It started off very gently. I went to have acupuncture that morning because I’d heard that can be a nice gentle way to induce labour, as opposed to getting on the oxytocin drip, which is like being hit by a truck. As soon as they put the first pin into my little toe I felt this lovely gentle contraction that came in waves like a rolling ocean. And I was surrounded by beautiful dreamy music and it was just all so relaxing and calm.
Of course it didn’t stay that way. I spent the next few hours of my labour wandering around Chatswood Chase looking for a teddy bear for the baby, but I knew it was time to go home when we were sitting in Pattison’s Pattiserie with a cup of tea and a red velvet cupcake, and I really wasn’t enjoying it. So I went back to my sister’s house in Chatswood to rig myself up to a Labour TENS machine.
For me, the Labour TENS machine was awesome. If you haven’t heard of it, you stick these electrodes onto the small of your back and it literally feels like somebody is patting your back. Makes a husband totally redundant. Then when a contraction hits you press a button and it sends electrical pulses through your body to distract your nervous system from the pain. I loved it. By this stage, I was having contractions every 3 – 5 minutes so I rang the hospital to see whether or not I should go in. I told them I’d had quite a long pre-labour with my first child so they suggested I wait a few hours and see whether the labour heats up or cools off. So we settled in at my sister’s house. She tells me that when she arrived home after work she was quite surprised to hear tribal drumming resonating up the driveway. Apparently I was banging a drum with increasing intensity through each contraction while Birdy and her cousin danced around singing, “Go Mummy, go Mummy!” I don’t have a really strong memory of that, but there you go.
After a couple of hours of that it started to get a bit more painful so we decided to go to the hospital and just walk around the grounds so we would be there if we needed to be. But on the way, it started to really hurt, so I got out one of those little stress balls and started banging it on the car door and counting through each contraction. I realised that they were now 2 minutes apart and very painful. So we went straight up to the labour ward. As we stood at the double doors to the ward, waiting to enter, I had an unexpected moment of anxiety and flooding grief. The last time I was in that spot I was delivering Samuel at 14 weeks and though I wasn’t consciously thinking about it, the emotional memory was so strong that for a moment it overwhelmed me. Then I said to myself, “Katrina, Get over it, you’ve got to keep it together and get this baby out!” Then before I knew it, I was being quite seriously berated by a midwife for not phoning to say I was coming in. So I said, “Look I’m very sorry, I was just going to walk around the garden, but it’s starting to hurt, so I thought I’d better check in.” “Well next time, make sure you call!” Next time? I’m hardly thinking about next time when my insides are being slowly smashed apart by a wrecking ball!
Anyway, my doctor arrived soon after so I told him “It was really slow last time, I’m probably not even in labour, I’m probably not even dilated.” He examined me and said, “You’re 9 centimetres, let’s get this baby out.” My response was, “What? How can I be 9 centimetres? I’m not even in labour yet?” Clearly, I was delusional. So he broke my waters, and for the next half hour I was on my feet, stamping and vocalising my way though each very painful contraction. My husband only had time to give me one heat pack and next thing I knew I was on a birthing stool pushing her out! It was fantastic. I mean it was really, really hard work pushing her out, (I guess that’s why they call it labour!) but my doctor coached me through each push and it felt fantastic to be able to feel it all, drug-free!
Obviously, there’s no way to guarantee a good birth. No magic formula that will make it all fall into place. (Just read my sister’s birth story here!) It helps to have a good doctor or midwife, (and lots of prayers), but I think it’s also a good idea to get in training and learn as much as you can about labour and birth. I read a book by Ju Ju Sundin and Sarah Murdoch called “Birth Skills” and that really helped me to deal with the pain, stay in control and to have a very clear idea in my mind of what my body needed to do. (Stress balls, stamping, vocalising and counting are just some of the techniques recommended in the book! The drumming bit was my own variation!) It particularly works well for somebody with an expressive personality because it’s all about getting the pain out, burning off the adrenalin your body is producing and focusing on what is happening physically. I really recommend that book for anyone who wants some ideas about how to cope with the pain so they can stay in control, even when it would otherwise be unbearable. I also think the Labour TENS helped me to conserve my energy early on, so that I had plenty of resources to deal with the really painful bit at the end.
By the way, that little stress ball I used in labour, it started out with a little smiley face on it, but that was totally gone by the time I gave birth, so it got quite a workout! At the end of the day, what we all really want is a healthy baby. But I felt particularly blessed to have such a trouble-free, natural birth and to have been fully alert and present for the entire experience. The only thing I would do differently is to call first! I got three or four lectures before the night was over!
Do you have a labour tip to share? What did you use to help you cope with the pain of labour? For me it was tribal drumming, the labour TENS machine, stress balls, stamping and vocalising. What worked for you?
I am not very good at living in the moment. Ask my husband. I’m only happy when I’m planning the next holiday or working towards a goal. I always need something to look forward to. I remember when mobile phones first started to become widespread. It became quite common to go to a party and see people talking on their mobile phones, talking about the next party while ignoring everybody who was actually at the party with them. Or you would find yourself having lunch with somebody who would be on the phone planning the next lunch with somebody else. At the time it seemed utterly ridiculous! Now it’s just normal. We accept it. But with smart phones we’re not just talking to somebody else, we’re also updating our status, checking tomorrow’s weather, catching up on emails, googling for information. We’re never fully in the moment. We’re never just with the people we’re with. We don’t give each other our full attention. Maybe I particularly feel this because I’m a ‘quality time’ person. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read the 5 Love Languages, by Gary Chapman). Spending quality time with people, especially one on one, is what makes me feel loved and connected to them. But to get ‘quality time’ people have to be fully present. And you just don’t get a whole heap of that from anybody these days. Except maybe kids.
One of the best and hardest things about having a baby is that it forces you to live in the moment. The real and present moment. You can’t plan ahead too much. You can’t put the baby on hold. You can’t make him or her wait. If the baby wants to be fed, they’ll get fed. If the baby wants to sleep, the baby has to sleep. The baby only knows the here and now. And children are the same. When you spend a day with a small child, you spend it in the moment. And that can be a challenge to our task oriented, list-making, adult way of thinking. But children at least give you quality time!
One of the reasons I decided it was time to have a baby the first time was because I wanted to spend more time with friends and family. My Dad had just recovered from pretty serious bowel cancer surgery and we all felt we were lucky to still have him with us. About eight years before that he’d had a triple heart by-pass. It was like we’d already been given a second chance and now we were being given a second ‘second chance’. Suddenly it hit home to me that family was the most important thing in life. I wanted my Dad to meet my children. But I also figured that work had eaten up way too much of my life and it was time to just slow the pace a little and spend time with the people I love.
Here I am now with a second baby and the world has changed. In just five years, it’s changed. People don’t spend as much time with people now, they spend it online, connecting through social media and blogging and emails and facetime and anything but face to face contact. This becomes more obvious than ever when you have a new baby or a birthday. When I had Birdy we were inundated with visitors. This time we were inundated with facebook messages. Nobody feels the need to come and see the baby because they’ve already seen it on facebook. Ten years ago, when you had a birthday the phone used to ring all day. Now those same people send a text or leave a facebook message. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it seems like these forms of communication are a bit less personal. They’re more immediate and it’s nice that you can have conversations with people on the other side of the world, but it’s also a more distant way of communicating. And more temporary. I know I’ll keep every single card that was sent to welcome Molly into the world. And when she’s older, I’ll get them all out of their musty shoebox and read them with her, whereas the facebook messages and texts will be lost forever. To me, there’s something unspeakably beautiful about the fact that those cards once ran through a physical printing process, travelled to a shop, were carefully selected, were held in the hands and homes of the people who wrote them, that they then travelled through real space and time to get to us, were delivered by another pair of hands to our mailbox and were held and read by us in another place and time. It’s like a big community effort to deliver those greetings and messages. One day when Molly is much, much older she’ll hold them again, even if it’s only to throw them in the bin!
We Mums have particularly embraced social media. When you’re stuck at home with a sleeping or feeding baby you can go online and feel like you’ve connected with somebody. You can put a question out there and a bunch of people will have something to say about it. But I think it can also make us lazy and, in a way, isolated. We’re less likely to pick up the phone and call our friends. We don’t bother to drive across town to visit. We don’t open up our homes quite so much as we used to and we miss out on spending really good quality time with each other.
Last weekend we had Birdy’s 5th birthday party at our house. We always have our parties at home. It was nice this year to include a few of Birdy’s pre-school friends who have never been to our house before. I always think you never really know a person until you’ve been to their house. Sure you can see on facebook what a person’s fave movies and TV shows are, but you learn so much more when you eat a meal in their home. You can tell what year they got married by the colour of their crockery (Blue & yellow, 1999, Square plates, 2005, Brown & maroon 2006, black & white patterns, 2010 and 2011)! When you visit someone’s home you see photos of their family and their travels, artworks they treasure, their CD collection, instruments you never knew they played, books on the shelf (or the fact that there are no books on the shelf) or whatever!
So my goal for this year at home is to try to reconnect with people face to face. To have more friends over to my house and to just pick up the phone and call, rather than always sending messages on facebook or by email. I don’t have a beautifully renovated home or a blitzed backyard and I don’t cook like a Masterchef, but hey, I’m aiming for reality, not reality TV. So if I blog a little less this year, hopefully it’s because I’m calling a little more often! And living in the moment. The fully present, real, right now moment. And hey, if you’re my friend and you’re reading this, maybe you could call me too, and we could catch up sometime… face to face, not on facebook or facetime. But right now, I’ve got to go. Molly needs a feed. And she needs it right now!
Do you use social media and technology to connect with other Mums and to the outside world when you’re at home? Is there a down side to all this interaction or do you feel it’s only a positive force in your life? Do you agree that children help you to live in the moment?
It’s 4 am. I’m staying at my parents house in the country, feeding Molly while sitting on the antique couch that belonged to my grandmother and grandfather. Just behind me, I can hear the rhythmic, gentle tick of the 400 year old grandfather clock they brought out with them when they emigrated from the UK more than 60 years ago. (My little sister got into Granny’s bad books by winding the two clock weights around each other like a tightly coiled DNA strand when she was a toddler. You can imagine how well that went down!)
Lying beside me on the couch is a sleeping Birdy. If she happens to wake up in the night while I’m feeding she comes and finds me and sleeps beside me. It’s very sweet and nice to have company in the wee hours.
Outside in the soil, just a hundred metres from the house, lie the ashes of our miscarried son, Samuel. Over the road, lie the remains of my paternal grandmother, Ivy.
On the other side of the room on a desk, are two formal portraits of my maternal grandmother, Molly – the one our little Molly (now 5 weeks old) is named after. There were a number of reasons we chose the name Molly, but one of them was because of our common loss. A few years ago I discovered that my mother, who was an only child, had a little stillborn brother. It was only when we went through the trauma of losing Samuel that I found out more about what happened. Molly had developed severe pre-eclampsia and her kidneys were failing, putting her life in danger. The pregnancy had to be induced prematurely and she delivered a stillborn baby boy.
So as I sit here feeding baby Molly, I do so surrounded by this lineage, this history. When I’m back at home, I spend a lot of time asking Mum and Dad about our family history. It’s often prompted by an enquiry about a photo or an old piece of furniture. “Who did this belong to?” or ” Where did this come from?” or “Where was this photo taken?” In an old locked bookshelf in the sitting room, there’s a small, seemingly insignificant goat bell. To be honest, I’ve never even noticed it before. The key to that bookshelf snapped off in the lock years ago and it’s never been opened since. But yesterday I learned that the goat bell belonged to Mum’s grandfather, Sir Henry Newland. It was brought home from Gallipoli. He was later knighted for his pioneering work there, patching up the soldiers using an early form of plastic surgery, which makes it a pretty interesting little goat bell.
I’ve been thinking about lineage a bit in the context of Christmas – how important it was in Jewish culture. The gospels trace Jesus’ lineage back to King David to show his Kingship. Lineage is not really a concept we think about in modern life. But I think we are still biologically driven to reproduce and to see our family line go on. Most people don’t have kids because they love children. They have kids because they feel a drive to reproduce and to be a family. Men in particular seem to need to leave a legacy, to make a mark on the world. Having children is just one way of doing that.
Of course our spiritual heritage can be even more influential than our physical heritage. Molly’s second name, Jean, is after my husband’s paternal grandmother, Jeanie. I didn’t have the privilege of knowing her as she had already slipped into dementia by the time I met her, but I felt I got to know her a little bit at her funeral. Testimony after testimony was given about her strong faith and her faithfulness. Her son, Molly’s grandfather, now runs a missional Christian community and bible college. My grandmother, the original Molly, married an anglican minister, Andrew Hay, who was also involved in missions. My other grandmother Ivy, sang hymns to my father under the kitchen table when the Germans were carrying out air raids during the second world war and prayed faithfully for the safe return of her husband. Today my father is heavily involved in the local branch of the welfare charity, Anglicare. Over the holiday period a number of people knocked on the front door or phoned up asking for help with rent or grocery and power bills. All these things are different expressions of faith and they are all part of little Molly’s rich spiritual heritage. She will have to make her own choices about what she believes and how she expresses that, but we will make sure she knows where she comes from.
The name Molly means ‘bitterness’ or ‘out of bitterness’. The name Jean means ‘God is faithful’. Already Molly Jean is such a blessing to us. And I hope we can raise her to be a blessing to others, just as many of her ancestors were before her.
PS. Happy New Year!