Three days ago today, my baby James made his entrance into the world, in reverse. (He must have heard me laughing really, really hard at the First for Women ad with the three guys in a car, reversing to Cape Town...)
When I saw my gynae for one last check-up at 37 weeks, he told me that everything looked perfect; baby's head was well engaged in the pelvis and both he and I looked to be in excellent health. The doctor's words to me were, "At this point, looking like it does, we lose all interest in this pregnancy - nothing to do but wait."
And so I settled myself to wait, while my uterus kept up what I had begun to believe were simply some strong Braxton Hicks.
Following my maternity shoot with Sharon on Saturday, 6 March, I went home feeling pretty sure I was about to have a baby within the next 24 hours.
7 March broke, bringing with it some fairly intense contractions. I was thinking it would be a good day to have a baby, as he would then share it with his uncle, my brother, Leo. But when I went to bed that night, everything came to a halt once again. I was convinced that this was the start of something, though. The contractions were certainly hard enough. My only reservation was that I had yet to have my show.
8 March would have been my father's 56th birthday - also a good day for baby to arrive. I walked around all day, contractions coming and going at 5 to 7 minute intervals, but still no show. I decided to wash my car, which was in desperate need of a wash, both as a means to distract myself and to help things along, and I joked about #InductionByWashingofCar on Twitter.
Car washed (twice!), the contractions started coming at 3 minute intervals shortly afterwards, then shifting quickly to 2 minute intervals. I started making frequent trips to the bathroom, managing only to release little trickles of fluid each time. I figured that this was simply because baby was moving down, pressing on my bladder. It was only later in the evening that I began to suspect that my waters might have broken - I'd never had a spontaneous rupture of membranes before, as my membranes in previous pregnancies had tended to be particularly thick.
At the mention of broken waters, David urged me to call my midwife, Sue King, but I was reluctant to do so, because I had still not had a show and didn't want to have her come all the way to our house only to tell me my cervix was still tightly closed and I was just a bit incontinent. I knew it was unlikely my cervix would be closed, though, because I had felt it a couple of times in the course of the past few days and thought I must be at least 2 or 3cm dilated.
I finally relented and sent Sue a half-arsed text message at around 19:00, letting her know that my contractions were 2 minutes apart and that my waters might have broken, as there was a tiny trickle of fluid, but I still had no show and would let her know if anything else happened. She texted back to say she'd just arrived home from a 24 hour labour and birth and was going to try and get some rest.
That suited me fine - I figured I would call her again when I had my show. By now I knew that this was it, as the contractions were mounting in intensity. I tweeted a couple of minor updates, thinking I was still in very early labour, since I felt I was coping extremely well.
I had cooked supper early - a delicious spaghetti bolognaise - and David and I went about our usual evening routine, getting all the kids fed, bathed, read to and put to bed. We then did a little walk around the complex while the kids slept and I felt I had to stop a few times and squat through a contraction or two. This was odd for me, as I had never had the urge to squat in labour before; My inclination is usually to get up on all fours when labour starts becoming more intense. And all the while, I felt these intermittent urges to pass fluid, but it didn't feel quite the same as the urge to urinate.
David eventually decided to go to bed and I decided I'd join him and see if I could get some sleep before active labour set in. It was not to be, though. The contractions kept me tossing and turning and, not wanting to disturb David, I got up and had a bath, tried to check my cervix again - I was now convinced I was at least 3cm. David would wake up every so often and tell me to call the midwife. I kept putting it off, thinking I'd rather let her rest. Finally, at around 4:30 on Tuesday, 9 March, I managed to doze off and slept until 6:00, during which time the contractions slowed down and my heart sank as I thought to myself it had all been yet another false alarm. But the moment I sat up in bed, the contractions set in again, hard and fast, and I sent the midwife another text, warning her that there had been warnings on the radio that traffic was a nightmare.
She texted me back to say that she was already on the road and stuck in the worst of the traffic, but would make her way to me as soon as possible if I felt I needed her. I replied that I thought she should, as I had no idea how far this labour was, and there was no knowing how long it would take her to reach my house.
David and I were taking Jack for a walk when my phone rang at exactly 9:15 - Sue had arrived and was at the gate of our complex. I waddled my way back up to our house as she drove in, wondering whether I'd made a mistake in having her come out. Something about the way she looked at me told me that she believed I was well into this labour, though, and we made our way upstairs to my bedroom so that she could examine me. Sue commented that I was extremely calm and must have an incredibly high pain threshold. I told her that my last midwife, who had assisted in Jack's birth, had also commented that I was extremely relaxed during labour. :)
First, she checked my blood pressure, which was perfect, and then we listened to baby's heart, which was also perfect. I lay down on my bed for Sue to do an internal, thinking she would tell me we still had some way to go. Instead, her eyes widened and she told me, "My girl, you are 8cm dilated!"
This overwhelmed me for a moment, and I shed a tear as she gave another feel to double check, confirming at the same time that my waters had indeed broken. And then she looked up at me and asked me whether this baby had been breech at any time recently. I told her that the gynae had declared him perfectly positioned at 37 weeks, with his head well down and everything ready to go, why?
To which she replied that this baby was presenting bum first and he was well on his way out.
The first thing out of my mouth at this point was, "Can we birth this baby?" And I could have kissed Sue when she told me calmly, plainly, without hesitation, "Yes, we can."
Since we do not have medical aid, the alternative would have been a trip to a state hospital for a c-section, which I desperately hoped to avoid. So I called David upstairs to break the news to him and discuss what we were going to do.
Sue explained to him that my labour was very advanced and the baby was breech. She told him that if we chose to transfer to hospital, there was no avoiding a c-section and that if we stayed and attempted a vaginal birth, that there were certain very real risks involved, but that the decision ultimately lay with the two of us.
I looked up at David and told him I *really* didn't want to have a c-section. Sue left the room to give us a few minutes to discuss our options, but David pretty much told me it was up to me. There was no question - I was going to have this baby at home.
The decision made, Sue made a quick phone call to her friend and colleague, Thelma, a paramedic, and asked her to come out and stand by in case of an emergency.
In the meantime, I had called my mom just after Sue had told me I was 8cm, and she arrived, as did our friend, Lee-Hazel, who has been present at the births of all of our babies. My mom came into the room looking tense - she'd obviously heard the news.
The next two hours went by quietly, my mom rooting herself in one corner of the room while I spent significant amounts of time on the toilet as my waters continued to trickle while we waited for Thelma to make her way through the horrific traffic from the East Rand.
Sue explained to me that birthing baby's head quickly when the time came was essential, and advised me that the best position for me to adopt for the birth would be a squat. My entire body was yelling at me that this was exactly what it wanted to do anyway - I had been glued to my birthing ball and squatting with contractions, as if my body had known all along that there was something different about this birth.
Thelma finally arrived just before 11:00 and made her way upstairs to set up her equipment. David was in and out, offering people drinks and trying not to be in the way, thinking we had a long wait ahead of us yet, since Sue had explained that baby's breech position meant that he wasn't exerting as much pressure on the cervix as he would have done in the head-down position. An internal on Thelma's arrival confirmed that I was still at 8cm, but there was now a bulging bag of waters presenting. Apparently the trickle I'd been having was hind waters. Now that back-up had arrived, Sue grabbed her amni-hook and ruptured the fore waters, speeding up the process significantly.
I spent a little while back on the toilet, making use of the squatting position to help the cervix dilate that last bit while simultaneously letting the waters run without having to worry about linen savers or cleaning up afterwards. It was only at this point that I finally had my show...
Once the flow had eased, Sue and Thelma asked me where I wanted to be to birth baby, and I indicated a spot on the floor, next to my bed. They covered the floor with linen savers for me and I squatted facing the bed, supporting myself against its solid wooden frame as needed, before eventually sitting down in a squat, resting my weight on the floor in order to save the strength in my legs for when I needed to push.
I started to doubt myself at this point, but knew that this was part of my transition and mentioned this to Sue, who commented again that I was coping extremely well, talking through some very intense contractions, which were now right on top of one another. As another contraction came, my mom was busy saying something to someone and I remember telling her she needed to stop talking now, as I shifted to all fours and Sue got behind me to see what was happening. I was at the point where I was certain I could not do this and begged Sue to do an episiotomy so I could just get it over with, or else to take me to the hospital for the c-section. Rationally, I knew that this was transition talking, but those feelings of self-doubt can be quite overwhelming! I would have accepted a cesarean without anaesthetic at that point! Sue felt for baby's position and told me I was complete and could push if I wanted to, at which time I found my strength once again and started to push for all I was worth.
David came into the room just as I began pushing, having been running around making everyone coffee and not having had a clue how quickly things were going, since I had managed to remain incredibly calm and quiet up to this point.
Lee-Hazel had also just come upstairs to see how things were going and, for the first time, didn't exit the room as the baby was born, as she had done with all the previous ones.
Seconds after I'd begun pushing, I asked Sue to help me stretch, which she did. Seconds more and Sue exclaimed that baby's bum was out and I watched between my legs, still pushing harder than I had imagined I could, as his hips and waist slid out and I felt tremendous relief as the length of his body was pushed out quite easily. I knew we were now in the critical stage of this birth and I felt myself shut out everything around me and focus on pushing to get this baby's head out as quickly as possible. With Sue supporting my perineum and assisting the positioning of baby's head for the exit, I pushed him out within seconds and watched as his limp, blue body flopped onto the linen savers behind me. I heard the whole room hold its breath as Sue whispered to Thelma that he wasn't breathing and had no heartbeat, while picking him up and massaging his body to start his heart beating, which it did within milliseconds as Thelma gave him a blast of oxygen and he gulped his first breath.
The entire room stayed silent until what seemed like ages later, but was only a second or two, and I heard my baby boy make his first sounds, building up to a hearty yowl.
James Daniel Parkins was born at exactly 11:30, is 54cm tall, has a head circumference of 36cm and weighed 3.6kg at birth.
The medical establishment classifies this birth as a VBAC, because the first of my four babies was born via c-section.
My own opinion, however, and that of my midwife, is that 8 years and 2 subsequent vaginal births later, this is not, in fact, a VBAC...
Right now, though, I'm far too interested in my beautiful new baby to be bothered with semantics.