If you are looking forward to the upcoming birth of your first baby, you may be feeling somewhat nervous even fearful of this momentous event. If you are feeling this way, you are not alone. I felt this way too in anticipation of the birth of our firstborn who is now 5 months old.
To prepare myself I read several accounts of births and have now decided to share my own story, to encourage you.
I woke the morning of Sunday 21st Feb at 2:30am with what felt like heavy period pain. As our baby was due 22nd Feb, I immediately thought ‘This could be it!’. I waited 30 minutes or so just to be sure before I woke my husband, Grant.
When I felt another heavy period pain after the 30min wait, I decided to wake Grant. The conversation went something like this:
Wife: I am in labour!
Husband: Are you sure?
Husband: Where do you feel the pain? In the front only or around you like a band? (At antenatal classes they said real labour pain is felt all around the front and back of your body like a band.)
Wife: Front only.
Husband: Its false labour, go back to sleep.
Wife thinking: #*!$@!!!
Wife says: Let’s check the pregnancy book…
So here I am at 3am, reading out loud to Grant the symptoms of false and real labour! Eventually he was convinced and let our midwife know the good news via sms.
She advised previously to have a warm bath, a hearty meal and some rest once labour started, which is what I did. I immediately had a warm bath and by 4am we were both eating our pre-prepared lasagna. We went back to bed and I managed to doze between contractions until 10am.
We agreed to meet our midwife, Esti, at the active birthing unit soon after 11am to see how far I was dilated. I was around 2-3cm’s dilated – early labour. We agreed it would be best to return home and wait till I was further along (we live +-25min away). At home I sat on the Pilates ball, watched TV, ate, rested, etc.
At around 4pm my contractions were much closer together, just a few minutes apart, so we were convinced that I was quite far dilated. We contacted Esti and met her at the birth unit at 5pm. Only to discover that I was still only 3cm dilated! What a disappointment! I was devastated! I thought ‘how on earth am I going to get through the rest of this labour if I’ve still got so far to go’! Esti left us to rest in the birthing room and said she would check me again at 9pm.
This was the toughest moment in the whole labour process for me. I felt really down and doubted my ability and strength to see the whole thing through. Only thing is with being pregnant, is that the baby HAS to come out, one way or another! I had been quite adamant about not having an epidural and was not keen on any painkillers as they all get passed onto baby. I was only interested in a caesar in the event of an emergency, but at this moment I asked Grant which he thought was the lessor of the two evils – an epidural or caesar! He knew how I felt about these things and that I wanted to have a natural, painkiller-free birth, so he just encouraged me and said he knew I could do it. I spent a lot of time praying at this stage and felt the Lord say to me ‘My grace is sufficient for you’ and ‘In my weakness is His strength’. I felt comforted and reassured that the Lord would be with me throughout and at that moment my spirit lifted and I knew I could do it.
Esti had mentioned she could give me a muscle relaxant that would help my cervix thin, but have no effect on baby, which I asked for around 7pm. At 9pm I was around 5-6cm dilated and I entered into active labour. Esti had me sit on a birthing ball and coached me on breathing while Grant massaged my back through each contraction. I had small sips of Energade between each contraction and Esti gave me some Rescue and something else homeopathic to help with dilation (also no effect on baby).
At around 11pm I was about 8-9cm dilated and Esti broke my waters. It was only at this stage that I felt the birth pains get to levels of pain that I would describe as agony. Yet labour pain is unlike any other pain you can go through. I’ll explain.
Any other pain you feel as a result of a burn, broken bone, wound etc. is a bad thing which causes your body to send a ‘warning’ signal to your brain to say something is wrong and needs to be attended to. In the case of labour, there is pain, but nothing is bad or wrong. Your body has not experienced a trauma that it needs to recover from such as a broken bone or burn. Your body is rather in the process of using muscles in a way never used before to expand itself to get the baby out. As a result it’s as though the pain signals are going to a different place in the brain. It’s still painful, don’t get me wrong, and it is something your body will have to recover from afterwards, but it is what your body is designed to do and as long as you stay calm and follow the good advice of your midwife or doctor, you will be fine.
What amazed me most about the labour pains is how I was able to literally fall asleep between contractions, even after my water was broken! The pain is quite literally only there during the contraction, and is 100% gone in between.
The last stage before the pushing stage went quite quickly and I was in the water within an hour.
Everyone had said how during the pushing stage you feel as though you can’t help yourself, you just have to push… well, I am one of those rare women who did not experience the pushing stage that way. I could literally have breathed through each contraction! I had to consciously choose to start pushing: during which contraction and when during the contraction! This took me a while to figure our despite the best coaching from Esti.
Eventually the baby’s head crowned. After that, pushing out her body was very easy – I’ll never forget how I was aware of the softness of her body as she exited mine! My eyes were still closed from the pushing when Esti placed our baby in my arms – it was one of the most magical moments of my life! This was at 1:18am on 22nd Feb – Elizabeth arrived right on time!
The contractions stopped immediately once she was out of my body and 100% of the pain was gone. After a few minutes of holding her and having some memorable photos taken I handed Elizabeth back to Esti who gave her to the second midwife to attend to. Grant went along with Elizabeth. The great thing about the birth unit is that Elizabeth never left the room. She was weighed, dressed, etc. in the room where I was still sitting in the bathtub.
Esti helped me deliver the placenta (easy) and then washed me down a little. She checked me for tears on the bed and stitched up a small tear of about 1-2cm’s. The great thing about this is the local anesthetic you get. It means you feel absolutely no discomfort ‘down there’ at all. Even if you don’t tear, you will feel very tender ‘down there’ for obvious reasons. Next time, even if I don’t tear, I will ask for the anesthetic – as it meant I could sleep, urinate, and shower, etc. without any pain or discomfort!
Overall I found the giving birth experience a very positive one. Having a water birth was fantastic as I did not feel sticky or dirty in any way. In fact I felt quite clean. It did not lessen the pain as such, but it was very comforting to feel the warm water against my body.
By the time I was stitched and dressed, and Elizabeth was warm and snug, it was about 3am so we booked into a family room at Femina. This was well worth the extra R800 as it meant my husband (and new daddy) could support me and assist the whole time. We did not want Elizabeth out of our sight at any moment, so he went with her when she had her vitals checked by the hospital staff upon admittance.
I achieved my goal of having a natural painkiller-free birth and had absolutely no complications at all! I was in very competent, safe hands by way of our midwife Esti, and Grant was a real star giving me excellent support throughout.
Giving birth is a very intense experience, but I felt such a huge sense of achievement and accomplishment at having done it this way. I encourage every pregnant woman – you can do it! Your body has been designed for this! Just take one contraction at a time, listen to your midwife or Doctor and you will be okay!