OK, so let’s get it over with: she’s cried maybe twice since we got her home, and she sleeps six hours at a stretch, from 2am to 8am. She’s incredible. Her week one performance review is going to be stellar.

As many of you doubtless surmised, I spent much of last weekend in a godalmighty snit because the baby hadn’t been born yet. My sacro-iliac joint was a hinge of fire, my sciatic nerves two red-hot pokers jammed into my butt cheeks. More than say, a tablespoon of food gave me acid reflux like molten rock. I was peeved.

Saturday night, contractions ten minutes apart; Sunday morning, five minutes apart, though I could talk through them. Then nothing, nada, zilch. On my part, passionate rage at an uncaring universe. We walked up to the playground. The sun shone, the flowers were out. I scowled indiscriminately.

Sunday night we tried out Pomelo, a restaurant up near Mum’s B&B. I had the risotto. It was excellent. When we got home I watched an Abba film on TiVo while Jeremy worked on his garbage collector. Abba is very odd; it would be a quite convincing fictional phenomenon, like Hedwig and the Angry Inch, but it’s totally implausible as real history. Contractions ten minutes apart. I shrugged and went to bed.

Mum woke with a start at 4am. So did I, although I had an excellent reason; a strong contraction, another at 4.15, another at 4.30 and then at 4.45 one so powerful I had to tone through it. Jeremy woke up. I apologized and went to have a bath; Yeshi had said that real labour will continue and accelerate even in the bath. 4.55, 5.00, 5.05. Jeremy called Salome to wake her up.

I laboured a bit in the living room, over the couch and yoga ball. Contractions now 3 or 4 minutes apart and so painful I was astonished to have forgotten what they were like. Labouring in my bedroom at dawn, with our Christmas-lights reflected on the window in front of an indigo sky. Salome, Jamey and Mum tiptoeing around and whispering. I loved my house and my friends and felt very safe. On the phone, Yeshi said it was time to come in.

I had a contraction in the car, which was about the most awful thing ever; each single bump in the road was a javelin straight up my cervix. I had contractions in the corridor from the ER to the elevator. We got to my labor room, where Yeshi and Olivia were already setting up the tub. I ripped off all my clothes and got down on all fours on the futon, toning loudly.

“Now that looks like a woman in labour,” said Yeshi, with evident approval.

My God, it hurts. I had forgotten, in spite of having written a lengthy and explicit Note to Self immediately after having Claire. It’s like a giant nutcracker around your hips, like nothing else, like a freight train hitting you in the pelvis every two minutes for seven hours, like dying. It made me want to throw up. I promised myself that the unbearable pain would never continue for more than five breaths, and actually it never did; I cheated, by stretching out the breaths and making the tones lower and lower, until I heard the onlookers refer to my foghorn. Jeremy and Salome were telepathic. I only had to point at something – the tub, a towel – and it was there for me. They made me drink after every contraction. My God, it hurt.

“I want Fentanyl,” I said. “Try the tub first,” said Yeshi serenely.

The tub helped a lot, principally by taking the immense weight of my belly off my aching hips (this, incidentally, was A Clue that will become significant later on). I think I was in there half an hour or forty minutes, and it was good, but not as good as with Claire, when labour went slower and I was in and out of the water a lot. When I found myself biting the edge of the tub, I mentioned casually:

“I really want Fentanyl.”

“Of course,” said Yeshi serenely.

As ever, it took two tries to get a line into my veins, and I ended up with a livid bruise up my arm and the heplock in my hand anyway. Then came the Fentanyl, sweet sweet opiate, one hundred times stronger than heroin. I sat up and smiled at everyone.


The Fentanyl doesn’t touch the pain – everything hurt just as much – but it completely eliminates the fear. I didn’t worry about the last or next contraction. Jeremy stroked my back and I preened like a cat. As with Claire, I snoozed between contractions during transitional labour. I dreamed about the ceramic works in Avanos in Turkey, and about wild horses galloping. At one point I stared Salome in the face and said:

“I love you. And it’s not just the heroin talking.”

Much laughter.

It bought me three centimeters, from four to seven. When it wore off I went back to work, toning hard. Stumbled into the shower and straight out again, shivering. Remembered that aching note in Salome’s voice the morning Milo was born: “He’s amazing.” And another story from birth prep class: “Thy will be done.” “You’re amazing,” I said to Julia. “Your will be done.”

“I need to push,” I said. Olivia ran to get Yeshi, who checked me internally.

“Seven centimeters.”

“So I have to hold it in?” I asked in despair.

“Oh no,” said Yeshi (serene). “Your cervix is tissue-thin. Push as you get the urge. Julia is coming very soon.”

She broke my bag of waters and it ran clear. I was standing over the futon, watching bloody show and then my mucus plug fall onto blue plastic covers. I was on my knees, pushing and arching up my back, my even blue tones fractured into low gutteral screams, an animal.

“You might want to stop toning now and bear down,” said Yeshi conversationally. “Don’t want to damage your throat.”

I was hanging around Jeremy’s neck (it took me a while afterwards to realize this is when I strained the muscles in my shoulders). I glanced over at Yeshi, who was sitting in a shaft of sunlight, smiling at me, perfectly unconcerned. I was lying on Jeremy’s lap and we were both trying to hold my left leg up.

“Are you comfortable?” asked Yeshi.

“What? NO!”

Everyone laughed. Julia was crowning. Julia was taking her sweet motherfucking time. Yeshi kept making me stop pushing and holding compresses to me, giving my skin time to stretch.

“Reach down,” said Yeshi, “hold her in your hands, here she comes.”

Julia was born.

Like Claire, she was a grunter; it took her a little while to figure out how to breathe. Eventually they carted her off to the ICU with Jeremy in hot pursuit. (Like Claire, Jules recovered on the way to the ICU and came straight back to me.) Olivia replaced Jeremy and I lay in her lap for a while, bleeding freely and giving birth to a giant 3lb placenta. I think I talked manically the whole time, mostly about how incredibly relieved I was that the whole thing was over, that I was never having another baby, and that it had hurt a very great deal.

Well, 9lb 4oz is almost two and a half pounds over Claire’s birthweight – and my little human rights activist was born with her tiny fist raised. We all knew Jules was bigger but if I’d ever put together the clues as to how big she was – feet in my ribs, fist in my cervix – I would have begged for a C. I had no idea I could push out a giant baby in seven hours. Thanks to Yeshi’s genius and care, I didn’t even need stitches, which has made the recovery and babymoon far easier and more fun.

I never posted Claire’s birth story here, because although it was another textbook birth (and how I would love ten minutes alone with whoever wrote that damn textbook) the experience left me somewhat traumatized: bright lights, metal instruments, strangers coaching me in how to push and telling me I was doing it wrong.

“Trust your body,” said Yeshi, “follow Julia’s lead.” This birth was much, much harder work and hurt far more than Claire’s, yet it’s an unalloyed happy memory, an unqualified achievement on my part and a peaceful journey for Julia from sea creature to land mammal. Even my mother said so! Except for the land mammal part.

As for Julia – well, I asked Quinn (of all people) whether she thought it was possible to love a second child as much as the first. Now I know, and like childbirth itself it’s one of those things you can’t even imagine until it happens.


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