Birth Without Fear
Sometimes I feel almost embarrassed to mention that I have had three positive births. I cannot contribute to conversations about the three day labours and horror stories that have surrounded me when I am in the company of other women and sometimes men too. I know I am lucky – I am well aware of that and I know my children weren’t breech or had any other major complications, but surely this is something to be celebrated and shared too.
Part of me wants to shout out loud – it is possible to have a positive birth! In fact, I have lifted my head above the parapet a few times recently as I have become bolder with age but I instantly regret it. Women turn to me with a look of derision and distaste. As if I am the weird one and they desperately want to tell the world how much distress and pain they went through to have their children.
Please, please don’t get annoyed with me at this point. I am really not trying to be smug or score points. I am simply trying to let women know that it really is possible to have a baby without terrible things happening and to look back on your births positively. I really am aware and upset that even in this modern age women can still have such a dreadful time in childbirth. Yes, there can be complications. Thank the Lord we are now able to save mothers who would have died in childbirth as so many did in times gone by.
However, can I just for the record, state that a first time mother is going to be so frightened by all the horror stories they hear before they even conceive and then even more so for the next nine months.
And I'll never forget the advice I received before my first baby that if you are scared, you will tense up and birth will be harder. This is why I must speak up: you can birth without fear.
I am 5ft 6ins (sorry I can’t do metric!), weigh about 9 stone – less when I was a first time mother – and have size six and a half shoes. That bit is important apparently! My body measurements haven’t changed much and I guess I am about 34 – 27 – 35 inches so a pretty average size 12 now but more like a size 10 in my teens.
I first became pregnant at the age of 22 and gave birth in 1979 at the age of 23 to a lovely girl who weighed 7lbs 9ozs. I didn’t have any pain relief apart from pethidine in the very early stages of labour and it was a normal, vaginal birth.
I read avidly: there was a great book at the time (I think it might have been written by Dr Miriam Stoppard) that I read cover to cover several times over and a lovely Mothercare book with lots of illustrations. I wanted to be informed and know what was happening and what to expect in labour. Antenatal appointments were dreary affairs with little information and not a scrap of care or advice. I only remember laughing when they checked my shoe size and then announced that I was lucky to have big feet. That was a first! I think it has some correlation to the pelvic measurements. There was no ultrasound but my forward thinking doctor did have a loudspeaker attached to his monitor that let me hear my baby’s heartbeat. It was incredible – like a steam train and so fast!
When I had a show at 2.30am on the day she was due I was ridiculously excited but managed to stay asleep until about 7am. The first contraction came at about 10am and by 11am they were every 10 minutes. I was told to go into hospital when they were every 10 minutes so I dutifully got a taxi in. There were no ambulances to be had as there was a big NHS strike at the time.
It was all very cold and business-like. First you had to have a bath (again) and shave! It was a huge bathroom with 10ft high ceilings and it felt like a prison! Then I was taken to a ward, examined and told it would be hours yet. They suggested having some pethidine to relax and have a sleep and I remember asking if I should do that, as I knew it could make a baby sleepy when it was born. Again, they insisted it would be well out of my system by the time I was going to be in full labour, so I agreed and had a nice doze for the next five hours. My husband arrived at 5pm after work and we had a nice and still sleepy chat. Then the contractions started for real and the midwife told me I was ok to start pushing. They offered me gas and air but I really didn’t want a mask on my face as being asthmatic, I always worried about getting my breath. There was still enough pethidine in my system to take the edge off anyway.
I was in active and the second part of labour for about 90 minutes. I did have an episiotomy, which was a good idea, as I only had to have about four or five stitches afterwards. My little girl had the umbilical cord around her neck so I had to puff a bit on quite a few contractions while they got that unwound and that was all the intervention required.
In hindsight I know I would have been better off having a bit of a walk around and not giving birth lying on my back as she was lying back to back in the womb so I had to push her ‘uphill.’ The next time around – I remembered this and it really helped. Luckily many birthing classes teach this now so that mothers can be prepared to make their voice heard regarding how they want to birth.
My second daughter was in the same position – back to back – with placenta previa until 35 weeks. Luckily, the placenta moved slightly away from the birth canal in good time but she was late anyway! After 10 days, I had to face being induced. Not an experience I recommend as it was a quick and painful labour. I did try using a TENS machine – but found it really irritating! Having learned from my previous pregnancy, I ended up lying on my side to give birth and that really helped with the pain. Again, I didn’t have pain relief – there wasn’t time! No stitches this time – that was good. My second daughter weighed 8lbs 4ozs.
There was a nine year gap between my first and second daughter. Things had certainly changed. I was able to access the ‘Domino Suite’ - which was like having your own bedroom in the hospital (they don’t have this anymore) - it was so relaxing. I watched TV and was able to make myself a cup of tea and get water until the last 50 minutes when I went into the second stage of labour!
As I wasn’t in full time work this time, I went to antenatal classes and felt a bit old compared to all the new mums but it was great to learn about all the new ways of doing things – like not having to soak nappies and boil wash them! Disposable nappies had become affordable by then. The new mothers were certainly more informed than I had been nine years earlier but I also had good experiences to share.
My last child – my son – was born three and a half years later. I had no time to think this time! My contractions started at 3.15pm and he was born at 6.50pm. It was a last minute dash to the hospital as my husband thought I had all the time in the world and didn’t pick me up until 5.40pm. I did have visions of giving birth in the car …..
My son was in a hurry but I was asked not to push for about four contractions to allow a student nurse time to come in as she hadn’t seen a normal vaginal birth yet! That was truly awful – imagine being told you can’t push! He was in a good position and I found that I was most comfortable kneeling. Again, there was no time for organising pain relief. He was 9lbs, hungry and demanding but what an easy and quick birth!
So, if you’ve read this far – please forgive me for sounding so blasé about giving birth. I just want you to know that sometimes it is ok. Yes, it hurts like crazy and yes, it does feel like you are going to split apart momentarily, but it isn’t forever. You know there is an end to that pain, and the more informed you are about birth, the more you can relax, go with the flow, and listen to your body. Your baby will make you forget everything you just went through. You can’t remember pain when it’s gone and nature makes sure of that…. otherwise, you would never get pregnant again!!