There are too many horrible birth stories out there. Unfortunately. When I started telling people I was pregnant, women started volunteering information about their own birth experiences. I heard about labour lasting for 48 hours and more, about the excruciating pain of contractions, about epidurals that only numbed one side of the body but not the other, about births where instruments such as forceps and suction cups were used to “extract” the baby, about horribly torn pelvic floors and emergency C-sections… you get the idea. I didn’t hear a single encouraging birth story apart from my grandma’s: she gave birth in the ambulance car on the way to the clinic some 60 years ago, and still smiles at the thought of how stunned and overwhelmed the medical staff were while nature was simply taking its course.
Disclaimer: By all means, I don’t want to discredit any of the experiences I heard about. I am totally aware that things might not go according to plan, no matter how much you prepare. That it’s every woman’s own decision if they want pain relief or not. That giving birth is as much about letting go of preconceived ideas as it is about accepting what is to come. But I had the intention of giving birth naturally, without epidural (although, all cards on the table, I still wanted to have this option available just in case, that’s why I chose to give birth in a Swiss private clinic). I simply wish I had heard more encouraging stories. Stories that tell a narrative of empowerment instead of suffering. Stories that convey the message that yes, you can do it, you were born to do it.
So this is what I am offering you in this post: the story of my positive natural birth experience. Uncensored. Not to brag, but to encourage. Because I did it. And if I can, you can (I am quite a chicken when it comes to pain normally). If you want to, that is. And presuming your pregnancy is free of complications. And don’t get me wrong, labour is no picnic in the park (quite the opposite, actually), but it can be one of the most intense, empowering and gratifying experiences a woman can have in her life. It certainly was for me. Here it goes.
It’s 2am in the morning and something feels odd. Have I peed myself? I get up and waddle into the bathroom to see what the heck is going on. There is transparent liquid, but not a lot. Perhaps just a minor incident, I tell myself, nothing to worry about. After all, I am 10 days away from the due date and the baby’s weight is pressing down heavy on my bladder. I go back to bed, but there it is again: I feel fluid trickling down my legs. I stay like this for a few more seconds, staring into the dark, unable to move, unable to make sense of the situation. I decide to check again, waddle back into the bathroom, and there I see fluid now more steadily flowing down my legs. It hits me like a baseball bat. Holy sh… my water has broken! This is it!
I wake up J. who’s still in deep slumber (he’s used to me getting up several times a night to pee). Honey, my water is breaking, we need to call the clinic! The lack of a response tells me that he, too, needs a minute to realize what’s happening. But then he’s up, checking my bag we had packed just the day before (I kid you not), and calling the clinic who tells us that there is no rush, but we should be there within the next 2 hours. I decide to lie back down (on a plastic sheet) and get some more rest. In the meantime, J. takes on his role of birth partner like a hero, prepares everything, eats a snack (he, too, has to stack up on energy) and orders a taxi that takes us to the clinic which is only a 10-minute drive away.
When we arrive at the clinic at 5am, the midwife on guard welcomes us, I change into a hospital gown, and she sets us up in a room adjacent to the delivery ward. I am hooked up to a contractions monitor and she checks my dilation: 2cm. No wonder, I tell myself, up to now I hadn’t felt any contractions. The midwife’s nightshift is about to end, she says goodbye, good luck with the labour. Since it’s your first child, I might see you again later tonight. Boy, was she wrong! But back to the story. I try to rest and relax some more in the hospital bed, J. next to me in a foldable bed, but the calm doesn’t last long.
At 6am, contractions start. And it’s full on. Within the next hour I go from one contraction every ten minutes to one contraction every minute. To manage this speed train of increasingly overwhelming sensations, I pull out every trick I have up my sleeve from birth preparation and yoga: I walk up and down the aisle (staying mobile to help baby descend), stopping every few minutes to lean on J., stretch my back and breathe through the contraction. J. religiously reminds me to relax all muscles in between contractions: face, arms, legs, to save energy where I can and not let stress (=adrenaline, bad, bad, bad, kills occytocine which is responsible for efficient contractions) take over.
At some point, walking no longer feels right, so I get back into bed, first on all fours, then on the side, pushing my heels into J.’s stomach during each contraction. A new midwife comes to check on me, but by that time I am no longer able to interact meaningfully with the outer world. I am absorbed by the physical and mental demands of labour. I am in my birthing bubble. My only point of focus is J. I think we better move to the delivery ward, the midwife says upon seeing the intensity and frequency of my contractions. So we walk the few meters to the delivery room, stopping several times so I can breathe through contractions.
As soon as we arrive, I feel a contraction with the urge to push. I said (or yelled?) this out loud and the midwife immediately examines me. You are fully dilated, madame! she proclaims, voice slightly panicky. That’s when all hell breaks loose. They call my gynecologist (because in a Swiss private clinic the responsibility for the birth lies with a patient’s own doctor) and a second one on stand-by in case she doesn’t make it on time. And all the while I am on the delivery table, trying to manage increasingly intensifying contractions which I know will push the baby out soon. J. is to my left, I squeeze his hand, neck, head (whatever I can grab) during each contraction, and he reminds me to relax and, most importantly, to breathe.
My memory is blurred here, but I recall a sense of relief when I finally see my gynecologist entering the room, ready to get this baby delivered. I am on my back now, traditional birthing position (the one I had promised myself not to give birth in, but you know, what the heck), and I start to push with each contraction while exhaling (to protect my pelvic floor, like I had learned and practiced during pregnancy yoga). I can see the baby’s hair! He has dark hair! my gynecologist proclaims full of enthusiasm. The entire team now consists of cheerleaders, encouraging me to push, my son is almost here. I can feel the baby’s head between my legs, but I have no energy left. I feel like I can’t do this anymore. Having had to suppress the urge to push until the gynecologist arrived had emptied my energy reserves.
They make me inhale some oxigen to regain strength for the final pushes. I just want to get it over with. Determined to do this now or never, I feel the next contraction arrive. I take a deep inhale, block the respiration (totally contrary to physiological, pelvic floor-friendly breathing – I will explain in another post) and push with all the force I still have in me – and there he is, our baby boy, not at all blue or wrinkly, but simply beautiful. They put him on my chest, and all I see are his dark hair and tiny, huge feet. Tears are streaming down J.’s face (he later told me he had been crying – overwhelmed by emotions – for the last hour). I am in awe. I feel exhausted. I feel like I can take on anything in this world. And I am proud. Of myself. Of J. for being such a wonderful birth partner. And of my son who was in such a rush to come into our world. We did it. We made a good team.
A few minutes later out comes the placenta, pain free. Would you like to have a look at your placenta, madame? my gynecologist asks. I politely decline. I am busy marvelling at this tiny, naked human being on my chest, his big round eyes taking a first curious glance at this world so totally new and different than where he came from. I had three superfical stitches where my perineum tore slightly, but this would heal within a few weeks.
Our son Félix was born at 9:07am, seven hours after my water broke, following two short but crazily intense hours of labour and one hour of expulsion (which could probably have gone even faster had I had the courage to follow my own body’s instructions rather than the midwife’s to wait for the gynecologist to arrive – well, lesson learned for next time). You better prepare for a home birth next time around, the midwife jokes in J.’s direction. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind. Because now I know I can do it.
Now, tell me about you! How was your birth experience? What was reality like compared to what you expected? What would you do differently? Any dads out there who want to share their perspective?