Photo copyright Katrina Roe

It started off very gently. I went to have acupuncture that morning because I’d heard that can be a nice gentle way to induce labour, as opposed to getting on the oxytocin drip, which is like being hit by a truck. As soon as they put the first pin into my little toe I felt this lovely gentle contraction that came in waves like a rolling ocean. And I was surrounded by beautiful dreamy music and it was just all so relaxing and calm.

Of course it didn’t stay that way. I spent the next few hours of my labour wandering around Chatswood Chase looking for a teddy bear for the baby, but I knew it was time to go home when we were sitting in Pattison’s Pattiserie with a cup of tea and a red velvet cupcake, and I really wasn’t enjoying it. So I went back to my sister’s house in Chatswood to rig myself up to a Labour TENS machine.

For me, the Labour TENS machine was awesome. If you haven’t heard of it, you stick these electrodes onto the small of your back and it literally feels like somebody is patting your back. Makes a husband totally redundant. Then when a contraction hits you press a button and it sends electrical pulses through your body to distract your nervous system from the pain. I loved it. By this stage, I was having contractions every 3 – 5 minutes so I rang the hospital to see whether or not I should go in. I told them I’d had quite a long pre-labour with my first child so they suggested I wait a few hours and see whether the labour heats up or cools off. So we settled in at my sister’s house. She tells me that when she arrived home after work she was quite surprised to hear tribal drumming resonating up the driveway. Apparently I was banging a drum with increasing intensity through each contraction while Birdy and her cousin danced around singing, “Go Mummy, go Mummy!” I don’t have a really strong memory of that, but there you go.

After a couple of hours of that it started to get a bit more painful so we decided to go to the hospital and just walk around the grounds so we would be there if we needed to be. But on the way, it started to really hurt, so I got out one of those little stress balls and started banging it on the car door and counting through each contraction. I realised that they were now 2 minutes apart and very painful. So we went straight up to the labour ward. As we stood at the double doors to the ward, waiting to enter, I had an unexpected moment of anxiety and flooding grief. The last time I was in that spot I was delivering Samuel at 14 weeks and though I wasn’t consciously thinking about it, the emotional memory was so strong that for a moment it overwhelmed me. Then I said to myself, “Katrina, Get over it, you’ve got to keep it together and get this baby out!” Then before I knew it, I was being quite seriously berated by a midwife for not phoning to say I was coming in. So I said, “Look I’m very sorry, I was just going to walk around the garden, but it’s starting to hurt, so I thought I’d better check in.” “Well next time, make sure you call!” Next time? I’m hardly thinking about next time when my insides are being slowly smashed apart by a wrecking ball!

Anyway, my doctor arrived soon after so I told him “It was really slow last time, I’m probably not even in labour, I’m probably not even dilated.” He examined me and said, “You’re 9 centimetres, let’s get this baby out.” My response was, “What? How can I be 9 centimetres? I’m not even in labour yet?” Clearly, I was delusional. So he broke my waters, and for the next half hour I was on my feet, stamping and vocalising my way though each very painful contraction. My husband only had time to give me one heat pack and next thing I knew I was on a birthing stool pushing her out! It was fantastic. I mean it was really, really hard work pushing her out, (I guess that’s why they call it labour!) but my doctor coached me through each push and it felt fantastic to be able to feel it all, drug-free!

Feeling fine after MJ's birth.

Obviously, there’s no way to guarantee a good birth. No magic formula that will make it all fall into place.  (Just read my sister’s birth story here!) It helps to have a good doctor or midwife, (and lots of prayers), but I think it’s also a good idea to get in training and learn as much as you can about labour and birth. I read a book by Ju Ju Sundin and Sarah Murdoch called “Birth Skills” and that really helped me to deal with the pain, stay in control and to have a very clear idea in my mind of what my body needed to do. (Stress balls, stamping, vocalising and counting are just some of the techniques recommended in the book! The drumming bit was my own variation!) It particularly works well for somebody with an expressive personality because it’s all about getting the pain out, burning off the adrenalin your body is producing and focusing on what is happening physically. I really recommend that book for anyone who wants some ideas about how to cope with the pain so they can stay in control, even when it would otherwise be unbearable. I also think the Labour TENS helped me to conserve my energy early on, so that I had plenty of resources to deal with the really painful bit at the end.

By the way, that little stress ball I used in labour, it started out with a little smiley face on it, but that was totally gone by the time I gave birth, so it got quite a workout! At the end of the day, what we all really want is a healthy baby. But I felt particularly blessed to have such a trouble-free, natural birth and to have been fully alert and present for the entire experience. The only thing I would do differently is to call first! I got three or four lectures before the night was over!

Do you have a labour tip to share? What did you use to help you cope with the pain of labour? For me it was tribal drumming, the labour TENS machine, stress balls, stamping and vocalising. What worked for you?