I’m too pissed you’ll have to drive your self to hospital.
I was shocked not so much by his response but by my waters, by the amount of water. It wasn’t a drip or a slow leak but a gush.
Within minutes I had exhausted the absorbency of a large bath towel. It was hard to waddle around the house gathering my stuff for the hospital with the towel bunged between my legs. When I’d rang the hospital and said my waters had broken shall I come in now, they asked if I was sure.
Sure I was sure, when the waters broke it had sounded like a champagne cork pop. I was squatting down, I couldn’t bend to gather the bedroom detritus into a pile of rather than a scatter, so I was squatting. I was in Ruby’s room, my six year old, she had long awaited the birth of her new sibling. Being an only child didn’t suit her, she would often be at parks ,or on beachside holidays or wake up in the mornings wondering if today she would make a new friend. Sometimes Ruby would have this distant look in her eyes, I took it as a look of loneliness, or maybe she was just thinking about what was for dinner that night.
It had taken quite a while to get pregnant for the second time, for a short time we had considered adoption. But there I was finally about to birth. As I squatted and heard the champagne cork pop sound Ruby must have seen my colour change. What’s up mum? Ruby asked I’ll be off to hospital soon pet me waters have just broken. Leaving the detritus I shuffle sideways barely daring to move to the bathroom, gushing.
I make a cup of tea, true crisis response for an expat Brit and ring my sister who was to stay the night with Ruby until the baby had been born. I waddle around the house tidying up, making Ruby’s lunch for school the next day and patting the dog.
By the time we leave to go to the hospital it is after ten, Ruby is asleep and I am onto my third bath towel.
I put my stuff in the back of the car, James wordlessly goes to sit in the back seat.
It’s not chauffeur driven I say. He moves to the front seat, looking ahead, middle distance.
I push the towel firmly between my legs, getting ready to reverse out of the driveway.
The hospital is about a 30 minute drive away. As we hit the main arterial Hoddle Street the traffic goes into crawl mode.
I pull over into a bus lane suddenly.
What are you pulling over for? James asks
Because I’m having a contraction, I reply focusing on the downward pull of the ache now spreading from my lower abdomen into my lower back.
We arrive, I park, throw some coins into the parking meter, appalled that I need so many coins so late at night in front of a maternity hospital.
I gather my stuff, my steely reserve and head to the main entrance. I realize that though James is with me, I am clearly in this birthing business alone.
I’m admitted to hospital after evidence of broken waters has been produced. The plastic bound bracelet with all relevant details is clamped to my wrist and ankle.
I had gone to hospital a few weeks earlier convinced that I was going into labour then. It had felt like my insides were hanging out , my vagina was heavy, I thought maybe the baby’s head was protruding, that I was already 10 cms dilated, or maybe I was a freak and had dilated 20 cms and the baby head first was coming on down.
I rushed to the emergency ward. After a perfunctory examination I was told no I wasn’t in labour, and that the downward thrust I was experiencing was just vulval varicosisties. Back home and still not entirely convinced I had taken a quick peek in the mirror, it was like a piece of suppurating fruit, bluish purple, swollen.
My circulatory system had worked over time during this pregnancy, the supporrating fruit was complimented by the varicose veins on my legs which had grown to such proportions during the pregnancy that when I was swimming laps in the Reservoir pool one day a man comes up to me points at my legs and says:
Oh my god where did you get those 3d tattoos from? Because they are fully sick man, fully sick.
There is no such man, but it’s a great joke which I will use again and again. My varicosities at the time didn’t feel like a joke though they looked more like blue backed beans than veins.
Meanwhile it’s past mid night, I am in a cubicle with a bed, a chair, some magazines and an array of hospital paraphernalia. The contractions are coming in slow waves, radiating out from the pelvis region. The hospital noises, the beeps and monitors and rise and fall of James snoring is the sound track to the onset of labour.
I heave and rage against the pain, hands on the side of the hospital bed, leaning in to each contraction and texting UNGGHHH to my mum and sister who were in the Uk, so that they could get a sense of how the labor was progressing.
Intermittently midwifes poke their heads through the curtain and ask: how you going? Fine I say waving them off. I don’t want intervention, the thought of a fetal monitor strapped to my midriff or worse still a hand touching me between the waves is too much to handle. So I press on, waiting for each role of pain to wash through me.
At 7am though the midwives say enough, they roll up their sleeves, transfer me from the cubicle and move me to a ‘birthing room,’
We are going on a break at 10am and want this baby outa here by then, so get on the bed and start pushing.
I glance over at James he is disconnected and slightly ashen faced.
I chew on a jelly snake take a suck of gas and promptly throw up. The mid wives urge me to bear down and push. I am happy now to be guided by them.
Before I had Ruby, I had read everything there was to read about the impending birth. I had a carefully written birth plan punctuated with lavender compresses, back rubs and lindt chocolate for energy.
A superfluous document in the scheme of things: Ruby’s birth was a 36 hour job and really like a rave party full of e’s: episiotomy, epidural, exhausting. The chord was prolapsed and Ruby was blue on arrival. Ruby was then swept away by a sea of midwives and doctors to be revived. The birth plan I had initially thrust towards midwives like the Bill of Rights, had flittered to the floor like a losers crumpled tats lotto ticket around the 15 hour mark.
After Rubys’ birth I had arrived home really sore. I had to sit on a rubber ring for days, wincing endlessly from the episiotomy.
I was overwhelmed by the flowers, so many in fact that there was almost a funereal, morbid air to the house. Despite the flowers, the cards and the welcome home, and Ruby, I felt I had failed in a big way, that my body had let me down.
At work I had thrown up a lot during the pregnancy, once in a dumpster just at the back entrance in view of customers. I had to sit down a lot too, only able to stand for about an hour or two at a time, what with the varicosities and all.
At 27 weeks my manager presented me with a bunch of flowers and said don’t come in again after this week, I took the floral arrangement wordlessly, wondering how a bunch of flowers would pay the mortgage.
I’d thrown up again that morning, when he told me not to return and gave me the flowers, though mortified I had thought, fair enough , it’s not a good look, throwing up at work, I was a chef at the time.
I went home 27 weeks pregnant, sat on the couch and cried. What would I do now? I couldn’t possibly go back to being a chef. What other skills did I have? I began to eat, croissants, muffins, any thing with a high carb’ load and a sugary edge. James would come home from work each night and ask:
Yeh I’d sniff and eat another muffin.
I pilled on 20kgs.
Then I birthed and my body didn’t do what I thought it would do. I felt weak, stupid and inept.
However when I arrived home with Ruby, there were streamers and balloons festooning the iron lace work on the outside of the house. Inside there were more balloons, the tiny crib that Ruby was to sleep in was bedecked with streamers. As I entered the living room of our tiny rented house in Moonee Ponds, James glided passed me, pressed play on the CD player and the Eagles ‘new kid in town’ played. His eyes filled with tears of joy he looked down in his first born and I had a let down.
Jessicas’ birth was a breeze in comparison with Ruby’s and it was accomplished sans birth plan and drug free, except for a quick suck of gas. Then when Jess she popped out it was a calm and beautiful moment, her shock of black hair curling slightly, her head gently to one side, her face so sweet and for sure there was a smile playing on her lips. The midwives weighed her quickly, did all the testing things and handed her too me. It was 12 minutes past nine, they still had time to wash their hands, sign off on paper work and get to their tea break with another birth chalked up on their watch.
The afternoon of the birth of Jess, Ruby came to visit her new sister .Ruby lay next to Jessica, the look of contentment and bliss on her face was magical and it casts such a spell on me that I don’t even call James on the snoring business, or the I’m too pissed to drive you to hospital line. It can, I decide all wait until I get home, where it can be discussed over a nice cup of tea and a home baked item.
Two days after the birth: I find myself teeth clenched and white knuckled at the entrance of the hospital having just been discharged. I am holding the new born Jessica, whilst fitting the baby seat into the back of the car. James stares at me blankly : I just didn’t have time to do it, he says.
Could you hold the baby maybe I say wrenching the nut and bolt into place securing the baby’s capsule to the anchor point.
As we pull up to the house my neck strains to get a glance of the streamers and balloons that I am sure will be wafting in the breeze at the entrance of the house.
I get home anticipating that along with the festoon of balloons and streamers a lavish banquet of soft cheese, crustacians and a variety of carefully selected chocolate items to be laid out. I was gagging during the pregnancy for anything that would give me listeria or botchelism, tempted at times to lick the rubber seal on the fridge door.
But there are no streamers, no wafting in the wind of Wey Hey it’s a girl sign. I assume then that all the deco’s must be inside.
But all that is festooning the place are the weekend papers strewn over the dining table, unwashed dishes adorn the sink and kitchen bench, no decos, no welcome home you little bloody legend you sign and no food, not a scrap to be seen.
I lean heavily on the edge of the kitchen bench feeling a well of anger:
‘You could have tidied the house’ I say, ‘you could have put some food in the fridge.’
Prey let me continue:
‘Any thing’ I say ‘you could have bought any thing for lunch. I am starving, I have just fricken birthed, but please, shall I just pop down to the supermarket and get some fricken food in the house so that I can eat some something’
But wait there’s more:
‘You could have bought some soft cheese, a slither would have been fine. You know I’ve been gagging for soft cheese for nine months. I’ve been gagging for prawns, you could have bought some prawns for lunch, made a salad, bought some bread.’
I open the fridge again, waves of anger and disbelief rolling through my body, there’s not even any milk in the fridge. I have just birthed and there’s not even a bottle on milk in the fridge.
‘You could have tidied the house, you could have bought some food.’ I am shrill now and light headed, knowing soon that I will have to breast feed and that somehow I am going to have to remember how to breast feed away from the hospital ward, away from the press of a button and magically appearing lactation consultant who on command would do this strange kind of rolling folding movement with her arms by way of demonstrating how to feed a newborn. I am mesmerized by the lactation demonstration and at the same time bewildered. My coordination is not great, I’m no smooth mover on the dance floor. I high five myself when I have the opportunity to rub my head and pat my stomach. I look nonchalant when I m doing it, but I’m quietly rapt’ because I don’t do coordination well, but can make that movement look smooth.
Having the lactation consultant, a slim woman, straight blond hair, smelling slightly of Issy Miake perfume, doing the lactation demonstration is enthralling and terrifying at the same time. There’s fat chance that I can replicate the moves, get the baby to latch on, not get cracked nipples and not drop the baby.
I am standing in the kitchen, a mounting sense of disbelief that there is nothing in the fridge to eat and that I am going to have to breast feed the baby without the lactation nurse on call.
‘I can’t even make a cup of tea, I have just birthed and I can’t even make a cup of tea’
The baby starts crying, I’m going to have to put the rant on hold, unclip my maternity bra, sit down and figure out how to breast feed on my own.
There’s not even any bread, my energy galvanized by anger is beginning to falter, ‘I have just birthed and I can’t even make a sandwich.’
James has that look on his face, it is slightly sour, but un flinching, he knows that he is in the wrong, but wont admit it, so he does this flip where somehow it becomes my fault.
‘Ok he says OK I’ll down to the market, I’ll go down there right now shall I right now and get some bloody prawns then shall I will that make you feel better?’ he says
I am defeated, the baby is crying, my breasts spring a leak. I look at him.
‘It’s about the prawns,’ I say quietly as I pick up the baby and retreat to the couch.
December 2004 and so began my comedy odyssey