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I started writing the previous blog at 8 a.m. By 2.11 p.m. I was a mother of two. Our son came 8 days early, and in a hurry.

I had decided to use the time that Dad gave me by taking BB to the park for their regular morning jaunt to write on my poor undernourished blog instead of grabbing the opportunity to sleep. SS (my now teenage stepson) was asleep in the front room. The practice contractions had become steadily stronger and more frequent; they had woken me up from a deep sleep a few times in the night. Pretty much from the time I got up, big contractions were coming short but strong every two minutes. Just like last time I started noting down the times at which they occurred, but quickly gave up as they were simply every two minutes and didn’t waver. I was confused by the early date, and the fact that they were over so quickly. Surely it can’t be today? I had texted a friend just the night before saying I expected it to happen in another couple of weeks.

The morning continued with these bursts of intensity every two minutes. BB returned from the park. I was trying to look after her whilst regularly shutting myself away in the bathroom, half thinking the pains were stomach related. But BB was in an uncharacteristically mellow mood, unphaseable which I took as a sign of this being no ordinary day. I phoned the midwife and said, ‘It might be the start of something.’ I reasoned that things were a long way off, as I hadn’t even had the show yet. Figuring that one can’t teach the piano whilst having contractions I cancelled the lesson I had booked in for 11.00.

Dad was asking me if he should take SS home that morning instead of later in the evening as planned. It’s a 2 ½ hour round trip. SS said, ‘does that mean we’re not going to play tennis?’  I said, ‘Go and have half an hour of tennis, then yes maybe you should take him back early’.  In between contractions I felt so fine it seemed I was making a lot of fuss over something that still must be far off in the future, but they felt very real for each short time they gripped me.

The boys left, and almost immediately I got the show. What now, shall I call them back from the park? Should I call the midwife again? Alone with BB I called my friend, Brilliant Mum. She had offered to take BB off my hands when the time came.

‘you know last night I said it would probably be another two weeks?

‘Yeeees,’

‘Well, scrap that. I’m having contractions. Would you come and keep me company while Dad takes SS home?’

She duly arrived with her son the same age as BB and a friend and her 3 year old girl. The children played and I kept up conversation through the cramps, my mind racing about the things that needed to be in place that weren’t quite there yet. Things like, ‘where are the dust sheets?’ A very important requirement for a home birth. The girls were concerned about Dad going away on the tube. When the boys returned from playing tennis, they asked SS, ‘Can’t you go on the tube on your own?’

The look on his face was one of perfect bafflement. Dad left whilst still trying to get hold of SS’ mum and grandparents, saying hopefully he would hand SS over somewhere on the way and high-tail it back. The children milled about, BB started being impossibly clingy and difficult. My mind was spinning. After a while, brilliant mum said to me,

’If there’s anything you’d like me to do, just tell me.’

I didn’t miss a beat. ‘Take her to the park!’

So they did. I took BB downstairs and kissed her goodbye. I wouldn’t see her again for another few days. Suddenly I was alone with space to focus my mind.

Between my regular bouts of leaning on the windowsill, trying to be relaxed a la the hypnobirth CD, I packed an away bag for BB. Clothes, nappies, her beloved panda etc. I found the sight of this bag so forlorn and poignant I took a picture.

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I packed a bag for me and the new baby in case I ended up in hospital.

The midwife came to check in on me, thinking she might then go away and come back later. The contractions were still very quick but getting more and more intense.

‘Where’s your husband?’

I felt a little embarrassed. She said it was impossible to tell how far away it was unless she examined me, but examining me might set things of resulting in Dad missing the birth. I had some toast and got a text from Dad saying he was half an hour away. We put dust sheets down. I leant on cushions and moaned. Dad eventually arrived and I suddenly felt all wobbly and worried, and wondered why. I thought it was the added number of people in the room, but maybe it was the transition I was feeling, because when Dad put his hand on my back, the contractions were suddenly stronger still.

The midwife was asking me questions and I was annoyed to have to expend the extra energy trying to answer them. I muttered through the pain and Dad translated.

Another midwife arrived and I was asked if a student could come in with her. ‘No!’ I said emphatically twice as I was already put out at the thought of someone else swanning in!

I remember it really annoyed me that the new midwife was quite heavily made up, as if she represented too much of the day, of the outside world invading the intimacy of my nest.

At some point I thought it would help matters if I took my trousers off. All was bright red when I looked down.  A few contractions later my waters broke with disconcerting violence. I remember thinking, ‘Aren’t you’re supposed to feel some relief with that?’

But things were happening fast. A few big contractions later the baby’s head was through. I had instinctively put my hand down to help it out, and then it was through and in my hand, all small and furry and silent. I marvelled at this and just kept saying, ‘Baby. Baby.’

The midwife was shouting loudly, ‘You have to listen to me now, this is very important’, and getting me to pant instead of push. I did pant when I heard her but her voice was quite distant in my head and the urge to push was inescapable. My son was out. They let Dad cut the cord and I held this tiny lump of new life while the midwives surveyed the damage.

I had a tear which was too large to be stitched properly at home.

***

Well my little boy is now nine weeks old, asleep, and so is his two year old sister. Better get this piece of writing finished. We went to hospital in an ambulance and I was stitched up properly with the help of an epidural. I was then very reluctantly stuck in hospital for two more nights. I remember feeling a little twinge of defeat when my perfect baby boy and I were tagged and entered into the system.

It was exactly right to be seen to properly in an operating theatre, and the epidural and all that that entailed, but I felt keenly the sudden loss of autonomy over myself and how I chose to care for my baby. I felt the sudden lack of family and even knowledge of what’s going on, stuck behind a curtain having no idea where I was, waiting for the next person (of the vast army) to come and see me.

I was regularly given an assortment of drugs which kept me out of pain. This never occurred to me after my previous birth, stupidly. Back then I sat on a rubber ring, bathed twice a day and was in pain for weeks. I can’t say I felt any pain at all in hospital. But I had a lot of discomfort, catheters and cannulas, noisy ward nights. So I concluded that birth at home meant more pain but family and comfort, and hospital meant less pain but more wires and strangers and discomfort. I don’t really know which is better or worse!

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The impersonal and uncomfortable nature of hospital summed up on one wrist.

So now enters my son onto the world’s stage. He looks all-knowing, wise and strong. For the purpose of this blog I think I’ll call him Biscuit.

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Dad with Biscuit when we had just got to hospital

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Drowsy early mornings spent gazing at perfection.

I got my first proper contraction at about 11pm. Then another a few minutes later. Then another. What happened to the slow build-up when you have to preserve your energy and rest between contractions? We were diligently timing them, but they were just coming thick and fast. I got in the bath, Dad called the midwife who told him to call an hour later and see how we got on.

I had my home-made flapjacks, salted peanuts, orange juice, Lucozade sport and other snacks for me, Dad and the midwife out on the kitchen table. We put a futon mattress covered with dust sheets, then soft blankets on the floor in the living room. On this I had my two big cushions and gym ball to lean on. A pile of clean towels on the table, low lights throughout the house.

I can’t remember well enough to describe how the contractions felt, but I know the pain was in my lower back as I could cope with them as long as Dad was massaging the base of my spine.

Dad duly called the midwife again at 12 and she said she was on her way.  Breathing out slowly an imagined golden thread (yoga teacher’s advice) wasn’t doing it for me anymore and I realised that a long audible sigh helped control the pain. These long audible sighs carried on through the night, and transformed into long, extremely audible bellows. If I heard myself getting too high pitched I forced the pitch lower, stopping myself losing control. I think it was the thought of losing control that scared me most. What scared Dad the most was the time spent waiting for the midwife to arrive, she eventually appeared at 2am. Those two hours were very long for him. For me they whizzed by. I was concentrating on not losing it.

She examined me, I was 4 cms dilated. I was really pleased. But then hours went past – I divided my time between the cushions, the loo and the bath, contractions getting stronger and stronger, poor old Dad following me around, not allowed any time off. There was no change, the baby had hardly moved.

I remember the midwife needed me on my back for examinations, which was unbearably painful and almost impossible during the contractions which were relentless. There was no time to eat or drink anything and towards the morning I was becoming exhausted.

I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but afterwards the midwife told me the baby had been facing the wrong way, ‘back to back’. That was why it hurt so much in my lower back and also why the baby hadn’t budged. She had to turn first before she could come down. The midwife was concerned she wouldn’t turn, but eventually she did, and after many hours of contractions and no movement I think she came down for the final stage quite quickly (I think!)

When I did my stints in the bathroom, the midwife didn’t follow us in there, so me and Dad (and baby) were on our own. Dad recalls – and I do too – that about halfway through my labour, I was sitting in the bath and I said to him, ‘I don’t think I can do this again’. I think I felt that I could cope with it as long as I knew I never had to go through it ever again! I also recall one time a contraction started and Dad didn’t immediately jump to massage me. He was sitting right next to me, but I let out a loud, long and desperate, ‘WHERE ARE YOU?!’

The midwife said I would feel the baby get lower but I didn’t really feel any change. I kept looking down at my enormous belly thinking what a physical impossibility it was for the contents of that belly to get through where they had to get through. Then suddenly she was apparently a lot lower and I was being urged to push.

The impossibility of my big, round unaltered belly remained and this little babe was having trouble coming out. I had almost reached a state of total exhaustion. Even when the midwife told me to reach down and feel the emerging baby’s head, all furry, it just seemed to reinforce the impossibility of the whole thing. I think I was there for about 45 minutes with baby’s head half-way out. It was EXCRUTIATING! No sign of the gas and air that I had been promised. I remember saying ‘I can’t do it’, several times, and the midwife saying, ‘you have to’. I was squatting, supported by Dad who was sitting behind me. When a contraction came, the midwife told me to push, and Dad with his head behind mine was pushing with me. Eeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaauuuuuuunnnnnnnnnnnnnggghhhh! Afterwards I commended him on this good idea of his which I had found very encouraging, and he said he wasn’t aware at the time that he was doing it!

The midwife laid an assortment of terrifying looking scissors on the floor just in front of my intimate parts. Sweet Jesus! (Throughout my upbringing, my mother had put the fear of God into me about the dreaded episiotomy). The midwife said, ‘you’re not pushing enough, and for long enough.’ It felt like I couldn’t possibly do more. Then she said, ‘Be angry.’ I wasn’t feeling anything like anger, but somehow this helped me understand what I needed to do. So at the end of each push when it felt like I couldn’t do any more, I screamed at the top of my lungs and gave it everything I had. This is how I managed it, and at 7.17 am, we became three as a tiny girl at last slithered out into the universe and came up for a cuddle.

Dad had tears in his eyes and I think the first thing I said to my daughter was, ‘I knew you were furry’. She still had fur on her back, shoulders and ears. The midwife cut the umbilical cord with a pair of the terrifying scissors. Baby was handed over to Dad, and I was guided over to the sofa to rest. It was a dark, peaceful morning, the world was just waking. The gas fire was on, I watched the midwife weigh the baby and dress her tiny form in a vest, babygrow and hat to preserve her body heat. She had been through a lot waiting to be born. I had used up every last bit of energy in my body. I couldn’t sit up without blacking out. The baby was brought to me, I rolled onto my side. She was placed on my breast and at once began to suckle. When the midwife wanted her to change sides, I couldn’t really get up enough to turn around, so the baby was placed on a pillow and commenced feeding from the upper deck. She lay there, a tiny, skinny, furry body in suit and hat hungrily nibbling on her exhausted, naked mother who was drifting in and out of dreams.

So that was my homebirth. No tricky travelling to and from hospital, just the peace of familiar surroundings. The midwife left us with our new tiny person and we transferred to the bed and spent all day there.  I didn’t get the rush of euphoria I had read and been told about at the point of birth. I was physically and mentally shattered. The sight of my daughter provoked a calm wonder in me. It wasn’t till a lot later when I sang to her in bed and she fell asleep that I got my tears of joy.

A few hours after the birth another midwife came to see us, then another the next day. Oh and I forgot this detail – our midwife did come back that day and while she was here, she started looking around the room and asked, ‘did I leave the placenta here?’ We said we hadn’t seen it. Later, we found it in a bucket with a lid on that I had got ready but never needed. When we saw her again, we didn’t mention it, and she didn’t ask!

dmc@dressmecaroline.com; cathmeir@hotmail.com; artygerty@hotmail.com; carey.catherine@yahoo.co.uk; celia.kent@classicfm.net