Many people believe that by choosing to have a medicated birth they save themselves from pain in childbirth and I can say quite simply (from experience) that it just isn’t true. I had planned to have a natural birth with my first child and despite feeling prepared and informed I ended up with the birth that I really did not want: hospital, Pitocin, epidural, transfer of care, suctioning and stitches, instead of natural childbirth at home. Needless to say, my first birth experience was not at all what I had hoped for and it took me months to come around to the idea of ever giving birth again. My recovery was long, physically and emotionally draining, and breastfeeding was challenging. Upon discovering that I was pregnant for a second time I decided that I HAD to have a more positive experience; to take control, be stronger, wiser and have the most calming person I knew at my birth. We opted to sign up with a different midwifery practice because we felt that their mandate was closer to our own birthing philosophy. We also decided to take an additional birth education class as the one we had taken during our first pregnancy was not as informative as we would have liked. The” Babies Naturally” birthing class was fabulous. We spent the day with one other delightful couple and Shannon and Kristi, the class co-leaders, shared their ideas about how to achieve a positive birth experience. This class was in stark contrast to the first one that we had taken. We had lively and varied discussion, and felt comfortable talking about our experiences and asking questions. Armed with our newly gained knowledge and a tremendous amount of enthusiasm we gathered our home birth supplies, and felt that this time we could achieve a beautiful natural birth.
As we approached the 42 week mark our hopes for a home birth seemed to be slipping away and we were envisioning an induction with the usual catalogue of interventions. I began to panic and decided to try every trick in the book in order to avoid this unwanted outcome. I had two “stretch and sweeps” –the second of which was on the day that my labour started. I took castor oil a few hours after my stretch as the midwife felt my cervix was ready and that I simply needed a bit of help to kick start the labour (and to empty my bowels). I had to admit that it took me two tries to get the vile liquid down my throat (the first lot ended up splattered all over my kitchen cabinets). Evidently, my body was ready as three hours after taking the oil and an hour after a nice long walk I was relaxing in the bath when the contractions started! They began gently and gradually, coming every 5 minutes and lasting for about 30 seconds. After an hour of regular contractions I called Carol to let her know and we chatted a few times over the next half an hour, so that she could monitor my progress. The contractions were building fairly rapidly and Carol suggested paging the midwife, filling up the labouring tub, and preparing ourselves for a quick delivery.
Labouring in the birthing pool was glorious and eased the contractions tremendously. We had the pool set up in the nursery and enjoyed light easy conversation between contractions. The midwife arrived at about 10:30pm by which point I was working harder but I still felt extremely calm. The reminders to relax my facial muscles, and my shoulders, and keep my voice soft and low made a huge difference to how I coped. As my labour progressed and I found myself having to clamber out of the tub more regularly to go to the toilet I opted to labour at the side of the bed. Even as the contractions grew stronger and I was feeling such extreme pressure I never once doubted my ability to carry on un-medicated and was really rather enjoying the experience. I found that focusing on something during the contractions was helpful – I picked the screw on the electrical outlet faceplate. At this point with baby moving through the birth canal I found that the most painful part of the contractions was in my back – Carol began pressing firmly on my lower back through each contraction and it helped to no end; my husband was kneeling in front of me so that I could hug him all the while peering over his shoulder and focusing on my electrical outlet. I felt surrounded by love and helpful hands but most importantly I felt strong, empowered and safe. During each contraction I repeated “I can do this” to myself and this little mantra proved to be a powerful tool indeed. Carol’s words of wisdom, telling me as each contraction passed, “That one is over and you’ll never have to do it again” was a help, indeed. I had been declining examination up until this point but the midwife suggested doing a check in case the second midwife needed to be paged: I was already 6cm and progressing quickly so we paged. By this point I was experiencing some cramping sensations in my left leg (this was a problem during my first delivery as well) and was struggling to find comfortable labouring positions. I followed my instincts and ended up labouring on my right side with the painful leg up in the air and pushed backwards – it probably looked absurd but it felt right. The contractions were coming harder and faster but still felt manageable; then my waters quite literally exploded across the bed narrowly missing the midwife and this certainly added some comic relief. A few contractions later I yelled out “That felt different” and with the next contraction baby’s head was showing. I breathed deeply and worked through the next contraction and, as I did, I felt the head emerging from my body. I was instructed to pant at this point, and my baby’s body was out with the third and final contraction. (This was a mere 28 minutes after my 6cm check.) One of the many things that I still marvel at about this experience is that I didn’t have to push during labour. We’d had another beautiful baby girl and we named her Molly. She was put onto my stomach immediately; she took a few minutes to rest before she began inching her way up my torso looking for her first food. Watching the beautifully primal instincts of a newborn babe moving towards its mother’s breast is amazing sight, indeed. The placenta came out easily and without incident just as our second midwife arrived.
After showering and being tucked up in my own bed made up with my favourite sheets and with a nice cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit I couldn’t quite believe that giving birth could be so beautiful. The pain was by no means unmanageable (I truly believe my medicated first birth was more painful) and the empowering experience of listening to my own body’s cues and connecting with my baby was sublime. The day after the birth I was up and about, feeling strong, nursing well and overjoyed at not having to tend to stitches and swollen body parts. Molly is now 6 weeks old and I still find it hard to believe that giving birth could have been so enjoyable. I love to tell our story and encourage woman to trust in themselves and, whenever possible, to have a natural birth while surrounded by individuals who are helpful, loving and supportive.