Here’s a funny story. It’s the story about a woman who planned a peaceful homebirth right down to the very last details of what she and her husband would wear. She spent months daydreaming of giving birth, more than she had thought about or planned for her own wedding. While her belly swelled exponentially so did her excitement and plans to bring her baby into the world and so it is ironic that when her baby was finally brought into the world, it was in the stark clinical environment of theatre with not a single one of her plans in place. And it isn’t the irony of that situation that’s funny, that she, I mean, I should have planned and hoped so much for a beautiful calm birth like my last to have nearly every single thing turn out quite the opposite. No, what’s funny to me is that in that moment (despite what I would have thought) – when everything that I had hoped for and planned for was gone – when the birth of our second son was via scalpel and surgeon rather than water and pushing – what is funny to me is that it wasn’t any less beautiful and incredible to me. That feeling of terror and joy and pride was just the same, bursting from my heart as my world stopped and changed for the better – seeing our newborn son.
This story starts like many birth stories, with a heavily pregnant woman, impatient to meet her baby. And when I say heavily pregnant, I mean, really… I am standing waiting to order some lunch at our local shops somewhere in the week before Florin is born when a lady approaches to tell me she and her friends have been placing bets on how many babies I am carrying. She thinks 3. When I finally reply with the snappy comment I’ve been wanting to give my entire pregnancy I know our baby must be coming soon. It’s little discussed but I am almost certain there could be an accurate method of predicting a baby’s arrival in direct correlation with increase in bitchiness.
It’s nearly midway through September – the month I expect our baby to arrive. After our first two babies coming in their own sweet time I’ve grown skeptical of due dates. Instead I’ve taken the varying dates given to me by my (longer) cycle, our first scan and our second scan and focused instead on a birth ‘month’. A September baby. I’ve taken to sugar soaping our walls nightly and making sure everything is in order for our homebirth which I expect at any moment. Truth be told, I am anxious for it to be any moment, desperate even. Any of you who have seen me full term pregnant would know why. My belly is huge and the weight on my pelvis feels unbearable. I’ve broken my promise to savour and enjoy what I intend to be my last pregnancy and am moaning like a beached whale nearly every single night. Increasing discomfort aside, I admit I am desperate for another reason – my sister who documented both my previous births is booked to fly overseas in a few days. I am trying to remain calm about this fact but the idea of not having her there with me as she was the last times I birthed, and not having a video like our sons (that I treasure so much) is causing me to hope desperately that our baby will make his exit soon. We play bad pop music as I try to dance him out, the Spice Girls blaring as he blatantly refuses to budge. I reassure myself that a full moon is coming soon and our baby will arrive that day. When I wake on the night of that full moon to steady contractions I am in heaven.
Our house is still and Errol is at work as I slip from our bed leaving our bigger two softly snoring. Everything is lining up as I have hoped it would. I stand in our living room swaying gently as my belly contracts and I look up at the full Harvest moon. The last time I experienced labour and birth was one of the most profound experiences of my life and I am so excited to be on that journey again. Each contraction brings me closer to meeting our baby and I welcome them in excitement. The room where I plan to birth is ready and waiting, Priya’s paintings line the walls and clean towels have been waiting folded and ready for months. I put on my hypnobirthing tracks and sit on my exercise ball as I stare at the birth pool and smile thinking about the feeling of pulling Theo from the water just 3 short years before. When Errol comes home my excitement spreads and he busies himself arranging the tea we’ve bought for the midwives and lining up snacks in tupperware on our kitchen table. By 6 am when the children have begun to stir I feel ready to ask Hailey to come over. She has a long drive and knowing Theo’s labour was so short, I want her with me soon. I text my midwife too, to happily let her know that I expect to have a baby later in that day and will let her know when I want her to come over. Hailey comes and begins to take photos and video as we chat between contractions. Hailey has been with me during both my last labours and I am grateful that she is here again, reminding me of all the laughs we had in early labour of my last two births.
I’d never experienced a false labour, or even noticed braxton hicks with either of our last pregnancies so you might imagine how disappointed and disillusioned I am when my contractions die down as the day progresses. Everything had felt just like it had during Theo’s labour, the contractions had grown very regular and very painful and I had been so sure we’d have our baby before sunset. And yet, sunset comes and goes on three more days and still we have no baby. Hailey is flying to the USA and after crying hysterically that she won’t be there for me and I won’t have her beautiful documentation, I calm myself with the thought that perhaps now, with the pressure of wanting to have the baby before she left off, our baby will come. We are now in the final week of September, surely he will?
At our next home appointment my midwife asks me if I think I will go into labour soon. What a silly question I think. Of course I think I will go into labour soon. Any logical person would think that. I am at the end of my pregnancy and women don’t stay pregnant forever, what other option is there? I surprise myself though as I hear myself saying “no”. While my rational mind tells me yes, of course you will go into labour soon, my gut tells me no. I don’t feel like I’ll go into labour… at all. Maybe it was just a phantom pregnancy? Maybe this is actually a tumour? Maybe this has all been too good to be true, we couldn’t really be getting a lovely newborn any day now, could we? While the weeks leading up to the night I went into false labour had been filled with anticipation, each night tidying and readying the house for our homebirth, the anticipation has deflated. I begin waking up each morning unsurprised to find myself still pregnant and unconcerned that there are grubby fingerprints redecorating our freshly sugar-soaped walls. I am at my limits physically and emotionally and when September 30th rolls around, the disbelief that I am still pregnant and we won’t have a September baby leaves me feeling rather numb.
We agree to meet our midwife at the hospital on the 30th to consult with a doctor about being post-term and have some monitoring to confirm our baby is faring well despite his evident desire to remain in utero forever. The scan tells us he is well, has plenty of fluid and is estimated to be a comfortable 5kgs. I am not phased by this figure given I know how inaccurate ultrasounds can be at estimating weight and the fact that the last baby I pushed out my vagina was 4.7 kgs. We go to wait to meet our midwife elsewhere in the hospital when I run into one of the midwives who cared for me during Theo’s pregnancy. It’s so lovely to see her face and we chat as I tell her we are waiting to meet my current midwife. She looks confused and asks me isn’t your midwife in Melbourne? I am assuring her that no, she isn’t, she’s meeting us, when a conversation is brought to my memory. This conversation takes place earlier in my pregnancy when my midwife had called me to let me know she wanted to take a trip with her daughter sometime after I would have birthed and she might have to ask my second midwife to make some of the post-natal visits. Sure I’d said. Could this really be already? I haven’t given birth yet, it can’t be already? Surely my midwife would have reminded me before now that she was leaving? Not long later my midwife arrives and we ask her. She tells us she hadn’t brought it up again because she didn’t want me to feel pressured to go into labour and wasn’t planning on taking the trip (she has a back-up to take her daughter in place) if I haven’t given birth, but yes, she is booked to fly to Melbourne the following morning. On the drive home from the hospital I text my midwife, apologising that my being pregnant looked like it would cancel her trip.
When we get home I roll on our exercise ball to bring on contractions. As they come increasingly I ask Errol to get the kids to sleep. I hear them laughing and playing in the bed when I tell him no, get them asleep NOW, I need you. I am listening to my hypnobirthing track, welcoming each strong contraction when I go to unlock my phone and realise I’ve indadvertedly answered a phonecall from my midwife. I hadn’t wanted to talk to her so early in labour, feeling quietly superstitious that talking to her now might ‘scare labour away’. She explains to me that her back-up plans for her trip have fallen through and she will need to go the next morning to Melbourne. She says I can ask her to stay but I don’t feel like I can knowing it will cancel her trip. Plus, while I would have been devastated hearing my midwife has to leave I feel okay knowing I am already in labour and our baby should arrive before she has to go. I know when I end the call that I will be calling her back soon to ask her to come over.
It’s is before midnight that our midwife comes over and I am so relieved and happy. She is here, I am in labour and I am intent to birth the baby before I make her miss her trip in the morning. We chat in between contractions and I feel so happy. As the hours slip past I begin to stress. I don’t want to inconvenience my midwife, I don’t want her to miss her trip. When the morning breaks and she checks me telling me his head hasn’t moved down and I am in false labour I feel like giving up. My midwife still needs to go and leaves. I feel hysterical. After hearing I am in false labour Errol decides now would be prudent to take a nap. The children are playing in the playroom and I am alone as the next contraction hits me. This isn’t false labour. I vocalise loudly as I cry that my midwife had to go. Errol seems to have magically slipped into a coma and my hysterics don’t seem to wake him. When eventually he stirs to see me howling into the floor on all fours he says “I think you need to calm down honey” and I scream “NO ONE IS HELPING ME!”. Perhaps remembering the time I spat ice at him during Priya’s labour, he quickly makes himself useful. “I think I’ll call your parents and [our second midwife]” he says.
At the time I had our last baby, the only births I’d attended were my own. I see myself labouring in a new light having attended so many births in the interim. I’ve watched women give birth so often now that I laugh (and cringe) a little inside to be watching myself. I am presently being the most hysterical person I’ve attended during labour and I feel like telling myself to pull it together. My second midwife has arrived and I tell her and Errol that it’s painful – that it’s different – that this feels nothing like Theo’s labour. My midwife reassures me that every labour is different, this isn’t Theo’s birth and that’s okay. Okay for her perhaps, but she’s not the one going through painful labour from hell. After Theo’s birth I felt so incredible. His contractions felt like hard work, but they were never overwhelming and they felt good, like they were bringing me closer to meeting our baby. These… these feel like they were bringing me closer to me asking someone to hand me a loaded gun. The contractions are painful and my midwife encourages me to open my pelvis through different positions during each one to help bring the baby down. I try my best to follow her instruction and wonder briefly how many midwives have been attacked by a crazed mother in labour. My parents arrive and my dad begins to take video & photos for me. My mum plays with the kids.
When I start to feel the urge to push I am relieved and surprised, wondering if I am really ready to have the baby. I hop in the birth pool and ask Errol to hop in too to hold me. The pushing urge grows with each contraction until I am pushing involuntarily and feel something moving down. Errol says “there’s his head!” but I don’t have to put my hand between my legs to know that it isn’t. Two heads have exited my vagina and I will never forget what that felt like. This, this is my waters and as I feel them I am amazed that they are not broken and instead are bulging outside of me like a soft inflated balloon. A soft inflated balloon filled with thick meconium. The urge to push completely passes me now and I wait squatting for it to return. It is in that moment, and I can’t really explain it, but I know our baby won’t be born in the normal way. There is a voice in my gut that tells me “You need a cesarean” and instead of telling that voice to shut up and let me birth the baby naturally as I’ve planned I feel a sense of calm. I’ve given birth naturally and know how incredible my body is, how incredible women’s bodies are and while I would have expected to feel devastated at the prospect of a cesarean (or disbelief that I needed one) it feels in my gut like what needs to happen. I hop out of the water so my midwife can check me. I don’t need her to tell me what I already know, he hasn’t come down and he isn’t close to being delivered. My parents are there to look after the children as we need to transfer to hospital. I have wanted the children, Priya especially, there when I give birth but I know we are leaving the plans for that peaceful birth here at the house.
We wait on an ambulance to come and for the first time all day, as I stand by our front door, I feel completely calm. What needs to happen is happening. The calm is momentary as a contraction hits me again. By the time we arrive at the hospital calm is something I know nothing about. This stage of my labour becomes a blur to me. I have covered my face with a cloth and am refusing to take it off. I feel like I am in sensory overload; the pain, the changing people, the lights – I want to block it all out. My midwife holds my hand and I hear discussions happening around me but I am not taking anything in. People begin to prep me for theatre, someone taping my wedding ring and taking my necklace. They tell me there is a wait and I feel sure that cannot be true. I don’t feel like I can last a minute more but as I seem to always find out when I feel like that – I can and I do. I don’t clearly take in anything that is happening and when an anesthetist comes to administer the epidural and asks me to remove the cloth from my face so he can talk to me, I tell him I can’t. Somewhere along the way I’ve been given gas which I am making use of liberally. I breathe it in and clearly feel that it isn’t reducing my pain, only fogging my head and making me forget. I think about my first midwife not being there and the panic that creeps up realising that I am actually going to have the baby and she is not going to be there. I inhale more gas and the panic fades as quickly as it came on the back of a cloudy dragon. In the blur I gather than I’ve been given an epidural and the baby is being monitored and we are waiting to see if he can come down any more before we head to theatre.
It is only much later, hours I think, when I feel more aware and have regained some of my energy and focus. My dad has come to take photos should the baby not be born in theatre and is sitting next to my bed, talking with Errol. I ask if I can eat, I am so hungry having only had an almond and a cracker or two in the last 24 hours. While I feel as though having the baby should be my most pressing concern I do keep coming back to being hungry with alarming frequency. Would I trade a baby for a sandwich? Probably not, but maybe for a sandwich and dessert. I ask for more IV fluids so I can stop being irrational. My second midwife has gone home. I vaguely recall she had to leave, having young children at home and not being prepared to stay so long. We are in the birth suite with a hospital midwife I’ve never met. We are still waiting on the baby to move down to see if he can be birthed vaginally. The epidural is working well and I am in no pain. I listen to our baby being monitored as I try and rest. When I hear his heart rate drop between contractions, I worry. The doctor comes to check me and his trace intermittently. I have been fully dilated but he is not moving down as he should be and is not presenting the smallest part of his head (he is posterior). When we have been at the hospital for over 7 hours, and I have been in labour for 28 I make the decision to let our doctor take us to theatre as she has been recommending. Errol is frightened and asks the doctor about the risks of a cesarean, being an option neither of us have researched in depth. I ask her to outline the risks for us now should we not go to theatre. When she is finished Errol asks to talk to me alone and asks me if I am sure. I am sure. I can’t explain it, I’ve been sure since my waters first broke. I’ve birthed a big baby naturally with ease but this is not that baby and I know in my heart something different needs to happen.
When I am wheeled down the hallway to the OR I feel as though as I am in a television series, Errol appearing soon at my side dressed in scrubs. We wait outside the OR doors and the anaesthetist talks to me. I am asked to drink a liquid to neutralise my stomach acids and it tastes awful. As they wheel me into the OR the liquid begins coming back up and while everyone around me is scrubbed in and everything looks clean I vomit all over myself. I am flat on my back, being ill onto my own face, staring at these intimidatingly large surgical lights when I wonder who thinks this is easier than a vaginal birth. My respect levels for mama’s who have gone through this before me soar. For the first time, momentarily, I am scared. I cannot see Errol, I cannot move and I am being transferred onto the operating table. I’ve spent the last 9 months getting to know my midwife and building a trusting relationship to have a peaceful, quiet homebirth with those I love surrounding me and yet here I am. I don’t know anyone and I feel completely exposed and exhausted. I am worried for our baby. I feel myself beginning to panic when the anaesthetist gently holds my hand. He looks into my eyes and gently talks me through what will be happening. I look over to see Errol, the fear I am feeling is written all over his face and yet he smiles at me. It’s a smile in which I can see everything we’ve been through together until now. A smile that only he and I can understand and one day, years from now, will speak to me of the time we went through this together too. I smile back at him and surprising myself, I feel it. I feel at peace – this is going to be okay. While I’d thought it was my natural birth that required my most strength, I was wrong.
Without any pain I can feel the pulling and the movement as the doctor works to retrieve our son. The anticipation that I will finally be meeting our baby makes time slow and I have no idea how short or long it is before I hear his cry. My heart skips beats in relief, he is here, he is safe. There is a curtain between us and I cannot see him. Errol can and is starting to cry. I look at Errol’s face as he first sees our boy and I am so relieved and happy. They lower the curtain and there he is held up in front of me. I am sure he is only there for a moment or two but in those moments my world stops and the only thing I can see is our beautiful little boy. I have waited for this moment for longer even than the time I carried him in my belly. I think back to a day not long after Theo was born when I sighed happily to Errol that I liked our little family as we drove along. He looked in our rear vision mirror and said “I think there’s someone missing though” and I looked back on the space between our two and knew he was right. And here he is, finally – our missing piece, even though there were times I feared I’d never hold him in my arms. I burst into tears and every part of me is filled with gratitude. He is safe, he is here. This moment couldn’t be further from how I imagined meeting him and yet – it isn’t any less incredible, any less happy than I had imagined it to be. Where I am doesn’t matter, the only thing I see is him, he is perfect, he is ours.
They take him to be suctioned as he is covered in thick meconium. I look over through a flurry of people in scrubs to see his little head of thick dark hair and angrily kicking legs as he is attended to. His hair has lumps of matted blood in it and the anaesthetist jokes with me “look, he’s got dreads just like daddy!”. I smile. I want to hold him. I call out, asking to hold him, please let me have my baby. Errol comes to me and says “He’s 5.2 kgs Georgia! 5.2 KILOS!” (11lbs 4oz) I know I shouldn’t be, but I am surprised. “And 61 cm’s! SIXTY ONE CM’S(24″)”. I see two rulers in my mind. Two rulers? He can’t be that long! “That’s long” I say struggling to believe he’s actually that long. I will read later in my discharge notes that he was found in LOP with a deflexed head and a nuchal cord x two with cord around his body and legs. I look back to the little black haired baby still being checked and start to ask for him again. Errol goes to get him. I want my baby, I need our baby with me. I feel panicked.
Why aren’t they giving him to me? Why can’t they do all these things later? I am asking all these things as I start to lose consciousness. It is sometime later when I wake and the surgery is over. I am in a different room and Errol is sitting next to my bed proudly holding a bundle of our as-yet unnamed baby. I watch him for a moment as he smiles down at his new son and feel so happy, so utterly grateful. Errol sees me awake and I see relief and pride and joy wash over his face as he looks at me. I have so much love for him. It is surreal to think as he stands and puts our boy into my arms for the first time that the love we have for each other grew a family. The heart I gave to him growing to love each of his children too. And my heart feels like it can’t hold any more love as I look down into the sweet little face of our new baby boy. His thick dark hair is matted and wet still and his eyes pressed tightly closed as he nuzzles against my breast. “Hello you” I whisper. It was you, all along, who we have been waiting for I think. So new and yet you’ve always been with me, carried first in my heart well before you grew in my belly. What an honour to be his I think as I commit each of his features to memory, looking him over in awe as I fall in love.
We stay at the hospital for 3 days and while I feel a little (okay, a lot) like I am fighting a system which would prefer my baby to be pumped full of drugs & formula fed away from me than work to help us stay together it is overall, okay. I don’t like being weak or vulnerable in front of people I haven’t warmed to (who does?) and I find myself being both. The midwives that care for us on the ward are kind and there is something nourishing having a steady stream of experienced women caring for you post-birth, even if I don’t know them. My second midwife and a midwife friend visit me and I want to sob I am so grateful to see familiar faces.
The day after the birth, I am in the shower as a midwife I don’t know is washing me because I cannot do it for myself. I am sitting there feeling sore and exposed and processing having had a cesarean birth. As I am wheeled from the shower, finally washed and dressed after the longest, most challenging two days of my life, I feel tired. I feel like I have given everything I have and am ready to cry and sleep. Errol is there and instead of coming to me, is going to get something. I see him bring out a cake. A cake to end all cakes on top of which sits a trophy. I know instantly looking at the cake he has hired my incredibly talented friend, Trina to make it and it is an absolute work of art. When he surprised me after Theo’s birth with an engraved medal I thought I could never be more touched. I was wrong. The script on the bottom of the trophy reads “Our Champion: for your courage, strength & sacrifice”. I am crying. I know that for Trina to have had time to make this it was prepared long before Errol would have known how the birth would be and yet those words aren’t any less perfect. Actually, they mean so much more to me now. The cake is decorated in sunflowers, just like the one we held when we announced his pregnancy and those that have grown in our backyard while we waited on him to be born. He might go to sleep on me when I am in labour but this man I married is incredible.
On his second day, before Priya and Theo come to meet their brother for the first time, Errol sits with me in my curtained off area of the maternity ward. “Let’s name the baby” he says as he smiles at me. I know what the smile means, he doesn’t have to tell me. “Florin” he says smiling more, giving our son the name he knows I have loved all along. I ask him if he’s sure, knowing it wasn’t his first choice but all the while looking at the boy in my arms and knowing he is our Florin. Our flourishing boy.
I feel an immense debt of gratitude after Florin’s birth. A friend of mine on hearing of his birth says to me “I am sorry you had a cesarean”. I understand what she is saying to me, what she really means, “I am sorry you didn’t have the birth you wanted” or “I am sorry you went through a scary experience” or even “I am sorry you woke up the next day more exhausted and emotional than you’ve ever been, feeling like you’d been stabbed in the gut”. I understand what she is saying when she says she is sorry I had a cesarean but I want to tell her I am not. I am not sorry I had a cesarean, the surgery that gave me my son. It wasn’t easy, I wouldn’t have chosen it but when we needed it, I wouldn’t have changed that for the world. The scar that now sits below my stretched and softened belly is not only a great way for me to convince Florin he has to support me into my old age but is also my reminder of just how unpredictable and precious this life can be. When I run my hand along it at night and think over the experience that gave me it and what the scar gave me I feel stronger. I’ve always believed that real beauty and depth of character are built on wounds that have healed. Perhaps I had always only thought that metaphorically but hey, getting an actual scar is pretty cool too. This scar hasn’t healed fully yet (the metaphoric one or the physical one) but I know it will. Grieving something you have lost doesn’t mean you aren’t grateful for what you have. While birthing naturally required my physical & emotional strength in the rawest sense Florin’s required me to be stronger than I thought I could be, learning that sometimes the greatest strength is letting go and doing what I was sure I could not.
Perhaps too, my gratitude following Florin’s birth isn’t quite clear to me until three days later when we are leaving the hospital with him. We sign a few forms and have to drop them off to leave the hospital without paying a cent. I think about the care we’ve been given, about the doctors, the paediatricians, the midwives, their years of training. I think of the the surgery, the medications, the place on the ward, in the nursery, and around the clock care and feel a little amazed that we’re walking away (well, truth be told I am not walking, I am being pushed in a wheelchair) without owing a single cent. How thankful I am to be born Australian, to leave our hospital with our healthy son and only a debt of thanks to have had access to this care when we needed it.
So, there you go, the world’s longest birth story ever. I ate several bars of chocolate while writing it and looked down at the sweetest little face pressed against my breast.
11:06pm 1st October 2013
5.2kgs / 11lbs 4oz
61cm / 24″
This post was the first in Florin’s 365 (photo per day) project, only 364 more to come (whose crazy idea was this?). I am looking forward to sharing our delight in him as his first year unfolds in much, much shorter posts. If you got this far, you deserve a trophy cake too!