I'd always intended to work as close to Christmas as I could - on the theory that being a first baby, Ruben was likely to be a bit late… say, maybe two weeks late. Apparently his dad was more than a month late, so the scene was well and truly set. I'd kind of set my mind to him arriving some time around Australia Day (26 Jan) meaning that after finishing up at work I'd have a good three weeks to get utterly bored and watch copious amounts of day time TV and do all those last minute things you do before you have a baby - like get a manicure, and a leg wax, and a hair cut. Oh, and nesting.
As it happened, I wrapped up work for the year on the afternoon of Christmas Eve - just in time for a nice, relaxing Christmas and New Years, only to be struck by a bit of a cleaning frenzy and thoughts that have never entered my head before (for example 'oh, I wish there was something else to wash up in the kitchen' and 'perhaps scrubbing the kitchen floor isn't such a crazy idea after all'). Many of these thoughts were had from the comfort of the heated birth pool which we set up on Christmas Day (then had to re-set up on Boxing Day after finding a slow leak from a tiny hole in the original pool liner and receiving a new liner the following day).
On New Years Eve we traipsed through the woods to the golf course which gave us a great view of the fireworks going off all over London and some time to imagine what the coming year might hold. There were some hints of what was to come as we saw the first of the show and enough fluid to give a bit of a scare that it could be his waters going, but we reassured ourselves that it didn't necessarily mean anything and he could still be weeks away. Little did we know…
Come New Years Day and I made a deal with Michael that if he *finally* put Ruben's bed up (it needed to be suspended from the ceiling) then I'd help him clean his office. So, late in the afternoon of 1 January we hung his bed and then spent the evening tidying Michael's office.
Fast forward to the morning of the 2nd January. I'd had a pretty rubbish sleep the night before and awoke at 5am feeling rather damp. Thinking that this was probably more of the show we'd seen earlier, I hopped up and headed to the bathroom - and had to hotfoot it there as a lot more fluid emerged. Cue minor heart palpitations - either this was something fairly serious going on or I'd become incontinent at the 11th hour. I'm not sure which one I felt more comfortable with at the time. At any rate, there was nothing really conclusive, so I reassured myself that it was probably nothing and headed back to bed. Only to be re-awoken by a kind of 'glug, glug, glug' feeling, hot footing it to the bathroom again, still not abundantly convinced but definitely entertaining the idea that this was his waters breaking and wondering what would happen next.
Fortunately, I didn't have to wait long before feeling some very weak contractions that started off fairly irregularly but within an hour or so, seemed develop a kind of rhythm. We were still in bed and I suggested to Michael that perhaps he might not be going back to work today after all - he liked that idea but I don't think he was particularly convinced that this was the real thing. I was becoming more and more convinced though as what had to be contractions just kept coming - first every ten or fifteen minutes, then every five or ten minutes, moving from being kind of vaguely like period pain (not that I ever really got much of that) to something that felt a lot more like a stomach cramp.
By 10am we hopped out of bed and Michael called Teresa, the midwife, as I think he wanted a second opinion that it was all really happening. I chatted with Teresa on the phone whilst ironing a shirt for Michael (another thing I very rarely do!) - we talked about symptoms, frequency, colour of fluid (or not) and she seemed to think that it was worth giving me a call back in the next couple of hours to see how things were doing. I started compiling a list in my head of all the things I'd planned to do whilst in labour - hot baths with clary sage, hot showers, the hot towel on the back trick we learned at Yoga Birth Rehearsal, some aromatherapy, some homeopathy, bouncing on the birth ball, playing the piano, cooking a fruit cake and perhaps some biscuits, giving myself a pedicure, and doing the washing up.
I got exactly one of these things done - the washing up - and this took an inordinately long time as I was also trying to record my contractions using an online contraction timer so that I had some idea of what I was dealing with - realising that rather than a contraction every five minutes or so that went for about 20 seconds, I was having one every 2.5 minutes that lasted for about 45 seconds. This was somewhat bemusing as I was sure this was when we were told in our NCT classes that you were supposed to go off to hospital if that was your plan - and yet I was still doing the washing up (albeit rather slowly) and feeling as though it was all still under control. I had no idea how far along I was, but was bracing myself for a long labour, so figured I was probably at about 2 or 3 on a scale of 10 in terms of intensity… but, again, I had no idea.
At any rate, having read that you need to get the TENS machine on nice and early if you want it to work, I asked Michael to hook it up for me so we could commence electrocution ;) I think Mick was less than convinced that now was the appropriate time - he was still far from convinced that we were in labour and looked at me surprised every time I mentioned something about having a contraction - 'ooh, are you having one now!' he'd say, as though it was the first one. I wasn't sure what I'd make of the TENS machine - especially after seeing Michael trial it a few days previous and the way that his eyes bulged when he hit the 'boost' button - as it happened, I thought it was wonderful - a great distraction from the general discomfort and it also provided the illusion of some kind of control over the pain by giving the option to up the strength and hit the boost button - if my eyes were bulging it wasn't from the TENS!
Meanwhile, we'd decided that if were were going to get a camcorder for Ruben's first moments, then Michael had better make a dash to Curry's and get one - the camcorder my parents had given us for our wedding present had stopped working and we needed to send it off to Sony to be fixed - we thought we had plenty of time for all that, but apparently not. Michael also needed to buy a heater, as the weather forecast was pretty grim and our house didn't always heat well downstairs, so a little extra heat would be helpful to make the room nice and warm for a baby to arrive in.
While he was away, Teresa the midwife called again and decided it was time to come over and see for herself what was going on. Michael arrived home just before Teresa and whilst she did a few bits and pieces like taking my pulse and blood pressure and making me pee on a stick, I think she was mostly just hanging out and watching to see how I was doing so as to get an idea of where we were in the scheme of things.
We were definitely proceeding! I couldn't really stay sitting down through contractions and had to be standing up and doing weird, almost 'dirty dancing' hip movements, during which Teresa would have to talk to Michael as I wasn't really much for conversation. I was trying to put on a brave face though as we were talking about how this might all stop and start again another time. By this stage I hadn't really contemplated the idea of labour stopping and starting again - and I certainly didn't want to have to do the last few hours all over again - so had to re-adjust my mind again to cope with the idea that this process might continue over night and into the next day.
Teresa left after an hour or so (I'm sure it says exactly how long in her notes) and shortly after that things really seemed to kick in. Contractions were really quite strong and - worst of all - there didn't seem to be a break in between them. This was starting to concern me as this was *not* what I'd signed up for. Everyone had told me that in between contractions you get a break - but I wasn't getting a break - I couldn't contemplate the idea of going through a whole night feeling as I was feeling then and, as I sat on the loo upstairs feeling a little despairing, I think I even mentioned the words 'hospital' and 'injection' to Michael. Not that I wanted to go there or have one at that point, but I didn't think I had it in me to tough it out for hours and hours to come.
It was at that point that I decided a nice hot shower might be in order. I was trying to hold off hopping into the birth pool for as long as possible so that I had it to look forward to, and also because I had heard that it can slow things down if you get in too early, which was the last thing we wanted. But when Michael went to run the shower for me and found that there was no hot water (as he hadn't quite gotten around to changing the timer on the immersion heater) short of getting physically violent (which was momentarily tempting) there was nothing for it but to hop into the pool. And then things totally changed.
From the very first contraction in the pool it was clear that the contractions were completely different now… and, I was almost afraid to think it, it kind of felt a little pushy. After a couple of those, which were getting increasingly pushy and a little of my own internal investigation wherein there seemed to be a foreign object where none had been before, I suggested to Michael that it might be a good time to give Teresa a call and to ask her to come back. It was well before 8.30pm, when Teresa had said she'd call to check in on us - in fact is was closer to about 5.3opm, and I think Michael was a little embarrassed to be calling her so soon. He suggested that we wait a little longer, which wasn't particularly well received and something in the vehemence of my response (and perhaps the suggestion that the baby might actually be on its way now) prompted him to make a quick call while I was sitting in the pool, dealing with each contraction and the idea that we might actually have a baby with us in a few hours… as much as I knew about all of this stuff.
Things were starting to get pretty intense and I wasn't sure whether or not I should be encouraging or resisting the pushing business, so I was pretty relieved when Teresa turned up about half an hour later - after a few questions, she then hopped on the phone to Annie, our other midwife, and it was pretty clear we were in business. I was relieved to hear that it was ok to go with the pushing because it was pretty impossible for me to do anything else. Teresa mentioned something about breathing out, and, for whatever reason, that was pretty much what I focused on for the new few hours of pushing Ruben out into the world.
Thankfully, this part of the labour also returned the breaks in between contractions - for a minute or two here and there I could sit in the pool and feel almost completely normal, as though nothing was going on at all - chatting with Michael and Annie and Teresa, drinking some water, eating some grapes, answering the odd question on MasterMind (having the TV on in the background was so NOT a part of how I imagined the birth, but at the time, it just seemed like the right thing to do - something about normality I think, not making it too theatrical). I had been really concerned in the lead up to the birth about making noises - having seen the odd birth video in the past few months, I'd heard some pretty scary noises and I didn't want to be making them at all. Thankfully, focusing on the out breath seemed to make any kind of yelling or screaming unnecessary (I'm sure the neighbours were thankful for that too!).
In addition to feeding me water and grapes, I also got one of the longest and best head massages ever from Michael (he's taking credit as my 'stylist' in the post-birth photos) and whiffs of clary sage under the nose from time to time (although I could have sworn it was grapefruit at the time… weird). He did a fabulous job of suggesting things that might help and then not getting offended when I opted out. For some reason, keeping things as simple as possible was the order of the day - I just wanted water, not Ribena. Having the grapes though - that was the best thing ever.
So, for the next few hours, that's what we did - had pushy contractions that just completely took over my body and that I just let happen, whilst focusing on breathing out with as much control as possible (breathing in happened most but not all of the time, depending on the intensity of the contraction), then hanging out for a few minutes and enjoying the calm. I think that it might have actually been a longer second (pushing) stage than average, but I was still braced for a long night in labour, so to me it didn't seem that long at all… not only that, but I actually found the whole process strangely enjoyable. I mean, there are definitely more fun things to do on a Wednesday night, but compared to what I had prepared myself for, it actually felt really productive and logical, and not really distressing at all. It didn't so much hurt, as it was just hard work, and even then - my body just kind of did it, without too much effort on my part at all.
I think that part of me was also kind of worried about the outcome of labour - the fact that after all the pushing was done, there would be a baby. What did I know about babies? What on earth had made us think this was a good idea. Part of me didn't want pregnancy to be over, because I'd had such a lovely time of it and enjoyed it so much. There were so many reasons that I was in no hurry to get to the end of the pushing and to have a baby in my arms, and I haven't even mentioned tearing.
But, sooner or later, we did get to the end, and there's no way I'll try to convince you that the last part (the crowning) doesn't hurt. Just when you think it's hurt as much as it can, it hurts some more. Quite impressive, and then, before you know it - there's a baby.
Ruben was born into the water in the birth pool in our dining room. Annie caught him and put him in my arms and after a moment or two of stunned silence, he started his little gurgly cry. I said something incredibly dumb like 'oh my god, it's a baby' (yes, Mick has it on video) and then proceeded to chat away with him and try not to drop him and to get my head around the fact that I had a tiny baby who looked somewhat like an alien with a pointy head in my arms (very good moulding, apparently, the weird head shape). 'Twas quite an amazing moment.
And so we hung out in the pool together, chatting away, until things started getting a little bloody and required investigation. Well, actually, it required clamping the cord and sticking me with a needle to get the third stage underway, which is not originally how I would have chosen it, but as it turned out, it meant that the placenta was born incredibly quickly (again, I was psyched to wait around for an hour or two for it to arrive) and after a quick internal examination (the first one I'd had throughout the entire course of pregnancy, labour and birth!) to check for tears etc. (only one tiny one that didn't need a stitch), the whole process of birth was over and it was time for snuggling, cups of tea, ANZAC biscuits and a hot bath.
Teresa and Annie were wonderful in getting us settled into bed before they left but we were far from sleep, instead spending hours calling relatives with the unexpected news and gazing at the little boy who had been the 'monkey' on the inside for so long and was now on the outside, and who, for better or worse, was now a part of our family.
And, that, more or less, was the story of Ruben's birth - on Wednesday 2 January 2008 arriving exactly a week early, and with a labour that was every bit as fast, as calm, as uncomplicated and as at home as we could have hoped for.
For those interested in the stats, the official figures are: prelabour - 7hrs, first stage - 5hrs 30mins, second stage - 3hrs 40mins, third stage - 14mins.
And yes, I'd do it again.
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