When a friend of many, many years shared her experience of childbirth with me, I was awestruck by her humility and grace. Never mind that I’d known her nearly my whole life, I knew very little of these life affirming moments. She delivered the visceral detail of giving birth with both calm and good humor. Birth plans, it seems, are secondary to a mother’s tenacity.

Birth Plan Gone Wrong or Miracle?

“I was so out of it on drugs my memory is patchy,” she said. “I’d read up on all my options in advance, as you do with your first, and I wanted it to be a natural birth—gas and air, no drugs, breastfeeding straightaway.”

And then it began for real.

Contractions came quickly in the early hours. “I was at the hospital by 7am and on [nitrous oxide] until 4pm.” Eventually she was given pethidine, an opioid drug. “I don’t remember much after that. My partner said my eyes were rolling back in my head and I was making terrible noises.”

In the space of five hours she’d only dilated one more centimeter. “They had to break my waters and give me more drugs to speed it up.” A natural birth this certainly wasn’t, as she finally reached 10 centimeters in the early hours of the following morning. “Baby’s heart rate was dropping as I was pushing. She wasn’t coming out and that’s when they realized she was spine to spine.”

Yet she’d already entered the birth canal, so there was no going back. “The consultant wanted me to have an emergency C-section but the midwife was adamant I could do it. In hindsight I’m grateful to her since a C-section would have been too much after all I’d been through, and I’d hit the wall by then.”

Or so she thought.

More midwives arrived, she was given an episiotomy, and her daughter was born more than 24 hours after it all began. It sounds, at first, as if things were beyond this new mother’s control, but it was she who pulled through against all odds. It was she who gave birth, plan or no plan.   

No Giving Up When Giving Birth

“We forget to look past the actual birth when we make a birth plan,” she added. “You bleed for up to six weeks afterwards then maybe you get the baby blues. This is the kind of thing people don’t tell you, but when you’re in it, you just get on with it. You really don’t know what you’re capable of until the time comes. Yes, my birth plan went out of the window, but I just did it anyway.”   

Why Choose Water Birth?

A second pregnancy brought understandable worry. “The midwife simply said “six hours, on average the second birth takes six hours since your body has been through it before.” I requested a water birth and was adamant that I didn’t want pethidine.” A birthing pool is body temperature so it feels really hot, and this heat both relaxes muscles and relieves pain. Plus it’s more progressive for the baby, since they come out of fluid into fluid.

“The contractions happened in the early hours again,” she said. “When I got out of bed I could feel pressure on my bladder and didn’t realize that baby had dropped down.” He was in a hurry, unlike his sister. “When I got to the hospital I was dilated to 4 centimeters and just an hour later was already at 9 centimeters.”

She was past the point of epidural. “It was comical really; it was happening so quickly, but the birthing pool took ages to fill with water and I almost had to be lifted in.” Once there she suddenly felt naked, vulnerable. “I was wondering why I hadn’t brought a bikini top with me, midwives kept coming in and out of the room, and I was thinking, “I’m trying to have a baby here.” It took some concentration, but the whole experience was so much calmer.”  

Within 30 minutes she was pushing and 20 minutes later her son was born. Active labor from dilation to delivery was just one hour and 50 minutes. “I felt as if my insides had been ripped out, I was so sore, but also euphoric. I’d been conscious all the way through.”

How to Write a Birth Plan

“You can’t really have set expectations of how to give birth. People will tell you the horror stories, but mine isn’t a horror story, really. It’s a wonder that my body went through all that and now I’m here talking about it, and I have two children.” And still her tone remained self-effacing. “You do what needs to be done.”   

Are you a new mom or mom-to-be? Try Cora’s belly butter and nipple balm

Featured image by Jade Beall

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