I found out I was pregnant again quite late. I went for the first scan at five months. Although I had thought I would concentrate on finishing my thesis before the birth, I found that I needed to read and focus my energies on finding out what went wrong the first time and seeing if it couldn’t be changed for the better.
A year before this I had come back from hospital with a beautiful healthy boy (mashallah) and a ceasarean which had been performed well so that the stitches came out clean and I healed properly. However, I could not get over how angry I was - to the point of bitterness. This was not a worthy feeling or something I had a right to feel according to many people. In many ways I could see what they were saying - that I had been lucky to receive the best of modern medicine. And something had gone wrong after all. But I did not agree that something had gone wrong.
My first pregnancy had gone well but there was a dark shadow almost from the beginning - of fear, an apprehension about episiotomies and epidurals when I didn’t really want one, of not knowing who would be with me when I arrived in hospital, what I would find, and whether it would go right. So many of my friends - whether in their twenties or in their late thirties like me, and no matter how fit or healthy they might be - ended up having caesareans or forceps or third degree tears. The midwives in hospital described water births in the ante natal classes which sounded exactly what I wanted and I chose this busy hospital because it had water birthing facilities. But I was disturbed to find that although I had a dentist I knew, and a G.P. and hairdresser that I knew, it would all be the luck of the draw as to who was with me during the labour and birth.
When the time came, it was a dark time because I was afraid. I was pacing the room with pains and when we called the hospital they just said wait and we did not know what for or how long. My mother was there and she created more of an atmosphere of anxiety around me. In the end, she called an ambulance. I arrived in hospital when all the midwives were busy. I was stuck on a monitor and my husband and mother took it in turns to massage my back. They were tired, it was the middle of the night, it felt a little desperate. My waters broke. In that water there was some meconium. The young doctor was called and there was some discussion, the midwife said that water birth was no longer an option. There was more worry when they thought they couldn’t hear the heartbeat of the baby clearly. But perhaps that was more a matter of where the monitor was and the way I moved and the way the baby moved.
They wanted to take the baby’s blood to see about the levels of oxygen in it. I didn’t know why they wanted this. Racked as I was by the labour pains, I didn’t think to ask. Nothing was clear except when they put me on my back and my legs in stirrups it was painful and contrary to what they told us in the ante natal classes about constricting oxygen to the baby when lying on our backs and how that was the most painful position anyway. All I could do was hope that despite my increasing dilation, they wouldn’t be able to pierce my baby’s head.
But if they had, perhaps they would have allowed me to do what I wanted - to go away in a quiet room (away from these bright lights) and do what I felt my baby and I were ready to do and push and give birth. However, the midwives were sidelined and the doctors brought me a consent form for a caesarean. It was relief to be out of the stirrups and in a way the worst had happened. I said as much to my husband. A doctor overheard and said no this is not the worst that could have happened.
The first thing I said to my son was sorry. Because he and I - left alone - I believe - to this day - could have managed on our own.
This belief made it easy for me - the second time - to sign a form saying that I took responsibility, in securing an independent midwife, for anything that might happen to the baby or me. But it took me a while to get to this point.
I registered with our local hospital and started going for the check ups. They said I had a borderline case of gestational diabetes and it was even more unlikely that I should have a vaginal birth after a caesarean. And since I had had the caesarean so recently there was some likelihood that the cut would split and then it would be too late unless I was already in hospital. Of course a home water birth was out of the question.
I found out clinics that advertised their high rates of "natural" births. But they were very expensive - and faraway from where we lived. Then somehow I found out about independent midwives. When I got through to a midwife called Mal, she said, you can go to the ball. That is, like a fairy godmother, she said you can have a home birth. Not only that, you can have a water birth. This was music to me.
What had caused the meconium - which is often a sign of stress in the baby - what had made my baby produce this green poo in the womb? What I did know was that I hadn’t been relaxed. The worries, the ambulance, the emergency situation at the hospital, the lack of staff, all the anxious discussion that was not concerned with communicating the situation to me or involving me by explaining decisions and consequences; the feeling that while I was having contractions I should have been more alert, been vigilant and ready to fight contra-decisions being taken around me - all this made me think that my baby had also felt this somehow. Being a mother starts before the baby is out of the womb, I thought, and I wanted to protect my baby.
I contacted Elke and Kylie and they became my midwives. They advised me to ask for the medical records for my first birth from the hospital. There was no evidence of my son having been short of oxygen in the womb once he was born. The graph or record of my baby’s heart beat - the essential piece of evidence - was missing. The doctor’s notes were also scanty. What had frightened them ? It was all inconclusive.
But this time round Elke and Kylie saw me before the birth and I knew they would come when I called. Even if I ended up back in hospital, I felt it was worth it to have a midwife who was on our side, who would understand and act as an advocate for our interests and communicate for and with us. I felt this would also protect my husband.
The contractions started in the evening. And I was relaxed. They continued into the night. Stronger and stronger as everyone - my husband and baby - were alseep. I was in another room in the dark with long shadows and the occasional burst of fireworks - as it was Guy Fawkes night. I started welcoming my baby and soothed it and soothed myself. My waters broke and it was a great release.
Elke said she was on her way, my husband started filling the birthing pool, my son was sent up to his grandmother (my mother had the job of looking after my son this time and was not part of the birth scene).
I got into the water, and it was lovely. I can’t remember too much about the rest. At this distant in time I remember her head when I first felt it in the water - her hair when I touched it as I was fully dilated. There was a point when I wanted some pain relief but Elke said she had left the gas and air in the car. This, I now think, was accidentally on purpose and I am glad she did. Elke checked the baby’s heartbeat occasionally with a hand held instrument and she was as deft as a musician in timing it between contractions. My daughter shot out in a cloud of blood in the water in the soft lamplight in our bedroom. Elke fished her out after a few seconds. Straightaway that girl who I’d been cooing to and talking to come out (though I don’t think anyone else could hear) was looking straight up into my eyes. I fed her. Her father cut her cord. She was wrapped in one of my mothers soft clean cotton saris and held while I went for a shower. (It was very different from arriving in a ward stuck to drips and catheters in hospital.)
Kylie had taken pictures. Although I was hardly aware of it . She also made me a smoothie with milk, yoghurt, bananas, berries, chocolate and placenta. It was delicious.