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Archive for February 2011

I have decided to write about each of my children’s births while I still remember all of the gory details! Don’t read this if it isn’t your thing. Personally, I love birth stories.

I have written about my pregnancy with Molly before, but skipped a lot of the detail. This is a more thorough version.

Okay, so you would think that after Tiernan’s shaky start I would have been at least a little bit nervous about having another baby. I wasn’t. In fact, I was so not-nervous that I became pregnant again when Tiernan was only eight months old. Then, suddenly, I was nervous! But not about the actual pregnancy part, really. After talking to the doctors when Tiernan was born, I came away believing that of the two conditions I ended up being diagnosed with, pre-eclampsia was the more serious, which was also the one I was least-likely to get again. I now believe that this isn’t quite true, although we never really got to the bottom of what happened with Tiernan’s pregnancy. Perhaps the undiagnosed obstetric cholestasis meant that I was more prone to pre-eclampsia, but who really knows? In any case, I was lead to believe that I shouldn’t have any issues with further pregnancies – if I developed OC again, it would be caught earlier (because I would know what to look out for), and managed effectively.

I was more nervous about how I was going to finish uni whilst also pregnant and trying to look after a one-year-old. My final subject of uni, which involved eight weeks of teaching and a million assignments, was my biggest hurdle (or so I thought). We upped Tiernan’s daycare to three days per week (he had been going once a week while I was working casually), and he spent the remaining two days with either his grandparents or with Tom.

It was extremely stressful. I was, in essence, working full-time, with the added bonus of then having to work from home of an evening, too. Because prac sucks – there is all that teaching, planning, preparing, evaluating, researching, reading, assignments, etc. etc. etc. I was also largely responsible for making sure Tiernan had food to eat and clothes to wear at daycare each day. I missed my baby boy terribly. I felt incredibly guilty that I had so little time for him all of a sudden. He coped pretty well, though. He loved his carer, Jillian (who is amazing!), and it also meant that he got some bonding time with Tom. I consoled myself with the knowledge that it was good for him to strengthen his relationships with some of the other, wonderful people in his life. Plus, the situation was also temporary. Prac would be over in a couple of months, and then, once my assignments were done, I would be able to have some quality time with him before the baby came. Or so I thought.

Throughout the pregnancy, I had been visiting the clinic at Nepean public hospital. Shared care was no longer an option for me, because of Tiernan’s complicated birth, so I was visiting the obstetric registrars (and if I was lucky, an actual obstetrician) each time. I asked, several times, whether I should be having any blood tests along the way to check that my liver was behaving, but was told that nothing needed to be done until I started to itch (the first, and often only, symptom of OC). So I waited to itch. I had a pretty good idea that I was going to eventually, but assumed that the worse thing that would happen would be another induction and another slightly early baby.

Everything went well until about week 30. I started to feel a bit run-down. I put this down to stress and exhaustion. My prac was nearly over, but I was starting to wonder how on earth I was going to get through the sheer workload. I didn’t want to do it any more. I must have known something was up, on a sub-conscious level. I started making noises to my prac supervisor about whether it would be possible to finish my prac a week early, due to being too tired and pregnant to continue. This lecturer had been extremely supportive throughout the semester, as had my prac teacher and the school principal, but she wasn’t sure whether there was anything she could do to ‘let me off.’

And then, at 31 weeks, the itching started. I woke up with itchy palms and feet. It wasn’t too bad and I was able to go back to sleep. So I let it go for one more night. When it came back again, I knew I would have to go to the hospital and get checked out. I was a bit disappointed, because I had hoped maybe I would get away without any OC this time. I had a brief moment of panic that if I went to the hospital they wouldn’t let me out again, like last time (with Tiernan), but I dismissed it: I imagined I would have a blood test, be diagnosed, and then be sent home on medication, an order to take it easy, and to come in for monitoring more frequently. I was fairly sure that I would be allowed to finish prac early, now that there was a medical reason, so I could use my ‘resting’ time to complete my assignments, and then spend time with Tiernan and prepare for the baby. Maybe it wasn’t going to be so bad, after all.

Well, of course, that wasn’t how it went at all. I did go to the hospital, on my way home from school that day. I did have a blood test. I waited hours for the results. And then I got bad news. My blood results were through the roof: two enzymes that are normally at levels of less than 40, were now above 600! I wasn’t going anywhere.

Once again, I found myself calling everyone from the hospital to tell them that I wasn’t allowed to leave. Tom came with clothes and moral support. Before being sent upstairs to the antenatal ward, I was given a shot of steroids that would help mature the baby’s lungs in case she had to be born early. Even though I was assured this was just a precaution, it totally freaked me out.

That was a horrible night. I was terrified about what might be about to happen, and I really missed Tiernan. I hadn’t been able to see him because he was already in bed when Tom came with my clothes. While I lay in my bed, not sleeping, I managed to convince myself that all this talk of the baby being born soon was just ridiculous (why induce a baby at 31 weeks? Pretty drastic, thought I). They were more likely to try to keep me in the hospital until the baby could be induced more safely, at 35 or 36 weeks. Well, I decided that I wasn’t going to be kept away from Tiernan for that long, so I would try and negotiate to be let out until then, even if it meant daily visits. With this plan firmly settled in my mind, I eventually drifted off to sleep. (Yes, I slept – the medication they gave me, ursodeoxycholic acid, stopped the itch completely this time around).

My blood levels were monitored over the next couple of days. I had been admitted on Friday with levels of 600+. On Sunday, my actual obstetrican came and told me that my levels were now over 1200, which was getting dangerous, for me. At this point, I don’t think they were too worried about the baby. I don’t know what exactly I was in danger of (liver failure?), not having the presence of mind to ask at the time. I was in shock. You know that funny ringing sound you get in your ears when you’ve been at a concert and then go somewhere quiet? I was listening to the obstetrician rattle off the options: caesar now, or induction tonight or tomorrow, through that ringing sound. In the end, she decided it was safer to try an induction, as this was my second baby (so labour would be quicker), the head was well down, and my cervix was 1cm dilated already. Also, she told me, a ‘natural’ birth can be better for premmie babies (as well as full-term ones), because it helps squeeze some of the gunk from their lungs. She then left to make arrangements.

Tom and I were left reeling from this devastating news. If I was worried about having Tiernan ‘prematurely’ at 36 weeks, imagine how I felt now that I would be having a 31-weeker. A timely visit from some paediatricians answered some of our questions: they told us that babies born at 31 weeks have a 98-99% chance of survival; some babies born this early have learning difficulties, and/or hearing and vision impairments, but not many; that the biggest risk after the birth is infection; that our baby may or may not be able to breathe independently; and that the baby would need to stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit until some time around the due-date. It made us feel a little better, but it was a lot to take in.

Then we got another visit from the obstetrician, who told us that, as the NICU at our hospital was currently full, I would have to be transferred to Westmead that night, where my case would be reviewed by whichever doctor took me on. I hoped against hope that they would decide not to go ahead.

Then ensued the ridiculousness that is being transferred! I had to pack up my things, and then be wheeled out to an ambulance on a stretcher. It was so humiliating. The worst part was that I didn’t even feel the slightest bit unwell! I could have driven myself to Westmead with no problems, and here I was, being treated like an invalid. Actually, that was the part that stung the most about my baby being born so early – I couldn’t get over how well I felt. Run-down, yes. Stressed, yes. Tired, yes. But seriously ill? No way. I just wanted to go home, rest up, and have this baby in a few more weeks.

We finally got to Westmead at around 9pm (Tom drove and met me there). We were seen by my new doctor. She decided to do more bloods, but also booked me in for induction first thing in the morning. I held on to a glimmer of hope that the medication I was on may have kicked in by now, and they would call the whole thing off in the morning.

I was taken to the antenatal ward. Tom stayed with me for a while. We didn’t bother writing a birth plan, this time. We knew how it would go. There were no words to say. Eventually, he went home to get a few hours sleep before returning in the morning, and I went to bed feeling like a big failure.

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We spent the weekend down at my Mum’s house. It was lovely to get away. I needed a little holiday. I needed a little holiday from thinking about and planning and cleaning our house for our big holiday next week. We’re doing a house swap, which is completely brilliant, but it means I have to clean, doh! So yeah, I needed a holiday from that.

Driving home was a nightmare. The trip is only supposed to be a little over two hours, but we had to stop four times in the first hour. First Tiernan needed to wee. Then we needed fuel. Then Tiernan said he needed to poo. But he was only joking. Then Tiernan dropped his teddy, but we didn’t stop because we were sick of him. Then he said he needed to poo again, and we fell for it again…

I wasn’t in a good mood after all this, but at least it confirmed for me that taking the kids on the plane to Queensland is absolutely the right thing to do. It will be messy – I will be on my own because Tom is driving the car up and meeting us there. But at least it will be over quickly.

So, when things finally settled down, and we actually got to do some uninterrupted kilometres, we realised we were all getting hungry. We made one more stop at a drive-thru. And then the car gymnastics began. How to get food to the child in the back row? We recently bought a 7-seater, and Tiernan sits right up the back. I wanted to avoid stopping anymore, because Neave was finally asleep after the previous nightmare stoppages, and I was loathe to wake her again and have her scream the rest of the way home. So, we had to get food to Tiernan while on the move. 

Passing the food to Molly for her to relay on to Tiernan didn’t work – on her first attempt she tipped the food all over herself, and on her second attempt we realised her arms were far too short anyway. But bless her for trying!

So, I leaned back as far as I could (trying not to bop Neave on the head) and, after securing the box as well as I could, tossed Tiernan’s dinner over the middle row, and into his waiting hands. It could have been rather messy – as I prepared to throw, I was picturing chips and nuggets showering down onto Neave’s sleeping figure, but it worked. A classic catch!

Feeling pleased with myself, I concentrated on my own dinner. Then I heard, “Mum, I’m thirsty.”

Our next routine involved trying to get Tiernan’s water bottle from the third row into the front. I wouldn’t let him throw it, even though he desperately wanted to follow my bad example. We tried going via Molly again, but her arms hadn’t grown any since last time. Instead, Tiernan managed to (lightly) drop the bottle onto Neave’s seat, where I was able to grasp it with my fingertips. I tipped some water into it, and threw it back to him.

It got him on the head this time, and dropped down onto the floor. Bugger.

“Oh, Mum!”

“Sorry Tiernan, you’ll just have to wait til we get home. We’re not far now.”

“But I’m thiiiiiiirsty!”

After whining for a few minutes, Tiernan engaged in a solo routine of his own devising. He picked the bottle up with his toes and manage to creep it up the back of the seat in front of him, until he could reach it with his hands.

“Got it!”

Did I mention I used to be a gymnast? Maybe I should enrol Tiernan soon…

When I woke up this morning I felt like doing something hideously adventurous. Like walk to the park with three kids. Not the park across the road from us, that would be too easy. The one about a kilometre down the road, with footpaths covering only a third of the distance. Yeah, that one. Extra challenge: take the trikes!

Great idea – I get to feel all ‘outdoorsy’, get the kids exercising (well, the one I’m not carrying or pushing on a trike the whole way), and I get to make up for being a bit slack with the whole outing thing lately (we seriously haven’t left the house, except for daycare/preschool, in what seems like ages).

“Alright kids, let’s all go to the park today! No, not that park, the one that’s ages away that you’ve been to once, that I swore I’d never try to walk you to again. Just let me get some things together and we’ll go… Oh, and we’ll have to get out of our pyjamas too, and brush our hair… clean our teeth… I’d better put a load of washing on… and feed our pets… better bring some food… Molly, is your trike still broken? I think it is, I’ll have to try and fix it… oh sunscreen, better put that on… guys, where are your hats?… come and get your nappy changed, Molly… oh, no sweetie, we don’t have time for puzzles if you want to go for a walk… hang on where’s the baby carrier, kids I have to go down to the garage, you just watch Playschool for a bit while I go and look for the baby carrier… where is the flippin’ baby carrier, oh here it is… okay, shoes on? let me just pack you some water… oh shit! medicine, Tiernan come and have your medicine, and you too Neave, no sorry Molly, none for you today, you’re all healthy today, yes I know that makes you sad, here have some water in a medicine cup, please don’t throw that at me, now you’ll have to go to your room… Tiernan put your shoes back on please… okay Neave, I know you’re tired…

90 minutes later, (ohforgoodnesssakescanwejustgoalready?) “Okay, let’s go!”

This strange convoy left our home and headed for the park…

Yes, some of that 90 minutes was spent taking photos. But I was seriously impressed with myself for managing to wrestle Neave into this thing. I was also seriously impressed that she was asleep before I even got to take a photo!

I said 'trikes', but after at least 10 minutes of dedicated swearing at Molly's one, it remained broken. So, Tiernan rode his scooter and Molly borrowed his trike. Sibling love!

Our trip TO the park looked like this

We got to the park without incident. Except, let me just say that Tiernan is not much of a daredevil when it comes to ‘scootering’. About one metre in front of me at all times, crawling along at snail pace sometimes, and looking over his shoulder at me for about two-thirds of the trip!

“You can go a bit faster if you want, Tiernan! But watch where you’re going!”

The park was fun. All of the usual, parky things:

Climbing

Me too! climbing

Digging

Eating

Break-and-enter-ing

Chatting on the 'phone' (supposed to be a calculator). Probably to the police.

Swinging on the 'adorable' swing

Swinging on the 'tantrum' swing (mood swing?)

Sliding, with a little bit more 'sibling love' into the mix

The ‘sibling love’ thing went all day, actually. It’s a weird phenomenon, occurring on a seemingly random cycle (but I’m sure it’s got something to do with the moon, or maybe the weather), but on these days the siblings wake up and they just adore each other and get along really well all day. For example, this morning Tiernan went into Molly’s room, joined her in her cot, and they made each other laugh by pulling faces and saying ‘boo’ for the next ten minutes. Then they shared their favourite toys with each other and played together in one another’s bedrooms. Amazing.

When we’d sufficiently filled our clothing (and in Neave’s case, mouth) with tiny bits of bark, it was time to go. The trip home took at least twice as long as the trip there. Tiernan, who was already rather tired, used up all of his remaining energy within the first hundred metres, by riding his scooter through the thick grass instead of on the road. Things fell apart rather quickly from there. The more civilised parts of our trip home looked like this:

Molly walking and Tiernan being pushed on the trike

However, I didn’t get photos of the part when Molly refused to walk any further, so Tiernan and I said ‘bye’ and kept walking (which worked for a bit – she followed at a short distance behind), but then Tiernan decided he missed his sister too much (sibling love, again), and attempted to go and get her, which of course resulted in Molly bolting in the opposite direction. I didn’t get a photo of the woman who stopped her car to help chase Molly down the footpath (I was burdened with trike, scooter, bag and baby), and who eventually caught her. And I didn’t get a photo of when I attempted to juggle Molly, scooter and bag whilst also trying to push the trike.

The words ‘never again’ come to mind.

But at least there was sibling love:

“Look, Mummy! I built a train track all by myself…

It’s a bit like a pig’s bum, though.”

Despite my fears about having a premature baby, Tiernan turned out to be quite a good size – 2900g, or about 6 lb, 6 oz. Apparently there’s ‘premature’ and there’s ‘premature‘ (as we later found out…) Being a 36-weeker, he was admitted to what was called the ‘Cub House’, which was a mini special-care nursery for babies who needed extra monitoring, but weren’t sick enough for the NICU. It was up on the maternity ward, across the hall from where my room was. Being separated from my brand new baby was hard. Even though he was only steps away, this small distance felt like too much. I was allowed to go and see him whenever I wanted, but still it felt like I was only borrowing him.

He had to be in there, though, because his sucking reflex sucked! I was determined to breastfeed, but it was very, very difficult, as Tiernan didn’t have the strength to attach properly, and stay attached. He also had a habit of falling asleep after one or two sucks. Despite his good size, it became obvious that my poor, sweet baby just wasn’t ready to be born yet, as he was completely incapable of feeding this way. I ended up having to express tiny amounts of colostrum for him (like 2 or 3ml) into a syringe so that it could be squirted into his mouth. Things didn’t improve much over the next couple of days, even though I sat for hours and hours trying to coax him onto the breast – he was just so sleepy (and a little bit hopeless!)

Actually, the sleepiness was due to him being very jaundiced, and eventually (on day 2, I think), he ended up being put under phototherapy lights (to help break down the bilirubin in his blood faster – there is some debate about whether this actually does anything at all). I was so sad when they did this, as it really did feel like he was ‘off limits’ to me, except at feeding times. Actually, I was so sad about it that I didn’t even take a photo of him in his little tanning salon, with his cute little eye mask protecting his eyes. I regret that now. As hard as it was to deal with at the time, it was a part of his journey and I should have recorded it.

Back at home, and still a bit yellow!

Tiernan began his 48-hours under the phototherapy lights, and I began my ridiculously exhausting, 3-hourly feeding cycle: first I would attempt to wake him up to feed – this usually took at least 10 minutes, but he never really woke up properly; then I would attempt to attach him to breastfeed – he might get one or two good sucks in the hour that I sat trying, which was enough to give me sore nipples, but not enough to get any milk into him at all; then I would bottle feed him the colostrum (or milk, after his third day) that I had expressed last feed; then I would mix up a small amount of formula to ‘complement’ his breastfeed (the doctors wanted him to drink plenty of milk to help flush the bilirubin from his system) – I would then attempt to feed him this, but he was usually too full to drink it; then I would change his nappy (and usually his clothes after he spewed all over them, from drinking too much), give him a cuddle and put him back under his lights; next, I would drag myself over to the ‘pumping room’ to express whatever milk I had for the next feed; then I would either go back and sit with Tiernan and just be near him / or stumble back to bed for an hour’s sleep / or try and be alert and responsive to any visitors we had, before starting the whole process all over again! And this went around the clock. I was spending so much time on my feet, running around from one errand to the next that my legs ballooned for a couple of days, filled with all of the fluid that was supposed to be draining from my body but couldn’t because I was so busy.

After 3 or 4 days of this, Tiernan was still absolutely hopeless at breastfeeding, despite my saint-like patience! My Mum was with me through much of this crazy routine (during the day, anyway), keeping me company and providing moral support. I think she was beginning to wonder why I was so determined to breastfeed this baby who just couldn’t do it, worrying that maybe I was feeling pressured into doing the ‘right’* thing. But, she could see that I wanted to this, so she just kept on supporting me, encouraging me, and not expressing the doubts that she had, which is exactly what I needed at the time. If it had became obvious that this was never going to work, then I think she would have gently encouraged me to think about other options (such as exclusively bottle feeding with either expressed breast milk or formula), but as it was, it never came to that. I will be forever grateful for her support during this very challenging time. I hope I have her wisdom (and ability to hold me tongue!) one day. I don’t even really know why I was so stubborn about it. I was feeling pretty guilty for not being able to carry him until he was actually ready to be born, so maybe I thought breastfeeding him would somehow make up for this. Or maybe I was just being stubborn (not unusual for me!)

Despite my Mum’s helpful presence, I was beginning to get pretty disheartened. While I wasn’t ready to give up trying to breastfeed yet, I was starting to wonder how much more of this I was going to put up with – there seemed to be no end in sight. Then a wonderful midwife, who usually worked down in the NICU but was filling in for someone in the Cub House, suggested I try a nipple shield, as they can sometimes help premmie babies who have trouble attaching, or who have a weak sucking reflex. She went and found me one, and it worked. Tiernan attached, sucked and fed for almost an hour! Major breakthrough!! This meant I could just relax and feed my baby, change him, give him a cuddle, and forget the whole stupid business of complementing with formula and expressing for the next feed. I was so much happier, even if only a little more rested, after this development.

Things started to come together after that – not long after this breakthrough, the midwives brought Tiernan into my room and I was allowed to keep him. He was finally mine! And then, about half an hour later, they came and asked me if I would like to go home today. Just like that. My verbal response was, “Yes please!” My internal response was: Wait a minute, half an hour ago I wasn’t allowed to touch him without asking permission, and now you’re kicking me out? I’ve never even slept in the same room as him. I don’t know shit about babies! Oh crap, now he’s really mine!

But we went home, anyway. For two days. We were soon back, when Tiernan’s jaundice took another turn for the worse. Catherine, the midwife who came to visit us at home each day after we were discharged, wasn’t happy with Tiernan’s ‘golden’ appearance on the second day, so she took a blood sample and then rang back later to confirm that he would need further phototherapy. I was devastated. I was just getting used to having him belong to me, and now I had to go and hand him back! That was so hard. I cried and cried! However, Catherine was very kind, and made sure I was given a bed on the ward again so I could be close to him. So, back to hospital we went. The next 48 hours went without incident, and we were discharged, for real this time, when Tiernan was 8 days old.

I’ve realised that I haven’t mentioned Tom much in all of this. He was there, too, supporting me and getting to know his son. But he was also at home, doing all the things that we hadn’t had time for, like building the cot, decorating the ‘nursery’, washing the baby clothes, installing the car seat, and painting baby furniture. He and Mum took turns to sit with me at the hospital in that first week, and both of them helped me immensely.

Tiernan and his Daddy

So, there is the entire story (or novel) of how our precious Tiernan came to be. By the way, I was eventually able to wean Tiernan off the nipple shield at 5 weeks, which is much longer than some doctors or lactation consultants would recommend they be used for. However, my milk supply was not affected by its extended use, and Tiernan simply could not have been breastfed without it. So which better, to feed with a nipple shield, or not at all? Tiernan and I went on to have a good breastfeeding relationship, which lasted 12 months before he weaned himself. So, thank goodness for nipple shields.

On reading over this again, I’ve just realised that it could be read as a ‘How I managed to breastfeed despite the odds’ sort of story, which really wasn’t my intention. It was my choice to breastfeed my son, based on my instincts and my own needs as much as on his. Mothers have always been judged for the decisions they make, especially in regards to breastfeeding, and it is not my intention to imply that not breastfeeding my son would have been a ‘bad’ choice. Of course, if breastfeeding had not worked out, I would have bottle fed him. I would have been disappointed, not because I think bottle feeding is bad, but because I wanted to have the experience of breastfeeding.

Continued from here.

The morning of Tiernan’s ‘birthday’. Don’t I look positively refreshed, from my great night’s sleep?

After months of speculating about what going into labour might be like, I found myself in a situation quite removed from my dreams of a straightforward, ‘natural’ birth.

At about 8am we headed down to the birthing suite. We met our midwife, had the basic induction procedure explained to us, and then sat around for about three hours while every available staff member attended to some sort of emergency. This did nothing for my nerves.

When our midwife re-appeared, we showed her our hastily written birth plan. It said lots of lovely things like ‘warm bath or shower’, ‘going for a walk’, ‘different positions’, ‘heat packs’ and ‘don’t offer me drugs’. The midwife read the plan before crushing all of my hopes by pointing out that, since I was being induced, I would be hooked up to a drip and a foetal monitor the entire time, which would restrict my movement. In fact, I had a choice between sitting on the bed or sitting on a chair, and that was it.

Oh.

She then went about preparing me for the induction, which included inserting a cannula into my hand, hooking me up to a drip, giving me antibiotics (for GBS), taking a blood sample (I can’t remember why), and then giving me fluids via the drip when I nearly fainted (great start to a labour!) When everything was finally prepared, a doctor came in and broke my waters (quite painful when it’s done manually), at about 11am. The Syntocinon drip was then started. The normal procedure is to start with a low dose of Syntocinon, and gradually increase the dose every half-hour until labour is established, when it will be kept at a constant flow until the baby is born.

Labour was very, very dull for a while! Tom and I sat around watching boring day-time TV. I was pretty uncomfortable straight away – not from any labour pains, yet, but mostly from the pain of having had my waters broken. Plus, I now had a giant baby head resting right up against my cervix without any cushioning around it, so sitting was rather difficult already. It wasn’t long before I started to get period-like cramps, which is what we were hoping for (induction doesn’t work for everyone), and these gradually became quite regular and persistent. I was told, by the midwife, that the ‘magic’ crossover point from pre-labour into labour would be when I was having three, sustained, contractions within a ten-minute period (which they would determine by reading the printout from the foetal monitor, and not by asking me. Surprise, surprise). It seemed to take a bloody long time, and quite a lot of pain, before I was even in proper ‘labour’, which wasn’t until about 1pm.

My original plan was to manage the pain on my own for as long as possible. Heat packs on my back helped for a little while (well, they took the edge off), but soon became quite useless and mostly annoying. Actually, I was quite surprised by how well I was coping – I found myself getting into a rhythm of just ‘breathing’ through the contraction. I would have loved to have rocked and walked around – I think this would have helped a great deal. Or, better yet, had a shower. But, I was stuck in the stupid chair, with tight straps constricting my distended belly. My only relief was when I was allowed up for toilet breaks, which were frequent.

At some point we got a new midwife (when the shift changed), and I remember her name was Elizabeth. I don’t remember how soon it was after her arrival that things got bad. Really bad. All of a sudden, I found myself hunching over and making this guttural, heaving noise and pushing with each contraction, and I had absolutely no control over it. I remember several people telling me I would have to stop doing it (there seemed to be extra people in the room now), but I was helpless. At the same time, the ‘people’ were expressing dissatisfaction with the trace of my baby’s heart rate – there wasn’t enough variation between contractions, which could indicate that he was becoming distressed. Solution? They made me lie on my back and stay perfectly still so they could make sure it really was his heart rate acting up and not my stupid, labouring self knocking the probe out of place while having a hideously powerful (bend-me-in-half) contraction.

Well, on my back, I quickly became quite convinced that this pain was going to kill me (he was posterior, but it would have hurt more on my back, anyway – this is absolutely the worst way to try to give birth!) There was no staying still. I was still being bent double, and now I was desperately repeating Epidural! Epidural! Before calling for the anaesthsetist, they did a quick internal exam and found that I was now 5cm dilated (from a starting point of 3cm). It was progress, but I still had another five to go, and there was no way I was going to survive this torture, on my back, for that long. EPIDURAL!

The anaesthetist soon arrived, explained the procedure and the inherent risks (ie. you could get an infection and die, or I could sever your spinal cord and you may never walk again, or the thing might have no affect whatsoever). Tom and I were given a few minutes to discuss, but as far as I could see, there was no choice to make – a small chance of death or permanent disability versus certain death from the intensity of this pain. So, epidural it was. While the anaesthetist was setting up his equipment, he explained to me again that I would have to stay perfectly still while he inserted the needle. Meanwhile, I still felt as though I was being ripped in half from the inside, was still bellowing and still finding it impossible not to writhe with pain – how on earth is this going to work? I wondered. He won’t be able to do it and then I’ll just die. Miraculously, just as the anaesthetist finally was ready to give me the epidural, I experienced about a five-minute lull between contractions (transition period? I’m convinced it was), and I felt better almost instantly.

The pain-induced fog was lifted. I could think straight again. I wasn’t going to die, after all. Amazing! But, what do you know, another progress report revealed that I was now 10cm, and it was time to push!

It turns out that one of the new ‘people’ who had bustled into the room during all this was the attending obstetric registrar, (let’s call her Dr X). I didn’t like her at all – she was pushy, arrogant, and didn’t even have the decency to talk to me directly, instead preferring to issue her orders to Elizabeth. When it was declared ‘time to push’, she told Elizabeth that I had one hour to push the baby out, or she would come in and pull him out with the Ventouse vaccuum. I feel this was unnecessary: the baby’s heart rate seemed to return to a more ‘normal’ pattern after the epidural, because I stopped moving around and interfering with the equipment. How I wish I hadn’t been so scared that I simply went along with Dr X’s orders. Really, there was no reason for there to be such a rush. I think it was simply her wish that my baby be born as quickly as possible, for whatever reason (because she wanted to go home? because she didn’t know how to ‘let things be?’ because she was bored?) However, nobody tells pregnant women that they actually have a choice in these matters, and that they don’t have to relinquish control of their bodies to the ‘experts’. It has taken me three births to learn this.

After Dr X left the room, I started the tricky business of trying to ‘push’ a baby out while under a full epidural. I was almost flat on my back again, and, although I could tell when it was time to push, I had no idea how hard I was pushing. Not very hard, I think! I was actually really worried about pushing so hard that I would tear, get a haemorrhoid, or push a poo out instead. Because, that’s the downside to having an epidural – these things mattered again when I was fully present in the moment, whereas minutes earlier, the fact that I was naked in front of fifteen million strangers had barely registered on my radar.

So, anyway, one hour was quite obviously not enough time to push the baby out (not without muscles or even gravity to help me). In swept Dr X again, along with two more midwives and a team of paediatricians, and finally ‘extracted’ Tiernan from my body, at 7:31pm. I was given a quick look before the paeds took him and checked him over. He was declared ‘all good’, and handed back to me fairly quickly, though. And what a sweetheart! Apparently the maternal rush of love doesn’t happen for everyone immediately, but it happened for me. I instantly fell in love with him and knew that I would do anything  to protect this tiny, precious being.

Tiernan. 2900g (6 lb 6 oz) and 51cm.

He had a perfect little face, with a tiny nose, wrinkled up ears and that long, newborn head, with copper-coloured, wavy hair! He didn’t cry much, just looked around and took it all in. I remember the way he kept sticking his little tongue out, as though wondering what this strange, dry air was and where had his lovely, warm bath gone?

My preoccupation with my new baby boy didn’t quite distract me enough from what was going on ‘down there’, though. My friend Dr X, having congratulated herself on a job well done with the vacuum (“Did you see how well I did that? Got it first go!), was now busy giving me stitches for a grade 1 tear (basically a graze, usually better left alone). Her reasoning was that I wouldn’t feel the stitches go in (epidural), so why not? About a week’s worth of pain is why not – I have since learnt that stitches hurt way more than a tiny tear. Thanks, Dr X, I’m glad I could be of service to you, while you practiced your vacuuming and stitching. Now maybe you should go and learn some people skills.

In the weeks and months after Tiernan’s birth, I was so busy, so exhausted and so in love with him that I really didn’t give much thought to my birth experience. But eventually the realisation caught up with me that I was pretty disappointed with the whole thing. I was a bit annoyed with myself for succumbing to the epidural (but seriously, the pain!), because I guess that is what lead to me not being able to ‘push’ Tiernan out myself. With the obstetrician’s complete self-absorption added to this, I ended up feeling that I hadn’t really had much of a role to play in my son’s birth at all. However, I also realised that there were elements involved that were simply out of my control, and I was eventually able to let the grief go. I learnt some valuable lessons from my experience, and I took them with me to my subsequent births.

The best, and most important, part is that I got to meet my beautiful boy and take him home with me, and that is all any mother really wants.