I’m back from blog maternity leave with a new baby and a very useful piece of advice: when you wish for a quick labour, it might not be a bad idea to specify a time frame. This baby arrived at such speed that his big brother immediately dubbed him Rocket Baby. And a month later, we are still rather awestruck by his fearsomely speedy and efficient debut.
People who know about these things say that your body does the same amount of work, no matter how long it takes to deliver a baby. Well, maybe.
My first labour had been a bit like test-driving a Ferrari. I found myself at the wheel of a machine more powerful than I imagined. The experienced midwife in the passenger seat offered timely advice and tried not to wince every time I ground the gears or nervously tapped the brakes. My partner cheered me on from the back seat despite white knuckles and a whiter face. Round and round the track we went for nine hours or so, gaining in speed and confidence until the magical chequered-flag-and-champagne moment. It was hard work, but relatively bearable, pretty efficient, and very rewarding.
This time it was like hopping on a luge by accident: a breakneck bullet-train hurtle with no brakes whatsoever. It was astonishing, exhilarating, and, I cannot deny it, mad fun.
The day began ordinarily enough, apart from a mysterious mild backache that came and went (cue ominous foreshadowing music). It was gloriously sunny -- “a very nice day to be born,” I advised my tummy, something I’d been doing every fine day for the last week or so.
I had a 39-week check-up scheduled for eleven o’clock. Our midwife, Saraswathi, lives in one of the small towns out along the shoreline, and on a good day, with no snow or traffic, you can make it in 20 minutes or so (oh yes, more foreshadowing). Any other day I would have been making the trip on my own, but it was Busyboy’s day at home and I asked my partner to drive because of that pesky backache, so we were all together. Just as well, as it would turn out.
The check-up was uneventful. Baby was firmly engaged, locked and loaded, and I told Saras that I felt like a ripe pear, ready to drop off the tree any day now. Then I paused for a moment to appraise one of those on-and-off backaches. She gave me a very measured look.
I mentioned that just to get myself in the mood, I’d been reading up on orgasmic birth (what a concept!), and women who’d magically dilated to ten centimeters without feeling a thing. "Good for you!" she said.
(I forgot to add that the previous week I had stood over my partner and demanded rather hysterically that he read Sheila Kitzinger's page on precipitous labour, just in case, because if it happened to me I wouldn't be in a position to suggest that he look it up in the index. He's a good egg, so he read it. Not that I'm foreshadowing again or anything.)
For added inspiration, on the way out I borrowed a copy of that hippie classic, Spiritual Midwifery, by Ina May Gaskin. It’s a wickedly trippy volume of natural birth stories, in which various long-haired ladies get really heavy auras and feel psychedelic rushes and are at one with the universe as they welcome new travelers to the Planet Earth, usually on a pile of batik cushions in a repurposed school bus, surrounded by fellow hairy travellers. Fantastic reading for heavily pregnant chicks, but I wouldn’t even get to open it.
Instead of going straight home - why hurry? -- we headed to the local bookshop-café, spent some time browsing the stacks, then had a quick lunch. It was a Wednesday, middle of the week, so it felt like we were all wagging school. We had the place to ourselves, not counting the ladies who lunch, who were lunching all around us.
Then, as I stood up from the table, my waters broke. I quietly mentioned the fact to my partner. Busyboy overheard and his eyes popped. “We’re having a baby TODAY??!!” he bellowed. “Well, maybe tonight,” I said, as the chap behind the counter went pale and a dozen grey-haired women turned and smiled at me. Never has a bill been settled so quickly.
It was approximately half past twelve.
We bustled out to the car, called the midwives, hit the highway, and were home by one o’clock. En route, I phoned my back-up crew to say that things were under way; I got two answering machines and one person, who promised to be there by four o’clock. I was still feeling those mild backaches , but really nothing I’d call a contraction yet.
The boys turned up the heat, and headed upstairs to organize the main piece of equipment: the birthing pool we had rented for the occasion, already set up and waiting to be filled. Busyboy was adamant on this point, as was I. There really is nothing like warm water in labour, and he couldn’t wait to bust out his mask and snorkel. Meanwhile, I unloaded the car and pottered around downstairs. My job was to make a couple of phone calls and set some water to boil for the post-partum herb bath. (No tearing up sheets, not when I’d just forked out for a king-sized set of mega-thread-count cotton).
I had a couple of fairly serious pains, one of them too strong to talk through, while calling the midwives to let them know we’d made it home, but it was while filling the pot with water to boil that I was whomped by two enormous contractions in a row. Psychedelic rushes, ha! This was like being plugged into the national grid from the waist down. I literally buckled at the knees. I attempted to summon up my hypno mantra (“Relax”) and, between agonized moans, laughed at how pitifully inadequate it was. Relax, my arse. This was serious pain. No way I could do this for four or five hours. It was just after quarter past one.
There is a stage in labour that Sheila Kitzinger has dubbed the “rest and be thankful” phase. With Busyboy, this had consisted of a glorious twenty minute break between transition and the urge to push, during which I paddled about in the jacuzzi and chatted happily with my partner and the midwife, and did indeed rest and be thankful. This time, it was more of a “run for your life" phase. After the electric current let go of my lower half, I put the water on to boil, and then realized in a moment of eerie clarity that if I was going to make it upstairs, I would have to go NOW.
Our old house is constructed along similar lines to HMS Endeavour, low ceilings, wood panelling, wonky floors, narrow steep staircase and all. How I flew up that staircase on my shaking legs, I have no idea. I don’t actually remember my feet touching the steps. Perhaps a troupe of tiny bluebirds attached themselves to my clothing and wafted me upstairs? It seems entirely plausible.
At the top of the stairs, I dashed past the sunny room where Busyboy and his father were manfully supervising the filling of the birth tub. Such a lovely room, chosen for its warmth and space, and its windows which look out onto the church across the road and, more importantly, have a direct line of sight to the golden statue of the Madonna with the huge boobies. She had seemed like a highly auspicious totem to have in view, but the universe had other plans.
As I took a corner at speed on my way down the narrow, twisting hall to the bathroom, I carefully articulated a set of instructions loud enough for the boys to hear. Which is to say, I gabbled desperately: “Don’t worry about the tub it’s too late I’ll be in the bathroom if you need me plug in the heating pad for the baby’s clothes aaaaaaaaaaargh oh my god here we go again I think this might be it!”
Hurtling into our grungily antique bathroom (last updated some time in the nineteen-fifties, we believe, and still boasting its original clawfoot tub and sink), I finally realized things were really happening and that they were really happening fast. One push, and the baby’s head steamed its way down the birth canal, then mercifully paused. I flung myself onto my knees and gripped the edge of that sturdy iron bath-tub, steadying myself for whatever was about to happen.
There was no time to panic, but just enough time for the boys to come running, figure out what was going on, get into position next to me, and talk me through the three pushes that were all that stood between this impatient baby and the world. The soundtrack, had we been recording, would have gone something like: “Yeeeeeeouch, that really burns!” (pause) “Now, don’t push too hard, Mummy.”(pause) “Oooh, I can see its tiny scrunched-up face!” (pause) “All right, it’s all fine, one more push and you’re done!”
And I was. A small, perfect, bluish-purple baby somersaulted down into my hands and I laid him down on the bathmat, pausing only a second to wonder who had cleverly put all the dark towels into the birth room and left only the white ones in the bathroom. Oh, that’s right, me. What a time for laundry-related worries (word to the wise: hydrogen peroxide).
The baby was covered with lovely waxy vernix -- talk about greased lightning. We watched as he moved his limbs, turned pink, and took a breath, and then I bundled him up in a towel and we all congratulated each other. “I’m so proud of you!” said Busyboy. He didn’t seem at all fazed by the speed of events. He’d been well primed with regular readings of Welcome with Love, a rather beautiful picture book about home birth, and in the event, the birth itself took about as long as it takes to read the book, so it all made perfect sense to him. So much so that he quoted it verbatim while everything was happening, including the line about the "tiny scrunched-up face."
After a few minutes, the phone rang. It was the midwife, calling to say that she was on the way and would be here soon. “Oh, good,” said my partner, “because, um, the baby’s here already.” Busyboy and I giggled in the bathroom with the baby. It was 1.27 p.m.
When Saras arrived about ten minutes later, she found us all in the sunny room, tucked up warmly in bed and deliriously happy with each other. Both the baby and I passed inspection, and the boys were warmly congratulated on their honorary midwife status. I finally delivered the placenta, and Busyboy got to cut the umbilical cord, as he had dreamed of doing, albeit not with his zig-zag art scissors. Then he leaned over and whispered “Mummy, my heart is just filled up with love for you.”
That was possibly the most romantic thing anyone said to me all day. Except for when my partner, wiping the sweat from his brow after helping deliver his surprise baby, murmured “Shit a brick.” Which didn’t seem at all profane, just purely descriptive and genuinely admiring.
The baby is magnificent, a handsome wee fellow with huge eyes and a very humorous face. And even though we don’t believe in these things, his birthday makes him an Aquarian. If I’d thought to check his horoscope for the month, I might have had a hint that he had some tricks up his sleeve:
Aquarius: February finds you ready to break out of your box, try new things, and upset the apple cart. Good! That's always your best role in the scheme of things, so this month, as they say, "Let you be you."
Amen to that. Speaking of upset applecarts, the birth tub sat forlornly in the corner with about an inch of water in it for the next couple of days, until we siphoned it out the window.