Saturday, 17 May 2014

Looking Back at Labour

It was recently pointed out to me by Mr Meaney that I hadn't written a blog post about Blake's birth. I think part of the reason for that was that the day had gone nothing like I'd hoped it would, and I thought that writing it down might make me feel sad for the natural birth that never happened. However, me being me, it no longer seems sad; in fact, nearly five months down the line, I can kind of see the funny side. With that in mind, I thought it was finally time to share a little bit about the day that my little Prince came into the world.

Actually, it all started the day before. My blood pressure had been all over the place for weeks, and I'd been to-ing and fro-ing from the hospital on a regular basis, with the occasional overnight stay and hopeful talk about an induction. Fortunately for my health, but not my impatience, it was never quite high enough to start labour before my due date. It was, however, bloody inconvenient. Heavily pregnant and having to drive thirty odd miles twice a week to Barnstaple hospital was not ideal, and I even had to have a midwife come and check my BP on Christmas morning. At my appointment on the 27th December, my normal midwife decided that enough was enough and, despite my due date being four days away, she was going to try and get this baby to arrive by means of a membrane sweep. A membrane sweep, if you don't know, is basically when they stick their fingers up there and feel for the amniotic sac, which should then break naturally as a result of this stimulation. This is all very well if your cervix has begun to open: mine had not. I was still shut like a clam. For all intents and purposes, baby Meaney was showing absolutely no signs of putting in an appearance anytime soon. I was pretty gutted, I had been told by the hospital over and over again that they expected me to go into labour any day and now this. I had friends whose cervixes (cervii?) had been open for weeks. Did I have weeks left?

I went home feeling wounded and a little violated: It was the most intimate anyone had been with me in months and I'd gotten absolutely nothing out of it. However, I had read somewhere that orgasm could  help to bring on labour, so I took myself off to bed and reluctantly took care of that, and then drifted off into fat, uncomfortable sleep. I woke an hour or so later to find that the pelvic pain I'd been experiencing for a few days was suddenly worse. I felt that I'd been tied to a train track in my sleep, and that a steam engine had mullered my lower half, but still no contractions. Pissed off and in pain, I sat myself on my exercise ball, face set into a charming bulldog-chewing-wasp expression and waited for Mr Meaney to come home with a takeaway to cheer me up.

Halfway through my Chinese, it occurred to me that the pelvic pain was no longer constant. It was coming and going in waves. Fuck, I thought, I think it's actually starting. I got out my phone and started timing the discomfort on my much anticipated contraction app: three minutes apart. Holy bloody moly.

By this point, Mr Meaney had settled down to watch the Shawshank Redemption.

"I need you to put the Moses basket stand together," I said.

"I've just started watching the film," he said, pouting, "do I have to do it now?"

"Yes. I'm in labour."

Cue some rather frantic (and hilarious) furniture assembly and a phone call to the hospital. They weren't too bothered: I wasn't in enough pain, apparently. I had to concur. Labour's easy, I thought, I can totally do this. They advised that I took a warm bath and called back an hour later, giving Mr Meaney a chance to watch some of his film after all. An hour later I called back: this time, I told them, I was most definitely in enough pain. Ordinarily they would have delayed admission to hospital but, thanks to my questionable BP, they asked that I come in, explaining that they fully expected to be sending me home again. I had other ideas. The pain was becoming intense, and I knew that the baby was coming, whatever the midwives might think. By this point, it was nearly 1am, and I had to call my Dad. Mr Meaney didn't drive until January this year, and there was no way I was going to be able to drive myself to the hospital (please do not ever try driving in labour, however early the stages, however close your hospital) and I needed a lift. I had already expressly told my Mum that I didn't want her at the hospital, so my Dad was the obvious choice.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love my Mum. I love my Mum so much that you wouldn't believe, and I would have loved her to be part of Blake's debut in the world. But my Mum brings out the little girl in me and I needed to be a grown up if I had any chance of dealing with this pain. If my Mum was there, I'd have been crying on her shoulder within minutes. As it happened, I managed the entire forty five minute journey without once making a  sound during the now very regular contractions. I breathed through them quietly, timing each one diligently on my phone. Just outside Barnstaple, I suddenly announced that I had to pee, and instructed Dad to stop at a service station. Mr Meaney helped me in and reassured the very worried looking cashier that I wasn't going to give birth on the floor, as I stopped for a contraction in the middle of his garage.

On arrival at the hospital, my Dad made himself scarce as I had an internal examination. In fact, I've never seen the man move so fast in my life. The contractions were coming hard and fast and lasting well over a minute, so I felt sure that I was progressing towards delivery.

"Well, you're about 1cm dilated," the midwife said, "so you're only in the very early stages."

I  was so disappointed. Normally they would have sent me home, but my blood pressure was once again being naughty so they decided to keep me in for observation, potentially admitting me to the ward and sending Mr Meaney packing. Fortunately they took pity on our car situation and let my Dad go home instead: poor fellow had work in the morning.

I had assumed that I would want an active labour, that is that I'd be up walking about during contractions in order to alleviate the pain, but I found any movement instantly brought a contraction on and made the pain worse. The only way I was able to cope was to lay with my eyes closed and imagine I was on the beach in St Lucia. Due to my recent history, I was having both my contractions and the baby's heart rate monitored, but the contraction monitor kept slipping. In fact, at one point the midwife only knew I was contracting when I covered my eyes and 'went to my happy place'. I was offered pain relief and stoically turned it down: I was determined to do this as naturally as possible. Plus, I'd heard that several forms of pain relief actually slow labour, and that was not something I fancied toying with at that point.

Shortly afterwards, I was aware of a consultant appearing. There was some concern over the baby's heart rate, and I was informed that it seemed to be dropping alarmingly every time I had a contraction. However, the external monitors weren't accurate enough and they wanted to attach a trace to his head in order to keep a closer eye on his levels of distress. My waters hadn't broken naturally, and I was advised that they would have to break them to attach the trace, and also to check the colour of the fluid. Once again I was offered pain relief as the consultant gently explained that having the waters broken was uncomfortable and that the contractions would immediately become a lot stronger. At this point, I cracked mentally. I was exhausted and scared, all of a sudden I was completely out of control and things were starting to go wrong; I couldn't do it anymore. I sobbed as I requested an epidural: disappointed in myself that I had not been strong enough to cope how I wanted. However, the consultant wanted my waters broken immediately, and stressed that I would have to manage with gas and air until after the trace was attached. Then I could have the epidural.

As soon as my waters were broken, the contractions became more than I could bear. Partly because they were now 'dry', with no fluid to cushion them, but also because I'd resigned myself the epidural and every second waiting for it was like torture. On the other hand, the gas and air was wonderful: after being sober for nine months it was like taking down a bottle of pinot grigio, and I was quickly chastised for using it between contractions as well as during. Down the business end, however, there was a bit less of a party atmosphere. The waters now splashing around my feet were thick with fresh meconium, meaning that the baby was highly distressed and had emptied his bowels inside my womb. The consultant sprung into action. There was no time to attach the trace, he said, they had to get the baby out. Before I knew which way was up, I had a consent form for an emergency caesarean section thrust into my hand.

Throughout my pregnancy, a section had been my biggest fear, but now I didn't care. I just wanted my baby to be ok. In fact, I was slightly relieved: the epidural was no longer 'my choice', the pain would stop and I would have my baby in my arms in less than half an hour. I was still chuffing the gas and air on the way to theatre, alternately moaning in agony during the contractions and then giggling drunkenly about the fact that my bits were going to remain intact.

Despite the immediate relief given by the epidural, as the sweet, sweet anaesthetic coursed its way through my spine, terror and adrenaline took over and I began to shake harder than I have ever shook before, something that the anaesthetist assured me was normal.

"I'm so scared," I whispered to Mr Meaney, blinking away tears, as they laid me down and I began to go numb.

According to him, he had never seen me look so terrified, and I was. Terrified of the epidural, terrified of the section, terrified for the safety of my precious baby boy. I was also still a little gas drunk and hysterical, and made a few inappropriate comments about my Rasputin fanny as the surgeon stated that there was no need to shave me, and before I knew it the whole thing had begun.

Caesareans are strange, they feel a little bit like someone is doing the washing up inside your abdomen, but naturally I felt no pain thanks to the spinal, and before long I heard a tiny little cry that alerted me to Blake's abrupt presence in the room. The fear and exhaustion gave way to elation and awe. He was here. I was about to meet my son.

Mr Meaney crept around the dividing sheet and cut the cord, getting a birds-eye view of the inside of my uterus in the process, and Blake was brought round to meet me. He was more beautiful than I ever could have imagined, but I couldn't really hold him; I was still laying completely flat and the shakes were violent. I was genuinely worried I would throw him from the operating table as my body convulsed against my will. He was placed into Mr Meaney's somewhat steadier arms, and I was sewn up; a process that took far longer than the operation itself.

I continued to shake as I was wheeled into recovery, and Blake was placed into a crib as I was giving an oxygen mask and some time to calm down. Soon after though, the midwife brought him to me anyway, anxious that my tiny 6lb3oz baby needed to feed as soon as I could manage it. Amazingly, the shakes stopped within seconds of him being placed on my skin and his tiny mouth latching on to feed from my breast. I was calm. I was content. I had found my place in the world.

It's true what they say: you never know real love until you've had a child, and I would go through the whole drama again in a heartbeat for my little Prince. Blake Stephen Meaney: the boy who stole my heart the second I saw his face.

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