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Babe: 3 years and 3 months
Babeling: 3 weeks

Sleep, cry, feed, sleep, cry, feed, sleep, cry, feed.

That’s how I am. Now for my daughters:

Sleep

The babeling looks at me wildly when I pick her up, trying to stop her head wobbling long enough to get me in focus. Her face clearly says ‘Have we met?’ Then it switches to ‘Milk!’ Then ‘Gimme NOW!’

If she’s hungry she does head lunges. She basically chucks her head as hard as she can in the direction of what Gandad calls the boobical region, and the rest of her body flops after it. The location of this region eludes her sometimes though because any bare flesh could be the right spot, so she humps her head along my shoulder and starts snuffling and nuzzling my cheek/nose/mouth instead. It’s nice and tickly and a bit like being kissed by a puppy.

My mammal-crazy brother-in-law is therefore probably right that a newborn infant can make it to the breast unaided. (But once there, what would it do about the bra straps?)

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As for the babe: this is a pretty good illustration of how she is coping with siblinghood.

(Having said that, I just need to mention that when I asked her ‘what do you like about being a big sister?’ she said simply, ‘Loving her.’)

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Babe: 3 years and 3 months
Babeling: 2 weeks

My sister’s midwife once said that first babies shouldn’t be allowed.

It’s true that the second time is much more relaxed. After the babe, I remember us leaving the hospital constantly looking over our shoulders for some authority figure to shout ‘Oi! Where are you taking that baby?’ The whole world was a different place – changed utterly, and all that.

I used to wake up in the night with a jump, thinking I’d fallen asleep with the babe lying on me and that I’d smothered her under the duvet. (It always turned out that the weight on my chest was filled-up boobs.)

I remember swinging between euphoria and panic. This time round, though, leaving the hospital with a newborn felt almost disappointingly normal, and my overriding emotion has been one of calm.

Midwife visit, the Day After:

Babymother: *blah blah blah* So that’s how I am.

Midwife: Great. I do also need to see the baby.

Babymother: Oh yes. *Pause* Does anyone know where the baby is?

If I’m honest with myself, how much of the joy at seeing the babeling for the first time was to do with knowing the pain was over? A fair percentage I think, possibly 65 or higher…

I may even have thought, ‘It’s over! And I also get a baby to take home!’

The thing is, once it’s over I feel I have every right to never be in pain again. I’m far more indignant about any sort of medical procedure that might hurt than I would be if I hadn’t just given birth. Unfortunately, in my rush to get the babeling out before some horrible forceps did, I’d got a second degree tear.

My midwife was now a Ghanaian woman who we really liked (despite what follows). She was being supervised by a doctor who I remember as blond, English and white but babyfather insists was black and with a similar African accent to the midwife’s. (Babyfather was arguably more alert at the time.) The doctor looked at my tear and they had a quick debate about who was going to sew it up, during which I silently urged the midwife to let the doctor do it. My silent urging was ignored.

‘What about pain relief?’ I squeaked to the doctor before she left.

‘Oh, you’ll get a local anaesthetic,’ she said, ‘but I’d use the gas and air as well.’

The midwife got on with the local anaesthetic while I protested loudly. Having a needle stuck several times in an area that had just had a baby pushed through it and was effectively an open wound seemed downright sadistic.

‘Yes, it’s a very sensitive area,’ said the midwife while continuing to stab me.

I reached for the gas and air. It’s strange stuff, Entinox, which apparently works not by dulling the pain but making you think the pain doesn’t matter any more. The local anaesthetic worked quickly so I could only feel the tugging of the stitches without it hurting, but the gas and air seemed like a good precautionary measure.

‘This is great stuff. You should try some,’ I said to babyfather, who was holding the babeling and not giving me the attention I deserved.

He looked disapproving.

‘Don’t you remember my friend from uni? Her partner got through two canisters while she was giving birth.’

I floated away on a little cloud. Then,

‘Ow,’ I mentioned. ‘I can sort of feel that a bit.’

The midwife continued.

I puffed away but it was getting sorer.

‘Are you nearly finished?’ I wondered loudly.

‘I’m on it,’ said the midwife mysteriously.

‘OW! That REALLY hurts now! I think the injection has worn off!’

‘No, I didn’t inject this part,’ said the midwife calmly, and carried on.

‘Maybe we can just leave that bit to heal on its own!’ I suggested wildly.

No-one takes you seriously when you’re in pain after the birth. Hollywood performances are fine during, but no-one seems to realise that you really, really don’t need any more pain afterwards.

‘Now, babymother, you know it’s the best thing for you,’ said babyfather misguidedly.

‘OW! Excuse me! Are you the one having stitches in your perineum? Are you?’

‘Er, you’re doing really well,’ he said.

I am not exaggerating when I say that the last three or four stitches were done without any anaesthetic at all. The gas and air made no difference whatsoever.

‘I’ll just check,’ said the midwife, ‘that I haven’t sewn up your back passage by mistake.’

What???

Anyway, she hadn’t.

‘Now,’ she said, holding up a golf ball, ‘I’ll put this suppository in – it’s good for pain relief..’

‘I’ll be fine with oral pain relief thanks,’ I said.

So, that was the stitches, and I was lowering myself into chairs grimacing for seven days afterwards. Then breastfeeding was agony because a) well, why don’t you try hanging clothes pegs off your nipples? – any gender can do this and b) in the first few days it triggers contractions that were as strong as some of I’d had in the first stage of labour.

Apart from that it was fine.

Babe: 3 years and 3 months
Babeling: 11 days

We interrupt this long-winded birth bulletin with the following anecdote:

Gushy Lady: OOOh! How old is your baby?
Babymother: 9 days.
Babe: (positioning self between gushy lady and babeling): I’m three!

GL: Aaaah! Girl or boy?
BM: Girl.
Babe: (pressing in closer) I’m a big sister!

GL: Oooh! Aaaah! Isn’t she adorable?
BM: Thanks, she is.
Babe: (tugging lady’s sleeve) I’ve got an eye infection!

So there I was gripping the toilet seat with all hell breaking loose around me. This was another shock after the low key atmosphere of the birth centre where I’d had the babe. There, my midwife calmly examined me when I said I wanted to push, announced that the baby was coming soon, and suggested I sit on the birth stool to help things along. The hospital was a different story. Although the toilet of the labour ward seemed to me like a perfectly reasonable place to give birth, for some reason a large number of people were very keen to get me to the delivery suite – which is two floors below.

The large Caribbean midwife came steaming in with a wheelchair and there was much cajoling to get me into it. I kicked off what remained of the lower half of my clothing – wouldn’t be needing those – and climbed in between contractions while they tried to ineptly wrap a sheet around me to preserve my modesty. I can faithfully report that had they wheeled me down the corridor stark naked I would not have cared a jot. Someone prised my fingers off the controls of the TENS machine and turned it up from ‘Aerial Bombardment by 1,000 African Killer Bees’ to ‘Accident in an Electricity Substation’ and I still couldn’t feel it.

My eyes were tightly shut from then on while I concentrated on my so-called breathing. I saw nothing of the journey from the labour ward to the delivery suite, but there seemed to be a lot of wind on my face, a fair number of swing doors, and the large midwife puffing away laughing her head off and shouting, ‘I’m too old for this, Babymother!’ Actually, there’s something reassuring about hearing someone splitting their sides when you are in complete agony. Maybe I was going to survive.

They piled me onto a bed in the labour suite. This was a room we’d seen on our tour of the hospital, and it’s about as medical as you can get (the birth centre room was basically a softly-lit bedroom with an en-suite bathroom). It was absolutely no different to that room in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life where all the men in white suits come to ignore a woman giving birth in order to admire a machine that goes ‘beep’. As I had my eyes tightly shut it hardly mattered what the room looked like, but I did have a problem with the bed.

I was being put on it in a semi-reclined position with all my weight on my backside, which I read somewhere is a position invented for the benefit of Victorian obstetricians, ending centuries of women giving birth sensibly by squatting, kneeling or on all fours. All I could see projected onto my closed lids was the plastic model of a pelvis they’d shown us in the Active Birth class. When you lie on your back, the coccyx is pointing inwards, closing the structure that the baby has to pass through by up to 30 percent. In this position, according to active birth gurus, you are working against both gravity and your own body.

I tried to remedy this by flipping over onto all fours between contractions. Babyfather said I looked like on of those toy frogs with a suction pad which suddenly spring into the air when the suction is gone.

All the midwives went ‘Ooooh!’

Then, ‘Sorry, Babymother, you can’t stay like that. We can’t monitor the baby.’

So, after more cajoling I was on my back again. That left me with one option (I did ask them to let me lie on my side but no-one seemed to know what I was talking about) – I gripped the sides of the bed and levered my backside off it for the rest of the proceedings. It took me a while to work out why my arms were so stiff and sore the next day.

It was quite hard to concentrate on this at the same time as giving my Oscar-worthy performance of a woman giving birth. After all, I don’t get to be the centre of attention very often. Pushing is the best for making great noises. My range went from ‘NNNGGGNG’ to basically an open-mouthed ROAR. I don’t know if it helped but I do know it was loud.

After a particularly loud and effortful push where I held my breath, there was a chorus about the baby being in distress. This was a classic scenario we were warned about in our class – if you hold your breath and push, the baby is deprived of oxygen and its heart rate drops, which in turn gets picked up on the monitor and everyone panics. You do not want medical people around you to panic while you are giving birth, because they are likely to do unpleasant things with forceps and scalpels*. So I did my best to stop pushing.

‘This often happens,’ I heard a midwife saying. ‘We get someone downstairs and then the contractions drop off. What we’ll have to do is…break her waters!’

There was much rejoicing.

(Midwife Muse tells me that it’s actually an unpleasant job which can leave you with squelchy shoes for the rest of the day, but that wasn’t dimming their enthusiasm.)

‘Watch out – here comes the Thames!’ somebody trumpeted. I didn’t really feel anything. Other than the ongoing pain, of course.

‘Uh oh. Baby’s done a poo on you,’ said someone else. In other words, meconium, which I seem to remember is quite common in overdue babies. It’s a concern because it can block the baby’s airways, although usually it doesn’t do any harm. The babe had meconium with no adverse affects so it didn’t seem like a big deal. Things may have looked different from the midwives’ point of view though – I apparently wasn’t progressing and the babeling was potentially in danger.

‘This is an emergency now,’ I heard a midwife say to babyfather and I also distinctly heard the word ‘theatre’ used.

Suddenly it seemed like a very, very good idea to end the excruciating pain, and the threat of surgical implements, by getting it all over and done with as soon as possible. So I pushed, like no-one in Hollywood has ever pushed before. I think they were impressed, and if not impressed, then at least slightly deafened.

I could feel the baby’s head crowning – babyfather said it looked like a slice of watermelon. I finally opened my eyes to try to see what was going on but could see nothing but my own belly. A better description of what I could feel was something like a red hot bowling ball trying to leave my body through an aperture roughly half its size. Quite obviously, if I carried on pushing, something was going to rip, but if I didn’t, something worse might happen, like the pain continuing. So I carried on pushing.

Babyfather was very helpfully reminding me to breathe. When he interrupted his own instructions to laugh, I knew it was nearly all over, and with a long wet slithery whoosh the pain vanished.

Funny how the memory of the pain recedes so quickly – I can just about remember that I remember that I thought, ‘I am never, ever, ever, ever going to do this again,’ although I can’t quite remember why. But seeing the babeling for the first time is a very clear memory, and I still don’t know whether to laugh or cry about it.

‘Thank you Jesus!’ I shouted – after all, let’s give the credit where it’s due – and held out my hands for this tiny baby who was wailing her heart out. It took them what seemed like three hours to clamp the cord and wipe off some of the gunge before they gave her to me.

I can’t describe this moment to you. It’s pure emotion. Ten months ago she did not exist. Now I’m holding her and she’s whole, perfect, and mine (for a while). She even has my nose. Where, seriously, but where, did she come from? All the biology in the world can’t explain her. She is a miracle.

Like I said, I can’t describe it.

* Sorry if I sound scathing. If there really was an emergency I would have been grateful for any medical intervention.

The story’s not over yet – come back at some unspecified time in the future to read about the indignities of post-natal care in what I could call ‘It’s a Stitch-Up.’ You probably get the picture. In the meantime, Babyfather has shamelessly posted some of the babeling’s first minutes on YouTube.

As promised. It’s long, so I won’t be offended if you don’t read it. But I know there are other people like me who can’t read enough of these things.

We turned up at the hospital at 8am for my ‘induction of labour’ – the idea being that at fourteen days past the due date, it is no longer a good idea for the baby to stay inside, and by hook or by crook, they will get it out. (Or should that read by caesarean or forceps?) And you really aren’t allowed to go home until they’ve succeeded.

‘Can I walk around the hospital grounds to get things going?’ I asked the midwife who was looking after me.

‘No, that’s too risky,’ she said.

‘How about just up and down the stairs outside the ward?’

She shook her head.

‘What about food? We’ve only bought one set of sandwiches…’

‘Oh, we’ll feed you,’ she said. ‘You’re ours now.’

Yikes.

I was hooked up to a monitor for an hour and discovered that I was actually already in labour, with mild contractions at ten minute intervals. The midwife went off to ask a doctor whether or not they should take the first step of induction, which is giving a pessary of a hormone that promotes labour.

‘Let’s take her down to theatre and break her waters,’ said the doctor gleefully.

‘Is that really necessary?’ I asked. I think my body knew what it was doing and could get on with it all by itself.

‘Oh,’ said the doctor.

‘I think Babymother was hoping for a more natural birth,’ said the midwife apologetically.

‘Oh. Well, of course, we won’t do anything without telling you first. I mean asking you,’ said the doctor.

‘What about the pessary?’ said the midwife.

‘Yes, why not? No point hanging about,’ he said.

This was the moment where I should have politely declined to have anything inserted at all. All I knew about the pessary was that it contained prostaglandin, a hormone which also happens to be present in semen. It sounded like a gentle enough encouragement into labour, a bit like a passionate episode with babyfather only without any pleasure and good deal more rubber glove.

I was wrong.

After the midwife had finished doing me grievous bodily harm with the rubber glove, she said, ‘This could take six hours or three days. You never know.’

‘I’ll have six hours please,’ I said. Ha ha. How naïve I seem now looking back at it all! How laid back and unsuspecting! Anyway, on with the story.

I was told to ‘mobilise’, so I did laps of the day room table while babyfather read the paper. Things got steadily more uncomfortable, but not with contractions.

‘My perineum REALLY hurts,’ I said to the midwives who were chatting at the reception desk, while I hopped from one leg to another. (If you don’t know where your perineum is, you probably haven’t given birth, and you therefore don’t really need to know so I’m not going to tell you.)

‘Oh, that’s the pessary,’ said the midwife serenely. ‘The joys of induction, eh?’

The only way to relieve the pain was by lying down. I was not impressed.

‘It’s a plot,’ I said to babyfather. ‘They have ways of making you give birth on your back.’

I had the babe at a birth centre where I was on my feet most of the time I was in labour and she was delivered while I was standing up. I had hoped to be just as active despite being on a conventional labour ward, but this was not boding well…

Contractions gathered pace. Time for the TENS machine. This is a wonderful device which ‘silences the pain of labour’ by sending an electric current through pads stuck on either side of your spine. If you try it when you’re not in pain, mind you, it just feels like electrocution. Babyfather stuck the pads on and connected them to the machine.

‘OW!!!’ I shouted.

‘Oops,’ he said. He’d forgotten it was turned on and somewhere near the highest setting. Fortunately we both found this funny, not just babyfather.

Otherwise, he was the perfect birth partner. We stayed in our curtained-off cubicle together, and when a contraction started he would time it, telling me when 15…30…45 seconds were up so I knew when the pain would be subsiding. Then he made a note on his newspaper of the intervals between them. I practised my breathing – deep breath in, slow gentle breath out. Easy peasey. Nothing to it. In between we chatted and I pointed out the numbers he’d missed on his Sudoko.We even considered watching a film. Again – ha ha. The woman in the cubicle opposite started wailing and was removed. (She gave birth 30 minutes later.)

Things must have sped up because babyfather started writing timings on his Sudoku by mistake, and I found that the next setting up on the TENS machine felt less like a bee sting and more like a soothing back massage by a large muscular man. Every fifteen minutes the contractions moved up a gear. We called the midwife (a shift had changed and this was a large cheerful Caribbean lady) who declared the contractions strong but not strong enough, and pointed out that I could still talk to her between them. Another fifteen minutes and I was not capable of talking to anyone, other than to gasp, ‘Another one coming,’ in despair and turning my TENS machine to ‘Attack by whole hive of friendly hornets.’

She examined me and got very excited about the fact that not only was my cervix dilating fast and was ‘ripe’, but my membranes were bulging and that she’d nearly broken them by mistake.

‘Let’s get her down to the theatre and break her waters!’ she said.

This must be the most fun thing a midwife gets to do, judging by how keen everyone was to do it.

I was desperate for a wee, so I dashed to the toilet between contractions and sat there doing my version of the breathing. I’d decided that it was easier to focus on breathing out if I vocalised it, so I was saying ‘Vooooooooooooo’ like a tormented ghost. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t wee – something was in the way. Babyfather hovered at the door discreetly – these were ladies’ loos after all – until I was overcome by a feeling I knew from three years ago (OK, three years ago and also the last time I did a number two) and shouted ‘I want to PUSH!’

Babyfather knew from the last birth that I meant it and sprinted out into the corridor.

‘She wants to PUSH!’ he shouted.

Then he came back to the toilet door. ‘That got them running around,’ he said smugly.

And on that cliff hanger, I will end this episode, leaving myself perched on the edge of the toilet seat. Will I have the baby in the loo? Come back and find out, same time next week. Or whenever I find time to write some more. If I get round to it at all that is.