I’m about to have my 3rd baby, any day now. While I’m waiting I want to revisit my experiences of labour and childbirth. They’re pretty easy to categorise- the first birth was a nightmare, the second was a dream, and the third is only a fantasy, until it happens. So if you’re in the mood for a bit of blood and guts horror, a feel-good musical, and smaltzy preview…. read on:
First Baby: Nightmare birth.
It was February 2006. Hubby and I lived in Indonesia but had come to Melbourne for the birth. It was a glorious summer- we’d been riding bikes along the beach to St Kilda, swimming in the ocean, strolling around the street markets. I was one day past my due date: it was midnight and Fight Club was on TV, when contractions started. They must’ve gone all night but I got some sleep in between, and then they continued next day. I went to the hospital when things were getting too much. I remember the 25 minute car trip was hell, as I didn’t want to be sitting down and couldn’t bear the seatbelt.
First babies are notoriously slow and difficult, and this was no exception. After 12 hours I was only dilated 2 cm, which seriously depressed me. I’d been coping with the pain until then, but it was sort of like when you’ve sat through 4.5 hours of tattooing and you know you just about reached your limit, and they tell you there’s 10 hours to go. I thought I’d need some pain relief as I was exhausted, and still had such a long way to go. So I got an epidural. Big mistake. I must be super sensitive to drugs because it made me pass out, and when i came to, I couldn’t speak, or could only mutter incoherent nonsense. It was self administered, so I’d have to push the button to get the pain relief. When my brain swam back into a semi- functioning state, I stopped pushing the button. I couldn’t feel my body and had no control over it, but the pain continued. All was fuzzy and confusing. Hours passed and I still couldn’t communicate.
Then they were telling me to push. I couldn’t feel if was pushing or not, but whatever was going on, it wasn’t working. I was howling in pain, but if I pushed the button I’d pass out. I was trapped in this torturous state of pain – my mind numbed, my body unresponsive. I was shaking violently and freezing cold, but they wouldn’t let me have a blanket because I was burning up (40 degree temperature). For an hour or so I was pushing and screaming and crying, but nothing was happening. The drugs had rendered me physically incompetent, and unable to communicate.
Then baby was in distress: people came running with lights and machinery, suddenly there was people everywhere and a cacophony of intervention ensued. My birth plan said to try vaccuum first, which was hurled across the room when it failed. Baby was stuck in the birth canal, and they needed to get him out fast. They figured I’d been pushing my button for pain relief so I was given an episiotomy without anaesthetic and then a forceps delivery which was more brutal and horrific than I could ever imagine, and yes, I felt it all. I was still screaming minutes later, consumed by my own pain and misery. I had no concept of there being a baby in the room, until they placed him on my chest. I saw it was a boy, and my first thought was “thank god he’s a boy- he’ll never have to go through that again”. It was a 23 hour labour and I was traumatised.
I felt suicidal for the first few days- my body was mutilated and I couldn’t imagine ever recovering. The baby picked up a bug on the long journey out, when I was burning up, so he spent the first week of his life in neonatal intensive care. That whole first week was horrific, but the baby was perfect: 3.5 kg. My body healed eventually (much to my amazement). I swore I’d never do it again.
Second Baby: Dream birth.
It was New Years Day, in Brisbane, 2008. My due date was tomorrow, and I woke up grumpy that this birth had not begun. By 9 am I knew it was finally happening, and my mood brightened immeasurably. I felt calmly excited as contractions established themselves. Hubby and I got on with our day: we walked around the streets with our 2 year old son; I collected fallen flowers, moaning but not stopping through contractions. I bounced on my fit ball, downloaded some acupressure points and drew them on my body so hubby would know exactly where to press. I started timing contractions from 1pm: they were 3-7 minutes apart and ranged from 40-90 seconds long. They were definitely gaining in strength but still very bearable so I felt like it was just pre-labour. I’d had weeks of contractions the first time, so I thought things were still a long way off.
I rang the hospital at 4 pm when my mum insisted, and no one answered. It’s New Years Day, so probably the hospital is shut, I joked. Eventually I got through to a midwife who said I should come in or I might end up having the baby in the car. Surprised, I got the last of my stuff together and said goodbye to my 2 year old, who’d be staying home with my mum. The slightly frenzied state of activity brought contractions closer together, maybe every 2 mins.
We arrived at the hospital at 6 pm and I was in a great mood. I was joking with the midwives and could still laugh during contractions. They gave us a great room with big windows overlooking the city. I was able to watch night fall, leaning on the window during contractions while hubby “pushed the button” to activate the acupressure points drawn on my shoulders and bum in marker pen. The pressure points really helped, relaxing the pain away while strengthening the contraction to do its job. The pain was halved. I spent a while dancing around the room to a mixed tape I’d made. The pain got more intense. I tried out the shower, fit ball, beanbag and floor mat and avoided the bed.
At 7 pm I asked for an examination to see how far I was dilated: 6-7 cm. Awesome! After that things started getting full on. Clearly this was NOT pre-labour; I could no longer stand up for contractions. I was getting tired so I stopped dancing, and tried to rest in a position where I could quickly be ready for the next one because they were coming fast and hard. I had a hard time getting the midwife’s attention to ask for gas, as the moans turned into howls. I was kneeling on the floor with the beanbag and hubby. He asked her when could I start to push, she replied “anytime she wants, she’s fully dilated”. By the sounds I was making, she could tell I was in transition. It sounded primal.
She asked if I felt like pushing but I couldn’t really tell if I was already pushing or not, the pressure was so great. I felt wet suddenly as my waters began to trickle. I sucked on the gas and exhaled in long screams as things shifted into extreme. Some women were there suddenly and they said his head’s down really low, but it’s still in its membrane and that seems to be pulling him back. I could feel his head move down and back, so I let them rupture the membrane and water went everywhere.
They encouraged me to push instead of screaming, to use the pain to get him out. They were right, I realized, because screaming was like trying to block out the pain and resist the urge. The screaming was involuntary, but if I really tried I could convert the energy into effort to move the baby out. When that became clear I suddenly connected with my baby, and began talking to him by name. I conceptualized working together to achieve an outcome, rather than being stuck in a zone of “me against the pain”.
I could feel his head getting further down the birth canal, and I felt in control, sort of. I was still fighting the pain but began to have thoughts like “I really want to meet you, I want you out”. It helped that I was so thoroughly OVER being pregnant and waiting for labour. It actually felt like something that I was doing rather than something that was happening to me.
The midwife told hubby to hit the call button and women filled the room. They were really encouraging. I managed to say”keep talking to me” as I’d felt really alone until then. They were great, talking me through what I was doing and directing me. I was so immersed in pain and determination, screaming and trying to push. I still had the gas but was crushing the mouth piece with my teeth. The Dr said, don’t worry about the gas, hold your breath and push. It hurt like crazy and I wanted to scream but I pushed (and screamed and grunted). I could feel the baby actually turn in the birth canal. “He wants out” they said.
I knew suddenly it was time, I was going to have to take control and get him out or this was never going to end. I’d been pushing a really long time and heard myself say “I’m sorry baby, I cant get you out”. Someone said “you’re doing great, you’re pushing him out: next contraction, big breath, big push.” So I did. Oh. My. God. I felt my body open up: the pain was insane and I wanted to stop but it still hurt as much if I pushed or tried to stop it, so I screamed and pushed. I felt like I WAS DOING THIS. Between contractions I was allowed little pushes as he was crowning. “Push through the pain”, they said, but it hurt too much, but I pushed and screamed and it burnt and stung but they talked me on. I could feel his head coming out (every millimetre!) “He’s nearly there” they cheered and I pushed through the pain and his head was out!!! At this point I was still gasping and crying and doing whatever they said. There were little pushes and big pushes, I couldn’t really tell coz my body was pushing on it’s own but I hear “next contraction you’ve got to push out his shoulders”. The pain was so constant I couldn’t tell if there was a contraction or not, and I didn’t care I just wanted this over. So I pushed with all my might and I did it! I pushed out his shoulders and his little body slithered out. There was my baby! I said hello. I could talk.
To my great surprise I was fine. They asked if I could move, I was like, sure, where do you want me? They helped me to the bed and they gave him suction. Hubby cut the cord and he began screaming like a devil child until they put him on my chest, where he instantly calmed and looked me right in the eyes as if to say, “hi there, so that’s what you look like”. It was amazing. He was amazing. I was amazing. It was a dream birth.
It would have been awesome had it ended there, but I began haemorrhaging, which caused a cascade of interventions that took three hours to fix. The pain of the local anaesthetic was equal to the pain of childbirth, believe it or not, so it felt to me like torture. In the end I had 12-15 stitches for 2nd degree tears, I lost 600 mls of blood but managed to avoid a transfusion. 3 hours after he was born I was stable and they finally weighed and checked him: he was fine: 3.3 kg. Labour was recorded as 9 hours in all, including 1.5hours of pushing. But only 3 hours were really bad.
Third Baby: Fantasy.
Seeing as this hasn’t happened yet, I’ll tell it like I hope it will happen. I’d like to go into spontaneous labour at home. I’ll kiss the kids goodbye (they’re just under 5 and 3 now, so they know what’s going on). Mum will hold the fort while hubby and I duck out to have the baby. We’ll go straight into hospital as contractions will be strong already. I’ll have a little gas, the acupressure points will work really well, and I’ll be dancing. After no more than an hour, I’ll reach transition. Then I’ll push for only half an hour, and will have a perfectly healthy baby, weighing 3.2 kg. There’ll be no need for stitches and I’ll be able to go home the next day. All up, it’ll be a 3 hour labour. A likely scenario? I’ll let you know how it goes.