I didn’t plan on writing oodles of posts about giving birth. In fact, in the first few days following the event I felt very much that I never wanted to talk about it, or even think about it, ever again! But the more I’ve talked to other women about their experiences, the more I’ve come to realise that we really don’t talk about this much at all, and that is really wrong. I mean, we all know labour is going to be pretty horrific right? We know it hurts like hell, can last a long time and will be pretty icky. It’s kind of common knowledge these days that you’re likely to tear and even more likely to poop. But before actually going through it, can we actually say we know much about the reality of the process at all? I know I certainly didn’t, and I considered myself to be someone who had at least attempted to read up and educate myself on the subject. Women all over the world go through this on a daily basis, and yet for some reason all things labour, delivery and recovery seem to remain shrouded in some sort of secretive mist. Why? I truly don’t know. One friend jokingly suggested to me that if we talked about it more openly, no-one would ever do it, but that can’t be true as the majority of people go on to have second or more children, so God knows why we choose to do this disservice to ourselves, but I decided that needed to change, so after promising this blog wouldn’t go baby central I’m afraid I’m going to do exactly that for a short while at least – sorry!
Now, I’m not going to dive straight in there with the really gross stuff! You guys deserve to be eased in, and to be honest, I need to get my head around just how much detail about the very intimate experience I went through I want to share with the world, but that post will be coming up in due course – I don’t think it is right to only talk about the beautiful bits of parenthood and so I’ve committed to writing more about the more difficult things I went through in the hopes it will be of help to other Mums to be, or those who have already given birth, in their journeys. But for today I’m going to stick to the basics and talk you through what I learned from my own birth story, and my recommendations to those due to give birth in the near future.
The Birth Plan
All birth stories start with a Birth Plan, or at least, we’re all told we must have one. From a frighteningly early stage, in fact – I swear ‘So what is your Birth Plan’ was one of the most common questions people asked me when I announced I was pregnant, only slightly behind ‘Do you know what you are having?’ and ‘Have you thought about names yet?’! At first, the only response I could muster when people asked, ‘How do you want the birth to go?’ was, ‘Erm, as easy as possible??’ because frankly I was still trying to get my head around the fact I had to gestate another human being for the next 9 months, never mind bring it safely into the world via my private parts! But thanks to Antenatal classes, NCT and a plethora of other literature, I did manage to come up with something I felt pretty confident with by the time our baby’s arrival was imminent, and it looked like this:
- I would prefer to have a water birth
- I would prefer to be able to remain active and move around during labour
- I would prefer not to have an epidural or opiates for pain relief
- I would prefer to use physiological management to birth the placenta
And that was pretty much it! You will notice that all of those bullet points begin with ‘I would prefer’ instead of ‘I want’ and that was very much intentional, which brings me to my first bit of advice – it is important to be well read on the subject and know what is and isn’t important to you, but try not to get too hung up on your plan. The fact is, there is absolutely no guarantee that you will get any of the wishes on your list, because labour and delivery simply don’t work like that and you will need to go with the flow, so being too rigid in your plan is likely to make you feel very stressed and upset if things don’t work out that way which will definitely affect your experience in a negative way. Stress and anxiety can actually slow down your labour and make it far more difficult, so it is important to remain as relaxed as possible. I was very lucky in that all my preferences were possible on the day, but this approach served me well when we were directed to an alternative hospital which could have thrown me into a complete panic had I been too set on a specific plan! Secondly, I’m serious about that being read up thing! You will come across so many conflicting bits of information when trying to make your choices, so make the most of the support available to you to help stop this feeling overwhelming! I loved our NCT weekend and would thoroughly recommend it (visit the NCT website here to find out about and book classes near you!) – not only do you learn a lot and get to ask questions and get advice from an expert, you have the opportunity to connect with other parents giving birth around the same time as you which can provide a great support network – but it is quite pricey so isn’t for everyone. The NHS though runs plenty of free Antenatal classes, normally at the hospital you are due to give birth at, and these were invaluable to me. Seriously, don’t just rely on Google because it will melt your brain – I cannot stress this enough!
Of course, it’s all well and good having a list of preferences when you’ve never experienced labour before, but would I change anything now I’m in the know? Here is how I felt about each of the points on my birth plan…
The Water Birth – I was really keen to give birth in the water, for reasons I’m not sure I can fully explain. As with almost anything pregnancy, labour and baby related, you will find just as much positive research about water births as you will negative, so there wasn’t a specific tidbit of information that made this top of my list of wants, it just really appealed to me. I have always felt happier in or nearby water despite never being a strong swimmer – I’ve always been a lover of baths that last an age, and we even splurged on a hot tub for our garden when we moved in to our home so I knew a warm pool would be a surefire way of making me feel as calm and relaxed as possible. It also made sense to me that being in the water would help with mobility as it helps to bear some of your weight, as well as making your body more pliable. And I loved the idea that it could make the experience less stressful for your baby – water babies are commonly said to be more calm at birth as they don’t have the sudden shock of entering the world and the harsh light and cold of the air. Now that I’ve been through one I have to say I couldn’t imagine giving birth any other way – I felt instantly happier and more comfortable once I was able to get into the pool, and while I have no way of knowing if it eased the pain, I know the short time I had to get out of the pool for a check felt unbearable and I just wanted to get back in so I know 100% that it made me feel better. It also genuinely seemed true that it made for a calm, serene baby, as Bailey was as chilled as anything once he arrived!
Remaining Active – I don’t have a huge amount to say on this as again I couldn’t really tell you exactly why this was important to me, other than it has always seemed a little unnatural and undignified to me to be laid on your back with your legs in the air! Having never given birth in this way I couldn’t say if it is any better or worse than my water birth, and being able to adopt a bent over or crouched position which felt best for me, but being able to move around freely while I was having contractions and change positions as I saw fit really helped me stay in the zone. I think had I been strapped to a monitor or not able to move around much due to having an epidural I’d have felt a little trapped and panicked so I’m glad things didn’t go that way for me.
Pain Relief – Lots of people get extremely passionate about this one and it can be contentious but there was nothing moral or political in my choice not to want drugs as pain relief – labour may be one of the most painful experiences you go through in life and can take a really, really long time, so I don’t believe any woman should be shamed for making a choice that eases some of that! My reason for not wanting this though was mainly down to the fact I’d be unlikely to be able to give birth in the water if I did for safety reasons, as well as needing to be able to climb in and out of the pool unhindered. I also am a bit of a control freak and I was really anxious that drugs may make me feel unwell or out of it which is something I’m quite frightened of. I know from a few of my friends that having opiates meant they remembered very little of the birth, which really didn’t appeal either – there is plenty I would happily forget about being in labour, but I knew I wanted to be crystal clear the moment they handed me my baby for the first time. I feel pretty proud of myself for managing to go the distance with just gas and air, but I can now genuinely say that doesn’t make me any better or braver than the next woman. My labour was fairly straightforward and a lot quicker than your average first timer (just 9 hours from the first contraction to delivery) and had I not been ready to deliver when I was I know 100% I would have asked for extra help – I just didn’t feel as though I could get through several more hours of that pain. The important thing to remember though is that it is very common to feel as though you can’t go on when you start transitioning, so it is worth persevering if this is important to you because you are most likely nearly there! I knew all about the transition phase though – when your body is reaching the end stages of labour and getting ready to push – and didn’t recognise it when it happened to me so this is easier said than done. This is why it is really important to make your midwife and birth partner aware of your birth plan so that they can help encourage you through this stage.
Physiological Management vs Active Management – One of the lesser talked about parts of labour and delivery is the third stage, which involves birthing your placenta. Yep, getting that baby out is only part of the job! Standard practice these days is for you to have an injection in the 30 minutes following birth to encourage the body to release it, however, provided you aren’t at risk of hemorrhaging, you can opt to delay this and try to birth the placenta naturally. I wasn’t hugely passionate about this, but chose to forgo the injection simply because it can have slight side effects of sickness and nausea, and it can block your production of Oxytocin – the chemical that until now has been keeping you calm and happy – which can cause you to start feeling pain more intensely. In my case though, that darn placenta simply didn’t want to budge. They will only let you go an hour without the injection, and I ended up needing it anyway – luckily I didn’t suffer any side effects, but this did mean a good hour and a half (not including stitches – more on that another day!) where I couldn’t just chill out and cuddle my baby, which, lets face it, is the only thing you really want to be doing after giving birth! In hindsight I think if I had my time again I’d have just had the injection straight away as I think it was probably more stressful waiting for things to get started again all the while wanting my little man back in my arms.
And just like that I’ve managed to ramble on for more than 2000 words without even covering half of what I wanted to! I do hope it all comes across as helpful rather than know-it-all, because I’m definitely no expert and don’t want to pretend to be. I have found though that people’s real life experiences have been the most valuable thing to me in this journey and I really wished I’d asked to hear more of them beforehand, so fingers crossed this post will be of use to at least someone! It is mostly positive today, and of course that isn’t the reality, so my next planned post will cover the advice I wish I’d been given before giving birth – yep, the TMI stuff is on it’s way!
Until then, thanks for humoring me by reading this far!