I guess my earlier posts are best described as ‘birth stories’. What I want to write about this time is labour itself, which, to be honest, feels a bit taboo.
Sharing birth stories also felt somewhat taboo to me in the sense that I had three positive stories to share and I did not want to appear to be gloating (I sincerely hope that it did not come across that way).
However, writing in more detail about my personal experience of labour feels even more taboo in the sense that, in my circles at least, there seems to be a general yet unspoken rule that your labour is personal and private. Or maybe thats just me interpreting things weirdly?!
Anyhow, as I explained in the introduction to this series, I don’t think its helpful in the long run to keep positive birth stories out of view (so to speak). So today I’m writing about my experience of labour. Read along if you’re interested in a more intimate retelling of a first labour that went really, really well.
First, some general observations and musings…
Labour is full of contradictions –
It’s common place, and yet anything but what you would call an everyday experience.
It is awe inspiring, and terrifying.
It is easy (in the sense that anyone can do it), yet very hard.
It is ordinary, and yet somehow transcendent.
It is a momentrary experience of another world – a world where nearly all control is lost and submission to ones body is a wise and productive choice.
Labour is a storm before the calm; the pain that produces joy (usually).
But why does it feel somewhat taboo sometimes?
Many reasons perhaps. Perhaps because it is simply considered a private matter. Or perhaps because of all the strong, sometimes opposing, feelings that it can create – camaraderie and competition; joy and jealousy.
Labour is also ultimately unpredictable and can result devastatingly different experiences. Perhaps sometimes it is not simply just a taboo topic so much as a highly delicate one.
It’s funny, this strange event that ushers in new life is often in equal measures exciting, exhilarating, dangerous and terrifying. Or maybe its not that surprising at all.
It is, after all, a beautiful but broken world which we inhabit. Our entry into it and our exit from it indeed only reflect what happens in between – a clumsy mix of majestic highs, soul crushing lows, and all the ordinary in between. Labour, like life, seems to be a game of chance.
Personally, I have been graced with three natural complication free deliveries, a priveledge that weighs a little heavy in my heart as I know so many women for whom this has not been the case.
Therefore, it is respectfully with these thoughts in mind that I detail my own experience of bringing new life into this world.
When it comes to complication free natural deliveries, it seems as though there is generally an element of luck of the draw. I also think however, that there are often also elements of preparation, information, and voice.
In my situation, I was wonderfully prepared for labour by two wonderful women – my mother and my paternal grandmother. These women were able to naturally deliver seven healthy children between them. They both spoke openly with me about their labours, confidently and without fear, and indeed with a degree of pride, satisfaction and joy. My grandmother in particular was careful to explain the breathing and relaxation techniques she was taught by her doctors, and found so useful in her labours all those years ago.
In terms of information, I was well supported by my obstetrician who strongly recommended that we attend a prenatal birth course called Calm Birth that taught us, among other things, techniques not unlike what my grandmother was taught 70 years ago!
With regards to voice, my husband Ben was well equipped through the Calm Birth course to advocate and speak for me during labour (which he did!) and the midwives at our hospital of choice were highly supportive and understanding of our approach which proved invaluable on the big day…
On the day I went into labour with my first, I was pumped. Nervous, but pumped. I had trained for this, practising breathing exercises and mediations for months beforehand. I was curious and confident and very excited to meet my baby and become a mother.
The initial hours of contractions didn’t bother me too much. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, relaxing more and more with each exhalation, mentally coaching myself through – “Only 30 more seconds to go”, “Your body is moving your baby down”, that type of thing.
With my belly tightening and my lower back aching, gentle bouncing on an exercise ball helped to disrupt my stressed out nervous system and also just gave me something to do, a pleasant distraction.
Relaxing fully between contractions provided minutes of restorative rest during which I let my mind wander to its special happy place – a scene we had been instructed to select during calm birth training. The scene I pictured was a memory from a few years earlier: an especially pleasant summer’s morning which I spent lying on my belly in the warm sand of a sunny mid-north coast beach, next to my fiancé on the morning of our engagement. This was a memory of delicious and decadent relaxation and happiness to which I eagerly returned in between each contraction – the sun, the sand, the waves and the comforting, happy presence of my new fiancé beside me – this was a wonderful place to escape to as I waited for the surge of the next contraction to begin.
Surge is a relatively good word to describe my experience of contractions, a bit like a cramps, only stronger and somehow involving all ones mid-section and lower back. Like waves on the sand rising and falling away these contractions came and went, coming and going with increasing intensity, the tide rising ever higher.
(Warm water during this stage of labour was an absolute God send – the most remarkable and comforting pain relief!)
All went fairly well and calmly in this fashion until – transition. Oh. My. Goodness. Transition was something else. Labour up until this point for me had felt manageable, controllable, and in a way, predictable. Transition was anything but.
Early labour was like travelling down a nice, little stream, which eventually, in good time, joined a larger stream, then a river, which is flowing, rather quickly now and unbeknownst to the traveller, into rather violent rapids and then – suddenly and inexplicably – off a cliff and down the face of an almighty waterfall!
In this scenario, transition is that moment when the river rushes around a corner and the traveller suddenly enters the rapids, the point of no return, the point of terrifying surrender when your body takes full charge and you are simply along for the ride.
The groaning begins, the quiet cursing all humanity for not being able to stop this or do anything to help – there is literally nothing anyone can do for you in this moment, through it only you and your baby can travel. It is far too late for epidurals…
By now I’m naked and I simply don’t care – I mean, I do care a little but also, I just don’t. My body feels all chaotic. I’m agitated, frightened, and angry all at once. Thankfully this awkward and upsetting experience only lasted a few moments, after which I settle into the most comfortable position I can find – squatting on a purple sparkly birth stool with my husband sitting behind me so that I could lean back and rest when I wanted.
I’m through the rapids – I’m in free fall off the cliff…and now there is a strange calm.
The urge to push is there, the enormous pressure of the babies head is well and truly felt, but its not overwhelming. I’m comfortable with my husbands reassuring presence behind me and the confident coaching of my obstetrician and the midwife in front of me.
I feel calm but, the thing is, I’m exhausted. It’s been about 12 hours since we arrived at hospital. And now Ive been pushing, pushing, pushing for something like two hours. I’m tired, I’m giving up.
The babies head is right there. It doesn’t hurt so much as feel really, really tight. And it stings in a way, a way of skin stretching to accomodate the babies head. Contractions now feel like incredible and enormous waves of energy, a wild and primal energy pulsing through my entire spirit and being. My body has taken over again – it is going to get this baby out – and it does, all of a sudden, is seems. The head is out, then the body, and it is finally and suddenly all over.
The relief is instant. As is the elation, the awe, the emotional and physiological high. I am utterly spent and on cloud nine. I feel wrecked and amazing. The adrenaline of the rollercoaster is spent; the thrill of the ride is sinking in.
There are after pains, the delivery of the placenta (so uncomfortable), and some stitches of minor tearing (also ouch) but, over and above all this is a ridiculously cheery high.
That was miraculous. That was amazing. That was beautiful, terrifying and unforgettable.
That was my first labour.