Enter the Bear

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You know what this blog needs? A birth story.

Please come back...I promise no-one eats their own placenta. In fact, I vow not to mention placentas at all. There. How can you resist an offer like that? It’ll be edifying and fun.

Ok, lets crack on. So in the autumn of 2016, I found myself ‘with child’ as the virgin Mary says. My joy was short-lived. I had morning sickness so unwavering and unrelenting that I would often cry with the thought of another day of work, children, house, awakeness. The exhaustion was crushing and never-ending - no amount of sleep filled my cup. People would sit beside me on the DART carrying with them viscous haze of cigarettes or perfume and I would have to clear my mind and think of a cool, mountain spring to stop me vomiting all over them. In work, I would hold on to my desk as the floor seemed to slide off to one angle and then retch violently into the bin. I don’t remember much - I think I blocked it out.

I’m writing this to formally note that the term ‘morning sickness’ is offensive to those ashen faced women who want nothing more than to crawl into bed and be knocked unconscious for months at a time. It implies that you wake up in the morning, feel a wee bit off-form for about ten minutes and then continue on with your day bathing in the warm light of that special glory reserved for those who are creating life. There is no glowing. There is only grinding, interminable nausea that sucks the joy out of every single thing in your life. But you’re not allowed to talk about it because your pregnancy is still supposed to be a secret at the point when you most want to turn into a mushroom and melt back into the earth. You continue as normal - working, commuting, cooking dinner (my kids ate sandwiches for dinner for three months) - because you’re only pregnant and you’re supposed to just get on with things. I deeply resent the ‘get on with things’ attitude attached to pregnancy. I’m making an actual human being - let me have a goddamn nap under my desk.

Sozfest. Got a bit carried away. Ok so let’s do what they do in the movies and skip over the next six months with a cheery montage of fun pregnancy activities which include standing precariously on a step ladder in dungarees with a paintbrush, running on a beach (*snort*) and sitting on the floor of the kitchen by the light of the fridge eating pickles and ice-cream. A more realistic montage would involve shots of me napping on the train, napping in the bean bag, napping on the floor of the children’s bedroom while they cry...the pickles and ice-cream scene can stay too - that happened.

This did not:

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Nor did this:

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Taking up the story again two days past my due date. I have just spent half an hour googling whether tom yum soup has ever induced labour...followed by whether tom yum soup is safe in pregnancy. I should have done both these things before I ate the tom yum soup. I also googled “Is back pain plus exhaustion a sign of impending labour”. It turns out it’s just a sign of being 38. I decided to go to sleep. I awoke two hours late with a sharp pain my cervix. One only really knows where one’s cervix is when the fecker starts doing something. For years, decades even, the cervix stands immovable and silent, like a stone wall, and then, as if the baby inside had silently whispered “open sesame” from the depths of his amniotic bubble, it starts moving. It’s not unlike a scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In the dim lighting of our bedroom, Mr Oh does look a bit like Harrison Ford. I wake up to tell him I’m in labour. He mutters something inaudible that sounded a bit like “ok so” and started snoring. Indy would never have done that. I gave him a sharp, accidental kick in the upper thigh. It had no effect but to make me feel slightly better. Feeling underwhelmed by his reaction, I went downstairs to sulk/labour in the bean bag alone until morning.

The morning came, and I was still having contractions. Mr Oh remained deeply unmoved by the seismic event I was experiencing and pottered about the house making tea. At 10am, he decided to take Little A to his swimming lesson. I reminded him of the fact that I was in labour. He reminded me of the fact that my last labour went on for three days, it was incredibly boring and there were not enough snacks. He left. I made a sandwich and pulled out the TENS machine.

A TENS machine is a little device where a set of electrodes are attached to a labouring woman’s back and when she presses a button, the machine sends an electric pulse along the wires, into the electrodes and into the pregnant woman’s internal organs. I did not make this up. It is supposed to help with the pain of contractions. It is rooted in the well-known medical theory of distraction through electrocution. Every time you get a contraction, you press the buzzer on the hand-held taser and electricity courses into the kidneys. Imagine stubbing your toe, and as you’re reeling from the pain, someone slaps you in the face - that’s what a TENS machine is like. Super little device - it just confuses the pain out of you.

Mr Oh came back from swimming to find that I had not, in fact, given birth in the driveway. I was a bit disappointed - it would have been one hell of a ‘told you so’ and I am so not above having a roadside birth if it would bestow upon me enough martyred righteousness to power a decade’s worth of marital arguments. Instead, he found me bouncing on my swiss ball, still very much pregnant, electrocuting myself at irregular intervals and cursing.

He had the good sense to deposit Little A and Snugglepunk with the grandparents. I took this as a sign that he was ready to focus on the birthing of our child. I soon discovered that it was actually a sign that he was ready to focus on garden maintenance. By the time the front and back lawns were mowed, my contractions had become very painful. I handed him my phone and assigned him the job of timing the contractions while I paced up and down the back garden in the hope of regularising them. They say that once you cannot keep walking or talking through contractions, you’re seriously on your way to having a baby. After a series of contractions that fully stopped me in my tracks with a pain so intense that I could barely breathe as it exploded through my body, I wanted information on the interval between contractions and details of whether they were of regular duration and spacing. I looked up at Mr Oh, who was as you will remember tasked with compiling this information, and found that he had set my phone down on the path and was himself, on his hands and knees, trimming the edge of the lawn with a pair of kitchen scissors. It was unclear whether the stream of expletives that subsequently emanated from my person were as a result of the piercing contractions, the electrocution of the organs or the fecklessness of the husband.

At 3pm, I told Mr Oh that I wanted to go to the hospital. He said “No, it’s too early”. I thought (or maybe I said), “What would you know? You’ve been fixated on the grass for the last three hours, you wouldn’t notice if I was crowning on the patio”. I accepted that it was probably too early - my contractions weren’t yet regular but they were very strong. And I wanted to go to the hospital - I didn’t care if they sent me home again - I didn’t really want to give birth in the driveway, not even for the mother of I-told-you-so’s. And so we got into the Oscartavia (which is Little A’s name for the Skoda Octavia) - Mr Oh, me, the hospital bag and a giant pink birthing ball wedged into the back seat. And off we hurtled to the hospital, which was about 30 minutes away.

It was 10 June 2017, one of the hottest days of that year. The air-conditioning in the Oscartavia was broken so I had rolled down all the windows. As we approached the hospital, I felt relief wash over me. And then, as we zoomed right past the hospital door, relief was replaced with panic, disbelief and a soupcon of homicide. “What are you doing?” I demanded as the hospital faded in the distance behind us. “It’s too early”, Mr Oh said, “we’re going to Dun Laoighaire”.

“We are in my...oh, another contraction...” and I started hollering out the window.

Dun Laoighaire is a picturesque seaside suburb, 30 minutes south of the hospital. I think it’s a nice place but I did not want my baby to be born there, mainly because there is no maternity hospital in Dun Laoighaire. There is ice-cream, however. And Mr Oh suddenly had a hankering for ice-cream. As we got further and further away from the hospital, I contemplated opening my door and rolling out onto the road, but I was, at that exact moment, the wrong body shape for rolling. So, I sat in the car as we drove to Dun Laoighaire, gripping the edges of my seat as my labour marched onwards, blithely unaware of Mr’s Oh’s treachery and deceit. When we got there, the place was, naturally, jammed with people and the traffic slowed to a crawl. Tourists sauntered past the window, inches from me as I was loudly vocalising each contraction. Mr Oh tried to close the windows, presumably to stave off the mortification of your pregnant wife birthing in front of strangers. I did not give a flying fox who heard me so the windows stayed down. It was at that moment that I looked him in the eye and said ‘Take me back, now’. He looked longingly to the right as we approached the ice-cream shop with a long queue of people snaking along outside it. “Are you sure you don’t want to stop?” he said. To this day, I don’t know if he was joking.

We reached the hospital at 5pm...two hours after we left our house. Mr Oh still thought they would send me home but we were not only admitted but brought straight up to the labour ward and assigned a midwife, who confirmed that I was ‘definitely in labour’. There was an hour of gas and air (very disappointing really, I expected so much more), more electrocution and a lot of chanting birth meditations like ‘it’s not pain, it’s power’ (it is pain, in case you were wondering...lots and lots of pain). I was busy ‘breathing my baby down’ as they say when I hit what is known in the business as ‘the transition’. It’s the part that feels like you’re either going to die or are possibly, already dead. Gas and air was abandoned, the TENS machine was ripped off and I started cursing at everyone - Mr Oh, the lovely midwife, anyone who tried to talk to me. It was also the exact point when Mr Oh said, “I need to go and feed the parking meter”. My head whipped up, and my eyes locked on his. In a voice that I do not recognise as my own, I said “you can get clamped, or you can get divorced”. He chose clamped. It was the correct choice.

45 minutes later, I took a break from screaming my head off to tell the midwife that I was going home as I didn’t want to do this anymore. Apparently, this is really common in childbirth and is a sign that the baby is about to arrive. Sure enough, 2 minutes later, there he was.

It’s always a shock when the baby arrives. Right up until the very last moment, I never actually fully accept that there will be a baby. It’s not fear, it’s just that there is some kind of unseen curtain between pregnancy and birth - something inexplicable and dense - like a wall of tumbling, blinding light. They say that labour is the closest that you can come to death in a regular, ordinary, daily kind of way. There’s something about it that is not just primal but unearthly. There is no-one and then there is someone - a small, new, slightly blue someone.

I called him Bear.

That’s not his real name, the name he knows and already answers to. It’s his blog name. I called him Bear after Bear Grylls - because he’ll basically have to raise himself in the wild surrounded by predators and rely on his wits to survive. Such is the way of the third child.

I’ll stop now, before we have to talk about the placenta. Mr Oh did not get clamped in the end. Every time we talk about that trip to Dun Laoighaire, he has a look in his eyes that says “I told you so”. He’s too smart to actually say it out loud, but I know he’s thinking it.




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