I have 2 children; DD was born in summer 2009 and DS was born in December 2011. Because of my spinal problems both were hospital births but my labours were very different from each other.
When I went into labour with DD we were 8 days past her estimated due date (EDD). I spent the afternoon and evening writing down the time of every contraction, and worrying about how I would manage. After about 12 hours at home I felt that the contractions were getting beyond what I could handle, even with paracetamol and a maternity TENS machine, so we went to the hospital. I was examined and told that far from being in the latter stages of my labour as I thought I was barely 3cm dilated. I was given a gas and air canister and left to get on with things for a few hours (it was the middle of the night and DH was with me).
At around 0630 I became unable to cope with the contractions any more; by now they were every 4 minutes or so and each one sent my back into agonising spasms. The midwives and I decided that it was time for me to have a remifentamil drip (an opiate, offered to me as my spine meant that an epidural wasn’t an option). After much coming and going from a surly anaesthetist I finally received my pain relief at 0745. My waters broke at 1002 and DD was born on the second push at 1006. She came out with such speed that had the midwife not caught her one-handed (she had only had time to don one glove) she would have bungeed off the end of the bed!
Second time around I was rather nervous about the pain, remembering how bad it had been (especially as the opiate drip wasn’t an available option where we now lived). I knew that I could cope with labour though so I was much more relaxed about the whole thing. DS turned out to be just as tardy as his sister and I woke with contractions in the early hours, 9 days after the EDD. Unfortunately this was Christmas Day. DD was 2 and a half and it was the first Christmas that she was properly interested in. I was absolutely determined to see her open her stocking and at least some presents, so I just lay in bed and read until about 0630. DD opened her stocking and the presents we’d bought her, then my parents arrived to look after her.
DH and I got to the hospital at about 0830. We went to maternity triage where I was examined and told that I was already 6cm dilated so would be admitted to the delivery suites. At this point my waters broke. The midwife popped out of the room to get a wheelchair but I already needed to push, just once. She came back in with the chair, DH told her the baby was crowning and she caught him as he too made a rather speedy entrance into the world. He was born at 0840, only 10 minutes after we’d arrived at the hospital (he and I were celebrities on the maternity ward – all the staff wanted to see the Christmas Day baby born in triage!). It only dawned on me some time later that I hadn’t needed any pain relief.
Why the difference between the labours? It may be because it was the second time or it may have been chance. However I firmly believe that it’s because I was relaxed the second time and not panicky. The first time all I could think about was all the horror stories that I’d heard, I had no idea what the pain would be like and whether I would be able to cope with it. I was tense and nervous. This produces adrenaline which is known to suppress the body’s production of oxytocin, slowing labour. Being tense also meant that my muscles were tighter, making the contractions more painful than they perhaps would otherwise have been. The second time I was calm and relaxed, breathing properly (this can make a big difference!) and the contractions were no worse than period pains.
Why am I writing about this? Because I hate that women are constantly told how awful labour is, how painful. Programmes like One Born Every Minute rarely show calm, unmedicated homebirths because they’re not dramatic. Instead we are shown the labours where women are screaming in pain, where intervention is required, and this type of birth has become normalised in a lot of Western societies. Yes, some births are like this. And I am grateful to live in a country where experienced medical staff can intervene where necessary to relieve pain or save the life of the woman and child. But it is my firm belief, having spoken to other women who have had similar experiences to mine, that in a many cases birth doesn’t have to be like this. A lot of us are sabotaging our own labours through fear.
(A great website to look at if you’re worried about childbirth or just want to read positive stories is Tell Me A Good Birth Story. They put nervous and frightened women in touch with those who have given birth and who can reassure them that it isn’t always awful. They match women as closely as they can so that the circumstances and worries are similar, and the experienced mother’s story is relevant).