After a painful difficult pregnancy, I found myself quite looking forward to labour (and wondering if I should be). I did some reading up, mostly focusing on Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (which I found extremely helpful), and came to the conclusion that, like most challenging physical endeavours, handling birth is mostly mental. Having had a fair amount of mind-body connection training in theatre and dance I was quite looking forward to putting this into practice.
My due date was June 5th. On May 19th I was throwing up dinner (as I tended to do throughout my pregnancy) and a heap of liquid flooded out of me, perhaps 1/8 to ¼ cup. I thought that possibly my waters had broken as I immediately started having good practice contractions (the first I had felt). My husband Phil and I were excited and made tentative plans in case we had to leave our home on Stewart Island early. A chat with Liz, one of our midwives, the next morning made it clear that my waters hadn’t broken (there was no more fluid coming out) and I should go about life as usual. The whole next week was very stormy, which added to the excitement as my contractions continued off and on. Thinking the baby might come early, Phil went down to the local shop and picked up a pack of nappies. Word got out and those insidious island rumours flew that I was heavily in labour and going to town that night. We found it all quite funny.
The baby held off until we travelled the next weekend to Otautau to the house we had arranged to look after for nine weeks. This house was quite flash, and we felt really lucky to be able to spend our special time here. Practice contractions slowed down as I adjusted to our new home. The final three weeks I felt the best I had the whole pregnancy, and Phil and I were able to take a couple of lovely walks in the Longwoods. On my due date, we walked 3k and it felt so good. I worked hard mentally at being patient and allowing this baby to come in his own time. It was hard not to feel a bit impatient as his due date came and went, especially when people called, or Phil started getting a bit frustrated. I did take good walks nearly every day and stimulated my nipples during some of the practice contractions.
June 9th at 1am I randomly found myself wide awake and wanting to finish some sewing. I was fairly content but could not go back to sleep and when Phil left for work at 6am I hemmed a dozen cloths for the baby – something that would have exhausted me previously. The colours seemed very clear and bright and I felt very in tune. I managed a one hour nap and took a lovely 4k walk up Knutsford Road. It was a beautiful crisp day, with snow on the hills, and I relished being out and moving. That evening at 9pm my waters broke. I was just in the bathroom and they flooded out. Honestly, in sensation and appearance it was just like the last time, with the same amount of clear liquid. I went to sleep with a towel under me and woke at 1am to find fluid really gushing out. Contractions were more regular, but quite comfortable and the fluid continued to gush all night, saturating three towels.
Hurray, it had started! I was not nervous at all, just looking forward to it. Things carried on easily, Phil and I walked 1k and Liz stopped in to check on us. Jan, a student midwife, and friend also came by for the morning and afternoon and I really enjoyed her casual presence. The only worry was that my contractions were not getting stronger. They were a bit more than my period pain (which is pretty bearable) but less than most of the pain I had had during this pregnancy. Come on! I was ready for the heavy stuff. Eighteen hours after my waters had broken, we drove half an hour to the Winton Maternity Clinic so Liz could do a CTG (a machine to monitor my contractions and the baby’s heart rate), and give me antibiotics. Everything was great, it just needed to pick up the pace. The day was very cold and overcast – perfect for focusing on labour.
Back at home I was starting to feel tired and a bit concerned about having the strength for the journey ahead. Liz stopped by at 6pm, and I asked her if I should try to sleep. Because my waters had broken and there was a risk of infection, the plan was to go to hospital if nothing was happening by the following morning. So instead of sleep, Liz said “I think we need to get this baby coming.” Rats…okay. Phil and I went to bed, where he did some acupressure on me. A couple of points on my legs were powerfully effective and really put some strength behind the contractions. This was more intense but felt good – it was what we wanted. Following that we cuddled, and Phil stimulated my nipples. Suddenly, I asked him to stop and I experienced a powerful POP inside me, then a strong contraction that really took concentration. A trip to the toilet revealed bloody show and timing these contractions we found them to be one minute long and a minute and a half apart. We had done it! It was happening now! I started conscientiously making low noises and breathing slowly to get through each contraction. I also fluttered my lips (like a horse), which I had read would help me open up. This was hard to do at times, but really effective, and once I got further along, I found it cut down on the pain by about half. Amazing.
I threw up, but that didn’t bother me since I didn’t need the food in my stomach anyway. I was glad for it actually because throwing up helped me dilate. Liz was beautifully supportive, letting Phil and I handle it. My lower back to the top of my hips really hurt at the start of each contraction, and Phil was marvellous at putting firm pressure there. Really firm. He knew he was bruising me, but I needed it and didn’t care.
I wanted to sit in our spa bath, but Liz said I couldn’t until I was 5 centimetres dilated in case the warm water slowed things down. She checked (which was uncomfortable but not painful like I was expecting), and I was 3 centimetres. Too easy! I tried to catch a bit of rest in between contractions. I was still concerned about being too tired when it came to pushing. Between contraction was lovely – no pain at all, a beautiful break. Between contractions I would lay down but during them I had to be upright and leaning slightly forward on something. Sitting, laying, squatting and hands and knees were not good options at this point – it was much too painful. It was not long at all before I did not have time to lie down between contractions and Phil was massaging my back continuously. It was intense, but I felt marvellously on top of it and closed my eyes. Actually, I closed my eyes through most of the rest of it, so I could focus. Amazingly soon, I heard the blessed sound of Liz drawing a bath.
I had many options planned to help me through this part of labour (I heard that first-time mothers often dilate one centimetre and hour after 5 centimetres, so I assume we would have lots of time to implement). I found it fascinating that I had no use for any of these things; what we were doing was working. To me, time seemed to be flying, and I was dilating nicely. My goal was to get through each rush and with Phil’s help, I was. All the mental imagery, ice, rescue lozenges, reflexology – were put to the side. I did use a mantra, saying “I want to open wide” in my head at times. I think it helped.
The tub was great. Jan turned up and gave Phil a break. Her touch was firm and loving. The contractions seemed to start with a bang, build briefly, then slowly taper off to begin again. The beginning part was not a nice feeling – at its height I had that icy cold feeling running up my spine that made me want to tense up and lose control. It took a lot of concentration to keep trying to stay relaxed. Verbal encouragement really helped. Hearing people talk about other things within my hearing really didn’t help, but that only happened a couple of times and I could not be bothered asking them not to. As each contraction tailed off, I ended it smiling and half laughing – it felt so good. I worked hard to find that happiness – it was very positive. I also told Phil often that I loved him and thanked the others. The only impatient thing I said was “my back,” if the person on back-duty was not listening when I started my low groans. This only happened a couple of times. I felt very loved and supported and like I was doing quite well. Still it came as a shock when Liz said I could start pushing if I felt like it. Was I there already? Suddenly I did feel like it, in a strong insistent way. I did a couple of pushes and Liz asked if I felt the baby move down. Not really. She did a quick check (my second and last) and said I had a tiny lip of cervix left and that should move back through the next couple of rushes. It was really hard for me to believe we were here already. I never felt a transition. Soon I felt the urge to push again, and my sleepiness left me. I felt clear and strong. I pushed and couldn’t feel much happening inside although the pushes were effective. I was surprised (and a bit disappointed) at how little I felt inside me through the pushing.
I knew that sometimes you poo a bit during pushing, but I hadn’t been all day. I assumed I would get the runs in early labour, but I never did. So basically, when pushing, my mental goal was to push the poo out – and it worked brilliantly. I did poo quite a bit (the others fished it out with a sieve) and moved the baby down at the same time. The contractions slowed down now to give the baby and myself some welcome breaks. The baby’s heart rate was fine. Liz kept checking it underwater. Often this was uncomfortable and annoying, since my tummy was sore, but I kept reminding myself that we must make sure the baby is okay. Pushing was good. Hard, but nearly always progressive. A contraction would build, I would feel the urge to push and bear down, making deep strong noises until I needed a break and air. I would let up, but the power and intensity of the contraction remained so that a few quick gasps were all I could manage before pushing again. Pushing was work, but it didn’t hurt. Soon I put my hand underneath to help myself relax and open up. And then Liz said I could reach inside and check where he was. I did and felt his squishy bulging head about 3 inches up. Wow! Already – he was coming!
I didn’t feel tired at all. Liz told me that when it started to sting, I should slow down and let things stretch. I had been on hands and knees for a long time and got into a squat now. This felt more efficient for pushing. I knew I wanted to use this position, but was afraid of getting into it too early and getting tired knees and thighs. With everyone’s encouragement my pushes were working. Terryll (my other midwife) turned up, and I was able to say hello to her (with my eyes shut still). The next few rounds of pushes didn’t seem to do much. I could feel a little balloon of skin (his head) coming out my vagina – how surreal. It was starting to sting, so I was not pushing as hard. Terryll took the baby’s heart rate and found it had suddenly dropped rather low (97 per minute). She told me to push and push hard and just get the baby out. Oh well, perineum. I could feel it burning and tearing, and a couple of times I squealed high-pitched. It wasn’t nice, but there wasn’t any other option, and I felt such encouragement from everyone that I was doing well and doing it right.
A series of really hard pushes where I didn’t feel inside me that I was making any progress, but I could feel his head coming down and not retracting. All of a sudden – woosh – his head came out and was hanging out of me. That felt good, and bizarre. A couple more pushes did nothing (how frustrating). So Terryll told me to stand up. I did this relatively easily (considering) and the next big push brought him sliding out. Terryll caught him behind me, and handed him between my legs to me. And there I was, holding our new-born baby boy. I didn’t feel so much tired as really happy, fascinated, and in love. I laid back down in the bath and put the baby in up to his shoulders to keep him warm. The water was bright red with my blood and my bottom was pretty sore, but I leaned back, spread my legs out and enjoyed our baby while I waited for the placenta. Terryll had me feel the cord several times to see when the pulsing died off. The cord felt neat, very rubbery, and strong, and the pulse came through clearly. I was overjoyed at this little person, and slightly frustrated that Phil could not be right next to me. I was at the far side of the tub, so our family bonding stuff would have to happen later.
It was awhile before the placenta came, so I just enjoyed our child and laughed. Finally, the contractions came back. I shakily climbed out of the tub as Terryll held the baby (I hated to let go of him – already!). Then I squatted over a container and gave a couple of big pushes. It slid out easily – a great blobby mess. It felt strange not to be physically attached to any of this anymore. Jan cut the cord, and I stumbled out to the lounge with a towel between my legs. They had prepared the couch with sheets for me to lie on. I was shaky and shivery. I held our child with Phil right there while watching Terryll examine the placenta. It was really cool. My placenta was unique in that the lobes were not very obvious, and the cord came out nearer the edge of it, rather than in the middle. What a fascinating thing. We didn’t want it, but it was special to Jan, so she took it home and buried it under a native tree.
Now they weighed and measured the baby. 8 pounds 5 ounces! Bigger than anyone had guessed! He did not seem too upset by the poking and prodding. He really appeared quite at home in the world. Terryll had a look at me and found I had two good tears and a bit of bruising. Ouch! I was over being brave, and while she stitched me up, I whimpered and bit my hand. Phil stayed right with me while Jan held the baby, which was lovely. Hurray for local anaesthetic! Stitching up took a while and did hurt, and my good humour was running out. So, I tried not to vent. 16 plus stitches later it was over, and I felt much better. I had some haemorrhoids too but was expecting them since I dealt with them during pregnancy. Now breastfeeding and some barley sugars for me since I could not stop shaking. With Terryll’s help, he latched on nicely and had a half-sleepy sampling. His little mouth felt good on me. It was so easy. Now I was pretty exhausted, but decided to have a shower (ah, wonderful!), and then to bed. In bed with the babe right there in the cradle by 4am. Everyone cleaned up the mess and headed home with much thanks and good feelings. Phil looked like a proud father. I was happy and so tired.
I drank water all though labour, even when pushing. It was several litres in the end. But once the bloody show arrived I had no interest in food. I never once desired pain relief. In the height of it, I even asked myself if I did (out of curiosity). It just did not seem an option. The pain was part of it. That was what was helping me get there. And in the midst of it, I was too focused to entertain any other thoughts in my head. From the bloody show my labour lasted about six hours. To me it seemed much shorter. One of the very first things I said to Phillip while sitting in the tub holding our new son was “Let’s have six of these.” I meant it. It was such a positive experience. The pregnancy, though much less intense, was way more challenging.