Everyone said I was mad wanting to have a drug free birth. Everyone said that due to my SPD and GBS+ status that it would never happen. This is the birth story I wanted to read when I was pregnant. The story of a first birth that was empowering and drug free.
My feelings and thoughts about childbirth lead me to do a CalmBirth course with DH. I was already booked into a birth centre, because they promote more natural birth. The CalmBirth course was shocking and wonderful in it's simplicity.
Physically the pregnancy was ok, not great, but ok. By the third trimester i had SPD. At 32 weeks I had to 'work form home' and from 36 weeks onwards I just rested, did the CalmBirth meditation, and occasionally popped down the shops.
I had been experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions since 16 weeks, and they were becoming more frequent, intense and regular. Had a few false starts but due date came and went without a whisper. I started to fret at the thought of induction, so I made an appointment to see the city’s top induction acupuncturist, for when I was 40+5, just in case.
At 40+1 I went to bed late, mostly because sleep was so elusive. DH was sleeping on the couch because turning over for me was so difficult. I woke at 3am having a right proper contraction. It lasted for what seemed like forever and I was totally incapacitated by it. I stumbled to the bathroom, where I sat on the loo and had a little trickle - waters or wee, I didn't know! Then I started shaking all over, it was uncontrollable.
After I calmed down we decided to go back to bed (together this time) and see how things were in an hour. After half an hour of dozing I had a few very mild contractions, they were all in my back this time. I got up to go to the loo and felt a gush. Right, it was on!
Because I was GBS+ and my waters had broken I had to go to the birth centre straight away, which I really didn't want to do. We arrived and the midwife suggested I hop in the shower and do some nipple stimulation, she ominously told me that I had 3 hours (till 7am) to get labour established or they would boot me out of the birth centre and induce me with syntocin. I really didn't want to be induced, but I tried to put that fear aside for the minute and get on with the job at hand.
After an hour or so of useless nipple stimulation in the shower the midwife put DH to bed (!) and sent me off for a walk. I found a hill and walked up and down it for ages. At 7am things still weren't happening but I was tired and needed the loo. I went back to the birth centre to be told that the ward was too full for me and I had until midday! Woop! I wanted to rest, but the midwife pointed me in the direction of the stairwell! So DH kept sleeping while I climbed 13 flights of stairs, 40 weeks pregnant and with chronic pain in my hips. It was unpleasant, but I did feel like some mild contractions were coming on. Went back to the birth centre where the shift had changed and the new midwife thankfully suggested I have a lie down! The midwife asked if I had a birth plan and we chatted about my preferences. Lying down wasn't as good as I thought it would be, so I got back in the shower for some more nipple pinching. This time it was more effective.
At about 10am the head midwife told us that we should go for a "very long walk and don't come back until things are cranking." She was basically saying that if I wasn't in the hospital they couldn't induce me.So we walked around the streets, with all the people doing their shopping and going to work. I was starting to have some decent contractions about every 4 minutes. I was happy to feel like I needed to be sick because I had heard that it was a good sign of labour progressing.
It was then that I felt like I needed to be in my room. I wanted quiet, dark and privacy. I trusted this intuition and went into the birth centre. I walked into the birth centre and they asked how the contractions were going, we said they were every 3-4 minutes and about a minute long. Apparently this was not 'established' enough. The midwife gave me a sad, apologetic look and told me they had a room ready for me on the ward for the induction. I said "no" calmly, and walked past her on my way to my room. I was planning on hiding in the toilet to stall for time and figure out what I should do (hiding in the toilet seemed like a perfectly rational thing to do, perhaps indicative of the fact that I was well on my way to labour land). As I walked into my room I felt a psychological shift happen, like a set of scales in my mind was shifting. My desire for things to progress (to avoid the induction) outweighed any apprehension about the labour that I was holding on to. I went to the toilet and saw that I had a pad full of blood, this freaked me out even though I knew it was normal. I made DH get the midwife I was so keen to avoid! She came in, smiled and said that it was a bloody show and it was enough to convince 'them' that I was in established labour, and i "wasn't going anywhere". I loved hearing those words! Within five minutes I was having decent contractions every two minutes. Wow to the power of your state of mind!
Things started to really ramp up and I started to freak out a bit. The contractions were intense and I could literally feel my cervix being pulled open. I was trying to breathe but during the peak I started to lose it, started sobbing. The midwife came in at this point and coached me through the next one, instructing me to take quick, short, shallow breaths at the height of the contraction. This worked much better and I regained my composure and started doing the calm breathing again. I would breathe calmly and deeply for as long as I could, then do the panting thing, then bring my breathing back as soon as I was able.
I was pretty restless in the room, couldn't get into a groove. It was a posterior labour, so all the contractions were in my back, with a huge amount of pressure in my bottom, and I could feel them also in my cervix. The midwife then suggested a shower, which seemed like a great idea.
I went into a great, calm space. I visualized myself floating in a rock pool at the beach. I could feel the sand under my fingers, the water gently lapping against my skin, the sun shining down and a refreshing cool breeze off the ocean. I visualized looking at DH and our child dozing on the sand just near me; i decided to insert our child into the visualisation to help me keep my eyes on the prize. It was a powerful visualization, not like anything I had ever achieved in a mediation before. Those labour hormones sure are good at helping the brain get into the right space! I stayed like this for nearly four hours.
Despite many attempts to have a wee I couldn't relax my bladder enough, which was uncomfortable. The midwife would come in every now and again, I would hear her whispering to DH about how many contractions I was having in a ten minute period. Because she wanted DH to count them he had to have some way of knowing when I was having one; I was pretty still and silent throughout the whole thing, so he couldn't tell. I agreed to bang the handrail when each contraction was starting and finishing, this annoyed me a lot and sometimes threw me off my game, I wish I had just refused.
Banging on the handrail at the start and end of each contraction led me to notice that sometimes there wasn't really a beginning and an end, and that the contractions were coming one on top of the other. But I also noticed that if I had a couple that were very intense, they were often followed by a couple of less intense ones, giving my body a little break, I appreciated this!
The hardest part was because it was a posterior labour I felt such intense pressure in my bottom and felt quite ‘pushy’ the whole time. The midwife said I needed to resist the urge to push, and indeed it didn’t feel ‘right’ to push, even though I had the urge. Resisting this was difficult and required all my concentration.
I hadn't eaten anything all day and was starting to get pretty exhausted. Not that I noticed, but the midwife at one point suggested I have an electrolyte icy pole. An icy pole sounded like a great idea in the hot shower so I agreed. It really helped, gave me a good boost for about an hour or so.
The contractions were increasing in intensity, coming on top of one another, and required every ounce of strength I had to keep my head. At one point I flirted with the idea of drugs. I thought to myself “I could ask for drugs. Yes, but all they can give you is an epidural and you’d have to leave the shower, or pethidine and that might make you feel sick or lose your concentration.” Even in the thick of labour I still wasn’t interested in those options, I could keep going.
After about four hours in the shower the midwife suggested I move around a bit more, I had been sitting in the chair and my hips were sore. Being still was what worked for me, and it was also good because my hips were sore, but she was right I needed to move a bit. So I hopped out, dried off, again failed to have a wee. I then spent about an hour in the room doing various positions, but couldn’t really get into a comfy spot. I was very restless and getting cranky that I wasn’t in the shower anymore. The most comfortable spot was leaning over the bed. DH massaged my lower back a little, and used a heat pack, but it didn’t really do anything for me.
At 6 pm the midwife said that it had been 6 hours and hospital policy dictated that she had to do an internal. For this I had to get onto the bed and lie on my back, which I was not impressed about. I finally crawled onto the bed, and as I was turning over I projectile vomitted my last orange icy pole! Luckily DH had speedy reflexes and managed to catch it all in the bag. We both laughed.
Before the internal I remember contemplating how I would feel about each possible outcome. I thought if I was 2-3 cm I was probably going to lose the plot. I thought if I was 4-5 cm I would cope. I was hoping I was 6-7 cm. I was fairly sure I wouldn’t be 8-10 cm because at no point had I hit what I felt was transition; I hadn’t for a second thought “I can’t do this”, I hadn’t for a second seriously considered asking for pain relief. I had asked DH and the midwife to tell me when they thought I was in transition, so that I would know we were almost there. I was completely calm and we certainly hadn’t gotten to that point.
The midwife tried to time the internal between contractions, but they were coming hard and fast. She then asked me to try to relax though the next one while she applied some pressure. I guess she had her fingers inside me but I couldn’t really feel it. The next contraction I could feel the pressure she mentioned, near my cervix. She then let me go, whipped off her glove and happily declared “You’re 10 cm and ready to push!”. I was so relieved! I remember thinking “well, too late for drugs now, I’ve basically done it!”
We tried a few different positions but I was very restless and couldn’t really get into it. The midwife asked a few questions (she might have felt my tummy, I can’t remember) and we ascertained that the baby’s head hadn’t turned yet, it was a little stuck. And it sure did feel stuck. The midwife tried me in various positions to try to get the head to turn; on the toilet, leaning over the bed, on the fit ball, kneeling, on the birth stool (my least favourite). Nothing was working. After about an hour I started to feel the tension in the midwife grow, she was pretty zen but I could tell she was getting a little concerned. I realised that I needed to relax my whole body to give the baby room to turn. So I pushed DH and the midwife away from me, stood up, closed my eyes and just totally relaxed for three contractions. On the third contraction I felt the baby’s head turn and enter into my vagina. I felt so very full, but it felt much better! I'm so glad I was able to follow my intuition, in the end that's what enabled things to progress.
I told the midwife it had turned. We then got started on pushing. I wasn’t really getting any pushing urges (despite all the ones I had earlier!) so the midwife started coaching me though them. I’m not sure about the wisdom of this in hindsight, but she seemed to know what she was doing. Again we tried a few different positions, the birth stool was the one that garnered the most pressure for me, which was uncomfortable but I did feel like I was getting some traction. I wasn’t very good at pushing long or hard enough, but I eventaully got the hang of it. When things were getting close the midwife sat DH on the edge of the bed and I was kneeling on the floor with my arms and head in his lap. He had to take off his wedding ring because my hand squeezing was going to break his finger! I was still very calm and in control but I had let go of my calm breathing by this stage.
The midwife said “your baby has dark hair.” I found this amazing, it meant she could see the baby! This kept me going (probably why she said it). As the baby descended the midwife told me I needed to push then hold the baby in my vagina so it didn’t slip back up again at the end of each push. I got the hang of this. Then the baby crowned over a couple of contractions. It felt...stretched, but no ring of fire like people had described. I became lost in the effort at this stage, I just wanted to get this thing done and meet my baby, so I pushed and pushed with all my might. It was effective, but then I realized that the midwife and DH had been almost yelling at me to slow down to protect my perenium. Oops! Had a tear, but didn't feel it at the time. Out came the head and then the body in the next contraction.
Then I was holding my darling baby in my arms, and our baby was grabbing my husband’s thumb, and no crying, just wriggling and sniffing. I gasped a little sob of joy at the sight of my baby.
We gazed at this amazing creature for a while, until the midwife said “well what did you get?” I had forgotten to look! So we parted the baby’s legs and in the torch light I exclaimed “oh, it’s a boy!” (A little half heartedly, admittedly I had wanted a girl). “No love, that’s a girl” said the midwife...I was clearly still pretty out of it! I replied “Oh good!”.
She was rooting a little so I tried to put her to my breast, but didn’t get anywhere with it. I put her up my chest to let her do the newborn crawl thing, but she didn’t really do it. She was trying, but her mouth just wouldn’t close on my rather ample bosom.
I had said I wanted a physiological third stage. It had now been about 15 minutes and I had not had any more contractions to birth the placenta, so the midwife suggested we try a few positions to help it along. I sat on the toilet for a while (she lined it to catch the placenta if it came out), and tried to push. Because I still had a full bladder it was difficult to relax, but I couldn't manage to wee either. All the time my baby was in my arms and the cord still attached.
Then we waddled over to the birth stool to try that. The midwife said I needed to push really really hard, as hard as I had when I had pushed out my baby. I remember thinking “I’m tired and I don’t wanna!”. Baby still wasn’t sucking on the breast, so the lack of nipple stimulation wasn’t helping. It was coming up to an hour and the midwife said that if it wasn’t out soon she’d have to give me the injection. I said I was scared, all that pushing had been hard and I didn’t want to do it again. She said most women feel a sense of relief. I hung onto that thought, and the fact that I didn’t want the injection, stood up, pushed and relaxed at the same time, and out it came. It was a relief too!
I had a second degree tear that needed some stitches. I hadn’t felt the tear at all, wasn’t nearly as horrible as it sounds. The stitching was fine, I was on a high and DH got to have a cuddle with our new daughter. They got the gas cranking for me for the stitching. Beautiful, drug free labour, but I wanted the nitrous to get some stitches! It gave me a headache.
Afterwards I lay down on the bed and the midwife helped me attach DD to the breast while lying down. She had a bit of a suck for about 15 minutes, but was on and off, never really had a good latch. I still hadn't been able to do a wee, and my full bladder was stopping my uterus from contracting back down. They said that if I couldn't wee pretty soon they'd have to use a catheter! That put the fear of god in me and I finally managed to have a wee! At some point I had a shower, god that felt good.
From then on my life was taken over by learning to breastfeed. Despite doing all the ‘right’ things - drug free labour, baby-led attachment right after birth etc, it still was a difficult road for us (we got there though!). I really felt that the wonderful calm birth I had meant that I was physically, mentally and emotionally very well right after the birth, which enabled me to have the strength to face the breastfeeding challenges. A few days after I gave birth my Mum exclaimed “I just can’t believe how WELL you are! I felt like I’d been hit by a truck after I had you.” And I was really well, completely well the very next day. Healing from the stitches was fine, barely noticed it.
DH said he was very proud, and also a little scared of me now. I said that I thought I made it look too easy.
Thanks for reading, sorry it was so long!