What they don’t tell you about Childbirth

When I was having my first baby, I read so much material about childbirth – in books and those magazines that mums-to-be love to pore over. I also went to the birthing classes. Yet, when it came to the big event it seemed that there was so much I had not been informed about at all – and much of what I had read wasn’t relevant to me.

What’s more, the birthing plan I’d thought out so carefully turned out to be a big farce – I don’t know if the staff dealing with me during my labor referred to it at all – and with the state I was in, I certainly wasn’t fit to register that that most of it just wasn’t happening. So, if you do one of those wonderful birthing plans and you have your husband or some other support person present on the big day, make sure they have a copy of it and are familiar with its contents. You need them to monitor things in that regard.

One thing I was really looking forward to so much was soaking in the big bath tub they had in the maternity ward – and that was mentioned in my birthing plan. But nobody at any stage suggested that might help with the severe pain I was in from the start – and no doubt it would have done. Very possibly it would have reduced the need for pain relief and if I hadn’t been so groggy due to pethidine, I could have been more with-it for more of the time and things might have advanced more quickly and efficiently, without the complications that obviously developed. Above all, my baby may have fared a whole lot better, exited my body more speedily – and been awake and breathing when she was born. Indeed, it just might have helped things to turn out very differently.

Apart from the fairy tale a birth plan can be, I also wasn’t told how painful induction often is from a very early stage – nor how ineffective it can be. Within a few hours of having induction gel administered, I was having strong contractions almost on top of each other. My husband, who had gone home to bed for the night, was called in and I was under the impression it hopefully wouldn’t be too long before my baby was born. That was around 6 am as I remember. My baby wasn’t born till around 9.30 pm. But all day I was going through long stages of contractions which didn’t really achieve anything – and they kept applying more induction gel. Nobody told me that it’s normal to have strong contractions close together from very early in proceedings when you are induced. Nor did they tell me how long things could drag on – or that they would keep giving me more of the gel when things weren’t moving along satisfactorily. Of course I wasn’t told either that they really shouldn’t apply the gel more than twice or the final stage of labor can all happen very suddenly, with disastrous consequences! I found that bitter truth out by cruel experience.

Another thing I wasn’t told was that drugs like pethidine aren’t really effective in labor and just make the woman in labor sleepy and unable to participate actively and effectively in childbirth. As for the fact that these drugs do cross the placenta and impact on the baby, I certainly wasn’t told that big one. As long as the baby is given Narcan after birth, it’s claimed that they’ll be fine. Let me tell you, I don’t believe that – and I wouldn’t touch drugs like pethidine with a bargepole if I had my time over again. My baby was born asleep and not breathing – and she suffered horrendous brain damage in the course of her birth. How much contribution the drugs I was given had on that, I will never know for sure – but I have my own strong convictions about it!

Nobody told me to get up and have a little walk around now and then, no matter how hard it was either. But it makes sense that being on your feet at least some of the time during labor would mean gravity could assist in the birthing process. I do know that when I’ve had painful miscarriages with which I’ve had to cope on my own without pain relief at home, I’ve just automatically got up and walked when the pain has been unbearable. Obviously that’s nature’s way of helping move things along. As far as the drugs were concerned, I believe there was too much intervention.

However, in other respects there was too little intervention. I wasn’t given any coaching during the final stage of the labor, as one might expect from a good midwife. She just sat at a distance and read while she waited for nature and the induction gel to do its job. This was the first time I’d given birth and everything was new to me. A little coaching on breathing, etc might have been called for. In fact, I don’t recall much emphasis at all being given to the subject of breathing during labor when I was having ante-natal classes. I thought that must have been “old hat” these days. Believe me, if I had my time over, I would be asking older women, who have given birth without any modern technology and medication, for all the advice they can give on having as smooth a labor as possible. I don’t have any doubt now that learning to breathe properly must be enormously helpful to the process – and there should be far more emphasis given to it.

Furthermore, nobody told me that you use muscles to give birth that you also use for bowel movements. I do remember one friend laughing and telling me that I would feel like I was going to use my bowels – but that I need not worry it would happen. However, I didn’t realize that when I felt that urge I should just go with it and not be afraid to do so. Eventually I couldn’t fight it any longer and started pushing. The midwife noticed after this had happened a few times and asked me was I pushing. I actually thought I must be doing something wrong and said, “Just a little bit.” She told me that was all right – so I just went with it every time I felt the urge then. Again I wonder if I’d started going with it sooner, would my baby have got out sooner?

Another big thing I was never told was that when you’re past 35, you really would be safest to have your own obstetrician present for the birth. I had been consulting an obstetrician throughout my pregnancy. So he knew me well and knew how to find my baby’s heart beat, etc. He never had any problems with that. Yet, from the start at the hospital the nurses were having difficulties monitoring the baby’s heart beat. Because I was a public hospital patient I had to entrust myself to medical staff who had never met me before and weren’t familiar with me or my history – and this made me so much more vulnerable. It might be okay if you’re young “Mrs Average”. But I was “Not-so-Young Mrs Not-at-all-Average” – and in hindsight it would have been best if I’d had my own obstetrician for the birth, preferably in a private hospital.

My husband and I had been convinced to give up private health insurance some years earlier because we were getting no benefit from it. I sure do wish that somebody had told me when I started trying for a baby at age 34 that I should make sure I had private health insurance. As it was, I tried for four years before I succeeded in having a baby – and during that time I had a few miscarriages. Things may well have turned out differently in the birth of my first child if somebody had recommended me having private health cover for maternity services. I really could not recommend this highly enough to anybody over 35 – or anybody with any kind of health issues – if you’re intending to have a baby some time in the future.

Finally, nobody told me just how overwhelmingly euphoric I would feel the instant my baby entered the world – no matter what ordeal I might have been through giving birth. Yes, I’d been told it was the best feeling in the world – but really nobody can possibly describe it adequately. Even though I couldn’t hold my newborn baby daughter right away as, unbeknown to me, she was being revived, I felt like I was floating on the clouds, I was so ecstatic. Until that moment I’d been thinking there was no way I’d go through that again – but as soon as she was born I was thinking maybe I would after all. No matter how painful the labor is, it’s so worth it when your baby is born.

So I would urge any first-time expectant mother to do all you can to get through the labor pains however you can without using any narcotic drugs that may be available. By all means, consider an epidural – I would have had one of those if it hadn’t been denied me – but that’s another issue I’ve already covered in another Helium article. However, for some women natural pain-relief may well be enough to get them through. So prepare yourself with all the pain-relief techniques you can. Don’t discard ideas like meditation or hypnosis – or even other alternative methods of pain relief. Believe me, it’s worth it if it can just help you to cope and get your baby born safely – because the moment your baby is born the pain will all be worth it.