At about midday we took my daughter Elsa, to her favourite shop in the mall despite the heat of street. I waddled uncomfortably beside her, a week overdue, with an absolutely enormous belly protruding from my 164cm frame. At 7 months along, people would stop me in the supermarket to ask if I was ready for the birth. At 8 months, most people thought I was having twins. It was about then that my mobility started to really degrade, and after 9 months there was no position that was comfortable for more than 10 minutes. Sleep was rare, and disturbed by needing to move at least every half an hour.
Having done much more reading than before my first pregnancy (how could I have been so ignorant?), I knew the onset of labour is triggered by maturity of the baby’s lungs, so even carrying a megabelly I dreaded the doctors at the public hospital inducing me in the next week. My cervix was already dilated 3 or 4 centimetres – fantastic, surely that meant the delivery would be half as long as my first!
As we left the store, I was fairly sure I’d felt a contraction – I desperately hoped it was! Unlike my first pregnancy, the contractions steadily increased in frequency and intensity, just like the book says. At 7pm we were at Mum and Dad’s, calmly grinning and lightly breathing through each contraction. Aaaah! My Grandmother (who had 4 natural births herself) was VERY impressed. This birth would not be like the last. I was in control. My uterus knew what it was doing, and this time I wouldn’t get in her way. By 11pm contractions were 7 minutes apart, and Dad (who seemed very tense) said with agitation, “Shouldn’t you be up at the hospital or something?” We assured Elsa she would have a baby brother by morning, and waving a smiling, relaxed goodbye, off we went.
At the hospital they put on the foetal monitor. The contractions eased, then disappeared – one every 25 minutes. We drove home and went to bed. I cried and cried, thinking how disappointed Elsa would be, and how all this pain I was in, all my planning and confidence, was for nothing. Eventually I dropped off to sleep…
BAM! A baby punched through my cervix and amniotic fluid exploded on the bed! I cried out into the night, “What the hell was that!” and raced to the shower. Contractions came thick and fast, every 5 minutes and rapidly getting closer. Being quite comfortable with the hospital setting, and a strict birth plan which screamed NO EPISIOTOMY!, we raced up to the ward and were thankfully given a birthing room immediately.
So began 8 hours of heavy labour – exactly half the time of my first birth, and this time knowing that I needed to give my uterus time to do it’s job. I concentrated totally on each contraction, stood under the shower when I could still stand, sat on the stool in the shower, and tried unsuccessfully to ignore the frenzied screams of the girl (I’m sure she was young) nextdoor. She rattled her bed and screamed at the midwives to “Take this thing OUT” of her, which scared me so much I took a shot of pethidine to calm me down. Then it was back to focussing on what must be done. No time to scream, no time to even shoot my husband a nasty glance – just hard work.
When it was time to push, I had no strength left to stand. I was quite overweight, hadn’t been able to exercise for 3 months and my belly was HEAVY. As the head crowned, the midwife (Meredith) said “He looks like he’s going to be a big one”, so, due to my stipulation that I DID NOT WANT AN EPISIOTOMY! she talked me through letting my vagina slowly stretch, as I held back the tide of large (for a small, short woman) baby and unusually large sea of amniotic fluid.
Out he came. That’s simplifying things quite a bit, because I worked so hard compared to my first birth. I held his head and held and held until the midwife told me to let go. He was bright purple, and my skin was mottled for days, due to the large amounts of nitrogen I had gulped in, breathing too fast. (My midwife and husband calmed me down, so it could’ve been worse.) His colour changed immediately to healthy pink as he lay on my chest and I called him by name – Xavier. He frowned. That’s from my side of the family!
The placenta weighted almost a kilo on its own. And then there was the ocean of amniotic fluid Master X was swimming in… allowing him to twist right around even when his head was locked into my pelvis. An interesting sensation. I sustained a tiny tear, which the midwife said was not even worth one stitch. Blessed are the midwives! I tore in exactly the same place with Elsa, and my obstetrician breezed in at the end of the birth (another doctor caught the baby), put one uncomfortable stitch in and charged me an extra $1300.
Meredith the midwife said he would weigh 8 pounds at least. Eight! Elsa was just shy of 7 pounds, a whisker smaller than “average”, which I thought was a perfect size baby for a short-ish woman. I was very proud of myself, and eagerly awaiting Xavier’s weigh-in. The nurses came back with “You’re not going to believe this…”
Ten pounds. 4.555kgs. If only all births, especially first-time births, could demand such instant respect from hospital staff! I was given a room to myself, with ensuite. I could hear nurses whispering outside my door, “The woman with the 10-pounder is in here!” and peering through the high window, expecting to see an Amazon with a hugely wide pelvis. When they came in to check on me it was as if they’d never heard of such a large baby causing no tear. I was outta there 26 hours after checking in (in labour), because I can’t sleep with the hospital noises, and wanted to be home.
If you know you are having a large baby, don’t let doctors and hospital staff scare you into having a caesar. You can birth a large baby naturally. You need an excellent midwife and lots of physiological information about what exactly your body is doing during labour, and what you can do to help it along. If having a strict breathing regimen helps you to concentrate, all the better – I didn’t, but I knew to give the uterus plenty of oxygen at certain points in the contraction because I STUDIED the breathing schedules.
For me, visualising the cervix thinning and being pulled upwards and open by a huge, powerful muscle (the uterus) was extremely helpful. Every contraction became a triumph, and helped me control my panic about the pain. I felt strong and in control during the long hours of labour, and at the end was lucky enough to have a FANTASTIC midwife, who respected my wishes, followed my birth plan, and gave me the information and encouragement needed to hang on to pain. Thanks again, Meredith!