Sunday, November 20, 2016

Before the Dawn

"Hon, wake up. Wake up. She's coming tonight."

Beloved stirred, murmured and went back to sleep. Sick for the last week, he'd fallen asleep beside Adventure Boy, trying to get him to bed. Another contraction took me up and I went back to my breathing, then tried to work out how long since the last one.

Everyone was sleeping, except the Wolf-en-Pup who was following me around looking worried.

"Are you sure?" The words were indistinct. For the last week Beloved hadn't been able to breath without ventolin and he was exhausted. I'd been giving him death-stares for daring to be sick when the baby was due, when I'd been warning him all year 'don't be sick when the baby's due.'

"Yes! I'm sure. She'll be here before dawn."

Of course, I'd thought that the night before as well, but this time I was really sure. These weren't just little Braxtons, these were Stamp-My-Way-Through-It, O-My-God-I'd-Forgotten-How-Much-They-Really-Hurt contractions. They were still irregular, in length and how far apart they were, but they were bloody strong.  I texted the student midwife to say I was fairly sure our little one was imminent, and opened my computer to start writing in times. Lighting a candle I'd saved since before Giggle-Bear was born, it's flickering comforted me. One of my favourite authors had a new release and between contractions I read on the ipad, in the dark room, by candlelight, with my present baby, the two year old, curled sleeping and perfect beside me.

I put my hand to my tummy, feeling the little one undulating within for the last time and felt like crying, but also laughing. Soon, soon, I'd be holding our newest little one. Soon, we'd finally meet her.

Already I was sure before the sun woke she'd be in my arms. I pictured the moment she slid out, that first miraculous meeting, when slippy and warm she'd be skin to my skin and we would get to meet the little one we already loved so much.

I let Beloved return to sleep, and read on. One-two-three-four-five-breath-in-through-the-nose, One-two-three-four-five-breath-out-through-the-mouth. O my freaking goodness this hurts. Of course, by number four I should have worked that out, but... Long breaths, steady breaths.

I waddled through to Adventure Boy's room again. "You need to get up, hon. I need you to time the contractions." Beloved stumbled through to our room and took over the stopwatch on the phone. Instead of fumbling with it myself as soon as the contraction started I said now, and he started timing. It was impossible to sit or talk through them. I jammed myself into a corner with the door, the bed and the cupboard, pressed down and stamped through them. Fast.Fast.Fast. Stamp.Stamp.Stamp. I worked out slower and harder worked better, bearing down worked better. I sank into a squat. Stamp. Stamp. Stamp. Soon. Soon. Soon.

"Over now," I said. My uterus was still like a ball of cement, but the pain had stopped.

"That was two minutes. You may be right. She may be coming." There was surprise in his voice. I'd told him the night before I was sure the little one was coming - my show had started and Braxtons were a regular ten minutes apart, but they hadn't been like this, and they'd died off with the rising sun. You know, just strong enough to keep me awake since midnight the night before.

"Do you think it's time to phone the hospital?" I asked. I was wary of going in too early and having everything slow down. But nor did I want to have my baby in the hospital corridor. It was a fine line.

Time passed. I couldn't stay in bed with the contractions, but needed to leap up (in my own ungainly, out-of-balance way) to return to my corner to jam a hand against each wall, sink into a squat and prepare to stamp and breath through them.

"Should I phone the hospital now?" I asked.

"Mums always phone in too early."

"But won't they want to prepare?" I queried.

"I suppose. You're sure she's coming?"

"She'll definitely be here be morning." I stopped talking as the next contraction hit and I started stamping and breathing deeply.

"You may be right."

I phoned the hospital and warned the midwife on duty that we'd be heading into the hospital in the next few hours and then texted the student the same. Returning to my book I continued the pattern of jumping (or my approximate thereof) up every ten or so minutes as the pain gripped. This was not talk-through-it-pain. Toilet trips disclosed gunks of red and I looked for a pad. Excitement swelled. This was it. This night. Our little one was arriving. I dragged my suitcases through to the living room. Packed a few extras, gathered up computers, ipads, chargers, headphones and shoved them in.

In the next contraction it occurred to me I needed to be in the hospital now. There would be no more waiting. Besides, I'd finished my book. I informed Beloved of this as soon as I could talk, then texted and phoned to pass it on to the midwife and student while Beloved bundled stuff into the car.

My mama awoke and I told her that tonight was the night and while I hoped Beloved would be home for the school run, he might not be. (Yay! No school run! The world was good!)

We headed off into the night. I worried when I made it the five minute drive to the hospital without a contraction, then doubled over, pressing hard against the car bonnet and breathing low and heavy and as slowly as I could in the car park, while Beloved unloaded. I repeated my complaint about the pain.

There was a heavily pregnant mum in the dark carpark and we exchanged remarks about due dates and wished each other good luck. She still had a few weeks to go.

We waddled through the near empty hospital and through the different doors up to the birth suite. Our midwife hadn't arrived so the charge nurse led us in and we sat and put our bags down. Another few contractions hit while we waited for the midwife. The bed was a bit official looking and hard to get off during contractions so I perched on a chair and sent Beloved searching the room for water. We realised we'd left our digital camera somewhere (the unlocked car? the carpark?) but I didn't offer to release Beloved to look for it. What if the baby came? I resign myself to an undocumented birth, though I'd lament the loss later.

My midwife arrived and my blood pressure was checked, my blood sugar, the length of the contractions. Little one was monitored. Eventually, after what seemed like far too long, they started filling the bath in the adjoining bathroom.

Because of previous haemorrhages with my first two kids (a large one with the first, a small one with the second) they needed to put a cannula into my arm. They started putting the needle in and a contraction hit and it was beyond hard to keep my arm still while lying down and pain was everything. Blood smeared across my arm.

As soon as the bath was ready I waddled to the dark bathroom, the only light that coming through the door, stripping off and sinking into the large corner tub without thought for anything but the warmth and the fluid. I was an old hand at this - it didn't take me long to find the position that worked for me, kneeling in the corner of the tub, facing out. Between contractions Beloved sprayed my face, put my birth mix music on his ridiculously expensive headphones.

Time went into a strange place. Shoulder deep in the warm water I listened to the gaelic words of the songs - the Scottish bands Capercaillie and Manran playing on spotify, lolled in the water in the lulls and breathed hard and concentrated on not tensing, on keeping my hands, my mouth, lax in the pains. One-two-three-unclench-my-fists-four-five-breathing- in, one-two-three-steady-breathing-slight-hitch-four-five-breathing-out.

The breathing came from a deeper place, a slow, steady 'aaaah' from the very back of my throat, that could easily ease into a scream. (Of course, I had headphones on, so I could have been howling and not realising...)

I visualised a gardenia bud, white and richly scented, it's petals folded, and concentrated on imagining the petals opening. Open. Open. Soon.

Soon. soon my little one would be with us.

It occurred to me it was time to break my waters. Now. None of my other babies had been born before my waters were broken, and I was sure this one wouldn't be either. Although a caul birth had a certain appeal, I wasn't about to spend an extra minute in pain hoping for one.

I asked the midwife if she could break my waters and she informed me the doctor was in theatre. So I asked if she could break my waters and she went away to check. So I asked Beloved if the midwife could break my waters, or if he could break my waters but basically, I wanted them done. That minute. Beloved informed me I was yelling and not, (as I thought) whispering, because of the headphones. Oops.

The midwife returned and I demanded asked again if she could break my waters and she said yes, I'd just need to come through to the delivery room. Beloved later informed me I used my 'demon woman' voice, which was odd as I didn't even know I had one, and she would have given me anything I wanted, including  a caesarean.

Anyway, I lumbered through, blinking at the bright light of the delivery room after the dim of the bathroom, and had all my vital stats checked and how far along I was and it turned out I was only six centimetres dilated.  This was a shame as I hadn't even intended to get into the bath until I was six centimetres, let alone get my waters broken, but I decided on a change of plan - my waters would be broken at 6 centimetres as I knew damn well she wasn't going to come till they were broken and sooner was better than later,.

Turns out I'd forgotten that it hurts. It hurts a lot. The midwife's whole hand goes up, and then a hook, and it's not a place for hands or hooks. Deep breath. And another deep breath. and another slooooow deep breath.

There was a gush of fluid and I was already hopping off the bed and heading back to the bath before the gushing stopped.

Soon. I knew she'd be coming soon.

With each contraction I concentrated on bearing down, pressing all the pain out towards my bottom - it seemed to hurt less, become bearable if I pushed out. One Two Three Four Soon. I imagined I could feel the passage opening, a hollow forming for my babe to slip through. Deep breathing, bearing down, onetwothreefourfive, steady, steadysteady, open. Time was lost again, amidst the dim and the pain.

I couldn't continue this till morning. I just couldn't. But there were four centimetres to go. Onetwothreefourfivebeardown,onetwothreefourfiveexhale. Whatever it took. I reminded myself, I'd do whatever it took. But morning was so far away. It was only just past midnight.

"I need to poo." I stood up, readying to clamber out of the bath and waddle to the loo. Something felt wrong though, and I reached down and felt - slipperyness and strange, bulging shapes. A foreignness.

"I can feel something."

The midwife hurried forward and reached out her hand.

"That's her head. I'm just helping her through." She looked at Beloved, who was clearly startled, not expecting anything to happen for hours.  "Are you ready to catch her?"

He stepped forward, still looking shocked, and our little one slipped out, an odd, satisfying feeling of slippery fullness and then she was in the world, all long legs and arms, and he was lifting her up to me.

And I was holding her. Our little one. Clasped to my chest, finally, after nine moons growing beneath my heart, here she was. Red, slippery, plump from her long sojourn immersed. Tiny wrinkled, fisted hands, frogged up legs.

"O you're here! My little one, my little one you're here!" Love and joy was overwhelming.

The wonder was overwhelming. She was small, red, with a shock of black hair. I clasped her to me, murmuring, afraid of dropping her. "Little one, o my baby, you're here!"

The moment reshaped the world. Changed everything. A new life was in the world. Our family was changed wonderfully for ever.

She was all newness, all promise.

I was dizzy, weak feeling, I didn't dare carry her and, still attached with the pulsing cord, handed her over, then reached for help to clamber out of the bath and to the bed. When my baby was given back I felt complete again. She was so very perfect. She smelt like newborn - sweetly divine. The newborn smell is so fleeting - a few days no more - I tried to savour it. She was still curled up, warm, wet and slippy against me, as if she was still within me.

"She's here love, she's really here," I murmured, dropping kisses on her wet black hair, plastered to her scull, with white stuff over it.

No one was in a rush to cut the cord connecting us, and I just held her, delighted in her. "O little one, we're so happy to meet you. This is the world, darling. This is the world. Welcome."

And then I felt a familiar, warm, gush. And then another. Uh. Oh. I'd been there before.

But none of that mattered, a story for another day, because our little had arrived, and there was still a long time till dawn.

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