Monday, April 13, 2009

Birthing babies

Holy shit. I had no idea that birthing babies was such hard work.

Okay. So I knew that labour was painful. I've seen the movies and read the books. Women screaming, men panicking, doctors yelling for things like forceps and scissors, and eventually, a baby's cry piercing the silence.

My best buddy of over ten years gave birth nearly three days ago now. Months ago, we had the 'discussion', and it was decreed that I would be allowed to be present at the birth of this, her first baby. I didn't really think too much about it. I knew it would probably be a bit gross but I was very excited about the prospect of seeing somebody being born and all that it entails.

Thursday, April 9. 15:30. Phone rings. It's my friend. She says that she thinks that the back pain she's had for the past two days (two sleepless nights) have been the beginning of labour, as the pains are ten minutes apart quite regularly now. I rejoice. Baby! One problem. I'm over two hours away.

Thursday, April 9. 17:30. My housemate and I are on the road.

Thursday, April 9. 18:30. I get a text message advising me that my friend's contractions are five minutes apart now, so she's at the hospital already. I panic quietly, urging time to slow down so that I can get there sooner.

Thursday, April 9. 19:45. I arrive at the hospital, and run down the ramp towards the entrance, huffing and puffing my way up to the labour ward. I am stopped by a locked door and am eventually let into her labour room, only to find my friend, her husband, her mother and her oldest sister, not to mention a nurse. My friend is pacing back and forth, moaning, occasionally leaning forward on the bed, her face scrunched up in pain. "Shit," I think, "good thing I hurried!" We are convinced that labour will happen soon, as my friend is in incredible pain at very regular intervals.

Thursday, April 9. 21:00. A resident (read: doctor-in-training) comes in to tell my friend that she thinks my friend MIGHT have an infection because her waters MAY have broken a day or two earlier, and so, they're going to put in a cannula and feed my friend antibiotics to combat the problem before it becomes a problem. My friend doesn't really care, as she's too preoccupied with the incredibly difficult and painful contractions that her body is now subjecting her to at four-minute intervals. The resident examines my friend's wrist for ten to fifteen minutes, trying to find a friendly-looking vein. She eventually settles for one in my friend's wrist, and pats it uncertainly for a number of minutes, causing fear to grow in the pit of my stomach. I've had inexperienced people poke me with needles before, and it hurts. The resident gets out the big needle and starts sliding it into my friend's wrist. My friend starts to react... loudly... and then louder... and louder... crying now... screaming, in fact... and the resident says, "Oh, I've missed it," and instead of pulling it out, she wiggles it around! To try and find the vein by the power of the wiggle? God knows. So my friend is in agony in her abdomen and her wrist now. The resident eventually gives up, and then does a vaginal examination, only to figure out that the waters haven't broken at all and there's no risk of infection at this stage. Total eye-roll moment. We all mutter ferociously about how the next person to insert a needle will have a minimum of thirty years' experience.

Friday, April 10. 00:00. My friend is in total agony with her contractions. They are four-to-five minutes apart, depending, and contracting across her lower back and her front. I have never seen my best friend in so much pain. It worries me greatly, as I hate to see her so upset, exhausted and in so much pain. She cries with every contraction now, and is starting to say that she doesn't know how much longer she can keep it up for. The nurse comes in and suggests morphine. My friend is very reluctant, but we talk her into it. She's too tired to deal with so much pain.

Friday, April 10, 02:00. My friend's cervix has dilated to 4cm, but shows no sign of budging any further for a few hours. The morphine appears to have slowed the contractions down, as they are now ten minutes apart. We agree that we (her mum and I) will go home to get some rest and come back in the morning. I fall into bed about 03:15.

Friday, April 10. 05:30. I'm awake. I have to get back to the hospital to see how my friend is. I want to make sure that she's okay and I really don't want to miss the birth.

Friday, April 10. 06:30. I arrive at the hospital. The nurses are surprised to see me so soon. Fair enough, too. I really only slept for two hours. I chat with my friend as she deals with her contractions in bed. They're manageable at this stage, but picking up pace rapidly. We go for a short walk down the corridor and poke fun at some art on the walls. The contractions are becoming more and more regular, and increasing in severity. My friend is beginning to regret the walk.

Friday, April 10. 08:00. The staff have decided that my friend's labour is not pressing enough, and have come in to tell her that she should either go into the maternity ward and hang out there, or just go home and wait for the contractions to get worse. I'm thinking, how much worse do they have to be in order to qualify for a bed around here? The doctor then performs a vaginal examinations and reneges on his assessment of five minutes ago, telling my friend that she should stay in the hospital but hang out in maternity instead. We move all our stuff to the maternity ward. My friend is offered panadeine forte, but she declines at that stage, as she'd prefer to not take pain medication unless she really needs it. My friend is very upset that the staff seem to think that her labour pains are not exciting enough to be worried about.

Friday, April 10. 10:00. My friend is experiencing some very nasty contractions. We're all hungry, so I call my sister to come and get me for a food run. The nurse on duty has come in to introduce herself, and we're all a bit shell-shocked by her personality. "Hellooooo, dear!" she greeted my friend in a saccharine voice. "Are we having a baby today?" ... No, grated cheese. What do YOU think?

Friday, April 10. 11:00. I return with the food. We go for a walk to the hospital grounds. My friend can hardly move for contraction pain, and is utterly miserable, pausing after a few paces to dance around in agony.

Friday, April 10. 12:00. My friend is in so much that she doesn't know what to do. Her mother suggests a bath. We ask Barbie (as we have nicknamed the nurse) to run my friend a bath. Her older sister departs for her Easter holiday regretfully. It's now just my friend's mum and I, and my friend's husband. He goes home at this point to freshen up. The bath's warmth is very soothing to my friend. Her mum and I sit on either side of her, massaging her back and trying to help her through the contractions as she grips our hands, tenses her entire body in pain and cries her way through each contraction, regular as clockwork now as her body tries to prepare itself for the oncoming watermelon push-out.

Friday, April 10. 14:00. My friend requests another vaginal examination, desperate to know if all this pain has dilated her cervix any further. We are moved back to the labour ward. The contractions worsen. My friend can't speak properly for crying, exhausted and spent, each contractions wearying her more than the previous.

Friday, April 10. 17:00. My friend has been given a drip of fluids and sleeping stuff to help her relax. Apparently relaxing brings on the baby. I am entirely unsure at this point how anybody is supposed to be able to relax through contractions, as they seem to be the most horrible thing upon the earth. I make the mistake of walking past the nurse's station. A midwife on duty pulls me over for a short lecture on my friend's cervix, and the amount of dilation that still needs to occur. She ends her speech by telling me that my presence in the room isn't relaxing my friend and that I should just go home and come back later. I am extremely offended and sit in the corner of my friend's room, sulking, for over an hour. I eventually decide that maybe the midwife is right and I should go home for a break.

Friday, April 10. 19:45. I return to the hospital. My friend is in a chair, crying with exhaustion and pain. The midwife is there, telling her all about her options from then on in. The doctor arrives and tries to explain, loudly, about epidurals and pain relief but my friend is contracting and can't hear him for the blood pounding her ears as her body deals with the pain. After some long discussion and long episodes of crying, pain and exhaustion, it is agreed that my friend will have an epidural to relieve the pain and allow my friend to rest in between contractions.

Friday, April 10. 21:00. A South African anaesthetist comes and administers the local anaesthetic and the epidural. My friend is tucked up in the bed and soon slumbers between each contraction peacefully, her features gently relaxing as she can't feel the pain for awhile. Her drip is inducing her, and the contractions are as regular as a heart beating.

Saturday, April 11. 01:00. My friend is starting to feel the contractions again as the epidural wears off on one side. We are all exhausted by this point. The nurse comes in to examine my friend, and says that she needs to be induced further. The drip is altered. My friend's husband goes for a nap in the other bed. I take a brief nanna nap in the relatives' lounge while my friend's mum reads.

Saturday, April 11. 03:00. Things are well and truly underway. My friend is starting to contract repeatedly and, worse, she can feel it now.

Saturday, April 11. 03:40. My friend has just had six contractions in a row. The nurses and doctor get into labour mode and start setting up properly for the birth. Bowls and instruments are set out everywhere, the end of the bed removed and my friend examined. I am sent to fetch her husband from his nap. He proves difficult to wake. My friend is given instruction to begin pushing, and so she does with each contraction. We all alternate between holding her hand, holding her legs in stirrups and checking out the V-action as she begins to open up. Eventually, she is clutching the hands of her husband and her mother, and I am left sitting on a seat in the room, watching with the best possible view as the doctor gets into place to deliver the baby. My friend is beyond exhausted, but, with the news that the birth is really very imminent now, shows some gumption and pushes with gusto.

Saturday, April 11. 04:10. The baby's head crowns. Kind of. He needs some help. The doctor inserts a suction cap which adheres to the baby's head and guides him out gently. Then the suction cap and the head don't quite fit through, so my friend is snipped around the edges to make the hole bigger. The baby's head appears properly. I am fascinated by the colour. "It's green!" I say to my friend. "I can see the head!" "Oh good," she replies tiredly and continues pushing. The rest of baby begins to emerge, and I realise that the baby is in a sack with a greenish tinge to it. The head and shoulders are through, and the rest of the baby slides out with a plop, unfolding into a little person. The doctor catches the baby expertly, peels back the sack and, in one swift movement, places the baby on my friend's chest as blood and ooooky bits pour out of my friend into a large bowl. My friend and her husband look at her baby (a boy) delightedly before he is whisked over to the little baby platform under a bright light that they've got in the labour room (I dunno what it's called). I am in tears as the miracle of what I've just witnessed dawns on me. All these hours and hours of horrible, intense pain have all just culminated into the arrival of a tiny little person. Watching his head and shoulders emerge from her vagina, however "too much info" that may be, is possibly the most amazing thing I've ever witnessed to date.

My friend needed stitches, and was stitched up after she passed the placenta, which I was disgusted to see was as big as the baby itself. "How did you fit that all in there?" I wanted to know. It was amazing. The nurse showed us all the various parts of the placenta as the baby was taken away, having swallowed some of the amniotic fluid and the meconium. The green tinge was a result of baby having been stressed at some point during the pregnancy and pooing inside the sack. He was covered in little bits of it. After my friend was stitched up and the drama had calmed down, we all adjourned for the evening. I got home at 05:30.

I returned six or seven hours later with my father and sister to meet the baby properly and have my first hold of him. He was so sweet. I was bubbling over with excitement, despite the tiredness. What a hell of a ride. The labour was pure hell, but the birth was magical.