Photo by Lisa Jay


I have a confession: sometimes I watch Private Practice. A few weeks ago there was an episode with a woman in labour. Having heard that a drug free birth would be best for the child she refused intervention from the doctors. After three days of increasing angst, the baby was finally born ‘naturally’ and all the pain was worth it. While I could applaud her tenacity, there were a few things that annoyed me about the episode 1) the woman was apparently in enough pain for the doctors to implore her to take drugs, but she could still string a sentence together (bah! call that pain?), 2) she wasn’t red in the face at all, and 3) the one that really gets me – the implication that if you just tried hard enough in your labour, you would have a beautiful ‘natural’ delivery of your baby.

I am really blessed to have two beautiful children. Prior to the birth of no. 1, I thought that while labour would be difficult, it would all go pretty well because I was someone who was good at toughing things out and had even been described as a ‘pocket battleship’.

Round 1. Happily, I went into labour just three days after the due date, and everything seemed to be going really well. For the first 18 hours I went without pain relief, spending time in the shower and bath, with birth balls and heat packs and music, trying to reduce the pain signals to my brain with noise, splashing, stress toys (a dolphin whose flippers were lost in the battle) scratching noises and singing (which degenerated from actual lyrics to ‘la, la, LA’ to primal screams of pain which I’m told you could hear down the hallway). After a period of a couple of hours of one long excruciating contraction, I was sure I must be in transition. Imagine then, my devastation when I was told I had not progressed at all since my previous examination. Not even a centimetre. My midwife in the birth centre then suggested I use gas, then pethidine, then an epidural with syntocinin, and then after 26 hours, with my baby showing signs of distress, I had an emergency caesar (for which I needed a spinal block because the epidural wasn’t working properly).

Round 2. Having had only one caesarean that had healed up well, I was able to try labour again, with more intensive monitoring, and went back to the birth centre to give it another shot. I had joked with friends that all I needed for this labour to be better than the last was for the baby to come out! This time I went into labour a few days before the due date, and the labour progressed really well from having a few odd contractions at 2 am to regular consistent contractions by 9 am. My waters broke immediately after my first examination at the hospital and then it was really on! After a few hours of intense labour, I really was in transition and, having been asked not to push, I requested an epidural. It was after that that everything went downhill. My baby’s heart rate was dropping, but not recovering after contractions. This went on for a period of time that is now all a little blurry until the point when a doctor hit the emergency button. Sirens blaring, my room was suddenly filled with people, I was pulled down into stirrups, and told to ‘Push, Push, PUSH!’ while my little boy was wrenched out of me with forceps in a matter of minutes. Shellshocked, we waited. My husband was certain it had all gone terribly wrong. And then, joy of joys, we heard his little cry, and over a series of debriefs and checks were reassured that he was 100% healthy.we It seemed that my placenta had come away from the uterus during labour (a placental abruption) and there probably would not have been time to prep for a caesar if forceps weren’t able to be used.

There’s so much more I could say about my labours. They certainly weren’t what I expected. I’ve found it cathartic to write down my birth stories and talk it over with people, but I confess to feeling a little envious when I hear about straightforward deliveries, and a little frustrated when people imply that with the right formula you will have a good labour. Prior to our first child, our birth class facilitator taught us that while it was good to have ideas about how you wanted your labour to go, the only really important outcome is a healthy baby. Now when I talk to expecting mums about labour I likewise encourage them not to get too hung up on the labour details – you never know quite how its going to go! At the end of the day, regardless of the process I am so thankful that the result was two healthy children.

What was your labour experience and do you feel like you have recovered from it? Did you feel any pressure from people to do/not do anything in your labour? What have you found helpful in dealing with the unexpected?