I was drinking a lot of water, and when breakfast arrived, I dutifully ate my Weetbix and drank my juice. It’s worth pausing here a moment just to reflect on the nightmare that is hospital toast. Really, by rights it should be called something else entirely. It has no business at all claiming to be toast. Toast implies toasting, a step overlooked by the good folk in charge of the otherwise pretty high standard catering. But nor is this stuff any longer simply bread. I’d much prefer a slice of bread to this unnameable, unholy thing, served in a white paper sleeve, masquerading as toast. I don’t know how they manage to make it so that it’s both dry and damp, but it’s a neat trick – just not something I ever want to put in my mouth. From memory, Llew scored a breakfast tray too, because I think we were both waxing pretty nostalgic about the Weetbix, as it’s such a childhood cereal. I thoroughly enjoyed mine, and had I known it would be my last meal for a while, I would have eaten the not-toast and thoroughly enjoyed that too.
Here my timeline gets just a little hazy… but the main markers of progress, aside from that excruciating back pain, were the jagged lines on the print out (now there’s a souvenir I would have liked, that sheet of slowly unspooling paper), which grew larger and closer together. I’d felt obscurely fraudulent until now, like someone faking a headache or a fainting spell in order to get out of church, but those crazy lines made me feel less like someone simulating labour, say in a bad daytime soap opera, and more like someone actually undergoing it. It was all so surreal that I needed that print out: tangible proof to prove to myself that I wasn’t bunging it on. Meanwhile Baby J’s heartbeat tapped happily along – the kid was completely unfazed.
I tried to find a comfortable place for myself, but the concentration of pain in my tailbone was just so acute that the only bearable position was upright; nothing else worked, not even remotely. Llew and the midwife who attended the first half of this ordeal, E, raised the bed so I could at least bend over the end of it. The worst hell was being instructed to lie down – how this ever became a birthing position is beyond me. While lying on my back – this so they could measure the cervical dilation and get a feel of the position of the baby’s head – nothing was so clear to me than that these fuckers – my obstetrician, the midwife, her supervisor, my husband – were all in it together, and that they were a pack of complete BARBARIANS. After all, only the most sadistic arseholes in the world would ask me to lie on my back at a time like this, when it was patently obvious that nothing, nothing in the universe, was more painful than complying.
Look, people described contractions to me as like really, really intense period cramps, but I’m afraid I have no choice but to be a voice of dissent on this point. This was nothing like any period cramp I’ve ever had. For a start, period cramps tend to occur in front; my labour was all concentrated back in the business end. I daresay this is all to do with the baby’s position, but make no bones about it: it was wildly painful. I’d throw myself on the toilet seat one second, convinced my entire bottom half was about to blow apart, only to have to launch myself straight off again as the latest pain bomb detonated in my rear. There would be no sitting down. No ball. No squatting. No getting on all fours. No. The only hope, it seemed to me, was to remain standing.
E eventually got me on the gas, which didn’t really do much, but sucking hard on the mouthpiece gave me something to focus on when the contractions hit, and it seemed to take the edge off. I was soon stroking this thing like a beloved pet. The gas was my friend. Suck it up, buttercup. When lunchtime rolled around, they urged me to eat something, so I ate a banana. Later I was sooo glad I did, because I did not get to eat another thing until the following day (I should mention here that my dear husband had already absentmindedly eaten all my Emergency Sugar Hit During Labour Minties while he sat in the birthing suite’s Lazyboy playing with his phone).
I finally put Llew to work, flapping at him to look lively and start massaging my lower back whenever a contraction struck (it’s safe to say that when he piped up later to lament his sore thumbs, no one was giving him much sympathy). Then a knock on the door and a nurse’s head saying, “Um… there’s a relative waiting outside.”
This would be the first of one, two, three visits by one or the other of my in-laws during the labour. Now, they were only there because they care and were trying to help – with fitting the car seat and other things that really did need doing – but each time necessitated Llew’s departure from the birthing suite, and I was left to labour alone. I was livid about it, too. I really didn’t think it needed saying that NOW IS NOT THE TIME. As well meaning as these interruptions were, the truth is, they really weren’t great for me. It wasn’t a drop-by-and-pick-up-the-keys scenario. As far as I was concerned, there was only one priority, and everything and everyone else could wait. Or not, as the case may be…
Somewhere in here was my second vomit, into the hurriedly proffered barf bag and everything. This vomit was deeply sinister. It looked like the sort of toxic sludge that invariably ends up surfacing on the site of a children’s playground in a poor neighbourhood, the kind of black ooze that some big company is always behind. Llew and I both reeled back in horror. For a second there, I felt like Linda Blair, and I would have been quite keen for the power of Christ or just about anyone else to compel me.
Instead, the vomit was discreetly removed, and I went back to abusing Llew’s thumbs for all they were worth. And then, after reaching 8 centimetres dilation in pretty good time, the unthinkable occurred: everything stopped.