Having Ellie

When you think about giving birth, there’s a certain expectation.  You go into labour.  It’s going to hurt.  At the end, you have a baby.

I’d spent most of my pregnancy not really thinking about the labour part, and trying to focus on the having-a-baby part.  It’s my wedding-marriage analogy; labour and a wedding lasts only a few hours, a child and a marriage are for the rest of your life.  The enormous amount of attention focused on labour used to irritate me.  Focus on the real thing, I always thought.  Focus on how you’re going to fit the kid into your life when you bring her home, when it’s you and her for the next eighteen years.

So I went to hospital to have Ellie with an open mind.  

Except it clearly wasn’t that open.

I’d been expecting a labour that was primal, painful, but ultimately rewarding.  But having Ellie was a frustrating, at times excruciating test of mental endurance that lasted three full days, where I was woefully unprepared for the agony, and made me repeatedly question why on earth I’d done this to myself.

72 hours is a long time to be in pain.  And I hold her now and smell her new-baby smell and I love to say I’d do it again in an instant.   But honestly, I’m not sure I could.

*****

Due to my medical history, I was booked in for an induction (where labour is begun artificially) on Sunday 12 January at 10.30am.  I was up at 7am and it was a clear, crisp morning – the right kind of day to have a baby.

By 9am I’d loaded all the bags into the car and was pacing around the front door like a caged animal.  Mr K was still asleep.  At 9.15am I woke him up, trying to act calmly, and informed him that we needed to leave in half an hour so I could, you know, give birth.

At 9.45am, still no sign.

At 10am, the dad-to-be came downstairs at a leisurely pace.  “Is the computer on?”

“No. It’s time to go.  We’ll be late”

“I just need to download the instructions for the camera”

“You what?”

“It’ll take five minutes.  They aren’t going to turn you away.  Be patient”

Gah.

Ten minutes later he asked me to stand by the back window for a photograph.

“Can’t we do this in hospital?”

“No. I want the baby to see the view of the garden as it was on the day she was born.  Also, look, I figured out how to record a voice clip. So she can hear our voices, how we sounded, just before she was born”.

And that’s how to disarm me.

We made it in time, anyway.  As we usually do, on his infuriating last-minute schedules. Pffft.

*****

The drugs sent my system into overdrive.  Within a short space of time, I was contracting like a pro.  And because in my head, contractions meant labour meant baby, I was absolutely fine with the pain.  The contractions themselves were manageable – the frequency wasn’t.  They came every 2 minutes and it meant I couldn’t do anything else.  I couldn’t sleep, sit, lie down, think straight.  But it was ok.  Contractions meant labour meant baby.  So I ignored the pain and focused on the end result.

They checked me 24 hours later.  No progress.

“I’m sorry?”

“Your cervix hasn’t opened at all.  It needs to, for the baby to come out”

“Have I just gone through that for nothing?” I wailed.  The midwife was very diplomatic.  But essentially, yes.

“How do I get my cervix to do its job?”

“You can’t”.

They then give you 24 hours off the drugs, to give your system a break.  Except I never really got a break.  Turns out my uterus is a pro contractor.   But unless the rest of your bits play ball, there’s nowhere the baby can go.  My uterus was Head Girl and conjugating French verbs. My cervix was bunking off double Maths and smoking behind the bike sheds.  By the time 48 hours rolled around I was a physical and emotional mess.

More drugs were administered on Tuesday morning, for the final 24 hours.   More contractions, more agony, more knowing nothing was happening. I was not a good person to know during that time.  I remember being up at 3am on Wednesday morning, crying in the midwife’s arms saying I can’t do this anymore, take the drugs out, forget it, I’ll wait, I’ll have her when she’s ready to come out, and the midwife giving me short shrift.  By the time 6am Wednesday morning rolled around, I was so far past exhausted I was incapable of speech. I remember seeing a missed call from my mum and wanting to talk to her more than anything but knowing I couldn’t finish any sentences.

By that point I knew that, for me, contractions do not mean labour do not mean baby and I was in despair.  I was checked again. “Your cervix is about as impenetrable as it’s possible to be!” chirped the midwife.  I’d have committed violence if I could have raised myself off the bed.

I am not ashamed to admit that I cried in that bed for an hour.  Still contracting, and they were getting worse.  I hadn’t slept, I was so far beyond my pain threshold that I was out of my mind.  All I wanted to do was get off the bed and walk around, anything to get away from the monitor with its stupid beeps and stupid needle and stupid stuff strapped to me with its record of my pain and my failings.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I heard the beeps getting stronger, louder, more irregular.  I called the midwife.

[hanging off the side of bed] “Take me off the monitor, I can’t do this anymore”

“You’re in active labour, Anna, and the baby’s in distress”

“No I’m not.  I have a useless cervix”

She ignored me.

Then it was like sliding down the side of a mountain, the speed with which everything happened.  Three doctors came in, talking to me about the baby’s heartbeat dropping to 50%, and how they couldn’t see what was wrong with her, and that they were going to have to get her out by c-section.  I didn’t care how she came out, as long as she was safe.

They wheeled me to theatre, and they gave me a spinal block.  I cannot accurately portray how it feels, to feel nothing, after three days of pain.  It’s like someone flipped a switch inside me, and I was capable of coherent thought, and of hope.  They lifted my baby out.  I heard her cry.

I cried like I have never cried before.

****

It’s funny to think I left work over six weeks ago.  When I walked out of the building for the last time, I sat in a coffee shop across the road and felt like a huge chunk of my arm had been ripped off.  I was scared I’d feel purposeless at home.  The one thing I’m really good at was now gone, and I was about to jump off a cliff into a world  of doing nothing, and then baby – the former at which I’m rubbish, the latter at which I am in no way qualified to do.

When you work, you don’t really have time to think.  Once those 12 hours a day are given back to you…that’s a lot of time to ponder.  And plan. And worry.  And worry I did.  I worried more in that last four weeks  of pregnancy than I had in the whole prior nine months, because I had the time to do so.  I read baby books, I fretted about routines, I thought of all the things that could go wrong.

And when she came, of course, she didn’t fit a routine, and she didn’t fit a newborn baby template.  She just did whatever she wanted to do, in her own time, in her own way.

I forgot about the books, and the blogs, and just did what I thought was right.  It’s not easy, trusting your instincts and someone who’s a few hours old, when you like being in control.

Instinct is a funny thing.  You’re relying on reserves of knowledge and feeling you didn’t know you had.  And along with the instinct, comes the fun.  The sheer joy of it.   The one thing the books and the blogs and the worrying didn’t prepare me for was how much pleasure it would be.  How I could quite easily kill an hour just staring at her, like a complete sap.  How someone who is operating purely on instinct and quite frankly doesn’t have a clue who I am could take control of my reason, my faculties, and make me laugh.  How she could cry at 4am and I’d get up to feed her, bleary-eyed and unable to walk straight and I’d pick her up and look at her face and think gah, Ellie, I’d do this five, ten, one hundred times over, for you.  Because I’m not going to get these days again.  These days where I’m not leading a team and making decisions and crafting the perfect phrase and thinking about what Ministers want. These days where instead, I’m doing a job I didn’t know I knew how to do, one that relies on my body and my mind and untapped reserves of love for something that weighs 8lbs.

And I feel like I can do it, like I always could have done it.

*****

The love.  The love I feel isn’t what I expected.  Yes, I want to protect her, care for her, give her the best life she can possibly have, and all the opportunities she could ever want.  That’s the type of love I anticipated.

What I didn’t expect was the mess I would feel inside.  It’s not clean, this love.  It’s like someone dropped dynamite inside me when she was handed to me that day in January, and behind all the rubble, all the rubble of expectation and what went before, are tunnels and rooms and yawning caverns of the heart, all unexplored, some dangerous, some dark, some filled with light.  They are never ending and cannot be mapped.  And we go from room to room, Ellie and I, through tunnels and pathways and looking through doorways, in each room a different love, a different experience, a different mistake, a different story.  The map of these chambers of the heart is designed to last a lifetime.  It’s adventure and confusion and a journey, and it’s life, a life together.

It’s history, Ellie, history of the heart, for you and I to make.

 

Categories: Any Other Baby, Becoming a Mother, Written By Anna
34 interesting thoughts on this

34 Comments

  1. Posted February 5, 2014 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    Oh Anna. I knew you writing about Ellie’s arrival was going to be powerful, but wow. Even more impressive is that you are capablebof such coherence and beautiful writing so soon after she came in to the world! Sending you both lots of love x

  2. Posted February 5, 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    All the words in all the books couldn’t prepare you for the joy. Enjoy the chaos!

    Px

  3. Katielase
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    I have no words for this, just utterly incredible writing. I sat here and read the last paragraph over and over, with my hands on my barely bump, weeping slightly, overcome.

    Anna I think that last paragraph may be the best thing you’ve ever written, which is saying quite a lot!

    KL xx

  4. Sharon
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Such beautiful, honest writing Anna, and as Vivienne mentioned how you can write so coherently this soon is immense. I am sat with my 8 week old little girl and am only just starting to talk / write in coherent sentences again! There’s a few similarities with our birth stories, except yours lasted longer (mine was 36 hours) – I take my hat off to you, you are amazing.
    Take good care of yourself, recovering from a c section takes a while and can be so frustrating, but you will get there. (Tea tree oil really helped my scar as I got an infection and arnica tablets really helped with the bruising)
    Congratulations Anna and welcome to the world Ellie, my little Phoebe says hi xxx

  5. Posted February 5, 2014 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Sobbing.

  6. Fee
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    I am blaming my ‘I had a baby 3 days ago’ hormones for the fact that I am now wailing in my hospital bed (this has been happening a lot but usually with no good reason).

    I am so glad that Ellie arrived safely and sympathise hugely about the induction – I had a 48 hour failed induction (pain but no progress was hideous) but finally as my c-section was being scheduled they managed to break my waters and I was fortunate that things progressed very quickly after that (a little too quickly in fact!).

    You’ve captured perfectly how I feel about Max – I feel like a total mess with a crazy jumble of emotions swirling around. But I know that every day for the rest of my life I will be giving thanks for being lucky enough to have him.

    Huge congratulations again and I bow down to your ability to write something so beautiful with a teeny newborn rocking around! Sending so much love xxxx

    • Becca
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      Congrats Fee. So pleased for your new little family x x x

    • Another Sarah
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      Fantastic news. Congratulations! x

    • Liz
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      Oh congratulations Fee – welcome Max!
      xx

  7. Becca
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Anna….tremendous writing and I’m glad you wrote it now rather than in 6 months time. It’s so incredibly powerful, I’ve read it three times. Many many congratulations x x x

  8. Liz
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Wow wee – amazing writing Anna. Am struggling to comment with anything that doesn’t sound trite after that!!
    Congratulations to you all again, Ellie got supremely lucky in the Mummy stakes
    xx

  9. Rach M
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Wow. This is utterly wonderful. Your writing blows me away, Mrs K. x

  10. fbird
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Anna, you are a fabulous writer. I’m so glad I’m working from home today as am having a proper weep in bed!

    x

  11. Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Beautiful

  12. Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Such a beautifully written piece. I’m overwhelmed with love for you three x

  13. Caroline
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    I don’t actually have many words to say how I feel about this post.
    I already am so in love with the baby in my tummy and watching him make my tummy dance fills me with so much joy and so many secret smiles that it scares me how much I will love him when he arrives and I want to cry if I think about it too much.
    I don’t like to love things too much in case they get taken from me. A thought process I am not proud of and which has meant I have pushed people away unnecessarily. Now to enter this new stage in my life, dear lord, I don’t think I’m ready.
    Congratulations again to you and Mr K.
    xx

  14. Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Beautiful, just beautiful. xx

  15. Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Oh Anna, how I love thee and the words that you speak. Katie is right, I am in awe of that last paragraph. Wow, simply wow.

  16. rachel JHD
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Anna – wow. Being in hospital for induction for three days is hard, how you did it with contractions every two minutes I don’t know.
    Family K enjoy your journey & exploration of love, may you keep finding new rooms x

  17. Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Bloody HELL, Anna. You are truly amazing. And Ellie is a very very lucky little girl.

  18. Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Just chiming in with my ‘gahhhhhhhhh you’re amazing’. You know that last paragraph floored me when I first read it, and it has continued to do so with every reading. Such beauty.

    Love you both xx

  19. Posted February 5, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Wow! I’m in tears! at 21 weeks pregant I have read this with fear and joy at the same time! What a beautifully written peice.xxx

  20. Posted February 5, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    How amazing if these were your own mother’s words? You have to save this for her to see when she’s all grown up – or maybe if and when she becomes a mummy herself!

  21. Posted February 5, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Erm wow. There were a lot of things going through my mind when I was reading this earlier this morning and on reading it again now I can fully appreciate how wonderful those final paragraphs are. So much love to you all x

  22. Amanda M
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Just wonderful – so many congratulations too

  23. Posted February 5, 2014 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Oh my days, thank you all so much for your generous, kind comments. They really have made my day. (Ellie had a meltdown in Tescos so the only way was up, to be fair).

    Lest you all be under the misapprehension that I wrote this whilst feeding her and changing her, I did not, I stole time whilst she was napping. I just wanted to write it down before I forgot about it!

  24. Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    This was similar to my experience (although I lasted nowhere near as long before having a c-section – A’s heart rate was fluctuating and I was exhausted). You are hardcore!
    This is so beautifully written, too. Can’t type much more as I have a sleepy baby on top of me but well done for writing something so amazing whilst (presumably) sleep deprived!
    K x

  25. Kate G
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:20 am | Permalink

    So Beautiful it raised goosebumps. Happy exploring. xx

  26. Rach
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    What a beautiful post. Goosebumps and tears as I read! Congratulations on your new arrival x

  27. ChirstyMac
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Bloody hell – you are incredible Anna. Just Truly Incredible. The strength and positivity that comes through in this amazingly powerful bit of writing is astounding. X

  28. Posted February 6, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I read this yesterday but had to come back to say how beautiful it was. PLEASE write a book – surely it’s on your list? – and please give me a proof copy to review.

  29. Lottie
    Posted February 7, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Anna-so beautifully written. This had me in tears.

    I’m 35 weeks pregnant right now and after all the mad planning and organizing of the last few weeks, (which has wound me up immensely) I had an epiphany yesterday of ” but this is also going to be fun!”

    Your writing confirmed that to me.

    Well done on your endurance test of labour-sounds horrendous. Thank you for sharing what happens when it doesn’t quite work out as you imagined it would. Honesty makes writing powerful and I thank you for that.

  30. Posted February 7, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Wow Anna, first of all congratulations. Second of all as everyone said , you write beautifully. It is funny, my birth went actually extremely fast (I went from 4 to 8.5 cm in about 30 min),.but I can relate to your words. I have seen enough births (in animals) to expect no less than excruciating pain, so I knew I wanted pain relief and my research focused on how to make sure I did not miss my epidural. Well, our little one and my body had other plans, and by the time the anesthesiologist came with it she was already out. But the pain was intense, continuous, fast and it felt like it would never ever end. Those quotes about eternity in a moment (Goethe? William Blake?) took a whole other meaning. I am not sure I could have done that for so many hours. You are the best. And yes the joy, and the complete calm and bliss that overwhelms every cell of your being when you hold her….
    All the best for you 3.

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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