From the beginning of my pregnancy, perhaps even earlier than that, I knew I wanted my labour to be different from the ones you see on television, with the woman screaming, the husband yelling “PUSH!”and the doctors and nurses scurrying around, wearing sterile gear in a busy, sterile room. I started to research how birth happens, what it’s meant to be like and how you can make it better. The more I learned about the process of labour and the amazing work of the hormones, I became utterly convinced that we are designed and built to give birth and that it is a natural, normal, precious thing. I also read over and over again that one essential aspect to a good birth is the absence of fear- which made sense- the muscles contract the wrong way when you’re afraid, which slows down labour. Fear also reduces the production of the hormones your body naturally makes for pain relief!
My Mum, four years earlier with a surprise pregnancy, had gone to a midwife at the Birth Centre for my brother’s birth, so I knew of that option. As I thought about it (and I’d seen the birth centre briefly while Mum was in labour) I decided that yes, this was a place I could feel more relaxed than in a hospital room where anyone could walk in at any moment. I also felt that getting to know one midwife over my pregnancy and having her attend my birth would be an essential step towards a birth without fear.
Over my pregnancy, our midwife’s information, advice and encouragement helped me to learn more and more about a healthy pregnancy, labour and in the end, a breastfed baby. I must admit that often when people heard I was going to a birth centre, planning on a birth without any drugs, they told me I was crazy and that it was going to be awful. One good friend put it like this: basically it’s going to be 12-24 hours of pure hell! But I clung to the knowledge that God designed my body with this purpose in mind and I chose to believe the midwife’s words, rather than those of my friends (who were usually single and childless!).
When I went into labour at 7pm on the 13th February, after a few hours of warning contractions that morning, the information I already had about what it would be like and what to expect really helped. I was able to talk to my midwife and confirm it was the real thing (YAY!! About time!!). She said she’d try and get some sleep and to call her when I felt that I wanted her. I felt quite confident about spending the early hours of labour just with my husband and preferred to do that. I watched a comedy DVD with him and timed my contractions, walked around the house doing little jobs and double-checking my suitcase was all ready to go.
By 11:30, my contractions were about three minutes apart and David was saying “Can we call her now?” I was also messaging my Mum for updates (for her) and advice (for me) and she thought we should call the midwife too- she was getting a bit worried! So by 12:15, I agreed and David rang her and told her we’d meet her at the birth centre at 1 as I wanted to have a shower first. At 1am we went out to the car, I had a contraction under the stars while I leant on David for support, then we jumped in the car and quickly drove the four blocks to the birth centre- we made it just in time for the next contraction! She met us there and we went in and made ourselves at home.
For the next few hours, I spent most of the time walking around, leaning on David during the contractions, often with our midwife putting a heat pack on my lower back, which literally halved the intensity of the contractions and was heavenly. She seemed to know that we were happy and confident to be on our own and just when to re-appear and offer support and encouragement. I decided to get in the bath at about 3:15. The contractions got more intense, but the warmth of the water and the weightlessness felt wonderful.
I had been feeling the effect of the hormones for several hours, but they really seemed to kick in now. I was feeling very tired and just wanted to get it over with so I could go to bed and sleep. I didn’t have much concept of the baby at that point as I’d been pregnant for so long and never yet seen a baby! David loves to tell people about how in the thirty seconds between contractions, he had to watch me closely to make sure my face didn’t go underwater, as I was falling asleep! It really did feel like I was doped up on something, but it was a strange combination of focus on the labour and total fuzziness about everything else!
Each time a contraction would come, it would build and build and I would think “Oh, I’m not sure I can cope with this anymore!” But just as it got to that point, it would start to abate, I had come over that peak. And after each one, I would think to myself “This is hard work, but I can do it. I know I can do it.” My friend Cherie’s words helped: “Think of a contraction like a wave- it builds up and up and up and just as you think it’s going to overwhelm you, oh! It’s passed!”
At about 4:30, I wanted to start pushing and my midwife said to go ahead if I wanted to, that would be fine. So I did push a bit and it seemed to relieve the intensity and pressure of the contraction a little, but I held back as I didn’t want to waste energy if I wasn’t up to that bit yet. After a while, the contractions seemed to carry me along, making me push harder, but it didn’t feel like I was getting the baby anywhere. She said to me: “Remember there’s a curve in the birth canal; maybe you’re pushing the baby around the curve.” That was encouraging and I just kept thinking “This is all working to get the baby here, I want to see that baby!”
At 5am, the midwife said she could see the baby’s head, so I changed to a squat position so David could see the baby born and she could measure the heartbeat. Ten minutes later, our first baby was born into our midwife’s hands. I held him and exclaimed over and over how tiny the baby was! She laughed and said “Actually, that’s not tiny! It’s a pretty big baby!” I kept thinking “I don’t even know if it’s a boy or a girl!” but I couldn’t take my eyes off his face to look.
He was crying a bit but when I put his body in the water to keep him warm, he calmed down. Our midwife asked “Is it a boy or a girl?” David had looked and told them both (she and the supporting midwife) it was a boy. I said “Is it? A boy!” and looked. I was so thrilled! David and I looked at each other and said “What are we going to call him?” We decided we’d go with our favourite boy’s name- “Israel David.”
David cut the cord and took Israel while I got out of the bath and showered and got dressed. Israel just stared up at David for about twenty minutes, very alert and peaceful and quite content to be with his Dad. All three of us climbed into the four poster bed and the midwife showed me how to feed him, which went well.
As I edit this story to pass on to our midwife, I’m pregnant with my second baby and I’ve just come back from my first ante-natal appointment with her. I’m so, so glad that I chose to birth my baby (and now my second) with her, through the Birth Centre. I tell all my friends about how labour can be different to the horror stories they’ve heard. I’m glad I’m able to share with them that there is a better way, a more peaceful way.