So far this blog has mainly been a celebration of motherhood, but as I promised in my first entry I aim to be absolutely honest about all aspects of motherhood, which brings me to the thorny issue of childbirth.
I know of women who seemed to sail through childbirth like a ship on a calm sea, embracing the pain of labour and recalling the final push as a painful yet beautiful experience. Hearing the first cry of your child as it sucks air into its lungs for the first time is surely a moving and magical experience, but one I was unable to appreciate. To be brutally honest I found childbirth the most excruciating and traumatic experience of my life, one I am not certain I can face again. Dark visions of blood and pain and long hours of torment haunt me. I wake night after night soaking in sweat, partly from hormones, partly from demon.
I went into labour on a Friday evening, initially finding the contractions painful but bearable. Sometime during the witching hours of 3/4am I became plagued by a terrible nausea, after which every hour or so when a particularly strong contraction hit I would vomit copiously. As I became weaker the pain intensified. I felt like a small boat in a terrible storm, battered by waves that crashed over me, threatening to capsize me and drown my crew.
We were ill advised by the midwives we spoke to on the triage hotline. 'Don't come till the contractions are closer together' they repeated like a mantra. The truth is we should have driven to the hospital there and then for the anti-nausea injection which would have saved me twelve hours of torment. 'Take a couple of paracetamol' they said. All very well but when you can't keep anything down it becomes an exercise in futility. I vomited up many pairs of pills before my partner had enough. 'We are going to the hospital' he announced, but by then it was four o clock the following afternoon and I was already in a bad way, weakened and white and whimpering.
Upon arrival the relaxed manner of the triage staff chimed badly with how I felt. Could they not see how I suffered? Shortly they did, for my ketones test showed severe dehydration. Hooked up to a drip and having been given the anti nausea injection, I lay in the triage room staring up at the strip lighting. Some codeine based painkillers blunted the pain for a while, but all thoughts of a natural birth had been banished. I had already suffered enough.
Some hours later my contractions had stabilised enough to move into the delivery room. I felt relieved, it was all happening and shortly the big guns would arrive. 'I want the epidural' I said. The following hours are difficult to describe. Dizzy from gas and air I lay and endured the strengthening contractions, watching the clock opposite my bed ruthlessly clicking away the minutes. Only the bleep bleep and drip drip of my machines, and my partner playing some soothing Paul Simon. My mother at my side. 'Where are the anesthetists?' I asked. 'Coming'. Hours passed. My midwives exchanged worried glances. 'Please' I begged. 'I need this pain to go away'.
Suffice to say that the relief never came. On the night of the September Harvest moon the hospital experienced an incredible surge of births, of women needing emergency c sections. Both operating theatres in full swing and no time for anyone to come to tend to me, the small boat sailing doggedly towards my ultimate destination, though each wave that crashed over me made the very wood of which I was built creak in agony. As the midnight hour loomed it became clear that help was not going to arrive. Biblical phrases ran through my head as the midwifes prepared the delivery bed. 'Oh Lord, why hast thou forsaken me?' Fully dilated but with waters unbroken I was in limbo. A doctor arrived and broke my waters manually; pain and a huge gush of waters that lessened to a trickle.
The following two hours were as close to hell as I hope I shall ever come. I struggled to prepare myself for the pain I knew was coming. I gulped the gas and air frantically but in vain. I lay on the bed with my eyes closed trying to contain the pain and the fear of more pain. The baby was very low but stuck. Back to back they call it. Going nowhere. Suddenly bedlam. The babies heart rate was falling, he was in distress. Running feet. No sight only sounds and feeling. Eyes closed, contain the pain. Do not let it break you. Stay afloat. Somehow stay afloat. Doctors racing to my side from surgery and yanking me into an impossible position. Knees beyond my ears. 'Push, you have to push'. I pushed. Behind my closed eyes tears of sheer agony. Instruments inserted, staccato instructions from doctors, a sense of terrible urgency, of fear. And all the time the pain. Unforgettable, unendurable pain.
'We need to get him out' a doctors voice. And then the forceps, clamping down on my unborn childs head and a vicious feeling of pulling. Screaming now, begging, sweating. The doctors voice piercing my hell 'You have to push, now, hard'. I hear the word caesarian. 'Don't cut me' I beg as I keen a high note of agony. Surely my boat cannot withstand this onslaught any longer. I am broken, lost, adrift in a sea of red hot blood, lashed by pain, tortured and tormented and demented by it. And then a giant sucking wrenching as I grunt like an animal stuck with a knife and then it's out. Suddenly I feel hollow, like the very stuffing of me has been removed. I hear the scream of my child and through eyes as swollen nearly closed I see him, red and bloody and kicking. Alive. They clean him and place him on me but I feel nothing. Only the knowledge that I have made it through the worst storm of my life and the fear that my injuries are terribly severe. The doctor talks me through it. I hear the words 'Third degree tear. Danger of incontinence' in a blur of panic. I cannot take it in. Is it over is it over? My mind races and tears pour from my eyes. The flow cannot be contained. They lay my boy on my chest and for a moment I study him. His face is squashed and his features flattened and yet bloated looking. A huge bruise marks his forehead from the forceps. His skull is a strange cone shape from the vontuese. I look at him and his deep blue eyes are open but unfocused. I stare at him like the alien that he is, a strange being landed from an unknown planet, and I know that in time I will love him.