Super Normal Stories - Theo
A few days before I had my second baby, I felt the end edging closer. We were about to go from three to four, and I didn’t know what was to come. I found myself clinging to the way things had been. I savoured the last drops of what almost five years of just us had been, during its high points.
On the way to what would become my final obstetrician’s appointment, my son and I went to the beach at Lyall Bay. We had the beach to ourselves on that broody April afternoon. That day we walked, we watched the planes, we talked about the birds. I stared out at the sea and took stock of where I was and where I was about to go. It felt as if the rest of the world was suspended in time. We watched a lone kite surfer for a minute. I wondered what brought him to the beach that day. I wondered what his story was as I contemplated my own. We were there having a really significant moment but none of that would have been apparent. We hit the pause button and took our last calm moment together as just the two of us on a weekday. It was the end of an era. I smiled. We both did, as he skipped over the seaweed and across the wet sand. The air was filled with his theories about everything. All of his thoughts and conversations were carried off into the wind and up into that grey sky. We left a part of ourselves there: a memory to visit later. We walked back to the car, and I felt able to face what was to come.
I knew the appointment I was driving to was likely to start the ball rolling for the baby’s slightly early delivery. My body was struggling and I knew it wasn’t going to make it to the scheduled eviction date. I held with me the uneasy memories of when my older boy was born. These experiences were an obstacle that made it harder to face doing it again. It was a traumatic birth experience that stayed with me for many years. There was excruciating pain from things going wrong: a stuck baby, failed forceps, a haemorrhage, and finally a caesarean. Questions remained unanswered for years. I knew that this time I would need to be forthright in asking what I needed to know. Understanding what happened and why would help me to process the experience. Having answers would improve my mental health in the aftermath. It felt important to make decisions that would mean a very different experience the second time around. This time I was having an elective caesarean. When I arrived at the hospital, I wouldn’t be in labour. I would get up and shower one morning and just drive in and have a baby – hopefully by lunchtime. That seemed as fantastic as it was strange.
After the beach, I arrived at the obstetrician’s appointment. The rain that had threatened all day started falling outside. I looked at my son and smiled at his sandy, dishevelled happiness. I tried to hold onto the feeling of the beach but felt it wash away with the rain drops. My levity became weighted. Asthma had crept up on me and nothing was working. Weeks of steroids and inhalers, and every trick I had failed. Each day was worse than the one before. My body wasn’t coping with being pregnant. I was given the option of hospital straight away or trying to wait until thirty-eight weeks. It was only a few days away, so I opted to wait out the weekend. By Sunday I knew I couldn’t wait anymore. I made a plan with my husband and we arranged to spend the day in hospital on Monday. We thought that would be it. Ten days before the scheduled caesarean seemed ok. It didn’t feel too scary.
At the hospital we walked the hallways to the right place. There was a sea of doctors, registrars and midwives. There were monitors and endless stress-induced practice contractions. Hours passed. A kind midwife made it all doable with her dark humour so perfectly matched to mine. We cackled and the fear diminished.
After a few hours, we were sent to the delivery suite. My heart rate rose. Nerves and relief fought each other for who would be top dog. Then it was decided they would schedule a caesarean for the following day or the one after that. I chose the latter. I didn’t want the extra night in hospital waiting for an operation. Nerves were top dog. They tried to schedule the caesarean for a time of day when I could breathe best. I was scheduled first because of my medical issues. They needed to do it during working hours so the appropriate specialists were available if needed. Specialists for me and for the baby. That information was simultaneously reassuring and frightening. I went home with my nerves after an injection of steroids to help me and the baby.
On the day of the caesarean I was feeling calm by the time we left for hospital. The sun was shining and I felt ready. Relief won the war. I swear I have a pre-set amount of nerves to get through per incident and I’d long burnt mine up in the days prior. So, when I got in the lift near the delivery suite with my bags and my massive pregnant body, my husband and I grinned at each other: the lift was packed full of workers wearing high vis vests, work boots and tool belts. My husband and I had the exact same thoughts circulating behind our smirks. The workers did not grin. They looked kind of terrified. They looked at my pregnant belly and then at my bags. The dots connected, and they willed that lift to not break down. You could smell the fear but, strangely, the person who was in for surgery had none. I was beyond entertained. I had the good grace to not give birth in the lift that day. I did consider faking a contraction, but I knew I’d just laugh instead. So, I did my best to look pained and hold my stomach. Their fear rose. I am a terrible person. My husband said he was seriously hoping I would fake a full-on contraction just to give us some light relief. We walked down the hallway to the delivery suite giggling with slight regret for not following through.
There was a bit of a wait for my second son to arrive. Several emergency cases took priority, so I went in four hours late. I sat and stared at a pile of baby clothes and a blanket ready to go on the bed. I tried to feel like the baby was coming. Everything seemed too calm. I couldn’t convince myself I was there to give birth. This wasn’t the process my body had in mind. The only signals he was imminent were visual cues: his clothes, a tiny nappy, the room primed to receive babies. My mind and body weren’t as primed as the room. He was cosy, not coming today, I could feel that. He slept, not knowing what was about to happen.
The anaesthetist arrived and led us down the hallway. Suddenly, everything felt imminent. Transitioning became, for a short while, about the two of us: me and the baby. We prepared to play our parts. Me and a person inside me I’d never met. We walked the gauntlet of hallways I remember being wheeled down almost five years prior. My fear, pain, relief and tears felt permanently etched in the walls. Like lost property, they were returned to me; it was time for them to be mine again. We walked into the same theatre. All the feelings came flooding back. I noticed the room this time. The people, the faces, the hats and gowns, the lights. I sat down. The anaesthetist tried to get the spinal injection in and he couldn’t. An old back injury was causing issues. He tried again and again. There were broken needles and then pain and a flood of tears. The tears were for the feelings on the wall that I found myself enduring again. My mind left my body to it for a while, just to get through. I was vulnerability. There was kindness in the room, and all of my lost property. The anaesthetic assistant had her hands on my shoulders, she spoke words of encouragement. She found me in the corner of my mind where I was hiding. She offered me a break but I couldn’t bear to take it because I knew I’d never manage to go back for more. I appreciated the option. I could feel the focused determination, concern and genuine care from the man holding the needle. Eventually he found success. My relief and his seemed to fill the room.
Then there was a weird warm numbness spreading down my back and into my legs. It had worked. I lay down and it began. Screens went up. Don’t look in the lights. Numbness crept up my body and as it hit my lungs they gasped for air. I struggled. I panicked. Asthma. Inhalers. Fear. Medicine. Nausea. Blood pressure dropping. More nausea. More drugs. Reassuring voices noticing me struggling. Reassuring voices from people who tried so hard to make it the birth I wanted. Nausea and I were too intertwined to part ways. Hyperemesis would only leave when the baby did. Pressure. A baby cried. He was here. I’d used up all of my tears already; just like nerves, there are only a set amount. He was lifted over the curtain. I gasped. He was real. He was ok. Safe. Then he was next to me. Red hair, blue eyes. I didn’t know what I thought or felt. My feelings were paused. All I had the space for was relief.
I was wheeled to recovery where I got to hold him for the first time. He calmed down as soon as I touched him. He lay on my chest. I stared at his face. He felt familiar. A midwife who was checking me in recovery indicated something was wrong. She pressed down on my womb with all her weight. It was agony. I had bruising and questions for weeks and low iron for over a year. With IV tramadol and morphine on board, I wasn’t able to ask what I needed to at the time. The world was hazy and questions weren’t forthcoming. I wasn’t aware I was haemorrhaging until my husband told me afterwards. A few weeks later my post-natal midwife investigated what happened and why. She gave me the answers I needed. She was so kind and thorough in her investigations. I was so pleased I had asked questions because it helped my mind. It also had implications for my future choices. I wasn’t aware of how serious it was at the time. I was only aware of excruciating pain and beautiful blue eyes.
I had hoped that having a caesarean the second time would enable me to have the experience I had wanted with the first: A realistic plan that didn’t let the complications take over and become all I remembered, and that didn’t leave me with a feeling of unease. Asking questions the second time helped me to understand everything that had happened. It made things feel safer in the aftermath. It gave me something realistic to process: the truth.
I left my feelings further etched into the walls of that place. This time I won’t be back again to collect them. They will fade with time and eventually blend into the background as more and more women go down those halls with their joy, fear, disappointment, pain, regrets, desires, bravery, hope and love. Sometimes I go to Lyall bay to collect my memories instead. I go to remember the sandy shoes, lone kite surfers and former lives.
I remember the memories elongating, and the birth became a story of transition in my mind. It was like the whole story came together. It was no longer fragmented in parts. It wasn’t only the parts where I endured it, or the parts where I felt fear. It was a longer process that moved to the four of us after the baby and I had played our part. I remember that day on the beach and the feeling of freedom and marking the end of such a special era. So does my son, three years on. I remember my eldest son meeting his brother for the first time and the absolute love and amazement in his eyes. He took a little gasp and his eyes widened. It was as if I’d pulled off the most amazing magic trick. A new era began where the dynamic in our household became more balanced with another child. I watched my big boy come into his own helping to care for ‘his baby’. He fed the baby bottles and taught him how to play with his toys. His chest swelled with pride and protection when his kindy friends tried to touch his new brother. He issued instructions with confidence. It was the kind of childhood bravado born of newness and change. It was the way he made sense of his new life: he took charge. I wished I had perfected this method to shield me from the uncertainty of change in the early days. My vulnerability always felt like it was on display.
Then there was the moment I realised we were meant to be four. Everything just felt right in a way I hadn’t realised was missing. We all felt a calm certainty and a belonging that was born with a new baby. There was a growing peace in the change. I also remember how hard and utterly exhausting it was at times.
Then I remember my baby. I remember that I took about three days to name him. I needed to know him a little bit first. One day, we were just calm and I was sure. He made sense to me. We looked at each other and I knew what to do for him. My feelings un-paused. I saw the person behind those blue eyes.
His name was Theo and I became his mum.
by Wendy Harper
Read more from Wendy over on her blog, the Paper Daisy Chain.