At 1.30pm, I suddenly realise that the uncomfortable cramping I’ve been experiencing for the past 15 minutes is getting more intense, and it hits me like a massive wave crashing into the rocky shore. Oh my lord, that was a contraction. It really was. Oh crap! We’re really going to have this baby!
Tall puts in a calm call to the midwife, who tells him that there’s no reason to do anything as long as I’m comfortable (ha – I haven’t been comfortable for over nine months!) and the contractions are still fairly weak. He passes me the phone and I am reassured by her calm tone and reasonable words. “Call me later in the day when things really get going,” she says, and I ring off, slightly relieved that we still have a while to prepare for the arrival of this child.
I begin to pace as the contractions start to get stronger and more intense. I’m surprised I’m not wearing a path in the carpet, leaving a little trail of fluff in a circle from the lounge, through into the dining room, into the hall, and back into the lounge.
Tall’s parents call. I really don’t want to talk to anybody; I want to crawl inside myself and curl into a little ball. A little ball where contractions and babies and parenthood and pain and childbirth simply cease to exist. But I grit my teeth and politely listen as Tall’s dad tells me how excited they are. I know that I should be grateful for their concern and their love, but all I really want to do is rip the phone cord out of the wall and hide.
At 4pm, my parents arrive with two hastily-completed, tiny woollen singlets, and some food. They are just in time to witness my first tears, as I lean, doubled-over, against the window sill in the dining room. They are ugly, sobbing tears; tears of pain mixed with fear and anxiety and surprise, but I manage a (weak) smile as my mum shows me the tiny little singlets she has knitted for their grandbaby.
“I can’t handle this anymore,” I moan at Tall. “Can you call Sally?”
I hear him explaining what’s happening to the midwife, and realise we haven’t been timing the contractions. All I know is that they are starting to come thick and fast and I don’t think I can take anymore. She asks to speak to me, and in her calm, gentle voice explains that we probably have a number of hours still to go, but that we can meet at the hospital in an hour to check how far along things are.
Just before 5pm, Tall gingerly loads me and my hospital bag into his car; the ten minute journey seems to take forever, and I find myself clawing at his leather seats as contraction after contraction hits. The walk from the car up to the maternity ward seems even longer, and I am grateful for the near-empty corridors with room to weave.
Sally is waiting for us, and takes us into a delivery room. She gently encourages me to get into the birthing pool or take a hot shower to try and ease the discomfort. I don’t think I can stand, so opt for the pool, and the warm water helps. Sally toddles off to do all the necessary paperwork; she wheels over the nitrous oxide and instructs me how to use it.
Try as I might, I simply can’t get the gas to work, and it is beginning to really p*ss me off. Instead, I bite down on the mouthpiece. That helps, as does my irrational anger towards this innocent machine.
Suddenly, I say to Tall, “I feel like I need to push…”
I desperately want out of that pool. I desperately want these contractions to be over, and I desperately want this baby out, but I desperately don’t want to deal with the next stage just yet. Sally asks if I’d like to stand, but my legs are like jelly. She asks if I’d like to kneel on the bed, and I whimper, “I don’t know.”
The next moments pass in a blur. I remember pushing. I remember breathing through contractions and struggling to get the timing right. I remember holding my breath and shaking my head “No” when asked if I was having another. I remember wondering if she knew I was lying. I remember Tall brushing my hair off my forehead and whispering words of encouragement. I remember thinking I’d never heard his voice sound so soft and soothing before. I remember Sally and Tall talking about cricket and our new house, and I was glad that, for a moment, they were leaving me the heck alone. I remember Sally saying, “You’re almost there, just one more push…” countless times, and willing her to just SHUT THE HECK UP because she’d already said that a gazillion times and I’d already given one more bloody push.
I remember the moment Tiny was born. I remember hearing his yell less than a second after he was out, and I remember taking a while to register that what I was being shown was a little boy. I remember glancing at the clock but taking no notice of the time. It was 6.45pm.
And I remember the moment he was placed on my chest and I held that pink, scrawny, wrinkly bundle in my arms for the first time. At that moment, I felt like I never, ever wanted to let him go, and I realised that I was feeling the most intense, pure, uncomplicated love it is possible to feel.
When our baby had been checked and weighed (7lb 1oz – not bad for a 38-weeker; head size – a massive 39.5cm) and swaddled like a little mummy and had had his first feed, I lay on the bed staring at my husband cradling his tiny son. Sally had quietly left the room for a few moments, and we were whispering together about names.
We needed something strong, something to reflect the determined way he arrived into this world. “He’s not a James”, we both agreed. There was silence as we both rolled our alternative name around in our mouths, testing out its feel, seeing how it suited our boy.
When Sally came back in and asked if we had a name, I looked at Tall, and he nodded.
“His name is Jack.”