My first labor was a perfect example of how your birth plan (or whatever you want to call it) can be thrown immediately out the window. I had planned to [attempt] a "natural" childbirth. I had no clue what to expect, since my only sibling had not had any children yet and none of my friends had either. I took a birthing class at the hospital, which is kind of a joke since I have since realized that this particular hospital really pushes Pitocin.
It started going downhill when, on my due date, my water broke. I was Group B Strep positive. That's the bacteria that can occur near your...erm...bottom and *can* cause serious complications. So to start with, I had to come in immediately and be put on an IV so that I could be given antibiotics.
Before I even left home, the contractions had started. And they were decently painful, so I felt like I was progressing fairly well. After being admitted however, I was informed that I was not progressing as they would like to see. It's kind of funny, because I don't know how they measure only 45 minutes of progress in the grand scheme of labor, but they immediately put me on Pitocin.
Now don't get me wrong; I know there is a time and place for it. I don't however believe that this was necessary for me quite yet. The result of the Pitocin, which they steadily turned up higher and higher, was extreme contractions with no break in between. At one point, my contractions were entirely off the chart and were stacked three on top of each other before going down all the way. I was constantly told by the nurses that if I didn't progress I was going to have a C-section. There is truly nothing like harassment and scare tactics to help your labor progress properly.
I managed to hold out for about 15 hours of this before they told me that my time was up. Since I had not progressed at all, I had two choices. I could get the epidural, and hopefully relax enough to progress the rest of the way, or I could get an epidural anyways because the other option was a C-section.
Obviously, I took the epidural. It did its job, a little too well honestly, and I feel asleep for two hours. I could literally feel nothing at that point. But I did progress from three to ten centimeters in that time. I woke up, puked, and started pushing. Little Rowan Elise was born about twenty minutes later.
Recovery sucked because I had a catheter and couldn't walk. I was also so out of it that I couldn't hold my daughter because I felt like I was going to drop her.
My second labor was much smoother, aside from having back labor. I was sitting in church and started having mild contractions that we timed, and they got closer together (very textbook) and stronger and after about fifteen hours, with no pitocin or epidural, Baby Dashel Ryan was born. I was so much more aware and I remember having to switch to a different room about two hours later. They apologized profusely and I told them it was no big deal - I was fine to walk. I got to the other room and climbed into the shower and felt amazing. It was truly eye opening what a difference it made. Sure, I felt the pain, but it was the recovery that really sold me.
My third labor was even better. I had already decided that I will try to go naturally if possible, so when I started having "false labor" with my third baby, I was determined to make it through without an epidural again. I had contractions for about two days that were 5-7 minutes apart. They never really got any closer together, and on the third day I went into the hospital. I was dilated to a four, and wasn't in an extensive amount of pain. It was definitely painful, but nothing I couldn't handle. I sat in the tub and labored for two or three hours, until I got tired of sitting in there. The nurse came in to check me and I was a seven. I asked her in disbelief if she was sure I was even in labor, and she kind of just laughed at me. I told her it was crazy because I've done this twice and I know how bad labor should hurt, and she just assured me that I would be doing this with no epidural and it would be no problem for me. I might mention at this point that I had moved from Oregon to Alaska and the hospital here is much more supportive of natural birthing practices. I think I was only in real active labor for about seven hours before our surprise Royal Alexander was born. Again, there was definitely pain. And transition hurt just as much that time as it did the last time, but overall, having one natural birth under my belt, everything seemed to go so much smoother. I was once again practically dancing my way to the shower immediately following, and I was coherent enough o realize I had just delivered a baby.
I am not delusional enough to believe that, if I were to have, say, fifteen children, they would all be natural labors. Sometimes C-sections happen. Sometimes inductions happen (I am looking at facing one on my due date this time). But under the ideal circumstances, I now know the best coping mechanisms and some of the best techniques for not only handling the pain of labor, but also of making it go faster with less pain - or more manageable levels of it.
WIthout further babbling, here are five steps to make a natural childbirth easier and more manageable.
Telling someone to relax through a contraction is the equivalent of saying "close your eyes and hold still, I'm going to punch you in the face real quick." Relaxation really is going to be the most beneficial asset in labor though. Being tense while your uterus contracts will only diminish the effects on dilation. Imagine it this way; your uterus is trying to flex and open your cervix, but when you tense up, all the muscles in your body are fighting that exact action. Staying relaxed will not only allow your body to do its job more efficiently, it will help in the release and spread of oxytocin, which in turn, will make you more relaxed and in less pain. Finally, you will save precious energy for the long haul that would otherwise be wasted while your muscles tense up against contractions. It helps, in the midst of the desire to tense up, to pray. Thank God for the blessing he is giving you and ask him to give you strength and energy, and the mindset to get through it.
Common sense! We are always being instructed to breathe through contractions. Unfortunately, none of us will probably ever get that weird LaMaze breathing pattern from the eighties out of our head. In reality though, I wouldn't recommend that as a true comfort measure for labor. One of the easiest ways to breathe through contractions (short of them giving you an oxygen mask) is to count while breathing. I used to use this technique when I was young and had anxiety attacks. I would breath deeply in through my nose, while counting slowly to four, then exhale while counting to four again. You would really be surprised how distracting it is to count through your breaths. Not to mention the fact that a 45 second long contraction doesn't take many four-counts to get through it.
Smiling through your contractions may only work to a certain point. I actually recommend using this as much as possible in early labor - when the contractions are mild enough that you can accomplish other menial tasks. Watching a funny movie, hanging out with a friend that makes you laugh, or even just smiling to yourself...all these things are going to help keep you pumped and keep your outlook positive, which is going to help with labor efforts. It's been proven as well that smiling helps relax the sphincter muscle, which will also contribute to everything just going smoother.
Even if you are not a crunchy crazy hippie mom, you have probably at least heard about the positive affects of visualization during labor. Basically, you close your eyes and imagine the good things that are happening inside your body. Some women suggest envisioning a flower blooming, and while I agree that a lot of labor is mind over matter, I don't really understand how that is as affective as straight up imagining your cervix opening. I'm not saying it isn't, I just would think that the cervix one would be more effective. During contractions, close your eyes and picture your baby moving down, its head resting and putting pressure on the cervix, as the cervix begins to just open up effortlessly. It also helps to visualize the baby coming down all the way and coming through the birth canal. It all works to encourage your body and release more of the amazing hormones that calm you, alleviate pain, and keep labor working the way it is supposed to.
Keeping focus during labor may seem about as impossible as relaxing, but under normal circumstances, the contraction pain is temporary. Even though the pain is extremely intense at times, it should only last for a minute or two. During your contractions, it is good to try to focus your pain to your cervix. This sort of goes hand in hand with visualization. You want to embrace the pain and let it happen, because like I said, it is temporary and your body's natural function - then focus it all into your cervix and keep it there. You may be surprised how quickly you progress when you keep fear out of the equation and tell your body that you know what it is doing and encourage it however possible.
This is not intended to be some genius, extensive list of coping techniques for labor. This is just meant to be more of a crash course. I suggest taking at least one birthing class if at all possible.
Even if you plan on having an epidural, you never know when the coping techniques might come in handy. Sometimes it takes longer than intended to be able to get the epidural, and sometimes they don't provide full relief from pain. It's a good idea for *everyone* who is expecting to have a few tools in their belt for handling the pain when it comes.