Friday, October 21, 2011

The easy part

Disclaimer: this is part three: very long and erm, laborious.

After the walk Xoli puts on her rubber gloves again and I try not to punch her lights out while she fiddles around in the heart of the storm. Eye of the storm is what they say though, isn’t it? Still not, she tells my sinking heart. Then, she’s frowning…Sorry…her fingers probe my depths and I want to cry. She looks at me. She’s released something. There was a clench. Or something. I just went from 0 to 3 in under a second. They give racing drivers medals for stuff like that.

The next hours are a blur. Images through smeared glass. Some vomiting, some walking. Some squatting. And then: you have only progressed one cm in three hours. The world flattens out when I hear this. It’s truly discouraging. Everything is through thick sheets of glass. Underwater.

These are your options, she is saying. We can wait, walk some more, keep active. Or break the membranes … put you on an oxytocin drip to speed up the contractions. I don’t want to do that but you may have to. Something about Dr Mia and the length of time you are “allowed” to labour before they want to intervene.

They call in Elizabeth, she’s a doula. Her touch is angelic. Hands on my sacrum. Feathery stroking of hair and shoulders. Ntombi is here now. Angel. Music, sitting on the ball. Light touch brings relief, endorphins. How do you feel, asks the gentle Elizabeth. I feel like I’m on drugs. Good, she says. Beautiful, these amazing women. Bernd is relieved too, I’m aware of his unclenching. Elizabeth says I’m holding it in my shoulders each time (Of course I’m fucking holding it in my shoulders). On the ball, leaning forward. Easy. Oh, this is good, can I stay here….


This sitting business. On the ball, on the stool, leaning forward, the contractions ease off. It feels good. But, um…its not bringing the baby any bloody closer is it? I’ve got to walk again.

Bernd walks me with the patience and humour required to support a doddering geriatric. From the white wall to the hedge with yellow flowers. From the hedge with yellow flowers to the metal pole of the washing line. Step. Grind of bowlingball on pelvis. Step. Surge. Lean. Breathe. Or round the jungle gym outside, sunlight braai-ing my eyeballs. Walking around a jungle gym the size of a small bathroom feels like the Otter Trail.

Writing this now, looking at the notes I wrote a few days after, the writer in me is asking me to edit, cut, package, put in sub-headings. But the teacher in me wants you to feel it – how boring and protracted this birthing business can be.

When they check me again I’m about 5cm. We’re trying to get to ten, remember. And my waters still haven’t broken. But always, every time they check, the baby’s heartbeat steady as it was in all the weekly check-ups. Patient fellow. Another walk to Zoo Lake with the gentle Ntombi. Dimly aware of how this must appear – this strange slow animal presence, a woman squatting on the side of the road. I feel invisible though, like I’m in another dimension.

Back in the cool dark of the Genesis room (I’m hot, then cold, then thirsty then hungry then vomiting. And very very tired.) I squat. And suddenly there’s a gush. Waters breaking at last. But I’m still only five cm and only one layer of membranes has broken. Ntombi’s voice is serious now. We have to get these contractions to progress. She has to break the second layer. And the oxytocin drip. She’s worried I won’t have enough energy for the push. The push? What’s this push everyone keeps talking about? Oh yeah, I remember now. There’s a baby coming. I’m going to have to push a baby out of me.

She says to have a sleep. An afternoon nap, as it were. Bernd suggests the rainbow relaxation CD. Good idea. I sleep, dimly aware of the tickticktick of Bernd playing Quadrapop on his phone. When I wake I am determined, fresh, clear. I am going to walk around that jungle gym one more time, dammit.

Actually my sequence is totally out. I don’t know in what order this happened: sleeping, walking, Ntombi breaking the membranes, Bernd’s tense voice saying I must walk when all I can do is lie there and moo like a buffalo. Hushed voices around me. Deep in my sleep remembering Ntombi saying I must get my head in the right place for the next phase.

Yes, that’s it – that echoes in my sleep and when I wake I go walking, on my own this time. Get back to the room and the clouds part in my head. Of course. There’s a next phase. I have to do this. No one else can do this. The drip. I need the drip. Lets do it.

As she’s getting needles and tubes lined up I say, I’m scared. I have some fear.
Ok, she says. What is the fear?
That it will get too intense for me to handle.
The pain?
Yes, the pain. (yes, I will use the word. The Pain)
She tells me my Plan A pain relief is the bath: getting in the water helps.
Plan B – I can ask for Pethedine. But remember, you need to welcome the pain. You have to have the intense contractions, that’s what you need.
Ok. Ok. Lets do it.

I waddle to where Bernd is sitting outside. I’m going to do the drip, I say.
Good, he says. Everyone is concerned. I’m concerned.
Its ok, I say. Its going to be ok.

Ntombi tells me I am surfing very close to Dr Mia’s cut-off point. Or, his cut point, as it were. I don't want to be cut. Lets have tried everything, she said. I’m prepared to push it a little past that point because I know this is what you want.
Yes. This is what I want. And always, the baby’s heartbeat, so steady.

Within minutes of having the needle in the back of my hand the waves come thick and fast. Yes, its intense, but I realise that what was wrong before was that they were so irregular. Now each one lasts for exactly three breaths: the first is the gathering swell, the middle one is the peak, the third helps to ebb it away. Its just me and my breath now. No sightseeing on this heavy weather surf. Ntombi’s voice saying you need this pain its helping you. Welcome the pain. My voice, at some point, saying everyone switch off your phones. Now.

In no time, I get that need-to-poo feeling they spoke of. I want to push. And waiting for them to bustle around and fill the bath seems to take longer than the whole labour so far. I need to push Now guys, like really Now. Hurry the fuck up.

I don’t know how I got into the water but I’m here now. Candles. Cool. Yoga CD. id I ask for that? Oh look that’s weird, there’s Monica from the health store, what’s she doing here? Doula on duty. She has a night job. Hi Monica. Bernd and I touch fingertips, lock eyes. Here’s another one. In out in out in out. Done. And again.

Ok, work with the contractions, use all your energy to push as if you are going to do a poo. I hear Miranda’s voice in my head: chin into your chest and puuuuush. I breathe in and make a kind of grunty rattle sound. Ntombi says that one was in your throat. Push right down into your bum.

I’m getting it now. Three pushes per contraction and a tiny rest in between. Actually, no rest in between. Just enough time to refuel on oxygen before the next ten-footer comes bearing down on me. Bernd keeps shoving the straw in my dry mouth. I want to drink but need the air first. It takes about ten rounds before I manage to make the words: breathe first then drink.

Ntombi’s voice my anchor: “brilliant Tamara, you’re doing so well. Keep going.” The repetition bouys me along.

Change to a squat. Sometimes the wave knocks a sob out of me as it comes. Push push push, breathe, sip – and again.

Eventually a new feeling – stinging, burning. Baby’s coming says Xoli. Ntombi: Push past the ring of fire. Push past that burning ring. I know what she means but that burning ring doesn’t feel like it has a beyond. At some point I feel sure that I have done enough and can stop. Someone else must please finish up for me. I’ve done my best.

Xoli says, I can feel his head. Next time, put your fingers here and feel his head. I expect to feel more than the puny 50c coin size that I can feel. Am I only that far?

Now its serious business pushing. Ntombi’s voice, the music – the yoga CD. Long Time Sun. Ah well, so he won’t be born to that song…..

Push Tamara you're doing so well push past the burning ring you're doing so well baby’s coming.

I PUSH and I push and I push. Now I can really feel him coming. I’ve never worked so hard or wanted anything so so much. I push as if my life depends on it. My life does depend on it. So does his. Two lives. Lets go.

At some point, I know, this is it, its coming. When that round is finished, I gasp – oh no he’s gone back in!
Its ok, you’ve stretched, next time he’ll come further.
Its true. Next time he does.
And the time after that a tiny bit more.
And then many times when its just in one place. Then more.
And then they’re telling me to pant like a dog. And I do.
I push – the biggest one, like I’m trying to get an overland truck up the hill all by myself. Still not.
And then it happens. He is out. And the rest of him slithers out like a slippery fish and now they’re putting him on my chest all pink and white and yellow and red and I’m behind three layers of glass but there he is. I have done it.
Now Xoli vacuums his little nose.

Now she says “I’m not quite happy” and the world swims away from me. There’s a pause the length of the entire day. What?

The cord is around his foot, tightly wrapped three times. She unwraps it, he kicks like a foal. My baby is here. He’s on me, so quick. That was so easy, I think. Someone says what’s the time. 9.55.
Bernd cuts the cord. Red and blue gristle, like electrical wire.

Now they’ve taken him already, he’s being measured and weighed.
He’s with Bernd while they help me deliver the placenta. Its such a rich dark velvety colour, its veins like embroidered seams. I want to thank it. I understand why people worship it – it seems alive. No calcification. My date of the 17th was correct, in spite of what the gynae said.

I’m in the shower now. They check me. I haven’t torn. I stink like a beer-drinking pheromone sipping dock worker. There’s a mushy substance between my legs. I realise its my vagina. Numb. Still underwater in that glassy world. I am being taken to the bed now, where Bernd has my son. They put him on my breast.

I have nothing. No feeling no emotion no tiredness no elation no sadness no flatness. The glassy world. Bernd is in love, this I see and I know this is good. But I feel as if I have also pushed myself out into the bathwater.

Nothing will ever be the same again. I suppose I sleep. I know I phoned my mother, but when I couldn't say. When I wake my shoulders are frozen cold. I close the window. The 4 am glassy light coats the glass. I go back to bed and lie next to my baby. I am also born. I will love this child forever. A neat line divides my life into what was before, and what is now.

I have a child.

And now, a year later I know that that was the easy part.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A piece of cake

It's never taken me this long to make a cake. Every time I remember where I am in the process another contraction sweeps me away. I am also repacking the bag I packed last week because I don't trust anything that I did last week. Anything I felt before this morning must have been wrong. That phrase, take the rug out beneath your feet? Yeah, like that, except its the deserted wilderness and the whole ground is being pulled out from under me as I walk.

Everything is changing.

But I must make this cake.

Where was I?

Gluten free flour. Sugar. Butter. Where's the recipe gone? Woah. Steady now. Breathe. Did you write that one down? Its 20 minutes now in between. Or is it still 25? Did you write that last one down? Is it ten actually? Oh sod it. 150 g of butter. How much is that in Tablespoons? Where's the recipe gone? Do I have enough juice in my bag? Will I be thirsty? Am I thirsty now? Where the hell is my husband? Why isn't he writing down the contractions? I still need to make a group on my Blackberry of people to sms when .... woah. Ok. breathe. breathe. breathe.

Dammit I must finish this cake. The phone, the phone. Who gets a new phone the day before they go into labour? How does this damn thing work anyway? The timer. Time your contractions on the timer. Is that the timer or the stopwatch? What the hell is the difference? Oh shit, I'm getting stressy. Don't get stressy, be in the moment. be in the moment. Make the cake. Make the cake.

In my notebook for the 18th October 2010, it says:
"Beautiful crazy day. Blood/birth/mucus show at 9ish.
Music. baking.
Surges mostly 40 minutes apart then 30.
Sex! good sex.
Bit more blood. Is that ok?
Cake. Trying to make a bloody cake. Bernd funny and wonderful and hilarious."

There's a stringy list of times that get closer together, some in Bernd's handwriting some in mine. Then at about 6:30 they are 5 minutes apart and I write that I'm going to sms the midwife. Also: the cake is done. The cake that I started at 11 o'clock that morning. Put the cake under foil. Put the icing in the fridge. I want to be in one place now. I want to be settled. Ok Bernd, take me to Genesis.

This was a bad idea.

Note to first time birthers: do not sit. Sitting is bad. Do not sit in the front. Be on all fours on the back seat. Your baby car seat does not need to be in place yet. I guess I thought I was bringing home a baby at midnight. Or something. I guess I thought it would be a piece of cake. Car is bad. Motion is bad.

For the first time it feels like pain. Deep, knock the breath out soreness. Stop the car you fucker let me get out and walk. Wait for it to pass, this universe expanding sensation of... how to you describe a contraction? The words we have are puny: "a tightening"..."a hardening".

As the uterus moves through a surge your whole consciousness turns inwards like a sock folding itself inside out, folding in on itself. Breathe, focus, visualise. Expand.

Walking into Genesis I pause to lean at the counter before politely explaining that I am in labour and Xoli is on her way. Being the experienced midwife she is, Xoli is of course not on her way, or not immediately anyway. She had said I must only call her when the contractions are a minute or two apart. I am early. Woess. And also, the beastly car ride has slowed things down considerably. For a minute I wonder if its all true. Maybe I'd just imagined it. Maybe I can go home and eat that cake.

Instead I submit to the kindly doula on duty, who shows me where to press on the inside of my calf to help dilate the cervix. Which is of course, what we are trying to do here. But when Xoli comes with her snappy rubber gloves I hear the impossible words, "you are not dilated at all. Maybe, like your sister, you will have a slow dilation and a long labour. It could be that it's genetic. You can stay here if you want, but perhaps you should rather go home and get some sleep. I'll check you again at about 2am."

I didn't want the car. Again. But did it. With many many stop and let me get outs. At home I lay on the futon with my new Blackberry in hand and tried to time contractions. And dozed off. There is a snaky list. It seems they were about three minutes apart, sometimes more, sometimes less. They lasted 30 seconds. Or 45 seconds. or 20 seconds. Never the same.

At 2 am (after another murderous drive) she says the same thing. At 6 am the same. How is it possible that after a full night of at least as many waves as Dungeons* gets on a gnarly Sunday I have NO DILATION AT ALL?

Walking down the 200m road from Genesis to Zoo lake at 6.30 am. Leaning up against the lamp posts for contractions while commuters start their day alongside us. I say to Xoli how many do you want between here and the end of the road? She says, three. Big slow surges that I breathe through. I don't know how long or how far apart. In between I talk to her. How does it work with Notmbi, your partner, do you take shifts or work at the same time? We do both she says. I feel badly calling her because you don't have a relationship with her. But I like her, I say. It would be fine if you called her. I know Xoli is tired. She didn't sleep after 2. Didn't go home again. I am concerned about her.

Call Ntombi, I say. Apparently I will be doing this all day.

All day. In retrospect, that night was a piece of cake.

*Dungeons is a surf spot in Cape Town

An intense feeling that requires your full attention

Exactly one year ago as I write this I was soaking in the bath, observing my body start to prepare for the long haul ahead. I didn't know quite what a long haul it was going to be. I was excited. The first heady endorphins were flushing through me. I had waited long enough, I thought. I wanted to drop the fat, heavy, wriggly pawpaw I had been heaving along inside me.

A week earlier, sitting in the garden with my husband's niece, we were fantasizing about dates. The gynae's prediction of the 10th of the 10th 2010 had a great ring to it, but that date had passed without event. My calculation was the 17th. But 20.10.2010 would have been nice and symmetrical too. she's a kinaesiologist. I'll muscle test him, she said. She went through the days... 'It's the 18th', she said. I smiled and remarked that he would come when he was ready.

But still, on the night of the 17th I had had enough. I made a hot fragrant curry. I put on Johnny Clegg maskandi tunes and wiggled til midnight, bringing some euphoria into my weary bones. Early the next morning the (look away squeamish readers) mucus plug announced itself, dull period pain ache in my pelvis, endorphins making me giddy. I remembered what my yoga teacher had said: get in the bath for exactly one hour. The water will either bring the contractions along nicely or ease them off if its a false alarm.

The other thing she said was to carbo-load. And get some rest. I made pasta. I sat in the garden and giggled, marveling at how glorious the light was, the sunshine, the glowing green grass, the perfect strawberries in the strawberry patch. I smsed my friends and told them the early stage of labour was just like a mild mushroom trip. I started to make a cake. An hour between each gentle contraction, my heart swelling with a strong feeling of preparedness. I can do this. I have done the hypno-birthing course. I have done my kundalini preggie yoga. My body knows what a minute of intensity feels like, from those exercises where you hold your arms up in the air without moving. I've practiced my breathing. I've done the rainbow meditations. I've done my perineal massage and my pelvic floor exercises. I've programmed my mind not to think of the contractions as pain, not to use the word pain at all. Its an intense feeling that requires your full attention. That's what it is. I can do this. I'm ready to have an intense but enjoyable, fully natural vaginal birth without induction and without meds. Aren't I? Sure I am. Now where was I? Oh yes, I was making a cake...