When I fell pregnant I was absolutely terrified of labour.
I was so scared that I decided to arm myself with as much information as I could. I read every horror labour story I could find, figuring that it couldn’t possibly be worse than some of them.
I envisioned forceps and suction caps and a possible Caesarean. I am only 5 ft tall and was really worried about how I would cope with a big belly on my little frame, but I am glad to say I was pleasantly surprised.
The first three months of my pregnancy were horrific; I was so sick I ended up in the emergency ward twice to have IV fluids pumped into me. I couldn’t keep anything down, including water.
My GP gave me anti nausea tablets but my stomach was so unsettled that trying to keep them down ended up being impossible. After my second visit to emergency I figured out the only solution was to go to my GP every second day to receive an anti nausea injection, that way the nausea subsided long enough for me to digest at least something before the next wave hit me.
I was sick like this until my 17th week and just when I thought it would never end, the second trimester bliss arrived.
I was starting to grow a little belly and I had never felt better. From this point on I put the labour out of my mind and just enjoyed being pregnant. As the months ticked by my tummy grew but never got as huge as I had imagined.
I was loving every part of the pregnancy, from the kicks, to the tummy, to the glow that everyone who spoke to me noticed…I was so busy enjoying myself that I didn’t realise how close my due date was.
With just one week until d-day I went into my Family Birth Centre to have a regular anti-natal check up. The midwife said I was doing splendidly, my baby was growing well but I should be prepared for at least another two or three weeks as bub hadn’t engaged or even shown signs of descending.
I wasn’t worried about this; I was still comfortable enough to enjoy a daily walk and small enough to fit behind the steering wheel of my car…just.
The next day, feeling more energetic than usual, I decided to take a longer walk than most days down to my mum’s house about 1.5 km away. My husband and I had bought a puppy as preparation for motherhood and it was a great decision. Milo had already become my best friend.
I put on his lead as usual but his resistance was unusual – he kept sitting down and begging to be picked up, he was sooky and miserable. As he was only four months old, I assumed he was just tired and didn’t want to take such a long walk. I ended up carrying him for almost half the walk, but he was happy as long as he was being cuddled. That night when I tucked him into bed, Milo was still being clingy. He kept trying to dig under the blankets to lie against my belly and would whinge and carry on every time I left the room to go to the toilet.
At about 3.00am I woke up feeling a little nauseous so I decided to get up and watch some TV. Milo, of course, plodded out into the lounge room with me and sat at my feet – but he kept looking at me and yelping. I was sitting there watching re-runs of some US soap when all of a sudden out of absolutely nowhere came the most excruciating cramp I had ever felt.
The cramp was so severe that I jumped to my feet and started pacing, trying to figure out if this was what my sister in law had talked about when she mentioned Braxton Hicks; I had never had any practice contractions and was still waiting for my body to go into preparation mode. One thing I did know, if this was only a Braxton Hicks, there was no way I was going to get through my planned drug-free labour.
As I was pacing around our kitchen, I used the island bench as a central point and circled it continuously. I had to laugh, in the one antenatal class we had attended, they had shown a video of a women in labour, walking around then kitchen table.
“Of all the places you could go through labour, surely you could find somewhere more interesting than the kitchen,” I had told my husband.
Now here I was doing the exact same thing. In five minutes another cramp hit me; this one was a lot less severe and it convinced me that I was definitely not in labour so I walked around for another 20 minutes or so, with three ‘cramps’ every five minutes. I finally decided to sit down and try to relax; I was still feeling too sick to go to sleep and figured I could lie on the couch until I felt well enough to get some sleep.
The minute I sat down, baby started booting me as if to say, “Stop squashing me! I’m already getting pushed around by these contractions.” I was attempting to stand again when another knife-like cramp hit me, severe enough for me to yell out and for Milo to start his yelping again.
When it passed I decided it was time to tell my husband who was still sleeping. I wanted someone to be with me, labour or not
After vigorous shaking he finally woke up and at first, tried to talk me out of calling the midwife but when a third and excruciating cramp hit me, he realised that ringing them for advice might not be such a bad thing.
“There’s a chance it’s only Braxton Hicks if you’ve been up for an hour and haven’t been vocalising,” she said.
I tried to explain that I am not a screamer but she said that when it comes to labour everyone vocalises in one way or another be it screaming, crying or swearing.
Another cramp hit me and I couldn’t speak for about 30 seconds because
“…there are times when someone is so breathless that they can’t speak at all!”
Still unsure whether labour had really started, the midwife suggested we go to the Birthing Centre. We packed the car and drove to my parents’ place first as we planned for Mum to be there in case my husband couldn’t handle it. By this time it was almost 5.30 and Mum and Dad were still fast asleep despite the ten unanswered phone calls we’d made!
They didn’t seem to believe I was in labour so Mum decided to get ready for work in case it was a false alarm. When she was showering, Dad realised that contractions were less than two minutes apart. Five minutes later, we were in the car and on our way to the birthing centre.
Very soon I hit what they call transition; I didn’t realise this at the time, but suddenly the contractions were unbearable and all over the place. I started to panic and vomit. The 25-minute drive is a blur because I spent the majority of it with my head in a bucket doubled over in pain.
About 10 minutes after arriving at the birthing centre I felt an intense desire to push. It felt like I had to pass a bowel movement but when my husband walked in to check on me and saw me pushing with all my might on the toilet he told me stop and called a midwife.
“Well!” she said. “You’re fully dilated, I’ll get you a sterile mat and you can start pushing.
I was absolutely stunned, by now it was only just past 7.00am and my first real contraction hadn’t started until 3.30am – so much for the first baby 16-20 hour labour!
Within minutes my midwife had set up a bean bag and sterile sheet on the floor and with her help I managed to get into a comfortable position between contractions. I got really scared…this was it and it was going to hurt. Mum saw the fear in my eyes and come down to my level; she sat near my head and tousled my hair, my husband rubbed my back and the midwife positioned herself behind me.
I was on all fours leaning into a beanbag with my backside in the air – a fantastic position, every time a contraction hit me I leaned further into the beanbag and gently pushed my tummy onto the floor. Burying my head in the beanbag helped me to block out everything else and just concentrate on breathing. I eagerly awaited each contraction as I felt an incredible urge to push. The midwife’s voice seemed a thousand miles away, and I realised later that I should have listened more carefully because she told me to wait, but I was so determined to get that baby out that I pushed against a contraction and split quite badly.
After three big pushes and a couple of little ones, the magical sound of my baby’s first cry filled the air. I turned onto my back and the midwife placed him on my chest, still attached via the umbilical cord. He rooted for my breast and immediately began to suckle.
I was so wrapped up in him that I barely noticed the needle my midwife put in my leg but by the time the placenta was delivered I was completely and utterly in love with my tiny little miracle.
The road had only just begun for us as parents…but as far as labour and delivery went, little Cameron James was born in 4 hours and 48 minutes, weighing a healthy 7 pound 11 ounces he was perfect in every way.
We left the birthing centre after just eight hours and even stopped at the shop for nappy wipes on the way home. It was a strange and euphoric day; everything seemed to go like clock work. Our little boy was born only a fortnight after Christmas and he was the most incredible gift I could ever have hoped for.
It’s almost four years later and he is still the sunshine of our life.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem