Anouk's Birth - My Second Labour
I thought I’d take a moment to share with you my last birth story because wow, giving birth is an experience like no other. I’m sure anyone who has given birth will agree.
*For those of you who are pregnant, just a warning… I don’t dull down what labour was like for me. So, if hearing the word “pain” terrifies you, maybe don’t read this.
A bit of pregnancy context first. My pregnancy with Anouk was different to my pregnancy with Zan. I was one of those lucky people who have morning sickness (yay) and I had it with both of them for the first 12 weeks. On top of that I had low iron and hypothyroidism, which apparently developed sometime after Zan was born but I didn’t know. It’s amazing how used to being tired you get, without thinking “oh maybe there’s a problem”. So, I didn’t know any of this until I had my bloods done at the very beginning of my pregnancy with Anouk. But low iron crept in too and consequently, I was exhausted the entire time. And I mean, exhausted. At one point I couldn’t even fathom wandering down to the corner shop. It seemed as impossible as climbing Mt Everest. So yeah, pregnancy one, pretty great, pregnancy two, not so fun. They say girls take everything from you and she did. Poor Scott, I complained THE ENTIRE way through.
Now… this is my birth story so enough about the pregnancy. I’ll get to that in another blog.
On the morning of the 15th of February 2021, one day over-due, I went to the hospital with my mum accompanying me, for a general antenatal check-up. I sat down, looked at the midwife (and trainee midwife) and said, “I’d like a stretch and sweep please”. I’m impatient on the best of days and this had been the longest pregnancy ever, so I wasn’t waiting any longer. I’d never had a stretch and sweep so I didn’t really know what to expect, I’d just heard it was pretty good at kick starting labour.
For those of you who don’t know what this is, allow me to fill you in. The midwife inserts a few fingers into your vagina and cervix to feel how dilated you are. Then she runs her fingers around the membranes in order to stimulate hormones which can in turn trigger labour. According to the trainee midwife - who performed her first stretch and sweep on me, I was two cm’s dilated, and my baby’s head was so low she could feel it. So, safe to say, I was pretty close to labour with or without it. I left the hospital excited, and all the way home, via a two-hour shopping trip at the super centre with mum, I could feel little contractions, niggling in my belly.
That night, as I sat in my room doing work on my bed, I began to feel regular contractions. They came and went. I moved positions… I went to the toilet... They kept coming. It was 8.30 pm. The pain was small. Nothing I couldn’t handle. I downloaded one if the many “time your contractions” apps and sat on my bed logging them. Within an hour they were coming every 7-5 minutes, lasting between 40 and 60 seconds. They’d build slowly. Peak. Then disappear. At this point, the peak wasn’t particularly painful. Just uncomfortable. Similar to what I used to experience as period pain back when I was a teenager. Scott had been in the loungeroom with mum and Zan up until this point and now popped his head in “How you going?” he said…. “Yep. She’s coming.” I remained cool and calm, even though inside I was pretty bloody excited. “I’ve been having regular contractions for an hour now.”
Already this was very different to my labour with Zan. With Zan there was no build up. His contractions hit the crescendo 30 minutes in and remined excruciating until 8 hours when I demanded an epidural. 7 hours (painfree) later he was born.
These little gentle contractions seemed much more tolerable. Maybe, I thought, just maybe, I’ll have the kind of labour you hear those warrior women talking about… “I had the most euphoric labour”; “pain is just a concept, it’s not pain, it’s just uncomfortable”; “My labour was orgasmic!” Nope. Sorry to say ladies, this story doesn’t end with an orgasm.
We packed the last of the hospital things. Toothbrushes, deodorant, my nightie… and added it to the hospital bag I’d packed 7 months ago. Then I plodded around the house for another hour until the contractions got slightly more intense. I was still smiling through them, still wishfully thinking about that orgasmic birth.
By the time we arrived at the Northern Beaches hospital, it was 10.30pm (already two hours past my bedtime). I knew wanted an epidural for this one and it was the first thing I told the midwife when we entered the birthing suite. “Hit me up with an epi please!” My midwife called Kaitlyn. She was lovely, young and kept her distance unless I needed her.
I laid on the bed while she gave me a quick internal. I was 2.5cms dilated. Damn. I thought. This is going to be a looooong night. Thirty minutes later I turned to Scott in a panic, my hopes of having a pain free labour shattered. “Fuck… This is bad babe”. I said gripping the side of the bed. He reassured me that the epidural would be here soon, but I remembered Zan’s birth. It takes hours to get one. You have to be 4cms dilated, then you have your bloods taken to check for any risks (an hour at the least), then the anaesthetist has to do his job which takes another 30-60 minutes depending on the doctor. (Zan’s took three attempts!!). In the meantime, every contraction feels like you’re being torn open from your pelvis to your mouth and they seem to last an eternity with barely any recovery time. I wanted to pass out from the pain. I made noises that I’d never made before. Deep guttural primal growls, high pitched bleating, begging, swearing, panting, moaning.
Several times over the next hour I heard Scott and the midwife offer words of encouragement. You’re doing great”; “You’re so strong”; “You can do this”. Never have words of encouragement ever felt so lacking, so useless. I was alone. They were merely spectators, standing outside looking in. All I had was my body and my thoughts, and they were at war. “Please shut up,” I said. “You have no idea,” I said. “I want to die”, I said. The only thing that got me through was knowing it was absolutely out of my control. There is no going back. Keep your hands inside the carrousel. Fasten your seatbelt. Strap yourself in. You cannot get off this ride of hell until it’s come to an end.
Which eventually it did. The epidural finally arrived but it was too late. My body had already started to push. A new kind of feeling. Like a big poo. I could feel it moving down. The lower body taking over. Like a relay race and this was the final stretch. The last hand over. The final 100 metre sprint. PUSH. Said my body. PUSH. Said my husband and midwife. PUSH. Said everything inside me. “I need to poo!” I shouted. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry! I’m doing a poo!”
“No you’re not”, the midwife replied. “that’s your baby’s head!”
Three massive, unbelievable, uncontrollable pushes came from deep within. I felt my baby’s head crowning as we neared the finish line. I saw the crowd stand up, cheering, clapping! “Go Til!! You can do it!!”
“She’s so close babe, I can see her head”, said Scott teary eyed. I didn’t tell him to shut up. I held his hand and pushed with everything I had. I felt the skin around my vagina sting, pulled to its limits. I felt the contraction stop but I wasn’t stopping now. “AAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!” and FINALLY… I felt the skin soften as her head glide out.
And for the first time in three hours, I felt relief.
It was over. One more push and I was at the finish line. I’d won. This was the easy part. The very last time I’d have to find this kind of strength ever in my life. No gym workout, no 10 km run, no 90-minute yoga class, no heart break, no amount of work could ever come close to what this night has asked of me. What every push has summoned and taken. And with that, I felt the slippery sound of her body exit from inside me and land in my husband’s outstretched arms. I felt her softness on my body as he gently placed her upon my deflated tummy. Her home for nine months was now a cavernous empty balloon.
“Hello, my little girl” I said, already forgetting what all the fuss was about. I smiled as love filled every bruised, battered and bloody part of me.
That’s how Anouk come into the world. I don’t tell this story to scare anyone. I tell it because it was my experience and one I want to share. Birthing is so unique. We get through it in whatever way we can. No one’s way of doing it is the right way or the wrong way or a strong way or a weak way.
Thank you for reading.