The Arrival of James Kenneth Sullivan

I am delighted to announce the arrival of our 7th grandchild, James Kenneth Sullivan, second son of Elisabeth and Robert about 7pm on 3 December 2017. He weighed 10 lb l0 oz. Our daughter managed to deliver the baby herself, but required some assistance via forceps and James’ face was marked a little, but this is rapidly fading.

I was considering how, despite the vast improvement in pre-natal care and good advice for the parents, and however favourable the odds, every pregnant woman knows that as she waits on the final approach to the birth, she stands in danger of death.

I also realise that every woman’s experience of childbirth is quite different, not only do her own births turn out to be completely different from each other, but her experiences are not the same as anyone else’s. I resented people describing my births as ‘easy’. There is no such thing as an ‘easy’ birth, but I now realise that at 8 hours. 4 hours and 2 hours respectively, I was certainly fortunate. In fact the 2 hour birth was the most difficult because everything happens too quickly and you do not have time to catch your breath and prepare yourself mentally for the next stage. I therefore was secretly rather dismissive of people who required medical intervention or pain relief – though of course I never said so. One of my babies weighed 9 lbs 12 oz and I am not a big woman.

Yet in the case of my daughter, her first child weighed 9 lbs plus and took 20 hours to be delivered and at the end of it she looked so awful that I was shocked and alarmed. Mother and baby recovered though, so all was well.

This time she agreed to be induced when a week overdue, and also had an epidural. She was in labour for 48 hours, the first half of which was not painful or uncomfortable. For the second day she had an epidural and found the experience to be much less stressful. For this second tme she was able to endure the 48 hours and participate fully in the birth process, and mother and baby were able to return home the next day, both doing very well.

I should perhaps point out that I was not denied pain relief. I was offered epidurals but declined; I was hooked up to gas and air but it made me feel drunk, so I stopped breathing it in. In each birth there came a point where, having ‘ridden out’ the contractions – visualising each one as a wave and rising as if on the water and waiting while it ebbed away – the pain was so intense I found myself thinking, ‘I can’t stand much more of this.’ Each time for the ‘three times’ this feeling heralded the end of the period of the contractions, and I passed smoothly on to the final pushing stage, which is exhausting but not intrinsically painful. Had I been facing a further 40 hours of labour at this point, I too would have called for an epidural, gas and air, whatever. I found the breathing which we’d practised so diligently at the weekly Classes for New Mothers to be completely useless.

There is no virtue whatsoever in suffering unnecessary pain. Besides, who is to judge what ochers are actually experiencing when in pain. You want to take as much painkiller as you need; and as little as you can manage with. You don’t want to be so exhausted and shattered that you can’t participate in and enjoy the first moments of caring for your baby.

Here’s to pain-reduced births and and healthy mothers and babies!

I look forward to getting to know James. William, his elder brother is a delightful child, and it was a pleasure to look after him while his parents were at the hospital. He went into ‘host’ mode and tried to look after us!

The photographs, courtesy of John M Armstrong, are of the brothers Sullivan, and of James and his quilt!

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