When we first started planning to have a baby I was completely disgusted by the idea of being pregnant, giving birth and a post birth body. I just wanted the sweet little baby without all the ugly stuff. It was very unfair that I had to compromise my whole rig while Loki could just keep being his normal self, working on his fitness goals, eating and drinking anything he liked.
My plan was to somehow ignore the birthing part until it was upon me and then just demand all the drugs immediately and hope that it wouldn’t ruin my body too much.
My friend Chloe recommended I read a book by Ina May, a midwife who famously challenged over-medicalised birthing approaches in the 70s by starting a farm where natural birthers could roam free, blasting out little bubbas in the backs of Kombi vans and under trees. I bought it on the Kindle but was going to avoid reading it, preferring my previously mentioned plan of conscious evasion. Then Loki started reading it. It starts off with lots and lots of birth stories, stories of the wonders of natural births. He kept telling me about them and gently suggesting that I should read some of them, that it might help me understand the process rather than fearfully rejecting it. He was right of course, and as soon as I started reading I was 100% convinced that my body was this wonderful, powerful machine designed to create life and that if I didn’t have a homebirth my experience would be tarnished. My fears did a full 180 flip and I became terrified that I wouldn’t be able to arrange a homebirth.
One problem with this Ina May book was that the system the natural birthers were railing against in 1970s America was a very different system to what we have in place in Australia today. I managed to build up a lot of fear about having a birth in a hospital.
Cut to about a year later, I was half-heartedly engaging with a few of the classic old wives tales to bring on labour, drinking raspberry leaf tea and eating dates. Lots of baths and hikes, watching birth videos to make my body realise that’s what needed to happen. The closer my booked induction at 41 weeks 3 day loomed, the more I had to let go of the idea that naturally going into labour was a likelihood. In retrospect I don’t really care at all, but at the time it seemed really important to go into labour naturally, I really felt like I needed to experience that.
We had two sports bags backed full of supplies, a big floor cushion and a huge tub of pasta bake that everyone convinced us to leave behind (regretfully – we later asked that it be brought in for us because it was actually EXTREMELY ESSENTIAL).
The first part of the induction involved inserting a balloon catheter which wasn’t amazing but not as bad as I expected. The next few hours I gradually started getting intermittent bouts of backpain that felt like bad period cramps. We got excited and started trying out the TENS machine (provides pain relief/distraction through little pads that transmit electricity). The midwife came in and made some comment about us getting the TENS out pretty early. I was pretty convinced I must be in labour but apparently I was just being optimistic. Turns out the balloon catheter just makes you super crampy. I had a really strong, deep feeling of anticipation, excitement and anxiety – it felt like I had just taken some acid and it hadn’t kicked in yet. I was locked into this journey no matter what.
We went for little walks and I kept trying to refuse pain killers but eventually gave in and had some Panadol. We tried to sleep while a woman bellowed all night in the room next door.
First thing the next morning I had my waters broken with a crude looking little stick with a hook on the end and waited patiently for a baby to burst out. Lochie’s aunt Trina arrived, she was our support person throughout the pregnancy and helped us with decision making along the way. The next 6-7 hours went by surprisingly fast. I was given oxytocin (hormones that get stuff going) through an IV. I had been pretty anxious and apprehensive about this part and had been holding out hope that I would go into labour before this was necessary. In my memory, which is definitely not reliable given that I was in labour, one minute I was sitting happily on the floor chatting to Lochie and Trina and the next minute I was trying not to appear rude as I started to experience contractions that disrupted the conversation. I quickly realised social niceties weren’t that important at this point in time and just tried to focus on breathing. Again, I don’t really have much concept of how time passed but I guess the contractions just got worse and worse and eventually I decided to have a little moment when everyone had left the room except Lochie.
I made my most pained face and put on my most pathetic voice and told him “I don’t think I can do it!” even though I knew I could, would and had no choice regardless. This was a good way to get some extra attention even though I was already getting a lot of attention.
Contractions felt more familiar than I expected, they were literally just really bad period cramps. As they got really bad I started thinking of them as orgasms that accidentally did pain not pleasure because I guess it was sort of activating the same muscles. I got into the nitrous gas but no one seemed to realise it was barely releasing any gas so it mostly served as a way of focussing my breathing and attention during contractions.
After a while I felt really restless and wanted to rat around and get into water but I was feeling a bit trapped because I was tethered to my IV. I managed to get to the shower and had to most torturous shower of my life. I started to hatch a secret plan to demand pain killers after the shower. I also needed to poo which was annoying. I was in so much pain everywhere and everything felt so shit and the world was spinning and I made my pain killer plan less secret and started to freak out a bit and sat on the toilet doing a poo with everyone watching. The midwife said something about letting her know if I feel a sudden urge to push and straight after she said it my whole body shuddered like when you have food poisoning and I was like, ‘I think now?’.
They had a looksie and told me I was fully dilated and as soon as I learnt that all my pain disappeared. In my mind I had been expected another 10 hours of this getting worse and worse and to hear that the end was in sight was THE BEST NEWS. Here is a photo of around the time I was at the height of pain, doing a poo in front of everyone and about to get the first push. It’s weird because it looks very serene but it felt like the PEAK OF HECTIC.
I really wanted a little rest before I had to do all the pushing stuff but I couldn’t find any position comfortable. I kind of knew that I would give birth on all fours but for some reason felt like I had to try a bunch of different poses just in case one magically didn’t hurt.
The contractions at this stage weren’t super painful anymore but they felt so strong that I assumed I didn’t actually have to do anything and that they would make the baby come out. It was so much like food poisoning when you need to vomit or poo and you get those hectic waves of terrible pain pushing the bad stuff out of your body but you’re also glad that it’s coming out. Now I reflect on those waves with fondness but I’m sure at the time it wasn’t so great.
Anyway, after quite a while of enduring the waves of pushing, Trina knelt down next to me and advised that I probably should start doing some pushing sometime soon. I was so surprised that more force would be needed, it already felt like SO MUCH. Her next advice was also really surprising, she said I really need to bear down into my butt, pretty much like doing a giant poo. It made me think of in pop culture how women are always like ‘giving birth is like shitting a melon!’ and I always thought that was a crude metaphor. Now it feels…relevant.
Before birth I was really panicked about missing out on skin to skin bonding time immediately after the birth. During the 20ish week scan it was discovered that our daughter had a moderate heart defect which resulted in the pregnancy being a lot more ‘medical’ than I would have expected/preferred. It also meant that there was a high chance that we wouldn’t get to have skin to skin time or that it would be extremely fleeting. I read so much about how crucial this moment was for bonding and it felt really soul crushing that it could be taken away from me. In the end, we had our skin to skin moment but it was in no way the transformative experience I had expected. I mostly felt relief that I had done the hard work, and felt a big rush of emotion and hooted a bit – that could also have been a bit because I had seen people do that in birth videos. The umbilical cord was really short so holding her was kind of awkward and I could feel the medical staff itching to get her to examine her so it was kind of a relief to just be able to chill for while with Lochie when they took her off my hands.
They took our daughter to SCBU and I lay down, ate a croissant and got insanely high on the nitrous gas because somehow had FINALLY turned it up and had some surface tears on my vagina stitched up. Everyone told me how much I was going to love my post birth shower but it SUCKED, I had a stupid (but useful!) pee bag hooked up to me and was sore and waddling and felt so delicate it was just annoying trying to navigate myself around the place. Trina went down with Sam to SCBU and sent us photos to keep us updated. When we eventually got down to see her it was super sweet and exciting I didn’t feel at all as if anything had been taken away from me, I was just so happy that she was ok and was also clearly the most cute baby in the whole world.
So, yeah, birth is just shitting a melon I guess, so basic.