Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What does giving birth feel like?

Rixa, over at Stand and Deliver, posted this question with her own answer on her blog. She asked what her readers answers would be but I don't think I could fit mine into a little response so I've chosen to make a blog post of it.

So what does giving birth feel like?

I have several answers for that. I have had 3 hospital births, 2 of them with pitocin and epidurals and one with just pitocin and no pain killers at all. Then I've had 4 homebirths and even those were each VERY different from one another as far as physical sensations are concerned.

In my first hospital birth, I had NO CLUE what pitocin was and I thought I could labor with it no problem. I held off on the epidural as long as I could. I believe it was a good 7-8 hours into active labor before I completely fell apart and begged for mercy. Both of my hands were covered in blisters from squeezing the side rail of the bed through each contraction. The pitocin was UNBEARABLE. But I was at least twice as stubborn and I wanted my "drug free" birth. I wanted to know what it felt like without being numbed. I wish I had known more about pitocin then, and how it would create an unnatural pattern and intensity with each contraction. Anyway, back to what it felt like. It was 12 years ago, so it may be a little foggy, but I remember the sensations being sharp and starting low in my abdomen (very menstrual-cramp like) and eventually covering the entire thing. Once I got the epidural, I was numbed on one side only for the remainder of the labor.

With my second hospital birth, I was only in labour for 4.5 hours total. I was having round ligament pain (didn't know that then) combined with menstrual cramps. The pain was so intense I couldn't sit or stand without crying. I called my OB who then had me come in and get checked. He said I was 3 cm and should head to the hospital. To this day I don't believe I was actually in labor. I believe my OB was just saying it's o.k. to induce now, but I didn't catch on. We had discussed just the week before that my insurance through my job was going to end the day before my due date. So my guess is that he was comfortable inducing at that point since we would both benefit financially if we didn't wait until it was too late. I say all of that so that you understand my labor sensations were brought on completely by pitocin. As soon as I got to the hospital I asked for the epidural. I had experience now and knew it took about an hour after asking before I'd get it. So with this birth I can't really say what it felt like, other than dull, numbed sensations until my water broke and 10 minutes later I laughed as they wiggled her body out of me. I couldn't feel anything.

Third hospital birth was a planned unassisted homebirth. I hadn't really planned for my water to break at 6 a.m. and by 10 p.m. not having even one contraction. Worrying that something wasn't right, I asked my dad to take me to the hospital. Upon arriving, my first contraction came full force and 3 hours later he was born. They gave me pitocin immediately along with 2 bags of antibiotics for having stayed home so long with ruptured membranes. Again, the pitocin induced pain was excruciating and unbearable. I believe that it is made even worse by having mom lie on her back! I wouldn't know that though until after my homebirth. I remember having my fists clenched and using all of my upper body stregth to hold my bum off the bed. This time, they had the pitocin so high that there wasn't any breaks in between contractions and no time to even catch my breath. I am honestly surprised that after enduring that for a couple of hours I didn't end up with a ruptured uterus. It was a nightmare.

My first (unassisted) homebirth, 2.5 hour labor, relatively pain free. I remember my contractions being very intense. Lots of pressure. The sensations while still somewhat familiar were very different than the ones I was use to in the hospital. I was very calm and confident for this birth. I believe that had everything to do with how I experienced it physically. It was the first time I wasn't lying on my back, strapped to machines. It was very relaxing and I was surprised when only a couple of hours into the labor I felt his head enter the birth canal. That's when the intense pressure seemed to stop and a very pleasurable sensation took over as he emerged. It felt really good.

Second homebirth, I had the flu, hadn't slept in two days and attempted a castor oil induction. HOLY PAINFUL CONTRACTIONS! Oh, how I set myself up for that one. These pains were similar to the hospital pitocin pains, except I could sleep for a minute in between. But these had the added bonus of the castor oil effect. Nothing like laboring with a horrible stomach ache! I was convinced that *this* time I was knocking on deaths door LOL I was traumatised for months after this birth. How to describe the sensation? I don't even think I can. I had pain everywhere. Really sharp shooting pains. There was no relief as she was emerging. She was in a less than ideal position as she came out (not sure exactly how, I was totally out of it and didn't care one bit!) and I believe that had a lot to do with it.

Third homebirth, I prepared a lot better for this birth, mostly having convinced myself to have patience and let things progress in their right time. The contractions weren't painful, just intense pressure. Even as his head was coming down and out I remember thinking, "wow! all I need is Ivan's hand firmly pressed on my tailbone and I feel alright!" Very cool. So what did they feel like? I remember it feeling very much like menstrual cramps that traveled up my abdomen. I am one of those women who have double-over-in-pain menstrual cramps, so when I say it felt like menstrual cramps I am not saying it was easy-breezy. It was certainly manageable.

Fourth homebirth, (this is Nadi's birth) the contractions were even different than all the rest of my births. Funny how they can feel the same but different. This was the first time I ever labored and nursed a feverish toddler. So my contractions were SO intense especially when he was breastfeeding. It was impossible to take him off the breast as the contractions came so there was nipple stimulation increasing the contraction sensation tenfold, or at least it felt that way! I had contractions before the pool, in the pool, outside of the pool (wet and cold) and on the toilet. All of them feeling a little different from another with the WORST being on the toilet. I honestly don't understand the women who sit on the toilet for contractions on purpose saying they feel relief. I felt like I was going to implode, or at the very least split in two! I had 2 contractions on the toilet, both of them were unintentional, I just had to pee and the toilet was closer than my pee bucket. Those contractions felt like they lasted 4 minutes long compared to the regular 1-1.5 minute contraction. And the pain was EVERYWHERE! Super sharp pain. Those are the ones where you actually think to yourself "ya know, dying doesn't sound so bad right about now!", that is, if you can think at all through them. I remember using all of my strength to pull on Ivan's arms through one of them and not caring one bit if it was hurting him. I couldn't, I didn't have a choice. See how those 2 little monstrous contractions have taken over this whole paragraph? Meanwhile, I was laboring for 12 hours. Just goes to show what the mind hangs on to. I had no relief with this birth either. I thought to myself that as soon as his head engages the intensity will stop and I will have some relief. Nope, nothing doin'. I have NEVER been that vocal in any of my births. In fact I usually make no noise at all besides heavy, controlled breathing. With Nadi, I screamed like a banshee. I would pick a note and yell it through the contraction, so it was still a very controlled response but LOUD :-) With Nadi I could feel myself really opening up for him. He felt BIG. I couldn't believe how BIG he felt as his head emerged. He wasn't all that much bigger than the others though.

Anyway, I'm not sure I even answered the question. It's hard to describe something that doesn't happen at any other time in life besides when one gives birth. No amount of words in the English language could give my husband an inkling of what it feels like, kwim?

Birth is amazing. I will forever stand in awe of it's incredible power. It is magical, and mysterious. And for some reason, no matter how difficult, we chose to meet it again someday. Here I am nearly 4 weeks postpartum and I already wonder if I will ever give birth again. The thought terrifies me, and excites me. Time will surely decrease the fear and intensify the desire, it always does. I love my children.

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