I love reading birth stories. I requested and read and listened to as many as I could before giving birth myself. I wrote down my own birth story as soon as I could, and revisited the experience several times later. I still love to hear my friends’ stories.
Reading birth stories is a great way for future mothers to prepare for birth. You can get a realistic feel for all the different possibilities, share in the joy of the easy birth, witness how healthy are the kids (and their mothers) whose births didn’t go at all as planned. E
ven birth stories that end badly can help an expectant mother deal with the impending event, though you should gauge to what degree you can read about such tragedies without losing perspective and hope.
Familiarizing yourself with birth stories is also the best way to see all those medical terms that you’ve been reading about, at work, in practice.
A good story: the value of experience
A good birth story is one that was written by the one who actually experienced it (the mom) and that leaves out none of the details. It must provide the medical data: the minutes in between contractions, the centimeters of dilation, the medical interventions, etc. Was it painful, in what sense, how was pain best dealt with? But above all it must give a good description of what went through the mother’s mind: her doubts and fears, what she and others did to cope, her joy at seeing the end of the tunnel. A dad’s perspective too is integral to a good picture.
So here is my birth story, the story of Amie’s birth, which I like to call my own: my birth as a mother. I was doing it, not any drugs, or doctors, or forceps: me and a midwife called nature.
Amie was due around 26 August, so in the early hours of 17 August we were still quite relaxed. The preceding weekend, at my husband’s urging, we had engaged in our first baby shopping. We bought diapers, wipes, a thermometer and what would later come to be called a “booger-catcher,” and not much more.
At 2.30 am I was lying awake – who can sleep underneath all that alien weight! – when the contractions started. I was skeptical: they could be just Braxton Hicks or “false” contractions. Nevertheless, I was excited and woke up my husband, and then we decided it would be best to go back to sleep. Ha!
It wasn’t the contractions, which felt like mild menstrual cramps, but my mind that wouldn’t let me rest. I lay awake till daybreak, engaged in deep communion with my body, trying to discern if it was for real or not. The cramps grew steadier, more intense, and by the morning I called up my midwife to let her know that I might be coming in later that day.
The day progressed and we tried to do most of the things we had planned: we watched episodes of Seinfeld, ate good food, talked, relaxed, didn’t sleep, timed the contractions. We called up our relatives, sent email missives to friends with updates. We stayed in contact with the midwives. And we were steadfast in our wish not to arrive at the hospital too early. I reread and reread the sections about the stages of labor in the childbirth books.
First hospital visit
We held out till the next day, but not by much. At 3 am we decided it might be time to go. Even though the rather long drive was excruciating (pothole lane!), and even though it took me 15 minutes to walk down the long corridor from the emergence entrance to the elevators (whoever designed that building!), the midwife who triaged me observed only 1 cm in dilation. She even suggested it might still be Braxton-Hicks. She sent us home with a sleeping pill.
Transition labor (still back at home)
After a very slow drive (thankfully there was no traffic, so we could weave around the potholes) we returned home at 6 am. My husband went off to sleep on the couch. Against my better judgment I took the sleeping pill and tried to get comfortable on the bed.
It was impossible: I couldn’t find a good position to lie down in, and was so exhausted and racked by the contractions that I couldn’t stand. So I “leaned” while the pressure got steadily worse. By now it wasn’t “cramps” anymore, but an unrelenting onslaught of heavy pressure and nausea.
Then, after a subtle shift, my body went into what is called “Transition Labor”: the last, shortest and most difficult because most intense phase of stage I of labor. The point of transition labor is to push the cervix to dilate fully. Intense contractions succeed one another rapidly, one upon the other, with little time for relaxation in between. It usually lasts for half an hour, and then the serious work of pushing can begin (stage II of labor).
Transition labor is when your body presses the pedal to the floor and really leaves you behind in the dust. However much I had prepared to let nature take over fully, I wasn’t prepared for the full force of its insistence. It literally left me breathless and on my knees.
Can I push? (still back at home)
During transition labor the baby is already moving down. I had read that I might feel the urge to push and that I should fight that urge. The reason is that the cervix needs to be fully dilated (10 cms) before you can start pushing safely.
Still, before I knew it I was pushing, and I had nothing to do with it. That’s what made it so scary: what if I wasn’t ready, not yet fully dilated? Could I have gone from 1 cm to 10 cm in only 5 hours? I fought it, but just couldn’t, and pushing just felt so right.
Soon after, at 7.30 am, my water broke. We called up the midwife and she told us to come in right away. As I was struggling to get into clothes while my husband drove the car around to the front, I thought seriously about just lying down on the floor and giving birth right then and there.
The father-to-be wisely argued that that was not a good idea.
Can I push? (in the hospital, finally)
The second ride to the hospital, along a less potholed route but in morning traffic, was the worst of my life. This time, upon arrival, I got a wheel chair. My husband brought me straight up to the fifth floor, delivered me into the hands of the midwives and went down again to register us.
They had given me the room with the jacuzzi: very nice, but we were beyond that stage. The midwife checked and observed that the baby was already in the birth canal.
“So can I push? Can I push!” I nearly yelled.
The midwife smiled and said: “Yes, push!”
I hadn’t listened to my body, I had needed to push but had fought it. Even now I didn’t ask my body, but the midwife, before I let it happen. On the one hand, it makes sense: the midwife could actually see that all was a go. On the other hand, it just goes to show that, however much I had intellectually persuaded myself that I could let my body do this, I hadn’t been able to trust it and relinquished control totally.
Up till then.
The last thing I said was to the midwife: “It’s my birthday today”. Then I pushed, finally free, authorized, as it were, to do so. The maternity desk called down to registration to tell the father-to-be that he should forget about the papers and run back up. His daughter was about to arrive.
Unfortunately that was not the case… Pushing took a long time, during which I tried the birth stool, standing, leaning, and lying on my side. A mirror was placed so that I and my husband – who was supporting me from behind – could see what was happening. I didn’t catch a thing: I didn’t have my glasses on.
Retreat into the temple, that lonely place
Not that it mattered. To those last hours of my labor no other words apply so well as Ted Hughes’, from his poem “The Horses” in The Hawk in the Rain:
May I still meet my memory in so lonely a place
The moment the serious pushing, the “real labor” began, I retreated into myself, or rather, into the temple that was my body, where nature now reigned supreme. I went into a trance, and though I didn’t quite stop being there altogether, I was almost not myself.
I have very little recollection of what went on, even in my mind. I stopped being vocal, so no one got any kind of description out of me of how I was feeling. I didn’t faint, quite the contrary, my body became alert, strong and all business. It was like my body was sucking up all the consciousness it could find, and there was nothing to spare for “me”.
It was a lonely place, yes: even I didn’t seem to be present. But it was a lovely place. I felt very at home there, and safe. It was all I had dreamt of.
I returned to myself only at the end, when I became aware that the baby’s head was crowning. By then my body hadn’t slept for 32 hours, had a rather heavy sleeping drug coursing through its veins, and had been in serious labor for 3 hours. It was tired and it was time for me to take over again.
The midwife saw that I was nearly desperate with fatigue. She asked if she could give me an episiotomy, to speed up the birth by a few minutes. I declined. Those last pushes were the last I had in me. Amie was born at 10:30 am on 18 August, on the same day that I was born, 34 years ago.
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