Well this joyous wonderful complicated and amazing girl of mine is a year old today!
I am an incredibly biased parent and could write pages on her many remarkable attributes and about what an unbelievably fantastic and devastatingly hard year this has been,
However as I remember this time a year ago I thought it might be good to share her birth story.
We have just started the new series of MasterChef, this time last year it had become something of an obsession with Matt and I as we patiently awaited those first pangs of labour….
Clara was eight days late, I had hoped for a prompt arrival and was starting to get a bit annoyed so sweet and much needed distraction came in the form of MasterChef. We watched completely agog as the amateur chefs created sumptuous dishes to impress the judges, Matt had the sofa to himself as I was confined to the purgatory of bouncing on a bright pink ball in the hopes of coaxing labour out of its shell.
I remember reflecting on the weirdness of the birth process, of feeling so fed up with being huge that you begin to will your body to cause you enormous pain, there was an almost addictive mix of Adrenalin, excitement and fear as I pictured what was to come.
On the 9th April we had driven out to the beautiful American Cemetery on the outskirts of Cambridge as I had heard a rumour that it had steps – I cut a strange figure that day as I walked up and down among the gravestones 30 or so times willing the activity to get the baby moving.
So when nothing had happened two days later I was pretty sure that the baby had decided to stay on the inside forever, but at 2pm on the 11th April I started getting regular contractions like some kind of uncomfortable miracle!
It was fairly non painful at this point, standard waves of period like pain. We called my mum as I was keen she was around for the birth and she had a few hours to drive to get to us. A memorable moment was some charity collectors coming to the door midway through a contraction – Not now – my wife is in labour! proved an extremely effective deterrent.
I used the famous pink ball to brace myself against also a TENS machine and a hot water bottle which seemed to work quite nicely.
As I was easing into the bath I felt like my waters had broken and we made a hilarious and slightly hysterical call to the midwifery unit – later on (much later) when they finally did break we really laughed that we had thought that was it.
Mum arrived and we had some food and headed to bed. I didn’t really sleep mainly because I was so excited and at around 2am my contractions were close enough together that we called the unit and headed into the hospital.
The midwife showed us to a room but suggested that Matt and I go and find some indoor stairs to walk up and down to get things moving – (because we all know how easy it is to climb stairs whilst attached at the hip to a giant pink birthing ball!!) the unit was deserted and at one point a porter casually cycled past on his way somewhere, only in Cambridge would the porters cycle inside a hospital!
I was contracting mainly on my knees braced against the ball so by 7:am I was keen for a change and asked to get into the birthing pool in our room. This was lovely, over the next few hours the contractions ramped up a gear and I was doing some nice breathing and visualising all sorts of random things like trains in tunnels and waves on beaches – Matt thought I was loosing it but it seemed to help. I was also plied with iced tea and multigrain bars for energy.
At around 9:00am I asked to try the gas and air which I liked…a lot. It didn’t take the pain away as much as take me away from the pain. During this time I thought Matt was the most hilarious person on the planet, which did his ego a world of good.
By around 11:00 the midwife was keen to examine me for the first time (the Rosie birth center where I gave birth has a very hands off approach) so I came out of the water and lay on the bed.
This was when things got real.
I started having big mean angry contractions and my waters literally EXPLODED forth from me (Matt was down the business end and got soaked) so I guess this is the point they would call transition – I certainly transitioned from a calm and collected earth mama into a screaming banshee.
I think the position on my back probably didn’t help but the pain meant I couldn’t even think about moving. The Gas and air became a constant companion as the contractions reached a new level.
I was screaming mindlessly through each contraction. I couldn’t control this noise and it didn’t really feel like me at all. This was pretty terrifying but at some point I became aware that my body was doing what it was meant to be doing and that somehow all that noise was helping to get my baby out.
This is the bit that I don’t like to remember particularly as it felt indeterminable even though it was in reality about an hour or so. I couldn't believe how painful these contractions were, truly nothing could have prepared me for the sheer scale of the agony. During this phase Matt was amazing he seemed to know exactly what I needed and I remember bracing my legs on his shoulder during the contractions.
By this point I had been awake for 24 hours and was totally exhausted. The midwife said it was time to push and invited me onto all fours, I almost sobbed at the very notion as my body felt like it had been through a war and I wasn’t sure it was capable of such heights any more. But I really wanted it all to be over so I dutifully dragged myself up and started the pushing process.
Cue loads of excitement from mum, Matt and the midwife who could all see what was going on and less excitement from me who could certainly FEEL a lot but didn’t have the foggiest what was happening!
It was odd to feel slightly excluded from something that was happening so directly to me.
I must have been pushing for about two hours, it takes a surprisingly long time to get that head down the birth canal! She kept coming down then heading back up again, but eventually with the traditional ‘ring of fire’ feeling (otherwise known as pooing a brick) Clara’s head was born, at exactly 1:55pm on the 12th April.
In that second she started to cry and for a moment she was just a little crying head! I obviously couldn’t see this but can picture it clearly as it is such a funny image, I was feeling sheer relief after the crazy pain of birthing her head. Then the rest of her wriggled out and she was spellbindingly wonderfully real, straight on to my chest where I drank her all in.
So there you have it folks, it was a wonderful, painful as hell, straightforward natural birth.
(I did also sustain a horrible, unlucky 3c tear in the birthing process. That's another story and doesn’t really have a place in this post, so for now I will pause the scene right there)
The midwife asks ‘would dad like to cut the cord?’ dad politely declines looking a little green while nearby a tearful grandmother falls head over heals for her only daughters daughter.
And as for me, well I’m just peachy. My beautiful girl is nestled on my chest, her face is somehow both brand new and entirely familiar, she takes to my breast like a seasoned professional when my mum latches her on. My body sighs into an ‘ah-ha’ moment as I make that seismic change into mother.
What a moment.