It was around 6am on a Sunday morning that I suddenly woke and realised my waters had broken. This was after only three hours of sleep as I had been up half the night reading a baby book (obviously!) and five days before the estimated due date.The water was slightly pinkish but clear. I snapped a photo of it in case I needed evidence.
A feeling of euphoria and excitement started spreading throughout my whole body with the thought that we could soon be meeting our baby! My partner was already up at this point and heard me stomping around upstairs. After a slight panic, when he heard that my waters had broken, he relaxed and we embraced, happy and exhilarated.
I texted my doula to let her know about my waters and that I had started feeling a slight sensation of something that felt like light period pain. I decided not to call the hospital as I did not want to be put myself on a time limit of when I had to go in. This would have been counterproductive as I knew it was critical to stay as relaxed as possible in order to have a straightforward birth. I felt completely safe knowing the fact that 90% of women go into spontaneous labour within 48 hours of their waters breaking. In addition, I already had the slight sensation of period pain and the waters were reassuringly clear.
With a few hot water bottles, I went back to bed but lay down only to remember that I had an Ikea delivery scheduled in a few hours! I decided to quickly call and after unsuccessfully attempting to rearrange it (despite stating I was at the beginning of labour!), I went back to sleep.
I knew I needed to pace myself and that potentially the early stages before active labour starts can take 1-2 days or even start and stop for a period. So I knew it was better to go back to bed and rest while I could. A few hours later I woke from the Ikea delivery at the door. Instead of frustration, it made me very happy because I realised how much progress I had already made as the waves were stronger.
I fell asleep again with my hot water bottles and continued to sleep through the contractions. After a while, they got even stronger until I was waking on each but I still could manage to doze off in between. When they got stronger, I felt I needed to start aligning my body’s movement with them. I was moving my pelvis in circles, on all fours and then laid back down in bed, completely relaxed and loose, resting in-between them.
I kept focusing on the resting. I moved to the floor when their strength increased as I felt I needed to move on something which was more solid and I started to vocalise on each of them. When I threw up I actually felt happy as I knew this was a great sign that labour was progressing and it was just my body’s way to purge itself before the birth.
I asked my partner to call my doula and to tell her that the contractions were slightly stronger and I that had been sick. She had stated that it was best for her to come over once labour was established so I was positively surprised when he told me that she would make her way over. It seemed too early.
When she came, she used aromatherapy, gave me camomile tea and then put pressure on my back with her hands when I needed it. Everything she did was incredibly relaxing and made me feel even calmer and safer. At this point, I was still on the floor in the same position doing the movements on all fours and vocalising.
As the surges became stronger, my doula asked if I wanted a bath which we had also planned to save towards the end. While she ran the bath I realised that there was some blood on my pad. She told me that it was show and that it was a good sign and the bath felt incredibly relaxing. While in the bath, I suddenly felt an urge to push, a similar sensation to needing to defecate. As my body started pushing I stated, “Let’s go in now”.
While my partner prepared everything and called a taxi, I put on a blind fold, earplugs and covered my entire head with a black scarf, not to disturb labour in the process of getting to the birth unit room. As my birth partners helped me out of the house and into the taxi, I felt the cold air outside, but couldn't see or hear anything, as I was completely enclosed and thus just focussing on what I was feeling. With each contraction, throughout the entire journey, I dropped to all fours and continued to move my pelvis in circles, whilst vocalising my breath. This continued throughout the taxi journey, hospital corridors, elevator and on arriving at the birth unit.
I had written in my birth plan that I didn’t want to get checked vaginally or asked questions upon arrival. As planned, my partner went ahead and spoke on my behalf, as well as handing in my birth plan, and to ensure my birth choices were followed. Inside the birth unit, I was on all fours again while waiting for the birthing pool to be ready. I was feeling cold. My body still wanted to push but the midwife asked me to wait. I felt like I had no control over the my pushing reflexes and the body was running the process itself.
The midwives checked the heart beat of the baby and found it was beating too fast and therefore asked me if I had drank enough fluids, which I had completely forgot to do after throwing up. Consequently, we had to go into the labour ward to do continuous fetal monitoring to ensure the baby was ok. As soon as I drank several glasses of water, her heart rate stabilised. There was now no time to go back into the birth unit room as I could feel the baby coming and a strong need to push. Logically now at this stage I had no issue with the midwife checking me and after only a few seconds of looking she said “Amazing, push!”. Those words felt like a huge relief as finally I didn’t have to hold back and I could let my body do as it wanted.
I was still in my own world. My doula reminded me to remain in a position that felt comfortable for me and that was on my hands and knees, hanging over the back of the bed. It meant I had gravity on my side, and eventually, I adopted a kind of squat, with my doula sitting in front of me so that I could hang my arms around her neck and hang of her. It felt great.
The entire pushing stage felt completely different to anything previously. It was both exciting and a comfort knowing the hard work had been done and that I would soon meet my baby. The contractions were gone and instead there were only squeeze reflexes. I wasn't proactively doing anything myself except making sure to breathe and take it slowly, as my body was in charge. It felt like a slight burning sensation, when the head started to come but there was no pain.It felt as if I was “breathing down” the baby.
After a few more pushes, I had decided that now as time for my baby to come out. It was so amazing to hear the excitement of the midwife when she said that she could see her little eyes. I did a longer push.“Ah it feels like a little orange” I thought to myself as the head came out. As the rest of the body followed, it felt as if a little fish was slipping out of me.
The midwife took Scarlett and passed her to me through my legs. I still remember this phenomenal overwhelming moment like it was yesterday. The first time I held my baby in my arms, the most beautiful little being I had ever seen. It was the most incredible moment of my entire life, to see and meet her for the first time, with my partner by my side holding my hand. My amazing midwife said with a big smile that the next time I gave birth I shouldn’t even come in. I should just do a home birth as I had done everything myself. Scarlett was born after only 52 minutes in the hospital. The most magical experience of my life had come to an end and another of motherhood was about to begin.
As well as sharing my story, I thought it would be helpful to share the preparation I did - the things I came to understand that made the power of difference. After my birth, lots of people asked me questions about the pain of labour - men and women alike. The question that came up the most was 'how can birth be pleasurable for some, and painful for others?'
I had asked the same question myself while still pregnant, and though I did find out the answers - that the body needs to be enabled to release a fine orchestration of both hormones and natural painkillers, I was amazed how this was barely mentioned in the antenatal courses I did.
The answers I found myself were not only mind-blowing but also the most comforting thing to me, and completely determined all my birth choices. The information helped me to remove my fear about labour pain and transformed my view on how incredible the female body is forever.
As is commonly known, when the body goes into labour it starts to produce a hormone called oxytocin (aka the love hormone, the same hormone we produce when making love.) The oxytocin physically creates the contractions that pushes the baby down, open everything up and create space for the baby to come out. But what’s more - when the body starts producing oxytocin, it also signal the body to start producing its own natural painkillers, beta endorphins. In fact, if undisturbed, the female body will release moreendorphins than even the strongest opiates on the planet would eg morphine,IMAGINE THAT!
The more oxytocin the body releases the more endorphins it produces, and so on. The more oxytocin it can produce equals faster, easier and more straightforward labour and birth. The beta endorphins activate the same receptors in the brain as morphine would, only they are STRONGER, with NO SIDE EFFECTS, and release in a CONSISTENT FLOW. What’s more the beta endorphins also slow down contractions (and oxytocin production) if they are too strong or come too often - it’s a perfect synced hormonal dance. The baby gets all the beta endorphins too, just as the mum does, through the placenta. Also, the beta endorphins peak twenty minutes after birth but stay in the system for up to two weeks. No wonder mums say they feel high afterwards.
But - and here’s the big but - for the body to release oxytocin it needs to be calm and feel safe. If the body thinks it’s in danger, it automatically goes into fight and flight mode and blocks the oxytocin production by pumping out adrenaline instead. From an evolutionary perspective, this was so that a mother was in a position to protect herself if needs be and run away if she was in danger. Very clever. Our bodies function exactly as they have always done, and so in an unfamiliar environment like a labour ward, where a mother can easily be disturbed, remain alert and then adrenalin can trigger. In theory it's a 'safe' environment, but it's hard for the body to completely feel that way, as it can't easily relax in a place it doesn't know. Just as other mammals, a cat for example, will disappear and hide in a safe, dark place to birth their kittens, the human body needs similar conditions, a mood that is safe, dark and undisturbed so that it can produce maximum amounts of oxytocin and endorphins.
Nowadays most women are expected to move right in the middle of labour - to go into a foreign bright, noisy, non-private space to give birth - the hospital. Many times women contractions slow down when they get into hospital cause it can’t produce the oxytocin freely. The body thinks it’s in danger and produces adrenalin.
I 'protected' my labour by choosing to wear earplugs, an eye mask and a black scarf when I left my home - my safe place. This way I was able to stay inside myself, remain focused, and so I didn't disturb my labour. It also helped to go in quite late on, when I felt pressure building, when there was momentum and less chance of me getting distracted. I also didn't allow anyone “check me” upon arrival, as this would have also broken my flow and put a brake on hormones.
On arrival at hospital, I didn't engage at all. I let my birth-partners do the talking so as not to activate higher brain function ie thinking which would have inhibited oxytocin. I also let my body do as it wanted, moving spontaneously and freely on every contraction, as well as vocalising and “breath with” every contraction.
Today we have all the medication and assistance when needed which is amazing. Even so many births are more complicated than ever. In my case my labour and delivery would have been very different if I had not informed myself and got the above information on what’s actually happening in my body as I would of have had no idea how I myself needed to protect and help myself in labour or delivery.