Barry was determined not to keep us waiting. Midwives assured us it would take at least two induction pessaries and maybe the dreaded drip before he would arrive. Start on Monday, appear on Wednesday was the estimate. So why, when we visited just hours after the first treatment, was something clearly happening?
We had long discussions – was it in waves? No. Was her tummy tightening? No. Could we time it? No. But it was certainly something.
So I decided to stay. I’d put my own hospital bag in the car just in case, so I was ready with my laptop, ipad, snack, coffee mug and headphones. I had an image of myself sitting calmly outside the ward waiting. I might write a blog, start a book, watch an episode or two of The Last Kingdom and drool over Uthred, son of Uthred………………… Oh, ‘the best laid plans of mice …and Grannies’. It was all denial.
As a Mum, there were always things I didn’t want to do.
I didn’t want to be brave when a tarantula sized spider decided to colonise the bath; I was not the best at mopping up sick; and managing scary illness was never my shining glory. So I admit, when she said she wanted me as a birthing partner my heart sank. I agonised: would I manage seeing my beloved daughter in pain? Could I hold it together when she lost it? How would I manage to support without getting in my son-in-law’s way? But I said yes and pushed all the questions aside, assuming that I wouldn’t really be needed. After all they had a Doula, so surely I’d just be overkill?
But denial wasn’t the only reason I accepted her invitation. Whilst I was unsure how well I’d manage being there, I could only imagine the torture of not to be there. I hate to see her suffer, but I’d much rather be alongside to love her through it.
It made me realise what I put my own mother through when I called to tell her I was in labour the first time. I was in London, she was in Birmingham. There was nothing she could do – in those days, we had to fight to get Dad in the room and the very idea of a Birth Partner was laughable. So she walked around Brum all day and bought baby clothes, then went home to sit by the phone – horrendous. At least by being there, I knew exactly what was going on. I could see her eyes, stroke her back, hum to her, encourage her…….. just feel a little bit useful as she went through this life defining moment.
So I focused on being helpful
I kept us all afloat in drinks, ran the bath, supported endless trips to the loo, held the bowl while she was sick (and didn’t retch once!). I tidied, changed her clothes, made the bed. Encouraged Anthony to sleep – he was in for the long haul and I didn’t know how long they would let me stay.
And as night fell and Anthony curled up with his headphones to drown out the noise, we had some wonderful mum/daughter moments that I’ll always treasure – bathing my girl again after so many years; leaning on the side of the bath and chatting in the minutes between ‘surges’; brushing and drying her hair as she bounced on the large ball. By now we were definitely into contractions and she was going great guns with her hypnobirthing – she was going to be earth mother supreme after all.
When she reached the magic 4 cm, the machine kicked in.
Now she was officially in labour and we could head down to the Consultant Led Unit (CLU) and the longed for birthing pool. Holding onto a few scraps of dignity is all, so getting her through the public area while contracting on all fours was a challenge, but the midwives had it down. The ‘public’ also politely stayed away, sadly including Dad and Sister who were waiting in the wrong bit of corridor. I so wanted to fetch them, but didn’t dare leave in case I was barred from returning.
In the handover between midwives they realised her Diabetic notes were missing. I grabbed my chance and offered to fetch them. Thank heaven for a short pause and the knowledge they would let me back into the room. I raced up to the ward and found John and Martha (Dad and Sister) clearing the room of all the signs of home comfort. It was so lovely to have a cuddle, to talk about where we’d got to and to let them know how she was doing.
How was she actually doing? What to say?
As mothers I think we split into two groups: some will spot a pregnant mum from miles way and home in with their gruesome birth stories; others will pretend it’s an easy, elegant affair that can be managed before tea. If you’re of the first variety, please take a look at the facial expression of your listener and pause for breath. It really doesn’t help to go into labour believing you’re going to die. And if you prefer to gloss over the pain, then please stop reading now.
This is my fourth labour – two of my own and one with each daughter – and it really is hard to talk about. This is not a glamorous process. All romanticised ideas of bringing forth a new life miss the mark. We do bring forth new life, but it’s in a hell of a struggle. Style and dignity are lost with endless bouts of farts and burps; the first time you fall asleep on a train and dribble, and when you can no longer see your feet, never mind shave your legs. Labour demands that anyone at any point has the right to stare deeply into your bits. Your body is suddenly up for grabs and anyone can come take a look.
And it is pain of extraordinary depths. I’ll always remember my neighbour in the maternity ward who, when congratulated me on my first child, described it as ‘sh*tting a double decker bus’. Pretty damn accurate I thought at the time! And the truth was my girl was doing as well as was possible – and she was doing the only thing she could – she was getting on and bearing with it.
This is a major rite of passage; a turning point in life when you are obliged to find your inner strength (if you can do this, you will knit fog). All the pain and challenge of change condensed into a few days that leave you irrevocably different. Not only is your body racked and sore, you now have a delicate little life in your hands. It’s mind blowing!
For my Miriam, the challenge was huge.
Being diabetic, she was checked every 10 minutes for something – blood pressure, temperature, pulse, blood
sugar, ketones, injected for prevention of DVT’s, blood pressure tablets, catheterisation, blood samples from Barry’s head….. not to mention her own blood tests and insulin injections. And each time she had to reel off her name and date of birth – you try doing that in the little bit of oblivion you have been contractions. But she did it with good grace through 29 hours of labour.
Importantly she was never on her own. She had her Beloved, her mum, her doula and two really caring midwives and we all had a job to do. Miriam has always said it takes a community to raise a child and it takes one to deliver a child too. Sadly not everyone has such luxury, but these midwives are the real deal, both in expertise and caring. They took Miriam on as their own and I needed to see that, because at times I felt entirely out of my depth.
Talking about depth – Anthony – this was a rite of passage for him too. How I love that boy! He sat in the water holding her, talking her through each contraction, loving her as she groaned, cried and howled. He must have been dying inside to see his beautiful wife in such pain – how could he not. But he kept it all to himself. I did my best to support him – rubbing his back as he rubbed hers, checking in, getting drinks. He was a complete star and never once indicated that I was in the way or intruding. We were in it together – a bond we’ll always have now.
So what happened? How was Barry doing?
Again, thank heaven for caring health professionals. They listened when she asked for a Gentle Caesarian – a new concept (to me anyway) where they push him out, let Mum see him emerge, let the cord beat for just one extra minute and have Dad trim to size, then straight onto her chest.
The end result was a birth with no regrets. It was the best it could have been and Barry is safely in their arms. And Granny has survived to see another day – just!
Let me know if you have been a granny birth partner
how did you do and how do you feel now?