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My Labour: the Separation

04.11.2018
Skabt af Cathrine Widunok Wichmand
I am very, very grateful for your response to the second part of my labour story. Looking back, I see an insanely long latency stage (the initial stage of the birth). That shit lasted for days. Followed by a pretty intense active stage, where I suddenly dilated so much in such a short amount of time, and then finally a pretty tough pushing stage, which seemed to last forever. It was incredibly hard and tiring for the body, no doubt. But the part that takes up the vast majority of mental space, and which doubtlessly will end up influencing my entire idea of the birth, is the period, those hours, directly following his delivery. It’s full of grief, for which I still haven’t found a shelf. But I’ll find it, I’m sure.
all photos by ALONA VIBE

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So, let me take you back to Herlev’s maternity ward, 2 October 2018. At 12:29 he is out. About 40 hours after the first real contraction. The most perfect little human being. 3430 g, 50 cm. He is whole and fine. It’s not clear to me when he gave off his first noise, whether he even did – Adam doesn’t recall it either, and that’s actually the case for several factors during the following hours. They are blurred. But vital. They are almost the ones I read up on the hardest beforehand, as they concern his wellbeing, whereas my own private wishes for the birth perhaps were thoughts or ideas along the lines of ‘it could be nice if…,’ for my own sake and comfort – and never mind if they were gonna happen or not.
The first few hours after the birth are important for setting up breastfeeding, for establishing a mother-child-connection, for preparing for the post-birth reaction, for the child’s peace of mind and initial meeting with the world. As such, my wishes for this moment, if possible, were:
Skin-on-skin, first and foremost. 
Late severance of the cord – allowing all of the blood from the umbilical cord to run over the baby.
– Adam receives him – or I do it myself, if that’s easier. I want us to be the first people he meets.
– Adam cuts the umbilical cord.
– Wait with weighing and measuring him, if everything is all right. I just want him to be with me right away and for as long as possible.

Only Syntocinon as needed for me – the same artificial hormone used to provoke contractions is also typically given to women after the birth to prevent bleeding. I don’t want any unnecessary hormones, why I stressed the ‘as needed,’ in case I was bleeding a lot.
However, because he was delivered using a cup it all happens very quickly. Three pulls from the doctor and my contractions, and his head appears. From this point, the midwife takes over and gets him out. She becomes his first meeting with the world. They plunge him onto my belly, and I still recall the sound of the plunge. That small, greasy, bloody baby, plunge, onto the soft skin on my belly. It must be like landing on a waterbed. Or an airbed. I don’t really have time to reach him, smell him, as it only lasts for a few seconds while the midwife cuts the umbilical cord.
They hold him up in the air by the foot of my bed, the umbilical cord wrapped around his small neck, belly and one foot. He’s totally wrapped in his own life line. I know it’s entirely normal that babies are born with their umbilical cord wrapped around e.g. their necks. It’s not dangerous as such as it’s an elastic thingy. But wrapped this intricately? I haven’t heard of that before. Something is not as it’s supposed to be, and I don’t really know what it is – apart from the umbilical cord fail, that is. Everything goes so quickly.
They take him to a table that’s been prepared for him, and a handsome, curly-haired paediatrician is ready to check him. His oxygen saturation is not great. It has to be at a minimum of 95 %, while his is at 60 %. Adam is still squeezing my hand and gazing towards the baby’s table as the doctor covers his tiny mouth with an oxygen mask. It takes up an excessive amount of space in his tiny face. He’s wrapped in towels and rubbed by eager hands.
Adam keeps repeating to me, ‘he’s so fine, babe, he’s so fine!’ As I haven’t seen him properly yet.

rockpaperdresses, Cathrine Widunok Wichmand, Rockpaperbaby, fødsel, Birth story

I don’t think I really get what’s going on. But I also have a hell of a lot of contractions and a placenta to take care of. YES! After giving birth to a human being, you also need to give birth to a placenta, goddamnit. Fortunately, it’s not as troublesome to get out as a baby’s head. But it still requires a lot of pushing. It’s not just bouncing out, and the midwife is pulling a bit. It takes a few contractions and a quarter of an hour after the birth itself before it comes out. And then I start bleeding. Out of the corner of my eye, I see them come rushing with the biggest measuring contraption I’ve seen in my life. We’re dealing with a garbage bag outfitted with measuring units. It’s a bit absurd, but they obviously need to keep an eye on the amount. It’s okay if you bleed a little, but when you reach a certain amount, plans must be made. Operation, drop, blood transfusion.

rockpaperdresses, Cathrine Widunok Wichmand, Rockpaperbaby, fødsel, Birth story

I’m guessing that Adam must feel torn. To his one side, his son is covered in an oxygen mask and surrounded by doctors. In front of him, his wife is bleeding and frankly a bit mentally absent, surrounded by doctors as well.
They give me Syntocinon in an attempt to stop the bleeding, but it doesn’t do the trick. An older doctor appears next to me, dark hair and glasses, and informs me that if the bleeding doesn’t stop, they’ll need to perform surgery. It’s crazy; I don’t really care. I’m experiencing this total indifference towards myself. The only thing that matters is my boy, a few feet away from me. I want him to do well, never mind me. I’ve become a mother.

rockpaperdresses, Cathrine Widunok Wichmand, Rockpaperbaby, fødsel, Birth story

They’re struggling with my placenta in an attempt to make the bleeding stop. It needs to contract, which is what the contractions do for you, naturally – it will stop the bleeding, but it’s not happening quickly enough. More blood. We’re getting close to a litre, while it should have stopped at half a litre, which is what’s tolerable. They check the placenta and assume that everything is out. But the bleeding continues, and a new midwife and assistant arrive to give me more Syntocinon.

I have absolutely no idea how long this takes. Time is an invalid unit in these moments. Baby on a table and me in a bed. While the midwife and doctors are trying to control my bleeding and the giant measuring bag becomes heavier and heavier, more doctors arrive, now with an incubator. They’ve decided to take him to the neonatal intensive care unit – and I still don’t know what’s the matter. They carry him over to me, and I’m allowed to see him briefly and kiss him goodbye, and I am crying. Now, as I am writing this, but also then. Adam has no idea what to do with himself, where should he be? But back when we were preparing for the birth, I already told him that if anything were to happen to him, and they were gonna take him from us, Adam ought to join him. I’ll be all right, and that’s still my opinion when it actually happens.
rockpaperdresses, Cathrine Widunok Wichmand, Rockpaperbaby, fødsel, Birth story

They put him in the incubator and take him away, Adam following suit, and Alona as well. The bleeding continues, and the time around this is totally foggy. They check the status now and then. After a while we land at 1350 ml, which is where it starts subsiding. My feet have been standing on these ‘pushing bricks,’ or what the heck they call them, for hours, but my legs are shaking from exhaustion. Where are my socks?! I remember thinking that, feeling so cold. To think that it can be so hard to control your own legs, all of a sudden. I am happy when they suggest placing these ‘supporters’ for the legs on the bed so I can take them up. Ahh!
It’s decided that I don’t need surgery now, and instead, the midwife starts stitching. Despite the hard cup, the risk of which are bad ruptures, I get away with four little ruptures, hardly big enough to be stitched up. On the other hand, the adrenaline level in my body is decreasing, why the stitching might hurt a bit, the midwife apologises. The ruptured skin is too thin for anaesthesia. I politely mention that I’ve experienced worse pains today. Also when she decides to redo one of them. A pinching sensation. But it’s really nothing. All things considered.
And then I’m left there, in what feels like an abandoned war zone. The crowd has disappeared. Done with her stitching job, the midwife is done with me. They dress me in padded net pants, after which the midwife trainee brings over my birthday celebration. The famous tray loaded with ‘the best meal of your life.’ Toasted bread, honey, butter, a red soft drink and a cup of tea. And the little flag. It’s baby’s birthday (ed. in Denmark, the national flag is an essential part of any birthday celebration). But lying there in bed and consuming it all alone feels very wrong. That’s not how it was supposed to be. We had champagne in our bag so we could celebrate. We were supposed to sit here together, all three of us, and celebrate his birthday. Gosh, it’s sad to think of.
It’s so lonely, but at that point I’m so incredibly hungry and exhausted. The events don’t really hit me at that point. Instead I try sleeping a little. Speak with my sister on the phone; she used to be a nurse. Alona arrives after a few hours with a status update as Adam doesn’t really have time to be on the phone, obviously.
The hours go by, and I stay put. Alona comes over a few times, zigzagging between Adam in the intensive care nursery and me in my room, and she’s completely indispensable. She can report what’s happening, and she’s the one who insists I meet my baby. So, around 7pm, they take me to the nursery so I can see him. I’m not even allowed to see him properly.

rockpaperdresses, Cathrine Widunok Wichmand, Rockpaperbaby, fødsel, Birth story

They take me to the tenth floor, and that’s where he is, in a teeny tiny crib with a green knitted hospital hat, nasal probe and a CPAP – a machine that helps to keep the airways open. His lungs simply weren’t mature, they weren’t fully unfolded, and there was still water in them. I cry and cry and cry. It’s my little baby. I’m allowed to have him with me, and my own words can’t describe the feeling. I have been waiting for him for so long, and now he is finally in my arms. Skin on skin.

They let me stay with him for about an hour, and then they send me back down to the maternity ward. This time, I’m bound for the patient hotel and not the labour room. I’m discharged but still under observation so I can’t sleep there – I’m still bleeding, and we end up at 1.5 litres from the first 24 hours. We both hug Alone as she gets ready to leave – she’s been there from the early morning. What would we have done without her?
rockpaperdresses, Cathrine Widunok Wichmand, Rockpaperbaby, fødsel, Birth story

The porter arrives to pick me up, and I can’t describe how wrong it feels to be driven away from my two. Adam is spending the night by his side at the nursery, while I’m going to my own room, all by myself. Immediately after having given birth, to have your baby taken from you only to sleep all alone the first night… It’s so unnatural. I get upset just thinking of it now. The separation. Still.

rockpaperdresses, Cathrine Widunok Wichmand, Rockpaperbaby, fødsel, Birth story

But I take a practical approach to kill time until I’m seeing him again – I haven’t slept for days so I decide to sleep as soon as possible to gain energy. I set my alarm – every two hours I need to get up to pump milk. There’s a certain risk of breastfeeding being complicated after our shaky start so I’m determined to do what I can to help the process. As such, I sit on the edge of my bed every two hours all through the night in the boring company of a machine working steadily on each breast – I won’t forget that sound anytime soon. Like a small train. Such a strange experience – but what a genius invention!
Around 5:30am the day after the birth, I’m tossing and turning. My patience regarding seeing my baby has reached its limit. I can’t wait much longer, and when it’s finally a somewhat decent hour, around 7am, I decide to take matters into my own hands. I can’t wait for a porter. I step out of bed carefully and find a wheelchair. And, wow, does it hurt to sit down, haha! Off I go – dizzy after the blood loss and perched at an angle to avoid resting on my pelvis. As it’s not a manual wheelchair, it happens at a snail’s pace; my feet are shuffling along. The thing about the elevator system at Herlev, however, is that it’s organised in one long corridor, with one button at the centre. By the time I get to an arriving elevator, it has already shut automatically and disappeared again. What a show – almost comedy-worthy. It must have looked so silly, and I’m so close to crying when finally a lady offers to push me into an elevator.
I get to the neonatal intensive care unit, burst through the doors – with a serious feeling of a thousand obstructions between my child and me; dizziness, the elevators and now the doors, which don’t have an automatic open/close functionality – what the hell are you supposed to do in a wheelchair? I’m so on edge when I see Adam, haha, almost yelling at him for not helping me! But as soon as I eye my little baby friend I forget all about that. He is so fine and small and now without the probe and CPAP. I settle into the bed that Adam has been sleeping in, get the baby in my arms, and then I can finally let him eat for the first time.

rockpaperdresses, Cathrine Widunok Wichmand, Rockpaperbaby, fødsel, Birth story

It’s indescribable. The sensation when your child starts eating for the first time; the fact that he is right there and that I can feed him. I cry and cry, tears landing all over him. You sense the amount of emotions appearing after a birth, right? Haha…
After the doctor’s rounds, we are all allowed to move back down into the maternity ward. It feels amazing. Now there’s three of us and we are together. The following three days are a brave new world. How much should I breastfeed? Where can we change his diapers? (How do you actually go about that?) Should he regurgitate? How do we actually let him finish burping? Can he sleep with me? Helle and Christina from the maternity ward at Herlev – heroines! They guide me through four breastfeeding positions, take care of him and me so lovingly. Those are the best three days imaginable, thanks to the two of them.
We are in a bubble for the first three days after the birth. I potter around in Birkenstock and leggings and a night shirt. Even in 7-Eleven, actually a bit crazy to buy baby bites dressed in pyjamas, but pretty convenient. He’s with me wherever I go, and preferably in my arms; I’m not using those plastic hospital cribs at all – I can’t lose him again. All of our parents stop by for an hour or so to meet him, and it’s huge for us to see them with him. But other than that, it’s just the three of us.
On Friday we’re discharged and good to leave what feels like our home after almost four days. I find Christina and give her a hug and a thank you. I’m so deeply grateful for the help we got – everyone should get that. All of those questions you’ve got those first few days!
It’s crazy to pack our things and leave Herlev proudly – with our human being. I remember thinking, ‘shit, now he’s inhaling polluted air for the first time!’ Haha, silly, but he’s in mint condition when he arrives, completely unused and untouched. But we have to go home. We enter the car, put him in his seat, and drive off.
Having him with us in the car feels amazing, parking in front of the house, our baby. ‘This is where you live,’ Adam says as we enter the yard. It’s his home. The Widunok Wichmands. Now with a baby.

rockpaperdresses, Cathrine Widunok Wichmand, Rockpaperbaby, fødsel, Birth story

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