There were two things that surprised me most about the birth: how long it took, and that actually pushing the baby out was by far the most pleasant part of the whole experience (I’ve checked with Liv – she agrees). This is everything I remember about the experience. It’s long, but I know I’m really interested in birth stories now that we’ve done it, so you might be too.
So let’s back up a bit. In my last post I left you as we were driving to the hospital. We got there about 2pm and proceeded to try to find a park in the overcrowded mess that is Middlemore Hospital (actually it’s much better inside, just really really busy). The prices were quite reasonable – $20 a day. They have a special parking section right outside the door for women in labour, but we didn’t qualify so we had to walk for a while.
We made our way to the maternity wing and told the receptionist we were there for an induction. We sat in the waiting room for about 10 minutes before being taken to our room. I was surprised we actually got our own room – for some reason I expected it to be so busy that we’d be sharing. But it was a comfortable, spacious room. With a TV even! We were going to be here a while so we were glad for that. The downside was it was a bit noisy – lots of people walking past – and it had a shared bathroom that was for patients only so I had to pop down to another level to use a public toilet. Minor inconvenience, though, and I was glad for the walks.
We got comfortable, took a couple of photos and waited with eager anticipation for the next step. A midwife came in about 20 minutes later and checked Liv to see if the induction procedure would work. She confirmed that the baby was in the right position and that Liv was only 2cm dilated, so we were good to go.
The induction process is designed to get contractions started because they’re not starting by themselves. They start by inserting a prostaglandin gel, which softens and opens the cervix. They need to allow six hours for the gel to work properly. If a woman’s waters haven’t broken, they’ll repeat this process three times. So this could theoretically take 18 hours, but for Liv we knew they could only try this once because her waters had already broken. They also had to give her antibiotics at this point because the baby was at risk of infection from the procedure.
They inserted the gel at 3pm and told Liv to expect contractions to start within the hour. So they did their thing – it didn’t take long – and we began the waiting game. We watched TV, read magazines, played on our phones, ate snacks. Contractions had started but they were very weak at this point.
Waiting got boring so to help pass the time, and to help contractions along, at 4:30pm we went for a 40-minute walk around the hospital. That was actually really fun – we ended up wandering out to the long forgotten depths of the hospital, down narrow, dimly lit corridors that haven’t seen renovations in at least 25 years. These were the original parts of the hospital – they’re offices now – and they had that slightly neglected feel to them, but that’s what made it fun. It was kind of creepy. During the walk Liv had a few decent contractions, but not enough to have to stop and sit down or anything.
We got back to our room and Liv’s dinner was there. I popped back downstairs to get some sushi for mine. Contractions had started getting a lot more painful now. Midwives kept popping in and out to check on us but they never stayed long. It was just Liv and I in the room most of the time. We tried to get a little sleep at one point, but gave up after a while. Liv was moving around the room a lot, not making a lot of noise but definitely wincing and keeling over with each contraction, now about three minutes apart and lasting a minute.
To help distract her I put the TV on the home renovation channel (she loves it). I’ll never forget this: she’s on the bed, crying out with each contraction, but keeping an eye on this show called Beach Flip (attractive people do up a beach house and sell it for a profit). I asked her if I should turn the TV off and put some relaxing music on. “No”, she said, mid-contraction. “I want to know who wins”. This was the point I realised we still had a long way to go. I didn’t know much about labour, but I knew that if she’s still talking during contractions, and seems to recover really quickly after each one, they’re probably still early on. I didn’t say this out loud, but I suspected we’d have to move on to the second phase of induction. Unfortunately, I was right – by 8pm contractions were slowing down, and getting less intense. This was confirmed when Liv was examined at 9:30pm – more than six hours after getting the gel – and they found her only 3cm dilated. After all that, she’d gained one measly centimetre. Liv was gutted. So, on to the next stage we went.
If the gel doesn’t work, they put the woman on an oxytocin drip. Oxytocin is a naturally-occurring hormone, but in this case delivered artificially. The hormone is normally released by the pituitary gland in the brain late in pregnancy, and it causes the muscles of the uterus to contract. When this hormone is delivered intravenously, it causes contractions to come on thick and fast. While the prostaglandin gel is a gentler method of bringing on labour, the oxytocin drip is nasty business.
They moved us to another room for this procedure. A delivery suite, it turned out. I found that weird because I thought we were in a delivery suite. Turns out we were in an induction room, which explains why our care was patchy and a bit rushed. In the delivery suite, they have someone with you all the time, because labour is definitely going to progress one way or another.
So we get in there about 10pm. This room is much better – it’s just quieter and bigger and it’s got its own bathroom (one I can use, no less!). A midwife gets us settled and soon after a bunch of doctors come through on rounds and I can’t even remember why they were there, but it left me with the impression that things were getting serious if a bunch of doctors were interested in us. They left as quickly as they arrived and our midwife put Liv on the monitoring machine to check that the baby was OK. That took half an hour, and they finally started the oxytocin drip around 11pm. We were told to expect the cervix dilation to increase at a rate of 1cm per hour. We were at 3cm at this point, so we were expecting at least seven more hours before pushing time.
It didn’t take long for contractions to start getting serious. Liv got a rude awakening: the contractions she’d been having on the prostaglandin gel were like being tickled with a feather compared to these. They got very painful very fast. I’ve never seen her in pain like this before. It hurt to watch! I did my best to be supportive and coach her through a bit of breathing, but that didn’t do much. The only pain relief she’d had to far was paracetamol, so the midwife suggested she try the gas, but it made her feel dizzy and actually didn’t do much, so she shelved that option. Contractions continued to get stronger and longer, coming every two or so minutes and lasting at least a minute at this point.
She soldiered on like this for 90 minutes before asking for an epidural. I knew she was very open to the idea of pain relief, so we agreed that she wasn’t coping all that well and an epidural would be a good option. And talk about service – about 10 minutes after asking for it the anesthetist comes waltzing in to save the day. He was a polite young man who looked about 14 (we trusted he wasn’t). He gently explained the risks to Liv, who acknowledged those and promptly agreed to go ahead with the procedure. Now, an epidural is no minor thing: it involves inserting a rubber tube into the back and placing it near the spine and injecting drugs which numb the pain. It took about 15 minutes, during which Liv had to arch her back forwards while sitting on the bed and trying to hold still during these very painful contractions. I stood by and held her hand.
The epidural is supposed to numb the pain from the breast to the knees, or there abouts. But about 20 minutes after starting the epidural Liv could still feel the pain on her left side. Her right side was completely numb, though. The epidural was botched, a problem the anesthetist assured us happens to one in 10 women. This occurs when the tube inserted near the spine is pointed slightly towards one side of the back rather than straight down the middle. So he did a little adjustment to try to knock the tube into the middle. But after 20 more minutes, Liv was still feeling excruciating pain on her left side. She was in absolutely agony, crying out with each contraction. She said it was actually worse than before the epidural, because while the pain was numbed on one side, it was like it was concentrated all on the other side, which is far more painful.
It was 2am by this point, and Liv was feeling pain that was supposed to have been numbed 90 minutes ago. So a new anesthetist came in and tried to make another adjustment to the epidural. She got Liv to lie on her left side to try to encourage the anesthesia to work its way to that side. It didn’t work. Liv was crying out in agony, begging for her to do a completely new epidural. Eventually, the anesthetist relented and started again. This time, it worked. Almost immediately, the pain was lessened and Liv started to relax a bit. By 3am, she was calmly sitting up in bed as our midwife turned up (she had delivered a baby earlier that evening and was getting some much needed sleep before coming back to deliver ours).
We had a chat with her and she got herself set up, relieving the hospital midwives and taking charge. It was such a relief to have her there – we’d built up a great relationship with her over the past nine months and we trusted her completely, so it was nice to have her there finally. The hospital midwives were great, but it’s just better to have someone you know and trust looking after you.
About 3:30am I decided to get some sleep and encouraged Liv to do the same. She wasn’t feeling much pain at all now, so she was able to get some much needed rest, instead of wearing herself out by working through mind-numbing pain. So I got a shitty hospital pillow, laid back in the creaky old lazy boy next to the hospital bed, put in my ear plugs and drifted off. I’d had about two hours sleep in the past two days, so it wasn’t hard.
An hour later, at 4:30, I woke in a groggy haze to see our midwife getting ready to examine Liv. Still a bit dazed, I pulled my earplugs out so I could hear what she was saying. Remembering how long it took to even get to 3cm dilated, Liv asked her if we were likely to have the baby before lunchtime. She replied that it would definitely be here by midnight, to which Liv sighed, expecting this labour to go on for many hours yet. But a couple of minutes later, the midwife conducted her examination. I watched her face as she rummaged around up there. She raised her eyebrows in a way that told me it was a positive thing. She told Liv she was fully dilated and ready to push. I bolted upright and said, “HOLY JESUS!” Suddenly, things seemed to be happening very fast, even though we’d been there for nearly 15 hours. The midwife told Liv we’d wait another hour before we started pushing to make sure the baby was fully down, so I went back to sleep.
Liv didn’t sleep. She kept chatting with the midwife until about 5:30. I was out to it. I heard Liv calling my name softly and I rejoined the world, albeit feeling a little worse for wear. Right, this was it. The big moment.
I’ll never forget how calm it was in there at this time. It was serene. Here we were, in the early hours of the morning, in a quiet, gently lit hospital delivery room, just Liv, me and our midwife. Liv was pain-free thanks to the epidural. She cheerfully chatted away to the midwife, asking a million questions, while the midwife got everything set up down her end. I even got given a job: I had to hold one of Liv’s legs up because she’d lost control of them due to the epidural. I was excited to help. It was a great position for me because I could face Liv and cheer her on, but also see what was happening down the other end.
Just before six o’clock, she started pushing. The epidural was done so that Liv could still feel the contractions, so she knew when to push. It was three big pushes per contraction. The midwife was constantly feeling for the baby’s head to see how it was progressing. She was also monitoring his heartrate to make sure he was happy. As far as she could tell, he was extremely comfortable in there and in no distress at all.
I can’t believe how fast the next hour went. It was so fun, for both Liv and I. I think the epidural is a big reason for it being so pleasant. Between contractions, Liv smiled and asked more questions, cracked some jokes. I happily stood by, feeling totally relaxed and in control. It was the opposite to how I expected to feel. I thought I’d be stressed and nervous. I expected there to be a flurry of other midwives, maybe a doctor or two milling about checking on things, but no. I was delighted at how blissful this time was, just us three in a quiet room, working together to get this baby out. I loved cheering Liv on as she pushed. She did so well. She pushed long and hard when she needed to, and the baby just kept making his way down. In total, she pushed for just over an hour.
He came out at 6.58am. The midwife pulled him immediately on to Liv’s chest and he started crying. Weak little gaspy cries as he used his lungs for the first time. I cried too. So did Liv as I bent down to hug both of them. After a few minutes, and under the midwife’s guidance, I cut the cord, which was a lot less of a big deal than I expected – it’s like cutting a rope with a very sharp pair of scissors. Then baby stayed on Liv’s chest for about an hour. We smiled, cried a bit more, laughed, sighed with disbelief that this was ours. We discussed his name, but couldn’t quite decide then. Mostly we just gazed at this little wonder, who somehow is us put together, but who seems so strange at the same time. And there we were, our little family, early on a dark Tuesday morning, together for the first time.