What helped the most to prepare me for the birth of my first child?
Twenty years ago, every Wednesday morning, the Birth Unit of St John’s and Lizzie’s used to hold sessions to prepare women for birth. I was lucky enough to be part of those sessions.
After yoga, we would eat a delicious, home-made lunch, and the pregnant women would listen to the stories of the women who had graduated to the other side. The swollen, uncomfortable women would listen in awe to the experiences of women holding their tiny babies in their arms.
I learned that birth is intense and personal, and I heard stories of unique journeys to new lives and different selves.
It also helped that I had experienced the mind-set necessary to keep going a bit more even when the exercise hurt. And, most important of all, I knew not take the pain personally.
What’s the pain like?
You know when you’re running or doing a press-up and you’re in that place where you can’t do any more and it hurts and you want to stop? And then you hold yourself there and you keep going?
That’s what the pain is like. Then it stops and you have a rest with no pain for a bit. And you recover and then you start again. And as the pain builds, your ability to cope builds.
In the end, the last five contractions say, you feel like your head is coming off.
But it doesn’t start like that. No, it starts gentle and you think, look at me. I can do this. Now that stage is just the beginning and in no way resembles what’s coming.
It builds up and up and it breaks you down, till you are an animal, without politeness. The layers of up-bringing are stripped back and you are laid bare to your essential animal body. The pain is just a way to get you there, to the place where you don’t care and you can do what you need to do to get that baby out of your body and into life. It’s not pretty.
What helped me the most during the birth?
Focus was what got me through. Anything that supported my concentration helped me, which is why I needed complete privacy, quiet, dim light and a fully-functioning brain. Sometimes I needed help concentrating.
What was I concentrating on?
The outbreath was my salvation. In the face of the rising pain of the contraction, I breathed out slowly and consciously through pursed lips.
For my first two births, I also moved my hand in circles over my thighs as I breathed out. I did four breath circles on the right side, then four breath circles on the left side. I also kept my eyes open for half and closed for half. Weird I know, but it helped me visualise and find my place in the contraction. I knew when I was half way and how far I had to go.
And in the bliss of the no pain between contractions, I was so relaxed I think I fell asleep sometimes. I used that time to recover and prepare myself for the next one.
What made things go faster?
It helped being in deep water and for two of my births, having my membranes broken.
How it looked on the outside?
I was quiet and concentrating intensely. I probably also looked quite silly.
How it felt on the inside?
I had complete faith in my gifted obstetrician Yehudi Gordon, in my skilled midwife Patricia Scott and in my powerful body.
This is the birth story of my first, precious daughter:
Two weeks after my due date, I had mild contractions one night that went away during the day. When it really hurt the next night, I went to the hospital. I was only one cm dilated so the hospital sent me home again. We didn’t have a car, so we went by taxi.
What followed was a night of terrible pain alone in my bed. I coped by doing a complicated breathing dance (see above) but I panicked sometimes, forgot to breathe and then it all fell apart.
At seven the next morning I insisted on going to the hospital. When we got there, I was fully dilated.
At 12.40 I pushed a tiny baby girl out into the world. In between, through the standing and the squatting, through the pool and the bed, through stage 1 and stage 2, through the pain and the panic, I kept breathing.
That was 18 years ago. Last Sunday afternoon, she went to University.
I’m still breathing.