**warning, this post a) is quite long and b) gets quite explicit in places**
Ha. Psych! You thought this was another post about the Labour Party, didn’t you? With a pithy double-entendre title? Sorry to disappoint the avid political readers of this blog, but this post is about literal labour pains. Mine. So if the thought of a Mummy-blog brings you out in hives, you’d better pop off to one of the more esoteric posts, stat.
I spent most of my pregnancy being regaled with horror stories about labour (why do people feel the need to DO that? They always end up by saying, “Oh, haha, but I probably shouldn’t be telling you that. I’m sure you’ll be FINE. Hahahaha.”). So I wanted to do a post about what it can be like. It isn’t always a horror-show that leaves all parties traumatised but bravely stating “it’s all worth it in the end”. Nor do you need to swing to the other end of the spectrum – offering a prayer to Gaia and chucking your placenta on the BBQ while your baby takes its first nap.
I should offer a disclaimer here, though – I in no way intend to say this is what labour is like for everyone. People can get all Tiger-Mama on this shit, so please understand I’m not trying to say I know any better than anyone else – what follows is purely my own experience.
So on Tuesday, 16 September, I woke at 6am with some period-like cramps. This was two days before my pregnancy hit the 40-week mark. Mr Grumbley had left for work half an hour earlier (5.30am, people… INSANE, right??), and I curled up with the cats and went back to sleep for a bit.
I was due to go for a foetal wellbeing scan in Porirua in the early afternoon, to check that the baby was all good, with a good amount of amniotic fluid. On that note, did you know one of the technical terms for it is ‘liquor’ – what a cruel joke after 9 months without whiskey – how come the little toe-rag gets liquor while I have to go without? I’d asked my dad to drive me, as I had visions of waters breaking in the car while on the motorway, with me unable to do jack about it. I wasn’t sure what the cramps signified, though they seemed to be reasonably close together. I sent a text to my midwife, Noreen, to ask if it was still safe to have a scan if I did happen to be in labour, and also if the sonographer would be able to tell me whether I was or not, as I had no clue what was going on in my nethers. She said I should still have the scan – that I could be in early labour but it may be some days away yet, and it would be good to get the information from the ultrasound. Unfortunately, she said they wouldn’t be able to tell me if it was labour or not. Ripped off.
So, because my waters hadn’t broken and I’d had no bloody show* or any other signs, I popped a towel on the seat of Dad’s car and duly went off for the scan. All seemed well, and the sonographer said he’d get the report off to Noreen ASAP, in case it was the real deal. We didn’t know the gender, and I was desperately trying not to see genitals (they need one of those ‘too rude’ on the screen signs for people in my boat). I did, however, see hair, waving like tiny worms in the baby’s tub of tequila. On the way home, Dad noticed I was rubbing my stomach and his predictable response to my “Oh, I might be in labour” was “Not in my car, you’re not.”
Back at home, at about 3.30pm, I started taking note of the timing of these cramps. Even though they didn’t seem to have changed at all since they started in the morning, I thought it was time to see what we were dealing with. Turns out they were 20-30 seconds long and 4-5 minutes apart, although I was still functioning absolutely normally – walking, talking, pining for blue cheese, watching shitty television, etc.
Noreen had told me previously that I should contact her when contractions were 5 minutes apart – but I wasn’t even sure these were contractions. I hadn’t had any noticeable Braxton Hicks prior to this, and there was still no broken waters or bloody show (yarrrrgggh, me hearties!). As a first-timer, you hear so many stories about false starts/false labour and I didn’t want to get people rushing around in a flap for no reason. I’d just feel silly.
So I went for a walk around the duck pond (yes, we live in Stepford) and sent a text to Mr Grumbley. That evening, he was due to meet up for a drink with a friend who was down from Auckland just for the day. I told him I was having semi-regular cramping, but he shouldn’t miss the opportunity to catch up with his mate, as it would be a shame for him to rush back home and then have everything stall, or for it to be nothing, after all. He seemed reluctant, but I promised I would call the midwife and let him know if she said anything different. Noreen said it seemed like I would still be a while away, as I seemed very calm and collected, so I was unlikely to be in active labour, in spite of the regularity of the cramps. I relayed this to my husband and said he should definitely have his catch-up, and I would just keep pottering about at home. Here is a screenshot of the exchange we had.
About 6pm, I had decided to get into the bath, as the cramps started to intensify. I continued to time them and while they were still only 20-30 seconds long, they were coming around 3 minutes apart. Mr Grumbley arrived home just after 7pm, and it was like all of a sudden my body went, “Whew, he’s here now, it is fucking ON.”
I got out of the bath and we moved to the bedroom (get your head out of the gutter – that’s how we ended up in this mess in the first place). I should say at this point that Mr Grumbley and I had been studying and practising hypnobirthing techniques and affirmations, etc, with the intention of using them in labour, as I had had success in the past with using hypnotherapy to cure a phobia. I credit that practice with keeping me calm throughout the day, but at this point, the contractions started coming 90 seconds apart and I simply had no time to collect myself and implement the techniques. There may have been less “I see my baby coming smoothly from my uterus” and more “Fuckity fuck fuck.” Mr Grumbley did a great job, though, helping me relax as much as I could, with breathing and massage. He was also trying to convince me that this was, in fact, labour, because I still hadn’t had a show or any broken waters. We moved (with a bit of difficulty) between the bedroom and the bathroom, alternating lying down on the bed with kneeling in the shower while Mr Grumbley ran the water over my back.
At 8.30pm, I had a show and finally, finally believed I was actually in labour. Mr Grumbley had been keeping in touch with Noreen and they were trying to decide when would be a good time to move to the maternity unit. Then, around 9, I started feeling the urge to push – there was no mistaking that, even as a first-timer! Seriously, the only thing I can liken it to is if you imagine you haven’t pooped for nine months and all of a sudden, it’s time. It’s time to do the biggest shit you’ve ever done in your life. I said to Mr Grumbley we needed to get going, PRONTO. There had been no time to finish packing the hospital bag, as I’d planned to do in early active labour – the kind where they tell you you’ll have 15-20 minutes between contractions. I stayed in the shower while he backed the car out and chucked some things in. We’d planned to take speakers and music, our swiss ball, etc, but I said to leave all that – I had a feeling we wouldn’t be using it…
I was lucid enough to remember that I hadn’t put any undies in the bag from the washing basket. Mr Grumbley not being au fait with the location of my smalls, and my brain being a little addled, the only knickers I could direct him to were still in the pack I’d bought them in – voluminous, fit-for-pregnancy ruination, enormous and flesh-coloured (incidentally, have you ever met anyone whose flesh is actually that colour?).
So I was bundled into the car, neighbour Reg just over the fence, pottering about in his shed. I was dressed in nothing but a too-small bathrobe that didn’t quite close, holding a bucket, dry retching, kinda bleeding all over the show. I gasped to Mr Grumbley, “Can’t put belt on. Don’t kill us,” to which he graciously acquiesced. Luckily, we live about 2 minutes’ drive from the place.
We arrived at the unit at 9.30pm (two and a half hours after Mr Grumbley arrived home from Wellington), and I stood in the shower while the kind lady (who, by the way, turned nary a hair at the mostly-naked, spewing harridan emerging from the car) ran the bath. Noreen arrived and checked the baby’s heartbeat. She asked me if my waters had broken, and when I said no, but I really needed to push, she said I couldn’t yet, not until the membrane went. I believe my response was something along the lines of, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Sorry for swearing.” Mr Grumbley tells me the contractions were around 60 seconds apart and 60 seconds long at this stage. He also reports that I said, “I need some water”, and as Noreen went off to get it, called after her, “Please”, and then apologised to him if I had been rude. I think in all our discussions about birth, one of the things I hadn’t wanted was to end up screaming and frantic and yelling at my husband for getting me into this state, à la every movie birth since the dawn of time. Clearly, if nothing else stuck with me from all our prep, that did. Useful.
I finally got into the bath and it was damn lovely. Well, not “I’m in a spa on a ski holiday” lovely, more, “This is pretty full-on, but gosh this bath is soothing” lovely. [Potential TMI moment coming, btw – is that a spoiler alert?] Just before 10.15pm, Noreen asked me to feel around inside my vag and see what I could identify. I was like “WTF? I don’t know what it’s supposed to feel like at this point!” But I followed instructions like a good little broodmare and, sure enough, it felt like there was a small water balloon up there. She said I could try a push with the next contraction and see if it would break the waters. I duly did so, felt a pop, and sure enough, there they went. She checked me then and said I was 9cm dilated, but just had a tiny wee way to go before the head was totally through my cervix, so I needed to breathe through 10 minutes of contractions without pushing. This was, without doubt, the most difficult part. I panted and tried as hard as I could to resist the urge to bear down (again, think DESPERATE to poop, 10 minutes from the nearest toilet), with Mr Grumbley and Noreen cheering me on from the sidelines. At this point, I was sure Noreen was messing with me, in that gym instructor way, where they cheerfully exhort you on to “Just two more reps, just two more!”, then you do those and they go “Awesome, right on (obviously, they’re from the 1970s), now just another 50!”
Turns out, midwives have more integrity than gym instructors, because after what seemed like an eternity, Noreen checked me and said I was good to go. Two big pushes later, our baby’s head was visible. One more, and the head was out. Mr Grumbley dissolved into tears of joy, exclaiming “I can see our baby’s head!” That was it, I wanted in on this action, so one more mammoth effort, and Master Grumbley entered the world at 10.35pm, screaming his lungs out. This was three and a half hours after Mr Grumbley got home from the pub, one hour after we’d arrived at the unit and just 15 minutes after my waters finally broke.
Master Grumbley was placed on my chest, and we got out of the bath and waddled to the bed. It took about an hour for the third stage to be completed, and I needed a couple of wee stitches for a small, superficial tear. Noreen was like, “I need to give you a wee injection before I put a few small sutures in – is that okay?” I know she was just getting consent, as they have to do with every procedure, but I laughed at her and was like… “A needle? Seriously – you were here, right? You saw what just happened to my vag? Do your worst. Needle… pshaw.” The wee boy was crying hard – he had a lump on his head (it’s still there – I think it’s his undigested twin, personally) and apparently quite the headache, due to his rapid entry into the world. Once he latched on and had his first feed, though, he calmed right down. After he’d fed for a bit, he was checked over and he weighed in at 3.83kgs / 8lb 7oz (can anyone explain to me why we persist in using pounds and ounces for babies, in spite of everything else in our country being a sensible metric measurement?).
While Noreen completed all the paperwork and final bits and pieces, Mr Grumbley held Master Grumbley, who promptly shat all over his father’s arm. I was stuck on the bed with towels wadded under me, unable to reach the call button as Mr Grumbley gingerly made his way to the sink and then realised he was about two hands short of being able to deal with the problem. Mr Grumbley then edged his way back to the bed to press the call button with his elbow as a tide of green-black meconium wound its inexorable way down his forearm.
Infant sludge thus dealt with, Noreen informed us that there was no room at the inn, as all the post-delivery suites were full. Upon self-assessment, we agreed that were totally euphoric, Master Grumbley had figured his way around a boob already (that’s my boy…) and I was feeling great, so we agreed we’d probably be all right to just go home. The amazing thing is that if you’re very lucky, like we were, and you’ve had no complications and no interventions, once the baby is out, everything is totally fine. It’s like you’ve just run a really, really long race (the whole gamut of pregnancy and the sprint of a labour at the very end!), and someone has told you that you never have to run again if you don’t want to. It’s the most incredible relief and everything feels amazing (again, like doing a really huge, necessary poop).
Our final challenge was to get me and our son dressed. We had had some good advice not to take any clothes that we liked for the baby, as it was bound to end up with tarry baby shit all over it, so at I had put a variety of cheapie TradeMe acquisitions in the bag. That was all fine, but where on earth were my giant fleshy granny undies? They weren’t in the bag, and Mr Grumbley was sent on a mission to check the car, to no avail. So, clutching a towel between my legs and another one for the seat, our exit was about as dignified as our entrance, and about 1.30am, we bundled into the car and made our way home with the new addition to our family.
We popped Master Grumbley into his own bassinet by the bed, where he slept off the turmoil of his rapid entry, staying asleep for around 5-6 hours. That’s apparently totally normal for a newborn, and it’s also the longest sleep he’ll have for some time (probably until he’s a teenager).
Noreen arrived around 9am for her first postnatal visit to us, and she came bearing a gift. Sure enough, in a final indignity, she had collected my capacious knickers from where they had spent the night – smack in the centre of the maternity unit driveway.
* For those not in the know, do NOT go googling this by yourself, as there may be images. Here is a nice, safe link for you. It’s also called a ‘mucus plug’ (GROSS), but ‘bloody show’ sounds whimsically piratical, so I enjoy that more.