Category Archives: Glory, glory, hallelujiah

My sister, the author

On Saturday, I rushed into the living room excitedly brandishing a book.

“Look, you guys!” I exclaimed to my electronics-engulfed children. “You know your Auntie Ruth? Well, she’s written a book and it’s being published next week, and here’s our copy!”I waved the advance copy of Ruth Whippman’s The Pursuit of Happiness And Why It’s Making Us Anxious enthusiastically in their general direction.

Oddly enough, despite the book’s utter lack of connection to anything computational, Jamie was the one who became quite interested in the concept of his aunt being an author. (“Is Auntie Ruth going to be on the news?” he asked me.)

“So what’s it about?” he asked me that evening. I was reading it in between getting the two of them ready for bed.

“Well, you know Auntie Ruth lives in America? Over there, they think a lot about how to be happy, and this book is about how they spend too much time thinking about it and it isn’t actually working.”

“If I see anyone randomly reading it on the street,” Jamie declared “I’m going to tell them it was my auntie who wrote it.”

“That’s great. But you won’t see anyone else reading it before Thursday, because it isn’t published until then. We got an advance copy because of knowing Auntie Ruth.”

“So is that the only copy in the world, then?”

“Oh, no. Granny Constance has one, and the publishers, and some other people who know Auntie Ruth. But I don’t think you’ll see any of them on the street.”

“So do any random civilians have a copy, then?”

__________________________________________________________________

I was nervous before getting the book; if I didn’t like it, how could I best say so tactfully? Obviously I knew it was going to be well written – it was my sister’s work, after all – but what if I just disliked the format, or disagreed with it? What would be the correct etiquette response for dealing with such an unspeakable breach in sisterly support?

I needn’t have worried; the book is brilliant. It’s readable, it’s fascinating, it’s incisive, it’s informative, and it is absolutely laugh-out-loud funny (usually with bits that are simply impossible to explain to puzzled children wondering what Mummy is laughing at). I read it over the weekend and spent the next few days carrying it with me and brandishing it at playground mums and co-workers at every possible opportunity and probably the occasional impossible one. (“Gosh, I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter being bullied! By the way, can I just show you MY SISTER’S FIRST PUBLISHED BOOK?”) I was going to write more detail about it but I think I’ll save it for the entirely unbiased and impartial Amazon review that I plan to post at the first available minute (I thought about staying up till midnight to see whether I can post one the minute the book officially goes on sale, but that really would be a bit much with work the next day, so it’ll have to be first thing tomorrow). So what I’ll do here is write some of my personal reactions to reading a book by my sister.

A significant part of the book consists of personal anecdote and commentary, and this was kind of strange when I’d actually been around for many of the events described. What, attending Saturday morning orchestra as children made us social lepers? Good grief, I never realised that (probably because I was so abysmally bad in any social setting anyway that I was blithely oblivious to such niceties). Huh, Grandma Martha was a Methodist? Don’t think I knew that. And what on earth is Ruth talking about – she looked gorgeous at her wedding!

At one point, I was reading a passage on Ruth’s reaction to childhood tantrums with my own inner commentary running as it does at such points in books – ah, yes, tantrums, I have to say I actually didn’t mind them, in fact I found it quite nice to have a couple of minutes’ break in which I could legitimately ignore my child – and moved on to the next paragraph to discover to my amazement that I HAD ACTUALLY BEEN QUOTED AS SAYING THIS. A thing I said. In an actual book. That made my day. (It also, as an incidental bonus, meant I didn’t have to feel too guilty about failing to dress up as a book character for Katie’s school’s Family Learning Morning. I mean, I am now officially a book character. Coming as myself was obviously fine.)

Ruth also spends a lot of the book writing (entertainingly, not mawkishly) about her various insecurities; for me, this was the equivalent of that Poignant Moment in novels when you discover that the incredibly cool character was secretly wrestling with massive self-doubt all the time. In our teens, Ruth was the prettier and more socially skilled one of us;  throughout our twenties and early thirties, she always seemed to be the one with the exciting social life and boyfriends practically for the asking; now, when I see her, she always seems to be an amazingly cool/together/involved mother. In a weird and probably Schadenfreude-steeped way, it was quite a relief to find out how much of this time she actually spent feeling madly insecure and cherry-picking her Facebook photos.

And finally, the answer to the crucial question Ruth struggles with in the book’s opening sentence: The person doing your smear is concentrating on getting the job done, and actually does not require you to make any small talk at all. You’re welcome.

 

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Auntie Sarah

On Sunday, 22nd September, my aunthood was upgraded from one nephew to two. My sister had been booked for a planned Caesarean on the 23rd, but Zephaniah 'Zephy' Daniel didn't want to wait (possibly having realised that all the coolest families have child spacings of precisely three years and five days) and made his exit a day earlier than planned. Mother, child, father and big brother are all doing well and Zephy is absolutely gorgeous. Congratulations, Ruth and Neil, and I look forward to continued adventures in aunting.

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Nephew!

Congratulations to my sister and brother-in-law – my first nephew arrived today, just after midnight.  Weight still unknown, as is whether I'm allowed to reveal his name yet (I do know it).  Mother and child apparently doing fine.

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End of an era

"I Daddy!" Katie exclaimed enthusiastically a few weeks ago, standing up in the bath.

"Oh, yes?" I enquired, curious as to what part of striking an attitude while standing naked covered in bubbles represented Barry in a two-year-old's mind.  "And what does Daddy do?"

"Cooking."  Katie considered a moment longer.  "Working on things.  An' flipping me."

I was impressed – it seemed a pretty good summary of Barry's day-to-day actions from a Katie perspective.  It also seemed a good time to bring up the subject of an impending major change in our lives.

 

“That's right! Daddy does do all those things. But soon, he's going to start doing something else as well. Do you remember what Daddy's job is?”

Both children looked blank, which was not terribly surprising. I had in the past told Katie the answer, but 'engineer' is rather an abstract concept for a two-and-a-half-year-old. As for Jamie, he has previously demonstrated his inability to remember my own profession despite having had me come into school to talk to his reception class about Being A Doctor. (“Well, that was a long time ago,” he told me when I brought this point up in response to him being unable to answer my question about what job I did. I assured him I had not actually changed my profession in the few weeks that had, in fact, at that time elapsed since my talk to the class.)

“Daddy's an engineer! He's a design engineer. That means he works out what the bits in the insides of computers should look like, so that somebody can make them. And very soon Daddy's going to be starting work as an engineer again!”

To which both children looked blank again, and the conversation passed to other matters, probably bath toys. But this is indeed the case. Almost eight years after Barry and I first discussed whether he should take the well-paid voluntary redundancy package offered by his floundering company, thereby giving us the triple benefits of paying off the mortgage, letting him escape a boss with horrible interpersonal skills, and having a parent at home full-time to look after the children that we both planned to have, he is re-entering the world of paid work and coffee breaks.  It's been a longer stretch off work than we had originally envisaged, but then we also hadn't envisaged the government sending the economy into a nosedive; there hasn't been much available in the field of design engineering.  However, finally a job came up with a well-known company in our general vicinity, Barry interviewed successfully, and his years as a full-time father are about to come to an end.

This means, of course, that we also have to enter the complex world of childcare.  We'd assumed initially that we'd have to get a nanny in order to manage school drop-offs and pick-ups, but a few general enquiries brought us the useful piece of information that childminders will also do this, although for obvious reasons they can only manage one school each and so you do have to find one who picks up from your child's school.  This narrowed the available field drastically, and the need to accommodate a sibling under five narrowed it still more (childminders are legally limited in both the total number of children they can take and the number under five), but, fortunately, the one childminder in the entire town who picks up from Jamie's school and had the appropriate spaces for the required days proved to be perfectly acceptable when Barry took the kids round to see her, and, although she has not previously had experience with autistic children, she is happy to give it a try.  Whether she'll be as happy to continue after experience of Jamie's freakouts when the world doesn't go his way is another matter, but, if this does work out, it looks set to be excellent.  The children have their first trial day with her tomorrow, and on Monday Barry starts his new job.  Wish us luck.

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My sister, on the other hand…

…is keeping this year's family excitement quotient up in most excellent style.  She has moved in with her boyfriend, become engaged, and we are all looking forward to the wedding this May.

"Will Neil be at Auntie Ruth's wedding?" Jamie inquired today.  "After all, he is Auntie Ruth's friend."

I assured him that not only would Neil most certainly be at the wedding, he would indeed have a starring role as the person Auntie Ruth would be marrying.  This was, it appeared, satisfactory news to Jamie.

My warmest congratulations to both Ruth and Neil, and I look forward to having a new brother-in-law.  Very best wishes to you both.

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Birth story

The story of my second labour and delivery, boring details and gory bits duly included.

On the evening of Saturday November 24th, two days before the due date, I finally decided that I was about ready for this baby to be born.  This was, of course, stretching the definition of the word ‘ready’ at least somewhat; I still hadn’t got round to cleaning the car seat off after its time in the attic, I was halfway through a blog post I wanted to finish before having the baby, and my mother had a job on the Monday that she couldn’t cancel and was hence not going to be available for Jamie-watching should I go into labour on the Sunday night or Monday daytime.  So this was still not a wish that the birth would occur imminently; more of a feeling that I’d had enough of the whole deal of wanting to hang on juuuust until I’d had a chance to get X, Y, and/or Z done.  The banisters were up, the baby clothes were ready, my bag was packed, various of the other items on the could-do-with-getting-done-before-baby-arrives list had been likewise completed, and, while there were still plenty of things on said list, I’m just not the kind of person who is ever going to reach the stage of crossing off the last item on the to-do list and saying "Hooray!  I have now reached a state of perfect organisation in which there is nothing further that I could really do with doing."  That being so, I finally reached the stage where, while it would still be nice to get yet more stuff done, I was now quite happy with the idea of this baby putting in an appearance some time in the immediately foreseeable future.

And I wasn’t sure my uterus knew that.  I recognise that this next bit has the potential to sound appallingly tree-huggy (which, believe me, is not who I am at all), not to mention annoying holy hell out of any nine-months-pregnant woman who wants nothing more than to get her own pregnancy over and done with but isn’t going into labour however much she wills it to happen.  I don’t at all mean to suggest that wanting to go into labour is all it takes to start things off, because anyone who reads Internet pregnancy groups with any sort of regularity would need to be a blind idiot to believe that.  But, after twelve years as a doctor, I would also need to be a blind idiot not to believe that the mind has at least some effect on how the body functions.  And what I felt was that I had been so determined not to go into labour during the Week Of The Banisters that I had set my body’s labour switch to "off", and needed to reset it for things to proceed. 

So, before I went to bed that evening, I spent a few minutes mentally doing that.  I focused on getting my mind into a place where I was ready for labour to start and felt I was no longer blocking the idea.  That’s all I did.  Maybe that was what did the trick, maybe it was a total coincidence, or maybe I in fact have cause and effect backwards and what actually happened was that I had some inner knowledge that labour was about to start regardless of how ready I might or might not be and hence I’d better get myself geared up to deal with it.  I am quite prepared to believe that any of those three might be the case; and, of course, we’ll never know for sure.  All I know is what happened next.

What happened next was that at around half past three on the morning of Sunday, November 25th, I woke up from a confused but vivid dream about packing bags (whenever I’m trying mentally to prepare for something, I dream about packing bags), got up to go to the bathroom, and noticed that I was getting abdominal cramps again.  Except that this time they were affecting the top of my bump instead of just the lower part.  I realise that doesn’t sound too stop-the-presses, but it was a definite change from what had been happening, and it seemed to me that that had to be a positive sign.  Since all that had been happening for the past week was the occasional cramp, no different from what I’d been getting for months, I’d started to feel stuck in limbo.  It felt good to know that at least my body was taking one step further in the general direction of giving birth.

At 6.30 I woke up again with similar cramps, which seemed to be coming every few minutes and getting more definite until I felt it probably would be fair to describe them as minor contractions.  Something else I noticed, as well, was something the Bradley Method describes as ‘the first emotional signpost’.  The Bradley Method lists three emotional stages that women go through in the first stage of labour – I can’t remember exactly what they’re called in the book, but they can be described as happily excited, focused and concentrating,and oh-my-god-I-can’t-cope-any-more.  This is potentially useful for helping women decide where they are in their first stage, regardless of cervical dilatation (and the last one is also very useful to know about, because what that one means in practice is that when you feel like you can’t stand it for much longer, you probably don’t have to.  I’ve heard so many labour stories with some variation on "I wish I’d known I was that close to second stage – I wouldn’t have had the pain relief", and I hung in through that stage in my own first labour and was in a much easier second stage twenty minutes later.)  Anyway, this definitely felt like the first emotional signpost – I was bubbling over with excitement and positivity.  I wasn’t ready to call this labour, but it was definitely something, which was an improvement on nothing.  My body seemed to be taking some steps to produce a baby.  Hooray! 

I wondered whether I should risk going out on a limb and declaring officially that I just knew this was going to be the day – I certainly felt it could be, but wasn’t sure enough to want to risk the credibility of my feminine intuition.  And, if it was the day, was my labour going to have an official start time?  With Jamie, even though the contractions hadn’t been particularly bad at first, there had still been a definite moment of going from general non-specific crampiness to "Wow, that’s a contraction", but this seemed to be vaguer – I felt as though I was drifting into labour rather than having a definitive start to it.  While the important point seemed to be the getting into labour rather than the precise speed with which I got there, I still would have liked an official start time to look back on – I’m tidy-minded that way, even if not in any other. 

After musing on such crucial points for a while, I got up and started the day. The contractions puttered on, though not according to any very definite pattern.  My first labour had not only had a definite start time but also a definite progression from that point – I’d gone from contractions thirty seconds long that I could talk through, to contractions forty or forty-five seconds long and strong enough to make me stop what I was doing, to contractions that I had to sit in the bath and concentrate all my attention on in order to deal with them, to the Transition Stage From Hell, to second stage.  Although it had confused me at the time by progressing rather faster than anticipated, it all seemed fairly tidy on looking back.  I’d assumed that things would be the same again, but in fact these contractions seemed very variable in frequency, intensity, and duration, and I didn’t feel I knew quite what was happening with them.  I remembered reading on a pregnancy forum that second labours can quite often start with weeks of on-and-off contractions before getting properly started (the other side to that is that, when labours like that do get started, they progress fast and furiously because your body has effectively spread the early bit over those several weeks and got it over with a bit at a time, a sort of labour-by-instalments).  Was that what would happen to me?  Oh, well – as long as it was happening.  If it did go that way then at least I’d get to spend weeks in this first-emotional-signpost stage, which would be a very pleasant natural high.  The song "Let’s Take A Ride On The Merry-Go-Round", from Jamie’s Tumbletots CD, kept playing in the back of my mind.  (A relief.  I’d been worried that "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth", another favourite of his, would be the one that got stuck in my head during labour.)

I repacked my hospital bag, unloaded the dishwasher, moved a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer, got the car seat out of the conservatory ready to put the cover through the washer, and headed upstairs with Barry’s morning cup of tea to update him as to events.

"Goodness," said Barry weakly.

I stressed the probability of events taking a somewhat stop-start pattern.  We decided, after discussion, not to start calling relatives in at this stage – if this was all going to take weeks, I could do without people hovering impatiently.  This seemed to have been the right decision – I went downstairs and finished my half-finished blog post, and, while I was doing this, the contractions dropped to occasional ones only, although the ones I did get still seemed quite strong.  Looked like I was in for the long haul here.  Then I got up to go into the kitchen and tell Barry this, and found that that brought on a cramp strong enough almost to bring me to my knees.  As, indeed, did any minor exertion.  If this pattern was going to go on for a week or two, then it could get somewhat tiresome.  I decided that probably my best bet was to try the old trick of walking around a lot, to see if that got things off to a more definite start.  If it didn’t, then at least I’d know that nothing was likely to happen for the time being, and we’d have a better idea where we stood.

Our original plan for the day had been to go to the local Homebase store and look for new kitchen chairs, but I decided I wasn’t up to that much walking – if I did go into full-on labour while I was walking round Homebase, that could make the return home a bit tricky.  So we decided that Barry would take Jamie along, thus letting Jamie run off some energy while Barry checked out the chair situation, and I would stay home, pace round the garden, and call Barry if things seemed to be getting properly started.

The two of them set off while I ate some more toast and jam to give me some quick-release energy in case this did turn out to be labour.  Then, figuring I’d better get the necessary jobs done prior to starting on the round-and-round-the-garden trek, I put away the laundry that I’d just put through the dryer and hung up the car seat cover and pushchair cover which Barry had just put through the washing machine.  During all this, the contractions continued according to the same pattern – nothing much unless I tried to do anything, whereupon they felt ferociously strong.  Since sitting in the bath had been the best way I’d found of helping with the pain during my first labour, my plan for this one had been to go admit myself to the birthing centre as soon as this one got bad, so that I could get into the birthing pool.  What I hadn’t counted on was this stop-start pattern – when the contractions happened they were painful, but, since they stopped whenever I wasn’t doing anything, getting into the birthing pool at this stage would clearly be rather counter-productive.  Unless the birthing centre had something on the order of a birthing lake that I could pace through, which seemed unlikely (I was fairly sure I’d have remembered seeing it when they gave me the tour), there didn’t seem much point in going there at this stage.  Until things were moving a bit more definitely, I was just going to have to cope with the contractions I did get without benefit of immersion.  I settled for going down on hands and knees and moving my bottom in horizontal circles, which I’d found during the morning seemed to take the edge off the pain, or at least do something to distract me from it.

The contractions also felt different from what I remembered of my first labour – not that I could be too sure I could remember correctly at a distance of three years and five days, but I was fairly sure that I remembered them spreading down from the top of my bump to the lower part.  These cramps all seemed to be in the lower part of my bump, with more spread round to my lower back than I remembered from last time.  I thought back to something that we’d learned at my second scan – this time around, I had an anterior placenta.  Since babies tend to face the placenta, this increased my chances of having an occipitoposterior (OP) presentation, where the baby faces forwards instead of backwards.  Since the fetal head doesn’t fit as well into the pelvis or cervix this way round, this makes for longer, more difficult labours with more backache.  Possibly this could be what was happening here.  I’d been trying to spend lots of time over the last few weeks aiming for the upright-forward-open (UFO) positions advised by our NCT teacher to try to get the baby into the occipitoanterior position, but, in case that hadn’t been enough, I headed for the computer to Google ‘turning occipitoposterior babies’.

Barry and Jamie got back while I was still reading up on this (no luck with finding any chairs, but at least Jamie had used up some energy).  Standing up brought on a cramp so fierce it nearly doubled me over, and I was starting to get a couple of strong contractions even kneeling in front of the computer (the page I’d found had advised that high kneeling positions were much better than sitting on a chair, and I’d shoved my chair out of the way accordingly).  Walking round the garden was clearly likely to be pretty uncomfortable.  I remembered the webpage saying something about crawling, and glanced back to recheck – yes, indeed, it said that crawling on hands and knees for thirty minutes could be helpful in encouraging the baby into optimum position.  Right.  Excellent.  Crawling around sounded a lot less difficult right now than trying to walk.  I’d start off with thirty minutes of crawling – then, when I did start walking, hopefully the baby would be in the best possible position.  It was around twenty to two in the afternoon by now.

I started crawling accordingly, while Jamie played on his computer and Barry made lunch for the two of them.  Round the living room, behind the sofa, back again, into the dining room, round the table, back again, varying the routes a little, drinking pineapple juice to keep me going, stopping as needed to breathe through contractions.  The latter seemed to be happening much more often now – I’d had a couple a few minutes apart just before starting, and they seemed to be continuing every few minutes and lasting about forty seconds or so at a time.  Contractions of that sort of length are generally an indication that labour still has a way to go – the book I’d read on the Bradley Method while pregnant with Jamie had advised me that, while there were of course exceptions, contractions less than a minute in duration weren’t likely to be producing that much in the way of cervical dilatation – but I’d found out in my first labour that I was one of the exceptions.  After my experience then (a rather embarrassing urgent ambulance call when I was hit by transition stage while still thinking that I couldn’t possibly be that far along) I’d planned that, this time around, I’d err on the side of going to the birthing centre early rather than late.  My plan had been to go to the birthing centre once I’d had two contractions in a row of the drop-everything-and-breathe strength – of course, I might well still have a long wait ahead of me at that point, but at least then there would be a fair likelihood that it would be labour rather than a false alarm, and I didn’t mind the thought of spending a prolonged labour in the birthing centre rather than home if it would avoid a last-minute dash when things got bad.  The one thing I hadn’t counted on was the stop-start pattern I’d had over the course of the day; two strong contractions in a row no longer felt like something I could count on as a reliable indicator that things were getting moving.  I decided I’d wait just a bit longer to be reasonably sure that things weren’t puttering out again – not too much longer, given my previous experience, but just until I’d had a few more contractions and could be more sure that this was a consistent pattern.  This was probably a highly sensible decision at the time, but by the time I’d left it for those few extra contractions and discovered I was now in so much pain I couldn’t even stand up, I realised that perhaps getting to the birthing centre right now would be an excellent option. 

I told Barry we needed to get going.  He phoned the birthing centre to warn them, tried unsuccessfully to get through to a relative who could start on their way to take Jamie, and ran round frantically getting things together and into the car as fast as possible, while I moaned and shouted my way through contractions.  Between contractions, I pulled my shoes and coat on and dived across our front yard to the car, then, at the other end of the journey, dived out of the car and for the birthing centre door, yelling over my shoulder for Barry to go get Jamie out of the car and stop worrying about me.  Straight through the door of the birthing centre, across the waiting room, just enough time left to ring the bell to the inner sanctum before I dived round sideways to lean on a chair and shout and groan my way through the next contraction.  There seemed to be a certain amount of comment behind me, but I wasn’t quite up to dealing with it.  By the time the contraction had finished, the door had opened and a midwife was there to help me through it and over to the birthing room.  I recognised the room even through the pain – it was the one I’d come to back when I was trying to get the fetal heartbeat checked and confirm viability, all those months ago.  According to my medical notes, it was 14.45 when I arrived.

The next bit is something of a blur, involving lots of pain and lots of shouting and a purple-looking baby flying out at some point in the midst of it all.  I did get to read my medical notes, so I’ve matched them up with the bits and pieces I remember to try to get everything written down in the right order here.  But writing all the details down as a coherent narrative like this doesn’t really represent the way it happened at the time.  Bam bam bam, everything in a mad confused overwhelming rush.

I remember the midwives being very calm and reassuring.  In most other circumstances this would have been lovely – right then, what I really wanted was for people to be very brisk and efficient, so that they could get the essential examinations done and appropriate arrangements made for me to move into a birthing pool as soon as humanly possible.  According to my notes the internal examination was done only five minutes after I arrived, but, believe me, that’s a long five minutes.  Someone did thrust the mouthpiece for the gas and air towards me as I got into the room, and I took a couple of puffs, but I decided to discard it – it seemed like one more thing to worry about in the middle of contractions, and I was also worried it would start making me woozy.  I wanted what was left of my wits about me.  My plan for dealing with the pain in first stage, based on my previous experience of labour, had basically been "When the pain gets bad, get in the birthing pool.  When the pain gets really bad, scream a lot and take comfort from the fact that you won’t have to hang on for much more of it."  It was a sound enough plan and a course of action which had seen me quite adequately through one labour, but, with hindsight, I probably could have done with practicing some relaxation exercises during pregnancy as well.  Sans birthing pool, I was left falling back on the latter option and hoping that the "won’t have to hang on for much more of it" would still be the case despite everything else about this labour being so different.

Gill, the main midwife in charge of my labour (there was another one there plus a student), examined my abdomen and assured me that the baby was in a good position and hadn’t, despite my concerns, turned OP.  That was good to know, at least.  She hemmed and hawed her way through what seemed like an endlessly long vaginal examination ("Hmmmm….. let me see now…. I think it’s…. yes…" Jeepers, just get on and get the suspense over with already!) while I braced myself not to be too disappointed if it turned out I hadn’t dilated much yet – after all, results of VEs correlate a lot less well with labour time remaining than most doctors are led to believe they do.  Although the one-centimetre-per-hour rule gets drummed into us and, in fact, because we see all the women who labour more slowly than this we probably get a somewhat skewed view of how long labour tends to take, it’s also perfectly possible for a woman to go extremely rapidly from an early stage of dilatation to very advanced labour.  Given my previous quick labour and the way I was feeling now, I knew there was a good chance that this could be exactly how I progressed.  Which is just as well, because it meant I could refrain from howling with frustration when Gill finally came out with the verdict and told me I was three to four centimetres dilated.  Fortunately, she agreed with me about the possible speed of events from here on in – she told me my cervix was very stretchy and should dilate quickly, and she was happy to let me get in the birthing pool.  (They don’t put women in it too early in labour, as the water pressure over the abdomen can actually slow the labour down.)  Unfortunately, I hadn’t realised that the birthing centre don’t just keep heated pools ready and waiting at all times – the staff have to fill them from scratch, and that takes a while.  Gill dispatched someone to get the water running.

Barry and Jamie came in at some stage to say goodbye, as it was time for Jamie to get home for his nap.  Although this is not something that is recorded in the notes, I think it must have been at around this stage, because I remember Barry being there when my waters broke and my notes record that as happening at 15.05.  I didn’t consciously realise it at the time, but, looking back, I was already pushing down at that point – I remember pushing as I felt the pop and gush of my waters going.  At 15.10 I hobbled along the corridor to the toilet to see whether using it would help (that’s right.  Along the corridor.  The birthing room did not have an en-suite toilet.  I’m not going to get sexist and say that I bet it was designed by a man, but I am damn well willing to bet that it was designed by someone who had never been in labour) and by this stage I was definitely needing to push.

I knew on some level that this was a good sign of progress, but don’t think I quite thought of myself consciously as being in second stage – it felt so different from second stage with Jamie.  That time, although the second-stage contractions had been overwhelming, there had been very little pain in them – the experience had been more like having an external force take over your body and put it through the most intensive workout possible, giving you no say in the matter.  And, that time, the feelings had passed off between contractions, giving me a chance to at least catch my breath.  This time, there didn’t seem to be any comfortable point between contractions, and the contractions themselves were bloody painful.  I distantly remembered that slow steady deep breathing was recommended as being helpful during contractions, but couldn’t manage it for more than a few breaths before my breathing started speeding up again into great gasps.  I could hear people telling me how well I was doing.  While I appreciated the thought, it seemed oddly incongruous, like telling someone how well they were doing at falling off a cliff.  It wasn’t a matter of doing well or badly, just hanging on through it as best I could.

Somehow, in all of this, we never quite got to the bit where Barry took Jamie out.  I had never wanted Jamie to watch the birth.  Actually, it would be more exact to say I had never wanted Jamie to listen to the birth – I didn’t think watching it would make much impact on him one way or the other, but I didn’t want him to have to listen to me screaming when the contractions got bad.  But Barry didn’t look as though he was about to leave me, and Jamie seemed to be taking the whole thing far more in stride than I would have believed possible.  "What is Mummy saying?" I heard his interested cheerful little voice pipe up in the background, in the same tone as he uses to ask me what Mummy’s wearing when he sees me in a new T-shirt.  "Aaaarrrgghhhh aaaarrrrrggghhhhh aaaaaahhhhhh aaaaggggghhhhh AAAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHH" was approximately what Mummy was saying, but I could hear Barry telling him, just as calmly, "Mummy’s just doing deep breathing, that’s all!  To help the baby come out.  Now, shall we have a look at this story here about the bear going on the aeroplane?"  (The midwives had found some books for him.)

15.19 – ‘vertex visible’ (the top of the baby’s head).  "Your baby’s got lots of hair," one of the midwives told me, reminding me of the midwife telling me the same thing when Jamie was born.  I remembered how pleased I’d been back then to find out the first detail, however insignificant, about the tiny person I’d been waiting to meet for so long.  This time, there was an irrational been-there-done-that feeling about it.  Baby with hair?  Had one of those already, thanks.  I want something a bit more interesting in return for this pain. 

15.20 – ‘birth plan discussed’, as the detached emotionless language of medical records puts it.  "Do you want…" the midwife started to ask me, then apparently realised I wasn’t in much of a state to talk and turned to Barry instead.  "Do you know if she wants the baby delivered onto her tummy?"  "All fours," I gasped out through the pain, meaning that I wouldn’t be in a position to have the baby put straight onto my stomach as it was lifted out.  "Skin-to-skin.  Natural third stage."  They offered to help me into the all-fours position – I had been lying on my left side since I came back from the toilet – but I didn’t want to move at that point.  In retrospect, the only reason I said that was sheer loss of coherent thought – all I’d actually wanted in terms of second-stage positioning was to avoid lying on my back or in a semi-seated position since those prevent the bone at the back of the pelvis from hinging outwards and thus might limit the space for the baby to come out.  Beyond that, all I’d planned was to go with whatever felt right at the time, and in fact I later remembered specifically thinking, after I’d given birth on hands and knees the last time, that next time I’d try lying on my left side instead next.  Although I wasn’t in much of a state to remember or discuss all this at the time, it’s still how it worked out; I wasn’t about to have anyone move me right then, so on my left side I stayed. 

They held my leg up for me to help give the baby more room to come out.  I wanted to reach down and see whether I could touch the baby’s head but wasn’t sure it would be all right to do so.  But the midwife asked me if I wanted to, something I’ll be forever grateful for, and I put my hand down and felt the slippery-soapy firm wrinkled texture and squashed lemon-pointed shape that I’d felt so many times before in my obstetrics and paediatric attachments.  For the first and last time, I felt it on a head emerging from my own body.  I was amazed by how much of the top of the baby’s head was already out.

The rest of the baby came flying out in a single contraction, head and body all together, purple and slippery and screaming.  While this was not an entirely unexpected event at this point, the sudden appearance of a screaming baby in the middle of all this mad activity somehow just seemed to add to my general feeling of overwhelmed chaos.  "What have I got, what have I got?" I cried out, and the midwife took a quick look between the legs and said "You’ve got… what you thought you were going to have!" which wasn’t clear enough for me to dare to believe it – I wanted to look for myself, but couldn’t reach.  Someone clamped the cord before I had the chance to tell them I wanted delayed cord clamping.  (A lot of people declare birth plans to be a waste of time on the basis that birth is essentially unplannable, and I have previously blogged about what I feel to be the fallacy in that reasoning.  In my case, however, birth plans are a waste of time because nobody ever gets the chance to read the damn things.)  It seemed, however, that the baby had quite a short cord and the midwife had felt that I wouldn’t be able to hold her until it was clamped.  Barry and the midwives reassured me that she looked well perfused and the immediate clamping was unlikely to have been an issue.

"15.22," I heard someone say in the background, recording the time of birth in my notes.

"Can you see that baby?" Barry said to Jamie.  "That’s your little sister."

"That baby’s purple," from my smallest commentator.

Through all of this, Katherine screamed.  And screamed and screamed.  She seemed to want to nurse, but couldn’t figure it out at first, despite my efforts at helping her.  So she screamed for about the first twenty or thirty minutes, until her reflexes kicked in and she managed to latch on.  After that, there was no stopping her.  She nursed and nursed and nursed and nursed and nursed.  When she was done nursing from the right side, she nursed and nursed from the left.  I think she must have nursed for about an hour or so all told.  After the problems I’d had with breastfeeding Jamie, I’d really hoped that this baby would nurse well, and by god was I getting my wish.

Meanwhile, my uterus had apparently decided that now that it had ejected a baby with such spectacular speed and efficiency its work here was done and it did not need to be in any kind of rush about getting the placenta out.  The continued lingering on of the placenta on the inside was no great problem from a medical point of view – my uterus was contracting and I wasn’t bleeding heavily.  However, it was pretty darned unpleasant.  I was getting bastard afterpains, the odd wave of nausea, and a general feeling of discomfort, all of which I at first attributed simply to after-effects of such a rapid birth, but which the midwives told me was probably due to me still being stuck in third stage. 

On their advice, I tried perching awkwardly on a bedpan for a while in hopes that gravity would bring the placenta down, but to no avail.  I tried hobbling back along the corridor to the toilet, and felt better for managing to use it, but it didn’t bring the placenta out.  I tried sitting on the commode in the birthing room, which was at least more comfortable than the bedpan had been, but didn’t do the trick.  I tried the Syntometrine, an injected mixture of two hormones which causes uterine contractions and promotes placental expulsion after childbirth; I’d opted not to have it automatically after the birth, as it can sometimes cause unpleasant side-effects (nausea, vomiting, severe contractions) and I wanted to minimise the possibility of anything making me feel too ill to nurse the baby right away, since there are known advantages of having skin-to-skin contact and nursing right after birth.  However, that was no longer an issue of concern – Katherine had nursed as much as any newborn could possibly need to and had finally achieved temporary satiety and been settled by one of the midwives in her cot by the side of the bed, and I felt the priority now was to get the placenta out, so if the Syntometrine was going to do that then I was now ready to deal with the side-effects.  It didn’t give me any, as it happened, but it also didn’t seem to be having any effect on the placenta. 

The next step, it seemed, was going to be for the midwife to try catheterising me in case my bladder and the placenta were getting in each other’s way.  I agreed to go ahead with this – all I wanted by then was to get the darned thing out and have done with it so that I could finally concentrate on my new daughter.  Fortunately, while the midwife was off fetching the catheterisation kit and I was wondering how to describe the experience euphemistically for blogging purposes, the Syntometrine finally and belatedly kicked in and the placenta was ejected.  It was 6.32 p.m., over three hours since the baby’s birth, after a third stage that had taken longer than my official recorded time for the rest of labour (I’d opted for 1.40, the point at which the contractions became regular, as my official start time).

But once that was all over with, I felt fantastic.  I had the blissful hot bath that you get after giving birth, with Katherine’s cot wheeled into the tiny bathroom with me so that I could keep an eye on her (Barry had long since had to depart to put Jamie down for his nap).  She woke up once and cried, but settled after a minute without me needing to get out.  My sister had arrived by the time I was finished, and she and Barry admired the baby and took photographs while I scrounged a cardboard box of emergency rations (cheese sandwich on white bread, apple, chocolate bar, box of juice) from the ward kitchen and tried to stop Jamie from running riot on the ward corridor in search of room numbers.  My mother made it through the traffic jams just after visiting hours had finished, but was allowed onto the ward for a few minutes to admire her new granddaughter.  Then everyone left and I finally got to spend some peaceful uninterrupted time just nursing my newborn and getting to know her, and smiling at the sign over my bed that said "and Baby Katherine" after my name.

I stayed the night in the birthing centre.  There was no medical reason for this – I was quite well enough to go home – but  I’d decided in advance that I wanted to stay in for one night so that I could have that time away from everything else and just focus on the baby.  For the past three years I’d been focusing on Jamie’s needs; for the next fifteen (if we assume Jamie leaves home at eighteen) I’ll be juggling the two.  I wanted to have one little space of time where it could be all about the new baby.  So I stayed in.  The next morning I would have been happy to leave right after breakfast, but there was the examination of the new baby to be done, plus a check-over of me so that the midwife could confirm my general splendid condition and lack of any unfortunate after-effects of birth for purposes of recording in my medical notes, plus the paperwork, all of which takes time.  So I ended up staying until after lunch.  This was fine by me – I read magazines, held my baby, and enjoyed taking it easy.  By the time everything was arranged for my departure, Barry’s parents had arrived, so his father came along with Barry to collect the two of us (while Jamie stayed home with Barry’s mother).  And by early afternoon I was carrying my daughter through the front door of our house, and our life as a family of four had begun.

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What a wonderful noise there’ll be

Thank you, all of you, so much, for all your congratulations.

I certainly do intend to keep blogging, although, for obvious reasons, it will not be as often in the next few years as it has been in the last few weeks.  To the very complimentary new reader who thought I’d managed to make my last post with a one-day-old baby to take care of, I can promise you that I’m nowhere close to that organised – that one was written in the couple of days before I had Katherine.  I did finish it off and post it while I was in what was in retrospect early labour, if that counts for any credit.

Currently, I’m working on getting the story of the birth up; and, as you can imagine, there’s a lot else to write (not to mention a lot to prevent me from writing it).  But, in the meantime, here are a few pictures of my two wonderful, marvellous children.

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An Announcement

In honour of which, I have actually gone to the trouble of learning how to insert pictures on the blog.  At least I hope I have.  We are about to find out:

Akira_2

OK.  That seemed to work.

15 weeks tomorrow.  Due end of November, shortly after Jamie’s birthday.  Consultant who scanned me thought it was probably a boy, but at this stage it’s always hard to tell.  But the most important thing: one baby, apparently with all bits and pieces present, with one little heart beating away.

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I think this might actually be the cutest child in China

Sometimes, things are worth even the longest of waits.

I am so thrilled for Jo and Charlie.  Their new daughter sounds – and looks – wonderful.

Eagerly awaiting more pictures, more details, and anything else Jo can share!

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X-Day

It’s gone midnight, so that means that today is the day that Jo and her husband meet their daughter.  Three years of waiting and wondering and form-filling… today will be the day, for them.

They’re, what – eight hours ahead of us?  They’re probably awake by now.  If they got any sleep.  I hope they did, because it’s likely to be the last for a while.  I keep thinking about them and wondering how they’re getting on, what they’re doing right now.  Two people going mad with excitement and nerves, counting down the minutes until they meet their daughter.  One little girl who doesn’t understand what’s going on or how her life is about to change.

Wow.  Oh, golly.  This is so exciting.  And sad, because all Xue will understand for a long while is that everything in her life has changed, and she won’t understand why, or that it’s OK to trust the new people taking care of her.  And happy, because a family is getting the daughter they’ve been waiting for.  And… sad again, because I wish there was some way that Xue’s first mother could know that, however horrible it is for her to be without her daughter, this little girl is going to get the best possible care and two parents who love her as much as any parents could ever love a child.  And amazing.  A decision that Jo took three years ago is finally coming to fruit and meaning that strangers get brought together to become family, and they are all over there in China RIGHT NOW waiting for that to happen.  And awkward, because it will be rough for all of them at first, especially Xue.  And amazing some more.  And wonderful.  And… wow.

Waiting, hoping, keeping my fingers crossed, waiting for details, pictures… and wishing all three of them luck.

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