The 16th of January comes with no auspicious activity. No baby. No baby the next day, or the next. At around midnight, on the 19th, I’m particularly restless and I can’t sleep. I decide that I may as well get up. I walk out to the living room and stop abruptly as I feel water pooling in my knickers. I go to the toilet. I look down. Indeed, it would appear that my waters have broken. I poise for some evidence of pain – like what happens in the movies when women suddenly start labouring – but I don’t feel anything. I also don’t think there’s enough water – it’s not like the giant floods cascading out of women in the movies. Ridiculous to base everything on movies, but my mum’s not here to offer any kind of guidance – selfish bitch!
I go outside with a sense of excitement and trepidation. Right, it looks like this could be it … the moment we’ve all been waiting for. I don’t want to get too excited or get my hopes up, as it could be a false alarm. I decide I’ll just sit out here in the patio for a while and see what happens. No need to wake Ross yet.
I wait for an hour, my every sense heightened and looking inward. And then I feel something – like a pulling around my belly. Could it be a contraction? Maybe, but it’s not really painful, it’s just uncomfortable. Still, that’s how it all starts, isn’t it? I get more excited and much more nervous at the same time. Twenty minutes later it happens again. Oh my god, this is it, this is it! Excitedly, I call Trudy for advice. She says it definitely sounds like labour starting, and finishes with, ‘You just wait. You’ll know, trust me’. Laughing, she hangs up.
I pad joyfully into the bedroom, sit down gently on the side of the bed, and lightly pat Ross awake. He rouses himself sleepily and looks at me. Grinning widely, I say, ‘My waters have broken and I’m having contractions’.
‘Right then’, he says, as he springs up smiling.
I explain that I’ve only had a couple of contractions, so we just have to wait it out here for as long as we can. We go and sit in the back patio. I don’t have a birth-plan, as I was of the solid opinion that nothing was going to prepare me and how was I going to know how I would feel or what would help me until it was actually happening? Our plan was subsequently to just go with the flow.
Presently I decide that I need a distraction, both from the waiting and the increasing pain. I want to read Harry Potter – the last one, I blurt out to Ross. I have read it, but Ross hasn’t. I want us to read it to each-other. We begin reading a chapter each. As I’m reading my second chapter, the contractions are starting to get painful. Eventually I need to stop reading when they come. And then the back pain starts. I stop and marvel at this unforseen problem. Back pain? Why the hell is my back hurting? It’s not too severe, but it’s certainly very bad. Damn it womb, can’t you confine the pain to your immediate surrounds?!
I now need to pace to deal with the growing pain when the contractions hit, which they are doing every ten minutes or so. I need to play a game to distract myself. Let’s play Trivial Pursuit, I demand as I pace. Ross scurries inside to fossick through mum’s plethora of poorly organised board-games. We start playing. I begin wincing with the pain as I simultaneously try to think and answer questions. The pain stretches from my tummy, right around my back, with an aching, burning sensation.
Ross calls the hospital and tells them that I’m having contractions and we think my water has broken. They advise coming in so they can do an exam to check if my waters have broken. We get in the car and drive to Fremantle. It’s a long, painful drive, and the contractions are now getting much worse – but still bearable. We get to the hospital at about 5am. I stumble in, clutching at my belly. They take us into an exam room and a midwife checks me out. She says that ‘part’ of my waters have broken, which I didn’t even realise was possible. She says there is a problem; there is meconium (baby’s first poo) in the waters. This can be a sign of foetal distress. The nurse doesn’t unnecessarily alarm me, but she says she needs to check his heart, and that I need to remain here so they can monitor him for the rest of my labour. His heart is fine when they check, but I must stay attached to the monitor. The contractions are now getting very, very bad. I don’t like them at all. I am moved into a delivery room, even though I am only a few centimetres dilated. It will be quite a while. Damn! The pain is getting so much worse, and there is still so long to go!
At this point I begin to become strangely unaware of the time passing, or the other people in the room, or the general world at large. I become very insular. I’m in my own little world of pain and concentration. I start pacing, thinking to myself, ‘If I can get through grief then I can damn well get through this’. It is quite a good mantra actually.
Then the true pain that everybody talks about starts. I become even more insular and focused. And I am very silent, which surprises me. Now, when I say ‘pain’ I cannot describe it in words. I know when women have a baby and people ask them if it was really that bad, they always say ‘yes, the worst pain imaginable’. My own mother said to me, when I asked her about it, that you feel like you’re going to die, but you won’t. She then laughed as I recoiled in horror. But she was not exaggerating at all. Let me try to describe the pain, while you imagine it being much worse than what I’m describing:
Imagine – if you will – a giant metal vice wrapped around your entire abdomen, just below your chest to the start of your thighs. Now, imagine this giant vice slowly constricting around you, squeezing your body inwards. And also imagine that the metal is burning hot; a band of fire is wrapped around your body, surging and radiating through your back and front and pushing inwards. Then imagine feeling swollen to the point of bursting. You are swelling on the inside. Burning fire is igniting in the centre of you and bursting outwards. This is happening whilst the hot vice is continuing to tighten. You are exploding outwards and being tightened at the same time. This sensation gets worse, and worse, and then mounts to a dizzying height of insurmountable pain, as the vice fully constricts. And then it releases, and you relax for a second. And then you panic because you know it’s going to happen again in a minute. And it does. And then it happens over and over and over and over again, with only a second’s chance to take a breath to sustain yourself in between. At this point you think you might pass out, or even die, and it doesn’t seem such a bad alternative in truth, considering that the pain is going to keep coming. And you know it’s going to get worse. You don’t see how it possibly could, but it does.
It was at this point, after nine hours of the vice, that I demanded an epidural. I thought to myself, if that doctor doesn’t put a needle in before the next contraction, then I will kill him. He did put one in, but only after several more contractions. I must say that despite all this pain I remained very insular and silent. I didn’t scream at all. The pain was too great to scream. And I kept thinking, ‘I got through grief. I can do this. It is not as bad as grief’. But actually, on that note, I think that labour – not birth, labour – is perhaps the physical equivalent of fresh grief. Labour does to the body what raw grief does to the soul … except with grief you don’t get rewarded with a miracle at the end.
Unfortunately for me, however, the epidural only worked on one side of my body, so I continued to experience the full force of the ever constricting vice on my right side. After a while I questioned why this was and the doctor put another line in. The relief was instantaneous. I felt like I might actually survive. It still hurt like the worst aspects of hell, but it was manageable. Then, after more hours of this manageable pain, it was finally time to push. I was fully dilated. I was so relieved when they told me, because at this point you are not actually scared about the birth bit. You’re in so much unimaginable pain that you just want to get the damn thing out, by whatever means necessary.
I get ready to start pushing. Even though I’ve had the epidural, I can still feel when the contractions hit and I push with all my force upon each one. After the first push the midwife excitedly exclaims, ‘Oh, my goodness, the head is out and I haven’t even put on my gloves!’ Two more pushes and he was out. It was so quick that I still had my eyes tightly shut in the internal focus of pushing. The midwife actually had to say to me, ‘Open your eyes and look at your baby!’
I opened my eyes. And there he was – this tiny little perfect life, lying on the bed between my legs. The midwife gently scooped him up and put him in my arms. Ross was crying softly by my left shoulder, his eyes misty and wide with pure magical joy. As my son was put into my arms, I felt the most inexplicable wash of pure white love course majestically through my being, and then vibrate within it sublimely.
Then I saw my son begin to turn blue. ‘He’s turning blue!’ I screeched.
The midwife snatched him from me, took him to the doctor, who placed him on a table and gave him some oxygen. He started to breathe after a few seconds, and I felt my heart melt with breathtaking relief. He began to wiggle his tiny arms and legs. Then he peed on the doctor. Ross and I laughed and cried in our mutual joy. They gave him back to me. I looked at him. He was perfect. He was more than perfect. My heart felt like it would cave in from the love pouring from it into him. I didn’t even notice or care one bit about the midwife delivering my placenta, or about my legs being put in stirrups as they stitched up my nasty tear. I just wanted to bask in the glorious perfection of my son. The whole world had transformed. It had instantaneously become brighter and more wonderful than I could ever imagine.
As the doctor does his routine examination, I pad into the adjacent bathroom to have a shower. My legs feel like jelly, and Ross has to help me. I wash away all the blood and sweat, and then get dressed and ready to move to my room, where I can show my family my beautiful miracle. I feel an agonising pang of unmatched torture sweep through me, as I remember that she will not be coming to greet him. It is an unforgivable absence that stings with fresh vigour. But my excitement and love manage to shift that feeling of heartbreaking sadness from my soul, gently and without judgement.
In my room I cradle my son, who we have named August Leslie Oldham. Ross and I just gaze at him, awestruck. My Dad and Jane come in. Their eyes are misted with tears of joy. Mine mist up to – with love and with pride. They look at my son with the intense unconditional love that only comes from family. My dad places a firm hand on my left shoulder and says, ‘Well done Beck’. I’ve never seen him that happy. Ross’ parents come in soon after and hold their grandson. My child is bathed in love.
The next few days I am in hospital, doting over this perfect thing that Ross and I had created. I constantly marvel at the fact that something so beautiful has come out of a period of such heart wrenching grief. The world is truly magnificent for me right now. I feel at ease with my new baby, and am not depressed or anxious in the slightest, even as I am learning to feed and nurture him; it all just seems so natural to me.
More people come to see me and to meet my son. And I feel nothing but inspiring, hopeful, innocent, blissful, magical, peaceful love. I feel whole … completely and utterly whole.
After three days in hospital, we take our son home. I am filled with so many feelings as we make the long drive back to Padbury. I am delighted that we are taking him home, but I wish it was to a different home. How different it would have been, if she had been there to greet us. I know that I will never feel her absence more than I do in the moment my son and I walk through her front door. It shouldn’t be happening this way. But, I simply cannot be anything other than grateful and elated that my son is here, that is the miracle of a child.
The next few weeks are a blissful explosion of peaceful joy. I am so happy. I am so content. I am so fulfilled. I have, through severe adversity, finally brought my son into the world. And he is happy and healthy – thank god. I feel like the luckiest person in the history of humanity. Ross and I dote on his every move; we watch him as he sleeps, talk to him with love, and hold him with unconditional devotion and adoration. Dad and Jane come and spend time with him too, holding him, chatting to him and loving him. So do Ross’ parents. More people come and meet him, and we show him off, with our hearts beaming with pride. Although they are all so happy for us, you can still see it in their eyes though – the sadness that she is not here to meet him too.
When August is two weeks old, Saran and Andrew make the journey over from London. Saran had a very special bond with my mother. He was plagued with indecision when she died. He didn’t know whether to come over for the funeral, or to wait for the arrival of my son. He decided to wait for August to be born, and the look on his face when he sees his godson tells me that he made the right choice. He utterly adores and worships him on sight.
While Saran is in Perth, we host August’s naming ceremony. It is an exquisite, informal bonding affair. We send out beautiful invitations to only our closest friends and family. We get a lovely, gentle, kind celebrant to perform the service at the house. We want it to be at the house because it will be the last celebration we have here – sort of like a final farewell – a gathering of gratitude for the past, and excitement for the future. August is in a fetching white and silver jumpsuit. He sleeps peacefully for the entire ceremony. I read a poem I have selected that reflects our hopes for our son’s future, called ‘The Castle’. The Godparent’s, or ‘Guardians’ as we have called them – Georgia, Debbie, Saran and Tom – are named and honoured. Our mutual hopes and dreams for our little son are openly shared. We have a sand ceremony where Ross and I, and each set of grandparent’s, and the Guardians, all place a vial of coloured sand into a vase. The colours of the sand represent the different values each person will bring into August’s life. At the end of this ritual, with tears in my eyes, I place a pink vial of sand into the vase in honour of my mother, his Grammy. It is the perfect way to honour our son and express our undying love for him, and our promise to love him for all of his days. All is well, and I can breathe again.
Afterwards I happily chat and mingle. There are more people in the house then there has been for a long time. It reminds me of how it used to be. As I watch all the people fill the house with merriment, I think of all the grand parties we have had here. Mum and I were known for our fabulous Christmas parties. Our parties were always fancy dress, of course, and everyone was guaranteed to have a fantastic time. Last Christmas we had a ‘Xmas table’ theme – mum obviously went as the centrepiece, and I went as a vodka watermelon. The year before that we had a toga party – that was my favourite. The year before that we had a ‘come as your favourite alcoholic beverage’ theme, which was an absolute blast. Mum was a Midori Illusion and I was a martini. Other notable appearances at that particular party included Georgia as a Slippery Nipple and Aunty Anne as a Screwdriver.
The last party we held here is still fresh in my mind, and the sharp memory of it stings. It was in July, for mum’s 55th birthday. It was an ‘M’ party. I went as a pregnant Medusa. Ellie, quite naturally, went as a Magnificent Monument to Herself (or Myself, as she called it). Ironically, we almost didn’t have a party. Ellie was in a state of indecision about it, and as I had been throwing up for months and couldn’t drink anything of substance, I was also quite undecided. Of course, once we settled on an ‘M’ theme and it occurred to Ellie that this would present her with an opportunity to dress up as a monument to herself, she insisted that we go ahead. Now, as I stare at the people in my house, I am beyond grateful that we did have that final party. We made the guests play games and everyone had a ball. There was an Ellie quiz that I devised that was hilarious. We also made people get into groups and use craft items to build Ellie a miniature palace. I remember it vividly. And I particularly remember how beautiful and radiant she looked in her long blue gown (yes, I realise the unlikelihood of her choosing any other colour but pink, but it was a very pretty blue). She looked so alive and happy then. She was alive then. No gathering here will ever be the same again. It consolidates my notion that staying here would be the death of me.
While my love continues to grow daily for my divine son, we begin to pack up all our stuff to get ready for the big move. It is an exciting time. He is such a beautiful, placid, delightful little man, who fills my days with hope and serenity. I am taking to motherhood like a duck to water. Of course I had my doubts – severe doubts – given my state of mind before he was born. I was so worried about post-natal depression. I thought if anyone was likely to get it then surely it was me, considering the grief and all. And I had always been prone to depression anyway, so I thought it was a real possibility. But, as the time passed, with no sign even of the usual ‘baby blues’ that directly accompany giving birth, I started to relax and just embrace my new role. I don’t even mind all the night feeds, the lack of sleep, the constant poop or the massive change in routine. All I care about is being able to love my child; it’s all that matters to me now.
Everything is packed up. On the 22nd of February, the largest truck in history comes to the Padbury house and loads up all our belongings. I pack my own car full to the brim of my most treasured possessions. I lovingly put my son in his seat in the back, and my cat in the front. I drive down to Bunbury. It is the best drive of my life. I feel the cool refreshment of our new life becoming a reality with each kilometre I drive. I know that there is still so much grief to deal with, lying there under the surface. And I know that despite my sheer and utter joy at my son, there will be continual moments where I remember what I have lost and the sadness will come back to stab at me. And now there will be new sadness, at watching my son grow, knowing that she will not be here for any of it. It is the happiest and the saddest time of my life. I know there will be times when I will openly grieve for her, and for what she is missing out on. I know it will be hard to put the grief aside when I know it’s there and I still feel it so powerfully. The journey of my grief is far from over. But I have my son, and that’s all that matters.
I am heading toward our little sanctuary with hope, and sadness, and love. I cannot wait to make it our home. I cannot wait to decorate it. I cannot wait to fill it with my love. I cannot wait to hear my son laugh in it – to have the house ring with laughter once more. I cannot wait to watch my son grow up there, and to watch him play there. I cannot wait to chat to him and play with him there. I cannot wait to start our new life there – me and my perfect little family – dancing in the light of our sanctuary, toward a brilliant and remarkable future.