Each day past Daniel’s due date – Friday, 13 December – felt like a year! Every night, we took a photo of me and my bump and labelled it, “The night before you were born” hoping that would bring on the contractions. I walked a lot and Waldemar and I did what got us pregnant in the first place to end off this phase of pregnancy. Sunday night at 21:30, my mucous plug came out when I went to the loo. I was so excited to feel like there was some movement down below! By Monday, the 16th, we took Claudio and Michelle up on their offer to still attend their wedding in the event of nothing having started yet. My feet were almost too swollen to fit into my sandals and Waldemar had to bend down and tie them for me as the belly was at its biggest and lowest. We took advantage of the dance floor and tried to wiggle the baby out with the bus stop and “two hops this time”. When we came home I had a bloody show and it suddenly dawned on me that I was in the beginning of the first stages of labour. A little bit of panic ensued as I realised that there was no going back now!
On Tuesday morning, the 17th, I felt completely different. The entire night I was aware of Braxton Hicks as if they were unending. My belly was heavy and I felt unusually tired. We went to see Heather at Femina for my weekly check-up and she put me on the electronic foetal monitor (EFM) to check for any sign of contractions. Braxton Hicks were apparent, but no hint of any real contractions. She offered to do an internal if we were curious if dilation had started, but I refused as I figured that if it had started, there’s nothing we could do that we weren’t already doing to speed it up and if it hadn’t started, I would anyways be discouraged as I was already four days overdue. She advised that we just wait it out patiently as we had been doing, but I was a little disheartened and feeling as if we would be pregnant forever.
Around late afternoon, the Braxton Hicks contractions started coming along more rhythmically and Mom offered to time them to see how regular they were. From about 19:00 -21:10pm, they were on average 8-9 minutes apart. The first 14 we timed from the start of one to the start of the next one. We ate spaghetti at Ikabod with the family. It dawned on me that I need to eat up as this may very well be my last supper before the big marathon. Waldemar quickly learned in this early stage that during a contraction is not a time to ask questions or make jokes or even touch me. When we left for home just after 9pm, there was a big storm outside and I switched over to an app on my phone that would time the contractions. The speed bumps now became quite an experience!
I kept tracking my progress while in the bath and found that this was definitely the real deal as Braxton Hicks would have faded after soaking in the bath. After that, I had to get on all fours in bed to brace through the pain. In the meantime, both Waldemar and I had sloppy tummies and though mine was a sign of normal labour progression, he was worried that this was the most untimely hour to be nailed to the toilet. Eventually, I gave the go-ahead for him to pack the car with the car seat and the mommy and baby bags just in case we were heading out soon. Between 23:00 and midnight, we contacted Heather to update her on my status. She recommended we stay relaxed at home, but said that she was already at the Midwife Unit (ABU) with another mom in labour.
By 01:00, I felt that the contractions were close enough together to go to the hospital. You never really know how far into the labour you are and being a first timer, I didn’t want to be caught off guard. I considered the pending traffic (probably as we would reach the pushing stage) and also the storm outside and decided that I would be able to relax more in the ABU. Deep inside, I was slightly apprehensive that I hadn’t really progressed at all.
As we arrived, we were booked into the smaller room at the ABU. This was something we had joked about all through the pregnancy and now a point that really didn’t matter to me. Heather hooked me up to the EFM and I found that the contractions were much more painful lying flat on my back. After doing an internal exam, Heather declared that I was 3cm dilated. I was proud to hear that I was in true labour, but slightly discouraged to know I had so many hours still ahead of me. Waldemar was sent around the whole hospital trying to find a lighter to light the candles in the room. I found out later that it got to the point where they had to phone Erna to buy one at a café on the way in and then that Waldemar found his in his pants pocket the next day when he was dressing to leave the hospital! After some time of tracking my progress, Heather called the reflexologist, Marthie, in to work on my neck and back. It was very soothing and she reminded me of the hip rolls I could do on the ball to loosen my pelvis better.
At some point, I went to the toilet and when I stood up, I released a lot of blood. Waldemar called Heather in and she was quite distressed as it was too fresh and copious to still be a bloody show. She strapped me to the EFM again to check on baby. I didn’t hear much at this stage as I was trying to manage the pain, but Waldemar told the story to me later. The baby’s heart rate, which should stay around 140, had dropped to almost 100. He asked Heather at which point we should start worrying and she replied that point was 100. The risk was that I was facing a placental abruption and I recall fearing that she would call Dr. Swart for an emergency caesarean. Waldemar tells me that he started praying for God’s intervention here. Still before he could say amen, the heart rate shot up and resumed its beat at 140. The bleeding also abruptly stopped and to this day, Heather cannot explain what would have caused it – perhaps dilation had occurred too quickly. In hindsight, Heather recollects that she was a bit disheartened when I came in to the ABU so early and found that I was not coping as well as she knew how badly I wanted a natural birth. At this point with the bleeding incidence, she was grateful that we were booked in as this had the potential to set off severe panic if we were still at home.
Eventually I settled into the bath and it made a remarkable difference to coping with the pain. I leaned my head against a soft towel and stretched out completely. Here, time got a tad blurry for the next five hours as the midwives were in and out between me and the other labouring woman next door. Waldemar – my unending support – chose to snooze next to me on the tiles next to the bath even though there was a perfectly soft bed in the room. My birth art was posted on the wall in front of me and my birth song played on a loop to inspire me. It built up my strength and reminded me that we weren’t alone in the room.
“Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)”
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand
And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Saviour
Somewhere in this “zone”, Heather told me that I was fighting against the contractions and that it was setting my progress back. She gave me a stress ball and said I had to open up if I wanted this labour to go anywhere. I really took it to heart as I knew what happens to moms who get too exhausted to see the finish line out of theatre. So, during each contraction, I channelled all my tension into the stress ball in my hand and focused on releasing my pelvis, belly and legs. I kept talking to the baby telling the little darling to come, that we were ready to welcome it and convincing myself that the pain was just like period pain and that it would go away soon.
After my time in the bath, Heather concluded that I was 7cm. I tried to get out of the bath a couple of times, but standing and moving was working against my focus. Heather said I could still stay submerged as long as it was helping me, but I didn’t want to birth looking like a raisin. Finally, I managed to get onto the birth ball and leaned onto the bed with my forearms. After feeling very warm in the bath, I now started shivering from the cold. I remember Marcia(massage therapist) coming in to greet me as she had come in to work, but I was trying so hard to maintain control, that I asked her to stop rubbing my back and come and chat later. Note to self: I still have to apologise to her! I managed to find my calm so well that Heather and Waldemar would come and talk to me and only when I stopped them did they realise I was in the midst of a contraction and handling it so well that it didn’t show outwardly. What really helped at this point was Heather and Waldemar pressing their warm hands steadily into my lower back. Behind the scenes, Waldemar had burnt himself while filling the hot water bottle and was nursing his wound with ice while helping me cope. This must have looked hilarious from the outside: his one hand in a bucket of ice while his other holding the hot water bottle steady on his labouring wife’s back.
When checked again at what I think was 9am, I was finally 10cm and the baby could descend through the birth canal. I moved back into the bath, but this time couldn’t find a comfortable position and sat awkwardly with both legs to one side. There was this weird urge to push feeling that I didn’t understand as my doula theory told me that it was too early. Waldemar kept offering me a straw and I could only manage a sip every now and then to stay hydrated. Grateful for Mom’s spaghetti, I could only stomach one bite of toast the entire labour.
Both Heather and Erna (back up midwife) started preparing the room for the birth and Waldemar arranged the video camera to capture the moment. The pushing stage is a sort of bitter-sweet stage as you are so relieved to be nearing the birth of your baby, yet there is most of the hard work still up ahead. My energy levels still felt surprisingly high and I started pushing through each contraction. The best position was propping my back up against the side of the bath and holding my legs open while my feet braced the front side. I felt downcast when Heather tried to feel the head and I felt how far up she had to go. During a couple of contractions, I still had to face a bout of hiccups and thought of just how typical that was that the baby had hiccups during the pregnancy and now I was ending it off the same way. Though I kept the language relatively clean up till now, I let go in one of the hiccups with a “Eina…hick…F-o-o-o-k…”
Finally Heather could feel the head and Waldemar got into action cheering me on with, “Kom, Bok, kom”. After a couple of pushes, he got so excited that I suddenly heard, “Kom, Brol, kom”! Glad for keeping a sense of humour, I managed to enjoy these funny moments. The thing with the pushing phase is that it is that typical “three steps forward, two steps back” mentality. Everyone on the outside gets so thrilled to see the head and then it pulls back inside and disappears till the subsequent pushes. It was a proud moment for Waldemar and a bit of motivation for me when we could feel the hair on our baby’s head. I remembered the stories Mom had told me about being in labour with me. That she tore because she pushed out of her throat and learned later that she should have pushed from deep within her belly. I put that into practice and pushed like I needed the toilet and grateful that Mom’s spaghetti had already made its way out at home. Heather kept congratulating me on pushing very well for a first-timer and I only had Mom to thank.
Again the doula theory kicked in and I told them I was bracing for the ring of fire. I would handle anything just knowing that the head was ready to pop out. Finally, there it was! Waldemar gently lead the head out into the water. Heather asked me to keep it there while waiting for the next contraction, but I realised my contractions were short and far apart and holding the head felt like everything was just hanging open. I warned them that I know I was going to tear, but I was going to push anyways. Out popped the shoulders and then everything else wriggled into the water. What pure relief I felt when they laid my little “Kapunda” on my chest. In that moment, Waldemar was so in love with his little family, he completely forgot to declare the gender. We all turned to him in anticipation and he announced, “Dit is ‘n……. Daniël!”
The Truters were left alone for a couple of minutes and I just couldn’t fathom how our lives had just changed.
Daniël’s cord was clamped after it had stopped pulsating and Waldemar given the scissors to free his son. Everything was so entangled; Waldemar screeched that he was nervous he would circumcise his boy. Heather clampled the area and then the proud dad cut the cord and was handed his son for skin-to-skin together. I stood up and gave a little push to dislodge the placenta and then made my way to the bed. As I predicted, I did tear a little bit, but Heather was happy that it was minor and would heal well. Looking back, it is funny that tearing was one of my worst fears after seeing the stitches being done in the labour ward. Even though the anesthetising injection stung, now being the patient myself, it really did not matter what had to be done anymore because I was finally a mommy.
I was so proud that I managed the entire birth without any medication, let alone a Panado. Erna was raving about how my work as a doula had just leaped up a notch as I could understand exactly what the mommy’s were going through.