It was around 6am on a Sunday morning that I suddenly woke and realised my waters had broken. This was after only three hours of sleep as I had been up half the night reading a baby book (obviously!) and five days before the estimated due date.
A feeling of euphoria and excitement started spreading throughout my whole body with the thought that we could soon be meeting our baby! My partner was already up at this point and heard me stomping around upstairs. After a slight panic, when he heard that my waters had broken, he relaxed and we embraced, happy and exhilarated.
I kept focusing on the resting. I moved to the floor when their strength increased as I felt I needed to move on something which was more solid and I started to vocalise on each of them. When I threw up I actually felt happy as I knew this was a great sign that labour was progressing and it was just my body’s way to purge itself before the birth.
While my partner prepared everything and called a taxi, I put on a blind fold, earplugs and covered my entire head with a black scarf, not to disturb labour in the process of getting to the birth unit room. As my birth partners helped me out of the house and into the taxi, I felt the cold air outside, but couldn't see or hear anything, as I was completely enclosed and thus just focussing on what I was feeling. With each contraction, throughout the entire journey, I dropped to all fours and continued to move my pelvis in circles, whilst vocalising my breath. This continued throughout the taxi journey, hospital corridors, elevator and on arriving at the birth unit.
As well as sharing my story, I thought it would be helpful to share the preparation I did - the things I came to understand that made the power of difference. After my birth, lots of people asked me questions about the pain of labour - men and women alike. The question that came up the most was 'how can birth be pleasurable for some, and painful for others?'
I had asked the same question myself while still pregnant, and though I did find out the answers - that the body needs to be enabled to release a fine orchestration of both hormones and natural painkillers, I was amazed how this was barely mentioned in the antenatal courses I did.
The answers I found myself were not only mind-blowing but also the most comforting thing to me, and completely determined all my birth choices. The information helped me to remove my fear about labour pain and transformed my view on how incredible the female body is forever.
As is commonly known, when the body goes into labour it starts to produce a hormone called oxytocin (aka the love hormone, the same hormone we produce when making love.) The oxytocin physically creates the contractions that pushes the baby down, open everything up and create space for the baby to come out. But what’s more - when the body starts producing oxytocin, it also signal the body to start producing its own natural painkillers, beta endorphins. In fact, if undisturbed, the female body will release moreendorphins than even the strongest opiates on the planet would eg morphine,IMAGINE THAT!
The more oxytocin the body releases the more endorphins it produces, and so on. The more oxytocin it can produce equals faster, easier and more straightforward labour and birth. The beta endorphins activate the same receptors in the brain as morphine would, only they are STRONGER, with NO SIDE EFFECTS, and release in a CONSISTENT FLOW. What’s more the beta endorphins also slow down contractions (and oxytocin production) if they are too strong or come too often - it’s a perfect synced hormonal dance. The baby gets all the beta endorphins too, just as the mum does, through the placenta. Also, the beta endorphins peak twenty minutes after birth but stay in the system for up to two weeks. No wonder mums say they feel high afterwards.
But - and here’s the big but - for the body to release oxytocin it needs to be calm and feel safe. If the body thinks it’s in danger, it automatically goes into fight and flight mode and blocks the oxytocin production by pumping out adrenaline instead. From an evolutionary perspective, this was so that a mother was in a position to protect herself if needs be and run away if she was in danger. Very clever. Our bodies function exactly as they have always done, and so in an unfamiliar environment like a labour ward, where a mother can easily be disturbed, remain alert and then adrenalin can trigger. In theory it's a 'safe' environment, but it's hard for the body to completely feel that way, as it can't easily relax in a place it doesn't know. Just as other mammals, a cat for example, will disappear and hide in a safe, dark place to birth their kittens, the human body needs similar conditions, a mood that is safe, dark and undisturbed so that it can produce maximum amounts of oxytocin and endorphins.
Nowadays most women are expected to move right in the middle of labour - to go into a foreign bright, noisy, non-private space to give birth - the hospital. Many times women contractions slow down when they get into hospital cause it can’t produce the oxytocin freely. The body thinks it’s in danger and produces adrenalin.
I 'protected' my labour by choosing to wear earplugs, an eye mask and a black scarf when I left my home - my safe place. This way I was able to stay inside myself, remain focused, and so I didn't disturb my labour. It also helped to go in quite late on, when I felt pressure building, when there was momentum and less chance of me getting distracted. I also didn't allow anyone “check me” upon arrival, as this would have also broken my flow and put a brake on hormones.
On arrival at hospital, I didn't engage at all. I let my birth-partners do the talking so as not to activate higher brain function ie thinking which would have inhibited oxytocin. I also let my body do as it wanted, moving spontaneously and freely on every contraction, as well as vocalising and “breath with” every contraction.
Today we have all the medication and assistance when needed which is amazing. Even so many births are more complicated than ever. In my case my labour and delivery would have been very different if I had not informed myself and got the above information on what’s actually happening in my body as I would of have had no idea how I myself needed to protect and help myself in labour or delivery.