The birth

Last Sunday morning, Paul drove me to the hospital for the induction of my labour. I was 34 and a half weeks pregnant, and everyone was in agreement that my baby girl was big enough to come into the world. My oncologist was hoping to start my chemotherapy treatment a few days after delivery. I was anxious. I was induced when I had Joseph, and I really struggled with the pain. As a result, I had an epidural, and I planned to do so again, but there were still a lot of nerves.

We were assigned our first midwife, Becky, and given a delivery room. The baby was monitored. A couple of hours after we arrived, Becky examined me and inserted a pessary that would hopefully start the labour. She said it could take 24 hours to get working, but that I might start to feel period-like pains in a couple of hours. I had dull pains on and off throughout the afternoon, but nothing really came of them. In the late afternoon, Paul and I talked about whether or not he should go home to see Joseph before he went to bed. We asked Becky what she thought, and she said that Paul could probably go home and just come back the next morning. I was disappointed that she seemed so sure nothing would happen until the following day. Paul left, promising to drive back quickly if I called him.

A midwife called Shauna looked after me through the night. I didn’t get much sleep, and did a lot of pacing up and down the corridor. From about 3am, the pains started to get stronger and more regular. At about 4.30am, I sent Paul a message asking him to come back when he woke up, and he arrived an hour later. We switched midwife again, to Rachel. She told me we shared the same birthday. She examined me and broke my waters at about 6.45am.

Paul’s job was to let everyone know that I wanted an epidural as soon as possible, and he did it very well. However, I’m not sure any of us were prepared for how quickly things were going to happen once they got underway. As soon as my waters were broken, the contractions got a lot stronger and closer together. I started using gas and air, which seemed to help at first. Rachel called for an anaesthetist to administer the epidural, and I tried to stay reasonably calm and remember that there wouldn’t be too many contractions to get through before it was in.

For some reason, it took about forty-five minutes to get the epidural done. Paul told me this afterwards; my guess would have been three centuries. And even when it was done, the pain was inexplicable. I asked Paul why it wasn’t working. I said a hundred times that I couldn’t do it. I cried. I screamed. I felt sure, with every contraction, that I was going to die. And then, a senior midwife came in and helped me to turn on my side and within seconds, the baby was there in the room, and she was screaming. It was 8.06am.

My midwife had changed again, from Rachel to Sally, at some point during that intense final hour, and I hadn’t even noticed. All these midwives had been kind and competent; I was grateful to them all for the role they’d played in getting her here. Sally cleaned her and lay her on my chest and we gazed at her while I delivered the placenta. We named her Elodie Alice. She was beautiful. Small but perfect. There was a crease in her chin that was identical to the one Joseph had at birth, and it struck me that we had two children now, and our family was complete.

Because of her early arrival, we’d been told there would be a paediatrician in the room at the time of birth, but there wasn’t, because of how quickly it happened. A few minutes after she was born, a doctor put her head round the door and said ‘I can tell there’s nothing wrong with that baby.’ She was a good colour and she was crying, and I remember Sally saying that she seemed like a full-term baby. But within an hour of her birth, something changed. She lost her colour and went floppy, and she was taken away from us to be checked by a paediatrician, who decided that she should probably go to the special care unit for a little while.

I wasn’t too concerned. I’d prepared myself for this. Sally gave her back to me and took a photo of Paul and Elodie and me, and then we kissed her and let her go. And we didn’t know that we were standing on the precipice of something awful; that things were going to get worse before they got better. We waited for her to come back to us.

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