21 November 2013

Gryffen: Birth Story #4

My Gryffen is 3 months old today. 3 lovely months of getting to know this sweet little boy. I decided that it was finally time for me to sit down and write his birth story - before I forget it all!

I have just finished reading, for the second time, an amazing book called Baby Catcher, by Peggy Vincent. Peggy was a nurse midwife in San Fransisco in the 70's through 90's. It's an incredible book, I must tell you more about the epiphany I had when I read it the first time. Anyway, in the back, there is a page of Peggy's Pearls of Wisdom. This one made me smile: "Slow starters are usually fast finishers." That was certainly true for me on the 21st of August!

If we rewind back to Monday, the 12th of August, 40w+3, I woke up with some light contractions. Yes! Finally! Hayden sticks around home, Sarah my fabulous sister-in-law and midwife-in-training heads down (see my birth pun?) for the hour drive to our place. By the time she got here, my contractions had all but fizzled out, and we spent a frustrating day walking up and down the shopping mall trying to get things going. No luck. Sarah insisted it was still a lovely day spent together (which of course it was), but I still felt so dumb that she came all the way down and there was no baby at the end of the day!

Cue long, frustrating 'overdue' days.

We arrive at Wednesday the 21st of August. Again, I wake up with contractions. I felt the first one just before the kids woke up and came in to our room, around 6:45am. 10 minutes apart, not painful. Definitely something different to 9 days ago. Hayden goes off to school - because we know what happened last time we mobilised everyone! I call Sarah but tell her to carry on with her morning. Same to my midwife. Half an hour after Hayden left, he walks back down the driveway, holding the back wheel of his bike in his hand, hopelessly bent.

A car had just pulled in front of him, causing him to swerve up onto the curb out of the way, where he promptly flipped over his handlebars, flew through the air and - Praise God - landed on the grass. Not even a scratch. So then we jump in the car (well, I clambered unelegantly) and took Hayden to school.

Contractions are still chugging along. 10 minutes apart, not painful. I update Sarah again and decide to go to Ladies' Bible study to keep myself distracted. I didn't want to just sit at home and wait. Things dropped off while we were there, only having three contractions in a bit over an hour. As soon as we got in the car for home they jumped to 8 minutes.

I could feel myself getting short with Rosie and Tristan. I just wanted to focus on what was going on, beginning to retreat to that strange place that is Labour Land, so I called Mum to come and pick up the kids, and arranged for her to collect Elliot from school at 3:15pm too. Ah, peace and quiet. Good.

I really felt quite mentally-thrown by all these day time contractions! You see, my previous three births have all been night time births. #2 and #3 I woke up in the wee hours of the morning contracting hard and well and Baby was born a few hours later. I was fully expecting this baby to rocket out in a hurry at some point during the night. In fact, during this pregnancy I spent quite a lot of time worrying that no-one would get to us in time! Now I see the Grace we were given by having a long, drawn-out early labour to give my birth attendants plenty of time to get to me. Nearly, anyway...

At 12:45pm I call the lovely Talia. After her own incredible birth of second daughter Margaret, I impulsively said to her, "Why don't you come to my home birth and see what it's like birthing at home?!" It wasn't until afterwards that I thought about how that meant my friend would be seeing me at my most glamorous... I put it out of my mind and focused on how awesome it would be to have another set of hands - especially ones that are so good at taking pictures! Talia dropped off her older daughter and headed over to my place to keep me company. We kept monitoring my contractions and they were holding pretty steady at 10 minutes, slowly getting to 9, to 8. By 3pm-ish, I was beginning to need to focus a little more and Talia was applying pressure to my lower back, which was great. She was a super-duper juggling mama, with Margaret in one arm and me in the other!

Sarah arrived around 3pm and then my Mum dropped Hayden off on her way home from getting Elliot from school (broken bike, remember?). The kids were pretty excited to A) be staying at Oma's house, and B) know that the baby was going to be here soon. From what I recall, we all just hung out for a bit, drinking hot drinks and chatting while I bounced on the swiss ball or leaned over it during a contraction. I was generous enough to let everybody have a turn applying pressure to my lower back. I didn't discriminate; if you were closest, you got to do it.

Some time around 5:30pm (my time recall is a bit fuzzy) Sarah zipped out to pick up some Noodle Box for dinner. I wasn't really hungry, but I thought if it was yummy enough I might eat some. It was nice to sit around the table with Hayden, Sarah and Talia. I ate a little, but was losing my appetite fast. Before dinner was over I had installed myself at the kitchen bench and I wasn't going anywhere. Swaying and breathing deeply through each contraction. They were getting more intense. Calling Hayden to get up and press on my back each time one hit. Poor guy. It's a wonder he digested his food at all with all that up and down-ing. I'm not sure if dinner got finished before we realised things were heating up pretty fast.

I think after 5:30pm we were moving quickly through the times for contractions: 6 minutes, 5 minutes, 4. At 6:30pm (I'm pretty sure dinner was either finished or abandoned) I rang my midwife to ask her to come. At that point contractions were 4 minutes apart and strong. In my labour with Tristan, I woke up at 2:45am with contractions every 5 minutes, and we had two hours until he was born. That was my logic this time too: 4-5 minutes, time to come. Well. Actually, little did I know, my midwife was running out of time.

The last contraction I wrote down was 6:42pm. I clearly remember tossing my pen onto the bench with total abandon. At this point it's a fully-fledged Active Labour Spectacle. Hayden is trying to get the water for the birth pool going, I am beginning to inhabit my own personal labour space - mentally and physically - and of course that was in a place most inconvenient to everyone else: the narrowest point in my kitchen. Because, of course.

It's worth noting that my head space was not where I hoped it would be. I was so mentally thrown by this all day daytime labour that it almost didn't feel real. If I could paint you a cheesey image, it was like the Labour Train had pulled out of the station and I was hanging on to the handle at the back of the last carriage shouting, "Hey! This isn't how it was supposed to go!", and I was running as fast as I could but I was just slightly off balance, just so close to being pulled over. I wanted to be in control and really own the work my body was doing but I just felt like I couldn't catch up. I needed to tell myself to relax every contraction. I probably told Talia to tell me to relax every contraction! I almost felt on the verge of panic.

Very soon, we're talking minutes here, folks, it was apparent that this baby was coming NOW. Sarah had just been upgraded to Lead Maternity Carer. We realise there's no way the pool will be ready; there's 30cm of cold water in it. They abandon all efforts at filling it, leaving the tap/hose set-up running in the background. This will be a land birth. I have a bit of a moan that I want the water, all the while knowing it's not going to happen because I'm about to start pushing. The thought runs through my head that this is going really fast! To console me, I am given a drink bottle of water. One lucid memory I have is this conversation:

Me: I want the poooooooooool!
Sarah or Talia (I can't remember which): It's not going to be ready, Jess.
Me: Oh {sob}, oooooooh {moan} (Or something.)
Sarah or Talia: What about hopping in the shower?
Me: No! I don't want a shower.
Sarah or Talia: Do you want a drink of water instead?
Me: ((Thinks) What a crappy replacement.) Yes.
(I was sure I was polite, but Talia told me later that I practically shouted that, so oopsies!)

Sarah called my midwife at 7:06pm to say I was getting ready to push now. I remember that conversation happening but I don't remember what was said now. Sarah's Midwife In Control voice comes on. Pants come off (mine). Here's the part I was thinking would be awkward with one of my close friends in the room: Totally didn't care. Sarah: Jess, you have to move. I need to be able to see to be able to help you. [Nothing from me.] Jess! You have to move! I think I must have been responding in my head and forgetting to reply out loud because I was totally happy to move. I wanted her to be able to see to help! We move over to the dining room table. I know, that sounds weird. {shrugs} Home birth. I'd showed Talia earlier where the towel cupboard and other supplies were, and now she morphs into Midwife Helper Extraordinaire, laying down the mats, finding a torch, being generally completely awesome.

My legs start shaking like jelly so my team helps me down to kneel on the floor next to the table, with my chest/shoulders/face resting on the swiss ball. Here is where I'm super glad for the fence and trees between our property and the neighbors, and incredibly grateful that no-one decided to pop in for a visit that evening. Our dining room table is right next to our front door. What a wonderful sight would have been ready to welcome you into my home. Ha. SO glad that didn't happen.

I'm vaguely aware of Hayden above me with his hands on my back, Talia running backwards and forwards between getting warm towels and giving light to Sarah, and Sarah just about face on the floor ready to catch this little guy. Just as we had walked to the table is where I let it slip - for the first and only time! - that we were about to have a boy. I had known, but Hayden didn't want to, so I tried to keep Baby's gender a secret. I have absolutely no recollection of saying it, but three people heard me say, "Let's get this boy out!", so I must have! Gutted.

I think I could count my pushes on one hand. Recap: called midwife at 6:30pm to come; at 7:06pm to say I'm going to start pushing. At the glorious time of 7:17pm on the 21st of August, our son slipped out into the world. So quickly and simply that at first I didn't realise his head had just been born, a minute or two before the rest of him. "Enjoy the rest," said Sarah. "I am," said me, in that moment between nearly born and not-quite-yet. He was a bit stunned at his abrupt arrival and was floppy and a teeny bit blue. In my haze of oh-my-goodness-my-baby-was-just-born-he's-so-amazing-i'm-so-amazing-the-world-is-so-amazing-look-at-that-sweet-little-bundle-of-beautiful-baby-ness, I was aware of Sarah's sharp focus as she grabbed a towel and rubbed him down, then blew in his face to get him to take his first breath. She lifted him up to me, as I was still kneeling next to him, and just as I pulled him close he took a huge breath and started to cry. Best noise ever. I know it was less than a minute, but I think it felt quite long. Sarah told me later that her heart was in her mouth because she knew she had nothing with her to help us but her wits - not even a pair of gloves! Talia told me later that she had 111 keyed in on her phone and her finger on the call button! Very thankful that nothing was needed.

As I stood up with Gryffen in my arms, the phone rang. Mum! She was just calling to check how things were going, knowing I was in labour, not expecting to hear that her newest grandson had literally just been born! First and only time I'll ever say to my mother, "I have to go Mum, I need to deliver the placenta."

When my midwife (and her back-up whom she'd mobilised with an emergency-get-there-as-fast-as-you-can phone call on her way over) arrived, I was sitting on the couch all tucked up with my boy; his placenta in an ice-cream container, already delivered. I think I might even have had a milo in my hand!

Wow. That was awesome. Even though the whole time I didn't feel in control, that post-birth glow covers all things in its benevolence. It's incredible. I want to spend my whole life in those moments.

So there he was. My Gryffen. I knew it was him for nearly 42 weeks and it was so good to meet him face to face. I've written before how we spent some time just looking into each other's eyes. Bliss. Of course we indulged in our little post-birth ritual: Milos and Mars bars for all! Then phone calls to family, and a quick picture texted to my sister in London. Mum cried when we told her Gryffen Gerry was named for her. A hot shower, clean pyjamas, my comfy bed with my 8lb 8oz bundle of cuteness.

In the end, Baby Four WAS my curve-ball, like I thought he might be. Slow to start, a race to the finish. Technically no midwife, though Sarah is pretty much the real deal already. A land birth, no water in sight. (Unless you count the cold pool 3 metres away.) Surprisingly, that wasn't as big of an issue as I thought it might be. I only really noticed the difference when he began crowning, and then a hot cloth helped immensely and there were no other snags. I would still choose water birth over land birth, but I was pleasantly surprised by it.

I'll always remember Talia's voice when we were talking later, I think we were talking to someone at church, as we chatted about how she was still buzzing weeks later and she said so excitedly, "Your waters broke on me!" I'm giggling now as I type it. Add that to the list of funny things friends say!

I think it's pretty special that Gryffen was Sarah's first solo birth. Her nephew. I'm pretty sure she doesn't hold it against me that my blood splashed on her face... She said it was reassuring to know that, without the presence of another midwife to double check with, all the knowledge she needed was in her head. And she now always carries a pair of gloves in her handbag!

Gryffen Gerry

Born 7:17pm, 21 August, 2013
8lb 8oz (3870g)

A deeply loved treasure and incredible gift from God.

All photos (except bike): Talia Christine


  1. Awesome birth story! :) I love reading these. I know exactly what you mean about being told you said or did things in labour you have no memory of - it's trippy. I managed to forget the presence of an entire person at Miles' birth - it was only later, reading my birth notes, that I went "Oh yeah, she was there". It'd be fascinating to scan a labouring mama's brain. (No doubt someone has...)

  2. What a great story and special memories. What a great team of people you had with you and what a wonderful bundle x

  3. Beautiful Jess! Super inspiring and what a great way for Gryffen to enter the world!

  4. Congratulations Mama and whanau!! What a thrilling home birth!!! And so cool for both Talia and Your Sis in Law! AWESOME! I read and re read this one! It's so cool to hear about how your kiddos have come into the world! Each so different but completely normal too. xxx


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