Labour of Love

The memories are fleeting. They sink like photographs thrown into a deep lake. Lulling back and forth, the water blurs their edges until they fade entirely from view.

It’s only been a week since I gave birth, and yet, perhaps as some evolutionary protective instinct, my recollection is already hazy. The experience feels more like a montage of images viewed through frosted glass, than a movie to re-play at will.

On Sunday, I wasn’t even sure that the liquid spilling into the toilet was my waters breaking. In the books, it’s described as a gushing; like a powerful river flooding. Instead, it was an uneven waterfall dropping from me. And before we’d had time to digest that this might be ‘it’, the contractions began. Rather than the gentle increase in intensity the books speak of, these roared in only three minutes apart. Within an hour, they were too intense for me to continue my sarcastic comments about the dresses on the Grammy’s red carpet.

By the time the midwife arrived, I was drawing on most of my comfort measures – breathing, back massages, the birthing ball and chanting. Yet I was still cracking jokes about how thick and fast the waves had arrived. Only two and a half hours after Stephanie came to the house, we were ready to leave again for the hospital. The speed of my labour had taken everyone by surprise, not least me. For some reason, I’d prepared myself for a long, drawn-out affair (mental note to self: must stop treating pregnancy books as lore). Despite the intensity, I was joking in the car about being pulled over because I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt (I was actually hanging over the backseat, staring out the rear window as I laboured). I rode in an elevator up to the delivery ward with a poor woman heading to haematology. She was quite taken aback to find herself briefly sharing my contractions.

I got in the tub. I got out of the tub. I sipped water, closed my eyes, and chatted with my mum and J. But mostly, I walked, leaning against the wall when the pressure mounted. As the hours progressed, I retreated inside my own head. To J, it must have seemed that I was lost in a pea soup of moans, chants and pain. Yet to me, my thoughts were diamond cut as I laboured through the contractions:

“How do women in developing countries do this? I am so lucky to have this support. I couldn’t imagine this experience without J, my mum and the midwives. It must be terrifying to endure this without proper help”.

“We can’t have any more children. We just can’t. Because I can’t do this again. I can barely do this now. Being an only child isn’t awful. In fact, it’d be great, I could handle it”.

“I now understand, finally, why women choose C-Sections”.

At one point, while in the bath, I asked the person leaning over me with coffee breath to stop puffing with me.

For an hour, with my mind focused on a singularity, I thought about the birth process. To me, pregnancy and birth seemed to have been created by a poet. By someone who filled every last drop of the experience with such poignant symbolism. Nothing wasted – every part had a deeper meaning. The merging of two people to create something from nothing. The hosting of a creature who draws their all from you. The emergence of new life born of sacrifice. The visceral ripping of flesh from flesh as the body vests itself. And the blood. Oh, the blood.

The end got misty. Nine hours after my waters broke, I was finally ready to push. And push I did. I’d imagined a distant, controllable process, where a sensation would arrive, I’d recognise it, and make a conscious decision to bear down. Instead, it was the most powerful urge I’ve ever been subjected to. More than an urge. A primal happening. Like so many times during pregnancy, my body took over. With a life of its own, the contractions swept over me with such intensity, I couldn’t resist. My body pushed for me, like its only mission, its sole purpose was to birth this little girl.

After two hours of pushing, as per protocol, the obstetrician was called. Baby wasn’t quite making it under the pubic bone, and in retrospect, I hadn’t quite got the hang of pushing effectively. I was forcing most of the power into my legs, which were braced against a bar. The resident wanted to use a vacuum, and unbeknownst to me at the time, also suggested an epidural. Afterwards, everyone told me how clever I was to continually delay this intervention by saying, “can we talk about it after the next contraction instead?”. It didn’t feel clever at the time. I genuinely couldn’t fathom making an informed decision while my body was wracked with spasms and my mind hijacked by this all-encompassing quest. I couldn’t imagine the next second beyond where I was, let alone the next minute.

But, after three hours of pushing, and only moments away from a vacuum delivery, Isla Lille made her own sweet way into the world. Placed on my chest, J, I and my mum cried tears of happiness over her.

Less than an hour old

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