When I was pregnant with my first baby, I had no expectations of giving birth beyond painful but I assumed I could manage it, somehow. I read Sheila Kitzinger, I did antenatal classes, I planned a homebirth, I got a birthing pool, I asked my wonderful midwife a million questions.
At 39 weeks my waters broke at 9am, it could have been mistaken for peeing myself but it just kept coming. Contractions were mild and erratic and not at all demanding. I was chatty, on the phone to friends and not in labour. Until eventually at about midnight, my contractions kicked in – they were powerful and strong and just coming. I was surprised at how in awe I was of my body and at how intense the contractions were.
The instinct to move and sway and lean was so natural, I didn’t have to think, I just had to do. Getting into the warm water felt amazing. The music I had planned got on every nerve, I either wanted to cling to my husband or I didn’t want to be touched. Crowning caused me to panic, I lost control and just needed it to end, I was scared of what was happening and I hadn’t previously thought about how it might feel as my body stretched to birth my baby. What did I think was going to happen?
I was surprised most that the contractions were completely doable – exhaustion pressure and stretching were harder to manage.
Three years later and with baby number 2, I knew more of what to expect. After a day of mild stop/start contractions my waters broke with an audible and physical pop, which felt like an elastic band snapping.
My contractions kicked in with fierce power and regularity, which forced me to really focus on my breathing rather than panic and allow them to take my breath away.
I was scared of panicking again when I gave birth but I knew more of what to expect so, again, I used my breathing to stay calm, to slow it down.
Another three years later and its time for baby number three. This time, a homebirth was written off because the boy was poorly so preparation was more hospital focused. I suspected labour would be ok, the uncertainty was to come when he was born.
Labour was, once again, quick – the contractions were familiar and manageable and I worked hard to breathing to stay as calm as possible and to work with each contraction.
Being in hospital was a shock after having homebirths – the midwives were excellent and I felt able to say what I needed and to stay off the bed but it was harder to stay focused. It wasn’t as calm as home, there were more staff in the room – midwives, an obstetrician kept popping in, as did a paediatrician. I just remember lots of conversation and interruptions when all I wanted was calm and quiet to focus on my contractions.
Panic hit again but my husband took over, I focused on him and I did my thing. I was able to calm my breathing and birth my boy, standing up and leaning over the bed.
The surprise for this labour mainly came from the difference between place of birth, the lack of awareness or consideration about what a woman in labour might need and the power of a good midwife to protect the birth space and a labouring woman from well-meaning but interrupting doctors, who requested I get on the bed, who suggested I needed more pain relief and who told me I couldn’t yet be pushing (I didn’t get on the bed, I didn’t need pain relief and I was pushing)
Each birth was different, with challenges and euphoria at different points. As a pregnant woman – and antenatal teacher – I couldn’t prepare for the intensity of labour and birth and how I was going to feel but I could prepare for going with my instincts, listening to my body and knowing how to use my body to stay as calm as possible when I needed to.
Janine – antenatal teacher, doula and mum of three