Birth story

January 14th, 2008

“Did you hear that?”
“What?”
“That pop.”

It was 00.45, Friday night into Saturday morning, and I’d just settled into bed having cleaned out Joe and Viv at Joe’s poker night. My clattering had woken Lara and she’d taken the opportunity to visit the bathroom. Her trip must have triggered something, and when she got back into bed she heard, or rather felt, that pop. Intently I listened as she tripped back to the bathroom, waiting for either silence or the tell-tale trickle of broken waters. And then, with that gently sound, I knew I was in for a long night.

My first job was to fill the birthing pool. It was still inflated from the dry run, so I set it off and left it. Twenty minutes passed before I realised I’d forgotten the sterile pool liner. Oh well, bang goes the eBay resale, but I got my first lesson of the night: thinking clearly was going to be difficult under the pressure of events.

Meanwhile, Lara’s contractions were coming on strong. At about 01.00 she came downstairs, bent herself over the birthing ball, and started to make an animal noise that immediately brought back memories of Roo’s birth. I began to think that maybe she was further on than I thought, so I called the hospital, who told me the midwife would be about a quarter of an hour. At this point it was about 01.15: half an hour from the waters breaking.

I started to time the contractions. Or tried to, anyway: I quickly found that a strange number dyslexia had come over me. Reading my watch took a massive effort; working out duration felt like calculus, as my notes, full of crossings out, bear witness to. Higher brain functions are obviously not prioritised in these sorts of situations, but I eventually got my head straight and worked out that contractions were lasting about 1 min, and were 2-3 mins apart. Gulp.

The pain ratcheted up and Lara told me she wanted to get into the pool. I said that the midwife would be along soon and would want to examine her, so she should probably wait. Time ticked on, and I couldn’t help wondering where the midwife was.

During our ante-natal classes for Roo’s birth we’d been told about a phase of labour charmingly described as "the valley of despair". It comes just before the final phase of pushing, and I’m not sure whether it’s hormonal, but the mother-to-be will typically feel a sense of desperation; that she can’t continue. It happened with Ruby’s labour and I was prepared for it to happen this time, too, just not quite as early as this. Lara, in agony, told me that she couldn’t do it, and that she couldn’t cope with the pain. I tried to reassure her: I told her that 300,000 women a day do it, and if they can, she definitely could. I told her that she should wait 20 minutes for the endorphins to kick in; that would help with the pain. I told her that she’d been here before and got through it then. She gritted her teeth, and told me she was getting in the pool regardless. I barely even needed to help her in.

The warm water helped with the pain immediately. It was about 02.00 by this time, half an hour after the midwife was due. I called again who told me she should be with us imminently. Finally she showed up at 02.10, took one look at Lara, and immediately called for the second midwife. I knew this was only necessary for the very final stages, and so if I had any doubts that Lara was close, they evaporated when I heard this. Events accelerated…

By this time Lara, glasses still incongruously perched on her nose, was leaning over the side of the pool, gripping the handles for dear life. Feeling superfluous I headed up to her end and started rubbing her back and telling her how well she was doing. Next thing I remember, the midwife tells us that she can see the baby’s head. This all seems unbelievably fast. I look over and, in the hand mirror the midwife is holding under the water, I can just about make out a shock of dark hair. A single big, brilliant push later, and baby is born.

In the confused moments that follow, Lara turns over and the midwife manouvres the baby to her. I think I get a glimpse of groin, and with some surprise, I tell Lara that I think it’s a boy.

Since our 20wk scan, despite the sonographer’s lack of confidence, I’ve been convinced that we were having a girl. Two girls would have been a dream for me, but in that moment, when I think it’s a boy, I know with a completeness that I find hard to describe that it truly wouldn’t have mattered either way, boy or girl. Lara doesn’t say anything, probably because the midwife is busy unhooking a loop of umbilical from our new arrival’s neck. And just as I’m reeling in this gender revelation, we’re told: no, it’s a girl. I’d mistaken a glimpse of cord for something else. My prick of embarrassment quickly melts away when I realise that I’ve got what I wanted.

I look at my watch and say it out loud: 02:32. The midwife thanks me; she usually forgets to check the time. The dyslexia must still be kicking-in though, because it takes me about 30 seconds to work out that from start to finish, labour has taken only one and three quarter hours. What a woman.

In retrospect Lara says that this labour was harder to bear than Roo’s. Probably because it happened so quickly, there was much less time for her to get used to the pain. Good soldier.

The rest is downhill. Baby is fine, and as soon as she and momma have exited the pool, Lara tries to feed. Baby already seems comfortable at the breast, a habit that happily has continued. I ask her if the baby is Piper, the name we’d agreed on. It’s a momentous question, and it’s suddenly piercingly clear that all of the discussions we’d had up to that point were merely playing. This is now the real deal. Yes, says Lara, I think she’s Piper. Welcome Piper Jean Pearson.

And then the single blot on the night: The midwife is "not 100% happy" with Piper’s breathing, a statement so beautifully constructed to defray anxiety that I can’t help but admire the wordsmanship. And it’s true, Piper is a bit raspy, or ‘grunting’ in the words of the midwife; I can feel her bubble a bit through her back when I hold her. Perhaps she swallowed some water on the way up, or perhaps, because labour was so quick, the mucus wasn’t completely squeezed from her lungs. I put the kettle on and we wait about an hour, but it’s no good: the midwife almost apologetically calls for an ambulance. I totally understand, but it’s still a disappointment to have our otherwise textbook night marred in this way.

Lara goes in the ambulance and later reports that the ‘grunt’ goes away as soon as they give Piper some oxygen. I wait behind and call Tonya, Lara’s sister, who has been on emergency babysitting notice for months. Ruby, like the brilliant button she is, has slept through the entire performance no more than 15ft vertically from where Piper was born.

At hospital Piper is checked out (all AOK), and then we wait 7 hours before finally precipitating another check by telling them we’re discharging ourselves.

Overall it was an amazing night. Adrenaline fuelled, but calm and together. We did it our way, and we’re both as happy with that as we could possibly be. And Piper Jean is a perfect little girl. Welcome little one, we’re all looking forward to having some fun together.

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