Of course, as should be clear from the title of this post, we've moved on somewhat from pregnancy gripes. And before I continue, I'll just make the point that I'm doing this in order to FULLY REMEMBER the experience end-to-end and make sure I NEVER feel like repeating it. I mean it.
The Bean was due to come into the world on the 19th of June. Sometime on the evening of the 18th, I started to feel a little crampy, and at some point felt a small gush. As I've fortunately been blessed with continence throughout the pregnancy, and I don't normally use pants-wetting as an attention-getting strategy (at least, not since my mid-twenties), I thought "Hmmm, maybe waters breaking??". Nothing much else happened though, so we went to bed. I woke again at 2am - those cramps were really getting pretty irritating. We decided to phone the midwife, who listened to what I had to say, then suggested a couple of panadol, getting some more sleep, and coming in for a check on the following day. So, we did just that. At 1pm, I was hooked up to a couple of monitors in the hospital, and those nice strong cramps I'd been feeling just dried up. That's right, not a single one for a full half-hour of observation. Always the way. So, they muttered that sometimes Braxton Hicks contractions can be a little painful, and sent me home again.
During the afternoon and evening, the cramps just kept coming - but here's the tricky thing. For it to be 'real' labour, you're looking to fulfil 3 conditions:
- pains get longer,
- pains get stronger,
- pains get closer together.
Me being me, I drew up a spreadsheet (just on paper, though if I'd had my laptop ready, excel would have been trotted out for the job), with time, duration and intensity columns. The upshot? The length of my pains rarely exceeded 30 seconds (apparently 60 is around the expected duration). It was very hard to estimate strength - even with my cunning 'mild', 'mild-med', 'medium', 'med-hard', and 'hard' sliding scale - because I have a feeling that 'hard' inches up in strength without you really noticing. So at one point in the evening - somewhere between 9 and 10 - we sorta guessed that the 'hard' ones were the proper contractions, which were about 10-15 minutes apart .. but not really regular. I was thinking that if this was what painful Braxton Hicks contractions were like, then real labour was going to effectively kill me, and I think hubby noticed my strained expression, so at 11pm, we called the midwife again (I'm sure she was really grateful for all my late-night calls). She considered the evidence, and told me to get into a warm bath, and see if that helped. So off we went. I think I'd been sweltering in the heat for about half an hour, when it became obvious that the 'hard' contractions were now coming at 2 minute intervals, though still not lasting anything like a minute. I sat about for another hour or so, considering how butch all the women who have preceded me in labour were, if I was considering begging for an epidural for something that was a pre-labour contraction, when there was a gush. And I'm not talking a sissy 2-tablespoon trickle, I'm talking pints gushing under full pressure. So THAT'S what they mean about waters breaking.
At this point, it was brown-trousers time (I won't go into gratuitous details about diarrhoea at this point, except to say that perhaps brown-trousers time could officially be said to start a little earlier...). We called the midwife back (it was now around 1am), and said "that's it, we're coming in to the hospital". She agreed to meet us there, so off we went, me sitting on a stack of towels which became soggier with each contraction. As luck would have it, it was a rugby night that night, with the home-team winning big. So the streets were full of drunken revellers. Hubby and I staggered from the car to the hospital, with me needing to stop and lean over for each new contraction which was - you guessed it - accompanied by more watery gushing. This didn't escape the notice of the drunken crowd. Some were very nice - offering to run ahead to the hospital and alert staff - some were just awed and impressed at the sogginess of my pants. Anyway, to cut a long story slightly less long, we got inside, got to a delivery suite, met up with the midwife who, after having a little feel around, pronounced me at 7cm dilated (and here was I thinking that they did something a little more official, like using a slide-rule or callipers or some such). She recommended that I might like some gas. I nonchalantly acquiesced to her suggestion by grabbing the tube and sucking deeply on it throughout the rest of the labour.
My tips for getting through labour? Hokey as it sounds: breathing. This was one of the most intense experiences of my life to date, and while the nitrous may well have taken the edge off the pain, it sure didn't feel like it at the time. What it DID do was give me a handy little tube to bite on, instead of grinding my teeth into little calcified splinters, and encourage me to breathe in a very regular way - which I used for each and every contraction: 4 beats in, 4 beats out. When it started to get a little tougher, I used hubby as a resistance weights machine on one arm - so I was effectively doing a 4-count bicep curl (breathing in), and a 4-count tricep extension (breathing out). Didn't stop the pain, but did give me something to focus on, which I think helps. At some point during labour, you get to something called the 'transitional' stage. This is when it stops hurting, and starts *really* hurting. You don't just get one nice peak in your contraction, but you get something with several peaks in it (ouch-ouch-OUCH-OUCH-ouch!), and you get the first 'pushy' type urges. The best way I can think to explain the 'pushing' urge to someone who hasn't done labour, is: think of when you're really nauseous - you start retching maybe a couple of times before you vomit. That compulsion to retch, born of the nausea? Well, it's the same as the compulsion to push, born of the contraction. It starts off with a sort of mild involuntary push, but when you move fully to the pushing stage, then pushing is just what you GOT to do. Unfortunately, while the contractions help you to get the necessary force into your pushes, they don't do all the work. You have to get some oomph into it yourself. And yes, it is exactly like shitting a watermelon. Constipation no longer holds any terror for me.
The midwife was pretty awesome. She knew exactly when to get me to change position in order to keep the labour moving on at the right pace. Sometimes on the bed, on the loo, standing up - it was never comfortable trying to move around between contractions, but it was amazing the difference it did make.
Things I vividly remember? The feeling of the head coming down the canal - actually feeling so stretched that it burned. Twice, it felt like I'd almost managed to pop out the little sucker, only to have him slide back in between contractions - almost right back into the cervix by the feel of it! Getting the head out was by far the biggest "yes!" experience - from all the ante-natal prep, I figured that after that, all the other pushing was secondary, and indeed it was - the midwives can give a bit of help with the shoulders, and the placenta - though surprisingly large - was a doddle.
The moment he was fully out, the midwives stuck him on my belly - just pausing to dry his head a bit. It was so bizarre to finally meet the little entity I'd been carrying about (and carrying on about) for the last 9 months.
Bizarre, and really .... kind of awesome.