I’m back people! And, I’m so happy to introduce you to Charlie the chicklet, who arrived in the world a couple of weeks ago weighing 8 pounds and measuring 50.5cm. For me, it feels like a lifetime ago, but in a good way. Sleep deprivation and explosive nappies aside, I’m loving getting to know my little guy after so long waiting for his arrival.
And, I’m finishing my Up The Duff series with his birth story. Those of you who’ve followed the columns are probably keen to hear how it all panned out, but if you’re at all squeamish or just would rather not know, I won’t be at all offended if you decide to skip this post (I’ll be posting Q&As again soon).
I last posted at 40 weeks when I was seriously over it. Huge, sore, trying everything to budge Charlie from his watery home – be it curries, sex, herbal concoctions, long walks, acupuncture; you name it, I tried it. At 41 weeks, we went to the hospital and I was examined by a young doctor who told me in no uncertain terms that things were ‘not happening’ and that my cervix was very firmly closed. She rang the labour ward and booked me in for an induction three days later.
This was kind of my worst nightmare. I had gotten my head around giving birth, and I wanted the chance to try – rather than forcing my body to go into labour medically. But I was so tired and so over it that I no longer cared how he came out – I just wanted him out!
Later, back at home, I made some dinner and we settled in front of the box to watch The Project. I was actually starting to feel happier and calmer knowing a plan was in place to get the chicklet out, and I didn’t have to worry anymore. I could enjoy my dinner. I could sleep and chill out for the next three days. We could get our shit sorted, paint the French doors, psych ourselves up for the birth. Despite my fears of being induced, I had completely surrendered to the idea of following ‘the plan’ and felt strangely at peace with it.
Then the cramps hit, and they didn’t quit. Typical, right? The day you finally accept that your body won’t go into labour naturally, it decides to go into labour naturally. It wasn’t the first time I thought the chicklet must have a wicked sense of humour.
By 8pm, the cramps were peaking into what I assumed were early contractions and I decided to ring the labour ward. They told me to take some Panadeine and try to sleep. “If you are going into labour,” said the midwife, “you need to rest because tomorrow will be a big day.”
No shit. I went to bed, put on my meditation app and tried to drop off, but I couldn’t. The contractions were getting stronger and they were all over the shop. Five minutes in between. Then ten minutes in between. Then three in ten minutes. Then one in fifteen minutes. I went back out to the couch and Mr Chick tried timing them with an app I’d downloaded, while setting up the TENS machine he’d bought. We hadn’t even tried it out. I’d barely read the instructions, but a friend swore by it and we figured we’d give it a crack.
He stuck the pads to my back and attached them to the machine, which sends electrical impulses (or shocks) into your back via the pads. At the start of a contraction, you’re supposed to press a button on the gadget that boosts the surge and it’s like a rush of heat going up your spine. That sounds awful, I know, but it doesn’t hurt and it effectively slices the top off the contraction so you can deal with it better. That boost button became my best friend until about 3am, when no position was comfortable and Mr Chick rang my sister, who was coming with us to the hospital. The street was so quiet, and as I eased into the car between contractions, I remember thinking next time I came home, I’d be bringing a baby with me.
The journey was short and my TENS machine was cranked the whole way, but we were forced to pull over just short of the sliding doors at the entrance to the labour ward so I could throw up everywhere. I may have also peed my pants. I know. I’m all class.
Our little trio must’ve been a right sight rocking up to the registration desk. One anxious husband and father-to-be carting snacks and bags. My sister doing her best to keep our shit together. And me – heavily pregnant, sweating, crying, wearing a wet and possibly spewed-on Nepalese poncho. Not how I’d imagined my earth mother moment to pan out.
Once inside, I was put on a bed and strapped to a heart rate monitor so they could check how the chicklet was doing. Unfortunately, I kept throwing up and because I absolutely hate throwing up and will avoid it whenever possible, this lack of control was messing with my head. I found it increasingly hard to focus on my breathing and those anxious feelings escalated when a midwife called Bailey came in and examined me. If I was 5cm dilated I could do this. I’d get them to smash an epidural into me and I would power on, I told myself. Let me be halfway, I prayed. The verdict, when she yanked her hand out of my hoo-ha, was 1cm. After nearly 8 hours in labour I was one fucking centimetre dilated. I couldn’t believe it. At this point another midwife came in – a scary, matron-type one – and gave me some tough love.
“You need to get out of your head and just start to work with the contractions – I’ve seen you do some very good breathing. Focus on that. Stop tensing everything, that just makes it all harder,” she said, firmly but not unkindly.
Right, yeah, thanks for that.
After an hour or two – I can’t remember exactly but it felt like forever – we were moved to a delivery suite. I put a gown on, they broke my waters (which didn’t hurt but felt like just intense pressure) and I had yet another monitor strapped to me. This was a remote monitor which meant I could walk around and go to the loo. Thank god the nausea had abated somewhat, but the contractions charged on. Mr Chick and my sister helped me deal by counting me up a mountain and helping me visualize the peak but to be honest, it wasn’t working. The TENS machine had also had its day and wasn’t really working like it had before. They examined me again and I was still only 1-2cm.
Bailey and another midwife started talking about whether the monitor print-out was correct because it wasn’t showing a heartbeat. I didn’t think much of it at this stage, because I was basically in a world of pain.
“We’re going to put you on a drip to speed up the contractions,” Bailey said finally.
I knew from friends who’d had the drip that it was no picnic. The pain would probably double or maybe even triple the minute those drugs hit my system. My sister followed me into the loo. “How many hours has it been now? Ten? Eleven? I can’t do this I need an epidural I can’t do this I can’t go through with this,” I said, a bit desperately. I was fast realising that my pain threshold was, in short, a bit non-existent.
I seriously doubted an epidural was coming before the drip, though, and now being in the hands of the medical establishment I felt just, well, helpless and a bit scared. I lay back on the bed to try and get through the contractions and to wait for them to sort out the drip, fuckity fuck.
“I need an epidural,” I moaned to no one in particular.
Everyone ignored me. They were all looking at the heart rate monitor.
Suddenly, the room was full of doctors all talking at once. About the heart rate monitor not working. And about Charlie’s heart rate. Which was either faint or they couldn’t find it at all, from what I remember – but it’s sketchy as I had a fair bit going on at this point.
One of the doctors came over to me. He had glasses and told me his name was Brad and he was one of the obstetricians. “Rachel, your baby’s heart rate is dropping with every contraction so we’re going to put you under general anaesthetic and perform an emergency caesarean,” he said, in the quick, firm way people of authority say things when there’s no point arguing.
If this guy didn’t mince words, the medical team taking me to theatre wasted even less time. “You guys can’t come with us,” one of the doctors told Mr Chick and my sister. Because it was an emergency c-section and I was being put under, no family were allowed in the theatre with me. I vaguely remember saying goodbye to Mr Chick and my sister and feeling shaky and teary. I didn’t have time to wonder how they were feeling but later, we all agreed we’d been pretty freaked out by the speed at which everything changed. I didn’t want to voice the possibility that Charlie was in serious trouble or worse, might die, but the anxious nature of everyone around me was certainly not inspiring confidence.
Within a minute I was on a gurney and four midwives were running with it to the operating theatre. One of them helpfully informed me of the caesarean risks along the way – which included ‘blood transfusion’ and ‘possible hysterectomy if things go wrong’. If I hadn’t been so shit scared, I would’ve appreciated the ER-style drama of it all.
As it was though, all I could think of was, don’t let him die. After everything we’d been through to get to this point. I had a little picture reel in my head, starting with the IVF days, the tests we went through, the drugs I pumped into my system. Mr Chick doing injections into my stomach every morning. The embryos being taken from me and being woozy and in pain in bed. The doctor in the fertility unit telling us he was putting in a perfect embryo and wishing us luck. The positive pregnancy test two weeks later. More drugs. Progesterone. Acupuncture. Hope and prayers and watching my belly swell month by month. The tests, tests, more stressful tests – every week it seemed. The incredible scan at 16 weeks where we saw his little profile and his button nose and I just knew then, without being told, that he was a boy. The first time he kicked me and how I’d lie in bed in the morning and sleepily look forward to his first, low-down thump to signal he was awake. The anticipation, the worry, the joy at knowing we were just days off meeting him, the weeks we waited while he wouldn’t budge and now, the race to the operating theatre and not knowing what the hell was going on or if this was standard procedure or if his heart rate was dropping meant more than they were telling us. I felt like I’d kept him safe for nine months, and now that it was time for him to come out, it was all so damn precarious and I had no control over anything.
Faces loomed over me. The OB, the anaesthetist, midwives, other doctors. Some talked to me, but I can’t remember what was said. Within minutes my stomach was swiped with orange antiseptic, the mouthpiece was pressed to my face and I went under.
I woke up in a room with Mr Chick and my sister, having probably been taken there from recovery. Everything had gone okay, thank god. Charlie was perfect. I found out later it had only been 20 minutes or so before one of the midwives brought the baby out and gave him to Mr Chick, who held him until I was brought in. I don’t remember much – in fact, I didn’t really wake up for the next 12 hours, but I remember them saying, ‘Look, here’s Charlie!’ and holding up the baby. I remember seeing a glimpse of my boy and then conking out again. I’m sure Mr Chick held him for most of that time.
When I woke properly, we were in our room in the hospital where we’d stay for the next five days. The baby was asleep in his little glass case of emotion on wheels next to my bed and I got my first look at my boy’s sweet face. His tiny feet and hands. His little rosebud mouth.
Charlie was finally here.
Well folks, that’s the end of the Up The Duff series! I hope you’ve enjoyed following the journey with me. I’ll be starting a new weekly series soon brain-dumping my thoughts and experiences on first-time motherhood… just as soon as I clamber my way out of this mountain of nappies, bottles, washing and more washing. And yet more washing. I dunno how a tiny person generates so much laundry, seriously.