If Ever There Was a Happy Place in Labour – This Was It

By Anna Stoyanoff

After each of my first two births, I had nightmarish flashbacks for days. It took a while before I figured out how to tell the story without reliving it. How is it, then, that the birth of my third child has become my happy place to retreat to during a night of no sleep?

It’s not so much what actually happened during each labour and birth (hospital, dilation, epidural, ventouse, stiches) – it’s about how I felt throughout the process.

The first time, the lead-up to established labour was so long and painful in itself that I felt patronised, not listened to, unsure. We were finally admitted to hospital and the baby found to be in a difficult position – I felt vindicated and reassured. But then it dragged on and on, until I was exhausted, despairing and terrified. The epidural we chose at that point saved my life and my baby’s – in another age or space, we would not have survived.

The second time round felt like a baby shower. I arrived for induction to cheers of welcome from the nurses station, was visited during the evening by our lovely midwifery student, and woke in the morning dilated and cheerful. I handled those contractions like a boss – confident and familiar with this particular brand of pain. Until I heard that I was less dilated than I expected (after an hour of telling myself he would be here soon), then my self control – and my sanity – fell apart. The baby’s in the wrong position, would you please get out of the bath, we don’t normally recommend an epidural but in your case…

Just you try telling a woman in labour to move to where she doesn’t want to go! I felt defeated. All went as it had the first time.

My third birth? We moved all the furniture to get our carpets cleaned. I was ready and waiting. The physical exertion shifted baby down and loosened the plug. Mum suggested a movie on the weekend. No, Mum, the baby’s coming this weekend. I lay down and felt the very first, early contraction.

My waters broke that night, and I was triumphant. Finally my body and I were on  the same page! The next day passed so slowly, without much sleep and without much progress. But when we went in to the hospital that afternoon, my husband made me laugh until the sheets flooded with amniotic fluid.

This whole experience felt steady, full of gradual steps I could comprehend and keep up with. They kept telling me I would need hormones to trigger contractions at some point, but I knew I didn’t want that. I stayed in hospital overnight having one of the most restful sleeps of recent memory, and was surprised to find my body had worked hard anyway. I felt gratified that for once I wasn’t imagining myself to be further advanced than I really was.

A couple of doctors came in to chat with me about the hormone drip and possible participation in their studies, and spieled at me for several minutes. Finally they asked if I had any questions. Um, yes… can I wait an hour? I think things are really getting going. They reluctantly left the room, and sure enough my labour advanced enough to avoid seeing them again.

I spent the next three hours in the bathroom, leaning on an exercise ball which was propped on a chair, shower streaming hard on my back. If ever there was a happy place in labour – this was it. My husband sat chatting outside with the midwife and student, and I loved having the attention off me. What a relief to no longer have expectant looks every time there was a contraction, or (much worse) a long pause between contractions. This was my zone. And they brought icy poles whenever I asked.

Photography: Anna Stoyanoff
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