You just know what sort of week I am having when I say I intended to write this post for Labor Day, which has been and is clearly past. I have used this holiday as an excuse to write our birth stories before but just recently I was asked to write a post on labor… You know actual labor, the process of bringing our babies out into the big wide world… And the more I thought about it the more I have put this post off… who would want to know what I think about labor anyway! Don’t ever say I don’t answer reader questions!!!
How we, as women, labor is packed full of personal decisions and since we all believe that we are doing the very best for our kids, we believe that our decisions are the right decisions and let’s face it most moms are indeed doing just that: “The very best for their kids.” How we choose to educate our kids, feed our kids, discipline our kids. I understand that they there are many ways to raise gloriously brilliant creative children who will be fabulous adults. All these decisions that can really make or break a friendship when you are “in there” begin with how we decide to give birth to our children. We live in a culture where we do have choices and women make them ranging from elective caesarean to all natural holistic events… and most women fall somewhere in-between those two decisions.
Before I was pregnant with my first child I read every single book I could find on pregnancy. EVERYTHING… From the madly medical to the very definitely not medical!!! And, while I am very grateful that we live in a time and place where medical intervention is available to us should we need it, I was leaning to the more “I will only use medical intervention should I need it approach.” Turns out that if you have those sort of leanings them you need to be really hard headed and pretty thick skinned because everyone has an opinion and most people think that the thought of a natural birth is a little bit mad in a world where pain free birth is an actual option.
Now as it happens, once you are pregnant the first thing we start to think about is labor… seriously I think I spent nine entire months of my first pregnancy figuring how this baby would actually get out of me… yes I understood the logistics of it, but mentally it is quite a lot to get your head around!!! I found very little written about natural childbirth that wasn’t wishy washy and a toned down version of “Your caregiver knows better than anything you will ever know.” Now while I read everything I really wanted to read about the birth I was after and I found the best place to find this was actually by reading hundreds and thousands of birth stories. Find them online, find the type of birth you are after and read and read and read… you will read about births that were perfect and births that went wrong, women that were enabled and others that were disillusioned.
Not only did I read but I equipped myself. By attending pregnancy-exercise-classes on a Thursday evening where several women squished into our mid-wive’s lounge to sit and stretch and say “om” with several scented candles glowing through out the evening. Secondly the father person and I attended antenatal classes and I vaguely remember seeing a baby being bathed – like why in the world did I want to learn that – I was only thinking about labor, and the other class I remember is when the midwife held up a pair of collapsable hip bones and proceeded to dismantle them to demonstrate the process of birth – nothing on this earth was going to make that happen to my body!!! Well almost our entire antenatal class ended up having essential caesars and that left me three weeks before my due date and floundering. Clearly, candles; “om” and collapsable hips weren’t going to do the trick!!!
So hear are se7en things that helped me during labor, they may help no one else on earth… but they worked for me:
- Labor is painful: I may be stating the obvious here, but I just want to say that labor is painful and it is daunting and for me the first time round I was afraid, I had no idea whether my body could do this or not, astonishingly it did. Don’t let the fear overwhelm you, I didn’t expect the pain to be so intense with each contraction, but I soon got my head around that it was “pain with a purpose” and that the result would be to meet the little person that I had been dying to meet for weeks and weeks and weeks.
- Expect the unexpected: Sometimes things don’t go as planned but go with the flow. I know in the movies woman go from zero to delivery, screaming and having their brows mopped and then suddenly there is a small child in their arms… Actual birth, in the real world tends to be a little less insane!!! It also doesn’t happen instantly and very rarely in a Supermarket. Now with those same moms from my antenatal class, I had this idea of lovely smelling candles and sweet music in the background… I can honestly say most of my babies were born in the day and we never thought to light a candle and as for music – who knows what was playing!!! I think we all have ideals and that’s fine but they don’t have to be set in stone.
- Get the encouragement you need: It helps to know what you are after before you are in there. I know a back to front sentence if ever there was one. But lets be honest here birth is painful and there comes a time in each of my labors when I would have taken any drugs or pain relief offered… but the people around me knew that wasn’t what I was after and what I really needed was encouragement. Encouragement, not fake encouragement either, I need to know that I am doing fantastically and when things feel like they are going awry I need someone to whisper in my ear – “You are doing great and you really can do it…” Not, “I told you it would be agony and now can I shower you with drugs.” When you are in labor you do not want to be having unnecessary discussions and non-essential arguments, believe me, it is far easier to have all your ideas and expectations laid out before hand and everyone can be understanding of where you are coming from.
- Welcome labor: You really can, I know this goes against every single bone in your body, nobody really wants to dive into pain, but by the time I have been pregnant for forty weeks I generally want to go into labor. There comes a time where my house is actually clean enough and if I have to be pregnant one more day I am just going to sob about it. That is a great indicator that labor is really close!!! Usually after a sob in a heap I am good to go and ready to welcome labor for what it is – a chance to get to know my baby and to meet it really soon…
- Don’t be afraid to say what you want: This is one time in your life when you really can say “Put your hand on the small of my back and leave it there until I say you can let go…” and you really can say if you rub my arm one more time I am going to clobber you.” If you like being massaged then enjoy it, I preferred to be left alone, until I don’t anymore and then dear father person – “Do not leave my side!!!”
- Don’t count contractions: As a contraction starts so often folk say, “Here we go, another one…” I just want to hear as they end – “One less…” In the journey to meet my babies I want to know that that is one less contraction we have to work through. Yes it helped me to stay relaxed during a contraction, yes it helped to have someone remind me to relax, yes it helped to focus on a point during a contraction – but the most helpful thing for me was to know that that was one less contraction in the “packet of contractions” for that birth.
- There is relief: Between contractions you are pretty much pain free, don’t waste that time chatting or bracing yourself for the next contraction… use that time to make sure that you are relaxed all over… and when I found I wasn’t relaxing and I was crunching up a muscle or ten it was harder to cope… so doing a mental check: “Shoulders relaxed, face relaxed… ” really helped me to be relaxed before the next contraction began. It isn’t always pain free between contractions, back labor can eliminate that!!! But I found that if I focused on relaxing between contractions that I was better able to cope with the next contraction as it arose.
- The longest most intense contractions are not forever: They are about 90 seconds and that is at the height of labor, if you can practice breathing calmly for ninety seconds and concentrate on all your muscles being relaxed then even at the last stages of labor when contractions are coming fast and furiously it really is just ninety seconds for a contraction and you are done with it… and that is one less contraction… One step closer to meeting that little one.
And the Se7en + 1th thing…
And finally what books did I find useful? Well there were a handful of pregnancy and birth books that really stood me in good stead… Ones that didn’t dictate or over medicalize the whole event:
- Sister Lilian’s Pregnancy and Birth Companion (Sister Lilian): You can read more about this book here, at her website. I loved that she didn’t wax poetical about labor, there were no rushing waves upon the shore or any fancy metaphors of birth… she calls a spade a spade and has one of the best descriptions of birth that I have ever read… she explains a typical birth, of course yours will be slightly different but it is good to have an idea, how long you are typically in each stage, how long contractions last, what is comforting and what isn’t… It forked for me, totally practical and no “airy fairy-ness.” Also she is South African and when reading her book it helped to have that background and a shared context.
- Sheila Kitzinger: Is my absolute favorite pregnancy and birth author, seriously I could write a post on the virtues of her books alone, in fact I think I will!!! Next post…
- The Birth Book: Everything You Need to Know to Have a Safe and Satisfying Birth (Sears Parenting Library) by William Sears, Martha Sears. Anything by William and Martha Sears is a good read, they cover their topics from the perspective of medical professionals but seem to have a clear understanding of their place – their to assist mothers and babies in need… they have a chapter devoted to birth stories as well… never a bad thing!!! Yes, this one is a good read.
- And if I was pregnant now I would have to have a moleskin journal… sigh… everything to love!!!
I know not my usual kind of post… hope you enjoy it!!!