In many of the books and apps for pregnancy, they compare each new week that your baby grows, to a piece of fruit or vegetable…perhaps to slowly prepare you. To be honest, the idea of pushing a small sized watermelon through my Cha Cha scared the shit out of me. Having spent 33 years with my lady part, I’ve become quite fond of it. To have that potentially compromised for some screaming unknown thing had always been a little difficult for me to grasp.
As far back as I can remember when I heard stories of labour, more often than not they sounded downright horrific. Of course the end result was a beautiful baby, but the underlying message was that it was an experience they almost wish they could forget. Until I was actually pregnant myself, I had imagined the worst case scenario- with me being torn open to high heaven, only having to be stitched back to virginity. Ok, I know that’s not possible- but you get the picture. Or scrap that, try not to visualise, as that’s where the problem begins.
There seems to be such fear instilled in women around the birth experience. In many cultures, young girls witness their family members giving birth, breastfeeding (some women have their babes almost permanently attached for the first few months) and help their mothers as the babies grow. They are not scared by it. They embrace it. Amish women give birth to an average of 7 children and having such a close knit family setting, their children grow up being much more exposed to the birthing process. Especially since they often give birth at home. Ina May Gaskin who is described as the ‘mother of authentic midwifery’ stated ‘we are the only species of mammal that doubts our ability to give birth. It’s profitable to scare women about birth. But let’s stop it. I tell women: Your body is not a lemon.’ She did a lot of her midwifery training with Amish communities, saying they tended to grow up without the same fear of the birth process as many women have today.
So I tried to push all these scary stories away. I actively decided to be positive and excited about that fact that though there would be pain, it was where I would finally meet my baby. After all, women go back time and time again- even with those not so nice experiences, so there must be something about motherhood that is pretty rad. So after the fun part of deciding to have a baby was successful- we were pregnant. I know there are so many variables to every labour, so I will just reiterate that this is my story only. I am extremely grateful for such a positive experience, as I know things can go wrong. For me, the thing that helped me so much was going in with an open mind. I just had to trust the professionals to get my baby out safely and keep me safe too. That was my number one priority.
Now I won’t lie – I was so incredibly tired by the time I was in active labour. I now have a real understanding why many women use pain relief –often it is from shear exhaustion. I had been to the hospital once with contractions and sent home being told it was just pre labour (I had three days of contractions that would be strong then peter off). We tried the usual things to bring on labour: long walks, bouncing on the fit ball, raspberry leaf tea, eating curry and yes strongly advised by our midwife -even sex (which at that stage since I was so huge, was almost laughable). I was told not to worry so much about the timing, but to call the hospital when the contractions were so intense I couldn’t talk through them.
So on the Friday, as my mum took me down the street to get some jobs done, they finally began to be consistent and get much stronger. Once I got home, I strapped on my TENS (Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine which sends small electrical pulses to the body (I swear by this as didn’t end up needing any other pain relief). I called Lewy to come home and then again my sister; husband and I went into the hospital.
Again, they nearly sent me home as by the time I got there the contractions had lessened. I swear they thought I was making it up. But on discovering my waters had broken, they decided to keep me in (yes I was expecting the huge embarrassing gush too). We had an amazing midwife during the night that said the best thing to me. ‘Just welcome every contraction and know they are leading to something really beautiful.’ So as they got stronger and stronger I said to myself, love, compassion, peace, beauty, strength, humour, intelligence….all these qualities that I imagined and knew our baby would have. Sounds a bit hippy I know, but it made them that much easier to endure.
The midwife drew little acupressure points on me and told Lewy to start pressing them to activate the labour. Literally 30 mins after he did, it was on. I told my sister to rush back in and by 8am when she arrived, I was 5cm dilated and told I would probably have my baby that afternoon. I need to state how absolutely fabulous they both were. It must be so hard watching someone you love in such pain and not being able to help alleviate that. But they did their best. They cracked jokes when I needed it, rubbed my back when I wanted it or stayed away when i didn’t want it, made a calm setting, told me how proud they were of me and did not laugh when I was letting out these deep animalistic grunts (we can laugh about it now). It was so special ito have them both there. I am forever grateful to my A-team!
Thinking I wouldn’t be having my baby till much later, there were definitely instances of wholly shit, I am definitely going to need pain relief. I remember letting out this loud whimper and my sister said, ‘don’t you break’ and I held strong. Now when I talked about bad experiences, I don’t want to say that the pain for me was not bad. It was the most out of my mind pain I have ever experienced. But I knew it was leading to something so amazing that it would be worth it. I had imagined walking through the maternity ward listening to music, with Lewy holding my hand as I calmly worked through each contraction. But it literally all happened so fast. All of a sudden, they were one on top of each other, with no subsiding in between. I dilated 5cm in 1.5hrs (perhaps that really long pre labour was not such a bad thing). I had to go to a place I never knew existed within me so I could stand the overwhelming pain. Before I knew it the midwife was asking me if I needed to push.
If I can take away anything out of some of the books that I read-the image of the coffee plunger helped me in this moment. Sounds weird right? But a book called Birth Skills said to imagine you were pushing down a coffee plunger for that big moment, so that’s why I did. But also imagine it is mixed with drying cement and that’s how hard you have to push. You push till the vessels in your neck are bludging, till you’re straining every iota of yourself, till you think you cannot possibly push anymore and then some. But then they showed me a mirror and I could see a little head (yes I gave a look) and I knew the end was in sight. I think that’s why for me, the pain didn’t seem as bad as the contractions (and hey a small baby really helps too). The moment when the head finally pops out is the most amazing feeling of relief, and before I knew it she just slid out and was placed in my hands and then on my chest. I will never forget the love I felt for Lewy in that moment too. We didn’t need to say anything, it was a mutual, ‘look what we made’ moment.
I can easily say it was the most transformative, powerful and enlightening experience I have ever had. The overwhelming range of emotions I felt was incredible. I felt maternal and spiritual and beautiful and empowered and so incredibly strong. As soon as our little baby Bonnie was placed on my chest, everything I had just endured melted away. So that is why women go back for more. I now get it, as they get the most amazing gift at the end. I guess why I’m writing this is to encourage women not to be afraid. Yes of course it was bloody painful, but the female body is a remarkable thing and is made for giving birth. Ina May was right, my body wasn’t a lemon, it was pretty freaking amazing actually and that is something to own and be incredibly proud of it.