At the last session of our antenatal classes we girls were asked to brainstorm what we were looking forward to the most about having our babies. I was slightly surprised that none of the other ladies were looking forward to labour itself – the general reaction was “God no! “. For me it was not just the excitement of our baby finally arriving, I was looking forward to the challenge… I had the brief thought that my positive feelings might leave me unprepared for the onslaught, but I do remember discussing with my LOVELY midwife later that week that I was keen to see how well my natural pain management techniques worked… she replied “I’ll remind you of this!...”
Coming from a health professional background I have some understanding of pain systems and I guess I would like to impart my knowledge and the strategies that helped me manage the pain:
Remember that the pain of contractions is ‘good pain’ i.e. it serves a function – muscles contracting, bubs re-positioning and your cervix opening up - it is not creating any injury.
Your relaxation state is highly connected to your breathing: If you can keep your breathing slow and low (10 BPM or less) you will avoid stimulation of your sympathetic nervous system and avoid the adrenalin – both of which increase perception of pain!!! Slow breathing and relaxation = LESS pain
Positioning and water! (Listen to the Midwives and Antenatal educators’ advice on this!)
Things started at about 2am one week after bub’s due date. I was on the toilet evacuating my bowels every 20 to 40min – wondering whether this was in fact labour or just a tummy bug. When my husband woke up at 7am he had no symptoms… and we concluded that it was too much of a coincidence to just be a bug. Coffee and a sustaining breakfast went down… and came back up again with the next contraction. The greater part of our morning was spent with me sitting on the loo (bucket on lap) and my lovely husband offering different fluids - all of which came back up every second or third surge.
For me the pain was a dull uncomfortable cramping in the lower back like having a bad bug or period – not unmanageable yet. I had my swiss ball to kneel over and sit on, or I knelt and leant over the bed – these positions were great (when I wasn’t on the toilet or playing catch with my bucket). Doing my slow counted 7 or 8 second cycles of breathing kept me focussed and relaxed.
Later we spoke to our midwife on the phone she gave us plenty of encouragement and the instruction to call when the surges were regular and about 4 minutes apart – or before the stage that the 25min windy drive to the birthing centre would be too uncomfortable.
I got in the bath – bliss! And a brief (not lasting) respite from my nausea and vomiting, but the contractions seemed less severe. I stayed in for 40min but was wary that the contractions might slow down so I got out. Almost immediately the contractions were about 5 minutes apart and stronger – i.e. It was more difficult for me to talk (which I found out trying to disguise a contraction when mum called!). Lovely husband called our midwife when the contractions got to 4 minutes apart and I climbed into the back seat – strapped into the middle seatbelt - but lying down. I turned a little more ‘inward’ with my contractions in the car breathing my ‘mantra’ “in,2,3,out,2,3,4 pause” amongst the bumps and turns.
Our midwife had the birthing pool ready when we arrived around midday, but I was adamant that I save the pool for when the actual pushing started! I got the TENS machine stuck on my back, but I found it more annoying than helpful during the contractions – too many sensations when I was trying to focus on my breathing. I had to lie on the bed a couple of times for an internal examination but this position definitely wasn’t good for me – I felt like I had no control – so I was mostly kneeling over the side of the bed or the swiss ball.
The surges got very strong and painful – not dull anymore but sharp – and with this my vomiting and nausea went away! I continued to manage the pain just focussing on that breathing – slow and relaxed – (NOT deep or big breaths as is depicted on screen). Now I was watching for the signs that the second stage was starting – particularly the ‘need to poo’ feeling - and when it came I was all keen to rush over to the pool and get pushing, but our midwife said to wait… Then my body started doing the work for me… I knew consciously that this happens, but I was still surprised! I was looking around at my husband and midwife exclaiming “it’s pushing! It’s pushing!! (‘It’ being my uterus, not the baby). The uterus was making these strong muscular contractions that I had very little control over. When the midwife told me to wait again it took all my focus to keep breathing and not push with ‘it’. In between contractions I climbed into the pool. The sharper pain of these contractions although more severe was so much better for me than the dull nauseating ones I’d had all day, and the pool was great!
The second stage all seemed over quite quickly: Admittedly this part is where there can be injury with the pain – but the pelvic floor is designed to stretch, tear if needed, and heal quickly… I had a second degree tear but I wouldn’t have known at the time - I was just focussed on the job! This is where the pain got sharp and more ‘stingy’. Once bubs was crowning the midwife instructed me to do some short little pushes to help each contraction – easy does it! I had a few gasping moments with the pain but mostly kept control (I think I only swore under my breath once?) and it was about 3 contractions before baby’s head was out – followed a few seconds later by its’ slippery body! Our baby was scooped up out of the water and onto my tummy! A few gentle pushes soon after for the placenta - but by this time we were completely distracted by this little purple creature – our baby girl - taking her first breaths!