She was born in the middle of winter. It was a night so balmy and crisp that you could feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end if you dared venture outside. A full, burnt orange moon traced its way across the sky. At one stage an onslaught of rain slashed down for a few moments before the clouds had parted to reveal that full-bellied moon once again.
It was the stuff of legends. And it was a night that took a turn none of us expected, nor will we forget.
From the very first twinge, everything about my second labour was different to the first. I had been perched on a bench seat at the kitchen table playing a rather exciting game of Monopoly with my niece, when suddenly I felt it. My baby’s head dropped into place like a giant hand screwing a cork into the neck of a wine bottle. In a rush of excitement I had taken myself off to bed, mistakenly hoping to steal a few moments of sleep before the contractions began.
But I had tossed and turned, unable to find a comfortable position. I then took myself to stand in the dark, alone on the back verandah.
When the contractions began, there was no stopping them. Within minutes they had reached fever pitch.
I would shuffle slowly from one end of the verandah to the other, pausing at each end to grab the railing for support as each new contraction ripped through my body like a tornado.
Closing my eyes and breathing slowly, I began the self-talk I knew I would need to get through this. After just fifteen minutes, I had called for my sister. She sat stopwatch in hand, like an athletics coach silently and stoically bracing against the cold. Another fifteen minutes and we were phoning the midwife for what was already the second time, explaining that the contractions weren’t yet regular but were now about two minutes apart and excruciatingly painful. This brought no sympathy from the midwife. With the labour and delivery ward fully booked, she explained that I would have to stay at home until my waters broke.
After the third phone call, and having been instructed yet again to “relax and take a warm shower”, I had insisted that it was time to get in the car. As if on cue, one last terrifying contraction had threaded down my spine like a bolt of lightning.
A single drop of liquid, like a bead of sweat, hit the deck. But that tiny drop was all I needed. My waters had broken. It was my ticket into the labour ward.
I had now been in labour for around forty-five minutes. My husband awoke, groggy and confused as my sister grabbed the car keys. We barely made it around the corner before – feet on the dashboard – I shouted at my husband to pull over. There wasn’t enough time to make it to the hospital. I could feel my daughter’s head crowning as my sister frantically phoned for an ambulance.
The calm voice of the emergency operator instructed my husband and sister to take off any jewellery they might be wearing. I heard her ask if there was anything sharp in the car that might be suitable for cutting the cord.
I could see the panic in my sister’s eyes as she fumbled through the glove box. Her hands shook as she tugged off her engagement ring and wiped her hands on the back of her jeans. My husband was a shade of green I had not seen since the days of morning sickness had ended.
I was not prepared for this. Not prepared to deliver a baby in the middle of the night, on the side of the road. Without medical assistance. This was not in my birth plan. What if something went wrong? What if my baby was in danger?
Fear gripped my throat and I did everything I could to resist the urge to push. From the corner of my eye I saw my husband running out onto the road, waving his arms to flag down the ambulance.
Like a voice seeping through a fog, I heard the ambulance officer as he bent down in front of me, asking if I was comfortable delivering the baby in the car or if I would prefer to get out.
I walked slowly, half-naked and completely oblivious to passing traffic. There was a stillness in that moment, as I surrendered control and let my body take over. One last contraction, and right there, somewhere on the side of the road, our baby girl flew into the world. For a few seconds there was only silence. And then she began to kick and scream at the top of her lungs. Relief washed over me. She was perfectly healthy.
I held her wet body to mine, whispering to soothe us both. With a mop of wild, dark hair standing on end like a Mohawk, she resembled something of a tiny, outraged warrior.
The onslaught of such a fast labour had left me exhausted and shaking. But as I lay there, tired to the bone, I knew that I would love her fiercely, with every ounce that I had.
Did you have a fast labour? Was it completely different than you expected?