Tom and I were so excited about our first baby. She was due on 7 December, the anniversary of Pearl Harbour – “a date that will live in infamy”. So we were ready then – and every day after that….. Now that I am a midwife, I suggest to people that they lie about their due dates, as we’d been idiots and broadcast the EDD far and wide – and were than annoyed when people started ringing to ask why we hadn’t had that baby yet….
I’d left work at 38 weeks, so nearly 4 weeks later, I was getting a bit bored. I’d nested like mad, done loads of painting, and on a Friday morning, (after a sweep the day before) I woke up early and felt compelled to get out my blowtorch and start stripping the front door. Insane behaviour – it was 18th December, freezing and dark. And I was beginning to feel tightenings….. Anyway, quite enjoying myself when I got a call from work – would I come and help with a commentary record for a documentary we were just finishing – if I had nothing better to do. Didn’t really think the half-stripped door was a good enough excuse so I went in to Soho and got involved with the recording. All day I could feel more tightenings, and was sort of racing to get to the end of the programme, and then gloriously announced that I was in labour! Woo hoo. Came home in a rush in a taxi – beloved Tom extremely alarmed but I was calm.
Must say at this point that we were the sort of first-time parents that I now find quite annoying. We hadn’t done any antenatal classes – actually ran away from the NCT in terror after one session (and we’d PAID for the whole course!) – knew no one with a baby, nothing about what looking after babies does to you or indeed anything really about how they are born – but we did have a sort of blithe faith that everything would be OK.
So we pitched up at St Thomas’ about 8pm Friday night and I was in established labour. Good o, I thought, I can have my epidural now. At the time I was spending a lot of time with doctors, and my dad’s a doctor, so I thought that state-of-the-art pain relief was the thing to have. I hadn’t known that I’d need a cannula, and a catheter, and I’d be tied to a bed – and I did find that a bit off-putting, but was too polite to say no…. so before long I was tied up, but having Nancy Mitford read to me…. A very sweet midwife was with us all night (I’d never met her before) and she said it would now be like a long flight – we didn’t really know if there would be delays or turbulence along the way, but we’d be at our destination the following day. I was really excited but I think I slept. Tom went for a midnight walk along the South Bank, running into the dregs of people’s Christmas parties and wondering how much his life was going to change…
Morning was coming and I think the epidural wore off a lot (by design, I guess?) and I felt a real change – and then was encouraged to push my baby out. It really hurt. I thought my eyes would pop out. I was terribly shocked by that and thought I must surely die of this – but I didn’t, and actually I think the pushing was only 45 minutes (seemed like eternity to me though) and she was here! I felt magnificent.
The sun came up over the Houses of Parliament. It was 0730 on December 19th 1998. We sat about all day and went home about 6 that evening. We were so pleased with ourselves!
Now I am a midwife, and a caseloading midwife, looking after a group of women and their families before, during and after their babies’ births – I wonder about my experiences around Katy’s birth.
We didn’t know our midwife – and it was never suggested to me that I might try to do labour without major pain relief – or even have a home birth. Coming from my background and experience, I think I would have resisted that, but I wish I had been encouraged to consider it.
I think cheerful – if ill-informed – belief that everything was going to be OK was actually quite protective – I hadn’t heard loads of horror stories – I thought my body was pretty good at the things it was supposed to do – and I also thought that even if I had a grim day, I would have the baby for ever and that was what mattered. So I was very blinkered, but I think now that that confidence was fine. I felt the same way about breastfeeding – just assumed that I would be able to feed the baby we had made. I seem to remember thinking that it didn’t matter whether I fed her in the first three days, but I must have done…. (and she is now nearly 6 feet tall….)
When I talk to women about early labour, I suggest that they do a bit of gentle cooking, or walking around, but that they try not to get tired out and too excited. So my blowtorching at dawn followed by a long day at work was not ideal, but I have to say it did keep my mind off the contractions, and by the evening, I really was in labour. I think our lack of preparation meant that Tom and I hadn’t talked about how we might work together in the labour, and I think he felt powerless and afraid (he was in hospital as a child and was very fearful…). I remember being quite worried about him – and I think now that that was rather inhibiting for me. We’d have been better with a bit more preparation, or indeed another supporter with us to look after Tom….
I see in the pictures that Katy was wrapped immediately and given to me. I didn’t know about the benefits of skin-to-skin contact – although in fact my dad had done research in the early 70s about its importance, but funnily enough we’d never talked about it. So now that I help women to be really close to their babies, I’m a bit sad that I didn’t have that with Katy on that first day. Ho hum. We made up for it when we got home, by instinct though, rather than through any knowledge.
So overall, I wish I’d known my midwife – I think it would have made a great difference to have someone along with us who could have influenced us to be a bit more in tune with birth and what it could mean. On the other hand, I think the epidural was fine, and having a bit of sleep before the pushing probably made more difference than anything else to our eventual success. In those days, you didn’t stay overnight after an epidural and I was so glad to be able to go straight home. I remember the three of us in our enormous bed that first night, none of us asleep, full of excitement and joy that our Katy was here.
I finished stripping the front door about a year later.
Sadie is a Case Loading midwife and works in South East London.