I remember it like it was yesterday. There I was, wondering who made the call to decorate the floor of a maternity hospital waiting room with giant blue paw prints when my name was called. Up I jumped. OK, jumped is a bit of a stretch. Up I got slowly and tentatively with my feet firmly planted shoulder width apart in an effort to balance until I was fully upright. And off I went. Into the room where a stranger would shove their hand up my lady parts as physically possible.
The good old sweep!
In my first pregnancy, after a failed attempt, I vowed never to even contemplate such an endeavour again. Yet here I was, two years later, ready to beg for just that experience. You see that’s the joy of pregnancy, it gets to a certain point when you will endure almost anything to get that baby out and start the next stage. The stage where your feet are again separated from your calves by some form of narrowing, where you can eat more than three bites of food without feeling like it’s jammed at the back of your throat, when dropping something on the floor doesn’t involve a toss up between negotiating with a two year old or leaving it there until your husband gets home.
And so I had the sweep… I was swept… I got a sweeping. Not pleasant, far from it, but it would be worth it if it worked.
I left pretty hopefully. The doctor said I was already a couple of centimetres dilated and that if contractions started from the sweep they’d be happy enough to break my waters since everything looked favourable for labour.
Excellent, now all I needed were for the contractions to sta- holy shit… what was that?!
And we were off! Before I’d even made it home- now that’s service.
The contractions were mild and ten minutes apart so I made it home and spent the rest of the evening making sure I had everything ready for the hospital and getting my two year old settled.
I planned on staying home for as long as I possibly could but at 3 a.m. when the pains worsened and jumped to 30 seconds apart, visions of crowing on the 30 minute drive had me shaking my husband awake.
We made the journey and occupied the waiting room for an hour. I kept timing the contractions, it helped distract from the pain. Strangely enough the gaps between them began to vary. 30 seconds, then 1 minute and 30 seconds. After a 30 second gap I knew the contraction would be manageable but after the longer gap I would have sworn my insides were being ripped apart- your pretty standard contraction.
And then a midwife called me;
“What are you here for?”
“Oh, I’m in labour.”
“OK, well we’ll check.”
Yes, check how far along I was, check that everything was OK, but check I was in labour?
Queue an internal followed by 20 minutes of lying in the most uncomfortable position possible for pain while they monitored the contractions and the results were in;
I wasn’t in labour!
I wasn’t dilated and my contractions were too irregular to be ‘real’ contractions.
Excuse me? Not real? They fecking felt real! And how had I been dilated earlier in the day?
“Oh you are a couple of centimetres but that would be normal enough on the second baby.”
Early labour they called it. Common enough after a sweep. Birth might still be days away.
I was gutted. Firstly because I thought I was finally at the end of a difficult pregnancy and secondly because I was in a lot of damn pain. How was this not real labour? It felt just like last time.
They were going to keep me in- just to be sure. And so at 5:00 a.m. I was led to my bed, told to get some sleep (HA!) and my husband was sent home. Partners couldn’t stay unless you were in active labour. I was on my own.
Was there something wrong with me? Why was I in so much pain if I wasn’t even in labour?
I didn’t sleep. I didn’t even try, it wasn’t a possibility. In the small two bed room I made sure not to disturb the woman next to me who’d just had her baby, but an hour later the pains had gotten worse. I pressed the ‘Call Midwife’ bell and thanks to an understaffed and over worked health service the alarm buzzed at the door for a full ten minutes. Every buzz made me cringe. I didn’t want to be disturbing any other moms who were getting some precious rest but I was alone, I was in pain and I was scared.
My birth plan was very simple; go into labour, get to the recommended 2-3 cm dilated and get the epidural. I explained this to the midwife and how I was in quite a lot of pain. Could I be checked to see if I was ready to go to the labour ward? Please?
Nope. She wouldn’t check me. I was, once again, informed that I wasn’t in active labour and hadn’t even been dilated when I came in. She suggested I walk around to try and get things started.
I was starting to feel pretty sorry for myself- I just wanted my husband but since I, apparently, still wasn’t in labour he wouldn’t be allowed in for another few hours.
I started doing laps of the ward but the pains had me crippling over, unable to stay standing and since I wasn’t even in labour that was pretty embarrassing. My contractions were still the same- the same irregular, ‘non’ contractions as when I’d arrived.
6:45a.m. I tried again and pushed the bell. 5 minutes later a midwife who looked 10 years younger than me but with a headmistress air about her, stormed in.
At this stage I was exhausted- desperate even.
“Can I please get checked so I can get the epidural?”
She looked at me, her eyes narrowing; “Are you even in labour?”
Jesus Christ what was going on here!?
Was there some conspiracy going on with women sneaking in pretending to be in labour just so they could get a huge needle jammed into the base of their spines?
Why was everyone so quick to assume I was lying about the pain. No, I wasn’t screaming or roaring but I was very clearly and honestly telling them how much pain I was in- but it wasn’t good enough.
As she left I hobbled to the bathroom to splash some water on my face and wash away the tears that were starting to leak out of frustration. I had just put my hand on the handle when I heard the midwife in the corridor explaining to her colleague why I had buzzed…
“….looking for epidural….
….explained she actually needs to be in labour….”
I was a joke.
I cried then. I cried because I was tired, because I was in pain, because I was alone.
Another midwife came in the and, to this day, I remember her with an ethereal light shining around her.
“Are you finding the pains very bad?”
“Shur we’ll give you a check and see if anything’s changed.”
I nodded again. Finally.
“Thank you! Thank you!”
I was embarrassingly grateful about the whole thing.
What is it?
“You’ve been handling your pains very well.”
I didn’t think so.
“You’re 4 going on 5 cms,”
– Trumpets began to play.
“We’ll get you a well deserved spin down to the labour ward straight away,”
– a choir began singing Hallelujah!
I phoned my husband and told him to come straight in. It was such a relief to finally be considered ‘in labour’ now and not have people acting as if I was having some kind of psychotic episode where I was imagining the whole thing.
I know those midwives were probably over-worked and adhering closely to everything they’d learned in a textbook. I also know that the way they acted was absolutely the exception as opposed to the rule as I adored each and every other midwife I met throughout my stay.
Now I’m a good, forgiving person so I absolutely wouldn’t hold anything against those midwives, they were just doing their jobs. Yes, maybe they forgot that everyone’s an individual, that all labours can be different- those ‘irregular’ non-contractions stayed that way right up until my baby popped out a couple hours later (not days) but I wasn’t one to hold a grudge.
As I was wheeled into the labour ward and asked about pain relief I answered, with a great big smile on my face;
“Oh no, the anaesthetist has just been called to an emergency. It’s unfortunate you weren’t down a few centimetres ago.”
Maybe I would learn to hold a grudge after all.