For all the books and classes and preparation, I anticipated there’d be a lot to giving birth. I thought there’d be choices, decisions to be made, forks in the road left or right… I envisioned myself as a cognizant, informed participant. All those long months, while I waited in excited anticipation of that wonderful day, I saw myself as the driver.
But the truth is that instinct kicked in and booted me right out of the process. Once the contractions began in earnest, my body started calling the shots; it making all the choices. I tried to argue, I tried to assert dominance, but to no avail — this was coming from a deeper place than my consciousness could reach. This was primordial. My job, as it turned out, was simply to go along with whatever my body dictated.
And when I did absolutely have to take charge and command my body, it took such a force of will to make it submit that I had the sensation that I was alien within my own skin. The baby was in some distress, the midwife was monitoring the heartbeat, but every time my body did what came naturally and turned me onto my hands and knees, that beep-beep-beep disappeared abruptly. The sound just stopped, every time — that reassuring sound, that necessary sound. I would have to stay on my back, the midwife explained and then smiled sympathetically. She knew that a back-birth hurts so much more; she knew it would go against what my instincts wanted. And it did. As the pain rose up from my abdomen and flowed — twisting, tearing — out to every part of my body, I watched my body tried — arms reaching over, legs turning of their own accord — to move into the position that it knew it should be in.
But then that beep-beep-beep sound stopped, I went straight back to an afternoon a year earlier, and a ten-week scan, a baby glowing on a screen but with no sound of a heartbeat. That silent scan and my dead baby, and the way I didn’t understand what was wrong until I looked over and saw M crying — it was all seared into my memory so deeply that when my body began to take over and the sound of the baby’s heartbeat would suddenly stop, fear rose up to do what my mind couldn’t. My body obeyed, the limbs working together to move me back onto my back — back to the pain they were trying to escape, back to the safety of that sound. Time and again, I watched — almost as a detached observer — as my body and my mind repeated this dance, battling it out between themselves and labour grew more painful all the while.
But the midwife was wonderful through all of this — she saw my distress and talked me through it, giving me a play-by-play that kept me focused and lucid, and gently reminding me to “push.. push… that’s it, keep pushing…” as each contraction built up and then crashed over me, waves of pain pounding a rocky shore.
I, on the other hand, was not nearly so wonderful — I was exhausted, I was in pain, I was angry. As she coached me through each contraction, my irritation grew. Why was she repeating the same bloody thing over and over? Why was she harping on at me like that?!? I was pushing! Wasn’t that blindingly obvious? My whole body was focused on pushing, my mind was focused on pushing… Pushing was the only thing they’d agreed on all night! Pushing was the whole reason I was there! What the hell else did she think I was going to do?!?
“Ok, here comes another one,” she said, gently preparing me so I could ride the wave instead of getting submerged under it. “Take a deep breath and focus… and now push… push… that’s it… keep pushing… keeeeep pushing…”
I felt the irritation rise. How could I focus on pushing with her going on at me like that? She encouraged me again and I cracked. “I AM!!! I AM PUSHING!!!” I bellowed at her. I heard my husband draw his breath in sharply.
The midwife, fortunately, was not phased and came up to stand by my shoulder as the contraction died away. “Are you ok?” she asked with concern. “You holding on?” I felt sweat drip down between my shoulder blades.
“Yeah,” I sputtered, ashamed of my outburst. This is not the pregnant lady I’d imagined myself to me. Where was my poise? My calm? I would get this under control, get on and do the job with dignity.
But when the next contraction hit, and the midwife began her gentle encouragement, I exploded again. “I AM!!!!” I yelled, loud enough to be heard three doors down. “I… AM… PUSHING!!!“ And so I continued, vowing between every contraction to regain my cool and then spewing that venomous anger at the blindingly obvious when the pain returned.
Several hours (and one episiotomy and large yellow suction cup) later, our beautiful daughter was born — healthy, bluey-green, and hungry. Holding her in my arms, everything else faded away. I apologised to the midwife — embarressed now — but she smiled at me, laughed a bit, and told me she liked her job most when the patients kept her entertained. I was relieved — and vowed to be poised in labour next time…
“Mu-u-uuum!” E1 was hopping toward me on one foot, holding one trainer in her hand and the other half smooshed onto the foot held aloft. “Mum, I can’t get my shoe o-o-on. HELP ME!” she commanded. The laces were still tied tightly — her father had removed her shoes last time, obviously — so I removed the shoe from the foot in the air and began to pick apart the knot.
“You have to find a loop… like this… and pull,” I explained. “And then you loosen the laces all down the shoe, like this…” Once there was some give, I yanked the tongue forward violently and pulled the heel back, so there was now yawning hole for her foot to fit in.
“There, put your foot in now.” She lifted the foot, lost her balance, leaned heavily against me and grabbed hard onto my hair. Even with the extra space, she struggled to get her foot in — time for new shoes soon. “Go on!” I said, irritated under her weight and with hair being pulled from my scalp. “Go on! Push! Push!“
She wasn’t enjoying this either. “I am!” she replied, irritation filling her voice. And then, in echo of her mum four years before: ” I AM PUSHING!”
Tucked away under the weight of her body, I had to smile to myself. She’s her mama’s girl! And then I began to chuckle, shaking her as she stood above me and making it impossible for her to get that foot into the shoe.