On Sunday 8 November 2020, I hauled my gigantic belly out of bed at the crack of dawn. I’d barely slept for the nerves. Troy was up before me, getting things organised. In times of stress or nerves, this man defaults to getting shit done. He was great for helping me feel calm, was super matter-of-fact, and we got out the door into the quiet morning with plenty of time to spare.
We were headed off to Flinders Medical Centre, there to wait for the emergency surgery list to have a gap.
The little person in my belly had decided that the sunroof was his only way out. The Friday prior, at which point gestation was 42 weeks, I’d been advised I could come in and wait, or book in on the following Thursday. A little whisper of intuition informed me that waiting until the following Thursday would result in things going Bad. Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad. I found myself decisively telling the medical staff that we’d come in on the weekend.
Despite my insane fears about the surgery, and nerves about the recovery, it ended up being a fabulous decision. The midwifery unit was quiet, there was nobody in the recovery room that was our home for the day. We arrived at about 7 am, our midwife not long after. She wasn’t rostered on that day, but came in and waited with us.
The day seeped away slowly.
I wished I’d brought a book to read.
I spent the time meditating. Troy read his book, dozed, didn’t talk. All I wanted was conversation to distract me, but I wasn’t getting any sympathy from anywhere much. I was abjectly terrified: Of the spinal, of the surgery, of the entire thing. I’d never been in any kind of major surgical situation in my life, so the terror was real.
Heather, our midwife, cannularized me and that was brutal. The cannula was enormous. She prepped me for theatre, too, shaving off pubes that I had stopped giving a shit about. It turned out that it was fun for her.
‘Nobody has pubes any more,’ she commented cheerfully. ‘They all come in as bald as a baby’s bottom. It’s the fashion. It’s a bit sad really. I rather enjoy doing all this stuff.’ She made some jokes about not being as good as a woman in a salon while she did her thing.
We talked about catherization, too. Would I prefer it put in before or after the spinal?
‘Before?!’ I said, a bit nonplussed.
‘Well, there will just be a lot of people there,’ she reminded me. ‘So if you don’t mind your parts on show to the whole world, I’ll do it then. Most people opt to have it put in after the anaesthetic.’
I nodded fervently. ‘Yes, and I’m one of them! I figure my bits are nothing unusual to this crew.’
Having Heather with us for this procedure was beyond comforting. She’d been my primary pregnancy carer for almost four months, including right back when we had been approved for a homebirth in partnership with the hospital’s homebirth program. We’d even gotten to the point where we had everything set up and right to go, but our little munchkin turned himself back up the other way and nothing in this realm was going to shift him. We did everything from manual inversion to spinning babies; homoeopathy to reiki; swimming and walking; moxibustion and acupuncture. You name it, we did it. And I felt like I spent months standing on my head.
As the midwives were wont to tell me:
Babes will come out the way they want to and there’s nothing anybody can do about it.
Eventually, I’d made peace with the sunroof idea.
Instrumental in that peace was the anesthetist, who was incredibly lovely. He was warm, funny, nice looking (which is bigoted as fuck but actually it really helped). He explained everything, settled all my nerves, and by the time he left I was happy to put my life in his hands. It discovered in that conversation that the spinal given during this kind of emergency-surgery-waiting-list-thing was a real spinal. That epidurals, often given during emergency deliveries, are not the same thing. That spinals always work. That epidurals are hit-and-miss.
When I was sitting on the edge of the table in theatre, the anaesthetist praised me.
‘You’ve got a really strong back!’ he lauded. ‘What do you do for a living?’
‘I’m a writer,’ I said.
His face faltered. He had no idea how to respond.
‘But I dance for fun,’ I added, with a grin.
‘Ahhh well, that explains it.’
After being tested over a period of time with blocks of ice (because ice pain is the same as ‘sharp’ pain, fun fact), I felt like my legs were somewhere ‘out there’ in the corners of the room.
AC/DC was rocking on the stereo.
Heather was singing her misheard lyrics to Dirty Deeds. ‘Dirty deeds… thunderchief’, instead of ‘dirty deeds, done dirt cheap’, which we’d had a belly laugh about when we presented our fourth and final – much pared back – birth plan for this very moment.
The surgical team was happy, upbeat, energetic.
They’d had to deal with major head traumas, major tears, car accidents.
And now they got to deliver a baby. It might’ve been right at the end of the day but it was a total delight for them.
About five minutes after the anaesthetic took effect, someone commanded:
‘Troy! Stand up.’
He looked around in alarm. ‘Am I in the way??’
‘No! Tell us the sex of your baby!’
He stood up and was presented with a giant pair of balls. ‘Ohhh. It’s, it’s a boy! And he’s definitely mine, his balls are huge.’
This comment kind of fell flat. Nobody quite knew what to say. Troy was embarrassed. He’d been so shocked it just fell out of him.
They put the little man on my bare chest, and he started sucking on my neck, and I felt the most overwhelming rush of love, adoration, and emotion that I’ve ever encountered. I cried and cried, and he was amazing.
And huge! Four-and-a-half kilos.
When they took him to weigh, measure, clean up, etc, it was an absolute eternity. I felt like my heart was broken even though he was only two metres away. His daddy got to cut his umbilicus, the surgeon freaked out about our crocheted umbilical tie (he’d never seen one before, didn’t know what to do; Heather tied it for him), and before long we were back in the recovery room.
And then my doula arrived bearing gifts of sushi.
It was seriously magical.
Beren has been pretty much beside me ever since that day. The one night he went to sleep in another room I wept and felt like a crazy person.
Despite all of the horrors of recovering from a caesarian section; despite the horrors of moving from a care program that is deeply personal and 1:1 into a ‘regular’ care program that is much less care and much more room-clearing; despite a year of feeling awkward, and ignorant, and tired, and overwhelmed, and happysadecstaticemotionsallmashedintogether; I still can’t quite believe that in a couple of days this little guy turns one.
He’s almost walking.
He has eight teeth, more about to come through.
He says dadda, mum, nan, booba, bird…
He loves The Very Cranky Bear and dances to the rhythm of the poetry when I read it to him.
In the jingle, jangle, jungle on a cold and rainy day
Four little friends found the perfect place to play…
He loves hoses, water, and gardens.
He stares out the window and gets excited about birds. He hears trains and leaps up to see if he can see them.
He plays hide-and-seek with me, gives the best cuddles in the world, and thinks he should be attached to my hip every moment of every day.
And his emotions get so big for him when he’s tired or frustrated that he gets really angry. Wait til he’s two… argh!
So while I sometimes wish that I had my days back (because he doesn’t sleep alone); and while I sometimes moan that I can’t do anything else except pay attention to him, including clean the house, write my book, read a review copy of a book, or just sit and stare into space with a cup of tea; the really honest truth is that there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.
Yes, I get “touched-out”. Yes, I get frustrated. But when this little man is sitting next to me on the floor and leaning over every so often for a cuddle, the whole world could go explode into a million pieces and I wouldn’t care.
Right now, I’m freaking amazed that his first year is almost over.
Which is why every first birthday is much less about the child, and much more about the parents proclaiming:
YES! We kept you alive and didn’t die ourselves in the process, for a whole year!