Thursday, 24 March 2011

Looking Back

It's the eve of my baby's first birthday. The presents are wrapped, the cupcakes are iced, the balloons are blown and my little boy is peacefully asleep, blissfully unaware of all the attention that we've stored up ready to lavish on him tomorrow.

And just like every other mother that's ever reached this milestone ahead of me, my mind is being pulled endlessly backwards to this time last year when my little one had already begun his journey into the world and I had already begun treading the long and painful path towards motherhood.

The mental pilgrimage back to this place of pain is one that I've tried my best not to take, and yet the memories of that night still seek me out in quiet moments and haunt me with their muddled intensity.

Mostly, when they come I blink and breathe deeply and focus on something else to keep the confusion at bay, but tonight, as I watch the clock tick on towards 4.44am, and the memories swell and fade in constant waves, I'm letting myself remember.

I remember the long, slow, day of induction that started with a sleepless night, a well-packed labour bag and an anxious car-journey at an hour when the rest of the world was heading out to work.

I remember the neat bed beside the window and the way it buckled in the middle, folding me up like a sandwich in a toaster; I remember the chirpy midwife who described the process ahead of me as though it were a game and I remember the organised schedule of drugs and rests and monitoring that stretched out endlessly throughout the hours.

I remember lying uncomfortably on the bed as they strapped the wires to me; the flutter of excitement as I felt the first little twinge of a contraction tickle my tummy and the thrill of seeing the little peaks and troughs appear on the monitor as the swoosh of our baby's heartbeat pounded in our ears.

I remember the distractions that did nothing whatsoever to distract me throughout that long, tense day: the card game that we played because the pregnancy book had instructed us to; the book that I failed to read; the walk that I had to abort through nerves more than pain, the conversations that were only half spoken because we didn't know what to say, and the large slice of lemon meringue pie that I ate with a certain amount of smug satisfaction, in between those easy, early contractions.

And as the day wore on I remember the way that the contractions became less exciting and more painful and the way that timing them became less of a game and more of an obsession. I remember strapping myself up to my tens machine to show the world I meant business and I remember fear wrapping its icy tendrils round my heart as the pain first took my breath away.

Then, suddenly, my memories accelerate at speed because just as the long day drew to a close and the hospital started settling itself for the night, the pain started quickening its pace and panic distorted reality into chaos.

There was a nurse jamming a large needle into my thigh to help me get through the night; there was a matronly midwife folding her arms beneath her bosom and ordering my husband to leave, there was panic, there was the sickening dizziness of the drugs coursing through my veins, there was confusion; there was the look of fearful resignation that James gave me as he left the hospital for the night, there were fearful pleas and tears as I begged for him to stay, there was sobbing; there were woozy moments between contractions when I honestly thought I would faint, there was vomiting, there was the sickening realisation that the drugs had done nothing for the pain, there was deep breathing, there was the silence of an empty ward, and there was the intense and terrifying loneliness of terror.

And just as the silence became too much to bear, my tens machine became more of an annoyance than a distraction and the realisation that this was only the beginning threatened to overwhelm me, the shift changed, the matronly midwife went home and an angel came to my rescue.

With kind eyes and an understanding smile she held out a hand in help and offered me the imeasurable comforts of a private room, a bath and my husband back; and if I hadn't been so completely consumed with my own pain, I would have smiled and thanked her.

And so for the next few hours I languished in the bath whilst time blended into a blur about me. I remember twisting and writhing as the contractions tore at my belly, I remember clinging on to James as though he had the power to save me, I remember counting, counting and counting through each and every contraction and the way the counting became crazed and desperate whenever I reached 22, I remember reciting the Hail Mary over and over again, despite not having thought of those words since primary school, I remember the fear of what was still to come making me breathless with panic, and I remember slipping into a sleepy daze between contractions as I waited exhaustedly for the next wave to arrive.

And finally, after what felt like hours, I remember the midwife returning and informing me that I was finally, finally in labour and that I had to manoeuvre myself onto a wheelchair so that they could move me to the delivery room.

When I try to recall all that happened in that delivery room my memories become dislodged and instead of a steady stream of memories I see a series of snapshots and remember disjointed snippets in crystal clear clarity amidst a blurry sea of confusion.

I remember grabbing the gas and air tube with desperation and sucking and sucking as I waited for blissful oblivion to arrive, and I remember crying out in tearful frustration as it did nothing to dampen the pain.

I remember first feeling that unstoppable urge to push and being told that I mustn't, mustn't obey it, and I remember heaving, groaning and writhing in agony as I did my best to comply.

I remember the many wires and tubes that were attached to me inside and out and I remember the horror that I felt at the addition of each and every one.

I remember the endless galloping beat of my baby's heart pounding from the monitor beside me and the way it accompanied my pain.

I remember crying and begging for an epidural and I remember being told that it was too late.

I remember the kind face of my lovely midwife and the way I wanted to deliver my baby just to make her proud.

I remember doctors coming and going as machines bleeped and I twisted my bloated balloon belly this way and that without finding any relief.

I remember pushing and pushing and pushing, and I remember the moment at which I glanced at the clock and realised that I'd been doing it, uselessly, for two hours.  

I remember the burly doctor agreeing that some 'intervention' was needed and I remember almost weeping with relief.

I remember the agony of that intervention and I remember screaming "No!" with such sudden force that two doctors and a midwife all froze in their tracks and stepped backwards from the foot of the bed.

I remember the pulling-pushing carnage that ensued and I remember screaming with a frightening force that made all my previous screams sound like whimpers.

And then I remember the sudden sight of a baby in the room, and someone saying "It's a big baby" and "4.44am" and rubbing it quickly with a towel and placing it in my arms.

And I remember looking at this enormous baby that had suddenly appeared in the midst of my unearthly suffering and thinking how strange it was to see it there, and how it was an ugly baby after all.

I remember holding it awkwardly in my arms and petting it uncertainly whilst it screamed until it was crimson in the face.

And as everyone laughed and smiled I remember jiggling the baby distractedly without ever taking my eyes off the doctor that was busy sewing me back together, and without crying those tears of love and relief that I'd anticipated since I was a child.

And so although I remember many things about my baby's arrival into the world I don't remember the precise moment at which I fell in love.

I know that it was later; after the shaky phone calls to parents, after the surreal first feed, after being wheeled from the delivery room and looking back in horror at what looked like the set of a horror movie, after being dumped, weak and shaking in the shower and not knowing how to wash myself because I had no idea where my body ended and began, after the shock of my baby's size had abated and the sound of his galloping heartbeat had stopped ringing in my ears and after I'd been wheeled away from that gruesome delivery room to another neat bed with a babe by my side.

All I know is that at some point during that first dreamy, drowsy morning with a baby on my chest, I fell helplessly and hopelessly in love with the beautiful little soul that I'd just helped bring into the world.

And I know that I've been falling deeper and deeper in love every minute of every day since.


  1. What a traumatic but lovely experience beautifully told. Lovely photos too - especially the final one. Two of my best friends had 3 day labours which sound so tiring.

    Have a wonderful birthday tomorrow! Make sure you enjoy every moment so you can tell the birthday boy when he's bigger. x

  2. Happy Birthday John. Beautifully told.

  3. I can't remember any of my birth stories any more. I wish I'd written them down like you have done.

    Many happy returns of the day to little John :o)

  4. Happy Birthday John!
    I interview new mothers in maternity units as a part of the audits for the Local Service Authority who monitor Supervisors of Midwives and read your birth story with great interest. It is such a monumental day in a mother's life, which can have a massive impact on their future too.
    ( A Spervisor of Midwives is an experienced midwife who is there as a mentor for other midwives and also for Mothers too. By law midwives performace is assesed against specific standards and despite having three children I did not know that I could have asked to speak to a Supervisor of Midwives when a situation arose during pregnancy and also the birth that I was not happy with.)

  5. What a terrifying ordeal for you! I too had a terrible time when I gave birth to my lovely son (20 now)and I don't think I have ever really revisited that time - too shocking! Years pass and the force of my love for my son obliterate the terror of his arrival but I do still question why giving birth can end up being so awful for so many mums any why we are left to suffer for so long? The record of your first year with your son is such a lovely memory box for you all and I so enjoy being allowed to follow too! Happy Birthday Baby Boy!

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I'm trying to get pregnant now, and have some many mixed emotions about it. I desperately want a baby, but I have so much fear about birth and not loving my child enough and not being a good mother.

    It's good to know that even with a terrible birth the results are still worth it and that even if I don't instantly love my child, I can still grow to fall in love with him or her. I appreciate your honesty.