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.