So our potato finally arrived, four days early, on 1 August 2017. That it has taken me four weeks to write this post might give you some idea of what life with a newborn is like and just how all-consuming it can be, but I’ll save that for another post.
I had always thought that our baby would be born early and this belief intensified after one particular incident in week 35 of the pregnancy after I sprinted for the bus (which is a terrible idea when you are eight months pregnant) and then suffered contractions that made me think I might give birth on the bus. The beard had to meet me at the bus stop and escort me home; a walk that normally took five minutes took almost half an hour.
At the doctor’s appointment I had the following day I was warned in no uncertain times that the baby would arrive imminently unless I slowed down. Fortunately, I was then signed off sick from work and had a chance to rest.
In Switzerland maternity leave only begins when the baby is born, any time you have off before the baby’s arrival is considered as sick leave, and your doctor will normally sign you off some point between two to four weeks before the baby is due. This makes planning for things like when you finish work and your maternity replacement should begin quite difficult, but it does protect the amount of maternity leave you get, which is less generous here than in the UK.
I had been quite uncomfortable for a little while before the bus sprint, not helped by the fact Geneva had been undergoing a particularly virulent heatwave for several weeks, so my doctor would have been happy to sign me off six weeks before my due date but I managed to negotiate this down to just three weeks. At the time of our discussion I didn’t feel great but still felt capable of work, but the final week, even before my public transport dash, had been incredibly challenging so I was grateful when my sick (prenatal maternity) leave began.
For once, I actually did as I was told and followed doctor’s orders to take it easy. I thought I’d revel in nothing but moving from bed to sofa for alternating stints of Netflix binging, reading marathons and daytime napping, but it did get pretty boring fairly quickly. However, I was grateful that the potato was at least happy with my new regime and did decide to stay put until I reached the point of being full term (37 weeks), but after that point I found myself increasingly impatient for baby to arrive.
From our prenatal classes the midwife had said that labour was not like seen on tv, rarely was it a case that waters would break in a gushing flood and then you would instantly have to rush to the hospital. For most first-time mothers of our age (as in not-teenagers) labour would take somewhere around 18 hours from initial contractions, and for many people this could last much longer.
With not much to do whilst lounging around the flat I became much more sensitive to every twinge, unusual occurrence in my body and many a night (I guess I was even more attuned to these things when lying in bed longing for sleep and with no other distractions) I would find myself googling random symptoms to see if this could be the start of labour.
I didn’t have much in the way of contractions before the baby was born and I knew that although waters breaking was a good indicator I also knew that for lots of people it was barely noticeable when this happened. So, after what seemed like countless evenings of internet researching and scouring through millions of forum entries for indications of early labour, it took me by surprise when my labour actually began on that Tuesday afternoon at 12.30pm.
The beard and I had just had a late brunch, and I was sat in my PJs browsing social media between Star Trek episodes (we’d found a new series to binge on during my leave), waiting for my man to get dressed before watching the next episode. All of a sudden there was a gush, I leapt up from the sofa (I figured it would be easier to clean the tile floor) stood rooted to the spot and yelled for the bearded one.
I didn’t feel any contractions at this point so we took time to find the leaflet the hospital had given us about when to come in for labour, noted that instructions for when you think your waters have broken are to put on a pad, walk around for 30 minutes and if still leaking to then call the hospital. Whilst I paced the flat, the man prepped for the hospital trip: corralling the cats, setting out enough biscuits to last them a week (in case complications kept us both at the hospital for some time), checking the hospital bag, etc.
After half an hour was up I called through to the hospital (which took a little longer than expected, owing to the leaflet they had given us having an out of date phone number). We went through a few things and they said that I should aim to come in within two hours but had time to take a shower, have some food and make my way in. So the beginning of my labour was all very civilised.
By the time I got out of the shower I’d started to have some regular contractions, but these were fairly mild and I remember thinking maybe labour isn’t as bad as I’d been led to believe, or perhaps I have a particularly high pain tolerance threshold and this isn’t going to be any worse than a bad period. Ha!
By the time I’d gotten dressed and we went down to the garage the contractions were about six minutes apart and the pain level had dialled up. By the time we arrived at the hospital thirty minutes later, the contractions were three to four minutes apart and each one was bad enough to reduce me to grim-faced, gritted-teeth silence but still just about manageable with the recovery period in between.
By the time we’d gotten to the hospital at about 2pm contractions were three minutes apart. We were instantly taken through and examined, but at this point I could still manage the pain so thought I could get by without the need for painkillers. Within 20 minutes the contractions were longer and so frequent that I couldn’t catch my breath during the supposed recovery periods and I felt I could no longer continue purely under my own steam, so called for the epidural. I felt like I’d failed a bit, in not being able to hold out for longer but I think the man was relieved to see me seek some relief beyond his mopping of my brow and provision of water.
Within another 20 minutes, although it felt like an almost interminable age, the anaesthetist came and explained the procedure and the epidural was connected. It didn’t kill all feeling, I could still feel the contractions but these were now back to mildly uncomfortable rather than swear-inducingly painful. This was now probably about 3pm, for the next 90 minutes I did okay, remembered to breathe and let my body do its thing. At about 4.30pm, everything changed gear again. What I hadn’t realised about the epidural is that it can only do so much, those final parts of labour are a bitch, drugs or no.
But, I was better behaved than I thought I would be, and only crumpled the beard’s hands during each contraction and muttered a single expletive after each exhausting effort was over. Although I remember having the distinct thought ‘why would anyone ever have more than one child when they know how painful labour is?’
The pain didn’t go away when the pushing began (probably about 5.30pm) at least there was now a clear end point in sight and I went from dreading each contraction to willing the next one to hurry up so I could just get on with getting the pain generator out! As I responded to the midwives encouraging calls of ‘Poussez! Poussez! Poussez!’ (Push! Push! Push!) eventually I could feel the baby starting to emerge. I ignored the midwives (at some point there were two) sudden calls for me to stop pushing as the baby and I decided we were just going to get on with this in one go.
And suddenly, at 5.56pm, there she was, our little baby girl had emerged and was quickly placed on my chest. She emitted her first cries as her lungs started working for the first time and she learnt to breathe. From my prone position I could only see the top of her head, covered in a mass of dark hair and one squidgy eye looking up at me. I burst into tears and felt an overwhelming rush of what felt like every emotion possible, although dominated by a kind of euphoria that I can’t really describe. I felt the beard by my side and concluded I was the luckiest person alive.
The midwife and I think a doctor started to explain to me that there had been some tearing and I’d need stitches (in my eagerness to meet her and her rush to enter the world, our daughter had come out in a triumphant superwoman pose with clenched fist saluting her new world). The previous pain already felt irrelevant and their words had almost no meaning; they could have told me they were going to have to amputate a leg and I don’t think I’d have cared.
Our daughter had arrived and I was in love.