With so many stories out there about negative birth experiences, I thought it would be nice to highlight the positive aspects of giving birth. Thanks to Hannah for brainstorming with me to find the right topic for my first guest series! You can read her birth story in the next instalment of the series. For now, here is my story.
At 40 weeks to the day, I woke in the very early hours of a Sunday morning – I don’t even remember what time it was, now – with the sensation that I had peed my pants … I was quite annoyed, as I had gone my entire pregnancy without any sort of urinary accident. I got up and went to the bathroom, and realised that my water had broken! It was pretty anticlimactic, as I had only released enough fluid to soak my undies – it wasn’t a gush like you see in movies; there was no mad rush to get to the hospital. I called the maternity ward and the midwife told me to walk around my house for half an hour to see if my contractions increased or if any more fluid came out. I was to go to the hospital as soon as my contractions started coming consistently five minutes apart. Otherwise, she told me, I was to go in if this had not happened after two hours.
More pacing, yoga-ball-bouncing, hip-rocking, water-drinking, and two hours later, my contractions were a bit more intense (not really painful, yet), but still not coming consistently. So, we popped my hospital bag and the baby’s bag in the car, and drove ten minutes to the hospital in the still-pitch-black pre-dawn. Once at the hospital, they admitted me, and attached me to an EFM (electronic foetal monitor – a machine that measures the frequency and intensity of uterine contractions). Mine were increasing in intensity but not in frequency. I spent the day on and off that machine, getting an internal check by the obstetrician on duty, and colouring on my Millie Marotta iPad app. Christian spent most of the day keeping me company, going home for a nap later that morning – after we were assured that I was unlikely to go into labour any time soon – then at night. But it was still a LONG day, punctuated with moments of frustration that my contractions weren’t “cooperating”, excitement that I’d soon meet my baby, and anxiety at the prospect of an induced labour (which had already been “threatened” from the moment I got there). In addition, our respective parents were anxious and excited about the impending arrival of their first grandchild.
The next morning rolled around and Christian came back to the hospital early, so he could be there for my induction. I admit I was quite disappointed that I had to have one, as I had wanted to remain active during labour, walking and changing positions to minimise the pain and possibility of tearing; but the disappointment was overshadowed by my desire to ensure the baby was okay. We’d discussed pain relief options beforehand, and I was determined to have a natural birth; so, I’d told Christian that, no matter what I said during labour, he needed to make sure I didn’t accept morphine or an epidural. Our main concern was having a healthy baby, and meeting our child with clear minds as soon as he or she was born.
Sometime after 9AM on the Monday, they put a cannula into my left hand and started the hormone drip. The OB on duty – a different one than the previous day – “broke” the amniotic sac to release the rest of the fluid. Then, it began. I can’t express how much I appreciated and how much it helped me having Christian in there with me – he didn’t leave the delivery room the entire time, not even to go to the loo. He held my hand and gave me sips of water; he spoke comforting and encouraging words, and winced every time I writhed in pain. I could tell it hurt him to see me hurting like that.
Without having a previous experience to compare with, all I can say is that my labour was full on. Because the hormone is being administered artificially, it is essentially imposing the contractions on your body instead of your uterus doing it naturally. The intensity and frequency of the contractions are controlled by the amount of hormone running through the IV. Once your uterus starts producing contractions on its own, the drip is turned off and your body takes over. Theoretically, it sounds simple; and, I guess it is. But it feels anything but simple. The contractions get more frequent and intense without “permission” from your body. There is no respite. It just hurts. Like hell.
I know this story sounds like it’s taking on a negative tone rather than a positive one, but it would be impossible to illustrate what I got out of the experience without recounting how it went down. I made it through what I now know was most of my labour without any pain relief. When the contractions started getting so close that they were almost on top of each other, I said to Christian: “I need … something”. The midwife set me up on nitrous oxide (laughing gas) – the pain relief option with the least effect on mother and baby. It gave me the sensation of floating within my body; but I was coherent and present (though there were moments of near-delirium, I must admit). I know this, because I could tell what was happening, what people were saying, that the midwife was massaging my tense hands, that Christian was asking if I needed more water, when the OB injected anaesthetic in preparation for an episiotomy. I don’t know if it was because my labour had already progressed considerably, but the gas did almost nothing to relieve me. If anything, it was more of a distraction than a pain killer.
When it started to feel like I had been labouring forever, and I couldn’t imagine being able to continue for another stretch of who-knew-how-many hours, I caved and asked for morphine. I said it a few times, even going so far as to assure them I knew what I was saying. But if I’m honest, I don’t think I even meant it. Even as I said it, I thought to myself: “Do I really want this, or is it because I’m just so tired?”. At that point, I was more affected by the fatigue than the pain. I’m so grateful that Christian stood strong and assured the midwife that I didn’t need it. Because I didn’t. He knew I wouldn’t want to be out of my head when the baby came, and not be able to enjoyt – with a clear mind – the moment we had both been yearning for. More importantly, we didn’t want our baby to be affected; I had gone through my entire pregnancy without taking so much as a single Panadol capsule, even for a three-day-long headache, and I wasn’t about to ruin my track record at the final moment.
Finally, after nine hours, the OB used a vacuum to turn the baby’s head (which had been at an awkward angle, not allowing him to descend the final centimetre or two), and our gorgeous boy was born. There are no words that can truly capture the incredible joy and overwhelming burst of love I felt when he was placed on my chest and I looked into his big, beautiful eyes for the first time. When I looked at Christian, I knew my expression must have mirrored his; I knew that neither of us had ever been so happy as we were in that moment, with the perfect child we had created.
For the longest time, after giving birth, I felt … I guess you say, “traumatised”. I’m not sure that’s the right word, but I haven’t been able to find one that really explains what I feel about it. I still can’t imagine going through that again, but I now focus on the positive aspects of my experience, rather than the things that didn’t go as I had hoped. I hadn’t wanted an induced labour or any sort of medical intervention (I’m talking to you, vacuum!); but, more importantly, I hadn’t wanted to take morphine or an epidural, and I achieved that. I’m so grateful, too, that Christian could be there for the birth of his son – that was something I was afraid might not happen, with Christian working an hour away from home. In him, I had the best birth partner I could have asked for, and felt supported the whole way through. I had as natural a birth experience as was possible for my situation, and gave birth to a perfectly healthy little man, who could look his mummy right in the eyes and know exactly who I was. I couldn’t have asked for better than that.
Stay tuned for Hannah’s story, coming next week! If you have a positive birth story you’d like to share, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
Mini Mummi Blogger is a first time mummy to a beautiful baby boy. Currently on maternity leave, she is looking to put her writing/publishing experience to good use through her blog, helping other mummies navigate through the wealth of often conflicting (and, sometimes, even discouraging) information out there about pregnancy and motherhood. She believes that every mummy knows what’s best for her own baby – even first time mums!