I never thought I would be one of those women who would love giving birth – having a baby, sure. But having that baby exit my body, not a chance. I’ve never had much experience with pain before – my most painful experience to date was having my ears pierced….what did I know about pain management? And that’s what birth is, right? Pain. WRONG. Giving birth was easily the most amazing, powerful and rewarding experience of my life, and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
We chose to give birth in a newly opened birthing centre in Nancy, France, just over an hour’s drive from our house. This was mostly due to the more natural approach to childbirth offered here, which conformed with our idea of pregnancy and birth – it is a natural and healthy process and not a medical procedure. As I had a very healthy pregnancy, it was the best place for us as it was very unlikely we would need medical intervention.
At 41 weeks exactly, I was starting to feel very heavy and a bit fed up waiting for baby to make his arrival. I’d had a few false alarms, evenings spent timing contractions excitedly, only for them to stop and not come back. So when I woke up at 9am feeling period-like cramps, I mentally noted them but didn’t think much more of it and went about my day. These cramps increased and started coming and going more frequently. Still not too concerned, I ran myself a bath at about 11am. Well, the bath did not calm the contractions down nor did it stop them. They started coming thick and fast and by midday I was having contractions every 1-2 minutes that were lasting approximately 45 seconds each – would I be able to make it to the birth centre on time or would this be a motorway baby?
The most stressful part of that day was packing our bags and leaving the flat, trying to remember all the last-minute things that had to go in and pack the car while contracting and trying to move as quickly as possible. I called the midwife from the car to say we were on our way and how things were going. My body listened to my stress and my contractions more or less stopped for the majority of the car journey, only picking up again as we got nearer to the centre. Motorway birth avoided, we arrived at the centre at 2pm and I was already 5cm dilated. Halfway there!
I had been seeing the same midwife all throughout my pregnancy so she understood our needs and wishes, and left us alone during labour. I needed my own space to breathe, relax and be at ease. I was surprisingly calm from the minute I set foot in the birthing room. I’d been preparing for this day for months, trying to ignore all the horror stories and learning coping mechanisms and it was paying off. I listened to my hypnobirthing CD which helped me enter a deep state of calm, I bounced on the gymball, my partner pressed all the right acupressure points to help manage pain and help contractions, and eventually at 5pm I asked to get into the birthing pool.
Ahhh it was bliss stepping into 40 degree water that covered my belly. Whilst I wasn’t finding labour overly painful at this point, the hot water brought about such a relief for me that I could relax even more. I was happily labouring away, chatting to my partner when I was able to and shutting down and breathing when I had a contraction.
7pm, everything stopped. I wanted out of the water and it was goodbye contractions and labour and hello hunger. I was suddenly STARVING. My midwife thought maybe the water had slowed progress down and advised me to stay out of the pool while I felt I didn’t need the relief. So we sat on the sofa in the living room, eating and reading books. Hardly how I had imagined labour at all. As I didn’t want to be examined, we had no idea just how close to the end we were and that I was in fact in transition – my body was giving me a rest before I had to bring my baby out.Then suddenly, everything cranked up a notch. The contractions were back and a lot stronger than before. I kept complaining about feeling like I needed to go the bathroom. All the signs were pointing to the fact that he was coming and soon, but everything I’d read had already gone out the window and I just heard my midwife’s voice in my head recommending I stay out of the water until I absolutely need to go back in.
This was the 1st time I felt scared and doubted myself. What if I was still only 5cm dilated and still had so much more to go plus delivery – would I physically be able to handle it? But self-doubt is just another effect of the transition period. 8.30 pm and I HAD to get back into the water for pain relief. Months of pregnancy yoga had taught me how useful vowel sounds can be in helping the baby descend and helping the mother breathe through contractions – being quite a quiet person I didn’t see myself using this particular technique, until I was on all fours chanting ‘aaa’ to myself. My midwife popped in and said “Ok, I can hear that things have stepped up a notch so I’m just going to go call for my assistant to be here for the birth”. While she was gone, I felt baby’s head start to come down, so my partner had to go run to tell her to come back.
I had never felt pressure like this before, my body started pushing my baby out before I could even explain what was happening and check if that’s what I was meant to do – my body took over my birth and I followed. I had my boyfriend in front of me, my midwife behind me and my hypnobirthing CD playing in the background – this was how I’d imagined giving birth and it was happening. What no one tells you about this phase of labour is that time stops, and the outside world doesn’t exist anymore. There is just your body and your baby, and you’re the outsider observing what is happening. I couldn’t help but imagine how my baby must have been feeling, he was being squished out of his first home into the big unknown. The pressure and determination that he was about to arrive took over. Yes, it was intense, but I’d been waiting for this moment for 9 months and it was up to me to allow my body to bring my baby into this world.
9 pm and 3 – 4 pushes later, I caught my little man and pulled him out of the water to meet me and his dad for the first time. I think we were all in a bit of shock at how suddenly I went from chilling on the sofa to cuddling my baby in the water. I remember the 1st thing I said was “he did it, he did so well” – I really felt that my baby had done all the hard work and I was just a helping hand. I was so proud of him.
I feel so grateful to have had such a beautiful and empowering experience, it was everything we’d wanted to achieve and months of following yoga and hypnobirthing, learning how to breathe and relax effectively, hand over control to your own body and having a supportive birth partner and midwife made all the difference. I really feel that my body was designed to safely deliver my baby and that it was me that delivered my own baby and brought him into this world supported by a strong team. After some cuddle time, I got out of the water and lay down on the bed, turned to my boyfriend and told him I would do it all again tomorrow if I could. Based on his reaction, I think I have to wait a few more years for number 2!
I tried not to listen to other birth stories or experiences too much as people can be very quick to tell you about their less than positive experience and judged our hope for a medical free delivery – the number of sarcastic ‘good luck’s and eye-rolls became annoying. I wish I’d had more people around me telling me it is possible to have a fully natural delivery nowadays, and helping me to achieve my positive birth goal. Any pregnant mama’s reading this, trust in your body’s ability to deliver your baby. Stay calm. And breeeeeeathe. That little wriggly, squirmy human is your reward for all your hardwork, and it’s the greatest.
More about the Author:
Emmy is a self-confessed crunchy mama of 1. A few years ago, Emmy began exploring a much more ‘back to nature’ and organic approach to health, diet and life in general, and is now passionate about having a more natural maternity and parenting journey and empowering others to do the same.
She is also part of the Luxmama Club & ParentPrep asbl Team of volunteers and a Maternity Coach Trainee.