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Imagine being a twenty-three-year-old French-Canadian woman who has barely ever traveled and does not speak a word of English, being catapulted for three years in the most beautiful city of England, Cambridge, and being unexpectedtly pregnant! Well, that would call for some adaptation.
I was accompanying my husband, a PHD student in Geography. So, I did not have a working permit and all I had to do was to really enjoy the moment: walking along the Cam river, passing through the Jesus green to go grocery shopping, visiting all the beautiful gardens and historical college buildings and churches, reading leisurely, meeting new people, learning English, preparing for birth. Of course, the budget was very very tight, but we were two young persons, somewhat naïve, in love and loving the adventure. So fast forwarding nine months later with my very limited English, after an easy and wonderful pregnancy, here is the story of that first birth as remembered 33 years later.
Maternity care in the UK
First of all, I should say that I had excellent health care services, my doctor was always on time and excused himself profusely if he was running late. And the first question he asked me when I found out that I was pregnant was, how do you want to live that? Home birth or hospital? In the UK, they have a midwifery system. I am so glad I had my first baby there for that reason. I had a midwife (with a very strong Scottish accent) who came to visit me regularly during my pregnancy and during the first 10 days when I came back home with the baby.
Early labour and the broken washing machine
Around midnight, I woke up, feeling restless and by belly becoming hard as a rock, Braxton Hicks contractions I assumed. It happened quite a bit in the last few weeks. I turned in my bed, tried to sleep or at least rest. Two o’clock in the morning, I ran a warm bath. I must have thought that labour was coming, it was my due date after all, but I was expecting so much pain, I tried not to think too much of it. I relaxed quite a long time in the bath and went back to bed and slept till morning.
In the morning, I decided to do the laundry. We had, one of those machines that connects to the kitchen faucets and that has two separate compartments, one for washing and one for spinning. Well, that thing decided to break down that very morning and to empty all of its water onto the floor. (We lived on a second-floor apartment).
I took some towels to absorb the water and wring the content into the sink. I did not intend to clean the floor down on all fours, being nine months pregnant, that morning! But I did not want to have water trickling down on my neighbours just below us. Talk about a great distraction, perfect position and workout to speed up early labour! Really, I must owe a few hours of labour to this washing machine! There is no doubt in my mind that I was so focused on getting all that water off the floor, that it took me sometime to realize that I was actually in labour.
Active labour at 30 degree Celcius
So, when my husband came home for lunch, I told him: “Maybe you should stay, I think this is it”. We lied down and had a rest. At two thirty my water broke. I was obviously in labour, but it was still quite manageable. So, we hopped in a taxi to get to the Rosie Maternity Hospital. It was the warmest day we ever had in the course of the three years we lived there, on that July 5th, 1985, 30 Celsius and more. Funny how this date is engraved in my memory for ever. The labour advanced quite fast. When I got to the hospital I was about 7 cm dilated. The work was nearly all done. I never wanted to sit or lie down. I walked the whole time, stopping only during the contraction to breathe, my husband rubbing my back as the midwife showed him to do until I felt the urge to push.
A wonderful midwife
I guess I was expecting that the baby would come out in one or two pushes like in the movies. It is a process, it may be shorter than the first stage, but it is definitely a grand finale. Even though I gave birth in a hospital, it was midwives who attended my birth. And I had one who really made the difference.
After pushing for a good 30 minutes sitting upright, the baby was starting to show signs of distress: that was not clearly said (I did not get everything that was said, English being a new language for me), but I felt a change in the room. My attending midwife got the chief midwife.
She made me take a vertical position, on my knees in the bed while supporting myself on the higher side of the bed. She passed a damp cloth on my whole body, remember it was 32 degree Celsius, no air conditioning. She talked to me slowly in such a gentle, but firm manner and quite slowly. I used to joke at least I will understand push. But now it was not funny anymore, I was pushing and that baby was taking his time. I was close to panicking.
I don’t remember her exact words, but I do remember that I held onto her words like it was a lifesaving buoy. I became calmer and more effective in pushing, but also in letting go.
It’s a girl!
She encouraged me to stay in an upright position, but I did not feel comfortable, I changed position, sitting upright, and 4 or 5 pushes later, my dear baby was born. So, she was born on July, 5, 1985 at 5: 25 pm. A beautiful girl, (I did not know the sex before delivery) of 7 pounds 4 ounces.
My baby girl was put immediately on me. It was an overwhelming moment of pure joy and love, wow! Such a huge surge of pure joy and love. Then I was asked to push one more time with the next contraction to expulse the placenta. But I hardly felt anything.
This experience had shaped how I would give life to my other two daughters.
It’s not over!
One would think that it is all over, but no, the doctor came to stich my tear, a good one it seems. Somehow this was the worst part of the birth for me. Contractions, pushing, giving birth was less traumatic than that half hour of stitches. My husband stayed next to me, supporting me and holding our baby. I kept asking the doctor, who had an accent as strong as mine, (him an Asian accent and me a French one): “What are you doing?”. I felt every pull. (Maybe it was an inexperienced resident).
After that they let us alone to cuddle with the baby for a few hours in that room. Later, when the nurse came to take my little girl, I said quite aggressively: “Where are you going with MY baby?
And she answered with a smile in a reassuring way, as though she was used to these kinds of hormonal reactions:
“Just getting her cleaned and I will bring her right back to you in a warm and clean blanket”.
I supposed I had a pretty strong bonding moment there with MY baby, attempting to breastfeed her too!
I was brought to my “room”. I mean it was a ward with at least ten (10) new mothers with their babies by their side! Who can sleep in there? Is that my baby crying? I opened an eye and saw that she was finally sound asleep. Hardly able to sleep, overwhelm by such strong emotions.
Then breastfeeding and sleeping (or rather lack of it) became my two and only concerns in life. And here was another surprise… each time I breastfed her, I had such painful contractions. I could feel my uterus getting smaller. I though the birth would be the worst pain, but really for me the pain of the birth was expected and had a purpose. Somehow the after pain: the stitching, the healing of the stitches, the after contractions (it is not so bad, it was just not expected), the nipple soreness, the mastitis and the tiredness, and being moved to tears with joy at the same time, all that was such a big turmoil of emotions.
Home sweet home!
I stayed 7 days at the hospital! That was in the old days for sure. I still wonder why they kept me that long. Breastfeeding was not well established when I went home, far from it. With the food that was given to me, no wonder! (It is a joke, I would not want to offend the British food!) But fortunatly, I had a community midwife coming to see me during the first 10 days at home! I had support!
Going home was such a great moment. I came back changed! I was a mother! And I jumped right into motherhood. It is that love that changes everything.