A Guest Post By Karen Charlton
This is my first time in a hospital. I’ve never been stitched, never broken, never pulled apart. Now I’m facing the possibility of all three.
Earlier today I’d been sitting on the edge of the exam room bed, like a polite visitor: my cute, red suitcase standing to attention beside me. I had my pants and my shoes on, not knowing when or how the show was going to start.
The suitcase now seems obsolete, as do the pants. I am barefoot, pantless and without any social grace. I‘m in labour. Each contraction comes at me like a wall of water, swelling, rolling over itself until it reaches an unbearable, clenching peak, before dispersing and throwing me down on the bed, spent, drugged and limp as seaweed.
I feel a sudden urge to go to the bathroom, so between contractions I do.
I am relatively comfortable sitting on the toilet. I hold on to the grab rail as another contraction comes at me. This one doesn’t wash over me, it squeezes and pulls, and I hear myself moaning uncontrollably. It’s a noise I’ve never made before, as though the earth is rumbling through me; deep and wild and gravely. I wait for the peak, but it stretches beyond me, the pain unrelenting. Where is the gap? I need to be limp! My bones aren’t breaking, they are stretching. Bones don’t stretch! Holy shit: I think I’m going to die.
I squeeze the grab rail tighter, my knuckles turning white. The pressure consumes me: my insides are about to become my outsides, and I will be forever broken.
The pressure turns to fire deep up inside me. Something is splitting, and the pain shoots through my entire body. There is nothing in the world at this point but me and the fire in my belly. I widen my knees and bear down, trying to ride over the fire without breaking. My friend Jane’s voice rolls through my head like spinifex: ‘It feels like a burning ring of fire …’ My brain starts playing Johnny Cash’s Burning Ring of Fire. I only know the chorus, but I chew it over in my head, anything to drive the pain away. ‘I fell into a burning ring of fire, It went down, down, down and the flames went higher …’ Pushing … moaning … pop!
I reach down between my legs, the pressure suddenly released, and feel with my fingertips a firm, fleshy, round ball just beneath the skin. Holy Shit, that’s a head!
I press the red emergency button for the nurse and call out to my partner, “I can feel a head!”
“Are you sure?” he rushes in. The emergency call button remains unanswered. He runs to find someone.
Seconds pass and there is finally a gap in the wall of contractions. This is my chance to get to the bed. I am not having my baby in a toilet in Frankston.
I stand then walk, straddling an invisible horse. I hold one hand between my legs, just to be sure.
“Now, where is she …” a midwife rips open the curtain partition separating my bed from the next patient and puts her hands on her hips. She looks at my face, ready to give me her ‘Young lady … ‘ speech. She then registers my naked lower half, the curve of my silhouette, and her face drops. We’re not halfway.
“We need to get you on the bed,” she rushes to my side and grabs my arm as I clamber on to the bed. This time when she presses the red button, a team of a dozen nurses and staff appear with a crash cart and a small, Perspex cot on wheels.
I suddenly feel shy with such a large audience. “Can I have some gas now?” I meow. I miss my grab rail and the cool silence of the bathroom.
“What do you mean? You’ve already done the hard part, your baby’s already here. And besides, the labour suites are full. It’s here, and now: two more pushes” the midwife says, assuming the position of catcher.
‘This is it’ I tell myself, suddenly spurred on. A contraction rolls over me, and I ride it through gritted teeth, clenching my partner’s hand, pushing, breathing. And then my baby slides out and on to the bed. They pass him over, his cord still attached. I see his face, his nose and his rosebud lips and I feel like I’ve known him for a lifetime. The only thing I feel now is a huge wave of euphoria, as though the world was in my arms, small and infinite all at once.
“Hi Louis Winter,” I say, hot tears tumbling over my face.
As I hold him to my chest, I’m overcome. I’m not dead. I’m more alive than I’ve ever been. And within hours I’m planning my next trip to hospital to ride through that burning ring of fire.
“Death and taxes and childbirth! There’s never any convenient time for any of them!” — Margaret Mitchell
Writer’s Bio: Karen is a writer and mama who takes life and contraception one day at a time. When she’s not hiding in the pantry or avoiding her overly affectionate Burmese ‘Bert’, she’s musing about the everyday on her blog, The Rhythm Method. Follow her on Twitter.