It had to be done at some point. Any parenting blog worth its low salt toddler meal will have to talk about it. The first feeling of a planned pregnancy (we’ll approach unplanned another time) when you check your blue stick and see the cross, or two lines, or ‘pregnant 2-3 weeks’ from those superposh digital ones is – ‘Woo hoo! I’m pregnant’ closely followed by, ‘bollocks I’ve got to squeeze something the size of a daschund out of my vagina’. The birth becomes in so many ways the focus of everything you are doing, the culmination of nine months (if you are lucky and on time) of concerted growing that the weight of expectation on yourself and the small bundle that will arrive at the end can feel a bit crushing.
And the thing is, that the moment you tell people you are pregnant everyone will want to talk to you about it. From the horror stories ‘Oh I was 3 days in and screaming, with shit and vomit flying around the room when the midwife actually climbed inside my vagina and pulled the baby out with her teeth’. To the magical ‘my home birth was wondrous and I shared it with all my family and friends and she popped out after a small cough, just in time for us all to head out for a celebratory meal’. And even the official information varies wildly between the detached – a graph depicting contraction level and rate, to the terrifying – birth videos (all of them). Despite all these sources of information, my overwhelming feeling after giving birth the first time was shock and awe. It felt nothing like I thought it would, and I was a prepared and organised NCT attending lady. So I thought I would describe how it actually feels.
When labour starts you sort of spend a couple of hours wondering whether this is actually it. It really can be pretty gentle like a fist clenching around the cervix area. This can last for ages so stick your feet up if you can as it’s probably the last time you’ll do this for.. oh I don’t know.. 15 or 16 years. This’ll carry on going for probably a long time getting generally more and more painful, but it all feels very ‘Vagina-ey.’ I know that’s not a word but most of us have period pains and this to be honest is kind of how you expect labour to feel. As it gets more intense your stomach kind of cramps and tightens with the contractions. This is your cervix coming apart.
Are you still with me? Need to sit down?
At some point you’ll need to go to hospital (if that’s what you’ve arranged). How in hells teeth you are supposed to know when this point is in the first labour is a little beyond me. Even the second birth was still a bit tricky. They say to wait until the contractions are five minutes apart and last about a minute and then come. But when I did this they basically sniggered, told me I was 2 cm and sent me home. I asked the midwife when I should go back and she said ‘ see how you are talking now? Well you won’t be doing that.’ Telling this to a girl who once lasted 2 minutes in her school sponsored silence when she was 11 is dangerous. Yes apparently not even the late stages of labour can shut me up as by the time I was dragged in mute – I was ten cm. I think you should probably head in whenever you really start to struggle. When you start hearing things and wondering what made that mooing sound and then realise it was you, well that’s probably five minutes after the time you should go in.
Once the cervix has stretched enough you move into stage two of labour which is when the baby goes down into the birth canal. This in my experience is when shit gets freaky. You are used to contraction pains by now and though they do hurt – it is a predictable pain. The feeling when it drops into the birth canal is genuinely shocking and does not – I repeat – does not(!) feel natural. How it felt to me was a bit like all of my internal organs were about to drop out of my bumhole. The physical reaction to this is to clench your bum cheeks together tighter than Ant & Dec and panic. Giving birth genuinely feels like you are doing the biggest most painful poo in the world. So please don’t be too scared if it feels like this – I think that I wasted a lot of effort pushing in the totally the wrong way the first time. This carries on for a bit and then the last hurdle to get over is the crowning. This is when the baby actually emerges and is the most intense and sharp pain of the whole process. At this point I genuinely turned round to the midwife with a ‘no honestly we’re all grand – I’ll just keep it up there thanks. I’ll just home school it and stuff, we’ll be fine’. This is when tearing etc can occur and it’s not fun but all I can say is that it really won’t last long. So try not to panic as this means it is nearly over – eyes on the prize and all that.
Then you’ll have a baby! This is a good thing. You may feel little other than ‘what the fuck!’ but trust me it was worth it (mostly).
But unfortunately you are not finished yet. You need to deliver the placenta out of the same ravaged place a baby came out of. This varies wildly in experience, some people barely notice, for others it’s more contractions and pain. My placenta was so big it barely fit into the kidney bowl and provoked an ‘ooooh look at that’ from the (presumably rarely shocked) midwife as she gave it a jolly little wobble. I take this as being confirmation that the cake a day diet is imperative for foetal health. The placenta looks like liver wrapped in cling film by the way and I have rarely seen anything less appetising – step away from the frying pan Tom Cruise.
You then have to have some checks to assess how you have fared. This involves them poking around a bit, and trust me it takes a huge amount of self-control not to punch them in the face at this point. They will hopefully fix you up, tell you how clever you are, give you a cup of tea and toast. And leave you to stare with wonderment and fear at the thing that caused all this trouble in the first place.
The above is my description of a straightforward fanny delivery. There are a huge amount of variations to this as people are all different and things that can happen at any stage in the process (they write whole books about it). But everyone needs to be aware of what a fairly normal one feels like, the mums and even more importantly the dads. So that when things go proper shits up they can stand up and shout ‘help’ get a consultant in here pronto thanks, as we’d rather not hang around for another 8 hours with a non-progressing labour to then have an emergency c- section thanks, why don’t we just crack on with that right now.
If anyone mentions ‘back to back position’ around you, if you have rolling contractions with little progression, if you have been projectile vomiting for ages – get on the drugs right now. If a midwife starts to make you feel guilty for lack of progression shove her out of the room and demand a less evil person to come and mop your head. There is a weird bias towards ‘natural’ labour as if as we’ve all got the equipment we should be able to use it. But has anyone looked at what’s actually involved. Trust me it’s the least natural thing I’ve ever felt. And we are just lucky that we live in times where birth mortality rates are as low as they are and that’s because we have these magical things like c-sections.
It’s very easy under all this pressure to feel like you have failed if you end up having a c-section. Or even if you do manage it but get badly damaged in the process, to feel that your body has betrayed you. Please try not to feel like this though as it’s total bollocks! The birth is generally only the messy exit of a wonder that’s already happened and that was making it inside of you. And if you have been through all the shitty bits of a labour and then have to struggle through all the tricky aftermath and healing of terrible tearing or a c-section (the only major operation that anyone expects you to be awake for), then you are a legend! You get two badges and many kisses. You should be incredibly proud of yourself. And just think of all the newly pregnant ladies you can terrify with your own birth story.