Christopher Lee. A hospital birth in the 80’s

Toddler holding her newborn baby brother

Christopher Lee

Chris, my only son was born on a Sunday morning. January 15th 1989.

Compared to my first pregnancy, this time I was positively huge. I knew he was bigger but admittedly so was I and most of the extra size was due to me overeating, not the baby.

Stacey, then 22 months old had been born at 39+3 so I was quite indignant when Chris’s due date came and went. This child was determined from the start to test my patience.

Due dates

When we are given a “due date” we really focus on that date. We can be told time and time again that normal pregnancy completes anywhere from 38 to 42 weeks never the less every day past that magical 40 week date can be a test to our patience and commitment to trust in the process of nature.

January in Wangaratta is hot. Damn hot. Every blade of grass around our country home was brown. Cicadas coursed in the trees and the air was dry. I was big and fat and tired and really keen to have this baby born. Each night I would go to bed, hoping this was the night labour would start. Each morning I would wake…..pregnant still.

It is funny to look back on now. Chris was born at 40+6, so not even 41 weeks. In the grand scheme of things this is so perfectly normal. I am grateful for this lesson in patience whenever I support a woman with a pregnancy anything longer than she expected.

Labour begins

The contractions began at about 2:15 am on a Sunday morning. 10 minutes later I had another so woke my husband, Robert, to take Stacey who was just 22 months old to my parent’s house. I recall him jumping up and asking me “What should I wear?”  “Seriously? “ I thought. I did not give a flying fuck what he wore but recall being a little more polite than that and said “ I don’t mind, just hurry!” The urgency in my voice propelling him into action.

My parents only lived 3 km further up the same road as us so it didn’t take very long to take our sleeping toddler to them but it felt like eternity as the contractions increased quite quickly. We then had the 22km drive into town. Once in Wangaratta we stopped at a red light which is situated right between the two main pub/clubs.

The streets were full of drunken revellers as the pubs closed. I had to sit up on my knees facing backwards to manage transition blowing deeply out through pursed lips. Robert’s second unhelpful comment was made. “You sound like a horse”. Thanks for the positive encouragement.

I recall Robert being very kind and patient and attentive and sure for any negative he was equally positive. It is funny how those little comments made in labour stick with a woman forever.

I found being in a vehicle during labour awful. I couldn’t get into a comfortable position. The contractions were much more painful sitting then when I was at home leaning forward or rocking on all 4’s. Upon reflection this is one major positive reason to birth at home. See, my post on 40 reasons to have a home birth

With a planned homebirth there is no decision to be made when to drive in because you are already at your birth place. It is a huge stress removed allowing you to stay in the intuitive space rather than switch to rational thinking. I also know women often come into hospital a little earlier than they would like to avoid that drive in advanced labour scenario.

We got to the hospital, and rang the door bell to the maternity ward. Through the intercom a voice asked what we wanted. Robert and I looked at each other and shared a smile at the question. Really? What did we want?

Labour progressed quickly

I wasn’t in the labour ward long before the familiar sensation of the urge to push hit me. It is an amazing sensation and I was excited but I knew this baby was big so I was also a little scared.

Back in 1989 in Wangaratta it was routine, common practice to receive care under one of the two obstetricians that provided care at the hospital. Midwife led care or midwifery models such as case load was not an option provided although the Wangaratta Midwives did have a relatively strong presence in the public antenatal clinic.

The obstetrician dutifully arrived in time to attend the birth. I was labouring naturally on all 4s but was asked to turnover and hop on the bed. It did not occur to me to decline. It clearly did not occur to the obstetricians or two midwives present to facilitate the birth with me on all 4’s either.

The baby certainly was big and I made it known very loudly that I thought I was splitting in two. His head was born and the obstetrician began immediate tugging at him to get the rest of his body born. No waiting, no allowing of internal rotation of the shoulders, Just tug! I felt the tear.

With the wonderful wisdom of twenty-twenty hindsight I understand the Obstetrician was potentially concerned about shoulder dystocia.

Shoulder dystocia is when a baby’s head is born but the front shoulder gets stuck under the public bone. True shoulder dystocia is an emergency situation requiring maneuvers to get the baby out.

Chris’s large(ish) size would have injected a surge of adrenaline into his thoughts to “actively manage” the birth. That same hindsight makes me cross knowing there was no need to tug and pull before Chris’s shoulders rotated and left in my instinctive position of choice and waiting for the next contraction would have been all that was required for me to birth Chris myself.

Chris was born at 10 to 5 in the morning. He was a generous 4100 gm and perfect. I was too overwhelmed to hold him at first so his dad had the first cuddle.

Christopher’s was a precipitate birth, which be definition is a labour 4 hours or less. He came into the world at a great rate of knots and was actually my most challenging labour and birth. From the onset of contractions to the end of third stage was 2 ½ hours

Quick does not always equal easy and for me it was quite overwhelming.

A small tear which I felt when his shoulders were born was sutured and then I held my little man. The obstetrician was about to leave, then remembered with annoyance that I had pre-arranged with him an early discharge (4 hours) so he had to stay and finish his paperwork before going. At the time I felt a little guilty for the inconvenience to him.

Wendy Buckland holding her newborn son Christopher in labour ward January 1989
In labour ward, Chris about an hour old.
Our hospital stay

We were put in a private room so I could sleep before going home. The instructions from the midwives were I was not to be disturbed. The hospital version of rest, peace and quiet is VERY different than mine.

I had 4 unnecessary interruptions in the few hours in that room. A cleaner, someone coming in by mistake, someone to change the already clean and unused water jug and I can’t remember the forth but I was so annoyed. It was no rest and I could not wait to get out of the place. I said to Robert. If we ever have another one, I am just staying at home. He agreed. Nothing was equivocally wrong with the hospital birth per se. It was just impersonal.

My postnatal period was not supported by the hospital. Early discharge was not common in 1989. I had no domiciliary care, no follow up, any phone calls. Nothing. I got mastitis on day 10 and had to go into the emergency department for care. I know now I would have got better care with an independent midwife.

I recall a fear during my pregnancy with Chris about being able to love my second baby as much as my first. The feelings for my firstborn were overwhelming. So much love. So much joy and pride.  I wondered how I could possibly love another as much as I loved her.

What I learnt to my delight was that my heart did not have to be divided in two because with each baby the love was actually multiplied.

See related post New Love


I was very busy for the next few years. There was just 22 months between my first two babies and Chris was more than a handful. He had two gears; asleep or full throttle. We really did not think we would have another one.

Then when the challenging toddler years had passed we changed our minds and baby number 3 was planned for. There was never any question, this baby would be born at home. Chris’s birth was a gift propelling me towards a birth in which I would be in control.

Chris today

My beautiful son is now a father himself. See More New Love

Christopher Buckland holding the hand of his newborn son Mason
Hi Daddy