I’ve been writing this blog post in my head for two months now, but every time I try to develop it into something more concrete I get stuck. Anything surrounding Kat’s birth is so very difficult to write about. I usually have it easy writing-wise but this event has been so monumental in my life that no words can do it justice.
Kat’s birth was hard work but beautiful and calm. She not only made me a mum but she also gave me an experience to treasure forever. In a bid to give something back to the online community (in return of all the birth stories I read, countless episodes of One Born Every Minute, and overdosing on babycentre.com), I decided to jot down some labour tips to assist at crunch-time.
Fear not mummies-to-be, humankind has been doing this since forever
I tried to remind this to myself every time I had a slight panic about my baby’s exit strategy. Before it became all medicalised in a male dominated world, giving birth was regarded as a natural phase of the lifecycle. Pregnancy is a physiological event in a woman’s life and our bodies are well-equipped for this. Statistically, 85% of women should be able to birth spontaneously without any intervention.
Train yourself in the art of relaxation
Approaching your labour in a calm and relaxed manner will make it not only shorter but also less painful. Tensing up will only lengthen labour. Practice breathing early on, stock up on hypnobirthing breathing techniques (I personally found them imperative in keeping me focused and in sync with what my body was achieving). Go through each contraction with determination to not let it override you. Keeping this mind set is hard work, especially during transition (dilating from 8cm to 10cm), but it will make the pain much more bearable and purposeful.
Download a contraction app
At 37 weeks, my husband decided it would be wise to download a contraction timing application. We can recommend Contraction Monitor, available for free in the AppStore. It’s simple to use and does the job perfectly. Do warn your birth partner though that asking if you are having a contraction right in the middle of one (because he has to register it!) can be fatal – to him.
Dilation is no indication of time left
Vaginal examinations can both elate you or bring you down. After some tough contractions I asked to be examined and the midwife was hesitant to do so, thinking I was still very far behind. Four hours after the amniotic sac was broken I was at 5cm. Secretly my heart sank as I imagined another four hours of tougher surges but I put on my brave face, smiled at my husband and weakly told him ‘we’re halfway there!’ Thankfully, Kat’s first cries were heard an hour later.
You will get breaks in between contractions
I may have read about it but did not actually realise it before experiencing labour myself. Giving birth is nothing like those scream-fests as depicted in movies. You will get a breather in between each surge, albeit short in the final stages, but still a godsend. The intensity and duration of each contraction as well as their occurrence will also depend on whether or not you have been placed on a hormone drip, which is very common where I come from!
Ask about pain relief
Whatever your birth plan, know your pain relief options beforehand. The hospital where Kat was born does not offer epidurals for vaginal births and their birth pool is still in the pipeline. I was lucky to be able to hog the birth ball to ease discomfort but did get a shocker mid-labour. I was adamant on saving gas and air for when it all became absolutely unbearable, refusing offers of it beforehand. During transition I gave in but little did I know that it would take long to get it going or that they would take it away for the pushing stage. I’m still baffled by the latter after watching so many episodes of OBEM!
You are one step closer with every contraction
Every surge means that you are getting closer to holding your baby. Embrace it as such and not as a nuisance, however a nuisance every one of them actually is. During the pushing stage, I heard the midwife from a far off place instructing me not to put a contraction to ‘waste’. That got me much more determined towards pushing; no way was I going to put that huge discomfort to waste (huge being an understatement)!
Stay away from Mr Google during labour
Being guilty as charged, I think this is self-explanatory. As information was not always forthcoming, I was adamant on finding out what was happening, hence my resort to the search engine and its images. Bad idea.
Listen to the midwife
I received this advice in my 39th week of pregnancy and it somehow stuck. The midwife is the professional in this situation and has your and your baby’s best interest at heart. They also happen to have the best view of what is taking place down under. Listening to your midwife during the pushing stage is key in avoiding / minimising tears and having an altogether less painful experience and recovery. Have your birth partner repeat their instructions and encourage you on.
Occupy your time
Giving birth can be quite a time-consuming affair. How long your labour will last is dependant on a plethora of factors, from the position of the baby to how calm you are. For a first time mum, active labour can last around eight hours. Pack up your phone charger, a book or anything that can take your mind off things. Read, if that’s your thing. After all, you might not get time for it again in a long while. Fact: It took me two months to finish the last 20 pages of the book I was reading during the first hours of labour.
Ultimately, you have to place all your trust in your body’s ability to birth. During the pushing stage, I came to the realisation that it was I who had to get this baby out and that no one could do it on my behalf. Albeit a scary reckoning, that is what gave me the courage to push further when on the verge of giving up.
Whilst hoping that this list proves handy, it is a must to remember that the act of giving birth is unique to every woman. What shines through is the strength of our bodies, our strength as women.
If you were to offer a labour tip to an expectant mother, what would it be?
I’ve used Baby Centre for most of my sources, as well as the Midwifery module from Open2Study.