A more personal version of this story will be told over the years–in snippets, through tears, in more intimate settings–probably over glasses of wine. This is this version my heart lets rise to the surface, above the precious and private moments, to the world.
This is the tip of the iceberg.
I often borrow Drew’s Superman sweatshirt–so often, in fact, that it is now mine for all intents and purposes. I even have Superman panties. Those never belonged to Drew. The point is that I must secretly know that I am not as fearless or strong as I intend to be. My mind-over-matter wonder powers are amateurish at best. Superman sweatshirts and panties provide absolutely zero sleep, nourishment, or pain control during birth, but my inner dreamer thought it was worth a try.
I imagined through pregnancy that our birth story would be some beautiful, float-y, Earth-mother song like one of those poems in a Tolkien novel. I was sure that I was unshakeably strong and completely ready to gracefully embrace the most painful and demanding experience of my life in exchange for meeting the most brilliant creature on Earth. Looking back, I feel a bit like I was in a different fairy tale; I looked into The Magic Mirror Gate and stood face to face with a wimpy, haggard, old mama cow.
Sunday, 27 Nov 2011–After weeks of intermittent Braxton-Hicks contractions, and days of random true contractions, the true contractions became regular between 1am and 4am. Drew patiently timed them, rubbed my back, brought me water, and was just generally supportive. From 4am the contractions became irregular again and I went back to normal life for the big chunks of time between them. We went for Sunday roast at The Marksman with Andrea (middle sis) and Jonathan (cousin) and shoved our way down Columbia Road through the Flower Market.
Monday, 28 Nov 2011–The contractions came again as they had in the dark morning hours of Sunday, between 1 and 4am. I stayed close to home hoping that our baby would make an arrival. Baby H stayed snugly inside despite the preparations my body was making.
Tuesday, 29 Nov 2011–The contractions came again between 1 and 4am and I was anxious as we made our way to the hospital for the 41 +1 appointment at 9am, managing irregular but intense contractions. A consultant physician performed an external and an internal ultrasound. The physician judged me to be dilated to 1cm, declared the placenta to healthy, verified that Peanut’s heart rate indicated a happy Nut, and guessed that we would meet our baby within 24 hours. Then we met with a midwife for a manual check; she judged me to be 0.5cm dilated and performed a membrane sweep. We returned home to get on with getting through the latent phase of labour. We filled our bellies first and then Drew took a nap on the couch while I tried to nap through contractions in bed. From 2pm, contractions started to become more regular until 9pm–at which point I began to feel sharp pain with each contraction. The new sensation was more than I thought I should be feeling this early in the process so I told the midwife I was coming in to be checked, even if it meant getting sent back home. The midwife who saw me checked me in to the birth centre (where I wanted to have a water birth) at 3cm. Drew called Andrea to bring our luggage and some peanut butter sandwiches. I weathered some contractions in the shower, getting out to eat half of a sandwich at the midwife’s suggestion. Until 2am I paced, bounced on the yoga ball, crawled on the birthing mat and just plain got on with it.
Wednesday, 30 Nov 2011–At 2am (-ish) the midwife [#1] decided to send me to downstairs to the labour ward because I was still at 3cm. She didn’t think I was eligible for a water birth. (That mean old cow.) I had a lovely midwife [#2] on the labour ward as well as a sweet student midwife [#2b], another several hour stint in the shower, and some gas and air (laughing gas). (Gas and air was a joke. The shower was a happier place.) At 9am–about an hour after shift change–my lovely new midwife [#3] said I was 5cm. She had a consultant physician come to apologise that I had been transferred to the labour ward and ask if I would like to be sent back upto the birth centre to a room with a birth pool. So we packed our bags again and relocated–this definitely meant I missed breakfast in the transfer excitement. Back in the birth centre, my new-new midwife [#4] said I was still at 3cm. (That mean old cow.) Unfortunately, that meant I had three to go before being allowed in the pool. Shower, pacing, shower, bouncing, crawling, walking, shower, crawling, order lunch, exam. 3cm. Shower, pacing, shower, bouncing, crawling, walking, shower, crawling, exam. 3cm. At approximately noon I allowed the midwife [#4] to break my water. Shower, pacing, shower, bouncing, crawling, walking… At 2.45pm the midwife [#4] recommended that I go back to the labour ward for a hormone drip because I was still dilated 3cm and the clock was ticking since the time of water being broken; I opted for a side of epidural in anticipation of more fierce contractions (with Drew’s gentle support and the reminder that I hadn’t eaten or slept properly for days). While we were packing again someone showed up to clear the lunch tray that I never saw. (In the transfer back downstairs to the labour ward, I missed dinner too, but Elsa [my French BFF in London] did bring Drew dinner before we knew I would miss mine.) The epidural was in and the hormones were dripping by 7.45pm. Midwife #4 handed me back over to Midwife #2–who requested to have me again because I was such an awesome patient (bless that sweet woman!) . Midwife #2 had another student [#2c] of course because she is an amazing midwife… With all hope of a meal lost, I tried to rest in between the waves of contractions. (I think my favorite midwife allowed Drew to sneak me some tea and toast.)
Thursday, 01 Dec 2011–In the dark hours between 2am and 4am the Midwife [#2] was coaching the student [#2c] through an exam and tilted her head in a funny way, thinking and then having an ‘aha!’ moment. At 7cm she said that Baby Huddleston’s head was deflexed (tilted back). This, she guessed, was the reason for the pain I was describing as well as the slow progression. Our baby was intent to stare this world straight on. At breakfast time Midwife #2 (and student #2c) handed me me over to Midwife #5. I kept trying to rest, quietly begging for food at every opportunity. Somewhere near 12.30pm a (male) student nurse [#5b] joined the party–just in time for the big push. For an hour and a half the four of us pushed. Peanut happily hung out in the birth canal–facing the world and spine rotated slightly to my left. And that’s when they broke the news that I would need assistance (most likely by way of forceps), though they were going to consent me for a c-section too. Either way, we were going to have to go to the operating theatre to introduce my lady parts to a room full of new faces. It is terrible that the operating theatre was tied up for two hours for an emergency case, but I was thankful for those two hours in the end. By the time we were rolled in and Midwife #5 handed me over to Midwife #6, Peanut rotated into the correct position (spine up) so that the team felt sure that forceps would do the trick to tilt his head into position on the way out if I could manage the pushing. Drew, Midwife #6, student nurse #5b, an anesthetist, an OB-GYN/Urologist [#7], two students [#7b, #7c], a consultant physician, a pediatrician, and a surgery tech [#8] were with me in those three last incredible contractions. But everything faded away at 4.04pm when a baby was laid on my stomach–wet and crying. In a few quick motions Peanut was rotated until I could see that he was a boy. He was exactly the boy I had been talking to for so many months and the boy whose name we deliberated over and who spiritedly kicked us in the wee hours. He was the boy I dreamed about and the boy that I was eager for his daddy to meet. He was the baby that I was aching to see with all of his fingers and toes, completely healthy and whole. In the moment that he was born, my whole world changed.
This is the birth pool that I did not use:
This is why it does not matter:
Kenneth Howard Ross Huddleston makes three.
Birthdate: 01 Dec 2o11
Birth time: 16.04
Weight: 3.69kg/8lbs 2 oz
Length: 54cm/21.25 inches
Gestation: 41 weeks, 3 days
Active Labour: ~43hours
Delivery: vaginal, forceps assisted (with 2/3 of London present)
Birthday twin: Magnolia Grace Montgomery; Nashville, TN
*[These people in brackets are the lucky ones who got to know me on a pretty intimate basis.]
Post-birth details to follow for those interested in the medical care follow up type stuff. Please note that Drew may offer his version of events if I get enough of the details wrong or if he is politely begged. Click here for Parts 1-4.