Two days earlier it had been a full moon.
As we drive home along the ocean I watch it hanging, hugely round and golden, above the waves.
Maybe the moon will bring the baby I say to C and we laugh because we had been told that the full moon does bring the baby and so, lacking any better idea, we had planned around it – our pre-baby holiday away, the baby book reading, the writing down of the birth plan, my sister AJ booking her ticket from NZ for the full moon - two days before the due date, the last minute intensive antenatal class…all scheduled before the full moon.
The next full moon.
You’re one lunar month away, says my sister in law N later that night and I think about the time we have left and the time that has passed and how much has moved and changed within the ocean of our lives and still the moon rises, and still the waves crash and suddenly, shockingly there is no more time.
On Thursday, C goes back to Northern NSW, and I potter on at home. On Friday morning I wake, back cramps, waves of period like pain, bearable but uncomfortable.
And… confusing. This is… early.
It’s the gnocchi, I think.
Earlier I babysat the Naughty Nephews and we had dinner together. The pasta was a month past its use by date.
I, on the other hand, am a month early.
The pain continues, regular, unsettling, and in the morning I ring the Birth Centre to see what I should do. Take Panadeine, they tell me, and rest and ring again if they continue.
I do, and they do, and I ring again.
Come in, the midwife says, but if you are in labour we can’t take you because you need to be 37 weeks at least. You’ll have to go to Delivery.
I am horribly disappointed and when later N and I arrive at the Birth Centre, a midwife steers me back down the hall to the other doors.
No, I want to say, I can wait, please! I can do better. I can hang on. Give me another chance. But she’s gone.
And all through Friday the pain continues to wash over me, stops while I am in the bath where I sway and sing the world’s a big blue marble through my contractions and the warm water slops over my belly rising like an island from the deep.
And we wait and we wait and we wait…should I stay, should I go, should C fly home now, or next flight, or last flight, or drive, or wait, N is waiting with me, calmly updating C, giving me arnica but no, stay don’t rush, don’t panic, not happening, don’t go….
Fifteen minutes after C’s last flight leaves the midwife examines me again. I am 1cm and fully effaced. I’m not going anywhere.
C swears loudly and exclaims delightedly within the same breath. He will pack up, drive back, be here in about seven hours – about 1 in the morning.
My youngest sister K arrives from Newcastle, her fiancé has driven her the two hours and will drive back again immediately. You look after your sister, he tells her. Don’t leave her alone at the hospital. K is nervous, excited, didn’t read Active Birth - she did order it from the bookshop but it didn’t come in time…
No time, no time…
That night I am given strong doses of Panadeine and a couple of mild sleeping tablets and I have three blessed hours of pain free sleep. I’m still 1 cm on Saturday morning so we’re sent home again.
It’s the day of the baby shower which is now postponed although a couple of girlfriends turn up and we have tea and cake and lavender oil back massages and the day passes in a beautiful blur of love and sugar.
And the waves keep coming and I am starting to turn into myself, getting into the zone.
By Saturday night the waves are much harsher, I hang off the walls and breathe, N is telling me to float above the waves and indeed at the height of the pain I do see myself floating above… something dark and far away, a canyon, impenetrable, mysterious…and then the wave recedes and I find my feet on the other side.
Minute after minute, breath after breath, hour after hour.
Walking down the hallway to go back to the hospital, I have to stop and breathe and float on the walls directly outside the Naughty Nephew’s bedroom. Vaguely I am aware of their bright eyes, their curious voices.
Earlier Naughty Nephew the 2nd had asked his father about why it was hurting so much and he began to explain…well the baby has to come out through her vagina… NN2’s eyes goggle. His mouth dropped open. Struck temporarily speechless he covered his cheeks with his hands.
After the birth he will draw a card for me showing a picture of me “dilating” and “being dilated by K”.
After a gruesome but mercifully short drive on my hands and knees in the back of the car, we reach the hospital where they discover my bladder has hugely distended. I haven’t been to the toilet all day. I’ve been in the zone and also I’m a bit iffy using any toilet other than my own. I resolve to get over this bit of fastidiousness but in the meantime the midwife uses an in out catheter to draw off a litre of urine.
K, N and C carry dish after dish to the sink and drain it away.
Sometime during the night will come the first of many discussions concerning my multiple sclerosis. Could this have caused the bladder retention? No, I say, in between breathing and floating, nothing to do with it. The MS comes up again and again and underlying the questions is the Potential for Problem and hence the need for intervention.
I breathe and float and argue.
They examine me and disappointingly I am only 3cm dilated. The contractions on top of a full bladder have made me seem far further progressed than I actually am. This time I get a shot of Pethedine to let me sleep.
Again, a few hours of respite, a few hours to catch my breath, clean the slate, start again. Until now Pethedine was on my list of No Thankyous, but I have changed my tune. This early in the labour it is Pethedine that is giving me strength.
By Sunday nothing has changed and I am sent home again. This time we will have no visitors, nothing but quiet and nourishment and breathing and rest. I am given the Panadeine forte and the sleeping tablets again but this time they do little, perhaps allowing me to doze between contractions, little more.
And once again my bladder starts to shut down, although my sister K is by me all through the night with a little bowl to help me relieve the pressure.
And so on Monday afternoon , I am back at the hospital. The pain is not so great but I don’t want to make the same journey I made on Saturday night. This time they tell me my bladder is retaining again but not like the night before, 600 mls instead of a litre. (Are you sure this isn’t the MS?) So now I’m going to have a catheter throughout the labour.
I ask if I can have more Pethedine which means another examination. This time a midwife suspects I could have a bladder infection (Could it be the MS?) so I will have to go onto IV antibiotics during the labour. They put a canula in the back of my hand in readiness and throughout the labour I will snap at people who clutch or press at it.
Stop it! My hand, you’re pressing my hand!
I am aware of voices and murmurings around me but by now I am pretty much into the zone and time which seemed to be so short before has now become slippery and elastic and I slip and slide in and out of now and another state, a more liquid state of consciousness, full of strange imagery and half dreams.
A midwife breaks my waters and they gush hotly down my legs.
Somewhere in there the obstetrician has reappeared, more MS discussion, concern that this labour is taking so long, I am now, after all this time, only five centimeters and he is concerned because…..because…because…
… the voice weaves around me, he is talking Syntocin to hurry the labour along and I think of how this will throw me straight into the deep end of these crashing wave contractions and I know I am not ready.
I ask for Pethedine, let me sleep, let my body try and finish the job.
My support team are around me, rock solid, N has come home early from work and I have asked her to stay for the birth, K is holding my hand, C is with me and around me whispering to me you are so beautiful, you are doing so well, you are so strong…
They work tirelessly, massaging me, applying heat pack and whisking it away when I screech too hot too hot on the eve of each contraction. I am silently congratulating myself for not swearing, for staying calm even though it is patently obvious that the massage is all wrong that the hot packs are too hot and then in the wrong place, that K’s hands are too small and in the wrong place…
C tells me later that I would snap out instructions and the three would roll eyes and smile at each other and patiently work on around me.
You said that K’s hands were too small and that they were like monkey paws, he tells me and I gasp at the meanness and cry with laughter at my cranky shitty labouring self, forgiven over and over again.
And eventually I am given an ultimatum.
Pethedine, yes, but then in two hours, I’ll be reassessed, to see if Intervention Is Required to Speed Things Up.
two hours only…
time, time, so little of it, so much of it, not yet, not yet, not yet
C and N withdraw to restrategise.
They are aware that I am rapidly being seen as A Problem, there are tight little knots of staff discussing me, they hush up as K walks past. C and N create their own tight little knot while K stays with me.
The pethedine only lets me sleep between contractions, and these are getting bigger, the waves are rushing down my body from head to toe, my back arches up in between. In these moments I moan and sigh and think yes, I understand why women choose epidurals, I understand fearing and hating this pain, I understand elective caesarians and my little sister despairs as I whisper all my fear to her.
I’m scared, I’m scared, I can’t, I don’t want, it’s not fair…I’m scared
But in between these moments I am drifting at the entrance of that dark world, that strange half life, illuminated by pain. Flickers of face and image and strains of music and words. I have never seen that image before I say to myself, I have never heard those words before…
And later we say that may well have been transition, the doorway into Stage 2 because when I am finally examined, exactly two hours later, I am fully dilated.
Fuck your syntocin I think.
In stage 2, fully dilated, the door to our world as fully open as it can ever be to the baby squeezed deep within my body, a light in the darkness, a path to follow through the incessant squeeze and writhe and push…
Push, I hear people saying, it’s time to push…
…and I do, for nearly two hours, with nothing to show for it. I hang from my husband’s arms, my sister rubs at my legs and squeezes my toes, my sister in law rubs at my back and stops and starts and talks me through, her voice is a clear bell in the storm brewing about my body.
Here now is the dark place, the black place, the canyon I floated over during earlier contractions. The world has split wide open, full of stars and the bright lights of faces I can’t place or properly glimpse.
All love and all hell rests here and I see, suddenly how thin the veil is that lies between us. Only women glimpse this place, I think. Only women see this power.
The shock of this.
The sprawl of this.
The intense terror and beauty that winds me through this landscape, winds this place to me, marked by the painful waves crashing against me.
Push, I hear the voices saying, and I push and I push but I know it’s not enough.
We’re running out of time, the obstetrician says…that word again…
With each wave I push with my first breath, push hard at something but when I break to gulp air and push again it’s as if whatever I’m pushing against has slipped further from my reach.
…the time…the obstetrician says. His eyes are like green orbs, they seem sorrowful and fanatical all at once and I hear him saying ventouse but then also forceps and maybe even emergency caesarian and I think no, that’s not fair, after all this, that’s fucked…
So, push again, he says…your baby’s head is flexed, I ‘ll try and turn it now, but if this doesn’t work we need to look at the options, it’s been two and a half hours now… do you understand?
Do I understand?
I do, but I don’t. I understand the logic but I don’t understand the enormity, the power of what I’m experiencing.
He reaches into me and twists and I scream and I hang and clutch and berate and groan from the arms and hands of people who love and support me, until my body, my vessel, slides further into the heaving waters of this new ocean, this new storm…
We’re running out of time…
And the time it takes is one breath, perhaps, or the combined heartbeat of me and the child trapped within me, or one hour, or one year, but when the next wave hits me, deep inside I suddenly scream.
Get the baby out. Mum!
Muuuuuuum! Get the baby Mum. Please.
But there’s nothing. And then time stops.
The obstetrician asks: the ventouse?
And I open my eyes and see N’s face. I know she had the ventouse with her second child, Naughty Nephew the 2nd has told me about how we was “hoovered” out of his mother because he wanted to stay inside and play football “with the bones”…
She nods. Yes. The bell in the storm.
And I say yes.
And bang! the room fills with staff who seem to have been hovering in the hallway waiting for the word.
C tells me later how it became suddenly a room full of people, busy, swift, efficient. He knew and N knew but my sister K didn’t and she was scared.
I’m told to get up on the bed, the doctors are waiting and I mutter the doctors can fucking well wait as I heave myself up onto the bed. I am tired beyond tired and sore beyond sore.
And now, a new kind of scream, a new kind of sensation.
But it’s all part of the same water, the same journey, the same road that led me past that huge golden moon so many years ago.
The ventouse is slipping and the baby’s heart rate is dropping but here now perhaps is where my mother is able to do her own intervention, or perhaps it’s luck, or love, or skill or all these things, or nothing but suddenly I hear people say:
Here comes your baby’s head!
And I feel that burn, that stretch, that I have read about, heard about…and now the head is out…and now, impossibly quick after all that has gone before, the rest of my baby comes slithering out and suddenly there is a new person in the room, a new soul… and people are laughing and gasping and my sister is sobbing.
It’s a he.
And he’s on my belly, large and wet. And his bright eyes look at me in amazement.
And I stare back, in amazement, this is you. This is you.
We saw you being put into my body, in the end of a pipette.
We saw you sparkle in the night sky of my uterus, a star beside your sibling’s smaller weaker beat.
We saw you alone, a tiny dancing baby, shimmying beneath the ultrasound.
We saw you at 20 weeks, still moving and dancing and bigger and bigger…
We saw you pushing and batting at my flesh…
We saw you coming from far far away.
And we thought we loved you then.
But we were wrong.
Because now you’re here, and so the world has changed.
And the stars have wheeled and turned.
And the moon has come and gone.
And time has stood still for you.
And the oceans have run dry and refilled for you.
And my love. And your father’s love.
For you. Our son.
And things will never be the same again.