|Sunday 17th September 2017||Filled under Uncategorized|
I’m aware that some people found my account of my daughter’s birth a touch traumatic (although not, I promise you, as traumatic as the actual experience!).
In order to try and redress the balance, I thought I’d write a bit about my second experience of childbirth, which was a very different story.
Approaching giving birth for the second time, I was a lot more worried. First time round, I figured it couldn’t really be that bad and anyway what’s one sucky day against a lifetime of parenthood? During my second pregnancy, I tried to take more positive steps to prepare. The trouble was, none of the approaches I tried seemed like a good fit. I read up on hypnobirthing but couldn’t get behind some of the militant feminist stuff that goes with it, nor the idea that people who don’t expect to find birth painful won’t (because I’d already had the exact opposite experience myself!). Pregnancy yoga just left me feeling a bit weird, and I’m not a believer in alternative medicine which rules out a lot of
By the time I was into my third trimester, I was feeling really nervous, but I was confident that with my menfolk beside me I could get through it again.
As it turned out, between my first and second pregnancies the NHS in my area have introduced an extra diagnostic test, an additional ultrasound scan in the third trimester (the exact timing is based on various factors, I had mine at 36 weeks). It was a lucky thing for me, too – this scan is supposed to pick up on anything which might cause trouble during the birth, and mine revealed that not only was this baby going to be very large, he was also the wrong way up!
I did some research and discovered that having breach babies of this size vaginally is not recommended, and tried to make my peace with the idea of a planned Caesarean (which I found more distressing than I would have expected). However, there was another option to be explored first – External Cephalic Version.
In this non-invasive procedure, a senior clinician manipulates the baby from the outside (through your belly) and tries to turn them round. I was initially sceptical about it, but it’s actually very safe – there’s lots of monitoring before, during and after, and the research shows that the babies are not harmed. So, I duly turned up at the clinic with my bag packed in case anything went wrong (in which case they perform an immediate C-section).
After 30 minutes sitting and reading while they monitored the baby’s heartbeat, three midwives came in. One was a student, who with my consent spent some time finding various bits of the baby under my skin (the midwives all agreed that they wouldn’t have been able to tell he was breech without the scan). They then double-checked his position with ultrasound, and warned me to brace for some discomfort. Then the more-senior of the midwives fiddled with my belly for a minute, and just as I was expecting her to say they were starting she announced that she’d done it and he was round.
Not everyone has an easy time with ECV – it can be very painful, and only 50% of babies will turn (and even then, some will turn back again). But for me, it was very easy and completely effective, so no Caesarean needed!
With that hurdle cleared, it was time for the waiting game. My due date came and went without so much as a quiver of Braxton-Hicks. A week later, I had a membrane sweep with my midwife, and still nothing.
I had got as far as having my appointment booked at the hospital for an induction when, 10 days after I was due, I woke up at about 1230am on 19th November in the middle of a contraction.
The contractions were painful and close together, but since they’d only just started I assumed I still had the hours and hours of sitting around and waiting to get through. Even after I rang the hospital and they told me to come in, I still assumed we were a good day or two from baby o’clock. Dan had been unwell, so I popped my head round his door and told him I was in labour, and we agreed he would come round to the hospital in the morning after a proper night’s sleep.
JTA and I drove to the hospital on empty roads while I had contractions in the car – the experience I’d always assumed I would have first time round, in fact.
When we got to the John Radcliffe hospital Women’s Centre, we were informed that the Spires midwifery centre (where I’d spent most of my labour first-time round) was full, and sent to the hospital birthing centre instead. The midwife there examined me and said I was already in active labour and needed to be admitted (which was quite a surprise – I was still expecting to be on roughly the same schedule as last time). Luckily, the only birthing pool on the ward was available, so I huffed some gas and air while they filled it and then clambered in.
For a few hours, I laboured quite peacefully in the darkened birthing room. I had a drink to hand, and the combination of the pool and the gas and air made the pain quite bearable. JTA and I chatted and enjoyed a round of toast, while our attendant midwife caught up on some paperwork.
After about 3 hours, I started to feel that I was really having more pain than I would like, so I requested an epidural. At that point, the pain was still within what I could handle, but I figured I should get the epidural before we got to the “so much pain I’d rather die” stage.
I had to get out of the pool and move to a different room (boo), and then there was more monitoring while they sent someone off to find an anesthesiologist. It turned out the women’s centre anesthesiologist was in surgery, so they sent to borrow one from the main hospital. Based on her performance, I’m pretty sure the hospital sent whoever was nearest the phone when the call came in, possibly a cleaner or maybe even a bored patient in borrowed scrubs…
I was instructed to sit very still on the edge of the bed (no easy task when having contractions every couple of minutes), while the anesthesiologist fiddled around behind me and the student midwife in charge of passing me my gas and air kept forgetting because she was trying to watch what was happening on my back. 14 holes in my back later, and still no pain relief, the “anesthesiologist” declared that she couldn’t get the needle into the right position and went off to find someone else.
While she was gone, I was lying back on the bed huffing more gas and air and feeling a bit fed up when my waters suddenly broke. Contrary to what I’d been led to believe, I didn’t feel like I was wetting myself – there was a distinct popping feeling and then a load of liquid came out of me. It was as if a fluid-filled sack inside me had burst (I guess I’m not great at similes).
The moment that happened, the baby started to come. I felt a very strong urge to push, and unlike with Annabel, I could feel the baby moving each time I did it. The midwives were so good, guiding me and encouraging me, that I found myself trusting them completely. At some point, a new anesthesiologist appeared and was sent away by one of the midwives who said “change of plan, we’re having the baby instead!”. Later, they became concerned because the baby’s heartbeat wasn’t picking up again as quickly as it should after each contraction, and told me we had to get him out as soon as possible. I found a new burst of strength knowing that my baby was in trouble, and was even able to stop taking the gas and air when the midwife told me I needed an extra edge to help me push.
My son was born completely naturally at 0734, I had the alarming experience as he was coming out of looking up and discovering that lots of extra equipment and doctors had appeared because they were worried about him, but pretty much as soon as he was out they all dispersed again and everything was fine. Little John weighed in at 10lbs 6oz, the midwives were all very pleased that we’d managed to get him out without needing any extra interventions. This time round, I was still sufficiently with it to be aware when the placenta came out a short while later and have a little look at it. It was gross.
This time, I got what the fuss was about. Giving birth to my son without the hard drugs, even though it wasn’t my original plan, was an amazing experience. I could feel my body doing what it was supposed to, I felt strong and I felt instantly connected with my beautiful baby. I would say I recommend going drug free, so long as you know in advance you’re not going to have a horrifically long and painful labour.
|Sunday 19th March 2017||Filled under Uncategorized|
I’m not dead, just so busy that something had to give and that something was blogging. Here are some things that have happened in the last couple of years which I haven’t had the time to write about:
- I got promoted. Twice. I’m now a Solutions Architect, running a team of developers and analysts, still at Oxford Brookes University.
- I had another baby. I’m currently on maternity leave with my second child, a son. I think he’ll be the last child. I like him a lot but babies are hard work!
- Child 1 is now a precocious toddler. She basically rules my house.
- At Three Rings, we signed up our 300th client organisation. We have a whole lot of good causes on our books these days.
If I get the time, I might write a post about the second time I gave birth. It was pretty different from the first time. And I definitely need to find the time to update my byebug cheatsheet, since it’s still getting a lot of traffic. Hopefully I can get to that during this year’s Three Rings DevCamp (coming up in a couple of weeks).
Also the world has become all kinds of insane. I don’t have much to say about it right now but I don’t approve.
|Monday 13th July 2015||Filled under Uncategorized|
So once again I can’t sleep (despite the 3.75mg of Zopiclone flowing uselessy through my veins). After a few fruitless hours of lying in bed, I got up. I intended to read a book, but instead I got to thinking about a prototype I’d been wanting to build.
One thing led to another and now it’s 2ish and I’m sitting in a quiet house furiously churning out code. Because I just started building, I’m writing a lot of config and glue and not all that much functionality. Which isn’t the fun part, as any non-weird programmer will tell you.
But I’m having a wonderful time. In my day job, I work with a creaky old (and generally hated) application written in very very old languages where you have to do an awful lot of kicking to squeeze out every drop of new functionality. For example, we have the functionality to email copies of certain pages to users as PDFs. This unexciting, really-ought-to-be-simple function is achieved using several different scripts in several different languages, a homemade asynchronous messaging system running on hackery and optimism, and an impressively unstable plugin of unknown age. It takes a good 15 minutes for the PDF to arrive.
I’m using Rails for my prototype. I could talk for days about my love of Rails, but I won’t, because I’m limiting how long I spend writing this so I can write more code 🙂
Anyway, I decided I wanted to use multiple-table inheritance, a slightly esoteric piece of design which I think is appropriate in this case. So I installed a gem, and now I have it. It cost me about half-a-dozen lines of config code and it Just Works.
You know what’s great about modern programming? All the shitty, repetitive, fragile, unmaintainable, dull code that we don’t have to write anymore.
|Monday 1st June 2015||Filled under Uncategorized|
In view of the recent general election results, in which the country apparently voted to trash everything good about our society in favour of US-style “me first” crap, it struck me as timely that I recently had my first experience of privatized diagnostic testing. Even better, I have previously had this particular test before, provided in a good old-fashioned overcrowded NHS hospital.
My health has not been what it should over the past month, for reasons which the doctors have mostly described as “eh, keep resting, maybe you’ll get better. Next!” Amongst other (so far fruitless) diagnostics, I had to go and have an ultrasound scan of my abdomen. A few years ago, when a change in contraception caused some truly alarming symptoms which, hey, went away when I changed again, I had to have the exact same scan. So, I thought I’d compare and contrast.
When I was sent for a scan in a hospital, I received a very precise letter, telling me where to go, who to report to, and exactly what would happen. It was accompanied by a handy leaflet telling me all about the facilities of the hospital, and particularly mentioning that it’s hard to park there and all patients are recommended to get the bus.
The third party diagnostics company also sent me a letter. I had the same instructions about consuming a bunch of fluids beforehand, but no information about the clinic apart from the address. As I would later discover, the surgery where the clinic is located does not allow people who aren’t their local patients to use their car park, which meant I had to drive around the area looking for somewhere else, and then hike back – less than ideal when you’re feeling peaky.
The ultrasound diagnostics department at the hospital had a good reception. I got lost on arrival at the site (my fault for getting off the bus too soon), but a friendly doctor helpfully pointed me in the right direction. I couldn’t fault the care while we were waiting to be seen, either – these sorts of scans require you to have a very full bladder, and a nurse kept popping to check that we were all ok and bump people up the queue if they were struggling.
The clinic was just awful. I arrived on site, passing several unfriendly signs saying that anyone using their car park who wasn’t one of their patients would be fined. The receptionist of the surgery glowered at me when I said I was there for ultrasound and gestured at a door in a corner with an A4 sheet blu-tacked to the door which just read “Ultrasound”. On the other side, I found a small, unprepossessing room with a few chairs, a couple of magazines, and absolutely no staff or signage. I sat on one of the chairs and hoped I wasn’t supposed to announce myself to anyone. The woman at the surgery desk hadn’t taken my name, so I had no reason to believe the hypothetical clinic staff even knew I was there.
Everyone is familiar with the fact that you sit around and wait for healthcare services, and my scan at the hospital was no different. The wait wasn’t too long, as these things go, and the sonographer I saw was reasonably friendly and efficient. I was out of there half an hour after my appointment time. I got the results back through my GP a week later.
To my surprise, the clinic sonographer appeared and called me in dead on time. The test was brisk but, as far as I could tell, thorough, and she let me know that everything was fine right away. Within 10 minutes of sitting down in the waiting room, I was out of there with the all clear.
Winner: third-party provider
In conclusion, for everything apart from the actual test itself, the NHS was definitely better. Based on my experiences, third-party providers do what they’re paid for extremely well. They just don’t bother to do anything else. Personally, I’d prefer to be treated like a human being, even if I have to spend a little longer in a waiting room.
|Monday 20th October 2014||Filled under Uncategorized|
Sometimes I can’t sleep. This is one of those times.
I have plenty of work I could be doing while my subconscious is vetoing my decision to rest, but to sit down and work seems like admitting defeat. So, instead, I decided to further dilute the information content of the Internet by going delving into my “to blog about” pile.
A long time ago, in a different place (in so many ways), I started to write a post about the differences and similarities between monogamy and polyamory. It’s probably a good thing that I never finished it, as what I was churning out based on my several months of quadding was definitely pretentious and probably pointless.
Now that I have 7 years of polyamaring under my belt, a three-person mortgage and a baby with an above-average number of adult care-givers in her life, I am an expert on the subject in exactly the same way that nearly 30 years of breathing make me fit to pronounce on the human respiratory system.
Every now and then, documentary makers will get in touch with Dan (and very occasionally with me) and ask to put us on the telly for the normals to goggle at while they eat their chips*. One time we actually spoke to a nice media student who was making a radio programme, but usually we offer to answer any questions whilst refusing to be made an example of.
Here’s the thing. I can’t tell you (or the viewers at home) how polyamory works. All I can say is that it works for me. Want to know if it’s a sustainable lifestyle? Go look at the research. Want to know if it could work for you? The person you’ll need to talk to would be any current partner you might have.
One last thing. On the rare occasions when I have time to think about it, it’s pretty insulting that people want to stick me on TV just because of who I’m dating. TV people, when you ask that you’re being the straight guy going into the gay bar to see how the other half lives. And no-body likes that guy.
* This seemed playful when I wrote it but on a re-read it comes across as insulting. In my defence, I ate a lot of chips when I was monogamous.
|Wednesday 9th July 2014||Filled under Uncategorized|
The pictures we took of Tiny having her first food are some of my favourite ever. I already used two of them in my last post, but here’s one more for good measure:
|Wednesday 9th July 2014||Filled under Uncategorized|
On Monday, Tiny turned 6 months old. For half a year now, I’ve been a parent. It still feels pretty weird to call myself that, though. Parent is a word that conjures up a mental image of someone strong, nurturing, patient, and above all who knows all the answers. In many ways, I feel more like I’m discovering life alongside my daughter than guiding her along the path.
Being out-and-about with a baby is a whole different experience. Strangers will strike up a conversation – and, more amazingly still, I don’t usually mind. Tiny is such a blessing that I can’t begrudge others a few minutes of cooing. The biggest difference isn’t other people, though. When I’m walking with Tiny (which I try and do every day), I’m constantly looking around for things I can show her. So far she’s not really that interested in butterflies and such, although she loves plants, but I’m discovering new things all the time. On Monday we had a long walk in the “wild” section of a local park. I saw ladybirds, interesting beetles and a dragonfly. Tiny found some interesting brambles to stare at.
Despite the fact that I went into this thinking I had no pre-conceptions, and believing myself to be prepared for anything, I keep finding myself surprised. The expectations that I didn’t realise I had keep turning out to be hopelessly wide of the mark.
For one thing, I think because I was an independent-minded sprog I’d been subconsciously assuming she would be the same. I’ve been really wrong-footed by a recent batch of clinginess (probably the result of teething coupled with her third cold so far – bad for her mood, but bringing me a slight cheery feeling as it allows me to use her baby-with-a-cold nickname of Snufflepig). I’ve met other babies that won’t allow anyone but their mother to hold them, or never smile for anyone but their parents, so she’s not as needy as she might be, but it still surprised me when she started only wanting to sleep on people, not in her cot.
I hadn’t realised, either, that the traditional milestones of child development wouldn’t be a big deal to her. It’s become increasingly clear that my priorities are not the same as hers. I was very excited when she rolled over for the first time, and when she learnt to use a sippy cup. So far she’s been most excited about managing to get her own feet in her mouth, and chewing on the edge of the lid of said sippy cup.
Even though she’s only half a year old, it turns out that she too can have expectations about life that may not match up to reality. She’s been interested in food for some time now, watching me balefully when I’m eating and doing her best to get her cute little fingers into any unattended plate within her reach. So we were all pretty excited about this last weekend, when she was finally scheduled to get her pudgy mitts on some real-person food. I guess with anything you’ve been building up in your mind for several months there’s a risk that it won’t measure up…
|Saturday 31st May 2014||Filled under Uncategorized|
The design of this cheat sheet borrows heavily from my favourite GDB quick reference guide.
If you’re running Byebug on a Rails application in development mode, you no longer need to start the server with
--debugger – the debugger is on by default.
To get going, simply type
debugger) into your source file at the line you’re interested in and run the program. If you’re running it on a Rails application, remember to switch to your terminal window to look at debugger output.
byebug invocations are just method calls, so you can make them conditional:
byebug if foo == “bar”
Another Note: As is common with debuggers, hitting ‘Enter’ on an empty line in Byebug repeats the last command.
- q[uit] — a.k.a. “exit” unconditionally
- Quit. It stops the thing running. Also exits your program. Note: To quit without an ‘are you sure?’ prompt, use
quit unconditionally(shortened to
- Really quit. This uses
kill -9, for situations where quit just isn’t fierce enough.
- c[ontinue] <line-number>
- Carry on running until program ends, hits a breakpoint or reaches line line-number (if specified).
- n[ext] <number>
- Go to next line, stepping over function calls. If number specified, go forward that number of lines.
- s[tep] <number>
- Go to next line, stepping into function calls. If numberis specified, make that many steps.
- b[ack]t[race] — a.k.a. “w[here]”
- Display stack trace.
- h[elp] <command-name>
- Get help. With no arguments, returns a list of all the commands Byebug accepts. When passed the name of a command, gives help on using that command.
Breakpoints and Catchpoints
- Sets a breakpoint at the current line. These can be conditional:
break if foo != bar. Keep reading for more ways to set breakpoints!
- b[reak] <filename>:<line-number>
- Puts a breakpoint at line-number in filename (or the current file if filename is blank). Again, can be conditional:
b myfile.rb:15 unless my_var.nil?
- b[reak] <class>(.|#)<method>
- Puts a breakpoint at the start of the method method in class class. Accepts an optional condition:
b MyClass#my_method if my_boolean
- info breakpoints
- List all breakpoints, with status.
- cond[ition] <number> <expression>
- Add condition expression to breakpoint <number<>. If no expression is given, removes any conditions from that breakpoint.
- del[ete] <number>
- Deletes breakpoint <number>. With no arguments, deletes all breakpoints.
- disable breakpoints <number>
- Disable (but don’t delete) breakpoint <number>. With no arguments, disables all breakpoints.
- cat[ch] <exception> off
- Enable or (with off argument) disable catchpoint on <exception>.
- Lists all catchpoints.
- cat[ch] off
- Deletes all catchpoints.
- Passes a caught exception back to the application, skipping the catchpoint.
- b[ack]t[race] — a.k.a. “w[here]”
- Display stack trace.
- f[rame] <frame-number>
- Moves to <frame-number> (frame numbers are shown by
bt). With no argument, shows the current frame.
- up <number>
- Move up <number> frames (or 1, if no number specified).
- down <number>
- Move down <number> frames (or 1, if no number specified).
- info args
- Arguments of the current frame.
- info locals
- Local variables in the current stack frame.
- info instance_variables
- Instance variables in the current stack frame.
- info global_variables
- Current global variables.
- info variables
- Local and instance variables of the current frame.
- m[ethod] <class|module>
- Shows instance methods of the given class or module.
- m[ethod] i[nstance] <object>
- Shows methods of <object>.
- m[ethod] iv <object>
- Shows instance variables of <object>.
- v[ar] cl[ass]
- Shows class variables of self.
- v[ar] co[nst] <object>
- Shows constants of <object>.
- v[ar] g[lobal]
- Shows global variables (same as
- v[ar] i[nstance] <object>
- Shows instance variables of <object> (same as
method iv <object>).
- v[ar] l[ocal]
- Shows local variables (same as
- c[ontinue] <line-number>
- Carry on running until program ends, hits a breakpoint or reaches line line-number (if specified).
- n[ext] <number>
- Go to next line, stepping over function calls. If number specified, go forward that number of lines.
- s[tep] <number>
- Go to next line, stepping into function calls. If numberis specified, make that many steps.
- fin[ish] <num-frames>
- With no argument, run until the current frame returns. Otherwise, run until <num-frames> frames have returned.
- Start an IRB session. This will have added commands
step, but these can’t take arguments (unlike the proper byebug commands of the same name).
- Restart the program. This also restarts byebug.
- Show current thread.
- th[read] l[ist]
- List all threads.
- th[read] stop <number>
- Stop thread number <number>.
- th[read] resume <number>
- Resume thread number <number>.
- th[read] <number>
- Switch context to thread <number>.
- e[val] — a.k.a. “p” <expression>
- Evaluate <expression> and display result. By default, you can also just type the expression without any command and get the same thing (disabled by using
- Evaluate expression and pretty-print the result.
- Evaluate an expression with an array result and columnize the output.
- Evaluate an expression with an array result, sort and columnize the output.
- disp[lay] <expression>
- Automatically display <expression> every time the program halts. With no argument, lists the current display expressions.
- info display
- List all current display expressions.
- undisp[lay] <number>
- Remove display expression number <number> (as listed by
info display). With no argument, cancel all current display expressions.
- disable display <number>
- Stop displaying expression number <number>. The display expression is kept in the list, though, and can be turned back on again using
- enable display <number>
- Re-enable previously disabled display expression <number>.
- hist[ory] <num-commands>
- View last <num-commands> byebug commands (or all, if no argument given).
- save <file>
- Saves current byebug session options as a script file in <file>.
- source <file>
- Loads byebug options from a script file at <file>
- set <option>
- Change value of byebug option <option>.
- show <option>
- View current value of byebug option <option>.
Source Files and Code
- Reload source code.
- info file
- Information about the current source file.
- info files
- All currently loaded files.
- info line
- Shows the current line number and filename.
- Shows source code after the current point. Keep reading for more list options.
- l[ist] –
- Shows source code before the current point.
- l[ist] =
- Shows source code centred around the current point.
- l[ist] <first>-<last>
- Shows all source code from <first> to <last> line numbers.
- edit <file:lineno>
- Edit <file>. With no arguments, edits the current file.
|Tuesday 15th April 2014||Filled under Uncategorized|
My life is filled with black boxes.
When I was a kiddy, there were loads of things I didn’t understand. Closed systems where I could see what went in, and what came out, but had no idea of what happened in the middle. This included everything from how one went about acquiring money to how food was produced – the world was full of things that were completely mysterious.
As I’ve aged, the number of black boxes in my life has stayed about the same. Sure, I can now explain a lot of things that I once couldn’t, but I’ve become aware of yet more mysterious things – and some of the stuff that used to be completely unexplained is now made up of a sequence of black boxes (I now know what’s inside a computer, but don’t ask me how a power supply works!).
It’s always pleasing to see inside a box for the first time. I’ve really enjoyed learning first aid, in part because it’s shone some light into human biology, an area which has always been a bit murky for me. Learning more about how to efficiently interact with databases, how other people do their jobs (and what software they need to help them) and how to do effective process improvement have been some of the greatest joys of my professional life so far.
That said, though, I think that having black boxes is essential for keeping people sane. The world is too big and too complicated for anyone to try and understand all of it. You need to be able to have some parts which you know you don’t know anything about, and trust that other people have got your back. And there are always going to be systems that, for one reason or another, you just can’t comprehend.
Right now, my daughter is something of a black box to me – I’m learning more and more about how to keep her happy, but I’m having to learn it by trial and error, because for some reason nobody’s written any tutorials. It’s hard to accept that until she learns to express her needs and wants in an easy to understand way (if she ever does…), then I just have to treat her as a closed system. But I’m trying to learn to go with the flow and accept the limits of my knowledge.
|Sunday 26th January 2014||Filled under Uncategorized|
In case anyone missed it, I finally gave birth the other week. I can honestly say that despite all the books I read, the other mothers I’d spoken to and the antenatal classes I attended, I was completely unprepared for how horrible it was going to be. I’d like to say that my (awful) experience was atypical, but from talking to staff at the hospital and others in my NCT class, it seems like it wasn’t that unusual. So, here’s what everybody seems to play down when talking about natural childbirth:
It hurts. A lot. You will be pushed to your absolute limits. You may find it empowering, I suppose, and afterwards you may be proud, but in that moment, in that room, you are probably going to feel like dying would be the easier option.
Warning: this is really long and sometimes a bit explicit. You might not want to read it if you’re pregnant or not particularly interested in long and tedious accounts of childbirth.
I guess things didn’t get off to an easy start for me – I’ve always been a bit prone to insomnia, and I hadn’t been sleeping well. I slept for maybe four hours on Sunday night, and then went into labour at around 10am on Monday morning. I did try and take a nap, but even the early contractions were too uncomfortable to sleep through. If I’d had any idea of the horrors ahead, I probably would have tried harder to get some rest in the early stages…
I spent Monday behind a laptop trying to finish the last feature for the new Three Rings release which was going into beta on Saturday (I finally got it working on Saturday after coding round Tiny’s sleep schedule on Friday and Saturday – workaholic? Moi?), during which time I broke half our test suite and didn’t even notice because I’d also broken my dev environment. Ladies, don’t code while having contractions, it’s not a good idea.
By the time the boys went to bed on Monday evening, I was already exhausted. The contractions were coming at less than 10 minute intervals, and lasting around 45 seconds, but were still irregular. At this point, the pain was noticeable but bearable – I was having to stop what I was doing during contractions, but a few deep breaths saw me through each one. I remember thinking it wasn’t so bad, and feeling like everything was going to be ok. Because I’d been at it so long, and the contractions had gotten so much closer together, in the back of my mind I felt like probably I was quite far along already. A friend had given birth a few days before and was already at 6cm dilation (out of 10cm) when she got to the hospital, so I was hoping for something similar.
Around 2am my contractions had started to come at less than 5 minute intervals. This was the point at which the NCT teacher had said we needed to call the hospital, so I rang up the Spires and spoke to a midwife there. I was taken aback when she seemed to think I was still very early in labour, since I’d been doing it for 16 hours and I was pretty frazzled, and rather than the ‘come on in, you’re about to give birth’ I’d been hoping for, I got told to take some paracetamol and call back when the contractions were regular and longer, or when I couldn’t handle the pain, whichever came first.
An hour later I was back on the phone, begging to go in. The pain was making me cry, and I wanted somebody to make it go away. I felt mostly guilty, because I’d been hoping to let the boys sleep a bit longer (they’d been at work all day, after all), but I was still expecting that I’d be having the baby in not too much longer, and didn’t want to risk leaving it to late to get to the hospital.
The drive to the hospital was actually pretty exciting. Grabbing up the last few bits and pieces and slinging them in the car gave me a shot of adrenalin, and as we drove along empty roads headed for the hospital to the strains of “Rainbow Road” from Double Dash – yes, really 🙂 – I felt a thrill of anticipatory pleasure which almost made the pain bearable again.
The Women’s Centre at the John Radcliffe Hospital is kept locked at night for security, so arriving at 4am we had to buzz to be let in. I’m not sure where the buzzer goes, but the person at the other end had no idea who we were, wasn’t really sure what we were doing there and may or may not have been familiar with the whole idea of giving birth. As a result, we were told to go to a different part of the building from the one I expected, and when we got there the staff were as confused by our presence as we were. Eventually it was sorted out and we were into the lift and on our way up to the Spires Midwifery Unit, where I hoped to be told I was soon going to give birth.
When we got there, though, I was in for a disappointment. I’d only made it to 2cm dilation (out of 10cm), and I wasn’t going to be having the baby for some time to come. After a quick stretch-and-sweep (basically the midwife poking me in the membranes to try and encourage my waters to break) I was given some codeine and sent home again. The drive back was much less fun, and the codeine made no difference to the waves of pain. Each time as I screwed my eyes shut and forced myself to breath, I felt like there was no way anything could hurt more than this.
And I was so wrong.
Back at home, I sent the boys back to bed and sat in the bath for a while (hot water seemed to help). When that stopped working, I curled up miserably on the sofa and tried to read – turns out Game of Thrones is not a soothing way to pass the time.
After a while I found the best way to get through the pain was on all fours, so I spent a couple of hours lying on the floor wrapped in a blanket trying to sleep in the scant minutes between contractions, with only my bucket for company (I was also feeling very nauseous by now). My insides were twisting up painfully every few minutes at this point, but there was still no pattern and my waters hadn’t broken so I continued trying to stick it out.
Finally at around 7am on the Tuesday I couldn’t handle the pain any more, so I woke up the boys and we got back in the car. The second drive to the hospital was a lot more sombre. I was vocalising through the contractions now, drawing in deep breaths and letting them out with something between a grunt and a scream. Thanks to the floods, everyone seemed to be out early, too, so the roads were already clogged with traffic and it took a lot longer to get to the hospital. As we inched up the hill past our old home in Marston, I tried to take comfort from the fact that surely, surely, this much pain meant I was making some progress.
A shift change was just happening as we reached the Women’s Centre, and several medical personnel gave me sympathetic grimaces as they headed through the halls in one direction or another while I waddled and panted my way slowly back to the lift. Walking was very difficult by now, and I had to stop every time a contraction hit, so it took some time to get from the car up to the Spires. I’d ceased to care even a little about my appearance, and was still wearing a pair of disreputable pyjama bottoms and a grubby vest from the night before, with a battered old hoodie over my shoulders against the cold.
The new midwife on shift had a student shadowing her, they were both very lovely and friendly but that didn’t help with the disappointment when it turned out I was still only 3cm dilated. This was to be the last time the midwives checked my cervix, I suspect because they didn’t want me to be focussed on how far I still had to go. I hadn’t slept and had barely eaten in nearly 24 hours at this point, and I think they could see that I was hardly managing to hold it together, because this time they didn’t make me go home (although they did suggest it as a possibility if I wanted – I didn’t. I wanted someone to look after me and make it not hurt!).
Instead, I was given Meptid. This opiate-based injection is offered instead of Pethidine these days, as being less strong and less dangerous. I’d heard bad things about it from our NCT teacher, but exhausted and overwhelmed as I was, and with the assurance that there was still a long way to go, I would have tried anything. First they gave me an anti-nausea medication, since the drug can make you sick and I was already feeling pretty unsettled in the stomach area. I then had to wait 15 minutes for that to take effect before I could have the injection. I was finding the contractions easier to cope with when standing up, but I was to tired to stand up all the time, and the pain was too great for me to be able to get up once a contraction started, so at this point the boys were hauling me out of bed when I started moaning so I could lean with my head against the window until it passed before sinking back into the bed to feel sorry for myself some more.
Once I got given the Meptid, though, I actually had a couple of hours which weren’t too bad. The pain didn’t exactly go away, and I couldn’t sleep through the contractions, but they became more of a nuisance than a threat to my sanity and in between them I managed to catch small fragments of sleep. When I had to get up to go to the loo the whole world felt very weird, though.
After about 90 minutes that started to wear off, and I spent some time stomping slowly and grumpily around the perimeter of the unit, pausing at regular intervals to lean my head against the wall and making extremely undignified noises. I feel sorry for the people I saw on antenatal visits during this time – I imagine they went away scared! About this time the boys took it in turns to go down to the cafeteria for uninspiring hospital food to supplement the snacks we’d brought with us. I highly recommend having two birth partners – makes it much easier to spare one of them!
By 1pm the Meptid had worn off completely and I was once again begging for more pain relief. Each contraction felt like it was tearing me apart. Unfortunately, I still wasn’t in established labour so they wouldn’t let me have Entonox. As an alternative, the midwife arranged for me to go and use the bath on the nearby recovery ward. The pain had got sufficiently intense by now that I was shucking my clothes and climbing in before she’d even closed the door. The bath did help a bit, and again between contractions I went to sleep, sitting up (which is a pretty weird experience).
Once again, when the bath went cold its magic wore off and I waddled back to Spires sore and unhappy. This time, though, the news was better – I was finally in established labour, and that meant new and exciting pain relief options!
I was moved to the ‘active’ birthing room, which has hammocks, birthing balls and other paraphernalia to encourage a variety of weird and wonderful positions for labour and birth. I made basically no use of them, though, since I was so shattered I mainly just lay on the bed and felt sorry for myself. The other plus of having finally made it into the birthing room, though, was that I finally got my hands on a cylinder of Entonox.
For a while, that stuff made the pain go away completely. I actually started tripping out. You have to start huffing it as the contraction starts and keep breathing it in until the pain has finished, and for a while (I have no idea how long – my perception of time was completely warped by this point) my brain just transformed the pain into something else and I was completely absorbed in the pretty pictures. I remember trying to explain what I was seeing to the boys between contractions, and failing miserably. I remember one particular double-peaked contraction which turned into a pair of majestic mountains sillhouetted against the sunset. Another time, I found sudden and intense beauty and meaning in the last verse of a hymn I’ve always liked:
Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
O still small voice of calm
Again, trying to explain this to the people who weren’t tripping out on gas and air didn’t really work…
Sadly, all good things must come to an end and after a while the pain kicked up a notch and started cutting through the crazy hallucinations and dragging me back to reality. About now I noticed in a detached fashion that it was getting dark again, the second dusk I’d seen since going into labour. My life had shrunk to the few minutes of relief between contractions, and it was impossible to measure the passage of time in anything more substantial than moments, so the concept of another day having gone by seemed completely meaningless.
Just as I was starting to feel that I’d actually rather die than carry on trying to produce this child, the midwives said that the water birthing room had become available. So it was that I ended up in my 5th different room at the hospital, this time with the relief of a giant tub of water to climb into. For a while, again, the heat helped make me a little less crazed (although I continued to suck down the gas and air). Dan was a hero throughout this time, taking charge of the Entonox so I always knew where it would be and had only to look for him to find relief.
And then it suddenly got a lot worse.
Transition hit me suddenly and unbearably in the middle of a contraction. I had the Entonox mouthpiece in my mouth and started to choke on it, and in my exhausted, pain-addled state I blamed the gas and air for the ridiculous, mind-bending pain I was now feeling, and stopped taking it.
The contractions of transition were so, so much worse that all the horrible pain which had gone before suddenly seemed trivial. I couldn’t move, couldn’t think, couldn’t talk. I wedged myself facedown diagonally across the bath with my legs braced against the other side and refused to move. The midwives kept trying to get at my abdomen with the hand-held monitor to check on Tiny, but I was simply unable to move to help them. I have a half-memory of a conversation with one of the midwives where I begged to be told that the next stage would be better – somehow I remembered that transition isn’t supposed to last all that long, but I couldn’t remember what came next. All they could tell me was that some people find stage 2 labour easier because the pain has a purpose and they can feel the baby coming. Sadly, that wasn’t to be my experience.
I don’t recall clearly the point at which I started pushing. I remember being told that I should be feeling like I was doing the biggest poo of my life. It didn’t really feel like that – it was further back than I’d expected, true, but I was using whole new muscles and it was like nothing I’d felt. There came a point at which the midwives were urging me to push with each contraction, but I honestly couldn’t have not pushed if I wanted to. The pain was about the same, but I was getting used to it now and managed to roll over and even talk a little.
I remember JTA holding my head and giving me gentle encouragement. I remember recovering my mental faculties sufficiently to start taking the gas and air again. I remember at some point rolling into a squatting position in order to take a drink, and the midwives telling me how much better that position was for giving birth, and not giving a tuppenny damn whether they were dissappointed when I went back to lying on my back afterwards. Probably the worst bit was when the midwives did some checks and confirmed what I already suspected – Tiny wasn’t moving when I pushed. She’d become lodged somewhere in my pelvis and all the pushing I’d been doing wasn’t making the slightest bit of a difference. Mostly, though, the two plus hours I spent fruitlessly pushing and making no progress have blurred into one big horrible mess of pain and frustration. Some time during this time my waters finally broke, but I don’t think I even noticed.
The midwives’ first theory was that my bladder was too full and was blocking the baby from coming out. I hadn’t peed in many hours at this point. They encouraged me to wee in the pool (which would have been gross, but the pool was already gross at this point and anyway I was too tired and in too much pain to care), but I just couldn’t do it. Every muscle below my waist felt completely flat and limp, and I couldn’t even remember how to pee. Eventually they made me get out of the pool so they could do the catheter thing. It didn’t make any difference, and for a while I lay on the trolley where they’d put me while they poked me, poked the baby and muttered acronyms at each other. By now I was more tired than I’d ever been in my life, spending the time between contractions protesting weakly that I was too tired to push and then finding myself pushing uselessly anyway the next time one hit.
Eventually the midwives concluded that Tiny was rotated slightly sideways, with the wrong part of her head against my cervix, and wasn’t coming out without help. Once they’d made the decision to bump me to the doctors, things seemed to happen quite quickly. I was asked whether I’d prefer to ride downstairs in a wheelchair (ha! I couldn’t even have got of the bed, let alone into a wheelchair), then we rumbled off into a lift and down to… Floor 2? That’s my best guess. I was totally oblivious at the time. I remember the lift and then the delivery room, but I couldn’t tell you where it was. According to the boys, we waited around for a while for the consultant, but it felt to me like he turned up pretty much as soon as we were in place. Don’t underestimate the power of knowing that something is being done to fix things!
By a weird coincidence, the consultant was the same doctor who had seen me when I miscarried last year. I toyed with feeling uncomfortable about that, but the truth was it was sort of pleasingly circular. Of course, in my exhausted and whacked-out state, I spent some time trying to work out whether it was actually the same guy or if I was just confused.
Probably the worst thing from my point of view at this point was that they strapped me up to an external monitor which showed exactly when my contractions were coming. For the past hour or so I’d been lying and saying they’d ended earlier than they actually had so I could stop pushing, but now the jig was up and I was having to push all the way through them (still crying and saying I was too tired in between them, of course).
Finally the consultant was in place and set up with what I’m told was a scary array of implements (I refused to look). I was hoisted up into the stirrups, not exactly a dignified position but by this point I had no conception of modesty anymore. He told me he was going to inject me with a local anaesthetic, and something in the back of my mind connected “forceps” with “episotomy”. He didn’t tell me he was going to cut me, but I could tell that was what was happening – theory says I should have been too numb to feel it, in fact I could feel it but it barely registered compared with the pain I was already in. Technically I’d consented on my birth plan, which stated that I was ok with whatever interventions proved medically necessary, so I guess that’s alright.
I don’t think I even felt the forceps going in. The consultant (who’s name I still don’t know, which is weird considering he’s been inside me twice!) gave me a very serious look and explained that although he was going to guide the baby out I still had to provide the power. I think I managed a weak nod. I was desperate for this to be over, so I started pushing, which earned me a telling off – I was supposed to wait for another contraction. It felt like forever, but finally the familiar pain started ripping through my insides, I bore down and this time, miraculously, with a surge of relief, I felt Tiny moving. The midwives got all excited and told me her head was out – we were getting there!
And then the contraction ended. The baby was only half out. I was suddenly struck by the hilarity of the situation, half a dozen medical personnel stood around my naked lower portions, half a baby hanging out of me, all just waiting for the next contraction to come along. I tried to crack a joke about it being awkward, but my voice was basically gone after all the gas and air I’d taken in the last couple of hours.
Finally that last contraction came, and she was coming out. There was a moment when I was told to stop pushing and pant instead. I really did try, and at the time I thought I was doing it, but Dan tells me I was still pushing a bit which is probably why I ended up tearing despite the episiotomy. Then something surprisingly large and incredibly purple was being handed to the midwives, and it was over.
There’s a lot more I could say about the aftermath. I spent what felt like an hour huffing even more gas and air while the consultant stitched me up (and I could still tell when he strayed outside of the areas where I’d had anaesthetic injected). The midwives were super nice, and arranged for somewhere for JTA to nap, as well as ordering tea and toast for all of us (that piece of toast was the most delicious goddamn thing I’d ever eaten, by the way). In a weird way, that made it harder when I was carted off to the recovery ward by a different midwife (who was surprisingly unsympathetic about my inability to sit in the wheelchair) and plonked unceremoniously in a bed with only the grumpiest healthcare assistant ever to look after me. I’ll leave it there, though, because I’ve already written more than I ever intended to about this whole thing and I’m already doubting that anyone could possibly want to read this whole thing.
All I really wanted to say was this: natural childbirth is a ridiculous idea. I don’t feel like I gained anything by going through that. Would I do it again if it was the only way to have my incredibly cute daughter? Sure. But it’s not. Why, in a world where we have safe and effective anaesthesia, are people still being encouraged to do it the old-fashioned way?
Next time I’m just getting the damn epidural.