14 September, 2012

The Birth

I've been thinking about writing this for six months or more, but unsure if anybody really wants to read all the gory details.  I've decided that enough time has passed that my glasses have become sufficiently rose in colour and I won't horrify anyone.  So here goes, the story of how Raina popped into the world....

My due date was 12 February and because of my family history (father and cousin born 8 weeks early in the car on the way to the hospital in the middle of winter) and the potential side effects of the surgery I had during the pregnancy I was well and truly ready to have my baby by Christmas time.  A few twinges at the Christmas dinner table made me think "This is it!" but alas, false alarm.  Christmas came and went, then New Year was upon us with a friend reminding me that I would be giving birth to a watermelon shortly.  I was still very active at this time, hiking across Amsterdam visiting museums and eating cake at the incredible Patisserie Pompadour and starting to get a bit anxious.  I still had six weeks to go, but in my head I was over due.

My mum arrived mid-January and fresh off the plane exclaimed "You don't even look pregnant!"  Well, thanks. I certainly looked pregnant when I stared in the mirror, but I guess that's another drawback of being fat.  I just looked even fatter.  Joy.  Pass the cake?

Before I knew it, it was the end of January and my baby shower.  There were soooo many people and sooooo many amazing gifts.  It was an hour-long present opening session.  I've never seen anything like it in my life.  The best thing is that we are still using so many of the gifts and Raina still needs to grow into some of the clothes!  But, still no baby.  My father in law's predicted date: 29 Jan came and went without a twinge and before we knew it we were entering the busiest birthday month in the family and it was turning into a game of "Dodge the Date," as the 6th is my sister in law's birthday and she didn't want to share her day (although she did change her mind in the end), then an uncle, an aunt and two cousins.  I still, after more than four years don't understand the Dutch obsession with birthdays.  Anyway.  Before I knew it, the due date was upon me.  Less than 5% of babies are born on their due date, so I really was not expecting anything.  In fact, by this stage I was preparing myself (not very well) for a 42 week pregnancy.  I just knew that she was in no hurry to come out and my begging, pleading, crying and shouting wasn't making her move any faster.

Honestly, the week after my due date was the hardest of my pregnancy.  And this includes multiple trips to casualty in the middle of the night for mystery blood loss, two hospital stays for vertigo and blood loss, surgery at 13 weeks and an extremely sensitive nose (the smell of raw meat still makes me want to hurl).

What made it even harder were all the helpful comments:  "The baby will come when she's ready," and "It's so nice and warm in there, why would she want to come out?" and my favourite: "Make the most of this time, you'll be wishing for peace and quiet very soon."  Really?  I doubt it.  I was done. D.O.N.E, done.  40 weeks was more than enough for me.  The waiting was so difficult - it was like Christmas Day that never comes.

I was under the care of a gynaecologist and part way through week 40 I started asking about being induced.  The hospital wouldn't do it at 40 weeks, but he was the first person who understood that it was the toughest time and agreed to start inducing at 41 weeks in the least invasive way.  Awesome!

On the Friday, when I was almost a week over due I went with my mum and mother in law to Urk to see the ice flows.  It was a once in ten years experience where the sea ice was breaking up and being swept on shore.  There were mountains of beautiful sparkling ice shards glimmering in the sunshine.  It was beautiful.  Too bad that Urk is the unfriendliest village in a 300 km radius...

Ice flows, Urk
That night, it happened.  I woke up at 3 am with shooting pains in my abdomen. and my excitement knew no bounds.  I started timing the contractions, which were about 30 seconds long every ten to fifteen minutes.  I knew from my child birth session with my good friend Becky that this was pre-labour and usually lasts 6-8 hours.  Sensational, pregnancy was nearly over and my amazing, difficult, rewarding new life was about to start.

But no.  Actually, it wasn't.  The pre-labour contractions continued through the night and well into the morning.  By lunch time on Saturday I was starting to wonder when I would move to active labour and by bed time I was trying not to be too impatient, but I was excited and positive.  You see, Sunday was my birthday and the possibility of me having a baby for my birthday was looking pretty good.

Then it started.  I had managed to get a few hours sleep, and then at around 2 am active labour began in full force.  Contractions for 90 seconds 4-5 minutes apart and gaining momentum.  I woke Maarten who didn't seem to be too interested and instead rolled over and went back to sleep.  By 6am I asked him to call the hospital who weren't ready for me yet.  I had to have contractions two minutes apart for an hour before I was allowed to come in.  You see, in the Netherlands quite a few women give birth at home and even if they do not wish to or cannot give birth at home, it is expected that much of the labouring is done at home.  We are all sent a birth package from our health insurance company to prepare for the prospect.  In the early days of my pregnancy I would not even entertain the possibility of giving birth at home, but after talking with other mums, reading everything I could get my hands on and learning to relax and go with the flow, I decided that if I was to do it all again I would attempt to opt for a home birth.  I would just have to talk someone else into cleaning up the mess....

By morning the pain was reasonably intense ("reasonably" is Australian for "just about unbearable," by the way).  Not sure if it is the most pain I have ever been in or the worst I have ever felt though.  All my yoga practice went out the window.  I am blaming the teacher for that though, she was absolutely rubbish.  All discussion and little practice.  My advice when looking into pregnancy yoga, do your research.  Find a teacher based on recommendations, not a quick Google search like me.

At around 6.30 my mum came in and we decided that I should open my birthday presents as we had no idea when I would get the chance, otherwise.  I remember struggling to rip open the paper and having to stop to walk around and breathe through a contraction.  Mum gave me a beautiful Cow Parade cow and Maarten gave me some lovely opal earrings, then I asked him to call the hospital again at around 7.30.

Surprisingly I was allowed to head in and to say the car trip was a challenge is the understatement of the century.  The only way I had been able to manage the pain so far was to sway and walk, and that ten minute car journey may have been the longest of my life so far.  Maarten had his 2 euro coin all ready for the wheel chair, but it was pointless.  I couldn't sit and cope with the contractions, so I walked to the delivery suite with poor Maarten fretting behind me with an empty wheelchair.

By 8.00 I was installed in a nice room with a bathroom and plenty of space, but no TV.  Apparently all the flats screens from the birthing wing in the Flevoziekenhuis had been stolen!  Seriously, who steals a TV from hospital?  Some extra gauze I can understand, but a TV?!  I had decided by this stage that I wanted some pain relief.  I had thought all the way through my pregnancy that I would go without, but I was also a realist.  I could feel myself slipping into another realm and not coping so well.  I was even less personable than usual and managed to offend the nurse who was going off shift in about 10 seconds.

Amazingly, my own gynaecologist was the rostered midwife (the actual midwife had called in sick), so he got in and had a bit of a look and a dig around and broke the water.  The feeling of that was so bizarre.  Gushing and hot and not at all ladylike.  However, it was all in good time as there was a little poo in the amniotic fluid, but nothing to worry about (although I took some convincing of that).  He also made a big deal about telling me I was six centimetres dilated and how he was proud that I had waited so long before coming in.  According to my wonderful nurse Jeanne, most labouring mothers come in when they are around 2 centimetres!  Then he fixed a heart monitor to the baby's head, helped me get hooked up to the IV, waved and said he'd be back in an hour and a half to two hours to see how I was going.

About this time (maybe a bit sooner or maybe a bit later, I don't really remember), my mum and mother in law arrived as part of my support team.  What I remember most was my mother in law muttering that I should breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth, a mantra that Maarten promptly adopted.  I'm sure they honestly believed that they were helping me, but really all I wanted to do was punch them for their helpful tips.  After an hour or so mum and Maarten switched places and mum held my hand, breathing with me and helping me through each contraction.  You see, the pain relief wasn't helping.  At all.  Turns out there was a kink in the hose...

By about this time my body was trying to push.  The effort to compress the urge to push was almost too much to bear.  I kept shouting "I need to poooooo!"  Yes.  All glitz and glamour.  But nobody would listen to me.  Not enough time had passed for the doctor to come back, so I couldn't possibly be ready to push.  After what felt like hours of asking for the doctor and trying to breathe through pushing contractions, finally the nurse came and brought the doctor.  He flipped me over and had another look and declared that I was 10 cm and ready to push.  No shit Sherlock.  I could have told him that half an hour before.

At 10.20 he gave me the go ahead to start pushing and helped me get into position.  God knows where Maarten was at this point. He was in the room somewhere and I think I saw him looking a bit bewildered.  I do remember seeing his mum taking photos (graphic is NOT the word!) but was pretty out of it by this stage.  The doctor told me to push, so I gave it all I had.  Yelling helps, it really does.  I could feel the baby moving down, and filling my birth canal, then with the next push her head was out!  I actually felt her pop out.     Weirdest thing ever.  Becky had described the crowning feeling to be like sticking your fingers into the corner of your mouth and pulling your lips tight and she was dead on!  With the third push I felt her slip out and then she was plopped on my chest squalling.

Our first photo
From then on my memories are really in snapshots.  I don't really remember anything in the first person.  I was pure emotion.  Crying, shaking, overwhelmed.  The nurse asked what her name was and even though we had decided months before, I still wasn't 100%.  It took me a few moments to choke out "Raina."

Maarten cut the chord, the doctor whipped her away to do the reflex tests and then I was stitched up - ouch and phone calls were made and all of a sudden we were left alone.  After the sprint that was the birth and because there were so many people around (both mums, Maarten, a doctor and a nurse) it seemed a bit strange to be just the three of us blinking and wondering what on earth we should do next.

Having her reflexes tested

Papa still managed to find the time to do his hair...
The nurse came back and decided it was time to try and get Raina to latch and begin feeding.  This was not something that I really wanted - I was determined to let her explore and try it for herself, but the nurse was insistent so I let it go.  Some times it just isn't worth the argument.  My birth plan had gone out the window anyway, so what was one more thing?  The nurse also started looking at her watch and told us that because it was a Sunday, our post-natal care at home (kraamzorg) might be difficult to arrange.  However, she said that if we could get ourselves home and on the phone to the service before 14.00 they would send someone over.

This sent us into a bit of a panic.  I wasn't ready to go home yet, but I wasn't ready to go home and not have any help for the first day.  Raina had not really had anything to eat or drink yet and besides, how was I going to change her nappy?!  So it became a mad rush to get showered, dressed and home.  We made it with 15 minutes to spare and a nurse arrived by 15.00.  I had heard stories of new parents being sent home from hospital within four hours of giving birth, but I had not expected to be home within three!

This was when the fun really began.  It was time to learn the ins and outs of keeping a baby alive and who would have thought that this stuff isn't instinctive?  Learning to bath Raina was easy enough once I remembered to hold her head properly, but drying her had never occurred to me.  I had never realised that there were so many nooks and crannies that I had to dig around in to make sure she was nice and dry.

The nurse was with us a week and it was one of the roughest of my life.  I knew that breastfeeding could be a challenge, but never realised how emotionally draining it was when it wouldn't work and we had to supplement with formula while I pumped like a mad woman to try and get some milk flowing.  When it finally all worked it was like a miracle.  It really was.  The relief was palpable.  It was all going to be ok.  Raina started gaining weight rapidly (she lost almost 10% of her birth weight) and we all started coping better.  There were still many tears, very little sleep and I was only holding it together by a thread, but it was improving and I was slowly getting the hang of motherhood.

In the role he was born to play
Now when I look back on those weeks of my life I can't believe that I went through it, that every mother goes through it.  And how easy it is to forget when I don't sit down and make the effort to remember what it was like.  Raina is now almost 7 months old and life has a completely different set of challenges (solid food, crawling, tantrums, and teething), but I love it.  She is such a reward, and like my friend Juliette says about her boys, I'm so happy she picked us.

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