It was a long day, the 24th of November. I was one of those women for whom the breakage of waters does not herald the immediate onset of labour. Dr F said it could happen anytime in the next 24 long hours, or – shudder – not at all, in which case I would have to be induced (and speaking of induced, how were N and A going with that? No one could tell us). I could imagine induction looking mighty appealing after a day spent flicking between the Ashes and reality TV hell – an omnibus of Border Security – after that I’d be ready to accept just about anything to make it stop. In fact, given all the drama of life and death – toiling at the coalface of existence, really – it’s remarkable just how fucking boring a day spent in hospital can be. After Llew and I returned from our second escape attempt (a walk around the block; we went looking for a rumoured park, but only found a sad, starved, concreted “garden” overlooking the highway), we resigned ourselves to the long night ahead. Squeezing on to the bed, we sat dumbly watching Location, Location, mindlessly shovelling ever more edible diversions into our faces as the hours slowly ticked over.
Then some searing discomfort struck my lower back region. Concentrated in the area near my tailbone, these were painful spasms that sent me shooting off the bed in fits of agony. I paced the room trying to knead the spot with my balled fists, then the pain would subside and I would climb back onto the bed. It didn’t occur to me that these could possibly be contractions – surely they were in the wrong spot? – it only felt like back pain. Acute back pain, and that was it.
Eventually, a night nurse arrived with sleeping pills for me, and marching orders for Llew. I can’t remember if we even told her about my tailbone torture; part of me thinks not. Not generally a fan of taking pharmaceuticals, I was genuinely excited by the offer of sleeping pills and verily gobbled them down. I’d been awake since 4 am and the thought of being knocked out cold was exquisite. I imagined that dreamless exit of a general anaesthetic, and as far as I was concerned, it couldn’t come fast enough. I practically pushed Llew out the door. Take me, Sandman, I’m yours.
A couple of wide-awake hours later, I was still periodically leaping out of bed in real pain. The sleeping pills had no effect whatsoever. Zero. I didn’t even feel drowsy. Frankly they weren’t enough to muster a yawn. I’ve had glasses of warm milk with far more soporific potency than whatever the hell they gave me in the hospital that night. I was WIDE AWAKE.
And then I was seized by something new, something horrible and entirely unexpected: the certain knowledge that I was about to throw up. I am, as you may recall, one of the least nauseous people around. Not only was I spared morning sickness, I can practically count the number of times I’ve vomited in my life; it’s just not something I do. But there I was, about to be sick. Unfortunately I was, at this precise moment, already sitting on the toilet. When it came, the force of it was great. Vomit is always such an assault, don’t you think? It’s such a violent expulsion. I literally had just enough time to swivel my head toward the sink before it burst forth: the sorry remains of the apple crumble and custard I’d eaten for dessert.
Ugh. Vomit is f-o-u-l – it always feels so poisonous.
It was at this point that I pressed the button for the nurse.
“I’m sorry to trouble you,” I said glumly, “but I thought I’d better let you know I was just sick.”
She made sympathetic noises and briskly cleaned up the travesty in the sink.
“And here I was thinking you were sound asleep,” she said.
“There’s been no sleep. Not a wink.”
“Well, yes,” I said. “I didn’t want to bother you, but I’m getting these back pains. I think that’s why I can’t sleep – they really hurt.”
She looked at me a little more sharply.
“Right,” she said. “I’m just going to go and talk to them down at Delivery. It might be time to move you down there.”
I can’t remember what time this was – maybe 2 am? At any rate, down to Delivery I went, into another remarkably spacious birthing suite. They hooked me up to the monitor and the lady on duty (midwife, nurse, who knows?) said, “Oh, you haven’t even started having contractions.”
“So what are those pains I’ve been having? They’re pretty bad.”
“Braxton Hicks, maybe.”
Fake contractions. Mild fake contractions. This was a worrying idea, given the intensity of the pain.
She shrugged again.
“Maybe. Let’s see what happens. We will keep monitoring you every hour or so. For now, try to get some sleep – you need to get some rest. You’re going to need all your strength.”
Sleep would not come. The pain in my tail was so much greater than my exhaustion – every time they took me off the monitor I immediately scrambled off the bed and stalked around the room until it subsided for another round. It was miserable, frankly, and it was even worse doing it alone. Eventually my pain started translating into jagged lines on the print out from the monitor. There was the baby’s heart rate on one line, and my contractions – no longer warm-ups but the real McCoy – on the other. One shift ended and another began; staff would pop in, read the monitor and withdraw. One of them said she felt sorry for me because I was all by myself, and I doubt I’ve ever felt lonelier than in the seconds after she too left the room. Llew had been sent home because nothing was happening, but now something was happening, and Llew wasn’t there.
Finally it was a reasonable enough hour to call (I’d figured at least one of us might as well get a decent night’s sleep – it wasn’t as though things were progressing at a cracking pace in the birthing suite). Llew immediately started running through his lengthy To Do list. He thought he’d run several of the more pressing baby-related errands en route to the hospital, but did I have news for him.
“I need you to come straight here,” I said.
“It won’t take long – I’m just going to take the car up to the –”
“No. I need you to come straight here. I need you to come now.”
There are moments in life when only very specific words will do, when there is nothing in the world you need more than the person on the other end of the phone hearing exactly what you are saying, and responding exactly the right way. And on the morning of November 25, Llew said precisely what I so badly needed to hear:
“I’m on my way.”