All prospective parents are prepared for a number of things: the labour will be hard, the birth will be insane, the mum will be sore and hormonal for a long time to come, and the first few weeks will be a whirlwind of nappies, feeding, screaming and sleeplessness. With a few perks, of course, like being able to say you’re a parent and getting to use a new parking space at the supermarket. Or, if you’re really lucky, that moment the baby pees on your partner and not you.
Nobody prepares you for the psychological aftershocks of the birth itself. Now that we’re starting to get used to parenting – that is, we’ve realised we’ll always have at least one too few hands for every task – we have time to process what happened that day. And I think I preferred it when we were too busy to think.
Every time Lizzie goes to the toilet she has a flashback to the labour. It started 6am when she woke in agony and started vomiting. I ran her a hot bath but it did little to help. We went to hospital, were sent home because they thought she wasn’t in enough pain to really be in labour, and Lizzie sat in another bath and vomited some more. She had a bloody show, started to shiver, and still the hospital told us she wasn’t in labour yet – these were just pre-labour ‘twinges’. Then she started to bleed.
There was no answer from the delivery suite, no answer from antenatal, no answer from the birthing unit, no answer from the community midwives’ office or mobile, no answer from the back-up hospital and no midwife at the local surgery, so I rang for an ambulance.
The single-crewed paramedic panicked the second he saw her, called for backup because birth was ‘imminent’, apparently, and within minutes there were three paramedics, three midwives and two grandmothers crowding around the tub. Lizzie was six centimetres dilated, so they piled her and the midwives into an ambulance and set off with blue lights flashing. This was four hours after being sent home from Maternity, and less than an hour since the hospital had told us they weren’t even contractions.
For Lizzie, this was the worst of the ordeal, and now the bathroom stirs unpleasant associations of pain, blood and fear. She isn’t really bothered about the public nudity, but then pregnancy and prudishness don’t go together. Trouble is, she can’t exactly avoid the bathroom.
For me, I have a single image that haunts me: my beautiful angel Izzie lying alone in an incubator in Neonatal ICU, hooked up to all kinds of monitors, a drip in her arm and a feeding tube up her nose. She got stuck in the birth canal for two hours as she was back-to-back.
Downstairs, Lizzie was recovering from haemorrhaging on the operating table after a failed ventouse and forceps birth. I spent the rest of the night and next day bouncing between the two. At the time I simply did what I needed to do and put one foot in front of the other for forty-three hours. But now, when people ask about the birth, I come to the moment when Izzie went into the incubator and I can’t go any further. I can’t talk about the four days in ICU; the three days in Transitional Care; the day I cried because my girls weren’t coming home; the day Lizzie begged me to stay but they still made me leave at midnight.
So how do we get past these thoughts and feelings? For Lizzie I guess we need to fill the bathroom with happy memories to replace the bad, such as baby bathtimes, or else it’s as good an excuse as any to get a new bathroom suite. And as for me? I just need to hold my daughter as much as I can and assure her she’ll never be alone again.