I don’t really know where to start when writing about labour and delivery. For starters, it was such an intense experience that even now, almost two weeks later, I’m struggling to find the right words (any words) to tell the story well. And secondly, while I was pregnant I was incredibly curious about other women’s experiences of the whole process. Yet I’m not sure that hearing all those stories actually served me well.
Almost no one I talked to spoke positively about labour and delivery, and it seemed that for every woman who had experienced a relatively trouble-free birth there were two more who spoke first (with the haunted look of a trauma survivor) of how badly they tore, how intense back labour was, or how everything went wrong and they needed to have an emergency caesarian. Then there were the real horror stories, of which I heard several.
So I’m unsure of how much detail to go into. I mean, do you really want to know that at 8AM I was 5 cm dilated, throwing up, the contractions were coming one on top of the other almost without pause, and that I told the obstetrician I was dying? Maybe you do, but does knowing that actually help anyone? I’m not so sure.
So instead of giving you the blow by blow, complete with timeline, I think I’ll just talk about a couple of things that I learned or that surprised me along the way. But let me say this before I say any more – overall I had a reasonably good experience of labour and delivery. At eleven and a half hours from first contraction to delivery it maybe wasn’t quite as speedy as I had hoped for, but quicker and generally more manageable than I had feared.
Now, lessons and surprises…
I was more capable of managing the pain than I’d feared I would be: I won’t lie – the pain, especially during the last seven hours, was intense, all-consuming, and like nothing I’d ever experienced before. All that work I’d done creating birth playlists and packing movies we could watch in case of a long labour – none of it was needed. I was completely incapable of concentrating on anything except what was happening in my body.
What helped me the most during labour was keeping my eyes closed and counting my breaths during contractions. As long as I could do that I stayed focused and calm – almost as if I were in a trance. At no time was there any screaming, or swearing at Mike, or biting. Apart from the rough patch at 8AM when I said that I thought I wanted an epidural, I didn’t ask for medication again. In the end I was more afraid that my focus and self-control would completely disappear if I opened my eyes long enough to ask for pain relief than I was of continuing to endure without it. The end result? A completely natural birth.
Labouring in water was a big help: After my waters broke at 8AM I got into an inflatable tub full of warm water and stayed there for the next several hours. The warmth and being comparatively weightless when I wanted to shift position was a huge help in dealing with the contractions.
Having a doula (a birth coach) was a big help: Partly because of the risk that Mike would miss the birth, we decided to hire a doula to be with us during labour and delivery. It was a great decision. Jade was able to stay with us the entire time, whereas the hospital midwives had to keep coming and going as they attended to other patients. She massaged my back at key points, sponged off my face with cold water, gently nudged me to change positions at certain times, kept a vigilant eye on the process, and was able to reassure Mike that things were progressing normally. Left to my own devices I suspect I would have stayed curled up on the bed with my eyes closed the entire time, labour would have been longer, and I probably wouldn’t have made it without pain relief. If you’re pregnant and considering whether or not to hire a doula, hire one.
Moving on, here’s one that I could never fathom how it would be possible beforehand… The women who tell you that in the later stages of labour you will not care if you are stark naked and in the most unflattering position when three total strangers walk into the room… they are right.
That oft-talked about magical moment when they place your newborn on your chest right after delivery? … Not so much. I was surprised how out of it I was immediately following delivery, and how long the whole after-birth process took. After he was delivered I went into shock and spent most of the next hour shaking uncontrollably while I was being stitched up and delivering the placenta. The baby was on my chest, but it was all I could do to hold him and pat him. There was no incandescent moment of mystery, connection, and wonder as I gazed into his eyes or kissed his little face (which was mostly screwed up, purple, and screaming). He pooed all over me. It was all much more earthy than magical.
Later that night though, when he was all bundled up and I was alone with him in the hospital, and he started to squirm and make unhappy guinea pig noises and wouldn’t settle down again until he was cuddled up right against my chest… that was pretty magical.
So there you have it. If you’ve had a baby or witnessed a birth, what did you learn or what surprised you about the whole process?