So, every first time mum knows the drill – you find out everything about childbirth that you possibly can, because everyone knows it’s so bloody painful. As you get to the end, you start to realize that this baby has to come out of somewhere and you have no medical reason for an elective c-section. I looked up all the pain relief options and was even willing to try hypno-birthing, but I realized that all I was doing was working myself up. My mother had done this five times and she lived to tell the tales… Our bodies were made for birthing! I just needed to accept this reality. So I made the decision to just wing it and see what happens. All I needed to do was keep calm, but in order to do this, I needed to understand why labor was painful.
The reason why it’s painful is that the womb/uterus is a muscle and in order for your cervix to dilate to 10 cm, the uterus muscle needs to shorten. This process gradually widens the cervix to its maximum of 10cm. A full term baby’s head is about 10cm diameter as well, that is why if you go over your due date, health professionals get jittery as the head will keep growing. After this point, the contractions are there to push baby out. So pain relief concentrates on the dilation bit. I researched pain relief and at the lower end there was Gas & air, or water birth – I did not even consider gas and air, as all it supposedly did was take the edge of the pain, whatever that meant??? There was also a possible side effect of nausea, and with the morning sickness I experienced, I wasn’t about to vomit for fun. The water birth – now that seemed more like a plan. Sitting in warm water to dull the pain, then popping out baby in water… that was more like me, so that went on my birth plan.
Intermediate pain relief involved the injectables, like diamorphine and pethidine. Diamorphine is basically medical grade heroine, pethidine is its synthetic equivalent. I was intrigued by diamorphine, I mean this would be my only shot at taking heroine legally, and in a controlled environment. That went down on my birthing plan too, however, user feedback wasn’t that good. Apparently you feel so in love with your husband, the cat, the door, everything. Then suddenly there’s a baby in your arms and they are telling you it’s yours. Whilst I’d be high as a kite with little to moderate pain. Given too close to birth, these shots can affect baby’s breathing and make breast feeding a pain as baby is too drowsy.
The final frontier was the epidural, where they inject pain relief directly into your spine, but you are now confined to your bed as you remain hooked up to the painkiller. The anesthetist has to aim for a specific area on your spine, and one cm out and you could be paralyzed for life. So you need to keep still for this one, which is why they don’t like giving it when you are almost dilated, as the contractions make keeping still impossible for most. Apparently it only numbs your tummy area so you don’t feel contractions, but you feel everything below your pubic bone. Mmmmm… so I still get to experience the ring of fire (crowning). As much as this was appealing, the one thing that put me off was the need for a catheter to wee… I get it on a dude, but for me, I didn’t think so. And the midwife said when they inject it into your spine it feels like a bee sting – I’ve never been stung by anything so I wasn’t about to test drive that experience. I’m sure you’re starting to gauge my pain tolerance levels by now… At the end of this research, I came to the conclusion that I needed to manage the pain, as eliminating it was highly unlikely. I had waited so long for this baby, it felt right that I take the labor pains as far as I could and just remain open to pain medication. So how did the birth of my child unfold?
It started at week 38, just two weeks before my due date. Baby wasn’t moving as much as she normally did, so we went to hospital so they could check. They monitored her movement, heartbeat and my uterus for contractions etc. She was fine, but apparently I was having contractions 15 minutes apart and I couldn’t feel them. I was sent home to wait it out. Week 39 – I had a very relaxing day. Slept a lot and was well rested by the time I was on Facebook and Whatsapp at around 6 pm. Unusually for me, I’d had loose stools for my bowel movement in the morning and didn’t think much of it, but I should have, as this is one of the signs of impending labor. Ignorance is bliss I tell you. I decided to clean the house (nesting phase completely skipped me, much to my husband’s annoyance), then I felt a pain I’d never felt before. I needed to sit down for this one, to manage the pain and to have my WTF moment. After that passed, I thought, nah, it’s nothing, just a fluke. Then 5 minutes later it struck again, and by the third time, it slowly dawned on me that I was in labor! I quickly downloaded an app onto my phone to time my contractions, as the hospital would need this information to decide my priority for a bed, and I was having one contraction every five minutes.
I rang the ward, and they suggested I take a bath, so I rang my husband and jumped into a bath tub. I can’t say the water eased the pain, but I had something to play with. If you ever do this, do not put any Rosemary in your bath water – it just speeds the process. The pain actually started to intensify – so what does it feel like? Think back to a time you had diarrhea, you know the really painful stomach cramps that have you wriggling like a grub… Now think of the most painful leg/calf muscle cramp you’ve ever had. Combine these two together across your entire abdomen and lower back… that kind of pain should be illegal. I don’t get people that say it’s like menstrual cramps, I get those and I can still walk and hold a conversation and you’d be none the wiser. You cannot talk or move in a coherent manner during a contraction – end of.
I didn’t know whether to be quiet or scream, curl or straighten, and I couldn’t get out of the bath. When hubby showed up, he helped me out, trimmed my garden and dressed me. He even ordered pizza so that I could have energy to push his offspring. Funny thing was that in between contractions, I was perfectly normal and pain free – who would have thought. I also thought I’d be screaming the house down but I was as quiet as a church mouse… Two reasons for that; the first was, that was just how my brain dealt with pain. I went inwards and sought strength to cope from within. The second was a conscious decision – all throughout the pregnancy I’d been calm and my baby had never heard me shout or scream. Then when labor started, I had one of my crazy thought episodes, and was thinking if she hears me screaming like a banshee, she won’t want to come out – would you?
The contractions started coming 3 in 5 minutes – that was unrelenting torture. The pain was bearable if I breathed through it (long slow breaths), but the frequency is what gives labor its reputation. I mean, would you be able to cope with never ending leg cramps for hours? I couldn’t eat the pizza, and I knew it was time to go. The car ride was the worst as I was lying on my back whereas at home I was kneeling over or on the sofa to manage the pain. The motorway was shut for roadworks, so we had another 20 minutes added to our journey. When we got to hospital, we got a wheelchair, as I couldn’t walk for more than 10 seconds before I needed to brace myself. My hubby still thought I was in drama queen mode …
At the ward, the midwife had to help me take off my bottom clothes as I was in pain and hubby had gone to park the car. She told me she needed to see how much I’d dilated before she could discuss pain relief and in my mind I was like “yes – now you talking”. As far as I was concerned, I was probably 5 cm dilated and if the pain was going to get worse, I needed pain relief quick. Wondering how they check? They basically stick their fingers up there and feel the size of your cervix. Does it hurt? I can’t say yay or nay, as I was too busy preparing myself mentally for the next contraction. My waters broke, then she beams “you’re 8 cm”. I was so disappointed – I should have been ecstatic, but I was mad because I knew I was no longer eligible for pain relief and my water birth was not an option, baby was coming and it was going to be au naturale. That was 10:30 pm. I think I cried! I was wheeled into delivery suite and laughed when they told me that my only option was gas and air for pain relief. I took it anyway and soon found that it was good for distracting me, not much else.
I soon felt the urge to do a big poo, and they examined me again and I was fully dilated. Now, the contractions ceased to be painful and I was so looking forward to the next one as I could feel them pushing her down. It was weird, as I felt I was no longer in control, I just wanted her out. The same way you are no longer in control when you are about to throw up or have a bowel movement, is how the pushing urge felt. What does the head moving down feel like? Like a gigantic poo, where you are actually looking forward to it coming out. That was 11:30 pm. I think I felt her nose or lips come out, then the next contraction, brought out her body and the pain was gone, the sickness was gone. That was 11:40pm.
I was holding this little person, thinking OMG I’ve just birthed someone and she’s looking at me. That was my first thought anyway… I can’t say I experienced the sudden rush of love that people seem to talk about, and that’s normal. I loved her from the time I knew she was growing in me, but those of you that know me well will tell you I’m a scientist at heart, and rational thought processes and feelings are me. I remember holding her and it felt so natural, and I also remember my husband whisking her away for her first photos in her birthday suit and a cotton wool bath so that he could dress her, whilst some doctor was injecting anesthetic into my nether regions. The final contraction took out the placenta, and that felt like a massive clot coming out, it wasn’t painful for me. I did have 2nd degree tears near my urethra and the labia which they stitched up after injecting an anesthetic right there… ouch!!! I didn’t feel the tears, in case you wondering.
It’s true what they say, that you forget the pain when you see this little being. It’s also true when they say, “You’ll wonder how life was before the baby”. I’m constantly thinking “What the hell did I do before she came”. I remember my body going into shock from the speed of labor and delivery, because my legs were shaking, and I also remember this sense of dread, in that she was no longer in my womb, and I really had to take care of her now. No more hiding, she was out here with us – the struggle just got real. I am grateful that my labor was short and quick, something that I can attribute to walking everyday. In my case, ignorance definitely was bliss. Yes, labor was painful, but bearable if you kept your wits about you. Pain is subjective – I shocked my family as I was certain I’d be a screamer. I mean, I ran away from a German measles booster because I was scared of the needle, never mind pushing a person out of my hoo-haa. (Before you get concerned, I’m still immune to German measles, they checked). Being calm helped as well – the last thing you want to do is to lose control and let fear in. You won’t come back from that one…
So what did I learn:
- Contractions are like sound waves – you ride them mentally. You can feel it building up, then you get to the top and that’s where it’s most painful, and that’s where you spend the most time. If you want to go pain medication free, remember that and all you need to do is survive each peak.
- Apparently the first child almost always results in you tearing down there. You normally don’t feel that happening unless it’s a fourth degree tear. You want to aim for first degree, as those don’t need stitches, they are a bit like cuts and grazes. Second degree like I had, are a bit deeper and in an ideal world, will need stitching. Third and fourth are just bloody deep and will take you a bit longer to recover from. Apparently there are massages you can do to that area from about 6 months of pregnancy to reduce the risk of tearing. Tearing also means taking your first poo will be painful as you are stretching the area again, and every time you wee, it will sting, so be prepared. I placed cotton wool soaked in warm water over my bits whilst I had a wee, then wiped it down with cotton wool dipped in antiseptic. It took about 4 weeks to heal, as one of my tears was right by my urethra, so high traffic. Cranberry juice or barley water helped to reduce acidity in my urine as well.
- Sitting down with stitches down there is like sitting on broken glass – if you can, find a very nice doughnut shaped pillow to take of the pressure or find a giant piece of cotton wool and sit on that.
- They say your first postpartum bowel movement is painful because of constipation – most women will usually poo 3 days after giving birth. I didn’t get this as my diet before labor was full of veggies, so you might want to eat a high fibre diet and drink loads of prune juice towards the end
- If you want to last a bit longer in terms of pain for labor, walk around, kneel, squat, whatever you do use gravity to your advantage. It might feel like your vagina will drop to the floor, but it will shorten labor as you are helping your uterus with the contracting process, and the pressure on your cervix will help you to dilate. I used to walk 5 km everyday right to the day before she was born, and that helped to shorten my labor and kept my pain in check. I also felt better when I was kneeling on the carpet or leaning against the sofa, and it was miles better than being on my back.
- Apparently, the more familiar with the environment and the more relaxed you are, the quicker the labor process. I have no comparison, but it worked for me.
- My birthing partner was my husband, and you can have whoever you want to support you. His contribution was offering me water to drink – 3 times, the rest of the time he was either playing with my gas and air or looking traumatized in the corner. The one thing to remember is that men find it difficult to see you in pain, as they can’t help you, so sometimes they are not ideal partners. Husbands will more likely request pain relief for you, as their logic just doesn’t understand why you’d put yourself through pain when there’s pain relief being offered. This is not a reflection on my husband’s performance as everything happened so quickly.
- Make sure your birthing partner is of sound mind and knows what you want on your birth plan. If you have a long labor you are the one that will have questionable sanity, so someone needs to make or help make decisions on your behalf. One thing to consider is whether you want your husband to see the head/baby coming out of your “area”. My husband didn’t at first, then curiosity got the better of him. His thoughts when the head was coming out – “I thought your pubes had grown really very fast “. He was traumatized for a few weeks but, he said he wouldn’t have missed that moment.
- Some women worry about pushing a poo out instead of baby – I didn’t, but you might. If labor starts naturally, chances are you will have diarrhea before this starts. It’s your body’s way of making sure you don’t poo on your baby. Not sure whether the risk increases with being induced. Either way, the nurses should clean you up pronto.
- I was fortunate to have a natural birth – it doesn’t make me superior to those that had Caesarean sections or pain relief, it just makes me fortunate. I don’t get women who take pride in this unfounded superiority because if it wasn’t for these “un-natural” methods, who know what would have happened to the women and children who need to use these methods.Reasons for C – sections are varied, sometimes the baby poos if they are overdue and if they breathe that poo with their first breath, it will coat their lungs and basically, they could die from not getting enough oxygen, so c-section, yes please. Sometimes baby has umbilical cord wrapped round their neck, and this reduces oxygen and blood flow to baby. That is why they monitor baby’s heart rate during labor as it needs to remain around 160 beats per minute (bpm) and not drop into double digits. If cord is too tight, you can rupture your placenta as you push baby out, and suffer from internal bleeding. If you are scared during labor, you can lengthen the process and this will tire you and baby out, and you got no energy to push. Or you might have eaten for three or got gestational diabetes, which makes your baby too big to push out. I could go on, but the point is childbirth is not always straightforward – be very prepared for the unexpected.
- We found out what we were having as my husband doesn’t do long running surprises very well, and he can’t keep a secret from me. I was happy I had a healthy baby regardless of whether it was a boy or girl.
- The umbilical cord does not have nerve endings, so baby feels nothing and mum feels nothing when it is cut. Baby is just crying from the shock of taking in their first breath.
- You really won’t care what people think of you or your lady bits in the throes of labor. Trust me. They could have brought in the SWAT team and I wouldn’t have been phased.
- To shave or not to shave? It’s a catch 22 situation, as shaving means they’ll be able to see if you’ve torn quickly, but if you do get stitches then you have to contend with new hair coming through the stitches. Apparently waxing is preferred by some ladies, but each to their own.
- Oh, and make sure you have your maternity bras and heavy duty pads with you… Your boobs will get mega huge!
That was my experience and I’d really like to read of yours so please do share in the comments below and sit tight. Part 5 is coming soon!