Tag Archives: Labour

Arrivals

‘Just so you know’, I texted Timothy on Sunday afternoon, ‘I am definitely baking a cake in swimming hotpants right now. I am a vision.’

Sunday was a good day. But not an especially good day to be thirty-seven weeks pregnant. It was hot, and bright, and busy. After three hours of church and an afternoon of preparing for a workshop activity that evening, even wearing a skirt had become too much to contemplate. I switched to the swimming hotpants, did my printing and preparing and mixing of cake like a heffalump in turquoise lycra, and felt pretty good about it, since you ask.

Our activity went well, mostly because I remembered to change out of the hotpants before we left, and we arrived home late and tired and happy. We were in bed before 10.30pm, and unconscious not long after that.

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‘This is my first properly empty week before D-day’, I remember thinking before I dropped off. ‘Shall I nest? Maybe I’ll make some frozen meals’.

Well, I can only conclude that nesting is so entirely out of character that the universe stepped in to avoid such silliness. At midnight I was awake again, with stomach ache. I didn’t think anything of it. We’d never settled on a proper nickname for this baby-to-be (Tim had tried TJ II, with not much success), but I didn’t call him the Bowel-Treader for nothing. I went to the loo, came back, and had almost dropped off again when the pain came back. And then back again. And then back again after that. After half an hour, I got a magazine, retired to the bathroom and started timing the spaces between them. They were fairly regular, but not clockwork, and I didn’t want to wake Timothy – who had, frankly, a rat’s behind of a week ahead of him at work – if all I had was boomerang diarrhoea.

At 2am they were still there, and I hadn’t managed to take in much about the situation in Egypt (in hindsight, I should probably have chosen a different magazine). So I went back into the bedroom and woke Tim.

‘Soooo’, I started, feeling ridiculous, ‘I think I may be having contractions’.

‘Wha?’

‘Contractions. I’m having them’.

‘Oh’.

There was a pause, while his rat’s behind of a week ran fairly obviously over his face.

‘Are you sure?’

I stopped. Suddenly I was horribly sure. ‘Yep. I’ll call the hospital’. And then I added, while the phone rang, ‘I’m frightened’.

Because I was. Your body and mind are helpfully in cahoots, after giving birth, and all I remembered from Henry were a few vivid flashes. The rest of it was coming back to me now, in pieces. In most of the pieces I was making a lot of noise.

The midwife at the other end of the phone was lovely. We were told to wait until the contractions were stronger and more regular, and in the meantime keep moving, get the bags ready, have a soothing bath. I got in the bath, as directed. We tried to have a discussion about where to send Henry, but I was finding it hard to talk. I breathed in time on my hands and knees, and made a valiant effort to be interested in the location of Henry’s vests. I didn’t really cotton on that things weren’t going to plan, however, until fifteen minutes later, when I started wanting to push.

‘PUSH?’ yelled the functioning part of my brain, as soon as I’d verbalised that bit in my head. ‘Push what? PUSH WHAT? GET OUT OF THE BATH, YOU IDIOT’.

I did. I crawled into the bedroom to the edge of the bed, got a nightdress on over my head – stupid fiddly tags – and told Tim to call the hospital again. I remember thinking how blessedly calm he sounded. I am alright, I thought. I am wearing half a nightdress and kneeling on half a towel with my head underneath a flipping baby crib, but Tim is here, and I am alright.

‘She says that if you’re feeling pressure, we need to come in now. If you want to push, I need to call 999 for an ambulance’.

My waters broke. He called 999. Somehow he remembered to take the stairgate off the top of the stairs. Neither of us remembered that I was still crammed half underneath a baby crib, over a cream carpet. And then there were voices behind me, and one of them – heaven bless that woman from eternity to eternity – was offering me gas and air.

‘Can I push?’ I sobbed, ‘I need to. Please, can I?’

‘My love’, came The Voice, ‘if you need to, push as much as you want’.

So I did. Ten minutes after the voices arrived, out he came. And he cried, and I cried, and managed to back out from the corner to sit and hold him. A cheerful bearded face came into view for the first time.

‘Hello there’, it said. ‘Well done. You know, Gareth is a wonderful name for boys, these days’.

***

At first I am too numbed to feel anything but relief: blissful and dizzying. We arrive home less than a day after it all started, and it feels like a bizarre dream, except that now there’s another baby. The early hours of the morning find me alone with this tiny person, fascinated with his face and feet and hands. He is entirely his own self. And I feel a wave of fierce, unstoppable tenderness. Oh, I know this, I know it: it is how I feel about my first, adored boy, but this time it’s for my second.

Come in, I tell it, gently. Come on in.

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Pregnancy crib-notes: what you’ll actually need in your hospital bag, and why

ATTENTION: this post is pregnancy-specific. In the sort of way that you probably won’t want to read it if you’ve never thought much about the details of getting a baby out (let’s face it: who would want to if they didn’t have to?). Shall we talk about Beckett tomorrow? Ok, promise. 

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Yesterday Sarah and I ventured into the attic. By which I mean, Sarah went up into the attic, I yelled instructions from below, and Henry climbed up the wrong side of the ladder shouting ‘LATTER! LATTER!’ like some kind of demented miniature chimpanzee. Up went the suitcases and down came the newborn-sized clothing bundle, and I could wash all the tiny, tiny things and finish my hospital bag at last.

The hospital is the great unknown in pregnancy: the flashing neon light at the end of the long, baby-growing tunnel. You have a number to call when your waters break, but no idea what you’ll find, what they’ll tell you when you arrive, or how long you’ll spend there before you come home as two people instead of one. The labour might well be the part you’re most afraid of, but by the time you get to 40+ weeks, you’re so desperate to get a baby instead of a belly that you’ll do practically anything to get the job done.

I love the idea of home births, by the way, and completely champion the rights of women to have them if it’s a situation that will make them feel more comfortable. For me, they’ve never quite worked: I like the idea of going away to have my labour in an environment with medical assistance in the next room, then bringing the baby home to my clean, safe place. Also I’ve never wanted to clear up the mess, afterwards (lazy but entirely characteristic, I’m afraid). It’s one of those things where you just have to listen to yourself.

Anyway, I feel a huge amount better about the prospect of my second labour, because I can visualise where I’ll be and what might happen. If you’re a first-time mother-to-be, anxiously scanning hospital bag lists online and wondering how much of it you’ll actually need, I thought a handy guide might be helpful.

Have a gander at this, then, lovely huge person:

what you might actually need to birth a baby, and why 

First, find a bag of reasonable size that can be moved easily. A little wheeled suitcase is ideal. Write your list on a large piece of paper, and tape the paper to the front of the bag, crossing off as you put things inside. There will be things that can’t go in until the day of (your pregnancy notes, your make up bag, etc), so once you’ve finished everything else, write these in VERY LARGE FONT and put a box around them. Then draw this to the attention of whomever will be taking you to the hospital. Honestly, you won’t want to be thinking about it yourself.

Here’s what might go on your list –

1. Pregnancy notes

2. Things for your new baby.

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I didn’t get, at all, that we might well be in hospital for a few days and that a new baby can go through LOTS OF STUFF in that time. Your family can run back and forth with anything you’ve forgotten, but I’d plan for about three days as a good medium. Which means–

– Three baby gros.

– Pack of vests
Mine’s a five-pack.

– Baby hat
You’ll need to dress your new baby in a vest, baby gro and hat to keep them warm after the birth. We had to tape Henry’s hat on his head, he was so small, but whatever works. Air feels exceedingly unfriendly after months of amniotic fluid.

– Pair of scratch mitts.

– A couple of pairs of baby socks

– Two newborn blankets
You and a brand-new baby who just got expelled into the world and doesn’t like it much? No one’s getting much sleep in that scenario. But the warmer and cosier you can make them, the better your chances. 

– Newborn nappies
You would not BELIEVE the enthusiasm with which a newborn can fill a nappy. What is going on down there?! Last time I brought three nappies, ho ho. Don’t bring three. Bring a whole pack, and expect to need more.

– Cotton wool pads, and small plastic container
You’re not supposed to use baby wipes on a properly new bottom. All that crumply soft skin. But fiddling with cotton wool balls and water is the worst thing ever when the meconium makes its first appearance at 3am, and then its second and third and fourth. Make things easier on yourself by getting the wide cotton wool pads, and bringing your own little container for warm water.

3. Things for your labour.

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The key here is to remember that you might be there a while, and you need to be comfortable.

– Labour clothes
You’ll need something a) loose, b) long enough for you to wear without bottoms in that bit at the beginning where you still have personal shame, and c) something you don’t mind never seeing again, because you won’t want to. Go and buy the cheapest nightie you can find, or appropriate a large button-up shirt that doesn’t get worn.

– Socks
They’ll probably want you to wear those attractive green compression stockings, but your feet might still get cold.

– Lip balm
Delivery rooms are dry, and you’re breathing a lot.

– Camera
Even if you only want photos when the birthing’s safely done (yes please), and even if those brand-new half-naked photos are for family eyes only (YES PLEASE), this is still a moment you’ll want to remember forever. And also one that you’ll have difficulty remembering as soon as it’s over. Take the photos so you won’t forget.

– Snacks for your partner
You probably won’t want or won’t be allowed to eat, but I didn’t feel that Tim should be allowed out of my sight while everything hurt so much. Not fair to starve him, though, especially if you’re there some hours. I haven’t put these in my bag, but they’re on my list so that we can have something in the house when we need it. 

4. Things for after.

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– Pair of loose pyjamas

– Flip-flops
For the shower. Just trust me on this. Buy a cheap foam pair you can throw away afterwards. 

– Underwear
Bring in bulk, in a larger size than you normally wear.

– Maternity sanitary towels
We will say no more about this, except to repeat: BRING IN BULK.

– Nursing bra and breast pads
They’ll want you to breastfeed at least once before you’re allowed to leave the hospital. Don’t worry too much about this, as there’s lots of help. But having something that will easily unclip will save you a bit of middle-of-the-night fumbling.

– Toiletries
Things to shower with, hairbrush, make up, dry shampoo. Having a shower and putting a tiny bit of make up on really does make you feel ten thousand times better afterwards. To save time and space, I bought travel sizes of everything and put them all in one ziplock bag.

– Going-home clothes
Sad to say, I looked about five months pregnant for a good couple of weeks after Henry was born (and didn’t fit my old clothes for many months after that). I know you don’t want to see your maternity clothes ever again, but still: bring clothes that are loose and comfortable. Otherwise that victory lap around the hospital corridors, while you try and remember where you parked the car, might be more revealing than you’d planned. 

I’ve made this list look ridiculously long. It isn’t, honest. I got it all into a miniature wheeled suitcase, and even included an extra water-friendly top in case I get to try a water birth this time. A warm bath without Henry using my bump as a bongo drum would be a refreshing change, labour or no labour.

Happy packing!

A Birthday

It was an ordinary day. Until, suddenly, it wasn’t.

I had big plans for Thursday. The house was a mess. My hospital bag needed a few items before it was finished. I was going to make a white chocolate torte in the afternoon, because some days are white chocolate torte days, and that felt like one of them. I just had another antenatal appointment at the Royal Berks to get through first.

We weren’t friends these days, the Royal Berks and me. I had a snarky blog post all written about how their obsession with collecting my bodily fluids was getting in the way of our relationship. ‘You have some of the early signs of pre-eclampsia’, they kept saying, after I’d spent another three hours being poked with needles and hooked up to baby monitors, ‘but we’re not concerned. Yet. Come in next week. And bring in another milk bottle of urine, because we love those.’ I sped to the hospital at an unearthly hour in the morning, cursed my way through several roadwork diversions, went the wrong way round the one-way system in the car park and had a squashy-faced old man glare at me like I’d emptied my special milk bottle over his head, then misjudged the distance in the parking space and ran into the wall, and was beginning to feel like one white chocolate torte wouldn’t be enough.

‘You’re back!’ said the blood-taking lady with the moustache I’d met earlier in the week. ‘Do they want another sample already?’

‘Apparently’, I smiled, pushing my special milk bottle under the chair with my foot, since I don’t like to show large quantities of my waste to strangers.

‘Well. Thirty-eight weeks, right? You’ll be ready to have it soon, whatever happens’, she said.

‘Oh, I hope so’, I groaned. Dramatic Irony Fairy looked up from the corner and coughed, hammily, but I was too busy gathering up my keg of wee to notice.

An hour later, a doctor was telling me that they’d finally collected enough of my fluids to conclude that I needed to have this baby today.

In a panic, I called Timothy. ‘Today. TODAY. Tim, my hospital bag isn’t finished. We don’t have the crib set up. And I didn’t do any of the housework!’

Not even unexpected babies faze the Unflappable King of Crises. He leapt on his bike (insert superhero music here), cycled seven miles in a torrential thunderstorm, paused to wring out his t-shirt in the train toilet, and landed dripping on the hospital carpet before you could say ‘awkward personal place examination’, which, coincidentally, was what was happening to me upstairs.

Once I’d written a list of things we needed, he’d gone home to get them, and I’d eaten a really big bag of prawn cocktail crisps, the shock had worn off a bit. Tim promised that if there wasn’t time for him to do the housework by the time we were sent home, we could gently swaddle the baby Jeffcoat in the mountain of clean laundry at the foot of our bed, thus solving the crib problem at the same time.

Prawn cocktail crisps have a well-known soporific effect.

By 6.30 that evening, my uterus was ready to rock.

Inducing a baby that isn’t ready to come out on its own is a tricky business. Sometimes the hormone drip doesn’t work at all. Sometimes it takes hours and hours. And sometimes it works far too well, and your contractions are so strong you need extra pain relief you hadn’t planned for. But I’d barely been on the drip for fifteen minutes when the contractions started, all by themselves. For the first hour or so I hung onto Timothy’s neck and breathed with the smell of his collar in my nose. Then they got worse, and I forgot about everything except the gas-and-air nozzle in my teeth and the grip of his hand and the need to breathe, and move, and breathe, and move until it was over. The midwives changed shift, and the second one was blonde and jolly and wonderful. She put her hand on my back and told me I was doing brilliantly.

It changed soon after that: the pain stayed hot and pulsing in my back, but I felt like there was a large stone in my nether regions that needed to be evacuated, pronto. I realised that this was the ‘urge to push’ everyone kept going on about, and the stone was TJ’s head, and that meant my body knew exactly what it was doing, and it was almost over. The last part was optimistic. I pushed for an hour and a half. And I think I sobbed, and I definitely said I didn’t want to do it anymore, and Tim has the bruises to prove how hard I squeezed his hand. A doctor came in and said that it was taking too long, and they had me on my back with my legs in stirrups and were about to use that big sucky thing that looks more like it was meant for plunging a toilet, and I knew I didn’t want any of that action, so pushed one last push with every muscle in my body.

And out he came. I can’t say I looked at him and felt an overwhelming rush of love and belonging, like they talk about in all the baby books. What I felt was relief, and bewilderment, and a strong sense of unreality. I knew he was mine, but it felt like he’d been lent to us for a morning, and we’d be checking him back in before we went home.

A few hours later, I’d been moved to the ward upstairs, Timothy had gone home to sleep and sort out that pile of swaddling laundry, and it was just me and the little person we’d just decided to call Henry. He blinked out of his crib at me, and I remembered that I could pick him up any old time I wanted. So I did. He looked at me, and I held his head in my hands and realised I’d already memorised every inch of his face. I told him that I was his mother. I told him what a wonderful boy he was going to be, and how much we loved him, and that we were so excited he was here. And I knew, with a heart-deep sting of truthfulness, that I meant every word.

Graffiti we can believe in

Dear Mr Cameron (I’m sorry, I cannot call you Dave),

Here is what Reading’s Oxford Road thinks about your shiny plastic forehead looming alarmingly out of their nearest billboard:

In retrospect, Mr Cameron, it might have been a good idea to start your pre-election advertising campaign with a less vague, doom-laden, melodramatic slogan (a better idea, of course, would have been to use less makeup in that gleaming action-man photograph. A PM-in-waiting shouldn’t be so concerned about visible wrinkles). As your slightly wobbly lead in the polls indicates, with the economy in such a fragile state we need substance rather than style. Your style, thus far, has been along the lines of ‘Man. Does Gordon Brown suck, or what?’, an unhelpful stance that might have been effective as the leader of an opposition party, but won’t last terribly long once you’re in power. Any policies you’ve tentatively put forward in the past couple of months have been retracted or modified just as quickly (to cut or not to cut? Is marriage tax good or bad? Is transparency only a good thing when it’s not your deputy chairman’s tax arrangements in the spotlight? Inquiring minds want to know). Your speeches tend to rely on Brown-bashing and a distracting overuse of the phrase ‘broken politics’ – seriously, saying it more times doesn’t make it more true – neither of which give any indication of what you would do in government.

In short, I haven’t a clue what your party stands for other than posh people and Labour-hating. I haven’t a blinking clue what goes on in that over-moisturised noggin of yours, which means I have no idea what this country would be like if you were in charge of it. And considering I’m probably your ideal win-over demographic for this election (young, morally conservative, disillusioned Labour voter), that should be cause for concern. I’m afraid I’m also a socialist (you can chalk that up to an financially anxious upbringing), and until you can convince me that you’ve actually met some poor people, let alone that you’re interested in making life easier and fairer for them, then I’ll be sending my vote somewhere else.

Thanks, though. Looking forward to seeing your next billboard effort (and seeing what the residents of Oxford Road will do to it, I confess).

Rachel.

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