Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Day that Changed our Life

We are in the heart of autumn here. I have to say the weather has been beautiful. Many blue skies with puffy white clouds and the low-angled autumnal sun that you get in northern climes catching you in the side of the face. Also there's that crisp clear air that you can enjoy when you're bundled up, even if the tip of your nose gets cold.
Do I sound contented? Happy, even? I have to say, I am. I was told ages ago that it would take me about 6 months to a year to settle in and, though at the time that was not comforting, it was true, and I do feel settled now. And it's a good feeling.

Before I jump back in time to begin the first installment of "The great catch up on the summer", I have to just mention something I saw today, that if I had had any doubt that I was in Scotland would have cleared that right up. I was walking up the pedestrian mall Buchanan Street and there was a little tent booth set up. Looked like free samples of something, so of course I wandered over to see, and, lo and behold, it was a taste test, not of colas or breakfast cereal, but of potatoes.
Different kinds of potatoes.
I love it.
Someone said to me the other day that in Scotland "yer meat and two veg" is a steak with some mashed potatoes and some boiled potatoes.

Now the catch up begins.

So think back, waaaaaaayyyy back to May 18 of this year. That was my due date.
I don't know what you were doing, but I was having contractions. All day.

I woke up at 3:30am on the 18th, with intermittent cramping in my back wrapping around to the front to my abdomen. I was very excited. I lay there for about a half hour and then got up because I couldn't sleep anymore, partly from excitement and partly from discomfort. I sat up at the computer, and played some Word Twist on Facebook while timing my contractions which were coming between 10-15 minutes apart. "Wow," I thought, "this is really happening. The curry we had last night is working! Who knows how long it will be before they are down to 5 minutes apart which is when we should be going to hospital. I should wake Aaron up." So I went back into the bedroom and said to my sleepy husband: "I'm in labour."

Little did either of us know that I would be "in labour" (ie. having contractions of varying lengths and strengths) for the next 42 hours. Yes, all that day I tried to relax and carry on with daily life, which was hard because although the contractions weren't all that strong (compared to what was coming) it was impossible to get comfortable and I was having to focus and breathe my way through them - Aaron was already helping me out with the massage techniques we had learned and practiced - and then there was the anticipation, which we had already spread across the pond by calling the Grandparents-in-waiting sometime that day to let them know things were underway. So, it was with some disappointment and resignation that we went to bed, after watching a movie that was supposed to be a distraction but was so terrible it was just annoying ("Shoot em up" - very disappointing and weird). I didn't sleep much beyond an hour or two before getting up again to hang out in the living room on my hands and knees, the only position I had any relief in. I remember thinking "If only I could sleep like this..."

By ten o'clock the next morning, I called the hospital hoping they would tell me to come in even though the contractions were still only 7-10 minutes apart. They were definitely stronger and I was getting tired having hardly slept for two days. The midwife at the Southern General Hospital encouraged me to stay home longer. And by 1pm, I phoned again to say I was coming, regardless. Our friends John and Vibeka drove us to the hospital with our big bag. Terribly exciting! And even though I had a couple of contractions in the car, I was keeping my cool, breathing and squeezing Aaron's left hand while he massaged my lower back with his right.
When we got to the hospital, they kissed us and wished us well, and we made our way to the labour ward. We didn't wait long before we were taken into the triage area, where one of the midwives checked me out, and told us, with a sympathetic tone that I was only 2.5 cm dilated. A ways to go to get to 10. I couldn't believe it or do much to hide my disappointment as I was getting so tired. She counseled us that if we wanted to avoid any possible "interventions" - some kind of "augmentation" to speed things along - that we were better off to go back home and continue labouring there. I could hardly face another car ride, but, when she said that if we stayed at the hospital and I hadn't progressed into full labour by 8pm Aaron would have to then leave and get called back when I was fully dilated (!!!), we called a cab.

This is the point at which my memory gets really fuzzy. I know that we got back to our flat around 3pm. Someone had suggested that walking around would help - "Go for a walk..." - so we walked down into the ravine by the Kelvin river (my favorite spot) and climbed the bank up the the Botanical Gardens, and walked back along Great Western road. All this took over an hour and I had to stop several times for some pretty hefty contractions. I remember hanging onto wrought-iron fences both along the river and along the road with a ferocious grip, trying to focus and puffing out determined breaths. Then I remember being back at home alternating between being in the shower, on hands and knees and hanging over our bed for an hour and a half or so before my water finally broke. Yay! Now we had to go to the hospital, and surely this was what they call "established labour". Surely to God...

We got back into a cab with a very friendly and reassuring driver, who joked with us asking us to please not give birth in his cab, and who expressed some mild but genuine alarm upon hearing that my contractions were 3 minutes apart. He got us there safe and sound and swiftly, and as we made our way back to the labour ward, the reality of our situation - that this was finally it, the moment I had been imagining for months was finally upon me - hit me. I had to work hard to keep my focus and not get swept away by the huge wave of mixed emotions welling up inside me while we waited for what seemed to me like a long time in the waiting room before getting into triage again.
Now something that is important to remember, I think, if you are in labour or with someone in labour, is that when you are in transit (ie. getting to the hospital) your contractions slow down. I read this. Its as if your body knows you aren't in a safe place yet to deliver. And so, though my contractions had been 3 minutes apart when we left, they were now back at around 7. Back in triage, the midwife attending to me, going on the simple fact that I was at 7 mins, told me not to be disappointed if I wasn't much further dilated, like 4cm or something. I didn't believe that, but by this point I wasn't sure if I really didn't or I just didn't want to. However when she did her exam, I heard her say to Aaron: "Oh. Do you want to see the head?"
Only seconds after that, I had my first "transition" contraction - the ones that are really painful - and I finally understood just what has so many women screaming for drugs. I had, all along, actually been planning and hoping for a water birth. I picked the Southern General Hospital partly because it had a birthing pool. But when I was told the baby had passed meconium and could be in distress, meaning I couldn't use the pool, I couldn't have cared less. They moved me to the labour room, I started pushing and in less than two hours he was out.
At 11:45pm on May 19.

Of course there was a lot more to those two hours than that, but my memory of it is compressed and dreamlike. I do remember thinking right before he was born that I didn't know if I was going to have the energy to keep going, but then I thought that not having the energy was just not an option. That may have been the moment I really became a mother; that moment you freely accept that it is never just going to be about you ever again. As for other details of those two hours, I think they have been burned into Aaron's memory as he had an equally visceral though quite different perspective than I did. You can ask him.
I do have to say that the midwives who helped us deliver were fantastic. Gentle, calm, encouraging, accommodating and respectful of my wishes (I didn't want to be on my back), they offered Aaron the chance to cut the cord, which he did, and when it was all over, they brought me tea and toast. The best meal I ever had.

We had a good hour and a half then, mostly alone, with our little bundle. Our minds were exploding and bodies exhausted (Aaron had a couple of bruised knuckles from when I had unknowingly ground his hand into the bed-frame, and his right arm which had massaged my lower back almost constantly for nine hours must have been quivering), and we finally met the someone we had been aching to meet for months, and possibly years. We just couldn't get enough of looking. It was a quiet, extraordinary time that certainly is the closest I've ever come to what it must feel like to land on the moon.

Upcoming posts: Continuing with the catch up - Gil's first days, Family visits and summer events, but also Our Day at Loch Lomond and other more recent updates