Well, my little girl is now two months old so I thought it would be a nice time to reflect on my birth experience and write it down so I can look back on it in the future. I personally love reading people’s birth stories, so I hope some of you do, too! If not, feel free to skip this post as it’s a small deviation from my usual focus on wellbeing and fitness.
I was seven days overdue and decided I would start some of the natural methods that are known to induce labour. I didn’t start them until then because all my Mum’s babies were very overdue so I suspected that I would be, too. I went for an acupuncture session. I was surprised to find it was quite uncomfortable! The practitioner explained that acupuncture to induce labour is not particularly relaxing or as pleasant as other types of acupuncture can be. I was having frequent Braxton Hicks contractions throughout the day, but I had been having them for weeks so that didn’t mean anything. I was feeling so frustrated and impatient to meet my baby.
From 4 – 7 am, I woke each time I had a Braxton Hicks contraction because they were accompanied with mild pain. It just felt like menstrual cramps, nothing too bad at all. They dropped off once I got out of bed in the morning so they must have just been a part of pre-labour, not early labour. In the afternoon, the mild pain returned with the contractions. I didn’t know at the time if this was labour starting or just more Braxton Hicks. They gradually became more painful and regular throughout the night. I would wake to one about every 45-60 minutes. I would just stay in bed and try to relax and keep breathing evenly and go back to sleep when it was over. They only lasted for about 20-25 seconds each.
I went about my day as normal, going to the supermarket to do a food shop. The contractions were still spaced about 45 minutes apart. I remember having one in the car just before going in to the shops, and then one as I was walking down an aisle. I just leaned over the trolley and breathed for the 20 or so seconds it took for it to pass. At 3pm I still didn’t know if I was actually in labour or not. Looking back, it seems a little silly that I didn’t realise that I was! I think I was trying not to get my hopes up because I so desperately wanted to go into labour naturally so I would be allowed to give birth in the Birth Centre instead of going into hospital to get induced.
I spent the afternoon on the couch on my phone, reading books and watching TV. Every time a contraction came, I would jump off the couch into an active labour position to help lessen the pain and to keep my pelvis in the most favourable position for things to keep moving along. The main positions I liked were on all fours and leaning over a bean bag. One of the things that had been drilled into us at our prenatal classes was to avoid lying on my back. It is the least beneficial position for your pelvis for labouring and giving birth.
The contractions were now lasting for about 30-35 seconds and happening every 10 – 15 minutes. Around this time, I started using the TENS machine I had hired from TheBumpWA. I kept using the TENS machine right until I jumped into the birth pool. I think it made a little difference to the pain, plus it was a good distraction and gave me something to focus on.
At 4pm, I rang my midwife and told her what was happening. She confirmed that I was actually in labour. Yay! I was thrilled! At 6:30, my waters broke and that seemed to increase the intensity and frequency of my contractions. That was when my midwife said my active stage of labour started. Before that, I’d been in the early first stage of labor. My midwife arrived at 8pm and told me I was only 3 cm dilated. This was very disappointing because by that point I was in quite a lot of pain and thought, ‘Wow, this could go on for a lot longer and could get a lot more painful. I don’t know if I can cope with that!’
My contractions were lasting for 45 – 50 seconds. My body was shaking from the pain now, similar to how you shiver if you’re really cold. I no longer felt like food so to keep my energy up my husband kept offering me apple juice and coconut water. These were fantastic during labour, I would highly recommend them. I also used a heat pack on my stomach to help with the pain and had two Panadols. I don’t think they really made much difference!
At 9:30pm we drove to the Birth Centre. I was in so much pain that I thought I was going to need an epidural, but once I got inside I felt so much better. It was a very relaxing, calm atmosphere. The lights were dim, the room was cosy and familiar tunes from Keith Urban, Bon Jovi, Jake Owen, The Newsboys and Chris Tomlin were playing from my iPod dock. I lay on the bed on my side with a cushion between my legs and closed my eyes while I sucked on the nitrous oxide gas. I wasn’t one of those people who screamed and yelled during labour. I was actually extremely quiet and barely talked to anyone during the whole time I was labouring at the Centre. I remember when studying sports psychology at university I learnt you can either associate or dissociate with pain to deal with it. I seemed to mainly use a dissociative attention strategy. That is, I distracted myself from the pain and tuned out rather than focusing on it.
My labour progressed super quickly at the Birth Centre. I remember reading that if you feel safe and relaxed, your labour will progress much more quickly because it increases the production of the appropriate hormones. Being in a dimly lit room with only my husband, midwife and student midwife definitely had me feeling very safe, non-judged and comfortable.
By 10:45, my contractions were lasting for 60 seconds. I was lying on the bed on my side with a pillow between my knees. At 11:20, I was 7 cm dilated – thank goodness! I knew I was getting close to having my baby! I felt an incredibly strong urge to push with each contraction but my midwife told me I couldn’t as I wasn’t fully dilated yet. That was probably the most painful part of labour: not being able to push. My midwife told me I was going through transition, the most painful stage of labour where your cervix does the last bit of dilation, from 7-10cm. At 11:55, I moved into the pool. I would have gotten in earlier but it took my husband a long time to get it set up with the temperature right.
A few minutes after getting into the pool I was finally allowed to push each time a contraction came. It took 48 minutes of pushing, but then at 1:18am I was picking my baby up out of the water and holding her on my chest. She immediately cried which was a good sign. It meant my baby was healthy and alert. After a few minutes, we realised we didn’t know what gender she was. I checked and told my husband, ‘I think she’s a girl. Hi Summer!’ We had already picked names for our baby girl or boy.
I enjoyed cuddling her until my placenta had stopped pulsating and then the cord was cut. Soon after, I hoped out of the pool. This is known as ‘delayed cord clamping’ or ‘optimal cord clamping’ and I am super passionate about it. I’m also dumbfounded that it is not standard practice in most hospitals. Basically, the reason behind waiting before you cut your babies lifeline is that 1/3 of their blood is circulating throughout the umbilical cord and placenta at the time of birth. If you wait until most of this blood has been returned back to your baby, your baby will have higher levels of iron, red blood cells and immune cells. There’s a great TED talk by Dr Alan Greene about the benefits of delayed cord clamping here.
Summer was dried off and swaddled whilst I delivered the placenta. I was going to try to deliver my placenta naturally which is known as a ‘physiological third stage’, however, I had lost slightly more blood than was ideal so my midwife recommended I change to ‘active management’ of the third stage. This means an injection of the hormone oxytocin. I was okay with it because my baby was out of me so the injection could not affect her in any way. It was delivered 34 minutes from the time I gave birth. Then I lay in bed and fed her for about an hour – she was a hungry girl! She was then weighed and checked over by my midwife. She weighed 3.35kg and was 49cm long. She slept very solidly in the crib while I had a few stitches.
At 7:30am we went home, only 6 hours after giving birth! I am absolutely in awe of the process of birth. It is without a doubt an incredible miracle. The human body is so incredibly designed. I am so thankful I was able to have a natural, positive birth experience.
I would highly recommend to any women birthing in Perth the community midwifery program. Having the continuity of care with the same two midwives that you see for your prenatal appointments, your birth itself and your post natal appointments at home was incredible. I felt so respected, comfortable, safe and in control. I was not worried at all that I would get pressured into doing anything I didn’t want to. Midwives have my utmost respect. I think they have one of the most amazing jobs bringing life into the world and helping mothers learn how to care for their babies those first few weeks.
In the hours after birth, I felt incredibly overwhelmed with gratitude for this precious gift. The verse ‘Children are a gift from the Lord, they are a reward from him’ (Psalm 127:3) now has so much meaning to me and my husband. I also felt extremely relieved that the process of birth was over. Like any woman about to give birth for the first time, it was an experience I had thought a lot about. At times I had been fearful, anxious and nervous about how it would unfold for me.
I hope my positive birth story can encourage other woman about to give birth for the first time. It was truly the best experience of my life.