|Edward's Birth - The Father's Story|
It was a long labour, and indeed the whole process from waters breaking to final delivery lasted about 2 days.
All the stages I expected were kind of blurry and elongated, but the timeline of gory details goes something like this: on the night of Friday/Saturday, Susie’s waters broke at about 3.30 am. This was no surprise: she was already about 10 days past the official due date, and she’d been for acupuncture treatment on Friday. Our midwife was due to visit us that morning anyway, so we were able to get immediate answers to slight worries (was the fluid just a little bit green? No, not really). During the day, hints of contractions, quite frequent but not very long, and none at all for long periods. Our DVD of choice was the first series of the West Wing. We had a nap in the late afternoon, out of which I remember being awoken by prolonged moaning at about 6pm, and labour was presumably established some time after that point. Blurry, though. I started filling the birthing pool. Our midwife (Elke) turned up in the early evening, went away again, and then was back before midnight, at which point things really got tough.
Now, every time Susie had a contraction, she threw up. Within a few hours, she was dehydrated and weak, tired as hell. She spent some time in the birthing pool, which helped the pain, but she was getting weaker and weaker from not having any food or liquid, and by the next morning we appeared to be at an impasse. Probably the cervix was fully dilated; but the pushing contractions weren’t really happening; and it wasn’t clear how much longer Susie could go on.
What saved us was Lucozade. Heaven knows why, but after chucking up everything from apple juice to raspberry leaf tea, she kept the Lucozade down, and immediately began to recover her strength. This, by the way, was the ‘original’ flavour, not the newer orangey sports drink (we had a bottle of that too, but she threw that up). She was able to keep down a few bits of pear later on, but she got through the whole labour principally on the power of Lucozade. What saved ME was bagels and cream cheese, brought in fresh by the second midwife (Kylie). I don’t thing I’ve ever felt such a powerful sense of a need fulfilled as when those bagels hit my stomach that morning.
Mind you, we weren’t out of the woods yet. I had a mid-morning nap, and when I came back about an hour and a half later, things were exactly as I had left them, the contractions having thinned out, and the labour going nowhere. Susie couldn’t pee, and had to have a catheter inserted several times. Outside it was a glorious early summer day; inside dark and intimate. I made some lunch for the midwives and me, which we ate out in the garden - hurray for home births! But a shame that Susie couldn’t really enjoy it. Susie was put on a regime of stair walking, two steps at a time, and hang-squatting from the bannister post if she had a contraction. To pep things up a bit we had CDs of the Beatles, the Jackson Five, and a Motown compilation, and that did raise her spirits. But when I had a second nap in the late afternoon, I woke to find again that no advance had been made. Not for the first time that day I began to despair. The evening was well advanced before there was a decisive shift.
Susie began to get really severe pains, and asked for gas and air (she’d asked several times before, but Elke had gently deflected her). She really took to it - it didn’t, she says, stop the pain, but it distanced it. We got through an episode of the West Wing with breaks every five minutes for agonised sucking on the pipe; then when it was clear that something was really happening, back to the stairwalking, with the cannister at the top of the stairs and me on massage duty. As Sunday turned to Monday Elke took Susie off the gas and air (she was quite firm about it, saying that it was important for Susie to be completely in control as we got into the actual birth); more stairwalking and then a transfer to the pool, where our boy was finally born. I watched him emerge inch by inch: an eerie experience, most spooky of all when I saw his closed eyes and wasn’t sure they were eyes, and saw his lips with goo coming out of them. Honestly I thought he looked like some kind of animatronix alien. After his whole head emerged, Elke did what midwives do, and then there he was, whole, complete, in my arms, as I gave him over to Susie. Still looking, if I can be honest, quite alien, nothing like I thought he would (though I’m not sure what I thought he’d look like). Lots of dark hair. Bloated and wrinkled face. How strange. Looks nothing like me... Except he has my size (both me and my father were about the same weight when we were born); big hands and feet. [Susie objects to my describing him as ‘bloated’. But I can only report what I felt at the time. He looks fine now, of course; but it was just so weird seeing him emerge...]
The aftermath: Susie lost more than an average amount of blood, and we’ve been trying to build her up with iron-rich foods. Otherwise she’s absolutely fine. A bit of superficial tearing of her perineum, which didn’t require stitching and is healing nicely. Basically she got off incredibly lightly. Baby Edward, it turns out, though lined up in the classic position in the womb, somehow got his head crooked on the way down the birth canal, and this may explain why the second stage took so long. The third stage was a doddle: the placenta peeled off and plopped down quite promptly, while the midwives were doing their weighing and measuring and report writing; though this is presumably where the blood got lost.
One immediate effect of Edward’s crooked entry is that he couldn’t suck properly at the beginning, and always turned his head to the left when he was lying down. We couldn’t get him to breastfeed, and for the first 36 hours, he took no more in than a couple of teaspoons of water. Since then we’ve been feeding him colostrum expressed with a breast pump and offered through a syringe; and now he’s getting hungrier, and the fluid is flowing more plentifully. Still some way short of actual breastfeeding, but we get closer every day. Yesterday, we had a craniosacral therapist come round, and within half an hour of not very much spectacle, he had Edward turning his head both ways, and sucking like a demon, as both Susie’s fingers and mine will testify. Amazing. So we’re not far off now...
The verdict: I’m so glad we went for a home birth. So many things it makes easier, simplifies the logistics, you know where everything is and how to get it, and when it’s all over you’re in your own bed. The pool was fantastic for Susie, who tells me it made a real difference to the pain. We were able to set the place up exactly as Susie wanted it, with candlelight and music. We had the benefit of a pair of really excellent midwives, whom we had to pay for, but whose advice and dedicated, continuous, unhurried support was priceless. There’s little doubt that if we had been in a hospital, we would have been under some pressure to let them intervene, with ventuse or something. As it was, our midwives kept monitoring the heartbeat of the baby, even underwater, and sometimes every five minutes, and were absolutely clear that neither mother nor child were in any danger: no fetal distress whatsoever, and all we had to do was wait. It has made, and continues to make, a real difference that we had developed a relationship with these midwives over the duration of the pregnancy: we felt comfortable with them when they were here for the birth, and now as they visit us in the early days.