In her first Diary of a Mum column, Joanna Ellner talks labour, Lucozade and life lessons…
“Did you pack the Blu-Tak?” I wailed at my husband from the spare room. “Er, no…?” he replied. “I’ll get it, then,” I huffed back, and with my laptop perched on the bed and a Google spreadsheet as my guide, I sifted through my four (yep, four) hospital bags; one filled with baby stuff, one for the birth, one for a potential hospital stay and one for snacks (Lucozade, dried strawberries and, because pregnancy cravings die hard, a multi-pack of Kinder Buenos).
Preparation, I reasoned, was the key to success. It was careful forensic planning that had anchored me through 10 years as a beauty director at deadline-heavy weekly magazines. It was precision planning – and many a spreadsheet – that saw my husband and I save for a deposit, get married and buy a house within the same year. Mapping out how to do stuff, before you do it, is what I know.
So, paralysed by the knowledge that I had no knowledge, three months before my due date, I buckled down and took on ‘Project Birth’. I read books, booked an NCT course, organised hypnobirthing classes and dragged my puffy legs to pregnancy classes at Triyoga. And, after extensive research, I concluded a natural, hypnobirthing-led experience at the birth centre was the route I wanted to take. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that this would be how things worked out for us.
The Blu-Tak? For pinning an A1 poster of the Peruvian rainforest I’d ordered from Amazon (a visualisation aid to help anchor the hypnobirthing meditations I’d been practising) to the walls. I’d also packed a Tens machine, a fan, a water-spray bottle, battery-operated candles, an oil diffuser, compression socks, nipple pads, affirmation cards, and a yoga mat (to cushion my knees). I took my birth plan pretty seriously.
And yet, it wasn’t to be. Reduced fetal movement, a ‘large baby’ and being three days past my due date led me down a rabbit hole of induction, 12 hours of contractions, 12 hours of epidural-bolstered contractions, and steady dilation.
Then, things started to slow. I had a raised heart rate, a high temperature and the final crux – my cervix had started to swell and close. The doctors told me I had become infected with maternal sepsis, and the safest option would be to go to theatre for a c-section delivery immediately.
Our baby – a daughter – was ushered into the world 20 minutes later, only to be taken a nearby table to be checked over while I cried so hard I could barely see. But, in its own way, it was perfect. Because out of that room came Noah Leonor Ellner, and she is perfect. And the experience, though I’m still making sense of it all, taught me the first rule of motherhood: there are no rules. It is an ever-unfurling ribbon; unpredictable, messy, joyous, traumatic and gut-wrenching. No spreadsheet or overly-stuffed baby bag could have prepared us for birth or the four-day hospital stay that followed.
Birth – for many of us – is beyond our control, and that’s a humbling thing. It’s taught me to be more elastic, and I was naïve to think I held all the jigsaw pieces. As a mother, I’m starting to see that all I can do is try to put them together, one by one.