Your baby had up until 1pm yesterday to even hint at its arrival — just one contraction and we would’ve turned the car around, left the van packed, but stayed for the day, so I could be with you at the birth of your first child. Alas, it was not meant to be. However, given that for 2.5 weeks over Christmas I was within one block of you and your pregnant belly with a phone by my side waiting for the call to see that “it’s time”, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about childbirth, how I would support you through it, and how it can be best described.
Not that we haven’t talked about it over and over again. Every time we talk to each other. And it’s not like you haven’t read the journals I kept for each of my pregnancies, read my birth stories on the blog, and read and put in your “baby binder” my 15 page tome on childbirth and early infant care, besides many other books on the subject. You have. You’re ready. You’re as ready as any woman can be.
But, still. There’s so much uncertainty going into it for the first time. Will you know when it starts? Will you get to the hospital in time? Will the baby just fall out one day while you’re going to the bathroom? I mean… it happens to some women. Who’s to say it won’t happen to you?
You’ve heard it described countless ways. You know about false labour, early labour, transition. But what is it really going to be like to go through it?
I’ll admit the last night we were at my parents’ house, I woke up probably every hour thinking the phone was going to ring, or maybe willing the phone to ring. I even dreamt that Mike knocked on the door and there you were, waiting in the car crying through your contractions. Poor Jyl. Poor me — haunted by the hope of labour.
That night I thought of another way of describing labour. And you will forgive me if it’s a bit graphic. But anyone who’s ever been at a birth realizes that nothing’s really graphic anymore after witnessing that. So here is my analogy: You know that point during sex where you and your partner (and of course, I don’t mean “you” in particular) stop quoting movie lines and you stop thinking about what you’re going to make for supper the next day? The point where your body takes over and it feels like nothing else matters? Where your thoughts and the outside world are both loud and silent all at the same time? Where you feel like you’re somewhere else but also very present?
That. That is what the transition point of labour is like.
Except there is the one slight difference in that instead of your body overtaking you and leading you to some kind of wonderful, it is leading you into a place of pain. The likes of which you have never experienced.
Yes, early labour can feel like menstrual cramps and during active labour the contractions will make you stop, catch your breath away, and make you tired and frustrated.
But. When the transition stage comes, it goes to a different level. It’s at this point that, if you haven’t already wanted or asked for them, that you will want drugs. I did. With each and every one of my labours. I said, “I’m no hero. Bring on the fentanyl!” The difference between all my labours, however, was that when that point hit with Madeline’s birth, I still had six hours to go (including three hours of pushing) before she was born. When it hit with Luke’s birth, I had ten minutes and a walk down the hall to the delivery room to go. With Olivia’s birth, I had five minutes. You see the difference?
And the difference, of course, is that when you get to that stage you feel like you just can’t do it any more. This is the universe’s strange way of telling you that things are happening. You feel like you can’t do it. But you are going to, with or without the drugs. The worst thing you can do at this point is panic and give up. The thing your body is screaming for you to do at that point? Panic and give up.
If you don’t. If you stay calm. If you “go within” and focus on something, anything, that allows you to get through those moments, you will make it and your body will do the rest. It is quite remarkable.
Now, what I can tell you is that if you can make it through this stage to the pushing stage you will feel much better when you start pushing. (Although at some point, when that baby is officially making its way out of you and into the hands of the doctor, it starts to hurt again.) I know. Because that’s what happened with all of my births.
Like I’ve said before: it’s the uncertainty of labour that causes the panic. The fear of “how much longer do I have to endure this?” that makes you want to give up. With Luke and Olivia both I asked for the fentanyl. I didn’t want to have to go through the pain anymore. But it was too late. And when I realized that it was too late and that they were on their way, it was such a huge relief.
With Madeline, the fentanyl wore off long before she made her entrance into the world, bursting out as soon as that huge head of hers made it through. I pushed from midnight until 2:59am. I didn’t want to know what kind of progress I was making. I gave up asking “When will the doctor get here?” I just closed my eyes and pushed and then rested, deeply on the pillow between contractions. I thought “I’m making it through each contraction. I can do this. I’m so sick of this and wish it was over. But as long as I don’t know think about how much longer this will take, I’ll be okay, because I can make it through one at a time.”
One at a time.
Labour will overtake you. The contractions will get stronger and the pain will come not just from the muscles of your uterus, but from the baby bearing down towards the birth canal, and also from exhaustion. It will be too much. But that is normal. And your body knows what to do. It will lead you through and bring your baby into this world. It is overwhelming and horrible and wonderful all at the same time. And at some point nothing will matter to you except getting that baby out.
And get that baby out you will. Whether you decide you need medication. Whether situations occur that lead to a c-section. You will get that baby out. Just go within yourself. Focus. Trust your body and know that the panic is normal. Take it one contraction at a time. Each contraction one closer to the birth of your beautiful baby. You can do it. You will do it. And when it’s all over, it won’t matter any more.