Introducing my youngest child, a boy. Delivered into this world under the most dramatic of circumstances on 29 September 2013.
Today he is ten days old.
It has taken ten days for me to process all that has happened. Not that the “processing” is complete, but it is at a point where I can find myself at the keyboard documenting the events of this baby boy’s entry into the wider world. Perhaps I should have foreseen that things were not going to be straightforward with this dear little soul. The first twenty weeks of his pregnancy were for the most part spent haemorrhaging – there were strange conversations with midwives about whether or not tampons would be safe to use when I took his brother and sister to swimming lessons. And then there was the pneumonia and pleurisy all at once. The nights prior to thirty seven weeks where the contractions were strong and regular and I did everything I could to stop them and then when full term was here and the time had come – nothing! A refusal by him to come to the party and be born even though I was walking around at 5cm dilated for days and days. The later half of September was spent coercing this boy out – stretch and sweep after stretch and sweep, acupuncture, bouncing around on the fit ball, curries, red dates, pineapple, walking walking walking… and then finally he came.
Saturday 28 September we went to our dear friend Lizzie’s place for the Grandfinal party. It is a tradition. A much looked forward to event by all in the family. Lizzie, who I work with, and I had chatted on many a lunch break about how I’d be bringing this baby to the party. It never occurred to me that my fourth baby would be late. It contradicted the pattern. It was a good day, and there were positives that baby wasn’t born – much easier to look after in your tummy than out! The kiddos were knackered by the end of the day and everyone went to bed tired and worn out. Children and partner were all out in a wink. I wasn’t too far behind them all – just a bit distracted with thoughts of the impending birth I did some reading up again on positions and so forth – I was determined to get my VBAC.
Then at 0230hrs Sunday morning I woke. Well and truly in labour. Contractions were already four minutes apart and they hurt… like good contractions should. Dave phoned another dear friend Linni and she drove over to mind the kids. In the meantime O. woke up with a slight fever and needing cuddles and M. woke up having wet the bed! Timing people!!! We were on our way to the hospital not long after 3am and arrived there sometime around half past. I managed to the journey quite well only swearing at Dave about G-forces on the one occasion. (Note to fathers – sometimes faster is not always best when you’re trying to keep you ‘zen’ though a contraction – particularly around tight corners!) I remember he did a left hand turn through one red light at a completely empty intersection – on this occasion I chose not to tut tut his driving.
Arriving at the hospital I was down on all fours on the footpath every couple of metres “breathing” through a contraction until out of nowhere an angel with a wheel chair showed up. Marvellous. At the rate I was walking it was likely to take me over an hour to get to the labour ward. It was wonderful when we got there, the same midwife that had assisted in O’s delivery was with us again. I could hear her and Dave “catching up” as I moaned and groaned and laboured. I’d asked for an epidural but needed to wait for the anaesthetist on call to come in because the other was unavailable in surgery. Before he arrived, when I was almost fully dilated, my waters broke. Like with Ms. M there was meconium in the waters, and so I knew the clock was on. The anaesthetist arrived, I got my epidural, and then it was time to push. As I was pushing baby’s heart rate plummeted and wasn’t coming back up. From everything going so well, my best labour yet, it all went pear-shaped in a flash. Before I knew what was happening I was being raced on a trolley to theatre, midwives encouraging me to push, but there wasn’t enough time. I was met by what felt like a cast of thousands in theatre. A doctor was exclaiming to me that baby’s heart rate was sixty and dropping, there wasn’t time to top-up the epidural for surgery, Dave arrived, they told him I was having a general and that he had to leave, I called out to him that I was having a c-section, I reached for his hand but someone was leading him away, my arm was grabbed and a needle or tube shoved in, a man’s – did he have red hair under that surgical hat? – face was above me, counting, telling me to keep my eyes open…
… I woke in recovery. On my own. No baby. No partner. Shivering. Shaking. Cold. Monitors beeping, tubes in my arms, unable to move. It was as if I was pinned down by a tonne of cement.
A nurse approached and introduced herself as Pam. My baby I asked? Is he alive? She didn’t know. She would try to find out. I could hear her on the phone somewhere behind me in the recovery ward, she was being transferred from place to place, I could hear her repeat her enquiry and then be put on to someone else. My heart was in my throat, racing at a million beats a minute. I couldn’t breathe. My baby? Where is my baby? What has happened to my baby? Is he alive? The worst thoughts were spinning around in my mind, as I was going under I had heard them talking about heart rates, “baby’s going to die”… I wanted to know what had happened to my baby. Tears were welling in my eyes. I heard her “a-haring”. I dreaded her return.
Baby was in Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit. He was alive. He was on oxygen. She couldn’t tell me any more than that. Would he be ok? She didn’t know.
I had no idea what time it was. I didn’t know what time I was being rushed to theatre either. Time had just passed. It felt like I was in recovery for ages. I couldn’t stop shivering. The stupid epidural was now working and I had to wait for it to wear off… irony. I just wanted to get to the ward. I just wanted to get to my baby. I wanted Dave. I wanted someone to give me a hug. I just needed a hug.
Who knows what time it was when I finally got to the ward? What I do know is that as soon as I got there I wanted to go down to see my baby. The midwife tried to tell me that I wouldn’t be able to go down until I could walk. Bullshit. This was my third baby & son to end up in the special care nursery I’d been taken down in a wheel chair before (although granted it wasn’t after a c-section but I wasn’t going to concede those details just now – I still hadn’t met my baby.) Another midwife was called on. I couldn’t go down until I could lift my bottom up off the bed. Stubborn and determined I did it there and then. Still barely able to move my feet I would have walked down to that NCIU if they hadn’t bought me the chair. I would have found a way. Dave arrived at the ward around this time – although I don’t really remember seeing him. All I can remember is wanting to see my baby. I got my chair and he and the midwife wheeled me down.
… and there he was. My baby boy. Covered in tubes, tubes to breathe, tubes in his arms, attached to monitors beeping and humming away. It was surreal. I couldn’t really hold him. I could only reach out to touch him. It was about twenty past ten in the morning. A rainy and dreary morning. The blue card stuck to the bed below the radiant heater introduced me to my son. It felt, and still does, like I wasn’t there at his birth. He was born at 0621 in the morning, and I met him for the first time four hours later. Apparently they had been in such a rush getting him out that there had been complications with my bladder and kidneys when they were putting me back together. According to Dave, who had done the emergency c-section path with me twice before (although not with a general anaesthetic) I was in surgery for hours and he had feared that I wasn’t going make it. The blue card told me that he was 4443g and 53cm long. A big boy. My biggest baby of all. I wonder how much he would have weighed if he hadn’t passed meconium? Shouldn’t my fourth baby be the smallest? Having been pregnant or breastfeeding continuously since early 2006 shouldn’t my body be void of the nourishment to build such a big boy? How could he be so big when I had lost so much blood and been so ill during the pregnancy? None of it makes any sense. I found out later from a midwife that he had been born ‘flat’, limp and lifeless he did have a heartbeat but he did not breathe on his own for four minutes. On hearing this I burst into tears – half desperately sorry that I had missed this traumatic start to my boy’s life, wishing I had been there to call out to him, to hold his hand, to do something… and half thankful, yet guilty, that I hadn’t been conscious to experience that first hand. It is dramatic enough just knowing it. Feeling it later hurts too. The what ifs, the how will he be later on… all of that is enough to turn me into a blubbering mess. Still. (It is a good thing that you cannot see me as I type this – box of tissues to my left, surround my used and scrunched up tissues, my eyes are no doubt puffy and red … there is sound reason to not video blog!)
I could only stay for twenty minutes or so that initial visit. It was toasty hot in the NCIU and I almost passed out sitting at his side in my chariot wheelchair. I was getting dizzy and spacey. Dave took me back to the ward, I don’t remember if we talked and or what was said. In many ways it felt like I still wasn’t back from where ever it was I’d been. I felt hollow. Empty. Like I was the living dead. Dave left to get back to our other children at home. I sat lifeless and alone in the ward.
There is every possibility that I had been sitting there in a numb, dumb, empty state for hours. Have you noticed that there are no clocks in hospital rooms? Somehow, and I have no idea how, I got myself together enough to reach for the buzzer and call the midwife. I wanted to express the colostrum for my boy. She was hesitant. Perhaps she worried that I wouldn’t be able to express any. I was adamant. I couldn’t sit there on my own doing nothing, not even shedding tears (I was too stunned for that, the tears would come later) any longer. She organised a pump and I set to work. It didn’t take long for me to have twenty mls of the golden goodness. I have always been blessed with my supply.
I buzzed again. I wanted to take the colostrum to my son. Later I was told. I tried to sit patiently. I waited for as long as I could before I pestered the midwives again. All time felt like an eternity though. I was eventually taken downstairs again. I took my precious gift with me. This time I was allowed to hold my baby boy. Finally. I have no real idea of what the time was. I imagine it was around three-thirty in the afternoon. The midwife explained that I could hold my baby, but in response to my questions had indicated that I couldn’t breastfeed him. “He’d been through an ordeal” she explained, “he’d be too exhausted to feed”. I was surprised by her responses but indicated my compliance so that she’d handover my son into my awaiting arms. Oh to hold him. Tears welled up but I kept it together. I just held him tight and close. As he snuggled into my bosom I quietly asked the midwife if she was sure that I couldn’t feed him. Again she was reluctant, but she gave in and said that I could try if I wanted to but not to be disappointed. I had my breast out and into his mouth in a flash. He latched on straight away and got straight to sucking. The midwife was astonished. I was proud. I was relieved too. I sat there for nearly three hours feeding my boy on and off. I made friends with the midwife who explained that the doctors liked the babies to have some formula or expressed milk so that the quantities could be measured before they discharged them from the NICU. She and I hatched a plan that I would be phoned on the ward every time baby needed to be feed. That breast would be all this bub would get. Her colleague phoned me every couple of hours or so throughout that first night and I was taken down to feed my baby. Sometimes I’d only be back on the ward for an hour before I’d be called on to go down again. I was shattered, in pain and exhausted, my own tubes and bells and whistles getting into awful knots as I moved from bed to wheelchair and back… but there is no where I would have rather been than with him.
He came to me on the ward early evening on his second day. I don’t think he would have been discharged to the ward so soon if I hadn’t been such a nuisance going downstairs so regularly to feed him. I felt a little bit more whole once he was with me. Those in between hours on the ward by myself were hell. On that second day, the shock having worn off, there were lots of tears shed. Lots of angst and pain and sorrow felt like I’d never felt it before.
There have been quite a few highs and lows since – the highs of having this adorable boy with me, the lows of such a traumatic birth in the days since. The surgery left me physically battered and bruised, inside and out. My arms are blotchy purple and brown – there just wasn’t enough time to take care. I am still sore. My son feeds and thrives. In so many ways he is a miracle.
Last night I watched a documentary on the SBS website about past royals and their health. Princess Charlotte, daughter of George IV, had a labour that sounded all too familiar to mine – the meconium passing with the waters – and her son died, as did she a few hours later. As ripped off as I feel about the general anaesthetic and my “absence” at my own son’s birth – I must remember that the alternative would have been far far worse.
We’re home now. We’ve been home for a week tonight. It is difficult to comprehend that so much time has passed already. I suppose I have been in a daze. Delicately trying to juggle my own healing with nurturing a newborn babe along side of nurturing and caring for three older souls all making the adjustments to a new family life in their own ways.
I am blessed.