What I wish I knew before giving birth (Part 2/2)

Helloooo 🙂 I wanted to publish part #2 on Mother’s Day to link this to motherhood somehow, but I was a bit disorganised… Need to get better at planning and scheduling for Wellbeing Lifelong! 🙈

Anyhow, let’s go with part two of this little series. If you missed part #1 find it here.

As mentioned, this posts are a bit different, still health related, but not so much down the usual nutrition and lifestyle road.

I wanted to talk about the things I learnt after giving birth to my daughter that I wish I knew beforehand, so I could have prepared better.

Don’t get me wrong, as with everything health related, I loved learning about labour while I was pregnant. The point is that no matter how much I prepared, at the time of being in labour I was hit with lots of unknowns. And for a number of reasons, my ideal water birth ended up in a C-section due to stalling at 8 centimetres with a posterior baby, after more than 24 hours of long and painful labour.

Before we start! This post was becoming a bit too long, so I divided it in two parts, here a summary so you know what to expect:

Part I

1 – Labour was longer and more painful than I ever expected

2 – Forget about being Mama Earth, this requires a marathon type of mentality

3 – Pain can make you forget all your learning and priorities

  • Stay at home as long as possible
  • Have a bath to ease contractions
  • Keep moving and changing positions, even if having an epidural

Part II

4 – Having a coaching team is KEY

  • Birth plans matter
  • The role of the partner
  • The hospital team

5 – What I helped me and what I would like to do next time

Also, a little disclaimer, what you will read below are my personal experiences and thoughts, the following “advice” is simply based in how labour and birth went for me and my baby. Labour and pain management is a very subjective, and of course varies greatly for each women: while some women go through pretty straight forward and quick labours, or even describe it as “enjoyable”, others endure it like some sort of ultramarathon (my case I think!)

So.. here we go! Welcome to part two!

4 – Having a coaching team is KEY

Based on all the points I mentioned so far, it has become very clear to me that having a strong and well-prepared support team by your side is essential to help a woman in labour manage the trascendental, hard and vulnerable moment of giving birth to her child.

In my experience, I thought I prepared good enough, but the hardship of the constant and intense contractions definitely caught me by surprise and made me forget everything I wanted to do during labour. Unfortunately, my support team was no able to take over from me and carry on coaching me to do what I hoped for (or at least try to!).

  • Birth plans matter – My partner and I spent time putting together a birth plan that, at the moment of truth, no one looked at. No one asked me for it once I stepped into the hospital, even if it was part of my paperwork at arrival. And of course, I had enough going on myself at the time to even remember about it. Next time, I hope I make a point about it and give it to the midwives, so they can check and at least compare my wishes to the reality and coach me accordingly. If they did so back then, they would have realised that this first time mother won’t have the water birth she is hoping for unless she gets some help to get her birth and pain management under control, and not the other way around!
  • The role of the partner – My partner did the antenatal courses with me and watched videos in preparation for labour and birth. Despite he did not read any book himself (now I think he should have) he listened and learned from the comprehensive lectures I gave him while we were expecting our baby. At the time of labour, he was great in the sense of being “at my service”, he was kind, helpful and followed my “orders”. However, his role was rather “reactive” to my requests, instead of “proactive”, which is what I needed at the time. I was effectively KO, so someone had to take over and lead me, and he was not able to take on that role in the way I required. While being pregnant, neither him or me expected him to have to take such a leading role during labour, I thought it was all down to me, but what I discovered there and then is that I was pretty “useless”, and someone had to coach me through the long process of labour and reminded me about all the things I already knew but where hidden behind the discomfort and pain I was feeling. Also, as my health visitor told me later on, it can be hard for men to know exactly how to coach a woman through labour because they have never experienced it themselves. I must say, I now totally understand and see the need for the role of the doula – not that I didn’t before, but I was not prepared to invest money on it, whereas now I am considering doing it if we have another baby.
  • The hospital team – Something that my health visitor also mentioned to me when we were discussing my labour was that the ending of our birth stories often may depend on how risk-adverse the medical staff attending us is. This totally made sense to me when I heard it because I could remember the different approaches of the midwives present at the time. While one was mainly checking the baby’s vital signs and intensity of each contraction, another asked me to do some “test pushing” to see if that would help with my dilation and baby’s position being stuck. In that sense, I think we got to remember that doctors are dealing with unborn (and hopefully newborns) babies here, probably one of the most precious little humans for any parent, so if things are not looking 100% straightforward, it is safer for them to choose the “easy way out” and advising to get the baby out via C-section instead.

5 – What helped me and what I would like to do next time

We are now reaching the end of this long post, which I am aware that might come across a bit negative in terms of lessons learnt, the unexpected and the world of pain that labour was for me. But that is not my intention at all, rather the opposite. I feel that the more realistic we are about what to expect, the more prepared we can be. At least that is how my head works when facing a big challenge. Not all women are the same though and just the other day I was chatting to a mum whose approach to birth was to know as little as possible and let the midwives and doctors do their thing. Ignorance is bliss, as they say!

No matter how hard or easy it is, the fact is that labour requires a massive effort from any woman, both physical and mental. Despite I wish we did things differently during the labour and birth of my first child, let’s end up in a good note! Here are the things that did help me the most during labour and the ones I (hopefully) will do next time:

What helped me the most

  • Bath – Yep, they say it and it is true. Water helps to ease the pain. So go for it! Try not to use this valuable resource too early on and save it for when the pain is becoming really unbearable. Talking from experience here!
  • Counter-pressure – My partner put pressure on my lower back while having contractions which was helpful and gave me some sort of relief during contractions.
  • Mooos and low sounds – I think there is a theory behind why low vocalisations help to manage the pain during labour, I can’t fully remember it now, but I intuitively did this during contractions and it helped me too.
  • “It is just one minute, I can do one minute” – When learning about labour, I heard someone suggesting this memo while you are in the middle of a contraction. “Yes, it is horrible, but it only lasts one minute, and then it goes”. When I was in hospital alone during the night hours, I remember how repeating this in my head helped me to gather strength, one minute at a time.

What I will do next time

  • You in for the long run so have a marathon mentality – As mentioned in part one, it is going to be hard, but you are a warrior. Be mentally prepared to endure the pain of labour and know you can do it.
  • Read the book “Birth Skills: Proven pain-management techniques for your labour and birth” – After the bittersweetness of my birth story, I did some research and came across this book from Juju Sundin. I like it because it approaches labour from the point of view of pain management methods, and when I heard about it I was like “Amen sister!” it is painful so I’m happy to use that word and not euphemisms such as “pressure”, “surge” or “wave”. Although I totally respect that this works for some women, it didn’t work for me, and this book teaches numerous techniques that make total sense to me, I just wish I discovered it earlier!
  • “Be louder than your pain” – I head this somewhere, maybe in the Birth Skills book actually, and after experiencing labour, I get what it means. Shout if you have to, swear, vocalise, mooo, baaa, scream… Don’t be shy (I was a bit actually) and do what you need to in order to release the tension caused by each contraction and, as it says, be louder than your pain.
  • Doula – I didn’t have one but I can totally see the value of having one now. A woman with experience, patience, warmth, wisdom, energy and good advice coaching me during the hardest moments of life?? Yes please!
  • Pushing for my birth plan – Make one and use it. Even if you don’t follow it, make sure the team attending you knows what your “ideal birth” looks like (even if there is no such a thing as an ideal birth, always keep your mind open!).
  • More preparation for the birth partner – This is important too. We know the mother is the key player during labour, but the birth partner has a massive responsibility as well. He or she is the mum’s coach, advocator, cheerleader, pillar, hand to squeeze and massage, shoulder to cry, mouth to smile and voice to reassure. A woman in labour needs as much support as possible, so birth partners: do not underestimate your role, prepare for what is to come and make sure you are ready!
  • Peanut ball if using epidural – Like I said, having an epidural does not equal end of movement. There are things we can do to keep labour progressing if we choose to have a medicated birth, and the peanut ball is definitely something I will mention to the midwives if I end up in the same situation of my first birth.

Well, that was a loooong post. Phew! Not sure how many readers have made it to this point, but thank you to the ones who did! I hope you found it helpful in any way, and above all, my best piece of advice if you are going to give birth soon is research, research and research… and follow the advice that resonates with you the most, because that will probably be the most helpful.

Best of luck and wishing you a healthy, safe and quick labour 🙂

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