I may have spent an inordinate amount of time learning about labor when I was pregnant with Manchild. I consumed birth stories as if they were candy. I checked out half a dozen books about labor and birthing and how to prepare for it. I practiced breathing techniques and relaxation exercises.
Amazingly enough, when labor came, I felt prepared. I used the techniques I learned about. And when all was said and done, I felt good about how things had gone and how I had handled it. I’ve made a list of the things that were most important to me as I have labored with my kids. I certainly don’t have all the answers or know all the techniques, so please pitch in with anything that helped you keep it together in what is arguably the most terrifying, painful, fraught experience of a woman’s life.
1. Take care of yourself. This is sometimes hard to do. But if you need to pee, and your strapped to a fetal heart rate monitor and it is causing you distress, tell them you need to go and can you please finish the monitoring in a few minutes? For me, that moment this last time around came when I’d been in labor for a couple of hours with my midwife at my house, but I hadn’t been checked yet. I knew there wouldn’t be a lot of checking, partly because I was GBS positive and we wanted my water to stay in tact, and partly because it just wasn’t necessary: my breathing gave away how I was progressing. But I was still unsure I was making progress. My contractions weren’t as regular as I thought they should be. So, finally, I decided that for my own sanity, I needed to be checked. And my midwife obliged and set my fears to rest.
2. Try different things. So maybe you thought you’d like to lie in bed and relax and practice hypnobirthing through labor. But after a while, it isn’t working as well as you’d hoped. Try a different position. Or sitting on a birth ball. Or using a squatting bar. Or sitting on the toilet or a birth chair. All of these things have come in handy for me when I’ve been in labor. Until they didn’t, and then I moved on.
3. Come up with a system. I knew that once I closed my eyes and started breathing deeply, Micah would be right behind me with a hot water bottle pressed against my back. It made a huge difference to me, knowing that he was there and helping me as well as he could, and also that I didn’t have to do anything to let him know what to do. It was automatic.
4. Visualize. Sometimes I’d try to imagine a flower blooming, or to see my breath flowing through my body and helping me relax. But the thing that helped me most this time was to imagine that my belly was a balloon I was blowing up and it was getting lighter and lighter. “I’m a balloon! I’m a balloon!” I would think as I was breathing. And this would lead us to my final thought . . .
5. Smile and Laugh. Imagining that I was a balloon was kind of funny to me. After a couple of contractions I couldn’t keep myself from smiling about the silliness of it, and that helped me relax in preparation for the next one. Every now and then Micah or I would say something completely obvious or slightly ridiculous about the situation, which also made me happy. It helped to keep things light. And, if that failed, there was always the thought that this is really happening and in just a little while I’ll be holding my baby! If you need something to smile about, that’ll usually get you.
Okay, your turn. What helped you get through labor? What would you recommend to someone who was afraid or who wanted to prepare as best she could?