At the risk of sharing a bit too much, I want to talk about the night Hedgehog was born. It seems rather apt as it’s coming up to her first birthday. From conversations with fellow mums I know that birth stories tend to be wildly different, depending on the mum and on what actually happens during the event. In any case, this was my experience, and I hope it’s one that some of you can relate to.
Huston we have lift off.
I spend the evening chillaxing in our little back room, which currently has a futon sofa bed in it, later to be the new baby room in about six months time, once we’re done with co-sleeping. I look out at the sunset towards our garden and ponder the beautiful Turner-like sky, flump into the futon with my space hopper size tummy, and watch ‘Open Water’ on the laptop. Spoiler: that’s the thriller about the couple who go diving and get left behind by the boat. They endure two days of floating in the ocean before being picked off by sharks. Nice. Don’t ask me why I felt the urge to watch a disturbing film like that on the eve of going into labour, I just felt like it.
I am at 40 weeks and 4 days, and willing something to happen before the suggested sweep, which is scheduled at 41 weeks. That’s where they stick a finger up through your cervix and sweep round inside in case you’re wondering. It sounds invasive and unpleasant, no thank you. As I sit there, I decide that the baby is going to arrive on Friday (tomorrow). I know it’s going to hurt, but better to get it over with, and I mentally converse with some sort of force / being / God in the sky, and say ‘Go for it’. Whether or not this holds any supernatural weight or is merely a coincidence, the fact remains that soon after midnight on the Friday the cramps start.
It starts as period cramps in the dark, but soon I am moaning, and Mr M&H leaps out of bed like a jack-in-the-box, switches the light on, and says something I don’t remember. I reply ‘No’ in a ‘Don’t be silly’ tone, and march downstairs to find the pain killers, down four of them, knowing they won’t do sh*t but it makes me feel better for taking them anyway, and run my bath.
Once in the water it’s a bit more comfortable, but the ‘surges’ as I’ve decided to call them are coming thick and fast. Mr M&H comes in on the phone to the midwife, and asks me a load of questions. I want that gun that they have in ‘The hitch hiker’s guide to the galaxy’ which you fire at someone and they instantly have an insight into what you are feeling. Then there would be no tedious questions, but the entonox would be brought in pretty f*cking swiftly.
After about half an hour I get out of the tub, reluctant to leave my flickering candles, but driven by the thought of the drugs at the hospital. Mr M&H has brought a neighbour round to babysit the sleeping Mole, who so far is blissfully unaware of the torture that mummy is in. In fits and starts I get dressed, between squatting on the floor to moan through a surge. Then we’re out the door and driving through the night, the hospital standing out like a beacon against the Dunstable Downs. We turn into the maternity wing and get stopped at a barrier. Mr M&H asks me what to do and I glare at him. The man on the tanoy says in a very relaxed, I’ve got nowhere to be and am not in any kind of pain thank you very much sort of way, to go back around the block and go in a different way. I want to scream, and Mr M&H’s slow hesitant progress with the car makes me want to scream even more. I’m ready to stick a rocket up his arse.
We park up and Mr M&H streaks off in the wrong direction down a corridor. I follow him, holding on to the hand rail, only for him to streak back the other way and for me to follow him back again like a bewildered goat. We find some people and are brought into a delivery room, where I sit on the bed and am greeted by two smiling and keen faces, Francesca and Natalia, they make me feel safe. Francesca assesses me and says “I don’t know how you’ve done it, but you’re eight cm dilated already”. I say “Oh my god” because I’m so surprised, but also very encouraged. If this was a marathon, I’m on mile twenty already. The finish line is closer than I thought.
After that no-one does anything much. Mr M&H sits and reads the paper next to the bed, the entonox comes, which goes straight to my head in a pleasant way. I sit on the bed, rocking from side to side, getting surges every few minutes. Mr M&H gets up to hold me through them, and I think of the hot air balloon rising each time, from my hypno-birthing book, which is surprisingly effective, it provides something mentally to hold on to. At one point I’m squeezing and the waters pop and squelch out on the bed. Mr M&H says “What’s that?”.
I ask about the birthing pool, but it’s being cleaned and isn’t available. I have a moment where I think, ‘I could have stayed in my candle lit bathroom and have everything as I want it, instead of being in a strip light delivery room’, but by then I’m in full swing and it doesn’t matter anymore.
Then the gears change, and I move forward onto all fours and lean right over the top of the bed. I find a metal bar which I hang onto, like it’s a rock. The midwives are shouting “Listen to me Sarah” and I’m far away, thinking “Yeah, what?”. Every time I push they shout at me to stop, but I can’t stop. The stinging around the edge comes, so I know the head is coming out, and I’m gasping, and I see a nightmare vision of a fleet of horses galloping, with string music that would go with a horror film. Then the stinging is gone, and with one last push I feel the body slither out in a gush, and it’s over.
I turn around to sit up and my leg gets caught against the umbilical cord. The student nurse yells, but I lift my leg up and over, and come face to face with herself. She smells of milk and honey, she’s covered in white goo and her little fuzzy head is bobbing on my chest. God I am so relieved. “She is smiling now” laugh the midwives, and I am. Mr M&H kisses me, and I can’t stop looking at the new bundle of flesh and blood in my arms, aka Hedgehog.
Time has ceased to exist, and I couldn’t tell you how long I’ve been on the bed, but it’s four am, which means my labour was under four hours long. Less than half the time of Mole. The afterbirth is a little stubborn coming out, but it finally emerges with a splodge, and the student midwife screams because one of the veins has burst upon coming out and spattered my leg with blood, a real ‘Alien’ moment, how dramatic.
I sit on a chair next to the bed with Hedgehog while they clean up the mess, before taking a shower in our en suite bathroom. MLBU’s (Midwife Led Birthing Units) are the best. You’re in a hospital, but it feels like you’re in a hotel, win win. With Mole’s birth, we were in Guys & St Thomas’s, right on the Thames opposite parliament, with stunning views across the river. I basically gave birth facing parliament, so I like to think I gave them the ultimate moonie. We were a bit spoilt there. Here it’s more a view of the car park, but it’s night time and the glass is frosted anyway, so the view doesn’t really matter.
Hedgehog feeds straight away, which is a relief, and I do some lying down feeding and snoozing with her. It’s a relief to switch the strip lights off too, and get some rest before dawn. Everything goes quiet and the three of us are alone together. Mr M&H is strewn in the corner on yoga mats, getting more and more fed up. By morning he comes into bed with me, and we squish onto the single bed together. Anyone would think he had given birth.
We have a series of baby tests in the morning, form filling, breakfast and finally discharge at eleven am, less than twelve hours later. We come out into pouring rain, with Hedgehog lying Buddha like in the car seat, the midwife waves us off.
We come home to greet Mole who has spent the morning with granny. We introduce her to Hedgehog, she seems bemused and more interested in her breakfast. We spend the rest of the day speaking in quiet voices, floating in a hormone induced cloud nine, and healing my sore throat from all the shouting done the night before.