I think I’m late with my One Born Every Minute & Netmums blog post again (as One Born has already been on) but I liked having a theme last week so I’m giving it another go, deadline or not.
This week’s theme was ‘Pain’ and, as I’ve said before, I think it’s something more women need to talk about more openly and more honestly.
I can only talk about my own experience of childbirth but I think that’s only fair. I don’t think “my sister’s best friend’s cousin’s hairdresser’s babysitter was in so much pain she nearly died” stories help anyone. Not least because I doubt they’re ever true.
There are lots of blogs linking up to discuss the One Born blog themes & lots of people tweeting #OneBorn tweets, so please please go & read their stories too. Just remember that every birth is unique. Even births by women of multiple children.
I had experienced Braxton Hicks (or “practice”) contractions for a couple of weeks before I went into labour but, and it may sound clichéd, when it started happening for real I just knew.
It was around 7.30am when I got pre-menstrual style cramps: not very strong, not particularly noticeable even, but achey and sort of bruise-like. I didn’t mention anything to my husband as I knew he’d worry all day at work but I did remind him to keep his phone on. Then I rang my Mum in an excited nervous panicked ecstatic whirl of emotions.
Throughout the day I had some stronger contractions, more like period pain than pre-menstrual cramps by that stage, but they were irregular and interspersed with much milder ones. I knew I had a long wait but my heart didn’t stop racing all day and it took all of my willpower not to text my husband.
When he finally came home the news burst out of me and he went in to “practical but panicked” mode, packing extra things in my bag and occasionally stopping for breath.
As the evening went on I had fairly bad back pain and had to watch TV bent over a footstool. I eventually gave up and went to bed at ten in the hope of getting some rest, but by eleven the contractions were too strong to ignore. A couple of hours of excited chatting later I told my husband to get some sleep and got in the bath.
By the time I’d finally gone into labour Ted was a week and a half overdue and was expected to be between eight and nine pounds, so laying on my back was too painful. I sat up, trying to keep the warm water over at least some of my tummy, but really quickly my contractions were too strong.
By the time I’d heaved myself out of the bath my contraction-timing app showed that they were coming every four minutes, so we rang the hospital for advice. I live an hour from my consultant-led delivery suite so we had to guess how quickly my contractions would change, but the midwives estimated that I had hours left.
By three o’clock I knew I couldn’t wait anymore. My contractions were two to three minutes apart and very strong. From being in the bath to getting ready to leave all I’d been able to do was kneel on the floor and lean over the bed whilst pressing the button on my timer app, having my back rubbed, clutching my hot water bottle and saying “what if I can’t do it?”
Oddly, as soon as I got in the car I was perfectly calm and not scared anymore. I retreated into my head, stopped talking and concentrated on breathing through the contractions. I hadn’t been to birthing classes and when people had previously told me to breathe through it I thought they were stupid – how could deep breaths help labour pains? – but it just came naturally and it did help, although it was the concentrating more than the breathing.
During the journey every roundabout was pure agony and it seemed as though the whole route was full of bends. Whenever we went around a corner my belly felt like it was going to tip off, so I was clutching my bump with one hand & the handle above the door with the other. I just kept my eyes closed and kept breathing.
When we arrived at the hospital I realised I couldn’t walk as, by now, it felt like I had a head between my legs. It was, as people have described, like needing a massive poo, but trying to sit on the toilet (they needed a urine sample) was almost impossible as it felt like the baby would fall out. Even being in a wheelchair was horrible because every bump was exaggerated with each contraction.
I’ve described before how my birth didn’t go to plan and that Ted’s head was completely out with no midwife in the room, but I’ve never talked about the pain in any great detail.
The contractions really were like strong menstrual cramps to start with but as they got stronger they were like nothing I’d ever felt before. I’ve had meningitis and subsequent lumbar punctures so I thought I knew what pain was. I didn’t. The pain really is intense. I can’t imagine many situations where I’d ever be in more pain than that, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t manageable.
Throughout my entire labour I kept my eyes closed and concentrated on my breathing. I didn’t talk unless I had to (although I did shout F*CK after my internal) and I didn’t particularly listen. I used gas and air and I vaguely remember being angry when my husband told me to pause longer between breaths of gas and air because he thought my contractions must be further apart than they were. Everyone thought they were. They expected me to have hours left to go.
When it got too painful to be on my back I heaved myself on to my side and that’s how I stayed. I’d planned to stay mobile throughout the whole experience and to deliver on all fours but Ted just felt too heavy. I genuinely felt that he would fall out like a bowling ball and rip me apart.
Once I’d rolled on to my side I was much more comfortable and I stopped feeling like I was squashing Ted’s head. Being comfortable doesn’t mean I wasn’t in pain but I always felt in control. The gas and air helped me to distance myself from the pain somewhat, and shouting profanities at the contractions inside my head made them pass seemingly more quickly.
Throughout my periods of silence I would occasionally hear myself groan, and it would coincide with a tightening in my tummy and a rush of air out of my mouth. Later I realised that my body was pushing my baby out, but at the time I thought the pushing time was yet to come – and I expected to have to do it myself. I had no idea my body could do it without me even realising.
Then, all of a sudden, the pain got so bad I knew I couldn’t take much more. The midwife had come to tell me they wanted me to have an epidural for reasons related to my epilepsy but had then had to remove the doctor butchering my wrist with a cannula. It was unfortunate that it was at this moment that I realised the baby’s head was probably about to emerge. I thought I should tell someone but I kept thinking “I’ve never had a baby before, what do I know? They said it’ll be ages yet, it can’t be happening” and I was so scared they’d think I was stupid. It turned out that I was stupid because I let that stop me telling them I was about to deliver my baby.
I decided to lift my leg so someone could look and see how far on I was, just in case I was right about his head being there, but as I had my eyes closed I didn’t know it was only my husband and Mum in the room. Luckily they had a look and shouted the midwife when, with one glance they saw him crowning, and with the next his head was there.
The midwife ran in and told me not to push but I wasn’t sure how to stop it happening as I hadn’t pushed at all. When she told me to do one big push I realised I did know how to do it and, with my one big shout of the whole labour, my son rushed out of me with a whooshing feeling.
I know that the point at which his shoulders were delivered was agony but I only remember it as though I’m looking at it from above. I can see me shout and push my head forward, I remember telling my husband afterwards that I’d felt myself stretch and that there was a slight burning feeling, but I can only remember the words and not the feelings.
My son, Ted, weighed nine pounds seven ounces and had done all of the work himself. He was born at 7.47am, just over two hours after I’d arrived at hospital.
Immediately after he was born I felt alert, awake and back to myself. I was chatty, happy and unbelievably proud. The bleeding wouldn’t stop and the placenta wasn’t coming out so I had jabs for both but barely noticed them. The tugging of the midwife trying to pull the placenta out was painful but, having heard stories of it being like a second labour, when it actually came out it was fine.
I was then terrified as the midwife sat down to stitch me up. It may seem strange that I was relieved that my tear was third degree, but it meant that I was taken to theatre and given a spinal. I may have been away from my son for an hour as two surgeons worked on me but I knew my stitches were going to be perfect and, better still, I didn’t feel a thing.
Not a thing except from the catheter being inserted, which was the only thing I wanted to avoid but which was the best thing they could have done, given how bad my SPD was after an hour in stirrups.
The day after I gave birth was fine because I was reclined in bed. Once I was back on my feet, which was the day after Ted was born, I discovered that the pain didn’t stop with delivery.
The worst for me was my SPD. An hour in surgery had completely screwed my pelvis and I couldn’t sit up or get out of bed without pulling myself up with the bed rail and rolling on to my side. Of course, when I was upright I discovered that sitting on stitches and bruising was pretty painful in itself. Staying in hospital for three days meant that I could recline the bed and keep the pressure off my sore bits, meaning that by the time I went home the swelling and bruising was much better.
I was scared of having my catheter removed, and then of going for my first wee and poo. The catheter removal felt weird but not at all painful. Then it was time for the loo.
I took a bottle of water with me as I’d heard pouring it over the sore bits would help with the stinging but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it didn’t hurt at all. I was more nervous of opening my bowels but I wasn’t allowed to go home until I had, so I carried on with the lactulose and gritted my teeth. Thankfully it was fine. My back passage was bruised and sore from bring torn and stitched up, but it wasn’t painful at all. I kept up with the lactulose for a long time after I went home though!
It took a few days for the bruising to go down and I still occasionally have problems with my pelvis almost six months on, but the recovery period was much less painful than I’d expected.
I know I was lucky in having a quick birth and because there were no complications beyond my epilepsy and an incompetent doctor, but I’m also proud of myself for coping with the pain I’d been so scared of. The way I handled it was just the way that came naturally to me, just as every woman experiences something different and deals with it in a different way, but I’m proud of how well I did because it surprised me. I’d been expecting to be like a woman in a soap opera, perhaps because that’s what we see of birth.
That’s why I want people to talk about childbirth. It’s not as scary as we think it is, and there are things we can do to help ourselves – we can communicate well with our midwives; we can use pain relief; we can find the right support from a relative, partner or doula; we can take control of our surroundings and the way we deal with our experience. Of course we can’t control everything. We can’t do anything about unexpected complications, we can’t avoid forceps or caesareans or stitches, and we won’t always know what the right thing to do is.
But we can listen to our bodies and we can prepare ourselves by talking to other women, asking questions of our midwives and avoiding soap operas. And we can have confidence in our ability to cope with more pain than we ever knew we could take, and with the skill we’ve developed for forgetting how it felt afterwards.