The Birth of Stella, for Stella
Written by mum, Barbara for her beautiful daughter Stella to read when she grows up
On the whole, being pregnant with you was pretty easy. I had mild morning sickness, my diet devolved into daily baked potatoes from SpudBar on Commercial Road, and I had to stand near a window when on the tram to work, lest I get stuck sitting next to someone maloderous!
When I found out that I was pregnant, I didn’t tell Chang. Instead I left the ‘pee stick’ in the bathroom for him to find. He didn’t find it. I had to tell him. I can’t remember his reaction, but we’d been hoping for a few months, so it wouldn’t have come as a surprise. Still, I am sure we both wandered around dazed for a few days – it was an enormous reality to confront.
Whilst I was pregnant we went to New York for a month, and even though I was only 16 – 20 weeks pregnant you certainly made an impact on the trip. I had to stop and sit down all the time, we did so much walking, albeit at a very slow pace! All the better to sit and people-watch. And oh my GOD, the flights were the absolute worst. My feet swelled up so much that I got stretch marks, and when I walked you could see the fluid going flub flub flub with every step. It was gross. Very gross.
Two of the most amazing moments during the pregnancy were the two times we saw you on ultrasound. The first time you were just this little bean jumping around the screen. Until then I think I hadn’t fully committed to the idea that you were real. And there you were, inside me. It was very surreal to know that I had a small creature growing inside of me. The second ultrasound was when I was 20 weeks pregnant, and was when we found out you were a girl. It was so great to be able to refer to you as ‘she’ instead of ‘it’. There was an instant during that screening when your face came into view ever so briefly. And there you were!
I chose to give birth through the public health system, but with the support of a private team of midwives from a clinic called Mothers and Midwives Australia (MAMA). This meant all my prenatal visits were at their clinic in Kensington, and instead of paying $75 for 10 minutes of a doctor’s time, I paid much much less for AN HOUR of laughing and chatting with lovely women who answered all my ridiculous questions. My primary midwife was Jan Ireland, a vivacious and bosomy grandmother whose friendly-yet-no-nonsense deameanor was comforting both on a medical and interpersonal level. I mean, she used the word “pussy” in informal chat! How could you not warm to a grandmother who throws the word pussy around in consultations!?
My hips troubled me a lot during the pregnancy, thankfully resolving quickly once you were born. Other than the hips I couldn’t really complain about anything. Because I was heavily pregnant in winter I always wore a big bulky jacket whilst outside, and no-one offered me their seat on public transport until very late in the piece. Guess that’s good right? Means I didn’t look like a bus.
No crazy food cravings, unless you count the urge to suck all the juice out of a lemon.
You moved around a lot, thankfully I never got a kick in the ribs though. Your hands often tickled me just above my hip bones, and you kicked outward above my belly-button. I could often prompt a responsive kick by pressing down on a certain part of my tummy. It was a great party trick for a while, Nicole at work literally jumped and screamed when I told her to touch my belly and you gave her an almighty thump.
Your due date was always a question mark. I had 3 different dates. According to the conventional way of calculating, you were due on the 25th of October. According to the 13 week ultrasound, you were due on the 30th of October. And based on my record keeping (yes….I knew the date you were almost certainly conceived), you were due on the 28th. Dad was away on a 10 week hike, but had scheduled to return home for a week of rest coinciding with when you were due. The pressure was on for you to arrive on schedule!!
Of course you didn’t. I quite enjoyed it when friendly strangers asked me when I was due. When I answered “a week ago” they would back away slowly as if I were unexploded ordinance. It was fun! Dad’s rest-week came and went. I had acupuncture to bring on labour, cleaned the kitchen floor on hands and knees, and drank countless cups of Raspberry Leaf tea. Still a no show.
The policy at the Royal Women’s Hospital was that if you weren’t in labour by 41 weeks you had to go in and discuss your options, and if you STILL weren’t in labour by 42 weeks they would REALLY put the pressure on for an induction. I REALLY didn’t want to be induced, so I was starting to get worried. My “agreed” due date was the 30th October, chosen because it was the latest option and so gave you the most chance to arrive on your own!
On the 4th of October I had an acupuncture session followed by a checkup with Jan. She told me that at the 41 week hospital visit coming up on the 6th they would give me a “stretch and sweep” to try and get you interested in leaving the warm and cozy confines of Chez Barb. (From this point on the story gets a bit medical and icky and ‘birthy’, so be warned). She suggested that since they were going to do one on the 6th, she may as well do one now, in the hope that her small delicate lady-hands would do the job and I could avoid the not-so-petite doctor hands!
I guess it worked. Well, something worked anyway! At 3 in the morning of Tuesday the 5th November (Melbourne Cup Day), I was woken up by an unfamiliar crampy feeling. I was immediately excited that you were coming, and happy to know that your birthday would be the 5th of November. I was too excited to go back to sleep. I wasn’t fearful, just excited.
Since it was a public holiday, Chang was home with me, and we spent the day doing not much. We timed the contractions and they were irregular and only every 8 – 10 minutes apart, so Jan said “you’re a long way off, call me when it gets more serious”. I recall at one point we went for a walk, stopping each time I had a contraction.
By the end of the day the contractions were worse but still not so bad. Midwife Kelly Langford did a home visit at about 5pm to see how things were going. Still irregular, Kelly said I should go to bed, and also that I might enjoy a bath. She said to call Jan “when something changes”. I realised it was unlikely your birthday was going to be the 5th of November. Kelly also said you were posterior, which annoyed me no end, as I had tried so very hard to avoid you being posterior. I had only slept on my left side, had sat forward on all chairs, couches, carseats, and had done daily ‘baby positioning’ stretches designed to prevent posterior positioning. I had done my reading, and I knew that posterior labour was not fun.
I couldn’t sleep, and now it was due to discomfort not excitement. I took Panadol to no avail. Chang slept, at about midnight I decided to have a bath. I sat in that bath for hours, literally, refilling the hot water whenever it got too cold. I just sat there and was miserable – but nothing had changed, so I didn’t call MAMA, just enveloped myself in misery and warm water until at about 2am I got a text message from Jan asking if I was OK. I responded “Feeling very tired and lonely and have been in the bath for 2 hours. Contractions infrequent but painful. Feeling very sorry for myself.” Jan rang, and told me I needed to get Chang out of bed, and that he needed to make me some food. He did, my next message to Jan says that he’s up and I’m eating porridge and have the TENS machine on (pain relief via electrical stimulation).
By about 5am I was again not coping (this is a recurring theme….), and Jan said she’d come over early morning. I think she arrived between 6 and 7, bringing student midwife Jodi Lister with her. Jan took charge! She sent Chang out for coffee and chocolate, and did an examination to find I was 6cm dilated. By that stage most women are in hospital already, but because I had Jan, I was able to labour longer at home and be guided by her as to when to go to hospital. She encouraged me to vocalise during contractions, which did help, and to be honest it was at a point where I don’t think I could’ve stayed silent even if I wanted to. The few hours where I laboured at home with Jan and Jodi and Chang were the most pleasant hours I had during your birth. The tone was light, and it was proven to me that conversation, light-hearted support and distraction are amazing pain-relievers. That said, I do wonder if any of my neighbours were home that day, they must have realised what all the moaning was about.
By about 9am I still hadn’t moved from 6cm, and Jan suggested that if my labour was still stalled in an hour we should go to hospital and have them break my waters, in the hope of getting things moving and also maybe getting you to cooperate and turn around! By about 11am we arrived at the Emergency department, after a godawful car trip bent on hands and knees over a stack of pillows across the back seat of Jan’s car. I was too intimidated by the sheer force of Jan’s will to say aloud what I had been thinking – this is all too hard, I want a caesarean. Had I said it I’m sure she would have bustled me back into line. All through the labour she was an absolute force of calm, happiness and confidence. Lord knows I didn’t have any confidence for myself, and being of the temperament I am, I could not take solace in all the good news vibes she continually sent my way. Which was unfortunate, because they were great vibes!
I made a lotta noise in the Emergency Department, and upon reflection now I understand one of the perks of getting to hospital early, when you haven’t descended into feral survival mode. I needed help walking, and had to stop and howl at the moon every time a contraction came.
Doctors assessed me at 6cm, agreed that breaking the waters was a good idea, and then (with my consent) did it. I was very glad to be told that even though you were a week late, there was no meconium in the waters. This was the only one of Jan’s many good news stories that made it through the woe-is-me fog and into my brain.
From this point on time passed in a blur of contractions, gas and finally morphine. After the waters were broken I dilated like clockwork, and got to full dilation by about 5pm. I don’t know where the hours went, it felt like time had no meaning. Nothing had meaning except the contractions. Caring about proper behaviour vanished, as did any sense of body self-consciousness. The only thing that had meaning was making sure I was inhaling the gas before every contraction started, and crunching ice-chips in between. I didn’t lose my sense of humour though, joking with one of the doctors that I’d swap them 40 contractions for 40 physical examinations, after they praised my stoic response to having an invasive hand prodding and poking my insides for about the tenth time. Apparently some women find the exams worse than the contractions. The contractions win hands down if you ask me (or should that be hands up?).
During these last few hours of serious active labour I did the following: snapped at Chang for not massaging me properly, bit Jan on the shoulder, bossed everyone around, steadfastly refused to listen to Jan when she told me the contractions would be 50% less painful if I was upright instead of lying on my back, panicked like a fish out of water when I was caught between the bed and the toilet without access to the gas machine, demanded that Jan keep her hand on my stomach at all times so she could give me advance warning of each contraction, screamed at one point, showed utter disrespect and disdain for the hospital midwives, and generally did not have much fun.
Then I was ready to push. Hospital policy was 1 hour of not pushing (letting your body do its thing), then a further hour of pushing before they start requesting interventions. Jan took me into the toilet and quietly told me that only permitting 1 hour of active pushing was a load of crap and I needed to secretly start pushing now, without letting them know. I would have been fine with this, except I had no idea HOW to push. Even when it was explained to me in its most basic form! I made some half-hearted attempts on the sly but didn’t really feel anything happening.
Jan did a wonderful thing at this point, and although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I think of it often now. She told me that you were so close that I could feel the top of your head. And I did! I touched your head, touched your hair. I guess you had already been touched by the doctors, but reflecting on it now it’s so beautiful to think that we touched even before our eyes met.
My contractions still weren’t regular, even now, so I was put on a syntocin drip to augment the labour and give me as many opportunities to push as possible. The synthetic hormones are supposed to virtually guarantee regular contractions. Nope. Nor did I ever feel the ‘urge to push’ that is supposed to feature in this stage of childbirth.
The hospital let me push for longer than the allocated hour. I think they were giving me the best chance to get you as far down as possible, knowing that because you were posterior and I was so tired that we were going to need some obstetric assistance. I was so very tired at this point, and according to the fetal monitor you were starting to get a bit distressed also. You were going to be delivered with the assistance of forceps (the long labour meant that the presenting past of your head was too swollen for them to use a ventouse). I was really appreciative of the pending intervention, I was too drained and didn’t feel like I could do it on my own. I’d been awake for over 40 hours straight.
Between the doctor pulling and me pushing, we got you moving. It was hard work!!! I had what seemed like a whole room of people screaming at me to PUSH! PUSH! through each contraction. And now Jan, who had been encouraging me to yell during contractions, told me I needed to focus all my efforts on pushing, not on yelling anymore. I could feel you moving down, the doctor was directing me when to push and when to just hold still. Somewhere around about now I had an episiotomy, but I honestly don’t remember it at all. And then you were out, it seemed like all of a sudden there you were. And you were huge!!! So long and big. I couldn’t believe that something so big had been curled up inside me. It was 8:22pm.
The midwives took you across the room to check that all was good, and to tie your umbilical cord. I had wanted to delay the clamping of your cord to ensure you got the highest volume of blood available to you, but in the last few crazy moments that didn’t happen, or if it did I was unaware. I couldn’t see as I was still on the bed, but Chang watched the midwives check over you and Jodi took photos. Your AGPAR scores were good – 7 at 1 minute and 8 at 5 minutes. Not bad given everything you’d just been through!
It was not long before you were brought back to me for your first feed. You were placed on my stomach, with a warm sheet over you. You peered up at me from your little cave under the white hospital sheet, your eyes were so wide. I sang ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ to you softly, in retrospect you probably couldn’t hear me! Then you drank as I held you.
You were wrapped up in your first ever burrito (hospital grade origami, never to be reproduced) and Chang held you while I was stitched up. My memory gets a bit hazy again here, but I was given some hospital sandwiches to eat, which tasted like the most delicious thing I’d ever eaten in my whole life. So good. Jan and Jodi went home after their marathon support efforts. The hospital midwife helped me to my feet so I could walk to the shower in the adjacent room, and this is when the fainting began! I’d never fainted before, it sure is a strange sensation. All up I fainted three times, and she caught me three times and then decided I needed more food before I could attempt to walk around. More sandwiches. And a catheter so I didn’t have to get up to go the toilet during the night. That was very handy! (the things I was grateful for are amusing).
Eventually we made it to the ward, me in a wheelchair and Chang pushing you in your little wheeled bassinette. And then you and I bunkered down for the night, and Chang went home for a short sleep before coming back in the morning to spend the day with us and start our lives together as a family.
Your journey into the outside world was a long and arduous one, but you showed remarkable strength, patience and resilience. And whilst I had imagined your birth as one without medical interventions, every intervention offered was exactly what I wanted at that moment. And I avoided the two things I most wanted to keep away from – I was not induced even though you were overdue, and I did not have an epidural for pain relief.
I think of your birth often still, what it meant for me and how it all happened. I look at you now and can’t imagine that you were ever small enough to be carried around inside me, and it all seems surreal. Surely you were just handed to me one day, wrapped tight in heavy white blankets, somehow transported from inside to outside by some magical means. I think of what you had to do, what we had to do together in order to meet face to face, and I can’t believe it actually happened.
Barbara pictured with midwife Jan & Stella, who is now a big sister to Thomas.