Several years ago, I met Enid when I taught her to sew. Once she got the basics down, I saw Enid again many times as she came to me to help alter her wedding dress and make a silk 1950’s reception gown. That’s right, Vogue 1140 was her second make after beginner’s pajamas! We built a friendship over the years, both of us strong and somewhat domineering women with small children and a shared sense of disconnect as immigrants far from home. She’s English and I’m from Texas.
I got a series of calls and texts from her first thing in the morning Sunday- the baby was coming, two weeks early! I was down the coast for the weekend, but we packed up the car and hurried back to The ‘Bane. When I arrived at the hospital a few hours later, I found her quietly timing contractions in a Birth
suite Centre at Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital.
We spent the entire day together in the Birth Centre, in a place outside time and reality. It’s a large room with an oversized recliner, a fold out couch, a table, a homey bed, a shower, beanbags, a deep birthing pool and other special touches like an aromatherapy nebulizer (clary sage!) and a selection of soothing music. It was dark and quiet. In the time between contractions, I did my best to keep her calm and make her laugh. (Sometimes I have a bawdy sense of humor, which seemed to work given our situation!) We had a great time, riding the waves of pain that steadily increased in frequency and relaxing between. Is it just me, or is labor and birth very different than TV and movies lead us to believe?
At one point in the late afternoon, the contractions stalled and become erratic so we turned to Twitter for advice. We’re both Millinneals, you see, so it’s second nature. The first suggestion was an exercise ball, and our beautifully stocked room had one! The ball radically changed the tempo and the speed of the labor as she gently rocked and we breathed through the pain. In between, we managed quite a few adolescent jokes about blue balls, cackling mischievously.
The midwife and I filled up the birthing tub and waited for the right time to help Enid into the water. She had been maintaining her “stiff upper lip” as the time between the contractions lessened and the duration increased. She was desperate to get into the tub. Something incredible happened when she slipped into the water, something unexpected that I will never forget for the rest of my life.
She sang. Not a song, no words, but a strong sweet soprano sound tinged with pain that raises the hairs on my arms when I recall it. It wasn’t a shriek, or a howl, or a scream, but a pure sound. I held her, stroked her back and breathed with her through the sound and the pain and the occasional silences for maybe 40 minutes while she finished the journey all mothers must make in their own way. I didn’t see her face the entire time, her head dropped and she focused on laboring. Suddenly, at the end of a very strong contraction she jerked upright with brilliant eyes and suddenly I saw a perfect tiny baby girl in her arms, breaking through the surface of the bath. Just like that, little G joined us. We were in semi darkness, it was warm and quiet as she took her first breaths and blinked up at her mother. I stood there sobbing and laughing at the same time for a minute or two before I had the presence of mind to document the moment for Enid through my lens.
She held her little girl close and without prompting this pushy, tiny female found her mother’s nipple and latched on. She knew what she wanted and went for it! Just like her mom. The midwife and I helped Enid out of the water and into a recovery position, where she held her new baby close and the rest of the world melted away around them. She cut the cord herself. Our bodies truly do amazing things!
My own daughter was born down the hall from little G, five years ago. As I was then, I’m moved by the consideration shown laboring women at Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital. They understand labor. They know births are unpredictable and unique. They support the individual’s laboring choices while keeping a very sharp lookout for the health of both mother and child. They are strong and kind, with clear voices and sensible grippy ballet flat shoes.
I really can’t say enough good things about the quality of care and what a beautiful experience this was. That’s why I’m writing this with Enid’s blessing and encouragement- because it’s important to talk about good things. We’re both grateful, as mothers and as transplants, and wanted to share.
You know what else? That room, that birth, her pre-natal physical therapy appointments and the post-natal home visits are provided by Queensland as a matter of course. I couldn’t believe it when I had my own child, I kept expecting to receive a massive unpayable bill but none ever came. Public health is a priority here, I think it is an admirable attitude- the health of Queenslanders is provided for by Queenslanders.
There’s a special dignity to the concept of running a labor ward not for profit but as a service to the community. It eliminates a great deal of anxiety from pivotal moments like these so it’s easier to focus on what’s important. It’s not a perfect system, but I think it’s pretty remarkable. Thank you, Queensland, for looking out for birthing mothers and their babies.
What are you grateful for?