I wrote the book on having babies. Or, actually, that should read ‘I wrote *a* book on having babies’. Or maybe, more accurately, ‘I wrote a booklet or small pamphlet on having babies’. And I did that before I even had any babies.
I was desperately, acutely, overwhelmingly clucky during my first few years of marriage. West and I had decided to wait before trying for a baby, because we both believed in having a time ‘cocooned’ together; a time when we could focus on each other, on ourselves as a couple, and knit our hearts and souls more closely together before we embarked on the journey of parenthood. So I had very good reasons for not leaping into motherhood – but nevertheless I felt a great yearning for this future that we hoped for and prayed for even as we enjoyed our child-free time together.
When we took off for a sojourn in Europe, we were a year out from ttc (‘trying to conceive’ – keep up!) and my cluckiness amped up, big time. The museums, cathedrals, and the other historic sights were all just an attractive backdrop for the belli bambini and kid stuff; everywhere I went I saw sweet little Scandinavians, itty-bitty Italiani, pretty Portuguese babies… San Sebastian was memorable for the vintage seaside carousel; Sweden for the darling old-fashioned perambulators bouncing over the cobblestones; the Netherlands for their tykes on bikes; France and Italy for the beautiful couture baby outfits.
We lived in Florence – steps from Santa Croce, a mere amble along to Il Duomo. West worked, and I… researched. Baby stuff. Getting pregnant stuff. Giving birth stuff. You name it, I looked it up (I looked up baby names, too, although that ended up being of little use seeing as we could never decide until the last minute – or later… ). I wrote my conception plan. And my birth plan. And… well, lots of stuff, really.
So by the time we were actually ready to have a baby, I was all set. I’d rid my system of unwanted chemicals, got myself to a healthy weight, boosted my nutrition, and noted in the calendar the ‘average’ six months we’d expect it to take for us to conceive (all going well).
And then the first month, wham, bam, thank you Sir… I was up the duff.
Thanks to my research, I knew that ginger and small snacks would be handy weapons against morning sickness. But oh! Nothing could have prepared me for how wretched I’d feel. Or for how tired. Or for the fact that, one night after my hubby had slaved over the stove making chicken satay I’d all of a sudden just notbeabletohandlelookingatorsmellingpoultrywithoutthrowingup! Nobody told me I’d be stricken with sudden dizzy/fainting spells and one evening have to flee the New Releases section and end up crouched in the doorway of the local video shop like some sort of overfed hobo (ohtheshame!).
I had watched episodes and episodes of ‘A Baby Story’, but nothing could have prepared me for the raw reality of the birth video we saw in antenatal classes. My eyes watered – and grew two sizes wider than normal. When it was over, a stunned silence enveloped the room. Bit late for second thoughts… I sent West to fetch me a cup of hot, sweet tea – I felt so shaky I didn’t trust my legs to hold me.
And the birth itself! Well, first of all – what’s with this ‘due date’ malarkey?? Ten days overdue, a week of ‘false’ labour and exhausted waiting and extra checks, and eventually labour got underway solidly enough to warrant a trip to the birthing centre. Except that then it started puttering again, and as I was anxious to avoid an induction, my midwife set me to stair-climbing. Picture a heavily pregnant woman huffing and puffing up and down the stairwell, pausing to do deep-knee bends and crab-walking her ungainly form up the stairs sideways. Nobody ever warned me that being in labour would render me such a ridiculous sight, but I was beyond caring.
Later on – much later on – I was in established labour and far enough along in the process that I could seek relief in the hot tub. By this time I was in the zone, and I couldn’t really articulate much but I was Oh.So.Thirsty… West had been tenderly bathing my brow with a cold, wet washcloth. I snatched it from him, crammed a bunch of it in my mouth, and began to suck the water out. Relief! West was horrified. He was quite sure I’d taken leave of my senses, but the midwife had stepped out of the room so he couldn’t get a second opinion. When she returned, she decided it was time to haul me out of my warm pool to check out my progress. There had been none.
The next few hours are a bit of a blur. There was some anxiety, a good deal of pain, and possibly some unabashed begging for an epidural and a C-section (neither of which was available or on offer, but if I were going to lose out on my natural labour I was going to go all out, darn it!). A short visit to a rave-like-state (courtesy of gas & air, which was rudely snatched from me just when things got going), some deft manoeuvering from a veteran midwife, a short burst of open-throated yelling, and I reached down to pull my firstborn onto my chest.
No-one ever warned me that a first birth can be traumatic. The pain, the fear, the noise, the blood – all mine. I felt like I’d been through war.
You see pictures of other mothers holding a bundled infant in one arm and the phone in the other hand as they smile and give everyone the good news first-hand. I made West call. Even my parents. I couldn’t manage to speak of the horrors… Even when my Mum-in-law came into the room the next day and congratulated me, all I could do was squeak incredulously at her, “You did that FOUR TIMES???”
Fast forward a year. The one I had sworn (post-birth) would be my only child had celebrated his first birthday, and time had softened my memories of the labour experience. We were now planning a second child for some time the following year, and I decided that we’d give NFP (Natural Family Planning) a go to prevent conception in the meantime.
I religiously took my temperature each morning that first month; imagine my surprise when I realized that it wasn’t going down. NFP should stand for ‘Now Future Parents’. I was ‘in the family way’ again – a few months earlier than planned. What a shock! And a delight. But also a shock! I never was that good at math – I guess my calculations were a little off…
This time I wasn’t sick for fourteen or fifteen weeks. I was sick the whole pregnancy. The books just don’t prepare you for that.
His EDD came – and went. Oh, well – even if he were overdue like his brother, at least the labour would be shorter. All the books promise you that the second labour will be shorter.
The labour wasn’t shorter.
I was four days overdue, and this time the baby was measuring small-for-dates, so when the labour got underway I had to head to the hospital instead of the birthing centre. Anxious to avoid another washcloth-sucking incident, West plied me with drinks as I swayed around the delivery room.
A few more hours of this and my midwife was concerned that I was still getting dehydrated, so a nurse came in and (after a few tries) inserted an IV. Splendid. This made it easier, some more hours later, for some hormones to be added to the drip to augment the contractions.
Between the IV and all the drinks West was offering, toilet stops were necessary. Not too long after the augmentation drip had begun, I waddled along to the loo and stopped just inside the door for a massive contraction. It was a large bathroom, complete with shower and chair, and I needed to sit down – so I did a bowlegged cowboy walk over to the chair and sat down. On something. Every woman reads about this, and vows that she will not succumb to the humiliation of delivering a poop along with her baby. I was mortified, and I called out to my midwife with apologies for what she might find when she checked.
Fortunately, it was not a poop – it was my baby’s head. And I had just sat on it.
Obviously delivering a baby in the bathroom is not advantageous, and my midwife kindly tried to coax me from the room – but that IV was doing its job, and I was going to do mine. There was no way I was moving. My little prince made his way into the world in the throne room. Glamourous. I should have named him ‘John’.
This time I wasn’t too traumatised by the birth to call family – I was too traumatised by having my baby taken away briskly after birth. Instead of a lusty cry he was making little bear-cub grunts; his colour wasn’t great, either, so they took him off for a stint in the incubator. You read all about how important it is to have that bonding time right after birth, and my little one and I were separated. Nothing could have prepared me for that. Fortunately, we were reunited fairly quickly, and B (who was our smallest pipsqueak at birth) has grown into a strong and energetic little boy – who loves to hear all about how he was born in the loo.
When B was one, we moved from New Zealand to Canada to spend some time closer to my family – and a few months later we were expecting C. I was just as tired in my third pregnancy, but not nearly as sick as I’d been with the previous two (Hallelujah!). I had the same EDD for my third as I’d had for my second, and this little one was more prompt; he actually arrived on his due date.
Labour – a little faster than the other times (improvement!), and by this time I knew what to expect so there were few surprises and no trauma (aside from a couple of brief debates with the charge nurse, who wanted me to get into a gown – nothanksi’llwearmyownstuff – and tried to insist that West leave my side to go and park the car properly – youaregoingNOWHERE!). But I had another excellent midwife and it was a good birth experience all-round. Not traumatic at all.
They don’t tell you this in the books, but you can get to the point where you’re actually more comfortable spending the first night back at home than staying in the hospital – and so that’s just what we did.
We took a sanity break between C and D. For ages I worked hard to convince myself that C was ‘my last’, and I cherished all the little stages of his babyhood (which was obviously easier to do without a younger sibling to contend with). I went back to school and completed an editing certificate through my old university, lost the baby weight and found a fitness regimen that worked for me, and served in my church’s marriage ministry (which I am passionate about). But a yearning for a fourth child welled up in me and demanded that West and I address the issue. And we did; through a lot of prayer and in faith, we found resolution to our question when we conceived number four.
It was a good pregnancy, although slightly weird being considered to be of ‘advanced maternal age’ this time (being over 35). I didn’t struggle much with morning sickness, although some severe reflux and sciatica took their toll… It’s a very special thing growing a little human being, but I don’t want to romanticise it – sometimes, like when you’re 40 weeks pregnant in the middle of summer, it’s hard work being pregnant.
I like patterns – so when I realized that my other boys were ten days overdue, four days overdue, and born on his due date (respectively), I decided that it must mean that I was going to take even less time to bake this little bun. And God chuckled… Once again, I tried all the tried-and-true (and safe) home remedies to kick-start labour – but this little babe just arrived in his own sweet time. Six days overdue.
This time I was very well set-up to labour at home. I had my exercise ball, meditation and hypnobirthing exercises on the iPod, and a husband who’s good at minimising my drama. So when I started feeling too uncomfortable to sleep, I went through to the living room and rocked on the ball while I breathed through the exercises, and West slumbered on.
By the time morning came (to my relief – I hadn’t slept a wink), I was ready for the kids to be packed off to the beach with my Mum and then I could find some relief in moaning through the contractions (which I had found to be helpful in my previous labours – another handy tip picked up during my researching time in Florence). In fact, I have a vivid memory of mooing through a strong contraction right under an open window and I fancied that I heard our Slavic lawn-care professional pause, startled, as he mowed past outside. Slightly mortifying, but oh well.
Each time I’ve been in labour I’ve been anxious about when to call the midwife. Even though it’s a major life event for me, I am bothered by the idea of it interrupting others’ sleep and sustenance. So I’ve felt hesitant about calling too early (especially if it’s the middle of the night) while also not being especially keen on leaving it too late and delivering my baby in the car en route to hospital. I’ve also been worried that, when my midwife does turn up to check me at home, she’d find that I wasn’t nearly far enough along to have called her.
This time I needn’t have worried. I was down on all fours low-singing though a contraction when my midwife arrived, and when she checked me I was eight centimeters. I’d been feeling a bit nauseous, so I waddled down to the car with a mixing bowl clutched in my hands just in case – and I clutched this like an amulet as I was wheeled along the hospital corridors with my eyes squeezed shut so that I could stay ‘in the zone’. After I arrived at the delivery room I got changed into my bikini top and batik sarong (just so you know I made the full journey to granola-crunchy mama…) and not long after that it was time to push. I was so grateful to be at this point of the labour – almost the end – that I just barely managed to stop myself from blurting out to the three other people in the room, “Oh, this is my favourite part!” Soon after that we met our fourth little boy. My midwife called me a ‘birthing goddess’ – I couldn’t honestly claim the divine designation, but I love it anyway!
We’re now about a month away from D’s second birthday, and there hasn’t been a moment that I have regretted our acceptance of God’s pull on my heart to add to our family. Four is my special number. I am so grateful for him, and it has been a joy to watch our older boys love and nurture him since the first day he came home.
Each of my boys has been a gift. Nothing could have prepared me for the ways in which my labours would deviate from my plans, but even through the challenges they gave me a taste of the enormity and awesomeness of my job as a mother. Parenting is a process of discovery – beginning with the pregnancy and labour (or, for others, the emotional journey of adopting a child). There is humiliation in the process, to be sure, but there’s also hilarity. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.