I’m not sure where to start with this. The beginning, obviously; but I don’t think I can convey what it was like just by saying what happened. It was such a straightforward birth and it all went pretty much to plan, even though (as last time) it took me at least half the labour to be thoroughly convinced I was in labour at all. It was a birth as birth is supposed to be – quite ordinary in its way, not frightening, the body doing its job: wonderful, exhilarating, painful, tedious, dramatic, normal, amazing. It was a beautiful birth. And I must say that it was very nice to have the midwives there this time; they were brilliant.
I woke in the small hours on Friday morning, perhaps around 2.30. I was having twingy, tight sensations in the lower abdomen that had started in my dreams and carried on into wakefulness. They weren’t very frequent or very painful. Were these contractions? They seemed to be continuing, and I noticed that Sprout would start to move a little before each one came. At 3.45 Ken seemed to be awake so I told him rather tremulously that I thought I was having contractions. Ken’s reaction was to be frustrated that he hadn’t got round to downloading the contraction timer program for his iPod Touch. We lay in bed for a bit talking, Ken practical, I hesitant. The contractions were so light and I didn’t want to call it too early – what if they were just practice niggles? What if it all went away in a few hours and started again tomorrow night? But Ken went downstairs and began to inflate and fill the pool.
By 5am Ken had persuaded me that I really ought to call the midwives, so I put in a call to the hospital. At this point the contractions were still very mild indeed, so mild I was sometimes unsure it wasn’t just wind, and it was hard to identify a regular interval – we timed them at eight minutes, but then I tried again and got only six, or maybe seven; it wasn’t making much sense. When Sinead, the night-shift midwife, arrived, I greeted her apologetically and told her it was almost certainly a false alarm, but since my labour was fast last time we’d thought it best to be cautious. Sinead said we’d done the right thing. She felt my tummy, listened to the baby’s heartbeat and checked my blood pressure. Then she did an internal examination and, after consultation, a stretch and sweep. My cervix wasn’t open, but it was well forward and ready to go, and Sinead said the stretch and sweep might stir something up. Indeed it did. Sinead hung around for a bit while as Hugh got up and we had some breakfast, and by the time she left at 6.30 I was needing to bend over and breathe to get through each squeeze, though it was still obviously early days. (By the way, things I have done while in [early] labour: carry a 14kg toddler down the stairs. Play with lego. Make toast.)
From this point on I became more and more absorbed in my labour, while Ken rushed around putting out mats and towels, getting Hugh ready and out to the childminder, and checking the temperature and depth of the pool (with the aid of a thermometer in the shape of a rubber duck kindly lent us by Sinead). I took up a position kneeling in front of the sofa, which was surrounded with mats and protected with a couple of waterproof pads and a towel, and this in fact is where I stayed until Frank was born with the exception of frustrating lurches to the bathroom. When each contraction hit I burrowed into the seat with my head on the cushions, much as I did last time with the beanbag, and breathed deeply. With Hugh I remember the pains as being largely in my back and achey in character, which is the kind of pain I get during periods, and the urge to lean forward was driven by wanting to get the weight off my back. This time I experienced the pain as sharper, lower and more to the front, similar to wind, but I still felt a strong need to bend forward, and I was using the breath to try to make some space deep in my abdomen. In case my yoga teacher should happen to read this I wish it to be noted that I did my three-stage yoga breathing, if not with text-book strictness.
When Ken got back from dropping Hugh off he called the midwives again on my behalf. They tell you it should be the woman who calls, but at this stage I couldn’t face the idea of getting a contraction while I was on the phone and I wanted to stay where I was. Ken encouraged me to get in the pool he had so lovingly filled, but I didn’t want to play the trump card too early and I decided to wait until the midwives had confirmed I was at least 4cm dilated.
At ten to nine the day-shift midwives, Bernie and Kate, arrived. I was very happy to see Kate because she did two of my home visits and also spoke to me on the phone when I got the results of the GCT (blood test for gestational diabetes), but it was actually Bernie who gave most of my hands-on care and stayed with us for some hours after the birth. As previously mentioned, the midwives were wonderful; they whisked everything into place with complete calm and efficiency and made us feel that nothing could possibly go wrong while they were there. Again they checked my tummy, my blood pressure and the baby’s heartbeat; Bernie pronounced him to be ‘a very happy little baby’. Moving to lie on the sofa to have my tummy felt was an effort and brought on a mini-contraction while I was there – I had to turn onto my side to cope with it – and Bernie said she would wait a bit before doing an internal. As it turned out, that meant this was another labour in which I had only one internal and that very near the start.
Kate and Bernie then asked if I would like to have my back massaged or if I would rather they went into the other room and left me to do my thing. I wasn’t sure, but I asked to try the massage and find out if it helped. So Bernie started to prod her way down my spine and apply counterpressure at the base when the contractions came, talking me through them and helping me release the tension I was still holding in my buttocks and shoulders, despite all the breathing. ‘Relax your feet’, I remember her saying; ‘relax your ears.’ The massage was more a distraction than a relief in itself, but it gave me permission to go off completely into my own place, not emerging between contractions but staying with my arms and head on the sofa and focusing on my breath. The surges became more and more intense so that I was beginning to moan aloud – so good to moan and not care and ride the pain – until quite quickly, and without warning for me (though I’m sure Kate and Bernie saw it coming) I began to shout and it turned to pushing. A bulging sensation like a vast, hard bubble, so painful – I don’t remember being that aware of the pain of the second stage with Hugh – but never quite too much, and then, like in all the stories, Bernie told me ‘pant through this one’ – which wasn’t difficult, it was more about not rushing it than resisting the heave – and then ‘reach down and touch your baby’. The vernix felt like a rather dry yoghurt. ‘Now comes his body’, and out he came. They passed him through my legs and clumsily and shakily I took him, with the umbilical cord dragging rather uncomfortably against my private parts. My nightie was manoeuvred off around the cord and I was helped to sit down on the sofa.
As set out in the birth plan, I took the injection and the placenta followed speedily and without fuss, in welcome contrast to the rather anxious wait we had last time; once a good ache had buiIt up they told me to kneel forward and it plopped neatly into a little tray. I had no tearing (hooray!), just a small graze that didn’t require attention. After a short while I was helped into the kitchen and assisted to climb at last into the pool, and there I wallowed in the delicious hot water and gave Frank his first, somewhat inexpert feed. So Ken’s efforts were not wasted; it felt lovely. I was also very happy to be able to wash Frank immediately. One of the things I remember about the days in the hospital after Hugh was born was that he had a blood-clot in his hair and I was longing to wash it off, but he wasn’t given a bath until the morning we were discharged.
So this was my experience, as far as I can tell it, of the birth of our second son. He was most considerate in his arrival; he timed things nicely so we could get Hugh out of the way without disrupting his sleep and then have most of the day to recover and settle in before he came home. It was probably marginally shorter than my first labour, though it’s hard to say as we don’t know when active labour started in either case. I certainly went from zero dilation to the birth in about four hours. I never noticed my waters breaking; apparently they went just before the birth. Frank weighed seven pounds and was born ten days early, at 9.28am, on my parents’ wedding anniversary, which is also the day after my mother’s birthday.