Birth, Baby & Family, labour & birth, latest posts

9 things I wish I had known about labour & birth

Now, it’s been a while since I have done the birth thing myself – 17 years, 14 years and 11 years ago – but I do love birth and I obssess about it somewhat!

As part of my training to be an antenatal teacher, I had to debrief my birth experience to learn from it and to ensure any issues weren’t carried into my antenatal classes. I had a straightforward homebirth, which was an incredibly positive experience but it still a steep learning curve and there was plenty I didn’t expect…

1. my waters could break first, without strong & regular contractions…

and that it could be hours before those contractions properly kicked in. My daughter was in a back-to-back position, which is why my waters went first and the hours of milder contractions were turning her.

2. I did not know how to breathe…

I didn’t have the understanding or skills to use and control my breathing, so while I was pretty calm most of the time I didn’t have anything to use when my contractions were very intense and close together – by this time I was pretty tense, holding my breath and just wanting it to be over.

3. How tired I was going to be…

I missed a night’s sleep – I should have rested when my contractions were milder but I was excited and keen to be on the go but I just didn’t know what was to come and how much energy I would need. I was able to keep going – resting and using the pool helped alot – but the exhaustion wasn’t something I really expected.

4. My contractions could take my breath away with their power and intensity…

I knew they were going to be strong and painful but, as with most first-time mums, I didn’t really know what that meant and I was surprised at just how intense they were. I wasn’t scared by them, my midwife told me they were all good, but I needed to adjust to them, to stay as calm as I could to manage with them and to just keep going.

5. I could be in awe of what my body was doing…

I remember describing my contractions as amazing to my husband, a total wow moment at what my body was doing to bring me my baby. I only said it once or twice, but I still said it! And there began my fascination with birth and what women have to experience to birth their babies.

6. That I could do it, that I did it…

It wasn’t totally what I expected but I was able to keep going – I had good support and my labour was straightforward. It was a planned homebirth and when I was pregnant I received so many comments about not being able to manage to pain, that I would be screaming for the hospital and an epidural, that I had no idea what pain was to come – pretty negative crap.

I would have chosen an epidural if I had needed one but I was able to keep going, even though I did panic and I didn’t know how to use my breathing properly. And I was glad to prove people wrong.

7. I would panic…

All I remember about the birth of my daughter is panic, I had no control at all with my breathing, with my pushing. I don’t remember feeling connected to what my body was asking me to do. I hadn’t really thought about this part of labour (yeah, I know!) so feeling my body stretch as she moved down through the birth canal shocked me.

My labour contractions were more manageable and positive, the birth contractions and my strong urge to push was all about holding my breath, being tense, pushing when my body wasn’t asking me to and being scared – I tore quite badly and I put that down to my lack of my control, my panic and all that tension.

8. Gravity is just the best…

I had read and prepared pretty well and I was keen to be up and about but I didn’t appreciate just how instinctive and comfortable this would be. I wandered and paced, I used the birth ball, I went outside, I used the stairs, I had to get up when I did try to lie down because I was tired and that kneeling in the birth pool would be the most comfortable position with my contractions.

9 . I knew I could have been calmer…

During the panic, I remember thinking that I wish I could calm this down. I wrote about it afterwards because this is the one thing I would have changed about the birth of my daughter. I felt that her actual birth was too panicky and that I just didn’t know how to do anything else to stop it and to take back some control.

It was only when I started my antenatal training that I read more and learnt more about the importance of being able to relax and breathe in labour and birth, that we need to listen and respond to what our body is telling us and that good birth preparation can enable this.

 

I hadn’t properly understood what I had read about labour & birth – about what it might feel like, about what might have helped me. I read about contractions and movement but not about managing my energy, being able to breathe and relax to be calm but also to have more control. This need for greater knowledge and preparation (and to provide it as an antenatal teacher) impacted greatly on my antenatal training and eventual teaching, on my work as a birth doula as well as on the births of my next two children.

I love what I do as an antenatal teacher because no two births are the same so birth preparation cannot be the same and I passionately believe that good knowledge, practical and effective skills and an ability to stay as calm as possible when you need to can equip you – and your birth partner – with the essentials to work with contractions, to know more of what to expect, to adjust and to make decisions.

Janine
mum since 2001
antenatal teacher since 2002
birth doula since 2009