Celebrating the birthday of an adult who was my baby

Glass of wine?
Check
Reminisce with baby photos?
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Sentimental movie?
Check (The Time traveller’s Wife)
Chocolate?
Check (A tub of Heroes, intended for 5 weeks time!)

I have a curious sense of dislocation with going through the hours of this day, when 28 years ago I was giving birth to my first boy. It’s not the time that has elapsed which gives me this sensation but it’s the fact that he lives far away on Maui, Hawaii with a time difference of 10 hours between us. It can be hard to get a mutually acceptable time to talk on the phone. Thankfully, there’s post and text and facebook messaging and so many ways to keep a connection.
It’s odd to be celebrating in his absence, but it affirms for me that this day was SO significant for me and needs marking, even without the guest of honour.
I remember the details so clearly.. my Dad driving me to the hospital in Dublin and then leaving me and returning to Wexford.
Does anyone labour without a support person of their choosing now?
I was 19.
I had done antenatal classes in a group of 5 women with a local midwife, in her home. When she finished the business part of the evening, we would lie on the floor of her sitting-room, eyes closed, relaxing to soothing music, while she made tea. I think now that those classes were more about educating me to accept the hospital procedures than about helping me make informed decisions for mine and my Baby’s care.
I was told I was “going nowhere fast” as the partogram was consulted… imagine the cheek of me, to not dilate at the required rate of 1 cm per hour. So my labour was speeded up with oxytocin and after 2 hours of that, I was going mad and asking for pain relief. I was assessed as being 3-4 cms at this stage.The pethidine made me space out and I remember a midwife being annoyed that I wouldn’t focus on her when she wanted me to. 10 mins later, I told them I needed to push.
“Nonsense!” I was told briskly.
Then she put her hand on my stomach and there was a sense of urgency as I was wheeled from labour to delivery…. honestly, who designed this notion of orderly women dilating at a set pace, in a certain room, which then had to change DURING TRANSITION?!!!
In my 4 home births, I have laboured in the kitchen, sitting room, bedroom, bathroom, polytunnel, lane … oh, and in the mobile home for one birth… but I never moved much for the grand entrance moment… that was about being in my space and being comfortable and reassured with my trusted midwife, whom I’d gotten to know during the pregnancy and previous births.

And who had the bright idea that labouring and birthing women should lie prone? I was squatting for my home births.

The pethidine made Darragh drowsy and unresponsive.

“He has no rooting reflex!” I told the medic who let me hold him for 5 minutes before taking him away for 12 (!!!) hours.
“Are you a nurse yourself?” was the response and then the condescending you-would’nt-tell-these-porkies-to-a-child: “He’s a bit tired; we’re just taking him for observation”.
I was brought to the ward and told to sleep.
Sleep?
I lay there thinking: these are the MOST important hours of his life and I should be with him.
I got up at various times and asked several people could I see him and was told to wait til morning.

Now, I would roar til I got to be with my son, but then, I was too compliant and a “good” patient. Back in 1986, there was no rooming-in at this (or any?) Irish hospital.
Despite the separation and the staff feeding him formula without my permission, when my chart clearly said “breastfeeding”, we managed to get breastfeeding happily… thanks in no small measure to having seen my 5 siblings breastfeeding and believing it was natural and having been loaned La Leche League’s “Womanly Art of Breastfeeding”.

I was sure of two things: I was absolutely besotted with this new person, (the song I couldn’t get out of my head was Billy Ocean’s “Suddenly”, with the line “you wake up and suddenly, you’re in love”) and there had to be a better way to give birth.
Thanks to the Home Birth Association (then Home Birth Centre) and some home educators I met who had home births, I discovered that birth can be empowering and even ecstatic.

I’m grateful that we bonded fiercely, despite hospital interference, and that our connection feels strong and true.

Happy Birthday, my firstborn, Darragh!

My 6 babies have made me a mother. Just as well there’s more than a handful of them and they are all so different, as I’m such a slow learner!
Here are just a few photos from the years, as Darragh turns 28 tomorrow and celebrates halfway around the world, on Maui, Hawaii, where he lives.
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But this is us, before we got home from the National Maternity hospital.
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This is my mother with Darragh, her first grandchild.
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Here’s Darragh, aged 9 months.
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Darragh (7) and Oisín, 2 weeks.
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Darragh’s Turtle phase!
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A sunny day in Tullow, at Nanny’s and Granda’s home.
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In our kitchen in Summerhill, Co. Meath… November 1994, just a week before Oisín’s 1st birthday, and 11 days before Darragh’s 8th.
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All the lads, on holidays in Courtown.
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Browneshill Dolmen near Carlow town, a favourite (free!) spot to bring visitors.
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Darragh (16) with Oran (2). So heartening to see the children loving each other.
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Eddie and Darragh, at Darragh’s Graduation in Cork.

Some lessons babies taught me

This time 21 years ago, I was eagerly looking forward to having my second baby, and to helping to heal the first child’s actively managed hospital birth, by having this birth in the comfort and security of our own home, with our trusted midwife, Ann Kelly.
I resented having to get up to the toilet at night as the growing baby took up some bladder space. It hit me one evening, braving the cold outside the bed covers, “there’s a person inside me!”.. I can still feel the shock, the realisation, the “don’t be such a bloody moaner”; count your blessings!
I called out Ann Kelly 10 days before my due date, with vague contractions and what became a thumping headache. She stayed with us overnight and when she took my blood pressure, she told us gently and firmly we needed to go to hospital. We had no car, and no arrangements to care for Darragh, nearly 7 years old. So she drove us to hospital and had Darragh to her home for the day.
A lovely midwife said into my ear, as I heard our baby’s heartbeat on the scan, “dear, we have to lower your blood pressure and we have to deliver your baby.” 2 hours after arriving there, Oisín was born by caesarean section under general anaesthesia and I had round-the-clock midwifery care for 48 hours until my blood pressure stabilised.
I don’t remember when I first saw him. I only know that whenever I woke, I begged to see him and to have him breastfeed.
We were in hospital for 10 days and lucky to have a midwife sit for 3 hours one night helping us to get a comfortable position and latch, made difficult with the c. section scar.
I recognised the kind midwife (who had taken the time to explain what was happening) 3 months later when I was back in hospital for a kidney check-up. I had no visual memory of her (apparently due to high blood pressure and medication) but I knew her voice and thanked her for taking the time to treat me as a sentient being.
There was so much to deal with in the aftermath, happiness at Oisín’s health, sadness at not having the homebirth, scar healing and a windy, sometimes unhappy baby. The words of one doctor were ringing in my ears: “I know homebirth is a nice IDEA but you’ll never be a candidate!”
4 homebirths later, the first 20 months after the c.section, I know that it’s possible to be grateful for medical expertise and yet seek other opinions and research; to count the blessings of a healthy baby and alive mother but still mourn the experience I’d hoped for.
I treasure the words of Mary Cronk, amazing midwife:
“SOME BIRTHS IN SOME CIRCUMSTANCES NEED SOME HELP”
I guess the expertise comes in knowing which are those births!