I had a baby

Somehow I had a baby. A human child. I birthed one.

It didn’t quite go how I’d planned, but wasn’t as terrifying as I’d feared. Feared so much, for so long.

We went through the Australian public health system, and our hospital was the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, just in case you’re wondering what such an experience is like.

On Friday 18th May, at 39 weeks and 4 days pregnant, I decided to call the maternity ward for advice. I’d noticed that the baby had been moving around less the past day or so, which they reckon is a warning sign, foetal movements being the easiest way to measure wellbeing. They suggested I come in so they could do some monitoring.

Man, if I’d known I was gonna be there for five hours I would’ve thought twice though. Soon after we arrived the baby started moving around like crazy (i.e. as normal), probably because part of the examination is quite forceful prodding by the midwives, which I imagine is a bit disturbing. Usually that would be enough to send us home, but not tonight. Both our heart rates were a bit high, so we had to hang around until they’d dropped for sufficiently long enough for everyone to be satisfied. Apparently this was caused by me not drinking enough water that day.

At the end of the visit the OB/GYN advised we get scheduled for induction within the next few days, as I was practically term and the reduced foetal movement was now considered a risk factor. The earliest they could do was Tuesday 22nd, so I said okay. That gave me enough days to prepare mentally and finish the things I wanted to finish prior to the birth (e.g. curtains for the nursery). Also it was nice to have certainty as to when it would all happen.

We were due to check in at the birth suite at 7pm. We got there right on time (after a bit of stressing about it) and were led to the waiting room… where four or five other couples were lounging and lying on the floor. Not the best sign? No, not at all. We’d called beforehand to make sure we were still on track and they weren’t too busy with unplanned births, but apparently I called too early because we still waited for several hours. Even then, we were taken to a monitoring room and put on a trace for yet more hours, because no birth suites were available… all night.

Around 2.00am I told them I was sick of waiting and would go home and let it happen naturally. That’s when they said no, they’d start the induction there, in that little cubicle, and find somewhere for me for the night. So, we got started at 2.30am.

I’d decided to go with a Cook’s catheter induction, on the recommendation of a couple of different midwives. They open you up with a speculum and insert a plastic tube with two balloons on the end, one for each side of the cervix.. meaning one of them has to go through the cervix. They told me it would be “uncomfortable,” but that luckily I was already 2-3 centimetres dilated at that point. They should have said “deeply uncomfortable” and “actually that’s an outright lie because it’s really quite painful.” I might have chosen another option.

But it was done. Once the balloons were in they were inflated with saline, and together put pressure on the cervix to open it further while I slept.

Once that nice piece of torture was over they moved us to a Birth Centre room. The Birth Centre is exclusively for patients who managed to worm their way into the highly in-demand midwifery team care, which was well full up a year in advance by the time we were four weeks pregnant. The Birth Centre is much nicer than the Birth Suites, and their rooms have double beds, so Brenton could stay and sleep with me until it all started!

Having said that, we got to bed at about 4am and got maybe three hours sleep before we were moved to the maternity ward, which is groups of four single hospital beds with curtains in between. Once there, Brenton went home to eat (they didn’t feed him) and pick up some things. I stayed there that day and evening, still waiting for a Birth Suite to open up. At least they gave me some sweet, sweet Endone for my catheter pain, and Brenton brought me marshmallows.

A Birth Suite became available at midnight, so we relocated again and they removed the catheter, which was not painful at all. They just deflated it and drew the tube easily out my ever so slightly more dilated cervix. They then began an IV drip of synthetic oxytocin, to induce further dilation and labour, at 12.30am on Thursday 24th May. I was not excited to be BEGINNING labour on only three hours of sleep over the past 48hours. I didn’t think I’d make it through an entire birth.

Once the drip started I just kind of lay there waiting to dilate and to maybe start to feel something. As midwives changed shifts they came and went, did handovers, did observations, and otherwise sat around and chatted. Eventually, I don’t know at what time, the OB came in and suggested we check my cervix. “I don’t think it will be much further dilated,” the midwife of the time said. “Baby’s head is still really high.” Yeah, well, I was fully dilated. The midwife was so sure it was impossible she just kept poking around in there saying “I can’t find it, I think I’ve lost it.” Nope, it’s just gaping ten centimetres wide and ready, lady. They ruptured my membranes (broke my waters), or tried to, but weren’t sure whether or not it had worked. Honestly the whole process was a mess.

So then they upped the oxytocin a whole bunch to try and bring baby’s head down. Very soon after that, I felt my first contraction.

It was sheer hell. It hit me like a fucking house shot directly at my person from outer space. There was no build up, no “Is this a contraction or a cramp?” This was a full blown, 100% in labour fucking birth contraction and IT HURT.

So after only a few more of those I asked if it wasn’t too early to request an early epidural. Not at all, the midwives said, and quickly began faffing about not requesting it. I asked again several contractions later, and a few more after that we heard an alarm. “You’re going to hate me,” the midwife said, “but that alarm means there’s an emergency cesarean happening next door, which means the anaesthetist will be busy for a while.” Well fuck.

They didn’t know how long my epidural would be, so I agreed to try the gas. I wasn’t too keen, because I’d had plenty of experience with nitrous oxide and knew it didn’t do crap for pain, but at this point I was willing to try anything.

Well, it didn’t do crap for my pain, that stuck around plenty. But it did succeed in taking me away from the pain for long moments at a time. They turned the concentration right up for me because of the long wait, and probably also because of my quiet weeping. I think because — up to a certain point — I had been so outwardly unobtrusive through the contractions that it had led them to think I was coping just fine. At one point Brenton reckons they noticed I was gasping with silent sobbings over his arm, murmuring pleas for a quick demise, and they realised I wasn’t just not feeling it. I guess this is in comparison to a friend who said she was screaming and swearing so much she frightened a dad waiting outside the suites. So at that point they jumped quickly to up my dose by quite a lot.

Let me tell you, I’ve been huffing nitrous for years, but I got higher on this nitrous than I had ever been before. It showed me the same hallucination it always does, where the fabric of reality breaks down into smaller and smaller self similar parts of itself, but it went deeper than it ever had. I saw the echoing singular squirmy wormies that make up the slightly more complex wormies that make up all reality at all points in time simultaneously, and end up in me.

I remember really clearly that at one point I had to ask Brenton to change the playlist from Nirvana, because everything was wailing unplugged Kurt voices, which was just an echo chamber for my pain.

When I got that high I’d stop inhaling (because I was utterly incapable) and come back to suddenly excruciating waves of agony in the very middle of a contraction because I hadn’t inhaled as it started. it was all very confusing and horrid. Brenton sat next to me and held my hand the whole time and listened to me wail that I couldn’t handle any more. I completely lost track of time and just flowed between moments of extreme pain and moments where it passed.

Eventually, finally, the anaesthetist came in. I became aware to her explaining the risks of an epidural, which I agreed mindlessly to, thinking “omg just hurry up.” She asked me to sit up and remain perfectly motionless. I thought that sounded perfectly impossible, but she managed to get all the bits inserted into my spinal column in between contractions. I lay back down and waited for the pain to go away, but it seemed to not work for ages. The anaesthetist ran chips of ice above and below my waist, asking which felt colder. I was comforted when it started to definitely feel less cold below my waist and on my legs. “My toes feel weird,” I remember saying, to which she replied, “we’re used to hearing that in my field of work.”

Suddenly the pain was gone! I could still feel the contractions, but very distantly. It was like I was wearing a fake pregnant belly over the top of my body, and it was that which was experiencing the contractions.

Once it was confirmed to be successful everything went quiet, and we got some rest while we waited for things to progress. It felt like ages I just lay there, exhausted and not quite napping, now that I could. The student midwife (who I did not like, for some unfair, arbitrary reason) kept feeling my belly to gauge the contractions. She would ask for permission beforehand, and eventually I said no, as she was reaching for my flesh. She gracefully withdrew, and I didn’t feel bad.

The hours passed, and they continued to bump up the dose of oxytocin to try to get the baby’s head to drop. It just wouldn’t. It was early hours of the morning by then, sometime between 3 and 6 am. I asked when I should let my mumm and my student midwife (Kate, who’d been with me from my first hospital appointment) know when to come, and nobody could give an answer. Limbo.

I don’t really remember the moment things started happening again, but I guess I entered the fabled second stage of labour, where my contractions were coming X times per minute or whatever (I can’t remember their guideline). The midwife said I’d better message mumm and Kate and tell them to get here ASAP cuz it could happen any time. It was happening now!

Unfortunately the baby’s head was still stuck right up there. I can’t recall the exact sequence of events, as I was pretty out of it, but they put my legs up in stirrups, told me when to push, and advised me they’d be using forceps. They also said if it didn’t start to happen soon, I’d need to have an emergency cesarean. My heart dropped at those words. Suddenly, dreading the inevitable cesarean was all I could do. I really, really, really didn’t want that to happen.

A midwife was assigned to constantly fondle my belly and let everyone know when a contraction was starting, because with all the fentanyl pulsing through my spinal cord I simply couldn’t tell anymore. So, with the threat of being gutted like a salmon, when she said a contraction was starting, and the OB arranged her forceps and biceps and told me to push, dang right I pushed.

The OB looked me in my gaping eyes and told me to push down and back, like I was doing a massive poop. The thing was though, I felt utterly cut off from my lower half, so I actually had no idea if I was pushing that hard or not. I was pouring all my energy into it but was thinking “this feels pretty weak tbh.” It was like when you first wake up and can’t quite get your hand to make a fist.

Well after that first action contraction all that pushing didn’t seem to have done much. The OB said I’d done well, but that if we didn’t have a baby born within the next three contractions/pushes, it was knifey slicey time. She probably didn’t use those words exactly but I was a bit high so who knows.

Anyway, fuck, three pushes. Okay.

After one of the contractions I exhaustedly opened my eyes and my mumm was there! “Oh! Hi, mumm!” It seemed funny. Oh wait, time to push again!

So then, like, I was so focused on pushing that I barely noticed when an alarm sounded and approximately the whole hospital staff flooded into the room. The baby’s heart rate had dropped below safe levels. Everyone was panicking and looking very anxious and unhappy — or so I heard afterwards from Brenton; I was still focused entirely on pushing and not even really present any more. So the new rule was, if her heart rate didn’t pick up after five minutes my giant gut was gonna be cracked open like a watermelon.

It picked up at pretty much exactly five minutes. Pretty sure she did that on purpose, the cheeky brat. There was such a communal sigh of relief oxygen levels in the room plummeted for a moment. Then it was time to push again, except now I had about forty midwives assisting. Some were holding me and the bed down (the OB was literally dragging it across the room by her forceful forcep moves), others were pushing my knees up to my shoulders (including Brenton), and the OB was hauling on those forceps with superhuman glory. Mumm told me later that in between contractions the OB took a massive breath, looked at her and said, “I should have had my Weetbix this morning.”

It was the forth push since that “three pushes then cleaver timez” threat. I was very grateful to be given another chance, but in reality the baby was hanging out in my vagina by that point so it was too late for scalpels and pouring blood. She really needed to get out of there now, though, so the OB politely informed me she was going to be cutting my taint open.

You know, leading up to the birth I was really scared I would have to have an episiotomy, but when she told me it was about to happen I was almost happy. Yes, good! Get this giant baby head out!

That contraction finished and I could again stop pushing and take a couple desperate breaths to wait for the next one. Except then the OB said, “Look down! See your baby!” and I looked down and she was putting a baby on my belly. My shock was 100% complete. I’d had no idea she had come out. Epidurals are amazing.

And the baby was crying. I knew that was excellent because it meant she was alive, and she seemed okay and really pink and wrinkly and had a bunch of blood on her head and a little baby face that was all screwed up probably just like mine was. Actually, a few days later mumm commented that my face in that moment showed more emotion than she’d ever seen on me before. I don’t usually show emotions much I guess.

Following that moment the main emotion was relief. It was over and I’d had a baby and only a very small slice was made, no dicing at all. No more pain ever! Hurray!

The baby was born at 7.04am on the 24th May, after being officially induced at 12.30am. Not bad. She had an Apgar score of 9. Nice!

They had Brenton put a nappy on her and a little donated beanie and Kate, my student midwife, helped her to latch on to my nipple for the first time. I remember looking down, watching her squeeze colostrum out of it and thinking, dang, that’s unpleasant. The nerve of this lady! But it worked I guess. The baby sucked and she was mine.

The OB sewed up the cut she’d made and it seemed to take a really long time. That also was unpleasant because I could feel the tugging, and my legs were going numb in the stirrups, and I was exhausted.

Finally all that nonsense was done with and I just hung out with my baby and mumm and Brenton.

That was when we would ordinarily be moved back to the maternity ward, but of course there was no room there. We stayed in the birth suite for hours. This meant we couldn’t have visitors that weren’t on the birth list, so when Brenton’s parents arrived they were denied access for ages. They eventually were allowed in and took excited photos and got to see my boobs and stuff and I just lay there and drooled, so out of it and glad it was over. My sister arrived as well, literally a couple hours before her flight home to Cairns. I was so, so glad she got to be there and meet the baby before leaving.

The midwife helped me up to shower (I was covered in amniotic fluid and blood and various slimes), but of course every time I lifted my head I experienced the vasovagals I’d been having throughout my pregnancy. She wheeled me around in a shower chair and washed and conditioned my hair and literally soaped my whole body while all I could do was hang on and try not to fall over. I would be best friends now with that last midwife if I could remember her name.

Eventually we were moved back to the Birth Centre for a few hours until a spot in the maternity ward opened up. I settled in to bed 24, little knowing I would be stuck there for a whole goddamn week.

At the antenatal classes leading up to the birth they let you know that usually you will stay on the ward for 24 hours, sometimes only 6 hours, if the birth is normal. My birth wasn’t exactly normal, but it was alright. It was vaginal, which is good. I should have gone home the next day.

Unfortunately the next day, when they were doing obs on the baby and me, the baby’s temperature was high. They didn’t know why, so assumed it was that she had contracted Group B streptococcus while travelling through my vagina. I’d never been tested for it, so it was a possibility. They strongly advised she be administered a course of antibiotics to combat this. We didn’t want our baby to be sick! So agreed. They took her down to the special care nursery and spent several attempts over an hour trying to get a cannula into her tiny hand-veins to give her IV antibiotics. I had to leave because it was so stressful to watch, but Brenton stayed and fed her sugar to calm her down while they took blood and jabbed her delicate extremities with a million needles. He was amazing.

It takes 72 hours to culture strep B, so we were stuck there for at least that long while they confirmed whether or not she was infected. In that time she had three courses of antibiotics, just in case. It turns out there was no infection and they murdered all her good bacteria for nothing.

But it’s better to be safe than sorry, of course. I was upset, I still am, but wouldn’t have made a different decision. Being in hospital that long really sucked, though.

Having said that, there were definite benefits to having the support of midwives over that time. The baby was upset for much of it, probably due to the antibiotics and cannula (it was massive and bruisey and looked very sore). It was distressing to have such an unsettled baby in a ward of women with such peaceful sleeping babies. The midwives helped me try to settle her and showed me lots of different techniques. I was there as my milk came in, and and my breasts swelled and engorged to three times their natural size and hurt like hell. I got to have two sessions with a lactation consultant that I would never have had if I had gone home.

But Brenton could only stay during the day, so all night I was awake with a crying baby and midwives who were also looking after (seemingly) a thousand other women.

I literally could not settle her. I couldn’t feed her. My nipples cracked and blistered — I tried using a breast pump and got more blood than milk. A midwife spent three hours straight with me and also could not settle her in that time. When the next midwife on duty suggested I try breastfeeding one more time, I started convulsing from the anxiety that idea provoked. Tears poured out of me and I couldn’t stop my entire body from shaking.

It was at that point that giving her some formula, as a stopgap measure for my own mental stability, was suggested. I agreed. She sucked it down and went straight to sleep for two hours. I got my own first hour’s sleep in days.

I have really difficult feelings about that whole experience. I believe in breastfeeding and very much want to exclusively breastfeed for as long as I can (weeks later I’m still pushing through in order to do it, and I plan to continue for at least six months and preferably a year), but I’m so angry that I was pushed so hard by all the midwives like it was the only option when my baby was screaming an actual 24 out of 24 hours a day because she was hungry. I mean, there’s education and support for breastfeeding, and then there’s literally driving a new mother insane. I’ve never experienced feelings like I did those few days and I’m a goddamn mental health professional.

After that first dose of formula she had about one feed of it a day, while I continued to try to breastfeed. Things were slightly more manageable. Eventually, six days after I was admitted, her blood culture came back negative for infection and they said we could go home.

We went home on my birthday, the 28th May. It was the best birthday gift I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. That day was amazing.

It’s been hard since then. I’ve been writing this post for three weeks, because I have almost zero time that is not taken up by my screechy, hungry, stinky baby.

But there were times in hospital, when she had been screaming with piercing baby screams for two thirds of a whole day straight, that I thought I would never be able to cope. Well we’re coping. A midwife came for a home visit a week after the birth and told us we were doing great, and our baby had gained back more than her birth weight. It’s now nearly 10pm on the 19th of June and she’s been asleep for nearly three hours.

My baby’s name is Xanthe. I love her so much.

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