This is the big one. They say women forget the pain of childbirth, but I don't see how they can. I have a notoriously bad memory, but that's not something I will forget in a hurry. All 39 hours of it are quite firmly etched into my memory. That's right - 39. Officially, 18, because they only count from when you actually arrive in hospital, but in total, it's 39.
First contraction, early Saturday evening, not long after I got back from a Christmas dinner out. I was a week overdue, which didn't bother me too much, I was glad to get to the dinner! Joseph obliged by waiting until I was home, although the irony was that I was on a table with no less than three midwives!
First twinge, not so bad. Next twinge, twenty minutes later and also not so bad. This is a doddle, I decided and sat back to await my baby, assuming I'd be speedily along like my Mum was.
Twelve hours later....
Well, here's the thing. They like you to have three contractions in ten minutes or have your waters broken before you visit the maternity unit. After a tiring night, I was still only two in ten minutes and nothing else was happening. The contractions weren't exactly strong and I was really quite tired. I had been advised to "try and sleep", though how I was supposed to manage this, I had no idea. Still, I had the Tens machine on and it did seem to be helping manage the pain. It's an odd sensation, a bit like a combination between pins and needles and a lot of ants crawling around on one small area of skin.
So, we decide to go into the hospital, just to find out if everything was ok. My blood pressure was a little raised and this worried me slightly.
As it turns out, Joseph who up and till now had been quite well positions for all my antenatal appointments, had decided to move and was now in the "back to back" position, ie facing outwards rather than to the left. This meant he was going nowhere and I had to go back home, what with being only 1cm dilated. Twelve hours for one centimetre, oh boy.
Eventually, things picked up a pace. I had a "show", nasty and disgusting and I wont go on about it. Joseph finally decided that he'd better put in some effort and with the pain levels increasing to a significant degree, we decided to go back in. By the way, when you fist phone up to speak to the medical people they advise you to have some paracetamol and a hot bath. Ha! Paracetamol! And a hot bath? First of all, if you stay lying on your back it slows things down and if your baby is in the wrong position, it doesn't help and second of all I hate baths! I find them uncomfortable and my skin always ends up itchy. Hardly something to help me relax!
In we go, and I am considered dilated enough to be admitted.
Long, long hours followed. I was given pethidine, which really really helped with the pain and I relaxed, but no sign of baby. Aromatherapy (not the mumbo jumbo stuff) actually helped speed up the contractions, but still no sign. My midwifes' shift ended and another took over. Btw, the midwife team at the Royal Berks are all lovely people. The midwives I had to look after me were excellent.
Ah, pethidine. Makes you all relaxed and happy and the pain feels like it belongs to someone else. It can affect the baby though, they can be a bit more lethargic and unwilling to feed after the birth than they should be.
Time passed. I was given cup after cup of water and even some rounds of toast and marmalade. No sign of baby and continental drift was quicker. The pethidine wore off and I became increasingly uncomfortable. As I was further on in the process I was only allowed another half dose of pethidine, which I accepted. It was that or a hot bath, and I was now so dependant on the Tens machine, I wasn't going to go near the bath.
Eventually, that pethidine wore off and I wasn't allowed any more. I still wasn't fully dilated so this meant that I switched to gas and air for pain relief, something I'd been hoping to hold off for longer as I had heard that the effectiveness can wear off in time.
It is odd stuff. It feels exactly like being a bit drunk, you get quite heady and giddy and the pain isn't really pain any more, just an odd uncomfortable sensation. You have to time it right as it takes a couple of seconds to kick in, so the moment you feel the contraction start, you grab hold of the mouthpiece and breath in as deeply as possible several times. It makes an odd wooshy sort of noise and if you've timed it right, the maximum pain relief should hit at the strongest part of the contraction.
Yet more time passed and I simply grew tired. People can harp on and on about "natural childbirth" and not using pain relief, but in my opinion that's a load of horse elbows. The pain of childbirth might be "natural" but so is the pain of a broken leg or a dislocated shoulder and you wouldn't expect people to manage though those without pain relief. Let me tell you, I wouldn't have lasted anything like as long as I did without it, I would have been far more exhausted and would have been at a much higher likelihood of needing far more drastic action when it came to the crunch.
In the end, it turned out I was not progressing. Joseph wasn't going anywhere and my body wasn't letting him. I kept wanting to push, and I was told to listen to what my body was telling me. This was a bad idea, after all, this is the same body that has told me in the past that eating a whole 1kg bar of chocolate is a good idea. I wasn't ready to push and yet I kept wanting to try.
More medical intervention was called for. I was shipped away from the home comforts of Marsh ward downstairs to the "Delivery Suites" where everything looks and feels a lot more clinical. I was examined and it was confirmed I had basically stopped progressing. I had a contraction and foetal heart monitor strapped to me and I was given an epidural.
I would like to apologise to the poor anaesthetist as I wasn't very co-operative. I was in a tremendous amount of pain and high on entonox, not to mention not having slept in a very long time. How the poor woman managed to do her job is beyond me, but she did it very well and I suddenly found myself pain free, bliss!
My second midwife came to the end of her shift and another took over, with a student under her wing. It was explained to me that I was not progressing and I would need help in the form of a hormone drip. So, feeling something like a pincushion I agreed and waited the two hours for it to work.
At this point I counted up my puncture marks. Two pethidine injections with another shot to counteract the nausea that can come with it, a cannula in my right hand for the hormone drip and fluids needed for the epidural, a blood test in my left elbow which went a bit wrong and had to be taken from my left hand and the epidural itself, in my lower back. A small tube ran up my back, secured with tape to a small disc shaped thingy over my shoulder into which they put the painkillers. I needed two top-ups.
We tried to rest. I did the best I could, but I could still feel the contractions even though they weren't painful and all Andy had to sleep on was a very uncomfortable chair. Finally, after what seemed like an age, I was good to go. The doctor prepared for a forceps delivery and I had the go-ahead to start pushing.
In the room was the doctor with the forceps, a midwife and her student and a paediatrician with a baby resuscitation unit. Boy was I on show.
I can't describe my emotions at this point. Finally, at last I was going to meet my son! He came out quickly and the paediatrician pronounced him to be perfectly fine and he was given to me!
That's enough for now, just writing about it has brought all the feelings back quite strongly. More next time.