Owen’s Birth Story

 

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Owen James was born on Friday, 9th June at 1:04 pm, but to me his birth story began on Monday the 5th. I was already starting to feel a bit pestered being six days overdue so when I felt a huge gush while emptying the tumble dryer condenser I was shocked but delighted. My waters have gone! I calmly phoned daddy who tidied up a few things at work before striding out of the office thinking (and announcing) ‘this is it’. I also phoned Colin to leave a message for Janette that she might need to collect Lewis from nursery.

When David arrived home we headed down to the hospital for an examination only to be told that it was a false alarm. I felt very low for the rest of the day not to mention embarrassed. The following day (Tuesday) I had my 41 week appointment and left feeling much more positive thanks to a very kind midwife called Jen. I wanted to wait as long as possible before being induced but there were no beds available for Monday (41+6) so we booked in for an induction on Friday (41+3). Luckily when I phoned the maternity day bed ward on Thursday, some space had been freed up for Monday so that bought me an extra three days. I felt much more relaxed, convinced that the baby would come on its own over the weekend.

On Thursday night we had Subway for dinner and I spent some time bouncing on my ball. David took a short video of the bouncing action for my ‘one second a day’ project. I arranged for Janette to take Lewis to M&S cafe to meet a friend in the morning, and for Lorna and Aaron to come round in the afternoon, and went to bed convinced nothing was going to happen.

I woke around 3am with mild pains – I had been having similar around the same time for a few nights. I got up and went to the toilet and David asked if anything was happening. Feeling quite tetchy, I replied “I am so f*cked off! This f*cking baby is never coming out! I’m so sick of it!” After that I laid down and the pains kept coming except this time they seemed to be escalating slightly. I lay there and tried to relax into them, willing labour to start in earnest. By 4:30 I was pretty sure labour might be starting. I was grimacing at the pains and having to concentrate on breathing during them. I woke David up and we decided to call Janette at 5:00am. I knew that it probably wasn’t time to go to the hospital yet but I also didn’t want to wait till it got to the point I was desperate to go and she hadn’t arrived yet… She arrived shortly after 5:30 and I stayed upstairs for another 45 minutes just making sure it was the real thing. I knelt on the floor over the bed, bounced on my ball and paced the room timing contractions that were close together – 2-3 minutes apart but only lasting 30-45 seconds. Nevertheless they felt increasingly intense and we decided to go. David phoned the labour ward and they said to come in; however no birthing pools were available at the time.

We put last minute things into the bag – frozen water bottles, etc and Janette helped me into the car. As we drove to the hospital David asked how I was feeling and I remember feeling reasonably calm, excited and apprehensive about what lay ahead. I said I had a feeling that this might be a stop-and-start deal like the last time and that the baby would end up being born tomorrow, but was reassured that the contractions kept up in the car. We arrived at the hospital just after 6:30 and sat in the same chairs as Monday when I had the false alarm. A midwife came to show me down the corridor and arrived mid-contraction so I had to wait to stand and walk. Another mum was being wheeled out of the labour ward to go up to the maternity ward, holding a new bundle. The midwife said ‘you’ll be next!’ I hoped she was right.

We were shown into the same room I had been checked over on Monday and the midwife did an internal exam. I was convinced she would say I was 2cm (or even less!) and to go home. But instead she said, ‘the good news is you’re staying here.’ I was 5cm, fully effaced with a paperthin cervix. Hoorah! She reckoned I would have a baby by lunchtime. That midwife was at the end of her shift so at that point she went to get my paperwork started and handover to someone else. We phoned Janette to let her know and called my parents but told them not to rush…

Two midwives came in – one a second year student called Helen. They asked lots of questions (many repeats) and typed everything into the computer. It was the day after the general election so we had 24 hour coverage on the TV. The midwife said soon it will be Wimbledon that everyone’s watching but the worst are the World Cup years when the husbands are glued to the tv!

After a while I started to become anxious that the midwives were hanging around making chit-chat. I felt my contractions stalling and just wanted to be left to relax. I kept having to change positions so that the baby’s heartbeat could be monitored for a full minute every 15 minutes. I found it quite distracting. Soon they were finished and said they’d be back to transfer me into a room with a birthing pool once it had been cleaned. I noticed a difference as soon as they’d left my contractions picked up again – strongest when I lay on the bed which is counter to the advice given.

We moved into the birthing suite around 9am and more chit chat, more hanging about, more questions… I was starting to get really irritable.

We phoned both sets of parents to tell them not to expect any news imminently… Janette was at the M&S Gyle café with Lewis and Coral. My parents didn’t answer – they had already left Helensburgh to drive over.

David asked if there was a possibility of going home as I was worried about lack of progress. Helen was a bit taken aback but said she would ask… the answer was ‘no’. 5cm was too far progressed to go home and if labour had stalled there was ‘things they could do’. I was adamant about no sintocin so the primary midwife said she’d leave me for an hour, come back and check progress around 10:45 and break my waters if necessary. I wasn’t thrilled about that, but it seemed like a good compromise. The tub was full and ready for me to get in, but I wanted things to pick up first to prevent the contractions stalling when I got in the water.

Just after 11 they came back and the contractions had returned. Although they were bearable I felt like I wanted gas and air. I took some just before the next examination and it helped so much! I remember why I loved gas and air the first time around. It does make my voice sound oddly low which I hadn’t remembered from the first time around. Breaking the waters turned out to be no big deal. Fortunately they were clear (no meconium) which meant I could get in the tub. I asked the midwives whether women typically deliver in the birthing pool once they’re in and she said nearly everyone does – especially if it’s not their first babies.

I changed and was helped into the tub. I wasn’t sure if I would be a ‘water birth person’ (apparently you either are or aren’t) but I instantly felt more comfortable. The midwives left met to get on with it and sure enough the contractions started to come hard and fast. It was intense and painful but I never doubted myself or wanted to get out of the water. I repeated some of the mantras from the relaxation track I had been listening to in the weeks leading up like “I relax into my labour”, “I trust that my baby will be born when my body and my baby are ready” and “Each contraction brings me closer to meeting my baby”. I remember thinking that my memory had failed me and I didn’t remember how sore it was first time around! Nature has a way of making you forget. At 12:15 I suddenly shouted to David to push the buzzer as I felt the urge to bear down. Within seconds the midwives were back, checked me and didn’t say anything except ‘Ohh!’. They checked baby’s heartbeat which was still strong and recovering well after each contraction and kept topping up the water so it remained at exactly 37.5 degrees. I was warm but not too uncomfortable which is one of the things I had slight concerns about – overheating and feeling faint/nauseous but thankfully I didn’t.

After a short time my body took over and started to push on its own. The most powerful and amazing thing – it’s true that babies literally birth themselves. One of the midwives whispered to the other ‘I see vernex’ and told David she could see the baby’s head come forward with each contraction and that it wasn’t retreating back much. I tried to stay calm between contractions and not think about the next one (they were only 1-2 minutes maximum apart!) At one point I asked if it was almost over and was reassured that it was. After about five powerful contractions combined with a bit of pushing, they said the next one the head would be out! I supressed any fear and just told myself to get through it. The anticipation of seeing the baby and finding out if it’s a boy or a girl was a powerful incentive. Sure enough the next surge came with a huge amount of pressure and I felt the head pop out! Almost like a grape! The main midwife said to the student midwife that the body would follow with the next contraction “or right away” which it did. They placed you on my chest and the first thing I said was “you’re so cute!”. You were very white and lay quite still, stomach down on my chest. I was assured that you were fine – just so chilled from emerging into nice warm water. After a minute I asked if anyone had said whether it’s a girl or a boy?! They turned you over and said it’s a boy! Later daddy said he knew right away – whether just by seeing your face or whether he caught sight of the boy bits.

When daddy cut the cord they realised it had a knot in it! Fortunately it hadn’t had any effect on you – I didn’t let myself contemplate what the repercussions might have been. After another couple of minutes they took you over to wipe you down and at that point you turned bright pink and started wailing – a healthy set of lungs!

I was helped out of the pool and over to the bed. The afterbirth process was longer and more uncomfortable than it had been first time around. I got an injection into the top of my leg to help deliver the placenta and the midwives pulled it out which was a really strange sensation – large and squishy and a bit stingy. At that point I was told I would need stitches which was a bit disappointing – I had hoped the water might have prevented it.

You were brought back over for skin to skin and latched on well right away. Nature never ceases to amaze me that babies are born with such strong instincts.

Just after 3pm I was all stitched up and we phoned the grandparents to tell them the news. Oma and Opa were the first to arrive around 3:30 to meet you. After they left I was helped to the shower (a big en suite wet room/bathroom). Grandma and Grandpa arrived around 4:45 for a quick cuddle just as visiting hours were finishing – they had to ‘handover’ Lewis’s care first to my mum and dad. They brought your first gift – a lovely teddy with a turquoise bow.

Everyone was keen to find out your name but we decided to keep an air of secrecy and to sleep on it for a night to make absolutely certain of the choice.

Once Grandma and Grandpa had gone they were keen to move us up to the maternity ward so that the room could be cleaned. I was wheeled backwards through the long corridors with you bundled up in my arms – just as I had seen another mum being pushed with a tired but deeply content look on her face just 11 hours earlier.

9 month letter

Dear Lewis,

You are nine months old already, can you believe it? Three quarters of a year! This has to be my favourite age… until next month when I will no doubt repeat those words this time convinced they are true.

We are in the last leg of my yearlong maternity leave. Some days I feel like superwoman and others I feel like a complete mess (so not much has changed there). Most days I feel somewhere in-between. We aren’t going to so many classes any more – most have run their course and we haven’t renewed due to my going back to work soon or other commitments. There is a new music class in Ratho which we sometimes attend on a Monday – a good chance to catch up with your baby pals. The Tuesday drop-in class at the Centre is still a favourite and we usually make it to a couple of bookbug sessions each month. Swimming has finished for the time being – you passed Level 2 with flying colours, easily the most chilled out baby in the pool no matter how many times you’re dunked or how tight your wetsuit has gotten(!)

You are absolutely the best baby ever. I know most parents think that but the only difference is that we are right. You sleep so well and have done for a number of months – believe me when I say that we do not take this for granted. You are so happy and relaxed, smiling at anyone who will meet your gaze. It’s such a pure joy that comes from babies – unadulterated (never has that word seemed more apt). Every night after dinner daddy takes you upstairs for a bath while I tidy up the kitchen. I come up with your bedtime bottle, set it on the dressing table and then tiptoe round the corner to the bathroom. I stand in the doorway quietly until you lookup from your bath toys (the red cup is still your favourite) your face cracks into a wide smile and you say ‘aah’ upon seeing me. It’s the best feeling – I never tire of it. You offer up the same gift to daddy when he comes home from work. He sneaks up behind you while you’re in your high chair having dinner and you crane your neck to look up at him while kicking and squealing in delight. How wonderful to feel even a fraction of the adoration we feel for you.

The biggest changes over the last 3 months are your sitting and eating. Never have those two words been uttered with so much pride. You sit and you eat! SO well! We eat dinner together as a family and it’s the highlight of the day. You discovered a love for blueberries recently and at first we popped them in your mouth before letting you try to pick them up on your own. It took a few days and a lot of squished blueberries before you mastered it, but mastered it you have! For breakfast you have a wheatabix mashed with banana, for lunch you have an Ella’s Kitchen fruit pouch with yogurt with some finger foods like bread, bits of cheese, cut up fruit or baby crisps. For dinner you have something savory (fish pie, spaghetti bolognaise, chicken and veg or baby curry – your favourite) followed by some custard and more finger foods! We have given up on store-bought baby food but fortunately you like mummy’s cooking. This healthy appetite is very apparent in your clothing size – you pretty much skipped 9-12mth clothes altogether, easily as big as most one-year-olds already. It was bound to happen but it makes me a bit teary to think how fast you’ve grown.

I expressed that recently to a friend – that I was struggling with how quickly you’ve grown*. She reassured me that the best is yet to come and I believe her whole-heartedly. I remember being frustrated that you couldn’t entertain yourself and seemed unhappy when other babies weren’t so – but now! You love toys (stacking cups, wooden house, Noah’s Ark), you love singing (Head Shoulders Knees and Toes, Wind the Bobbin Up, If You’re happy and You Know It, Insy Winsy Spider), you love tickles (This Little Piggy), you love LIFE.

The yearning to be with you has only gotten stronger. Daddy has to stop me from waking you up for a cuddle nearly every night (sometimes he’s tempted too). It’s akin to a crush – such a feeling of infatuation that I can’t get close enough to you. Fortunately you seem to be going through a cuddly phase – burying your face in my neck when you’re excited and pulling my face close to touch noses.

Motherhood has brought me such sated joy. Just last week I was worrying over some minor inconvenience and Daddy reminded me that as long as you are ok, we are ok. He’s right. Having a child can be stressful at times but it makes everything else seem less so.

Oh my sweetness. I couldn’t possibly love you more. Except that I will – tomorrow and the day after that.

Love

Mum xxx

*There’s a song on the radio right now called ‘Hold Back the River’ by James Bay that captures how I feel about how quickly time passes these days…

Hold back the river let me look in your eyes

Hold back the river so wide

Hold back the river let me be by your side

Hold back the river, hold back.

6 Months

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Dear Lewis,

You are six months old already, can you believe it? I can’t – and yet can at the same time. One of the many paradoxes of motherhood. Sometimes I stand in front of the mirror with you and repeat ‘you are my baby. I am your mummy’ hoping it will sink in. Other times I struggle to remember my life without you in it – because my whole world spins on a different axis now.

There have been so many firsts since my last letter – first night in your own room, first time in the ‘big boy’ bath, first solid foods, first big belly laughs when tickled etc. There have been some lasts as well –last sleep in your Moses basket, last lounge in your baby bouncer, last time wearing this or that outfit. The firsts are easier to record whereas the lasts slip by unplanned, unnoticed until days or weeks later when I am painfully reminded that you aren’t the same baby that you were yesterday or the day before.

A little insight into you at six months old: you are still sleeping very well (other than a two-week blip we now know was the ‘four month regression’) from around 8pm till 8:30am with one night-time feed. For breakfast you have baby porridge, which you’ve really taken to – so much that you lunge for each mouthful! Feeding can be a bit messy as you like to grab for the spoon and wipe the contents all over your face – to the extent that I often find bits of breakfast caked on your ear or in your hair hours later despite several attempts at cleaning you off! (you are not such a fan of having your face wiped to put it mildly). At lunchtime you have fruit puree, which also seems to go down a treat. You aren’t quite sitting up unaided yet so you dine in your swing, in your bouncer, or in your buggy when we’re out.

You are so aware of your surroundings and we can definitely see your little personality emerging. You actively reach for toys and are quite dexterous at passing them from one hand to the other, bringing them up to your face to study them closely and of course ramming them in your mouth! Teething has definitely begun and it’s been a bit rough – your cheeks go bright red and you can’t see your chin for all the dribbles, poor thing. Sophie the giraffe seems to be your favourite teether to relieve some of the discomfort, although sometimes my finger provides a good alternative.

Your face cracks into a wide gummy grin when I sing… Hello Lewis, Old MacDonald (still a favourite), Favourite Things (from the Sound of Music)… I am under no illusion that this will continue. One day in the not-too-distant future you will beg me to stop singing, beg me to stop kissing your cheeks… until then I am taking full advantage of your squishy, delicious perfection. When I can be your everything.

Our days are quite full – I make sure we get out and about every day. Tuesdays we are still going to Rockstarz sing-along class at the Centre, usually followed by lunch at Costa. Thursdays we go to Baby Sensory in Corstorphine, usually followed by lunch in M&S café at the Gyle (sensing a pattern?) other days we go to Bookbug sessions at the library, go for walks to Morrisons or Dobbies, meet friends, visit Grandma and Grandpa Colin or Carolyn and Chloe. By late afternoon we are home to make dinner before dad comes home. You have a bit of playtime, and then watch some Baby TV together before bath, bottle and bed. Bath time is on most nights a joyous occasion. The house smells of lavender and I can hear you squealing with delight and kicking vigorously when daddy says ‘splash splash splash’! Your favourite bath toy is a big foam crab, which you love nothing better than to chew. On most nights you sail away into the land of nod without a bother and we come downstairs and sit quietly for a little while before saying to each other ‘I miss Lou’…

The physical and developmental changes never cease to amaze me – you are quite literally growing before my very eyes. I am changing too. You have made me a more compassionate person, I suppose because I am conscious that everybody is someone else’s child who came into the world in the same miraculous way and whose mother loves(ed) them the same way that I love you: fiercely, absolutely.

It’s hard to explain the love – a love that is inches away from grief. Why is that? Is it because now that you’re here I have so much more to lose? Is it because one day you will leave home, take flight? Is it because you couldn’t possibly love me as much as I love you?

All I know is that the past six months have been the best of my life and I really wasn’t prepared for that. People are so eager to focus on the negative when you’re expecting your first child– as if they feel the need to warn you of impending doom.

They said “your body will never be the same again” Instead they should have warned me that being able to sustain you for many months on my milk alone would be the most rewarding thing ever. That I would fit back into my jeans two weeks after you were born but the only weight I’d actually care about would be yours.

They said “enjoy the peace and quiet while you can!” Instead they should have warned me that your cries would sometimes grate, sure, but most often prompt me to drop everything and tend to your needs. That every time I managed to soothe you with a cuddle or a soft murmur or a song would feel like a small victory.

They said “you’ll never get a good night’s sleep again!” They should’ve told me that I would sleep – maybe not every night and maybe not all night – but enough. For now I find beauty in the peaceful 4am feedings in our cozy little nursery when the neighbourhood is dark and still. It’s just me and my little boy – the only two people in the world. Someday you will sleep through the night and I will miss those quiet moments when you needed me. These days of being needed are exhausting, yet fleeting. I have stopped dreaming of “one day” when things will be easier. Because the truth is, it may get easier but it will never be better than today.

Love,
Mum xxx

3 Months

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My Little Lou,

You are 3 months old already – can you believe it? I can’t. Except that I can – time is the only explanation for the changes we’ve seen in you. Most of your dark newborn hair has fallen out and is growing in fair. Your eyes are still blue, but a bright shining blue. You are so alert and I delight in watching you watch the world go by. Your belly and face are much rounder and your legs are much less chicken-y. Depending on the angle, I can see a resemblance between you and me although most people still assert that you are the spitting image of your dad.

At 5 weeks old you turned a corner and started to sleep for 3-4 hour chunks in your Moses basket. It was around this time that dad and I decided to tag-team your night feed: dad gives you a bottle while I express for the following night. If someone had told me before you came along that I would be happy to wake at 4 or 5am every night, I wouldn’t have believed it but it’s true. We treasure the family time – dim lights, whispered conversations, the radio on quietly… and so many smiles and gurgles. You are positively giddy after that early morning bottle.

Speaking of smiles, you started showing us your gummy grin right around the 5 week mark too. It’s something I still haven’t gotten used to. Every time you smile my heart lifts like a bird buoyed by a gust of warm air. It’s magic. We recorded a video of you one morning in your blue teddy onesie (oh the feet! I am OBSESSED with your baby feet!) grinning while we sang ‘Old McDonald’ for the umpteenth time.

We have a song for every occasion – the ‘Good Morning’ song, ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ and/or the Alphabet song for nappy changing and ‘Ali-Bali’ for going to sleep. We sing plenty of songs throughout the day too like ‘Down by the Bay’, ‘The Ants go Marching’, ‘Five Little Ducks’, ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’, I could go on…

Physically you are getting much stronger. Your grip on my finger is quite something! You kick your legs and wave your arms with fervour but haven’t quite figured out how to work your hands yet – something that is frustrating to watch. Sometimes you manage to find your fist to suck (loudly!) but often you end up moving your head side to side in frustration.

A typical day right now goes something like this:
– Wake up around 8:30am
– Come downstairs in your pjs and have a feed while I have breakfast
– Watch a bit of baby tv in your bouncer while I express
– Upstairs to get dressed and ready
– Nap in your bouncer for 20-30 minutes while I tidy up or do laundry
– Feed again before lunch
– Go out in the afternoon, come home around 4 or 5pm
– Start making dinner around 6:15
– Daddy comes home at 6:30 and we eat dinner at 7pm while you sit in your swing
– Upstairs at 8:30 for a bath
– Last feed before we put you down to sleep around 9:15pm

We go to Rockstarz baby sing-along class at Kidzeco on Tuesdays with Carolyn & Chloe. On Thursday mornings we go to Baby Massage class at Balerno High School, then usually to Grandma and Grandpa Colin’s house afterwards for lunch. We go to Livingston Shopping Centre a lot or take the tram into town to meet friends… occasionally we stay home and have lazy cuddly days.

I am writing all this down so I can remember it all – I am terribly afraid of forgetting what these precious days were like or that I haven’t savoured them enough. The truth is no words or photographs will ever do. Mummy used to be a good writer, you know. My 11th grade English teacher actually applauded when he handed back my essay on The Scarlett Letter. But now my words sound clumsy and ordinary and you are anything but ordinary. I had heard it all a million times – how deeply and fiercely you love your children, how special every expression and every milestone feels. Nothing prepared me though for the heaviness, the physical ache that comes with loving you. I am daily brought to tears with it.

For now I just try and squeeze in as many kisses as possible while you still let me. Thankfully you do.

I love you.

Mummy

The Birth Story

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Dear Lewis,

Today is the 16th of August – you are 12 days old. I wrote this in chunks over the last 7 days or so. We are in the throes of long days, sleepless nights, nappy explosions and general first time parent anxiety which makes it all the more important for me to remember the magic of the night you were born.

The Birth Story

By Friday the 1st of August I began to feel like the whole world was watching and waiting for his arrival. Mum and I went for lunch and a walk around Livingston Centre and later that evening I took a lap around the block trying to fight back tears of frustration as I felt like my body was not cooperating with my and everyone else’s plans. That night I cooked chicken curry for dinner – not believing the old wives tale in the slightest and it wasn’t spicy anyway. We watched the Common Wealth Games on TV followed by the Last Leg. I stayed up for a bit once everyone had gone to bed and decided two things: one, I was not going to be induced on Tuesday – I had to get things going myself before then – and two, I needed to be left alone to start labour naturally. I paced around the living room, listening to my relaxation tracks and willed the baby to come on his own.

In the early hours I felt restless starting at around 3am. I thought it was indigestion and normal pregnancy twinges but by 5:30 I had my first contraction. I lay there in relief with a huge smile on my face thinking finally! At 6:30 I got up to go to the toilet and David stirred so I told him the contractions had started. We were both excited and fairly relaxed, but I decided to get up and try to keep things moving. We had breakfast and told mum and dad when they came downstairs that I was in the early stages of labour. Everyone was delighted and I wondered if he would be born that day – Saturday the 2nd of August or the next, which was mum and dad’s 38th wedding anniversary.

It was a horribly dark, wet day for August – a change from the settled warm weather we’d been having the weeks prior. We all laughed that it was the sort of day where there isn’t anything better to do than have a baby! Just as we were starting to tidy up breakfast dishes we heard frantic meowing from what sounded like a cat outside – quickly realizing it was coming from the garage. Sam had somehow sneaked in and gotten stuck in the rafters. David had to stand on a chair to get him down and I couldn’t help but think what a funny old day – the day my baby will be born. Around 10am we decided to go for a second breakfast to fuel me up for what lay ahead. I’m ashamed to say it was a McDonalds sausage and egg McMuffin that I was craving. I was feeling mild contractions every 15 minutes or so in the car and we decided to keep driving around a bit, including a quick tour round the hospital parking lot to figure out where to go when the time came. Back at the house I paced round the living room feeling a bit nauseous (regretting the McDonalds breakfast) but aware that the contractions were slowing if anything. I went for a lie down around 1pm and they started again – this time building up to every 3-5 minutes apart but still mild and less than a minute in duration. It was uncomfortable enough that we phoned the hospital, but the midwife must have heard in my voice that it wasn’t time yet. Shortly after I was off the phone the contractions stopped altogether and I realised that this wasn’t going to be the day. I distracted myself by watching TV and went to bed early that night – apprehensive but hopeful.

As soon as I lay down the contractions started again and carried on all throughout the night but never building to the required crescendo. They were 10-15 minutes apart and I could still talk through them, although I didn’t feel much like talking! We phoned the hospital again around 6:30am and asked if I could come in to be checked over as I was concerned about some of the violent movements coming from babe after contractions followed by periods of quiet. They advised me to stay home again and sure enough by the time I was up and showered all regular activity had ceased, although I continued to have pains periodically throughout the day. Mum and Dad made themselves scarce, taking a trip to the bright lights of Lanark for a pub lunch. I took a nap and worked on a painting for a bit, trying to stay relaxed and resigned to the fact that this may well go on until Tuesday morning when I was booked in for an induction anyway.

That night I didn’t feel much like eating – I had a plate of mashed potatoes and we watched the Common Wealth Games closing ceremony, which included a mini concert from Kylie Minogue. I was uncomfortable and at this point quite fearful of what was still to come – if all of this was pre labour I wasn’t sure how I would cope with the real thing. By 11pm the contractions started again and this time I wasn’t sleeping in between. They seemed to be building and I was increasingly unable to breathe through them without whimpering in pain. Quite suddenly they seemed to go from 5-6 minutes apart to 3 minutes at which point David said enough is enough, we’re going to the hospital. He phoned but couldn’t get through to the maternity unit so we were advised by the main reception just to GO. I resisted at first, afraid that the contractions would stop again and we would be sent home, but I knew I couldn’t cope much more even if it meant being induced to speed things along.

We quickly threw my (mostly packed) hospital bags and David’s (not really packed) hospital bag in the car and started off. David missed a turning on one of the many roundabouts in Livingston and I shrieked ‘you are so RUBBISH!’ in the midst of another contraction. We arrived at the hospital and had to be buzzed in the maternity entrance. I began a slow walk down the long corridor, swearing and stopping every few seconds to catch my breath when along came a porter with a wheelchair – sweet mercy. I remember making quite a lot of noise in the lift and the porter wishing us good luck when I was handed over to the midwife on duty – Stephanie McEwan who was pretty with a blonde bob and kind blue eyes. She wheeled me in to Delivery Suite 7 and all the while my contractions intensified to every 90 seconds or so. She examined me and said I was 4cm, fully effaced and clearly in active labour so the good news was I wasn’t going home. She asked about pain relief and I reluctantly requested gas and air but couldn’t bring myself to try it as I felt so nauseous and dry mouthed already. David phoned the house around 5am and left a message for my parents to say that we would be staying in hospital. About an hour passed and in between sips of Lucozade I tried desperately to stay calm through each contraction but was making quite a lot of noise! I inquired about an epidural – I was already so tired and thought at that point that I was in for a long hard slog and couldn’t face the idea of going much longer without rest. Stephanie said I was coping very well without it but explained what would happen if I did decide to go ahead. Within minutes of her leaving to let me think it over I had a particularly bad contraction and shouted to David ‘GET HER!’ She came back in with the foetal scalp monitor and suggested I take a trip to the toilet as it might be the last time I could walk unaided for a while. I made it to the toilet – just – and back before throwing up all the Lucozade (into a bowl, thankfully).

Stephanie examined me and said ‘Valerie your baby’s head is right here and you’re 10 centimetres – you’ve done it’. I cried ‘does that mean I can’t have an epidural?!’ I was told yes, it’s too late and immediately requested the gas and air back. The contractions were coming hard and fast at this point and I was aware of the growing pressure as the baby descended along the final stretch (no pun intended). As soon as I started to take the gas and air, everything became a bit blurry. At foetal monitor was attached round my midriff and I remember Stephanie saying the baby’s heartbeat was dropping a bit during contractions as his wee head was being smushed, but recovering sufficiently to avoid concern. I also remember her asking David to push the call button immediately if it looked liked delivery was imminent, as there needed to be two midwives present as standard practice. Suddenly the baby’s heartbeat didn’t seem to be recovering as quickly and another midwife was called in. An electrode monitor was attached to his scalp (although I have no recollection of this) and I was rolled onto my side and told to push when I felt the urge. My body more or less took over and the gas and air allowed me to fully relax and prepare in between contractions. I just kept thinking ‘this is really happening, I am pushing a baby out the way women have done since the beginning of time and it will be fine’.

I remember screaming ‘It burns so bad! Please help me!’ and Stephanie told me not to waste the next contraction as she couldn’t ignore the drop in heartbeat and I would get to see my baby any minute. I dug deep and after 3 pushes his head shot out with a gush. The rest of his body followed seconds later and I heard the words ‘it’s a boy!’ confirming what I knew or at least strongly suspected along. ‘Does he have a name?’ I looked at David and asked ‘is he a Lewis?’ and we both nodded in agreement.

The relief was immediate – followed by mild feelings of euphoria. I had a healthy baby and I had delivered him myself. Every time the clock changed to 11:11 throughout my pregnancy I wished for those two things – a healthy baby and a natural birth (in that order). My placenta was delivered within minutes – I don’t even recall having the injection to aid it along. The midwives explained that I would definitely need stitches and possibly a small operation accompanied by a spinal block if it was a third degree tear. A consultant came down to examine me and determined that it was thankfully just a second degree tear and left me in the capable hands of one of the midwives to be stitched up. Legs in stirrups, I looked over at David holding little Lewis and paid no attention to what was going on down below. Once she’d finished, we phoned both sets of parents and everyone was elated that he had arrived safely and much more quickly than anticipated. I was brought breakfast on a tray – tea, cornflakes and a roll with butter and jam. It was the best meal I have ever eaten! Poor David had to settle for a Snickers bar.

After breakfast I was helped to the shower for a quick rinse-off and we settled back in to wait for my parents. We sang Happy Birthday to Lewis and speculated that my Dad probably wanted to head straight to the hospital, while Mum would have wanted to bring flowers or a gift. They finally appeared around 11:00 and our suspicions were confirmed. We opened our first non-gender neutral gift of a summer suit and cardigan from the now official Oma and Opa. Shortly after, Janette, Colin, Carolyn and Chloe arrived for introductions and brought gifts of flowers, teddy bears and a baby boy balloon. Around 12:15 everyone was asked to leave so we could be transferred to the maternity ward. I was wheeled through the hospital holding my boy and couldn’t have been happier – already aware that I needed to take in every detail. David went home for a shower and I was given some lunch, which I ate while chatting to the other girls on the ward – all of whom had some complications with their births. David came back around 3pm and my parents followed shortly after. Before I knew it, it was 4:15 and time for visitors to leave. I thought about taking a nap but we couldn’t stop holding, staring at and taking photos of this new little life. By 6:00 it was dinnertime and at 7:00 Janette, Colin, Carolyn and Chloe came back this time with Alan in tow. Lewis was given his first (of many) knitted cardigan & hat sets for coming home in.

We watched a bathing demonstration on one of the other newborns in the recovery ward – the baby girl cried throughout which in turn made her mum cry, something I came to understand later that night. Next thing we knew it was 9:30 and time for David to leave. We both got a bit teary – me because I was apprehensive of the long night ahead and David because he didn’t want to leave us. I didn’t sleep at all that night – partly from the activity going on in the recovery ward with midwives and doctors coming in and out – partly because I was equally scared to put him down or fall asleep with him in my arms. The paediatrician came in to check him around 11pm and fortunately all indicators appeared healthy. Eventually around 3am tiredness prevailed and I set him down in the bedside cradle only to be woken shortly after by his first proper wail. I’ll never forget his little face – the shape of the mouth as he made an ‘mmm’ sound and then opened into a round circle and unleashing a ‘mmmmaaaaAAAAHHH’. My heart shattered. I lay awake for the rest of the night watching him, intrigued by his movements which I recognized from when he was still in the womb. I know it sounds strange but I was grieving the empty space where he used to be and feeling acutely aware of how quickly time passes and things change.

The next morning I had the same breakfast again – it wasn’t nearly as magical the second time around. I sent David a text with photo of Lewis fast asleep in his cradle, saying ‘Good morning daddy! I am nocturnal, isn’t that fun?!’ Daddy arrived back at the hospital around 10:00 and held Lewis while I had my first proper shower – it felt amazing despite my battle wounds. We waited to find out if we could be discharged, meanwhile I had some lunch and David finished the bag of jelly babies from the night before. One of the midwives ran through a checklist with us to ensure we had been given the full crash course in first time parenting. We asked if he could be bathed; however the midwife took his temperature and found it was 0.1 degree lower than where they like it to be, so he was wrapped up and we were told to defer a bath until he had been home for a day or two. Finally it was time to pack up and go. David made several trips to the car and another midwife came in to officially discharge us – checking both mine and Lewis’s wrist bands to make sure we belonged to each other.

Walking down the corridor out of the hospital, my emotions were all over the place. Through the window I could see the entrance to the labour ward where we had arrived the previous night. I remembered how scared I was and yet the magnitude of the fear and pain shriveled into insignificance in comparison to how much I loved him already. I was walking out 36 hours later and everything had changed – the whole world, or at least my world was so very different.

Oma and Opa were there to greet us when we got home. After a few minutes of ‘now what?’ I retreated upstairs for a long nap and woke up to a three course dinner – melon, fajitas and chocolate toffee pudding washed down with a glass of my favourite wine. We toasted the arrival of Lewis Alexander Robertson and wished him a healthy happy life.

Love,
Mum

What I read in 2013

Not that much, apparently.

Nine books? Nine? Surely I’ve read at least 12 – one a month? Huh, guess not. Clearly I’ve not spent enough time sat in Starbucks (nothing to do with a tv addiction, you understand). Oh well, something to improve on this year. My bookshelves are laden fresh pages to be devoured. But without further ado…

1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Tells the story of a poor black woman in the 1950s who inadvertently shaped modern medicine as we know it through the diagnosis and (mis)treatment of her cervical cancer. Her cancer cells, the first to be cultivated in a lab, became a commodity on which a multi-million dollar virology and biotech industry is based. Rebecca Skloot tells Henrietta’s story from birth to her premature death aged 31, and that of her children who only learned of their mother’s unwilling contribution to society 20 years after her death. Part biographic, part scientific, part historical, totally interesting.

2. I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb

An epic novel (1098 pages) about identical twins Dominic and Thomas Birdsey. Thomas, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, cuts off his hand in a public library as an act of sacrifice to God. Dominic must fight for his brother’s release from a harsh, maximum-security mental institution and in the process discovers that despite being the ‘normal’ twin, he has his own demons to battle including divorce, a questionable rebound relationship and an abusive stepfather. Told with so much emotion, rich language and a good number of plot twists, this is by far my favourite book I’ve read in a long time – probably ever.

3. The Lighthouse by Alice Munro

The Lighthouse is a slim novel – slim in words and on first read slim in plot. A middle-aged Englishman called Futh sets off on a walking holiday in Germany to ponder his recently failed marriage. His first stop is the Hellhaus B&B (meaning lighthouse – thought not a direct translation) where he meets Esther, a busty barmaid who seeks her husband’s attention by becoming overly friendly with male patrons. While on his walk, we learn of Futh’s troubled childhood – raised by his father after his mother abandoned them – and the fact that he has never really developed into a fully functioning adult. He returns to Hellhaus one week later blistered and sunburned, one of many uses of circular repetition throughout the book. The writing is extremely measured and intriguing, full of calculated  motifs that are in ways subtle and yet so obvious that Munro’s voice takes on a Hemingway quality. It’s definitely one of those books that underwhelms at first and then slowly creeps up on you, haunting and lingering for much longer than its 192 pages might suggest.

4. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Is there anyone who didn’t read Gone Girl this year? I’ll readily admit that I was reluctant at first – thrillers are not my thing. This book however is light on the gory details and heavy on the character development – verging into the realm of intelligent chic lit. Nick comes home from work to discover that his beautiful wife Amy has disappeared…there are signs of a struggle, traces of blood on the floor and before he knows it, Nick is the prime – the only – suspect. The first half of the book is told through Nick’s perspective after the disappearance. The second half is told from Amy’s perspective over the weeks, months and years prior to her disappearance. Gillian Flynn takes an interesting delve into the psychology of the characters and paints a realistic portrait of a marriage in crisis – sufficient that you’re left to wonder could Nick really have been driven to kill his perfect wife?

5. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Again, not my first choice in reading material but that of the book club I belong to. Having said that, it was definitely the dark horse that snuck up from behind and almost took the title of favourite book of the year. Jon Krakauer, a journalist, was approached by Outsider magazine to write a piece on Everest base camp. He persuaded the editors to delay the article so that he could train for a full Everest summit a year later, which subsequently saw Krakauer on the mountain during the fateful 1996 Everest disaster when 7 people lost their lives. Despite the controversy (many of the survivors attest that Krakauer’s story is not 100% accurate), it remains the most well read of several attempts to capture what happened on that terrible day and unfortunately what continues to happen on an all too regular basis. I already had a bit of a morbid fascination with Everest, only heightened by this book. It is un-put-downable.

6. Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kinsolver’s novel The Prodigal Summer is the sole reason I had to add a ‘probably’ to the statement that book number 2 is my favourite ever. I haven’t read anything by Kingsolver since, but this one caught my attention as it’s a story of the impact of climate change both on the natural world and its biggest threat – people. Kingsolver doesn’t shy away from science – nature often features abundantly in her novels and in great detail. Flight Behaviour is no different, except that it is a fictional story – well researched and with plenty of input from climate scientists and entomologists to construct a plausible scenario. Dellarobia is married to a sheep farmer in Tennessee and has reached the end of her tether – with boredom, poverty and her controlling mother-in-law Hester. Everything changes when she discovers that the woodland behind their run-down cabin is laden, literally pregnant with hundreds of thousands of monarch butterflies. The butterflies normally winter in Mexico but something peculiar is going on… after an unprecedented mild, wet autumn they’ve lost their way and have settled instead in the Appalachian mountains. In walks Ovid Byron, an entomologist who has dedicated his life to the study of Monarchs. Ovid happens to be eloquent, handsome, and also black. He sets up in a camper van on Dellarobia’s driveway to study the butterflies in their (un)natural environment, much to the horror of Dellarobia’s neighbours not to mention her family. The book explores the relationship between religion and education, poverty and climate change. Interesting and enjoyable, but ultimately lacking the same degree of breathtaking imagery that made me fall so in love with Prodigal Summer.

7. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

This is another long book with a short plot. It’s about a family really – Patty and Walter Berglund, their son Joey, their daughter Jessica (who doesn’t feature much), and their mutual friend Richard Katz – a musician and minor celebrity. Patty was a college basketball star, now she’s a paranoid housewife who dotes on her overly spoilt son. Joey is arrogant, unrelenting and worst of all a Republican. Walter is a wishy-washy lawyer with strong environmentalist leanings, constantly in the shadow of his friend and rival Richard Katz. What happens? Joey moves in with his high school girlfriend and her redneck family before accepting a place at the University of Virginia where he gets involved in less than copacetic ways of making a quick buck. Patty and Walter move to Washington D.C. after Walter gets a job with an environmental organisation and acquires an exotic assistant Lalitha. Richard constantly struggles with the desire to be more successful without becoming more famous (that and a mild drug addiction). It has all the makings of the quintessential modern American novel – politics, infidelity, environmental ideology (and hypocrisy), mental scars caused by intergenerational conflict, and plenty of sex. I liked, rather than loved it.

8. 59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman

Billed as a self-help book, 59 Seconds offers simple behavioural techniques (all of which supposedly take less than a minute) to transform your life. There are ten topics covered, with a chapter devoted to each: happiness, persuasion, motivation, creativity, attraction, stress, relationships, decision-making, parenting and personality. Wiseman attempts to debunk a number of popular myths by uncovering flaws in the original research studies (or in some cases revealing that the self-help trick was never based on any scientific research). For example – angry? Don’t punch a pillow as this just intensifies anger. Instead, sit and reflect quietly on the experience and how you benefited or learned something from it. Wiseman’s writing is accessible but lacking any flair – which is to say it’s boring. Most of the ‘tricks’ I either already knew or seemed to me to be common sense, or worse were totally impractical. Needless to say, it has not transformed my life.

9. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Another book that seemed to pop up everywhere this year.  I was immediately drawn in by the amusing email exchanges between Bernadette and her virtual assistant Manjula in India. Maria Semple is a former TV writer and her comedic talent is evident throughout.  I don’t laugh out loud over books and this one was no exception but it drew many an unwitting smile. Bernadette is an eccentric architect who designed one (wildly successful) building before retreating to the wilds of Seattle. The word that keeps coming to mind to describe this book is modern, which I suppose also implies that it feels new and fresh. The story is told solely through email exchanges, letters, magazine articles and the occasional narrative from Bernadette’s daughter Bea (short for Balakrishna – told you Bernadette is eccentric). The relationship between Bernadette and her husband Elgie – himself a Microsoft wunderkind – feels modern in that they both exhibit masculine and feminine traits and are at various points in their careers successful and unsuccessful. The language and technology references also felt very modern – to the extent that I felt out of the loop. Is that how people talk these days? Then again, maybe it’s just Seattle, of which Semple paints a rather disparaging picture.

BEDN – On Blogging

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Yesterday’s BEDN topic (that’s blog every day in November) was blogging.

Talk about Blogging. What do you love about it? What drives you mad about it? Do you have any brilliant Blogging tips you can share with your readers? Any lessons learned? Any resources?

I have no brilliant blogging tips – as promised I am failing miserably at BEDN. This is my 21st blog post in just over a year – averaging less than 1 post every 2 weeks. So I’m going to use this 5 minute window on a Sunday night before going to bed and starting another week, to offer some advice to myself. It has to do with blogging and it has to do with time.

A place for everything and everything in its place

This is perhaps meant to refer to home organisation, but I think it’s equally if not more fitting for time management.

A time for everything and everything in its time

If blogging, crafting, exercising and phoning friends are as important to me as I say they are, I must schedule time for them (a time for everything). If its time to pull the laundry out of the washing machine then why am I lying on the couch reading Glamour? (everything in its time).

Now if I can only convince myself to stick with it. Right now,  it’s time for bed.

BEDN – Ten things

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I came across this challenge to blog every day in November (#BEDN for those who love hashtags. My love affair ended with this hilarious video). I am late to the party and will definitely 100% not turn up every day in November seeing as I will be away at least 5 days with work… but I love the idea.

I also love to digress, apparently. On with my ten things post.

My Christmas Bucket List

1. Make my own Christmas cards (again).

2. Find an excellent Christmas playlist on Spotify, or better yet make one.

3. Visit the Dome in all its festive glory.

4. Attend a carol service.

5. Do something charitable.

6. Make a pot of mulled wine to simmer on the stove.

7. Present-wrapping session while watching a Christmas classic (Home Alone, Elf, The Santa Clause)

8. Watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas with dear husband snuggled under a blanket with hot chocolate.

9. Christmas photo project (read cats wrapped in fairy lights wearing santa hats).

10. Enjoy our first Christmas with D’s family and mine celebrating together (naw).

JOY!

Image cred

Unoffendable

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of·fend

1. to irritate, annoy, or anger; cause resentful displeasure in.
2. to affect (the sense, taste, etc.) disagreeably.
3. to violate or transgress (a criminal, religious, or moral law).
4. to hurt or cause pain to.
5. (in Biblical use) to cause to fall into sinful ways.

 

Once, at university, I sat up all night with a group of friends from my dorm and had a deep and meaningful conversation. Actually this happened many times, but on this particular occasion we decided it would be a deep and meaningful idea to take turns describing each other using one word. When it came time for my then crush to describe me, I braced myself. We had engaged in some flirtatious banter, none of which was deep or meaningful and yet he paused only briefly before looking straight at me with his offer: ‘genuine’.

I took it.

During that tumultuous, identity forming stage which is hard enough to navigate without throwing in academic pressure and the weird moral vacuum that is Los Angeles – to be described as someone who is grounded and sincere, someone who knows herself, was quite the compliment. It still is. And yet, on the eve of my 30th birthday, I have decided on a new gold-plated adjective. A word worthy of adopting as a moniker, of embroidering on at least a few scatter cushions.

Unoffendable.

Today, I am striving for unoffendable.

There are so many reasons why ‘offended’ is not a good place to be. First of all it’s exhausting. It’s one stop past touchy on the way to bad-tempered-ville.  Much like regret or bitterness, by allowing myself to be offended I am holding on to negative feelings about a situation I can do absolutely nothing about. I am going to have to get over it eventually, so it might as well be now. Notice I said allowing because there is a choice between whether to be offended or not. It’s quite freeing when approached in that way: no one can offend me without my permission.

Second, ‘offended’ is naturally a very self-centered state as it revolves around my own thoughts, feelings and reactions. Often times I become offended when I take things too personally – by assuming it’s all about me when really. It isn’t. There are two plausible scenarios: either whatever has offended me was not intended to do so (in which case I am allowing self-centeredness to override logic) or indeed it was intended to offend (in which case the power resides with me to reject it).

Third, if the offensive person/situation/remark was intentionally directed at me, then maybe the source of my discomfort is the truth. Translation: if I am perpetually offended, chances are it is because I’m not being the very best possible version of me.

My favourite reason for becoming ms. unoffendable though has nothing to do with me. It is about extending grace to others, choosing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Acknowledging that she may have equally valid reasons for defending her ‘side’ as I do mine. Or better still realising that there are no sides. Only people.