Monday, 8 November 2010

A Birth Story

Since I created my blog last year, I have started following many other bloggers on a wide variety of subjects including journalism, cookery & being a teenager (!?) but by far the best is which follows the musings of twenty-something American Natalie. Her writing is fantastic; funny, touching, crazy. The main reason I happened upon her blog was a post I read about her battle to conceive a child, she brought humour & humanity to a difficult subject.

As my life here took off and my blog lapsed, I stopped reading other blogs for many months until my blog-bug awoke one day & I logged back on to Nat The Rat and what joy, she was pregnant! Her subsequent blogs chronicling the pregnancy have been a pleasure to read and to be able to share in her impending much-longed for motherhood has been a privilege.

The baby arrived of course, to a beautiful, heartfelt post about the birth of a soul and a mother and reading it through misty eyes, I felt inspired to write the story of the birth of my little soul, so here it is in full Technicolour!

37 weeks came and went, I uttered a not-so quiet missive to my unborn child 'OK, time's up, the pot is boiled, you can come out now' but she must have been asleep, or something as she ignored my pleas and carried on cooking for another 3 and a half weeks.

The week before the birth, I went for my 39 week OB/GYN appointment, full of glee for the impending cervical check (enough sarcasm there?) hoping to find I was about to go into full labour right there and then. But no, no change from the previous week; 2-3cms dilated and 70% effaced. The doctor said I could go on well past my due date. I felt pretty deflated, my hopes of a prompt baby arrival were floating away downstream. I was beginning to realise this child was no child of mine already, me being so fastidious on time keeping! After all, I came bang on time for my birth, why wouldn't Miss Priest?

So, I was lying on the bed at the doctors feeling a bit blue, when the lady doctor asked me why I hadn't booked in for my induction yet? Induction I thought, why? I'm not even 40 weeks yet? But deep inside I felt a glimmer of hope, an end-date, finally. She said I was advancing enough to be induced and promptly booked me in for the following Wednesday. Feeling a bit numb, I mumbled my thank yous, and checked out of there for the last time.

I got in the car to drive home and cried all the way. Not small tears, big, bouncing hailstones, sobbing so hard my chest heaved.

Tears of exhilaration mixed with terror, fear and unbelievable happiness, it began to dawn on me that within 7 days I would be a mother and I would meet my baby daughter whether she liked it or not. The reality of the situation felt like being slapped across the face, and it hurt.

Being English, I expected to last until 42 weeks before an induction would be needed and I couldn't understand why I was being rushed into a birth when clearly the baby wasn't quite ready (I learnt why the hard way, more later). But I agreed to it, deluded in the thought that the baby would still come under her own steam within the coming week.

Well, surprise surprise, baby didn't show up, so off I trotted to the hospital Wednesday afternoon with my bag packed full of onesies and Hello! magazines (priorities in order as always). My lovely nurse Barbara put in the IV (surprisingly painless, thank God) and left me to rest for a few hours, before they introduced the first drugs.

In between all this nursing and doctoring, my parents arrived to see me. No big deal you may think, except that they had just flown 4000 miles from the UK and I hadn't seen them since winter. The happy coincidence of them arriving the day of my induction is nothing short of a miracle and I was so incredibly happy to see them; they left for the night, along with my husband to enjoy a lovely meal downtown, leaving me to ripen my cervix for the next day's antics.

Because I was hooked up to 2 monitoring belts and a blood pressure machine that went off every 15 minutes, squeezing my arm until it went numb, I didn't sleep very well. This was further compounded by the wake-up call at 5.30am from another lovely nurse who told me to get showered (why, I will never know, as the cleanliness was short-lived) and started my Pitocin at 6.30am.

When my husband arrived around 8am, all was calm and I was IN CONTROL. I was a strong, Earth mother, batting off these puny contractions with my little finger. We would watch the machine, ooohing and aahing in wonder whenever another one hit. So far, so good I thought. I can actually do this I thought. But in the back of my mind lurked dark thoughts, memories of the ante-natal classes and some vague recurrence that the end was the hardest bit?? Nah, I'll be fine I thought...

Waters were broken with what probably ended up being a pitchfork the membranes were so intact and the Pitocin level was upped. For the next few hours, I didn't look at the contraction monitor with such pride, my oohs and aahhs were more internal, less excited, more painful. I began to say less, became more introverted and when James would ask if I was OK, I didn't answer right away.

But, the contractions weren't in vain and by late morning I was well up to 9cms dilated. Woo hoo I thought, nearly there now, I CAN do this, I AM doing this.

And then, progress, I had stalled at 9cms. The nurse & I had a little con-flab, I was brave and said UP THE PITOCIN! Let's do this. I reckoned that fewer hours with stronger contractions would be better than more hours at a slower rate. Mistake #1.

With this renewed optimism I also refused an epidural for what felt like the hundredth time. So insistent were they to stick a needle in my spine, I'm surprised they even asked me my permission. Even James was saying I should take it. But no, I thought, I CAN do this, I am woman, and beat my chest and roared. Mistake #2

As the increased Pitocin kicked in, I began to see the error of my ways. No washcloth was strong enough to take my bites, there weren't enough ice-chips in the world to quench my thirst.

And then came the desire to push. I had heard a lot about this feeling, the uncontrollable urge to bear down and there was no mistaking it. With each contraction I felt like my insides would just push themselves right out, whether I helped or not. But still I was told, no, you're not quite ready, keep breathing.



After about another hour whining about having to push and please, will someone come and check me so I can get on with it, the doctor came in and must have given the green light, because, out of nowhere (literally, they came out of the walls), about 20 people assembled around the bed, stared preparing baby things (!), pulled out the stirrups and off I went.

It soon became clear to me I am a pretty lousy pusher. I pushed as hard as I could, but nothing seemed to be happening and I was tired, so tired, I couldn't lift my legs, my whole body was overcome with pins & needles and the pain was searing. Here in America, if you don't have an epidural, there really is nothing else to take, no gas & air, nothing. All I had was a poxy oxygen mask, although I gripped on to it as if it was my only source of life.

Apparently, they could see the baby's head, she had a lot of hair. Big wow I thought at the time, good for her, now come out and show ME the hair. Then the doctor asked me if I knew how big the baby was supposed to be...mmm, something fishy was going on. I did a quick bit of maths; small Clare + pushy no worky = big baby. Again, mmm. Luckily, the nice doctor man was also doing the maths and realised this wasn't going to happen, so he whipped out his little suction machine and then the room went black.

I didn't pass out (I think), but I had closed my eyes and entered a tunnel so dark I couldn't see anything except the white heat of pain. A pain which I could never describe in words, except to say it was probably endless and which I later realised had a lot to do with the stage 4 tear I had afterwards. I repeat, stage 4...apparently, there are no higher stages. Discuss.

In the midst of despair I shouted "I can't go on, I just can't do anymore" to which I heard the words, "you don't have to, she's here!'. I opened my eyes to see daylight and the blurry image of my pink baby being whisked over to the table.

I was so overwhelmingly happy it was over I could have climbed a mountain there and then. Sadly, I don't remember feeling euphoric about the baby's arrival, more that the ordeal was over. Herein lies the result of my earlier mistakes. Looking back, I should have taken some pain relief and I should have been advised that my baby would be 9lb 0oz before I went into the whole natural childbirth thing.

But then, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and being patently mad & stubborn, even if I had known she would be big, I would still have gone pain free.

In the hours that ensued, I was enveloped in a fuzzy, warm world of painkillers and love. Love for my husband who had played such a magnificent, unflinching part in the 10 hours of labour; love for my family who were clearly relieved all had gone smoothly and both myself and the baby were healthy; love for the wonderful doctors and nurses who had had to put up with the crazy English lady who gave birth to a 9lb-er with NO DRUGS. (This was a first there, clearly).

But most of all, love for Imogen Louise. The bearer of so much pain, but also, so much joy. Looking at her pink, puffy face with her eyes clamped shut, the little pink & blue striped hospital hat perched on her fuzzy head, my life slotted into place.

I had always believed America was the Land of Opportunity; a place where dreams came true. Well , my dream came true July 22nd 2010 15.55pm when I met my daughter for the first time and she was worth the wait.


  1. heavens to betsy this was perfect! what a beautiful story, and seriously -- 9 pounds? yikes! woman!

    i feel stupidly honored that my little post inspired you to write your own. and by the way, imogen louise is the world's most perfect name. good on you, classy lady.

  2. Agh, Clare what a wonderful story. Clearly very hormonal myself as had to read the last 2 paragraphs through a blur of tears. Pretty scary stuff really and all a bit too close for comfort. I had my first antenatal class today and had to watch a video of a birth. I'm only 30 weeks and already feeling impatient for little one. Anyway just wanted to say thanks for sharing your experience - glad you are maintaining the image of a Brit with a stiff upper lip and a get on with it attitude.
    Victoria x x x


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