this is ares
This is Ares, born nine weeks ago on January 23rd (and only properly named about five weeks ago). He arrived a day before his due date, but judging from his wrinkliness and incredibly dry skin in the days following his birth, he was probably quite overdue. There’s no way of knowing how overdue he was, but we all know that the estimated due date is hardly an exact science. I’d been hoping he would be born on the 24th, as both Raspberry and I are born on the 24th too, but obviously he had other ideas.
The evening of the 22nd, Raspberry and I came home late from a day out at the Tate with April and Carrie. The interactive exhibition that had been the reason for our visit had been disappointing and I was exhausted and hungry, having lugged my very pregnant, very waddly self through the city centre, running some errands on the way home. I’d actually intended to pick up some more things, such as a sieve that we’d need for the water birth, but held off on account of being too tired. It’d been rainy too, and my feet ached in my rubber boots. As I warmed up our soup dinner soon after returning home, my belly was rather uncomfortable, but I chalked it up to being tired from having been on my feet for such a long time, or hunger since it was dinnertime, or the fact that I had to go to the bathroom. Over dinner, I mentioned this strange discomfort to Lucas and he gave me this look and asked if maybe it could mean that the baby was coming. “Pssht, I doubt it,” I said but then perhaps he could be right, since sitting, eating and going to the bathroom hadn’t made the discomfort disappear. He brought out his watch and timed it and I was surprised by how regular it was — every four minutes, lasting for about ten seconds. Trust the male, non-pregnant person to be right. I’m slightly amused that it didn’t occur to me that an imminent birth might be responsible for what I was feeling, but most of me was thinking, “nooooooooooo!” as I was still feeling grossly unprepared. The birthing pool that Aurelie brought by a few days before was still sitting under the kitchen counter, uninflated because I had yet to borrow a hose from Lucy. Raspberry was induced ten days after her due date and I truly believed this baby was going to arrive late too. I’d been very laid back about the baby’s arrival. In fact, almost exactly a week before, at 39 weeks, I’d gone to Salford and Aurelie had commented that if I was going to travel to Salford, I must be unconcerned about the baby coming, which I was. It was almost like I believed that the baby would stay in and I wouldn’t have to actually go through the process of giving birth. Maybe this had something to do with my already feeling nostalgic for the pregnancy even though I hadn’t yet given birth. Anyway.
On top of feeling unprepared, I was anxious about giving birth because Lucas was to give a lecture (his first time!) the following day and all week, he’d been willing the baby to stay in long enough for him to do so. Also, there was the whole thing about the 24th. I didn’t have much dinner that evening despite having been hungry earlier. In retrospect, I didn’t have much dinner either the evening before Raspberry was born. In combination with going to the bathroom twice with an almost diarrhea-like feeling, I knew my body was emptying itself in preparation for birth.
Because I’d been so chilled about the baby’s arrival, we didn’t have a just-in-case hospital bag packed. I brought out the suggested packing list in my NHS notes, and Raspberry decided to use that to make her own checklist, while Lucas tossed a few diapers, baby clothes and some of my clothes in his large backpack.
After dinner, I sent a message to Aurelie on Facebook, asking if what I was feeling might indicate the baby’s impending arrival (thank goodness she was online; I didn’t want to painstakingly tap out a text message on my lame cellphone). She said it sounded like very early labour and that it could be a one-off thing, which was quite reassuring and what I was really hoping for (I did wonder, however, if I could tolerate that feeling for another day or so, should the baby actually arrive on the 24th). She also suggested a bath and paracetamol to see if it’d help the discomfort. I went for a shower, but as much as I wanted it to, it did little to help. The contractions became more irregular in both their length and duration between them and they gradually became more intense. Thinking that there was a very high possibility that I wouldn’t still be pregnant the next day, I took a couple of pictures of myself in the mirror. Unlike what my practically obsessive documentation of my changing body while pregnant with Raspberry, I hadn’t taken that many pictures of myself in the preceding forty weeks, so it was a bit like a last ditch attempt to document my swollen belly.
I spent the evening at the computer as usual, my digital watch that I haven’t used in ages lying by the mouse, timing out the contractions. Exhausted from the day and the contractions, I went to bed early, around 10:30pm, hoping that sleep would make me feel better. Although I really wanted the baby to be born in the 24th, I couldn’t imagine myself enduring twenty-four or more hours of contractions.
I lay in bed, my watch strapped to my wrist, fading in and out of sleep as I woke with every contraction. I gripped the side of the mattress and dug my feet into the comforter and mattress, feeling the large springs through the thin fabric. I remember thinking how much it was like when I had contractions with Raspberry, when I was lying in the hospital bed, so drowsy from the Nubain but digging my feet into the bed with every contraction. Being sleepy and having contractions is a terrible feeling. You desperately want to sleep but the severe clench of each contraction prevents you from doing so. The nurse who said the Nubain would take the edge off was such a liar. I think it just made it worse. Hence, this time I was determined that this was going to be an all-natural birth in every possible way.
The contractions were irregular — 4 minutes, 9 minutes, 6 minutes, 5 minutes apart. I was hoping that they’d get further and further apart and eventually ease up so I could sleep but that was just wishful thinking. I remembered from watching a labour and birthing video days before, that lying down doesn’t help with advancing labour, as the baby’s head isn’t pushing down on the cervix to stimulate more oxytocin to create a positive feedback loop.
Around 12:30am, I made my way to the couch, so as not to disturb Lucas every time I writhed around in bed. He had been still awake through the first few contractions when we first went to bed but he’d since drifted off into deeper sleep. I sat in the dark living room, my head resting on the cold couch cushion, catching a few winks here and there, groggily pressing the button to faintly illuminate my watch at the start and end of every contraction. When I was pretty certain they were about every five minutes and lasting about a minute or more (I actually barely remembered this and had Googled it earlier in the evening), I woke Lucas and mentioned that I was going to call Aurelie. I went back to the couch, double, triple-checking to make absolutely sure of the timing of the contractions before I called. I didn’t want to be that person to wake her midwife up unnecessarily at one in the morning and be the source of eternal cussing. I went through one contraction while on the phone with her and she said she was coming over in about 40 minutes.
The next 40 to 60 minutes felt like the longest minutes ever. Without the birthing pool inflated, I decided I wanted to give birth in the tub. This had actually been the plan before we switched midwives to Aurelie (before the free access to the birthing pool) and the NHS midwife seemed reluctant to have me do it in the bathtub, citing that she had to be able to have easy access to check me. The hot water heater had been turned on, albeit too late, and we drained it before the water in the tub could cover my belly. To make up the difference, Lucas boiled water in the kettle repeatedly, and back and forth he went between the kitchen and the bathroom, while I laboured in the bathtub, wishing for either or both Lucas and Aurelie to be there.
Through each contraction, I delusionally kept thinking that Aurelie’s presence would somehow magically make things better. Perhaps it was me just wanting a professional around. She finally showed up and I could hear her whispering to Lucas in the hallway so she wouldn’t wake Raspberry. I was incredibly relieved that she was finally there. She had on an adorable pair of navy blue socks with foxes all over — she said she’d been saving them for the birth. How awesome is she?!
I don’t remember much after that while being in labour though. Aurelie said the water in the tub had to cover my belly in order to provide effective pain relief and she poured water over my back through the contractions, which helped tons. There was one contraction where I was gripping the sides of the tub, almost pushing myself upward and I remember her telling me that it’d be better to relax my shoulders instead of tensing up. I had to actively remember to control my breathing — slow, controlled breaths in… and out just as slowly. If I’d bothered to get through the entire hypnobirthing book and CD, the breathing might’ve become second nature, but instead, I’d only managed an obligatory read of about a third of the book and didn’t even get to the CD.
I asked Aurelie if she knew how long it’d be until the baby was born, and instantly felt stupid for asking and apologized. Previously, she’d told me how many of her patients ask if she knows how long labour will take and obviously, she doesn’t know as every woman is different. Caught up in the intensity of the contractions and of course wanting them to be over, I’d forgotten what she’d said before.
There was one point when I felt quite nauseous and Aurelie asked if I was going to be sick. Lucas fetched a container for me to puke in, just in case, but thankfully I didn’t need it. Days later, I mentioned this when I was talking to Lucas and I said I was surprised that she knew I was nauseous and he said that I did look like I was about to hurl. So much for me thinking that Aurelie was just amazingly intuitive. Haha.
I think Aurelie listened to the fetal heartbeat only once but beyond that, there was minimal intervention, which I was perfectly fine with. I trusted that she knew exactly what she was doing. At one point in my life, I was one of those people who would’ve been comforted surrounded by medical technology, doctors and the sterility of a hospital. But having gotten crunchier since Raspberry was born and having experienced the sheer isolation of being in a hospital ward with a newborn, I now felt that a homebirth was a much better option for us, for me. I will admit, a little sheepishly, that I did toy around with the idea of having a hospital birth only because I thought the kind of pictures I’d be able to take in a hospital setting would be more interesting than what I could take at home.
Time seemed to pass so much more quickly once Aurelie was there and when I felt the urge to push, she told me to just go with it. I went from labouring in an upright position to being on all fours while I pushed. At some point, she told Lucas that it might be a good idea to wake up Raspberry, who didn’t want to miss the birth. I heard Raspberry in the bedroom, groaning about how she was really tired, but when Lucas mentioned the baby was about to be born, she perked right up. I don’t remember hearing this or being aware of much else around me for that matter, as I was so focused on the contractions but from what I was told, Raspberry was practically shaking as she stood beside the tub. Lucas asked if she had to pee, but she said she was fine and just really excited. I don’t remember this but Avy came into the bathroom to see what all the commotion was about. Lucas says it’s because the bathroom door was shut and because it never is, she was curious about what was happening. Aurelie took a picture of her on her hind legs, peering into the tub. She said female cats are more interested in birth than male cats are.
Raspberry got to feel the baby’s head as it was crowning. Aurelie asked if I wanted to do so too, but I was so caught up in the contractions and pushing that I declined. I’m not sure how many times I pushed, how many times I screamed and grunted while pushing, but I was so glad to be past the ring of fire and pushing the head out. It was such a relief once the head was out and even more so once the baby was completely out. He was born at 02:34 on 1/23. Not the 24th as I’d so hoped, but the sequence of numbers is cool enough.
All the pain I had while labouring simply vanished and it still blows my mind how quickly it disappears. Yay for endorphins perhaps? Initially, I thought I would catch the baby but when I was actually in the moment, I’m not sure why but I didn’t want to. I think part of me felt obligated to do so because it seems like the maternal thing to do but I didn’t really care that much for it. Aurelie did and handed the baby to me.
The baby cried soon after emerging and for some reason, I was so surprised that he did. Yes, of course they cry, I told myself. It was like I expected him to be quiet, like his fetal self.
The baby was wrapped up so quickly for fear of being cold that I didn’t even think to see if it was a male or female until a few minutes later when someone (I’m not sure who) asked if it was a boy or a girl. I’d had my suspicions that it was a boy, but for a while, especially early in the pregnancy, I thought that it might have been because I was reading a lot on gender politics, boys in pink, that sort of thing. I had read that a mother’s intuition is a fairly accurate predictor of the sex of the baby and I was kinda hoping for a girl, so I kept hoping that my intuition was wrong. In fact, late in the pregnancy, I was almost ridiculously trying to convince myself that I really was wrong. Ha. It was almost like I feared having a boy. When I realized the baby was a boy, I felt a strange mix of excitement and disappointment — excitement because it’s such a novel experience to have a boy (not that I believe they should be raised any differently from a girl), disappointment because it wasn’t the girl I’d hoped for.
We stayed in the bathtub for quite a while, in the bloody water, Ares nursing while wrapped in a wet previously-white, now meconium-stained towel. I don’t know how I didn’t get cold from being in there so long. We were in there for almost a good two hours, all of us — Lucas, Raspberry, Aurelie, another midwife named Carrie (who was called because she had Aurelie’s scales), Avy, Ares and I — crowded in our little bathroom, waiting for the placenta to emerge. I’d read about how the contractions prior to delivering the placenta can be as strong as the ones that help push the baby out and I dreaded potentially experiencing such pain again. But the contractions never came, and at that point, neither did the placenta. We eventually got out of the water and made our way to the couch. It was quite a monumental task, me holding the baby with the umbilical cord still attached, waddling from the bathroom to the living room, with the midwives holding a disposable incontinence pads between my legs, the towel draped over my shoulders partly falling off. I’d like to have been a fly on the wall looking at that sight.
I eventually delivered the placenta, which had been in my vagina, about two hours after giving birth, right into our gigantic metal bowl, the one I laughed at Lucas at for bringing home but has proved invaluable to us since. It just slid right out with a push. I’d forgotten how large they can be. Aurelie examined the placenta and I thought how cool it was that you can see the blood vessels within it — two arteries and a vein. Three vessels. No more, no less. She did a large placenta print for me, showing the membranes and the umbilical cord. It’s hanging in the bedroom now, at the foot of our bed. Raspberry got to cut the umbilical cord — Lucas declined, stating he had already gotten the chance when Raspberry was born — and it was surprisingly tough, even with sharp scissors.
I didn’t have a major tear, just a second degree one that Aurelie didn’t think I really needed stitches for unless I was concerned about aesthetics, which I wasn’t. It hurt like hell while she was checking the extent of the tear though, and I had to have some gas. I was highly amused by the squeaky, accordion-like sound I made as I inhaled, the long, drawn out whines getting more frequent as I hyperventilated through the pain. I didn’t get that light-headed sensation you’re supposed to get, so I’m not sure how much it actually worked. It wasn’t that bad when she checked my anus to see if I’d torn that much, but even gently touching the tear made me howl. The tear resulted in me walking like a cowboy after peeing, a good week after I gave birth. Fun stuff, although I’m extremely glad the unwanted episiotomy I had when I had Raspberry would never happen (The Ottawa Hospital, I’m looking at you).
Ares emptied his bowels twice more onto me in the time I was holding him on the couch. I can now safely say (not proudly though) I’ve been shat on. It took a bit to get him cleaned before putting him on the scale to be weighed. For that matter, I think there was still dried meconium in the crevices between his little feet when he finally had his first bath eleven days later.
Carrie gave me disposable crepe paper-like underwear with a maternity pad. “Classy,” I laughed . It had a crappy, thin elastic and barely stayed on me. I got out of it as soon as I could.
Lucas sat on the kitchen floor, texting his advisor to let him know he wasn’t going to be in that day. Aurelie filled in the notes documenting labour and the birth — an Apgar score of 10, 70mL of blood lost, that sort of thing. I was thoroughly impressed she was able to estimate how much blood I’d lost since it was all mixed in with the water. It’s quite a skill. When all was said and done, the paperwork filled in on the iPad and on paper, the soiled towels and pads unceremoniously tossed in the garbage bag, Aurelie texted April to let her know the baby had been born, part of the whole chain-of-texting everyone had established at the blessingway.
It was close to 6am when Aurelie and Carrie left and we had the joyous task of doing a quick cleanup — draining the tub and cleaning all the blood and meconium off the couch — before finally crashing in bed almost an hour later. Raspberry had been so hyper just a few hours before, declaring that she was going to tell people she was six because it was only a month before her birthday anyway, that I was surprised she was able to fall asleep. We all slept in until well past nine, and it was rather surreal to wake up with a baby in bed. It was wonderful to have Lucas and Raspberry around after the birth, as one of the major issues I had with the hospital birth I had before was how isolating it was, since there was no way Lucas could’ve stayed with me overnight. This time, we were able to settle in nicely just hours within the birth. Lucas and Raspberry went to the market and Ares and I took a long nap. It was bliss.
I didn’t end up taking pictures while in labour and giving birth, much to my disappointment. Looking back, I don’t know how I could have though, as I was so focused on the process that I wasn’t even aware of some things in my surroundings. Perhaps if I had actively planned to, rather than just being laissez faire and only thinking about it with no real action. Aurelie took pictures with both my cameras though, which I’m eternally grateful for. There were so many moments when I wanted to take pictures, like when Raspberry was cutting the umbilical cord or when Aurelie was checking the tear, but it wasn’t practical because I was holding the baby. Honestly though, these were the moments I really wanted someone else to hold the baby just so I could take pictures. It’s terrible, I know, and I didn’t want to come off looking like a bad parent who didn’t want to hold her baby. I know Lucas would’ve shaken his head at me if I did. That said, in the weeks following the birth, I was really into birth photography, looking at all these professional pictures and wondering what kind of images I could have made. Despite this, I had the kind of birth I wanted and am completely glad for it. On the extremely off-chance that we have a third child, I’d do this all over again… and definitely plan more meticulously if I want to be the one taking pictures. Ha.Advertisements