This is my advert for happy labor. I don't remember being particularly smiley that day, though...
Before I gave birth to my daughter in 2010, I couldn’t even imagine what having a baby would be like because most of my waking moments were spent worrying about labor (and, obviously, Googling everything that I was doing wrong during pregnancy).
I’m not alone -- all of my friends who are pregnant or have had children seem to experience two emotions in tandem: excitement about having a baby and sheer terror at how a human being -- one who could potentially weigh nine pounds! -- is going to emerge from their bodies.
And hearing labor horror stories only makes the whole scenario scarier to contemplate. The fact that Miranda Kerr -- whose post-baby body, among other things, has defied all laws of nature -- admitted that she thought her labor would kill her isn’t exactly inspiring the rest of us mere mortals.
Which is why I really want to share my story. I had an amazing labor, and I probably didn’t deserve to. I was not a "model" pregnant person who handled the nine months with grace or dignity (the most common question people asked me during pregnancy was: "Are you anemic?"). I was still occasionally throwing up at 39 weeks and I basically felt miserable and sorry for myself for most of it.
But my labor? Amazingly, not horrible. It was hideously painful at times -- and I only had gas and air and a labor pool for pain relief, so I felt every second of it -- but I also experienced a lot of things I never thought I could during labor.
I felt strong, capable, in control -- and incredibly excited that I was going to get to meet the baby I’d been imagining for most of the past year.
My labor was fast: My water broke at midnight on my due date, contractions began a couple of hours later, and by 7 am, I was 9cm dilated and needed an ambulance to get me to hospital on time. By noon, my daughter had arrived.
I can pretend I was dignified throughout, but I spent most of it crouched on all fours making revolting noises, and even in the final moments I was begging for a C-section because I didn’t have the energy to keep pushing or the mental strength to cope with quite a lot of pain for what seemed like a very long time, although was really only a couple of hours.
But then, once it was over, after I’d collapsed asleep immediately, I woke up feeling like someone who’d been through a huge ordeal but had emerged unscathed.
Amazingly, despite my daughter weighing in at 8lbs, 8 oz, I didn’t tear (my child-bearing hips had clearly been eagerly awaiting this moment to prove they were capable of doing more than making jeans-buying an inconvenience).
By 8 pm that same day, we were home and the thing I’d been fearing most for the entirety of my pregnancy seemed like a distant memory when I looked at the extraordinary (well, I thought so, at least) creature I’d produced.
I’d love to take all the credit, but I know my labor wasn’t entirely my doing. I was lucky not to develop any serious pregnancy complications, fortunate that my baby was in the right position and it was opportune that my baby -- probably terrified of the wrath of her father if he would have had to miss his Saturday cricket game due to her arrival -- came on her due date, which meant that I didn’t have to deal with getting induced, a process that often complicates labor.
But I think my mental state had a little bit to do with it. I transformed my way of thinking from early pregnancy to delivery date, going from unenthusiastic epidural-wanter to water-birth convert, raspberry leaf tea drinker and aromatherapy sniffer (yes, I actually smelled a lavender-soaked tissue for "pain relief" in labor. And I liked it).
Since I felt out of control about my pregnancy, I decided I would get as in control as I could regarding labor and did a lot of research into all of the labor options.
Reading positive birth stories like the ones in Spiritual Midwifery (a slightly out-there book that involves orgasmic labor stories and crazy childbirth situations involving women giving birth on buses) was eye-opening; for the first time, women were talking about labor as a wonderful experience, with each contraction bringing them closer to their babies, instead of a torture they couldn’t wait to overcome.
I’m not the healthiest person on earth but I started swimming and doing pregnancy yoga and tried to get my body in a somewhat decent state after a year of lethargy spent rotting and binge drinking -- also known as my master’s degree -- took its toll.
And I decided I wouldn’t put any pressure on myself when it came to the big "L"; sure, Gisele Bundchen made water birth sound nice and relaxing, but if it didn’t work out and I ended up needing intervention, no biggie. I wouldn’t be upset or disappointed; the end result, me having a baby, would be the same.
Now, I know my labor story is disgustingly smug, and often I’m embarrassed to talk about it (and I usually don’t in the presence of those who have had less pleasant experiences, unless pressed). Since I’m not one of those annoying smug people with perfect hair and a functional life, I hope my story just opens up the possibility that labor might not be all that bad.
Pregnancy is definitely one of those times when the end justifies the means, and too often, women (society?) put so much pressure on themselves to be "perfect" in pregnancy and then get disappointed if their labor doesn’t live up to their expectations.
I would be lying if I said labor still didn’t freak me out sometimes. When I think about myself going through it, I can’t believe it was really me -- it feels like one of my better fantasies.
But I think that’s what happens with experiences that are so emotional and life altering it takes a while to digest and process them. I’m also worried that lightning won’t strike twice with me and labor the second time around will be awful.