Sunday, August 31, 2008

Some thoughts on labour

I had some notes I wanted to share regarding my experience with giving birth to Riley. Nothing too profound or earthshattering, but some stuff I experienced. I had been afraid, sometimes, that I wouldn't be able to handle it. Or that I wouldn't be able to do it. It seemed to be so intense from other womens' descriptions, and I'm a fairly intense person, but even to me it seemed too much. It wasn't.
-it helped immensely to experience only the present moment. I did not anticipate the next contraction or the next few hours or the next stage, but rather focused on NOW. One contraction at a time, one breath at a time, one pause between contractions at a time (those pauses are golden)
-it also helped immensely not to focus on numbers or time. I have noticed before that when deep in a moment of creativity such as painting, writing, cooking, or the more creative moments of parenting, I lose track of time. I think I remember learning in University that the sense of time passing is housed in the left brain, and that when deeply immersed in creative right brain activities one loses that sense of the passage of time. Giving birth, I think, is similar in that it is not something that can be done with the cognitive, intelligent, cerebral brain. It is instinctual, animal, and primal, and thus a departure from the cognitive opens the pathway for your body and instinct to give birth more effectively. I lost track of the passage of time to the point where my midwife asked me 'how long ago' my last contraction had been and I literally had no idea. I couldn't even harbour a guess. I also consciously tried to avoid thinking about or knowing how dilated I was, or how many hours I had been labouring. Or pushing. I desperately wanted to watch the clock while pushing but I forced myself not to. Afterwards I had to ask how long it had been.
-Everyone wants to know about the pain. Yes, there is pain. But it was not pain that drove me insane, or made me afraid, or tore me apart. The contractions were painful but purposeful, and never so painful that I couldn't handle it. What was more difficult than pain was simply the WORK involved in those hugely strong uterine muscles contracting so strongly for so many hours--I was tired. Near the end of the first stage of labour I wished once or twice for an epidural not to escape the pain, but simply to have a recess from all the work.
Like running a marathon and just wanting to SIT DOWN for heaven's sake, but being on a treadmill that forced me to keep running.
-my body surprised me. It is SO STRONG! It is capable of amazing even my mother, who has seen thousands of births as a labour and delivery nurse for many years, and certainly capable of amazing myself who has never seen a birth other than Riley's. I also amazed Brent. He couldn't believe I had completed the marathon process, nor how strong I was. This was cool. If I can do THAT, I can do anything.
-My labour support was unbelievably powerful. I had both of my midwives there, my mom, Brent, my sister, and Ayden. At all times, no matter what position I was in or where I was facing, someone was there. My focus was almost entirely inward, but knowing they were there made an enormous difference for me. If I reached out my hand, someone took it. If I opened my eyes, someone smiled at me. If I spoke, someone heard me and responded. It sounds so basic but it made all the difference to me and I can't emphasize enough how much I believe this made possible the experience of pushing a 10 lb baby with a very round 37 cm in diameter head out of me. I was running a marathon on a treadmill but I wasn't doing it alone.
-The intensity was great. I'm an intense person, so it suited me. I loved it! Immediately afterwards I remember declaring "I'm done! Never doing that again! Glad I did it but once is enough!" This was shortly after being stitched up and hobbling around the bathroom trying to pee out of a stunned urethra. But by the next day I absolutely wanted to do it again. Again, again! I kept telling Brent, "I can't believe it, I know you think I'm crazy, but I want to have another baby!" His pat answer? "I think it's a little early for that to be possible." I didn't mean TODAY, batman. But I did mean sometime.
We'll see.
-the placenta was so cool. It wound up in our freezer because I couldn't bear to throw it away (I always thought people who kept it were kind of bizarre). In retrospect a photo or two would have sufficed, but that didn't occur to me at the time. In fact I'm quite bummed I don't have a photo of it. Now it's a lump in a black garbage bag in our deep freeze. I don't think a photo would do it justice at this point! Maybe I'll plant a tree and bury the placenta under it. We'll see. Don't worry folks, nobody is eating the darn thing (some people do. Ick).
-I wish I had MORE photos of those first minutes, and first hours...but I think I've determined that no amount of photos will ever suffice. What you really want is not to forget a single moment, and to preserve it all forever, but that is simply not possible. Photos or no. What did people do before photography? Oh, so many lost moments.
-The first few weeks are a bubble of babygazing. I wanted no one else but Riley. I wanted no one else to hold him (except Brent and the boys). I didn't want Riley to sleep separately from me, or to put him down even to have a shower. I think this bubble time is crucial for mommy-baby bonding. It sets the foundation for a lifelong relationship. There really is no feeling like a naked baby on your chest, I have to say. Skin to skin. We had to get used to each other on the outside, which is a big change from having him on the inside.
-I had him. I did it. I didn't want drugs, or a cesarean, or to quit while in the midst of labour; it was intense, but I did it. I'm proud of me.
-I also sent out an email to my closest female friends when I went into labour, asking for them to pray for me. Many times I thought of those friends and felt their support while I was labouring. This was a great source of strength for me.
-I was curious to see if I prayed to Mary while giving birth; I thought I might want to since she's a strong figure in Christianity and since she's a woman and gave birth. I was surprised. Old habits die hard: I've never been Catholic so praying to Mary has never been something that comes naturally to me, or seems to make sense (why talk to another mortal when you can talk to the Divine itself?). I prayed a lot, but always to Jesus. I just wondered if I would really feel He understood, having been incarnated as a man and being referred to so often as a He in my religion's tradition. But never once did I feel like He didn't understand. I just felt His love, and a sense that He had equipped me to give birth and knew that I could do it.

I think that's all. I may add more at another time.
xo to you all


Dana said...

Thanks for sharing your Thoughts on Labour, Melissa. You did a beautiful job as usual of expressing your thoughts and experiences.

I too find the marathon metaphor to be very appropriate description of the labour experience. The feeling of accomplishment, power and joy at the end is incomparable and lasting.

You did it, girl. Way to go!!

Janet said...

Jesus TOTALLY felt your pain, and your need for His strength! I love how you wrote this, I wish that I could have experienced birth in the natural way. It is something I will always long for....

Asheya said...

Great to hear your thoughts on labour! I think in some ways men should envy women, because I find labour to be the one time in my life when I am totally in the present moment, totally in the now, totally centered and in myself in the most real way possible. I know what you mean about time passing without your awareness, just going from one wave of contraction to the next wave of contraction. I like how you compared labour to a creative process and to an athletic event. And the tiredness, not the pain, as the difficult part: I'm with you on that one! I am still so, so happy that you had this wonderful experience, which you will carry with you for the rest of your life.

lori lls said...

I love to read your sentiments about giving birth to Riley. Your story and others like it are crucial to my own preparation.

Thank you.
Thank you.