By Valentines night I STILL had not finished packing the bag I’d take to the birthing centre. I had the grey carry-on that we’d bought in NYC on the floor in our bedroom where I could trip over it constantly, but the only things I’d managed to pack, at 37 weeks, were four towels for my intended water birth.
I’m not sure if the procrastination was intentional or even if it was conscious. It may simply have been that I hate packing and I’m the (self-proclaimed) world’s worst packer. Whatever the reason, Sunday night arrived and the only things I had ready for birth were four grotty towels salvaged from the bottom of the linen cupboard.
I’m not entirely sure what it was that spurred me on to finish packing. But something did. Maybe it was the fact that Roger was at home and I could make him fetch things for me while I stared distractedly into the depths of my cupboard. Maybe I just knew it was time. Whatever the reason, by bedtime on Sunday my bag and toiletries to take to the birthing centre were ready to go. And I felt in charge!
During the night on Sunday I felt what I can only describe as pinching in my uterus. Like tiny angry little fingers pulling at the inside of my womb, perhaps warning me that the time was coming?
When I woke on Monday morning I mentioned it to my husband and went to the loo. There I discovered my mucus plug sitting in my panties and decided to message my midwife. She told me to bath and take two Panados to see if that helped. After my bath, things settled and I decided to carry on with my day. What else was I going to do?
I went to visit my friend Natasha who’d had her beautiful little boy, Troy, only two days before.
Every time I went to the toilet throughout the day I noticed more and more of a bloody show. I tried to get hold of my midwife and doula but, unbeknownst to me, our cellular service (non) provider was having problems providing us with the SMS service we pay for. Fortunately it wasn’t important or anything …
At about four that afternoon I noticed a dull period pain in my back and very slight contractions. I took two more Panados and went for a bath.
The bath didn’t help and the contractions continued. I downloaded a contraction timer and started trying to time them, but they were very irregular. I continued as they became more regular. I called my doula and she said she’d come over after we’d put our little one to bed. She arrived at 8pm or so.
By now the contractions were more regular, about three minutes apart and lasting about 45 seconds. I continued to work through them, though they were becoming more intense and I did have to stop and concentrate on my breathing. I walked around in the garden in the cool night air, and leaned over the couch when the pain was was worse, allowing my doula to massage me with her magic hands. She kept in contact with Sue, my midwife (who was in casualty due to a severe fall she’d had down the stairs – I wasn’t aware). At some point I was overcome by nausea and my labouring was interspersed with vomiting. I lay down in my bed for a while, trying to nap while the doula rubbed my back through each contraction.
At about 1am we decided to go through to Genesis. The drive there was the beginning of the horrendous pain! I no longer had my calm. experienced doula helping me breathe through the pain. I had my loving, concerned husband holding my hand through each contraction while simultaneously driving us on very bumpy, potholed roads to the birthing centre.
When we arrived I was shown through to my room. I was so relieved because I thought it would be all be under control now and I could just get on with birthing the baby as I had planned in my head: soft lights, caring people flipf flopfing around me, gently cooing kind words of encouragement as I breathed and huffed my little wonder from my body. Unfortunately that is not quite how it happened. In fact, nothing could be further from what really went down…
I entered the serene, softly lit room with its massive expanse of king sized bed waiting to gently enfold me in its comforting, experienced hug. As I lay down I was wracked by another horrible contraction. At this point my doula really was doing all she could do to keep me focused on breathing through the pain and reminding me not to let it get on top of me. An in-house midwife immediately took my blood pressure – 180/129. Not good. She tried again but the result was no different. We thought it might be a good idea to get me into water. And, when I say ‘we’, I mean my fantastic husband and team of carers. The only decision I was capable of making was: ‘Ahhhh! Agghhhh! Mmmmrrrrruuph!’
As I wallowed in the water between contractions I finally felt more comfortable. And then, ‘Pop!’ I felt my waters break with a gush. Before lowering myself to thrash and wallow in the water I’d given a urine sample. The results were not pleasing.
Quietly my doula said to me: ‘Simone. We have to get you out of the water and dressed. This is an emergency now!’
Shortly thereafter Sue arrived, leaned over the bed and said: ‘We have to get you to the hospital now. The risk of complications is too high to keep you here’. While I’d previously been adamant that there was no way I’d birth this baby at Garden City Clinic following my previous horrendous birthing experience in another hospital, I was only too happy to do what needed to be done. I trusted my team implicitly and knew that the safety of me and my baby was paramount.
It turns out there was protein in my urine and this, together with my exceptionally high blood pressure, put my at risk of developing eclampsia, which, according to Wikipedia may have the following çomplications: ‘aspiration pneumonia, cerebral hemorrhage, kidney failure, and cardiac arrest’.
We beat a hasty retreat back to the car park (read: I moaned and waddled my way slowly and loudly through contractions) only to discover my slightly preoccupied husband didn’t have enough petrol in the car to take me to hospital (he will never live this down…). So midwife Sue came to the rescue again and began unpacking her traveling kit from her car. I stood to the side wailing and intermittently swearing at everyone to ‘Just hurry the f$%k up!’
If you’ve ever tried to sit while having contractions, you’ll know it’s pretty damn impossible. So, there I was, kneeling on the backseat of my midwife’s car (with the never-more-appropriate registration plate that reads ‘Birth’) moaning, crying, grunting and swearing. Oh yes, and asking every kilometre, ‘Are we almost there?’ Sue drove like a Le Mann legend, pausing only briefly to check the safety of passing through red traffic lights. Please let it be known that in Johannesburg in and around Brixton, during the wee hours of the morning, NO ONE stops at traffic lights. Unless you’re looking to donate your car and belongings to the balaclava’d entrepreneurs who roam the dark empty streets with their pangas.
We reached the hospital in record time (I have no doubt) only to be stopped by a slumbering security guard and a malfunctioning boom. I used this as another opportunity to try out some particularly choice swear words while informing the guard I was in labour. As we arrived at the hospital entrance, more than one person, obviously unfamiliar with the female anatomy and the process of labour, tried to make me sit in a wheelchair. Quick question: why, WHY is the labour ward located at the furtherest point from the hospital entrance that’s physically possible? I called and begged for a gurney but apparently no one who works in the hospital has ever seen such an unusual apparatus. I walked, wailing like a banshee, hobbling from side to side, asking plaintively, ‘How much further?’ and stopping ever so often to dry heave over a dustbin.
We finally arrived at the labour ward and I was given a bed. My husband was promptly hauled away to fill in enough forms to wallpaper the inside and outside walls of The Mall of Africa. I’ll be forever grateful that my courageous and determined midwife was there with me in a room full of nurses intent on displaying zero compassion while not answering my questions, nor allaying my fears, and just generally treating me like a hysterical woman who was petrified for the life of her almost-born baby.
I was still 1 cm dilated when I arrived, as became evident after the least-gentle nurse molested me with the world’s biggest hand. Within the next two hours, while the sisters tried to locate an anesthetist, we waited for my gynae, and I was repeatedly ignored as I screamed for drugs/help/death, I managed to dilate 8cm. And the baby was ready to be born. He was not waiting for a Caesar of any kind. Sue leaned down and said: ‘Simone you are going to push this baby out. He’s ready’. I said, ‘No! I can’t. I can’t do it’. Sue looked my in the eyes with her steady, calm eyes and said: ‘Yes. You can’. So every time the delivery room nurses turned their backs to polish another instrument of torture and grin sadistically at each other (this may be my active imagination filling in the blanks here), I pushed. I pushed. I pushed.
With my pillar-of-strength husband by my side, urging me on and swearing I could do it and that I was in fact doing it, and my midwife coaching me through each push and each contraction I managed to keep pushing. And when I told her I couldn’t push anymore because my ass was going to explode, she promised me that this would in fact not happen and I pushed some more. As my kind, gentle and incredibly skilled gynae and midwife chatted gently between themselves and worked as an amazing team to birth my baby, my husband kept me believing that I wouldn’t die and I could birth our child. And then, I did.
It was without a doubt THE most incredibly painful and difficult thing I have ever done. I didn’t believe my body had the strength to do that. I still don’t believe I survived it and honestly don’t think I could ever do it again. But I’m exceptionally grateful to the unbelievable people in that delivery room, my husband, my midwife and my gynecologist who believed that I could and fought for me to birth our baby in the way I’d set my sights on.