Not everyone is a fan of birth stories. I’m not even sure how I feel about birth stories. Firstly, I hate the term “birth story”. But then I think that any of the alternatives, like “birth journey” or “birth memoir” sound even more pretentious, so I’ll stick with birth story for now.
I’ve had mixed feelings about sharing these details on my blog, since up until now this space hasn’t been overly personal. But I’ve had these thoughts and memories floating around my head for the past 18 months, and I’m terrified that I’ll forget something. Because I’m not like Graeme, who has a memory like an elephant. I forget things.
So this story isn’t really for you, the readers. It’s for me. And for my little boy. But I hope that anyone reading it will gain some knowledge and insight into the weird and wonderful (and sometimes scary) journey of childbirth.
By all accounts I had an “easy” and straightforward pregnancy. I experienced terrible cramping in my first trimester, which was obviously concerning, but we managed to work out that it was probably due to the iron in my prenatal vitamins (cue the first of many embarrassing visits to the pharmacy to buy ALL of the constipation meds). Then, like any sane couple expecting their first child, we decided to embark on major house renovations when I was near the end of my second trimester. We all know that these things never go smoothly or quickly, so we had a few stressful months when I was convinced that I was going to bring my newborn home to a house filled with builder’s dust and no functional toilets (the reality wasn’t quite so extreme, but we did still have builders traipsing through the house the week that we brought Evan home).
My third trimester was reasonably uneventful, apart from feeling incredibly huge and uncomfortable. I was convinced that my stomach skin couldn’t possibly stretch any further (but we all know that it does). I also felt as if I was being kicked in the liver constantly (Evan was, and is, a VERY active little boy), and I was having problems lying on my right hand side. And Braxton Hicks contractions had become such a part of my life that I think I stopped registering when they were happening.
I was booked to start my maternity leave on Friday the 15th of April, at 38 weeks. I told myself that I would have at least a week of baby-free maternity leave, where I could relax, go out for coffee with friends, and finish off the nursery. Still, my colleagues insisted on saying a proper good-bye every day that week, since they were convinced that things were imminent. On Wednesday the 13th I noticed the tiniest bit of spotting, but I didn’t think too much of it, since I knew that it could indicate the start of things getting ready for D-Day. On the Thursday morning the spotting had increased slightly, so I phoned my gynae (the wonderful Dr Dumbrill). He suggested that I come in for some foetal monitoring, so we packed our bags in the car and trundled off to the hospital. We went up to the labour ward for the CTG, and one of the midwives commented about me bringing my bags. It was strange, since I just assumed that “this was it”, and that we were here to stay, it didn’t even occur to me that we may be sent home. The CTG was normal, and we had a scan at lunchtime which also showed that everything seemed to be fine. I mentioned my right side abdominal pain/discomfort, and Dr Dumbrill decided to admit me for continued monitoring and blood tests. We hung around the maternity ward for the rest of the day, having monitoring every couple of hours. I didn’t get much sleep that night, mostly due to the strange environment, and a very busy brain.
My blood tests came back the following morning, and confirmed that I had something called HELLP Syndrome. HELLP Syndrome was something that I’d read about during my online search for reasons for my abdominal discomfort, but I had managed to convince myself that it was just due to Evan kicking me in the ribs. HELLP syndrome (Haemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes, Low Platelet count) is a pregnancy complication thought to be a variant of pre-eclampsia. The problem is that the symptoms aren’t always clear-cut, and my blood pressure and urine protein levels had been fine throughout my pregnancy. It can be incredibly dangerous (with risk of liver rupture), and the only “cure” is delivery of the baby. Since we were aiming for a natural delivery, we decided to induce later that morning. I was taken back to the labour ward (feeling like “musical beds” by this point), and the midwife applied the induction gel. We had some additional monitoring, and then went for a walk around the hospital to try to kick-start things. We had lunch, and went for another walk, but by that time it seemed like we were in it for the long-haul. I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to get some rest in the maternity ward. Nothing had happened by early evening, so Dr Dumbrill suggested that we try another gel application around midnight. I sent Graeme home to try to get some sleep, knowing that something would probably happen by the following morning.
Around 20:45 that evening, without any warning, I went into full-blown active labour, with intense contractions every couple of minutes. I called the nurses, who hooked me up to the CTG again, and were concerned with some of the traces. I was also only 3cm dilated, but the contractions were coming hard and fast. They phoned Dr Dumbrill, who asked them to send him a picture. (I will never forget the mental image of two nurses fiddling with an iPad, trying to get the camera to work, while I was trying to pace myself through incredibly fast and painful contractions.) Thankfully Graeme arrived soon after, and Dr Dumbrill confirmed that we need to prep for an emergency caesar. Everything after that happened in a painful blur, but I remember being relieved that something was finally going to happen. I remember hearing once that any hospital needs to be able to perform an emergency c-section within 20 minutes of it being called. So things happen fast, very fast. One of the assisting doctors was called out of his movie (it was a Friday night, after all), and rushed into the operating room as things were getting started. (Apparently he was watching Batman vs Superman, so I don’t feel that bad about him missing his movie) I was taken into the operating theatre, and Graeme was whisked away to put on scrubs. Once he came back the anaethetist administered the wonderful, wonderful epidural. By that point I started to relax, knowing that I was in good hands, and we were going to meet our little boy soon. It’s strange, even though we were aiming for a natural birth, a little part of me always thought that I might end up having a c-section. I’ve worked in a medical-related field for a long time, and I feel comfortable around doctors and hospitals. I knew that we had chosen an obstetrician who would give us our best chance at a natural birth, and I was completely at ease with his decision to perform an emergency c-section. It just goes to show how important it is to choose a healthcare professional who you trust completely (be it gynae, midwife, or whoever), because that relationship will be the cornerstone of your entire childbirth experience.
The little curtain went up by my chest, and I became aware of my body being moved around and worked on, but I had no other sensation or pain. After a few minutes Graeme said to me “Did you hear that?”, and I had to say “No, what?” – but he had heard our little boy’s first cry. After a few more minutes he was handed to us, and all I remember thinking was that he had so much dark hair. But he was beautiful, and perfect, and a whopping 4.28kg!
And we named him Evan Jonathan Smith. Evan means “God is gracious”, and is a Welsh derivative of Ian (Graeme’s second name, after his grandad). Jonathan was my late father’s second name.
And it’s been 18 months, my little Nunu. You’re still beautiful, and perfect, and you’ve filled my heart to a capacity that I didn’t know existed. You’ve given me the privilege of becoming a Mom, and of watching my best friend become the most incredible Dad. I love you with all my heart, but my heart is going to have to learn to stretch a little bigger, because in 6 months we’re going to start a whole new adventure as a family when we welcome your little sibling to the world.
I can’t wait.