Birthing a baby has got to be one of the most intense, life changing events in the universe. Perhaps that is why birth stories seem to fall in one of two extreme categories: positive or negative – there is no in between. I would like to think of mine as a positive narrative. But there’s pain in this story. And complications. If you ask me, a positive birth story isn’t necessarily devoid of either.
“There is such a special sweetness in being able to participate in creation.” – Pamela S. Nadav
When I first started toying with the idea of this blog, I knew one thing for sure. I wanted to be a real and honest mum. No sugarcoating, hiding or glorifying anything that equates to distorting the truth. I have never understood the need to create an illusory world of motherhood that sets unrealistic standards and expectations for others. Motherhood is full of equally wonderful and testing moments that are raw, real and rewarding. I think that kind of beauty trumps perfection or idealism any given day.
Now let’s begin my story…the story of how I met the love of my life.
“A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.” – Gandalf in JRR Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings
Induction Day, Friday the 8th of June, 2018. I was 41 weeks 5 days pregnant and looking it from every angle. I got up from bed that morning with a military like purpose: I showered, half-heartedly dried my hair (something told me any effort behind my appearance would be futile given the journey ahead), then skipped about sipping tea, packing last minute items and nibbling on cheesy toast. I had conjured many scenarios of D Day during the past nine months, none of which had a prologue quite as predictable as this. I had consciously tried to steer away from rigid expectations of how I wanted my birth to be and that made it easy to just go with the flow. But if I didn’t know better, I could have easily been setting out for a work trip to London, not gearing up to make a baby.
“Rigid plans work best if you’re building a skyscraper; with something as mysteriously human as giving birth, it’s best, both literally and figuratively, to keep your knees bent.” – Mark Sloan
Once satisfied that the hospital bag was 100% ready i.e. all mentally listed items had also made it in the bag, it was time to bid farewell to my mother. I tried reassuring her through a prolonged hug. Induction was not a childbirth option she was familiar with and every day past my due date had steadily increased her worry. As we pulled away from a wordless embrace, I could clearly see the concern etched in her face. Being the trooper that she was, I knew she would take care of the flat, and herself, like a champ in our absence.
Nizar picked up some snacks and water bottles from Tesco and off we went. I felt relaxed and tried to relax an agitated Nizar as we sat in the morning rush hour traffic. Once we arrived at Princess Anne Hospital, we were shown to a waiting room full of ready-to-pop women, brought together by the shenanigans of their stubborn cervices.
The labour ward that day was working over capacity. The lady sat next to me had to be transferred to a hospital in Portsmouth. I tried to stop alarming thoughts getting to me. I was told I would not leave the hospital without my baby and I was hell bent on making that happen. Any other scenario would be met with a very pregnant, very angry lady!
Around 10:15 am we were taken into the induction room where I was hooked to a CTG monitor. Through the screen to my left, I could hear the woman next to me gasping in pain as the pessary was administered on her. This was followed by tears and a desperate plea for gas and air. Witnessing this made me so nervous, I had to go to the loo five times in five minutes. Around 11:30 am the midwife came around for me. I braced myself for the pain as Nizar held my hand and talked me through the all-important breathing routine.
Having gone through a membrane sweep a day earlier, I braced myself for the inevitable pain. Though discomforting, the experience turned out to be a lot better than I had expected. The midwife informed me that I was 2cm dilated so there was no need for a pessary. I could not believe my ears! The cruel blow from the failed membrane sweep that had casually invalidated my overly active pregnancy – the long walks, weekend yoga, birthing ball exercises, mucus plugs and false contractions – was still fresh on my mind. The thick morning show and my vigorous walking the day before had finally meant/done SOMETHING. It automatically boosted my battered spirits.
I realized, for all its hardships, my overdue pregnancy had favoured me in two ways. 1) The membrane sweep, although a failed one, had mentally set me up for the induction process. 2) The labour ward visit on my due date had warmed me up to the hospital environment. Little pieces that make up the labour puzzle can go a long way in giving you a semblance of control.
An open cervix meant I was ready to have my waters broken. But no one was available to carry out the procedure for at least a couple of hours. Nizar and I decided to go for a walk. I grabbed a sub, some cookies and a lemon cake. I suddenly felt so hungry! I convinced Nizar to leave so that he could go catch up on chores. Meanwhile the hospital staff brought around my second lunch: roast beef, veggies and vanilla ice-cream.
As I sat there in my little bed space, spread out in an awkward preggers angle while going through two tubs of dessert without an iota of guilt, I felt a strange sort of calm-before-the-storm feeling. The surrounding sound of tiny heart beeps filled me with peace and wonderment. The ladies on either side were going through multiple pessaries to ‘ripen’ their cervix, with no luck. I was suddenly not so bothered about what had started to feel like a really dragged out day. Random thoughts kept going through my head. It dawned upon me that baby was now likely to be a Ramadan baby and a Saturday baby, just like his Mommy.
I tried sleeping through the wait but only managed to flit in and out of a restless nap. Nizar returned around 5pm. He had arranged for helium balloons at home and got himself a haircut in preparation for the grand finale. I was proud of him as he sat staunchly by my side, fasting with patience on a hot summer day. The supporting act of a partner, often overlooked, is just as important in piecing the events and emotions that make up a birth story. After all, it’s a story that belongs to both parents.
At 6 pm we were taken to our own room. I slipped into a hospital gown and told myself: this is it, this is where I will meet my baby boy. A friendly midwife came to see us and after some chitchat, went about the messy business of breaking my waters. Oh dear. I had expected the process to be somewhat uncomfortable but the pain was above and beyond mere discomfort. I think I genuinely freaked the midwife out as she felt obliged to call a more experienced colleague to get the job done. I was asked to help myself to gas and air and help myself I did.
“Giving birth and being born brings us into the essence of creation, where the human spirit is courageous and bold and the body, a miracle of wisdom.” – Harriette Hartigan
Honestly, if it was not for the gas and air, I think I would have burst like a pricked balloon – such was the force of the invasive pain. I bit on the mouthpiece as though my life depended on it, my face puffing up with the effort. My brain and body imploded with pure agony. Tears streamed down my frenzied eyes as they frantically met Nizar’s. I tried drawing strength from his touch and presence.
“We have a secret in our culture, and it’s not that birth is painful. It’s that women are strong.” – Laura Stavoe Harm
Such was the intensity of my pain that when my waters finally gave way, I did not even realize it. The excessive entonox intake had transformed me into an emotional, lightheaded mess. In my sloppy, sobbing state, I remember thanking the midwife over and over again. Even in that state I thought: I must be a sight.
The effect of gas and air wears off fairly quickly. I was clear headed when I opted to start the hormone drip without any sort of pain relief. I simply did not want to wait any longer. The midwife who had taken over the night shift, and who would eventually see me through to the end, had a motherly vibe about her that I immediately took to. She made me feel calm and confident in believing that I had the best kind of help at hand. At 9 pm it was time to turn on the drip.
Nizar was getting ready to break his fast when the first contraction hit me. Suffice to say, I did not see it coming. I rolled over from the invasive force, my faliling limbs knocking things over. My brain clouded over in fear. I suddenly panicked into thinking I could not do this. I tried hiding the pain somewhere, anywhere in my body but there was no escape. ‘This is nothing Samira, you will need to brace yourself for far worse.’ the midwife said, alarmed by my reaction. I knew I needed to do this better. I also remember thinking: I am not putting myself through this ever again. But for now, Aryan had to come out. This had to be done.
“There is power that comes to women when they give birth. They don’t ask for it, it simply invades them. Accumulates like clouds on the horizon and passes through, carrying the child with it.” – Sheryl Feldman
Gathering up my wits, I focused on all that I had learnt about dealing with contractions. I tried thinking of them as waves, something I had picked up from dabbling in hypnobirthing. I imagined Aryan as a playful little boy along a sandy beach. There was no clear face but lots of frolicking and happy giggles. I stared hard at the picture hanging on the wall in front of me, depicting mountains and lakes (I am pretty sure this was strategic interior designing), and imagined family holidays in the snowy peaks. At one point I was seeing King Kong staring back at me. The absurdness of it distracted me for a second. But the pain came right back. The pain. Oh the pain. It’s vice like grip was crushing me.
“Birth is an opportunity to transcend. To rise above what we are accustomed to, reach deeper inside ourselves than we are familiar with, and to see not only what we are truly made of, but the strength we can access in and through birth.” – Marcie Macari
My midwife was an angel, she stayed by my side and talked me through the pain, encouraged me, monitored my pressure every hour and kept an eagle eye on baby’s heartbeat.
“Only with trust, faith, and support can the woman allow the birth experience to enlighten and empower her.” – Claudia Lowe
Finally at 10:30 pm the anesthetist came to administer epidural on me. I was warned that the process would take some time and it would be around 11:15ish before I would feel any sort of relief. I have never looked at a clock more times than I did during these 45 minutes, waiting earnestly for mercy every second. My ability to discern the hands of the clock was the only sign that my human mind was still functional, everything else frozen and irrelevant.
“Birth is the epicenter of women’s power.” – Ani DiFranco
Trying to stay still for the epidural required effort I no longer possessed. Exhaustion was seeping into the contours of my face. Nizar kept telling me to breathe. The midwives kept telling me to relax my shoulders. But they felt alien to me. I was like a lone bear locked up in a zoo. I was without pain relief at that stage as gas and air was not cutting it anymore. In my thirsty state, I hated the high from it. I could clearly feel every new contraction as it ripped through the very fabric of my soul and body. And yet a faraway voice kept repeating in my head: don’t fuck this up.
“Birth is the doorway for integration of body and mind.” – Gayle Peterson
I tried to keep on top of the tremors, slipping, praying, hurting. Trying. Till I felt the grip loosen as the epidural kicked in. I slowly came back to my human senses. I could feel the build up of the contractions but the epidural had taken the edge off the pain. I kept the dose as low as possible so that my legs were still just about movable. I still had to breathe through each contraction but I was in control of it. It was like being reborn.
“Birth is a mystery. Words are not enough.” – Marie O’Connor
By midnight I was 4cm dilated. I had to relieve myself so a catheter was set up. Baby made the insertion quite tricky as his head was really low. And full of hair, said the midwife, as she tickled his head.
By 4 am I had dilated to the magic 10cm. Yes! An hour more and I would be ready to push. As the clock struck 5, the midwife smiled at me. ‘Ready to meet baby?’ She asked. I nodded in excitement. Nizar had just stirred awake precisely at that moment. He smiled in dazed happiness as he realized we were gearing up for the climax.
The midwife went in for a final examination and even in my spent state I realized something was not right. In the dim glow of the room, I could see something close to panic in her face. Her tone much quieter than it had been all night, she informed me that baby’s heartbeat was dropping. She quickly dashed to get the doctor, reappearing with three new people. All of them mirrored the same emotion: one of utmost, meaningful urgency. I had to be rushed to the OT: at best, I was headed for a forceps delivery, at worst, a C section. I just wanted my baby to be OK so I wordlessly nodded to everything. They wheeled me away quickly, leaving my husband behind who, unbeknownst to me, would cry fearing the worst, the anti-climax tearing right through his exhaustion and hopes.
The OT was a beeping blur. I saw confusing clouds in the sky: hands, scrubs, floodlights, stirrups and tubes. The calmness of early morning was stirring through the room, both scary and powerful as an army of midwives and doctors swirled around me with a palpable urgency. Nizar popped up in the horizon, strangely familiar in the unfamiliar scrubs, his face grim as he took position by my side.
One of the doctors came and stood beside me. Something about the familiarity of her very Asian face and accent spoke to my heart. ‘Samira, when I say push, push with all your might as though you are severely constipated.’ She said. ‘A few pushes and baby will be here!’ Her smile was genuine. I believed her. It would be days later when I would grasp the risky procedure I was embarking upon with my baby.
My epidural dose had been bumped up significantly so I could no longer feel the contractions. I was signaled as they came. I pushed with all my might. This was repeated 3-4 times and then I felt a big weight leave my tummy in a whoosh. And there he was: a bundle of flesh, blood, eyes and nose – my nose – crying with the earnest complains only a seconds old human can have. My baby. Till then I had never really paid attention to a newborn baby’s cries, how they were so loud and yet so purry. I immediately looked at Nizar and we both simultaneously burst into tears of relief and wonder. We had done it. We were proud parents to a bloody bundle of joy. We crumbled under the power of that realization.
Nizar did not have the chance to cut the cord as baby was whisked away for examination. I kept looking out for him but he was hidden behind an army of doctors. Finally as he was handed over to Nizar, the fatherly joy I witnessed on his face made our parenthood status official in my head. I could not wait for our group embrace but I wasn’t in a state to mete out hugs. Things were clearly happening to me behind the blue veil. I was told that I have had an episiotomy. It was not ideal but still better than a Caesarean. Again, I did not understand what it meant until I made a trip to the loo later that day. I’ll reserve that story for another time.
At long last my baby was deposited on my chest and we were wheeled back to our room for skin to skin and our first feed. It was a blur of heightened emotions, exhaustion triumphed by exhilaration. The assisted forceps delivery had left scars on my baby’s sweet face but no one cared. He was alive, with all ten fingers and toes. He was perfect.
There were many moments during my labour when I was ready to give up. But holding my baby in my arms, there was no doubt in my mind that ALL the pain and mess were worth it. I was a mother to a beautiful baby boy. There is no other feeling in the world that comes close. The NHS doctors and midwives deserve a special mention in this story. They were nothing short of fantastic in helping our family of two grow into a joyful three.
When I think back to Aryan’s birth, I feel pride and humility in abundance. I am in awe of the female body, it’s stupendous strength and endurance. I pray for every woman who wishes for a child to have her prayers answered, so that she too can take joy in the most special kind of love in the world. Because love is truly unconditional when you give birth to it.
“Motherhood: All love begins and ends there.” – Robert Browning