Ten years ago today.
It was hot, and Son #1 (who had not yet turned two) and I were heading out the door on a new adventure.
Since moving to our inner city home a few months earlier (yes, the same home we left two weeks ago, after ten happy years there), I had been searching for suitable childcare one day a week for little #1. I was by then working casually, from home, for a small feminist literary magazine, and needed a few hours a week to work without simultaneously dealing with the demands of a toddler. I also figured one day a week of quality time with the new baby who was due in 3 or 4 weeks wouldn’t go astray either.
Finally, the phone call had come. A place had come up at our local childcare centre and we were invited to visit for a series of orientation ‘settling in’ sessions, with me gradually and surreptitiously withdrawing my presence. Perfect I thought. A couple of weeks of gentle sessions and then the baby would arrive, and #1 wouldn’t associate being packed off to childcare with the arrival of his sibling.
Friday, 19th January.
We decided to walk to the childcare centre. Why, I have no idea. Thirty-something weeks pregnant, 32 degree heat. Crazy. I pushed the pram to the centre, we introduced ourselves to the staff and spent an awkward hour in #1’s new room, with me trying to gently prise him off my enlarged lap and steer him towards new discoveries and experiences. He wasn’t having a bar of it.
The hour up, we said goodbye and left the room, I loaded the child into the pram and headed for the front door. As I pushed the door, I felt a gentle ‘pop’. I froze, realising with horror what was happening. Luckily the loo was about 7 steps from the door. I made it somehow, cleaned up, and naively thought that that relatively small amount was it. (I had no experience of the full joys of amniotic fluids, as they had not broken with Son #1).
That was manageable! I thought. Why do people make such a fuss for heaven’s sake?
I emerged from the loo to find #1 had been rescued by his new carers who’d guessed what was happening. They rallied round, popped me, the child and the pram in one of their cars and drove us home, me protesting all the while that I was fine and could walk home thank you very much for your kind offer and all that. They regaled me with horror stories of births in public toilets/gutters/street corners, as people like to do when you’re at the business end of a pregnancy, and politely shoved me into the car, and out again at our destination.
I fell into the house and promptly thanked the Almighty that they hadn’t listened to my protestations, as my waters broke properly then. All over my clothes. All over the floor. As happens, when one’s waters break.
(I calculated that had I walked, I would have been in front of the greengrocers right about then. And the sight of all those watermelons may just have been a trifle alarming.)
Luckily my brother was staying with us at the time, so he gave the bemused toddler some lunch and put him down for a nap, while I ... relaxed/practised breathing/communed with the unborn child/packed my bag? No. I headed for the computer to finish the Autumn edition of the magazine so it could be collected by the editor the next day. I also phoned Mr Soup, telling him what was happening but not to hurry home as we knew from previous experience that we still had about ... ooh ... eleven hours to go.
During the last couple of pages I realised I was panting and typing in rhythm.
Another phone call to Mr Soup.
This one with a little more urgency.
Mr Soup arrived home and we bundled a hastily packed bag into the car, kissed my brother and Son #1 goodbye, and set off. The ride to the birth centre was soooo uncomfortable and all I could think was Gee, I’m not handling this very well. I’m much older and more tired than last time, that must be why. Gawd, and I still have hours to go.
By the time we arrived and attempted paperwork at the reception, I could barely speak coherently. Our midwife arrived and I was interested in a dazed sort of way to note that she was quite pregnant herself, with her third child as she later told us. She was also a student midwife, and so a senior midwife sat at the other end of the room for the entire labour, supervising and blatantly disbelieving everything I said. Cos clearly, she was the expert on my body, not me.
But then ... The Belt.
Since our first experience at the birth centre two years earlier, a new rule had been implemented whereby labouring women had to have foetal monitoring on arrival, for 20 minutes. Now, the only way I can labour effectively is kneeling or on all fours, and the only way a foetal monitoring belt can be fitted and, um, monitored, is with the woman on her back. Problem.
(Side note: how on earth did women labour on their backs under the patriarchy for so many decades? It is so unnatural and against all one’s instincts).
The midwife strapped the belt on and I suffered it like a Good Patient for five minutes, then asked politely that it be removed. The midwife foofed around for a bit and didn’t quite respond, so a minute or so later I asked again. She deferred to the senior midwife who said a flat out No. Another two minutes later I announced I had to go to the toilet so the belt would have to come off. The senior midwife offered me a bedpan. I refused, saying I would walk to the toilet, and use the toilet thank you very much for your kind offer and all that. She tried to fob me off again, so I just started to unbuckle the belt myself. The wonderful student midwife turned her back on her colleague and helped me, and I staggered to the loo.
Of course once I was upright it was all systems go and my contractions changed instantly in pace and rhythm. I remember thinking, Wow I’m kind of pushing! Already! We’ve only just arrived! Now only 40 minutes of pushing to go! Stop thinking in exclamation marks!
Our student midwife helped me back to the room, stopping every three paces for a contraction. I had a contraction at the doorway to our room, at which point the student midwife announced to her superior that I was pushing. (I vaguely remember noting with satisfaction that the senior midwife looked contrite as she realised that I had actually been in full-on labour while she had been fobbing me off with rules, regulations and implements of torture.)
In the two seconds before the next contraction hit, I almost made it to the bed. The mat on the floor at the foot of the bed had to do. And with the next contraction, after a mere 5 hours of labour and two minutes of pushing, our beautiful little golden boy arrived gently and with minimal fuss into the arms of our midwife.
(It was, unlike Sons #1 and 3’s births, a beautiful, calm birth, as 'easy' as childbirth can be said to be. Well, post Belt Episode, that is. Our pregnant midwife said to me much later, as she finished up the paperwork and massaged my feet, that that was exactly the kind of labour and birth she hoped to have herself in a few short weeks.)
She passed our brand new Son #2 to me so I could sit back and see and hold him. My first instinct was to rip my top off so I could cradle him skin to skin (another new experience as sadly Son #1’s cord had been cut and he was rushed off to have his airways suctioned, returning to me later wrapped in a blanket).
My first words, not very romantically, were Where are my glasses?
Pause, while the glasses were located somewhere on the bed.
My next words were spoken with a profound sense of wonder and almost in unison with Mr Soup’s.
Gosh, he’s sooo beautiful!
Because he was.
And oh my, he still is.
Happy 10th birthday, special boy.
Postscript: The editor’s column in the Autumn edition of AWBR of that year featured a special welcome to Son #2.