Esmae’s Birth Story: Eight Years Later
I can’t believe it has been eight whole years since Patrick and I became parents for the first time. I blinked, and my tiny bundle of warm scrunchy baby has turned into an eight year old and I just don’t know where the time has gone.
I mean, I do of course- a good lot of time has been spent doing ninja-style moves over sleeping kids when they’ve conked out on me; even more time has been spent shouting, “Come here please, instead of yelling from another room!” (the irony) and the majority of it has been making snacks. Along with that has been a good chunk of cleaning, an Everest of laundry and more love, hugs, hand-holding and kisses than I could possibly count.
Esmae was a surprise baby. I mean, I’m not sure how surprised one is entitled to be if one has unprotected sex and gets pregnant, but I guess we didn’t put two and two together until it made four digital pregnancy tests each flashing ‘pregnant‘ at us.
Patrick took a little longer than me to believe we were pregnant. For some reason he thought that home pregnancy tests weren’t reliable, and wanted me to go to the doctor to check.
“You do realise, love,” I told him, “That I’m going to go in and say that I’ve done a test, and it’s positive, and he’s going to type it into his computer that I’m pregnant and that’s it?”
In some third dimension in Patrick’s head this was better than a home pregnancy test, and I had to book in for the midwife anyway, so I went to the doctor, told him I was pregnant and got the ball rolling.
“What did he say?” Patrick asked when I got out.
“Yeah, that I’m pregnant.”
Our wedding was three months away, and thankfully I still fit into my wedding dress (although I had to pass my champagne to Patrick the whole day as we’d only told a couple of people!)
Patrick and I worked together at a health club until I was 38 weeks pregnant, at which point doing my work sitting on a Swiss ball seemed a little ridiculous, so I went on (permanent) maternity. We had a little flat in the town we grew up in (Patrick and I lived one road away from each other all of our lives; our parents still do) and we had got together everything we needed for our little girl. We decided as time went by that we would call her ‘Esmae’. This was because Patrick used to call my bump ‘Esmeralda’ and sing songs to the baby from the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
I couldn’t for the life of me remember why he did this and where that idea came from, until he reminded me the other day that it was because towards the end of pregnancy I walked like the Hunchback. This is considerably less lovely and glamorous a naming story than I would like, so I’ll just add that we called her “Esmae Cariad” which means “beloved blessing“. ‘Esmae’ is Irish and ‘Cariad’ is Welsh, as are Patrick and my families, so we thought this was a great fit for her.
Esmae’s arrival date was pencilled in as the 23rd January, so on the evening of the 21st we decided that we would go out for a date, likely to be our last for a while as we’d soon have a newborn. We got cinema tickets to see The King’s Speech and planned to go to the buffet restaurant next to the cinema for dinner after. (The week before I’d been asked for ID to see a 15-rated film; without makeup I looked like a pregnant 14 year old).
There’s this thing that people say that is incredibly annoying for pregnant women but is, in fact, true (which is part of the reason why it’s so annoying). It is that usually, in order for a baby to come out, the pregnant mother needs to be relaxed or asleep or distracted in some way- anything other than thinking and stressing about when labour is going to start. Watching a funny movie, in a dark room, sitting in a comfy chair, is apparently a great way to create this birth-ready environment.
Throughout the film I started getting what felt like period pains- a kind of crampy tense feeling. It was happening fairly regularly, enough for me to think ‘maybe this is it’. It felt different to Braxton Hicks, which is what I thought real labour would feel like (ha!) and I leaned over to Patrick to tell him that I thought Esmae might be on her way. He suggested we leave, but- here’s the thing- I really wanted to go to the restaurant. This might seem silly until I tell you that there were unlimited hoi sin pancakes. What can ya do?
After the film we headed to the restaurant with a game plan. We’d eat fairly quickly and head home in case this was labour. The cramps were getting really tight, and after our first plate of food I was pretty sure I was in labour.
The sensible thing to do at this point would have been to go home, but I was 21 and overconfident (some things never change) and i just thought I’d keep the baby in until I was ready to have her. Moreover, I’d spotted a giant chocolate fountain and as this was to be our last date for a while, I wasn’t going to go half-assed on things. Patrick wasn’t so sure.
“I really think we should go, love,” he said. “While you can still walk.”
“I’m fine“, I insisted, white-knuckle gripping the edge of the table. “We’ll have dessert and then go.”
Long story short, around thirty seconds later I stumbled into the bathroom and threw up spectacularly. It was time to go.
We got home, got the hospital bag and met my Mum who drove us to the hospital. After recreating that Countryfile episode where they get elbows-deep into a cow, we were told that I was 4-5cm dilated and well on the way to have a baby (this was around two hours from the first twingy feeling).
We were very lucky and walked straight into a huge birthing suite with a large pool, and I got into the pool for a while. Labour is weird- you need absolute focus for it, and the most tiny things were driving me mad (anyone whispering in the room, anyone going on their phone within my vision, anyone talking to each other. Basically anyone doing anything). I didn’t have the foresight that I had with Eira and Elfie’s birth and the thought that I had no idea how bad this pain was going to get eventually freaked me out. My best friend Emma had arrived, and soon after I decided that I wanted an epidural.
My midwife was so lovely and encouraging- her name was Lydia and I specifically remembering her saying “I really think you can do this,” but I wanted out. Someone brought a wheelchair and I lunged out of the pool and flung myself into it completely naked and soaking wet. I can only imagine it was like one of those horrible Seaworld shows where the orcas launch themselves out of the water and onto a platform, except evidently less impressive because no-one clapped; I didn’t even get a fish.
We moved to the labour ward where the epidurals were, before I decided that actually I was just going to probably die from pain anyway so there was no point in having the epidural. Moreover, there was a very curious part of me that just knew that if I had it I would regret not knowing what it was like to give birth without pain relief; I knew that I just had to dig deep for the last bit of labour and that I could do it. I remember telling the anaesthetist that he could go, in a really quiet voice, and then something in my mind shifted and I felt this huge inner strength along with the contractions.
I’d chewed the mouthpiece of the gas and air to a gnarled bit of plastic- I LOVE gas and air, and with Eira and Elfie I actually really looked forward to being able to have some! It helped me to have something to concentrate on. The transition part of labour was the most intense thing I’ve ever experienced; having a whole human exit your body hurts a fair bit and I was glad during my first birth to have the gas and air as a comfort blanket and illusion of control, even if it did nothing for the actual pain.
Six and a half hours after the first twinge, I started pushing. Patrick, my mum and Emma were watching, and eventually Esmae’s little head came into the world. And this is where Patrick lost his mind a small amount. I found this out the day after. Apparently when I’d delivered Esmae’s head, and was waiting for the next contraction to push out her body, he had turned to Mum with an expression of quiet horror.
“It’s just a head!” he’d said to Mum. “The baby, is it just a head?”
Yes, Patrick. Despite the several ultrasound scans where we got to see our beautiful (whole) baby, despite knowing she was a girl, despite hearing her heart several times during appointments and in labour with the doppler, despite everything- Patrick was convinced that I’d just given birth to a scrunched-up little baby head. It took Mum a few moments to understand what he was saying.
“Oh- no, love,” she’d reassured him. “The body will be out in a minute.”
And she was- our tiny, 7lb 6oz baby girl, complete with a body (bonus!), arrived at 2.30am on 22nd January. My first impressions were all sensory- she was warm and slippery and purple and smelled weird- and then the realisation that our baby was here sunk in. Sometimes the kids will see me staring at them like a goof, and they always smile and ask “why are you staring at me?!” and I always answer “because I can’t believe how lucky I got to have you as my daughter!” That first feeling of completely overwhelming love doesn’t go away or fade; incredibly it grows to something even bigger and more profound, which is crazy when I look back to that moment she first arrived.
After Esmae had had a feed for the first time, Mum, Patrick and Emma took turns at holding her while I got stitches. This was hands down the worst physical experience of my life; way worse than labour or childbirth. I’ve had local anaesthetic three times in my life and each time it’s failed to work. Your ‘childbirth area’ is not somewhere you want to feel a needle and thread after pushing out a human, and Patrick was close to tears seeing it- he said it was like watching a medieval torture scene. One of the worst bits was listening to the student midwife ask the midwife if she’d ‘done it right’, and the midwife said something like “I’d have put one there, but it’s ok”. What the actual.
On a serious note, this was truly awful and if you are going to have a baby, don’t let anyone do anything to you without explicit permission. With Eira the midwives wanted to do stitches with local anaesthetic and I point blank refused, so they got me a spinal block (it made my face itch but I’ll take that) and did a proper job. Women, young mums especially, often get treated like objects during childbirth; some staff will do what’s convenient for them, and I’m very glad that I stood up for myself more during my next two births.
We left the hospital a few hours later and took Esmae home in her tiny pink hat, looking far too tiny for her car seat. As we walked into our living room and put her car seat on the floor, I couldn’t help thinking that it was completely bizarre that I’d just been allowed home with a real human to look after. I almost wanted to go back to the hospital and get them to quiz me to make sure I was able to care for her!
Of course this wore off within hours and soon Esmae and I settled into our new lovely lives. Patrick went back to work full time 24 hours after she was born, and I’ve always said this was one of the best things that happened to us because it meant that from day one I knew that I’d got this, completely, and it helped me feel totally secure as a Mum. It also meant that the paternity leave he had with Eira and Elfie seemed like absolute luxury!
And so we pottered on from there, and as I said at the beginning I’m not quite sure what we’ve been doing for the last eight years. I guess two more children, three more homes, a year of full time travel in Asia, several more jobs and homeschooling has kept our lives (and hearts) pretty full. We couldn’t be more proud of Esmae- she is, at heart, an artist, a dreamer and a gentle soul and being her Mum is an incredible mixture of joy, hilarity, challenge, frustration and gratitude.
I hope you enjoyed my first birth story; let me know if you’d like me to write Eira and Elfie’s birth stories too (they get increasingly more hippie and Patrick quietly loses his mind equally as hilariously in both) and I will be more than happy to. Thank you for reading!