Monday, February 18, 2008

The tale of three deaths and a birth

The story of my third son’s birth starts with a death. After a miscarriage a few months previously, we were happy and relieved to find ourselves pregnant again in December 2006. As time went on, though ,I found myself feeling worse and worse- the nausea eased off far earlier than I was expecting, but I felt heavy and leaden all the time, unable to stay awake, to walk, just waiting. Then the bleeding started.
Our baby was born on the first day of February, at 11 weeks gestation, but tiny: measuring only seven weeks or so. I caught her as she fell out of me whilst I sat on the toilet, wondrous, hideous, beautiful and ugly. I cried. My eldest son came to me and asked what was happening, and I showed him. We cried.
The next day I felt better than I had in some time, and confident, left with my neighbour to go to an NCT training day over in Wales. The day went so well, and whilst I grieved the loss of the baby we could have had, it wasn’t the end of the world. I cuddled a tiny baby- called Poppy, only six weeks old- and reveled in how good it felt to hold someone so small, whilst knowing that I was going to have to wait longer before I held a baby of my own. I was conscious of the fact that I was getting very tired, which I think my neighbour had picked up on, and in the car on the way home my uterus started contracting strongly again.
The house was quiet when I got home, as my husband had taken the children out, and the pains had stopped. I plucked up the courage to ring my mother and tell her about the miscarriage the day before, and whilst I did that, I felt a gush. I hung up as quickly as possible and ran to the bathroom. Before I could even get my trousers or pants down, my body was pushing and a large, lightbulb-shaped mass came out of me, into my hands. I was shaking, shocked. What’s happening? I saw the baby yesterday, the miscarriage was over. I tried ringing the hospital ward that housed the Early Pregnancy Unit, but the midwife on the end of the phone merely told me that “it’s normal” and “you sound quite scared. Is this your first baby?” So I sat, and I pulled at the tissue until I came to a tiny amniotic sac with the most tiny little blob imaginable in it. A twin. Isn’t a mothers intuition meant to tell you something like that?

And so the worst months of my life began, trying to make sense of how I could have been pregnant and grown two lives inside me for those short months and yet never realize or suspect that there was more than one. The depression was unbelievable. I let so many people and friends down at that time, just struggling to cope, to keep my head above water, to get out of bed in the morning and to stay out of bed until evening. We started trying to conceive again immediately, and unsuccessfully, which just made me feel so much worse as my first pregnancies with my first husband had all been accidents. Then in April, I got another positive pregnancy test, followed by yet more bleeding.

And then our little miracle happened. On a trip to @Bristol, our local science museum, we were looking at their exhibit of where babies come from and I started paying attention.  Attended to how fast an egg changes in those first hours after fertilization, and how miraculous it is that the sperm ever gets to the egg in the first place. How many challenges, how many huge developmental milestones my children overcame before they were even born- before they even showed up on a pregnancy test- and how the fact that my lost babies didn’t make it didn’t change anything. They were still miracles. Life was still a miracle. I gained new respect for the process, and humility. A week later, I conceived again.

I spent the next nine months doing a lot of worrying and soul-searching. One of the gifts that the twins had given me was reassurance that my last labour, with its long 'rest and be thankful' period followed by a very fast birth, could just be my new normal -  twin two (Bride's) birth followed the same pattern as Skyes had. They also taught me to trust my body, that it knew what to do and can bring my babies out into the world safely and well. Slowly, gradually, I relaxed.
The dreams started as well. Night after night, I dreamt of putting my hand down between my legs and stroking the soft down of a baby’s hair as it emerged into the world and then hearing that first cry. At around the same time that my daughter weaned, I felt the first tightenings of the braxton hicks contractions, the movement of my uterus that would eventually bring our new baby out to us.
It wasn’t all roses. We made the decision to pay privately for a scan at 7 weeks- partly to confirm whether this pregnancy was viable or not, despite the total lack of morning sickness, and mostly to rule out the possibility of another set of twins, and panicked when I was recalled at 20 weeks because the sonographer couldn’t get a good enough view of his heart. Every pregnancy has its worries, but this little one was so wanted, so loved and so hoped for, we were scared to know- and yet scared not to. He kept growing big and strong, and with him, I grew bigger, and bigger, and bigger. Despite not having gained any weight, I was easily the size of a house and by mid-December people were already making comments like “any day now?” Unfortunately at that point we were in the midst of building work which wouldn’t be finished until just before Christmas, and joked that if the stress put me into premature labour I’d have to name our new boy after the workmen. I started obsessing about premature rupture of membranes and GBS after being told by my midwife that they would have to advise me to transfer for antibiotics 18 hours after my waters broke, with a possible view to induction after that. I don’t know why, but that felt important.
We settled on a name- River Douglas- at about the same time that the contractions started getting serious in mid-January. I had a few bouts of regular contractions, five minutes apart and lasting one but not hurting quite enough to bring a baby out- and then, of course, the ones that hurt like hell but couldn’t be timed. I kept zen, kept counting the days to 42 weeks, knowing that this was how I laboured with Skye and that I had the strength in me to do this again if I had to- and at that point, I was convinced I would. I kept the image of the river in my mind, running strong and sure, sometimes smooth and calm and at other times rough and turbulent. My friends, in real life and on the internet, sent me photographs of their rivers, the waterways that they loved that brought life to their communities. It helped. That image carried me through the last rocky days of late pregnancy until, with a slow and icky-feeling trickle, my waters broke at 7.15pm on Wednesday 30th January, the day before his due date. And it was easily the most disgusting feeling I have ever experienced in my life, just trickling and trickling and running and gushing and never ever stopping. I HATE wet pads. I really do.
Once I’d stopped complaining about the sheer big ickiness of it all, I started panicking about what I was going to do- after all, I wasn’t contracting and I was now on the infamous “timeline.” What was even worse is that my mother was sitting on the other side of the table from me when my waters broke, and whilst she’s all in favour of homebirth she’s far more in favour of doing what the doctors tell you and not arguing. To add insult to injury, I also had a midwife’s appointment the next afternoon at exactly the point that my 18 hours were up.
I went to bed at 11, after cleaning the house fairly thoroughly and putting some old sleeping bags and plastic down on the living room floor just in case. By midnight I was out of bed, actively contracting, though my husband had just gone to bed to get a few hours sleep. We were both pretty sure that I had hours to go yet, but despite this I was waiting for the contractions to space out a little so I could time them. I couldn’t stay still- what helped more than anything else was to dance, but picking my feet up felt wrong and made it hurt. So I swayed and bobbed and circled and dipped with my ipod in my ears and my daughters dummy clutched in my hand, with candles lit in the holders my children made at Lower Shaw Farm. Somehow I’d turned the shuffle function off and that was really bugging me because I couldn’t figure out how to turn it on again and it was going through songs in alphabetical order. I listened to the Verve’s The Drugs Don’t Work twice because the irony of that song during a natural labour appealed to me- and at this point, I was pretty sure that I was in labour. A line from The Finish Line by Snow Patrol- “the finish is the start” made me start to wonder just how far into my labour I actually was and how long I had left to go,  as each contraction was right on top of each other, constant, continuous movement in my body,  The candle in the draught on the windowsill dripped wax onto the brand new sill. My contractions slowed down and spaced out. I threw up in the kitchen sink, gasped, ran for the bathroom and sat there shitting and retching and contracting and fighting for a position that didn’t hurt. Couldn’t find one. Steve got up, looked at me roaring in the bathroom and said “what’s happening?” Took me downstairs again. I threw up again, and again while he was on the phone to the hospital. They wanted to send an ambulance because I was so loud- he insisted on a midwife. She rang, spoke to me, I told her what was going on- that I thought I was nearly fully dilated and based on my other labours I probably had about an hour to go, as I hadn’t had a nap yet. (Remember that whole ‘rest and be thankful’ stuff from the miscarriage and Skye’s birth? Yep, so did I. I was wrong…)
I tried kneeling on the floor on hands and knees, up, down, nothing felt good. Needed it over with. Pushed down. Panicked, there was poo with the pushing, get the tissues, wipe it away. Another contraction- that’s not me pushing, but there’s more poo. And more. I ran away from my beautiful candlelit birthing nest, the setting I dreamt of, straight to the toilet and the bright, harsh white lights. Sat, pushed and pushed with the poo falling down the toilet where Steve couldn’t see it. Put my hand down, slid my fingers inside my vagina and felt a hard solid head just on the other side of my soft tissues- and then the next contraction, next push brought that head straight down to my fingers where I could touch it. I was trying so hard not to push as Steve shouted at me to get off the toilet and lifted me to my feet- the movement brought his head down and his body slid out on the same contraction before we even had time to check for a cord around his neck. It was- we were standing there with four hands on this tiny little person who had his cord loosely looped down between his legs and from one shoulder to another down to his nipples like so much bling, and had to talk about who was going to let go of him to lift it over his head. Steve handed me a towel to wrap him in, told his dad (who was in the next room) that baby was here safely. Dad knew- and had thought to check the time of birth when he heard the first cry, at 2.25am. I was shaking, tried to get our new baby to latch on. He had hair. The midwife came, asked if she could cut the cord. I said no, wait until the placenta is out but I want to push it out now. We grabbed a bowl that was in the bathroom, I stood up, it fell out. I cut his cord, held him close, still shaking. Moved to the living room, sat on the floor, saw the poo on the sleeping bags, moved again. Still no bleeding, but the most beautiful boy ever- not only did he have hair, but he had streaks and smears of gloopy vernix like an abstract tattoo and looked so much like his father I wanted to hug them both at once. The second midwife came with scales, weighed him, measured his head circumference. I pulled a t-shirt on, finally got our new boy settled at the breast. Paperwork done, they left us to it- only to return an hour later because they’d forgotten to check my blood pressure. We went to bed, slept cuddled up in a ball with River looking across at us with big, wide eyes.
Two weeks on and he’s more turbulent than still, except when he’s eating. He takes eating very seriously- he’s gone from 9lb 1oz to 10lb6oz in 18 days, and is putting a lot of effort into growing big enough to keep up with his siblings. Steve and I have discussed things, and despite him now knowing far more about my bodily functions than he really wanted to, I’m still beautiful and he still fancies me- so that’s OK. In a way, this birth brought everything full circle- despite being very intense, I have finally had a birth where there is nothing at all I’d change, nothing I’d do differently. Nine years ago, I gave birth to a boy who nearly fell down a toilet, caught in my own hands, and two weeks ago I gave birth to a boy who nearly fell down a toilet but who was caught by both his mummy and daddy, and the similarity and that crucial difference pleases me. I have a husband who loves and cherishes me, and whilst I’m sad that this special time in my life- of pregnancy and gestating- is behind me, I’m excited for the two of us- the six of us, even- to move on together.


TweedleDea said...

thanks for sharing!

Lydia said...

Positively beautiful, Helen.

Aurora said...

So beautiful! I am crying here, tears of joy for you and River and your family.

Lots of love to you and yours!