spote being conscious.
Luckily I was able to have skin to skin in the recovery room and feeding went well.
I didn’t really have feelings about my experience until later on, maybe a year or so later. Having found out more about the possibility of breach birth and turning a baby I am angry that IU do not feel I was given the full picture and my ability to birth was somewhat taken away from me. I was left with an underlying feeling of missing out or in darker times, of failing. Art best I felt disempowered and am adamant that my experience will be different if I have another child.
How has being a parent changed your life?
Where do you start? Obviously, my daughter is the most amazing thing I have ever done and she is the person I love more than anything in the world, you can’t really describe that feeling I don’t think! I won’t lie, I found the early stages extremely difficult, the adjustment is rough, the hormones were crazy and I was on my own very early – something I wish we had been able to do differently. My daughter, at 18 months still wakes several times a night so I’ve also been sleep deprived for that long!!!
Having said that, I find I am so much calmer these days, I am able not to worry abet the little things, being a parent is so all encompassing that it does give perspective and that’s a good thing. It’s also made me revaluate what I want – I gave up a job I love to sp0end more time with my daughter and I started my own business so I can work more flexibly!
There were very dark times at first, I struggled with post natal anxiety – I had a LOT of bad advice from well-meaning but interfering family members. I do not subscribe to any “style” of parenting, I do what comes naturally and what my baby seems to want (she knows what she needs) but I guess you could put me at the attachment parenting end of the scale. Several family members had a lot to say about that – I was told I fed her too often, I held her too long (she hated being put down) and that my co-sleeping with her (to get remotely any sleep!) was a “rod for my own back!” I did not know any better and so I worried constantly about all these things. The stress and worry took over and I became very unwell. Luckily, my husband was great and I got some help. When I look back I am so angry that I let other people’s unfounded opinions rob me of that time with my baby. When I should have enjoyed bonding I was constantly stressing about doing things “right” as I was always told how wrong I was getting it!!
The only thing I’d change if I did it again – don’t listen to what other people say!!!
Is there anything else?
One of the things I found strangest and most difficult in becoming a parent is that, unlike any other aspect of my life, people seemed comfortable to give me unsolicited, unwanted “advice” all the time! For some reason people felt ok to tell me when I was doing things “wrong” scold me like a child and generally treat me without the respect normally awarded to adults in other walks of life. In no other part of my life, of which I am in control have I ever had this experience. As an educated, confident adult I found it hard to take the criticism but also hard to ignore it. The hormonal daze and feeling of vulnerability that surrounded me when my daughter was small made it so much harder to feel confident in my choices, I don’t feel I was ever respected as the person who knew best what my own baby needed and even now I find that when it comes to children, people are free with their opinions in a way they would never be on another subject! Why mothers are not respected in our society is a big issue for me. From birth to parenting there seems to be so much authority from external sources that undermines the fact that women have birthed and reared children for centuries!!
Submission 4: Colchester
I have two girls now aged 10 and 14 and my experience relates to my oldest, Rebecca, when she was about 18 months. We had gone out for the day to a country park and it was a blindly hot summers day one July. Needless to say the trip there had been a bit ‘fraught’ as many family days out can be – I’d packed bags twice her body weight and jammed them in the boot. Rebecca only had one shoe. She was just at the stripping stage – so I’d got her dressed and turned around and she was naked again. My partner and I had had a bit of a ding dong on the way when I got lost and there was an icy cold chill in the car. Just as well, as the air conditioning had packed up. However, this did not deter me because WE WERE GOING TO HAVE A GOOD DAY. If it killed me. And we’d be a normal family and I would be the kind of mum that could cope.
It was a beautiful day, the park was filled with families. The sun beat down on the pond and my little girl looked stunning in her tiny red summer dress and even wore her hat without me having to sellotape it to her head. Being a good mum I stopped to slaver Rebecca in factor 50, which had the consistency of lard. I looked up to my partner, the row between us forgotten in the sun and we each held one of my daughters hands and walked along the grass. Gently, in unison we picked her by her hands, swinging her between us, looking like the perfect family I always hoped we would be. Silently, and without warning, her tiny sun creamed hands slipped from ours at the full height of our swing. She majestically flew through the air until her nappy clad bottom hit the grass several feet in front of us. There was a moments silence, before she emitted a wail like an air raid siren, causing most of the perfect parents to look at us with barely concealed disgust. Oh well. Family days out are overrated, yes?
(PS I should add she was absolutely fine and calmed right down after a mini milk)