'I was in labour for 4 hours (and hospital for 3 days)'
When I tell someone about my quick labour the general response is "Lucky you." But, after losing litres of blood and three pain-filled days in hospital, bringing my baby home felt like more of an achievement than I could ever have imagined.
This article originally appeared on Kidspot.
I’m writing this down as a duty to the woman I was a year ago. Don’t kid yourself, pushing an eight pound human out of that hole previously used primarily for pleasure, is just as horrific as you are imagining it to be. And this is coming from a woman whose first (and only) birth was a virtual wunderkind.
Four hours from start to finish, no doctors, no drugs and a vagina that came out the other end physically unscathed. Yes, that’s right, not a stitch or tear in sight - thank you, Hendrix. A swift and complication-free birth is possible, but that by no means makes it a good idea.
I was 16 days late
But not through lack of trying. I tried everything: swimming, walking, prenatal yoga, low grindy dancing, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, raspberry leaf tea, pineapple, obscenely hot curries, the orgasms – extraordinary amounts. The stretch and sweep (one finger dilated!), acupressure, meditation/visualisation, the self reiki, the singing. An eggplant parmigiana recipe that apparently induces everyone. Lots of laughing!
And once I went the old-fashioned way and scrubbed the whole floor on my hands and knees. Note: I lived in a 220m² warehouse. That was a LOT of scrubbing.
Finally, I submitted to the advice of three mothers and downed 60ml of castor oil.
I took the castor oil at 6:20pm. The onset of my labour was like a drug. I’d spent the day blindfolded in the middle of my lounge room blasting hip-hop and doing this grindy, free-form, dirty-dancing yoga thing in drop crotch pants and a boob tube, belly all out and proud like I was some sort of ancient cow woman, who had momentarily visited that spot of carpet in Melbourne purely by accident of the space-time continuum.
When the sun went down and after dinner with friends, I was compelled to return to that blindfold, only this time it was music by The Necks and I was meditating while performing reiki on myself. Looking back, I was completely out of my mind.
Active labour: 12:20am
At first I thought it was just the castor oil working. I felt like I needed to poo. But when I sat on the toilet, nothing came out. After a few minutes something clicked. It wasn’t poo that wanted to come out, it was baby.
I stayed in the bathroom because it felt safe, I remember calling my partner, Nathaniel, to bring me a blanket for my legs. I was getting cold in a weird way, like the kind of cotton wool cold you get when you’re still awake in the early hours of morning after a long night.
I moved to the bed and foolishly tried to rest, but my contractions were under three minutes apart. I did a couple of cat-cow yoga poses and my waters broke. Nathaniel implored me to lie down and try to get some sleep. I, conversely, implored him to get up and start being my birth partner. But Nathaniel was sure that rest was what I needed; after all, we had many, many hours to go ... surely. I disagreed and my surges were getting stronger and stronger. “We’ve got a long day ahead of us, baby, get some rest now and we’ll be ready for tomorrow,” he said.
But I had turned. I was morphing quickly into wild, birthing beast and I needed my man awake and putting his goddamn elbows into my back. “THERE IS NO TOMORROW! THERE IS ONLY NOOOOOOOOW!” I yelled. I made him call the hospital, who said we should probably come in about three hours or so. It had been 45 minutes since it started.
I moved to the floor of the lounge where I vomited quickly and efficiently into a big silver bowl. No more lounge. Back to the bed. I spent the next three hours and fifteen minutes in this position: all fours with my hands on a bedhead of sorts. I had also started to bellow. And I mean bellow. I am a singer after all. And my projection is fierce. Right from the outset, I felt that vocalising helped get me through the contractions - pity anyone within 500 metres. With contractions coming in under two minutes apart, I had already started to hate this. “One hour down, three to go!” Nathaniel hollered over my noises.
That was it, I believe. With that one comment, he had somehow programmed a countdown in my body that wasn't going to stop for anything. Four-hour labour, here we come. With active labour definitely in, Nathaniel took his place behind me, jamming his elbows into my lower back each time I surged. We’d had this fantasy about an ecstatic birth, so he held my hips and spiralled with me in the breaks. “A little bit of sex maybe baby? Help him along a bit?” he whispered in my ear. “ARE YOU F***ING CRAZY?!” I hollered, just before another almighty “MOOOOOOO!”
Wait three hours my arse. I don’t care how you do it, get me to the hospital before I drop this baby all over the floor.
When Nathaniel’s sister arrived I was mooing so loudly she refused to come up the stairs. Nathaniel ran down our bags in between surges, dutifully returning each time to jam his elbows into my back at the peaks. Not long after, I had crawled into her VW Golf and positioned myself kneeling backwards in the middle seat. “MOOOOOOOOO!”
She drove with the steely determination of Vin Diesel in The Fast and the Furious - for a block. “Stop!” Nathaniel exclaimed, “I forgot my phone”. “MOOOOOO!!!!!” said I, as the car spun around and headed in exactly the wrong direction to where I needed to be. Back home, my man bolted up the stairs, grabbed his phone, ran to the door, stopped, ran back, and downed four fat fingers of gin.
Now he was ready
I was beyond ready. When we got to the hospital, we were let out at the door I was told to go to, and it was locked. Also, nobody was answering the intercom. I was mooing in the gutter. When we finally found the right one, the nurse gave us all this look of, “oh God, why didn't you tell us she was this far along?”. Before allowing me to climb into a wheelchair (all fours, facing backwards) and wheeling me to emergency.
Steeled by the gin, Nathaniel whipped out our birth plan for the nurse, before being told that he was a little premature - we weren’t in the birth centre yet! “On a scale of one to 10, how much pain would you say you’re in, darling?” the nurse asked. “Excuse me, Nathaniel eagerly interjected, we would like the sensation to be referred to as pressure, not pain.” Stuff that, thought I. “I don’t give a damn about pressure!” I bellowed, “This is not pressure. This. Is. Paaaaain.” Right before another, “MOOOOOO!”.
Finally we were in our birth room. In between my mooing and contractions, Nathaniel had been jumping on and off the bed, shoving his elbows into my lower back through each surge, and in every rest desperately trying to set up the birth room we had imagined. Low lighting, lamps, the oil burner, the aromatherapy sprays I had prepared for what I had assumed was going to be a long, drawn-out process. A second midwife came in and began to run the bath. But I only cared about one thing.
“What do you need, baby?” he asked me in an (increasingly shorter) break. Yes! Finally, I was ready to ask the one question that had kept me going. It was the one and only thing that I had been thinking for the entire time this great weight had been using my body to tunnel his way out.
“I want an epidural.”
I have never thought it possible to step so deeply into the mind of an addict. But an addict I had become. In my mind, every move I had made until now had just been a wily plan to get that sweet, sweet shot of numbness, relief, something, anything to make this horrific thing stop.
“You can’t have an epidural, darling. We planned this, you don’t need it,” Nathaniel retorted. “Well f*** you!” I moaned. “NO! F*** YOU!” Nathaniel yelled, before shoving his elbows in my back and turning to the midwife. My man was in his element now, he knew where I was at and he was going to do what he does best - direct. “She’s entered the second stage!” he commanded,
Our stunned midwife took her cue with admirable aplomb. Nathaniel was ushered off the bed so she could do what she does best – deliver babies.
“Now Donné,” she calmly said, “I just need to have a look inside to see where he’s at. Is that OK with you?”. “I DON’T GIVE A F***! JUST PUT YOUR F***ING HANDS INSIDE AND GET. IT. OUUUUUUUUUUUT!!” Yep, definitely in transition. And our midwife agreed. “OK Donné, just do what your body wants to do now. He’s on his way.”
She was like my pillar in the storm. I was a raging bull and she was my pasture. My moos had started to become oms. Noticing my natural desire to rise in pitch as the pain (yes, pain) intensified, I began to siren downward. Each surge’s onset would produce a cry that was corrected to a low (seriously low) bellow - my musician’s mind would pay money to go back and record the frequencies I hit.
I was pushing, seriously pushing - I wanted the thing OUT - but my midwife suggested I change my vocalisations from long, held oms to monkey-like “oohs”. There we were, the two of us, making ape noises in the middle of the Royal Women’s Hospital. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure that it was this change of sound, that saved me from tearing my vagina from here to kingdom come.
I remember the feeling of him crowning. It was as if I was being torn apart. “Look! Look!” my midwife exclaimed - there was a mirror on the bed between my legs. I was sure, so absolutely, definitively sure, that I was going to see a whole head - that I had done it - that the reality was in fact devastating. I looked and saw, well, my closed vagina. She parted my lips to show me the crown of his head. “WHAT?! HE’S NOT EVEN OUT YET?!” To make matters worse, a moment later I felt him go back up. “I F***ING HATE THIS!” I cried, before omming, or mooing or aping or whatever the hell I was now doing.
“We’re nearly there Donné, just keep going”. His head came out with the next monkey push. Now was Nathaniel’s time to shine. It was in our birth plan. While he may not have been able to deliver the baby, he sure as hell was going to catch it. It was to be his Lion King moment, where he would hold our son up to the sun and tell him that everything the light touched would be his.
After wrangling out his shoulders, our midwife stepped aside to let Daddy do his thing. Nathaniel got into position (a well-balanced catcher’s crouch) and lined up his hands in just the right position – thumbs down, ready to hook under our son’s armpits. He breathed, focused, leant in …
Our baby slipped out before he had a chance. THOOMP! He landed all slippery and slimy on the bed. Dammit.
I held my boy to my breast and fed him for the first time. Maybe I cried? I don’t remember, probably. It was fuzzy. Very fuzzy.
The afterbirth: sometime after 4:17am
I had asked not to have the hormone injection to get the placenta out. This made our midwife super nervous, but she complied with our wishes. A little while later the placenta started to come. And then it stopped. Holding Hendrix to my chest, I got into a crouch, pushing with the weak contractions that followed. A little more, but not enough. I was exhausted.
I remember lying there while my lower belly was kneaded in encouragement. I had started to bleed, and my midwife, watching the clock for the hour to be up, began to grow ever more worried. There was a strand still connected and it just wouldn’t come.
Bang on the hour she asked if she could give me the injection and I agreed. I was just so tired. I wanted it to be over. After that jab the rest of my placenta followed, but there was a lot of blood, too. The rags were taken out to be weighed and my placenta exited for inspection.
When our midwife returned, it was with a doctor. I had lost 1.3 litres of blood and there was still some membrane missing. I had to go into surgery.
The anaesthetist hovers to my right and explains that once in surgery I’ll probably be given an epidural, but that if it’s deemed necessary, they may put me under general.
I was desperate. I couldn’t fathom being conscious any longer. I needed it all to stop. “Please,” I begged him, “Please give me a general.” They did.
Consciousness flickers in. They’re arguing over me. Something had gone wrong. It flickers out again.
I came to with catheters in my arms, one in my urethra, and a vagina full of stuffing and drains. Moving was incredibly uncomfortable. Hendrix was put to my boob and we slept like that on and off through the day. Nurses came in and out, checking my vitals and hopping me up on painkillers every couple of hours. They kept me in the birth centre the first night, and allowed Nathaniel to stay. He slept on a birth mat on the floor, his pinkie finger in Hendrix’s little sucker mouth; they slept in spoons.
Nurses came in and out through the night. Some respectful, some not so much. One even picked Hendrix up and put him in the cot, saying that co-sleeping with his dad wasn’t safe. She flicked on lights, made a hell of a racket; it just felt mean. The minute he was separated from his dad, Hendrix woke up and cried. The nurse just left. Nathaniel got up and brought him back to the mat, upon which he fell asleep again almost instantaneously, sucking, sucking, sucking on that pinkie finger.
The next day I had my second blood transfusion (the first happened in surgery - I had bled out another 700ml there). My arms had become battered pincushions for antibiotics and water, blood tests and transfusions. The nurses could never seem to find my veins, and as the days continued, my veins kept collapsing. I remember just bursting into tears as one nurse earnestly tried to take blood. No more poking and jabbing and trying and re-trying. I was just so tired; I had no reserves for this type of pain.
Hendrix was a permanent fixture, tucked under my armpit, sleeping and sucking, sucking and sleeping. Finally, at the end of the second day, the water balloon that had been inserted into my uterus was ready to come out, along with the catheter and more wadding than I thought possible. The discomfort of it all was triumphed with the incredible relief I felt to have it gone. I was helped up and into the shower.
So shaky ... so dizzy ... hips that felt like these giant African lady implants, loose and round and tipped at an angle that made my bum stand out like a bedside table. I barely knew this body that drooped around my frame. I felt like I should have looked like an emaciated twig, but here was this body, swimming about like an ill-fitting hippo suit on an anatomical skeleton.
We spent two more nights at the hospital. I’d had such a bad run that they put us in a private room. They also let Nathaniel stay, even though it was totally against the rules. He had to creep around after hours lest any of the other solo mummies should see him and demand their partners get to stay, too. “See what I do to get us a private room, darling?” I had to joke.
I took iron tablets, slept and fed Hendrix constantly. I ate watermelon like it was going out of fashion and drank more water than I thought was possible.
The whole time in hospital I had felt I was just trying to stay conscious. It was only when I got home that the endorphins kicked in. For the next three months I felt more emotionally balanced than I had ever felt in my life.
I remember sitting on our armchair watching our new baby sleep in my arms. Emotion overwhelmed me and I started to cry. “What’s wrong, baby?” Nathaniel asked. “He’s just. So. Beautiful.” I whispered.