Madelyn wasn’t interested in anything except the lovely, shiny light bulb when I was trying to feed her to get her to go sleep tonight, so I came into the office and have been watching old ‘One Born Every Minute’ episodes while waiting for her to get hungry (she’s feeding now, and half asleep). It’s making me feel all nostalgic.
I loved giving birth to Madelyn. It was the best experience of my life. I felt so empowered and proud. I couldn’t believe I had really given birth.
Giving birth didn’t feel like what it looks like on TV. It felt very calm, very natural. It hurt, but it didn’t feel like the horrific, unnatural type of pain that I imagined it would be. It was a pain I could cope with because it was a good pain. I’ve heard of a lot of pain comparisons – it’s like breaking however many bones on your body, for instance – but the awesome thing about labour is that your body makes all these amazing calming, pain-relieving hormones. In an accident, you’d just get adrenaline, which doesn’t help the pain at all. Childbirth is what a woman’s body is created to do. It’s not an injury or an accident, it’s life.
It doesn’t really feel like period pain either. I’ve heard that comparison a lot. It started off like period pain, but once I was in established labour, it no longer felt like that at all. Period pain is quite a dull ache, whereas the pain of labour was extremely sharp. The contractions really were like rolling on waves. The pain steadily got worse and worse until it was almost too much to handle, and then I knew whenever it got to that point that the pain would steadily decrease back to nothing. Even between contractions, there was a shadow of pain, as if the pain was so raw that my body couldn’t forget it even when it was gone.
One thing that was really helpful to know when giving birth, and is quite easy to recognise now in ‘One Born Every Minute,’ is that the transition to the pushing contractions is really intense, and that it’s at that stage where you start to feel like you can’t do it anymore. But it was a bit funny, because I was waiting for myself to actually think “I can’t do this anymore,” so I didn’t realise when I was in transition because I never thought that. I did say that it hurts too much, and I remember thinking that something has gone awfully wrong and that surely any second now they’re going to tell me I need a C-section. But then the pain changed, it had moved into my back, and the fear was gone as my instincts took over.
The pushing stage, to be completely honest, really just felt like I was doing a big poo. I thought that it would be excruciating to push a baby through my birth canal, but it genuinely wasn’t any worse then passing an extremely large poo. The baby’s head crowning was very sore, it burnt, and I couldn’t wait for it to be over. But that was only for about 20 minutes, and then she was born. I didn’t even feel the tear, because the skin was so stretched and burning anyway. The only way to describe how it felt when her body came out is that it was the physical manifestation of relief.
I’m surprised at the number of inductions in ‘One Born Every Minute,’ and especially at the reasons for being induced. Knowing that being induced makes you four times more likely to need intervention, I can’t understand why so many women would be induced just because they can’t wait any more or the baby might be over 9 pounds. It’s just so interesting to me, because I was the opposite. The doctors I spoke to while I was in hospital wanted to induce me at 39 weeks at the latest. I didn’t want to be induced at all. I only accepted being induced on my due date because I kept ending up back in hospital and I figured if I said ‘yes’ to that, I’d at least get to go home and relax for that remaining week. I was so fortunate that everything went so well despite being induced, but honestly, I was terrified. Angus wanted me to do everything I could to make the baby come, but I just felt like I needed to get myself into the right head space instead. I needed to go into the induction totally at peace about the whole thing, rather than still scared and frustrated because labour hadn’t started naturally.
It is also interesting to see how many women on the show go through labour and childbirth by themselves. It makes me feel sad to see woman having to go through it on their own. Even though I didn’t really talk to anyone unless I had to once my labour started, I couldn’t have done it without my three support people. I am certain that my labour went so well because I was so looked after. It was like I didn’t even have to worry about anything going wrong, all I had to do was focus on getting through it, because I knew I had them to worry about that for me. I trusted completely that they were most concerned in that moment about me being comfortable and at peace, and about seeing my baby born safely. The midwife who attended the birth apparently left the room at some stage (I had no idea about this, as I was focusing on the labour), and when she came back into the room she sighed and said “I can feel the love in here. It makes me want to have another baby,” and she wrote in Madelyn’s Well Child book that she was born surrounded by love. It’s true, and I am so thankful.
There seems to be this idea that women who don’t use pain relief are just trying to be tough. I’m sure this is true for plenty of women. But it’s not true for me. I was all for as much pain relief as possible, until I started reading about the potential side effects for the baby. I became determined to go as far as I could without even using gas, because I didn’t want to put my baby in danger. My theory was that if I left it until as late as possible before using gas, I’d have less time to want pethidine or an epidural. I only had gas because the ward midwife (before my own midwives had arrived) brought it in to my room and said “Here, try this.” She’d offered earlier on, and I’d said (and this is an exact quote), “No, I’m fine for now, thank you.” She asked again a bit later, and I didn’t want to say ‘yes’ because I hadn’t asked for it which meant I was probably doing okay without it, but I didn’t want to say ‘no’ because some pain relief would actually have been quite nice, so I just didn’t answer. My contractions were getting very intense and very close together at this point (in fact, I think it was the beginning of transition), so I don’t think she minded that I just ignored her. I had my final check before my own midwife was called, and then she said “Oh, I nearly forgot about the gas!” and brought it up. My mother-in-law said “Courtney, that doesn’t effect the baby,” and my husband and mum both encouraged me to just give it a go, and I figured that the worst that could happen was that it wouldn’t work, in which case I wouldn’t be any worse off anyway, so I tried some. It didn’t really take away the pain, it just made me forget about it really quickly, and the rattle of the gas moving through the tube as I breathed in and out helped me to concentrate on my breathing. Almost immediately, I found that I was much more relaxed and totally ready for the pushing stage (which I had been afraid of). For my next birth, which I so hope will be a beautiful, natural water birth with no complications and far away from the delivery ward of a hospital, I’m going to ask my midwife not to offer gas. I know how well it worked for me, so I’d like it available if I need it, but I’d also kind of like to see if I can do it without any gas (I guess that’s me trying to be tough, huh). I think I could have done it without any gas this time around, so it would just be interesting to know.
Granted, I had a very easy labour, which is probably why I didn’t need stronger pain relief. If it had been very long with very little progress, I imagine I would probably have desperately needed a break from the pain. I also think that a large part of the reason I could deal with the pain was because I was totally in the ‘zone,’ totally able to focus on breathing and relaxing. If I’d been very afraid, I can see how it would have been very difficult to focus on relaxing and breathing, and I wouldn’t have coped so well. I’m just fortunate in that regard, I guess.
I wonder how much influence the length of labour has on everything. According to the hospital, my labour was only 2 hours and 50 minutes long. I’ve heard it said that quick labours can be worse because the contractions are so hard from the very beginning. I don’t know if that was true for me. I personally was fine. The contractions did very rapidly get close together and longer, but I still had the build up that allowed me to get used to the pain, it was just a really fast build up. I don’t think I would have coped if it had gone on for much longer. But I have no way of knowing whether, if it had been longer, it would have been the same and just kept building to be worse, or if it got as bad as it would ever get.
Watching ‘One Born Every Minute’ has made me so thankful to live in New Zealand, where you can have your chosen midwife as your lead maternity carer, and she’s the one who attends your birth, and where even in the hospitals women are encouraged to birth in any position they would like. Most of the women in that show birth lying on their backs with their legs lifted up. If that’s comfortable for you, great. But I would have hated it. It also surprised me to see that, in all the episodes that I watched, only one woman had skin-to-skin time with her baby straight away. About half had the baby taken away and cleaned before they even held them. In New Zealand, it’s just so normal to have skin-to-skin as soon as the baby is born, regardless of whether or not you’re going to breastfeed.
My midwives were amazing. My lead maternity carer couldn’t attend my birth because it had to be at the hospital, which I was really upset about, but she arranged for the most amazing midwife to attend it in her place. I was so, so happy when my midwife called me while I was in the hospital and had finally agreed to an induction, to say that she’d find me a midwife to attend my birth. I had been so concerned about just having whoever was working that day attend my birth. I wanted it to be someone who I knew, felt comfortable with, and was focused on me. All of the midwives I met while in hospital were awesome, but I still wanted to know who would be there. Honestly, if I’d known that I’d have to have the baby at the hospital and been able to choose a midwife accordingly, she was exactly who I would have wanted. She was so relaxed and so prepared for whatever was going to happen. I met her at the hospital a couple of days beforehand, and she talked with me about my birth plan and then showed my mother-in-law and I around the delivery ward. She even showed us forceps and the various suction tools, and how the bed could be adjusted to help me birth upright if I needed an epidural. She actually left the birth up to my student midwife (attached to my lead maternity carer), who was incredible. My husband still mentions, every now and then, how supportive and comforting she was. She even stayed until after I’d been stitched up, and helped us get the baby latched on again for the feed, when I’m fairly sure she didn’t need to. She is going to be an amazing midwife.
I still remember the first time I saw my daughter. She was placed on the bed between my legs, and I looked down at her. She was a red-ish purple colour, with her eyes screwed up and her mouth wide open. She was crying, but I couldn’t hear her. Her arms were straight out to the side, and her fists were closed in tight balls. She was impossibly tiny. I couldn’t believe she had really arrived. Every pain I had felt in the hours before leading up to that moment disappeared as I picked her up.