Let’s see if I can remember the rest of the birth story and attached anecdotes worthy of mention.
I felt carried through the final weeks of pregnancy and the labour by an army of folk wishing me well, picking me up emotionally and praying for us as a family. I have the tendency to be naturally depressive and like to plan for every eventuality. The hormonal joyride of late pregnancy and a clingy regressing toddler were not the best starting point for thinking through labour options or the reality of parenting a family with two children. Two is a lot more than one, I kept saying to myself. I needed to be carried.
As the first midwife Delice’s shift came to an end, Nina came to deliver spare entonox and see to me during the changeover before my own midwife could arrive. This was a tense time for me, as I had done a lot of active labour overnight, but was not progressing at all. I had stalled at 3cm some hours earlier. Mum was due to collect Lily for the day at 9 o’clock, but we asked her to come an hour earlier so that she could get her up, fed and dressed. Lily sleeps late in the morning, and hadn’t woken overnight which was another mercy. Mum got here around the same time as Sarah, my real midwife and the one who had wanted to deliver me. She had intended to take the day off for her grandad’s 100th birthday, but was glad to attend us and tell Grandad all about it later. Lily was able to see me briefly, but was taken care of without fuss.
We decided that once Lily was out of the house we’d try an artificial rupture of the membranes (ARM), which means breaking the waters. I was warned that being 15 days past my date meant a high chance that the baby’s gut would be mature and would already have passed meconium: an inevitable trip to the hospital. By that point the pain levels were so high, I was so tired and the entonox had made me so light-headed that I didn’t care and would have happily signed anything providing pain relief. Sarah broke my waters and told me that I was still only 3cm. There was no meconium and this was a relief in some respects, but I was also disappointed because I was ready to stop being in pain. I realised later what a mercy the clear liquor was: the contractions almost immediately went from 2nd gear to 5th gear, and continued at enormous intensity for just 90 minutes until I was fully dilated. I could not have travelled to hospital in that condition without enormous discomfort. The pain at times was more than 10 out of 10. I honestly believed I could not do it or that something terrible would go wrong, and blocked from my mind horror stories I had read about. Sarah told me that there was not much that the hospital could have done to alleviate my pain by that point, although they would probably have monitored the baby and kept me horizontal to do so, which was something I wanted to get different in this birth. I could not have had a bath for relief either by this point. So it was a mercy that Sarah was prepared to do the ARM at home, in the hope it would work out. We were able to use gravity and get there faster.
At one point the entonox bottles were being changed and the valve was broken. I became aware that it would be foolish to complain. Thinking quickly, my husband found the missing rubber washer and fixed the parts. It took long minutes from where I was. More contractions. Deep waves of pain rolling through me. I focused. It was fixed. That sweet nitrous mix was the best sensation I had felt all night. Better than dancing to Lionel Richie. Better than laughing to home-grown videos. Better than knowing Lily was safe. I felt foolish that I was relying on it, but so, so grateful that my husband was able to solve it for me. This was another mercy.
The pain was more than I remembered from Lily’s birth, and the head was ready to come out before the midwife could get the floor covered and her gloves on. I remember thinking that there was no way I could physically not push, so intense were the contractions and urges. Nina had already left, and the fourth midwife, Laura (for the birth stage) had got stuck in traffic on our street. Although Sarah was more concerned about the curtains than we were (they survived intact) and I forgot about focusing on the baby, everything happened remarkably quickly and so, despite everything, I gave birth in our toy room, in the clothes I was wearing the previous day in presence of just my husband and our midwife. I had been leaning over a gym ball and no harm done to the baby, myself or the curtains. This is also a great mercy.
I did not see the baby emerge or touch the head crowning as I had with Lily. I did not watch him take his first breath and change colour, and had to ask my husband what we’d had while the first crazy precious moments dragged past. These things made me feel a little sad, although certain positions of labour do not allow the mother to see as much. At least I had kept upright by jigging around to music or bouncing on my gym ball for almost the entire labour, which helped the last part go more quickly than it might have done. In hospital I am sure I would have been monitored in bed by this point. This too I am grateful for.
And then the realisation that a baby was here too.
I was in shock. I shivered. I was confused. I was drunk with gas and air. I was in denial. How could we have a son? I had mentally prepared myself for a daughter, thinking that might be the more difficult situation to accept. Two girls were going to be great fun. Pretty clothes. Secrets. Tying up each others’ hair. We were going to have more options for holidays (with fewer bedrooms). We could use the knowledge we had gained from the previous two and a half years to help raise our next daughter. We had a lot of lovely girls’ clothes in stock. We were going to have a beautiful sister for Lily, not a competitor but a complementer. Alys Katherine. Or, maybe, Daisy Emilia or Katie Sophia. She was going to be like Lily, but different. How could we have a son? How could I not immediately know that everything was going to be all right? Everything about how we bring up a daughter was going to be challenged from a new dimension. A noisy one. A less pretty one. A challenger. A fighter. I was in shock for more than an hour, and my body was only partly responsible. Now I feel guilty for these thoughts, but they are true. And now I have bonded with my amazing little boy, I would have it no other way.
The placenta would not come out. I was not ready to stop labouring. But I had no fight left. The shock had winded me. I had wanted a boy so badly. Why was I hurting so much? The fog gradually lifted. I fed him. The midwife clothed him. My husband smiled. We tried a syntometrin injection. The reason we had not had this injection at the point of delivery, as many people do, was that we wanted the cord blood to pulse back into the baby before cutting it and this usually means delivering the placenta without artificial intervention. We had managed this with Lily (although we’d had a wait then as well). It was over an hour later that the midwives, keen to avoid having to take me into hospital for the final stage, tried cutting the cord shorter and physically pulling the placenta out. It came out in one go. Another mercy. And no trip to hospital.
The baby was doing well, and passed all his newborn tests. He was named Joseph then and there, but we wanted to consider the middle name overnight. I wanted my husband to name him, as I had had a major say in Lily’s name and in the Joseph element. His choices were not being used (for Alys and Katherine, with joint agreement when we discovered the Cornish and medieval spelling of Alice, a name which features a lot in his family tree). Independently we both considered Micah for Joseph’s middle name, so I was very pleased when my husband said to me later that night that he had been thinking about Micah himself. The sounds suited the face and the meanings felt appropriate. We had been carried so much. Micah, which means ‘who is like God?’ echoed our feelings about God’s sovereignty in our recent journey. There is a verse in the book of Micah which many people are familiar with:
He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
The threefold verbs resonate with what we believe life is about, even when we get it wrong. The rest of the book deals a lot with social justice, a topic close to our hearts. Micah is the Yahwistic version of Michael, and is cognate with Micaiah as well. It is on the rise in the US, but relatively unused in the UK. It is also easy enough to pronounce. I am an Old Testament geek, but the choice of name surprised me as being so biblical in the final cut.
If Lily had been a boy she would have been Joseph Mark. For various reasons we didn’t quite feel this was right this time. But alternatives we toyed with needed to be a little different so that the name could be googled easily enough, as well as having some character. Joseph was always the front-runner for first name. But alternatives we considered for the middle name included Matthias, Malachi, Kenan and Kea (the last two are both Cornish names – I have taken more of an interest in Cornish names as my great-grandfather was Cornish). I also liked the idea of a middle initial M to mark my birth surname.
What about the date? Should we have considered saints names? According to the ever-useful wikipedia, 16th April marks the saints day for the interestingly-named Drogo, Fructuosus and Turibius. Not serious contenders… but while we were at it, we checked out who else shared that birthday. Wikipedia tells us that Joseph shares his date of birth with Wilbur Wright, Charlie Chaplin, Spike Milligan, Peter Ustinov, Kingsley Amis, Dusty Springfield, Billy West and the Pope.