This post is a continuation of an earlier post. If you haven’t already, you should read Part 1 first. Even if you have seen Part 1 already, you might want to take another look at it. There’s an updated photo, and the pictures now have captions.
These contractions were stronger than the practice contractions I’d been experiencing for months, but they didn’t establish the textbook pattern of getting stronger and closer together. I was in frequent contact with my medical-school friend, and we decided that it must be false labor. But false labor or not, it seemed to be accomplishing something, and I was reminded of my first labor, when I had experienced weak, irregular contractions for 48 hours before finally going to the hospital and finding out that I was already 7 centimeters dilated, almost ready to have the baby!
The anxiety I had been experiencing turned into a strangling sense of dread. This oppressive feeling blanketed every waking moment, like the foreboding that a prisoner on death row must feel as his execution date nears. Frantic from the suspense, I was almost ready to check into the hospital and brave the medical system, but my husband, ever calm and logical, convinced me that was a bad idea.
I finally admitted my fragile emotions and asked friends and family to pray for me, and amazingly, peace descended. I continued having irregular contractions, but rather than fighting and pleading with God to delay the birth, I embraced the moment and even became excited to see our new baby.
I woke up around 5 a.m. on the third day after I had started having contractions and realized I was in true labor. I was having stronger contractions less than ten minutes apart. Figuring the baby would probably be born sometime that afternoon or evening, I decided not to wake my husband yet. Instead, I just lay quietly in bed, practicing my relaxation techniques with each contraction. Shortly after 6 a.m., I woke my husband to ask him to scrub and fill the bathtub. My contractions were becoming uncomfortable. They weren’t exactly painful, as long as I remained completely relaxed, but I thought the warm water would feel nice. I also called my medical-student friend and my husband’s sister and sister-in-law to let them know it was time to come over. By the time my husband finished with the bathroom, where he also scrubbed the floor to get it ready for the birth, our kids were awake, so he went downstairs to feed them breakfast.
I was now having frequent, intense contractions, and every time I tried to go into the bathroom to get in the bathtub, I would feel another contraction coming on before I got there, and I would scurry back to bed so that I could be lying down and fully relaxed before it hit with full force. I began to wonder if I might be in transition, the final stage of labor before the mother has to start pushing, usually characterized by extremely intense contractions very close together and emotional feelings of insufficiency. With my first three labors, I had relied on my husband’s coaching to help me remain calm and in control during this stage. It had never occured to me that I might have to manage it on my own, but there I was, by myself, without enough time between contractions to fetch my husband. However, I don’t recall being concerned about his absense, because the task of coaching myself was consuming all my attention.
Without my husband to serve as my focal point and calmly talk me through each contraction, I had to improvise. I had never rehearsed for this possibility. I remembered a technique I had read about and decided to try it. Instead of keeping my eyes open and choosing a focal point to distract me from the sensations of the contraction, I closed my eyes and focused on the feelings of the muscles working, picturing my uterus and how each contraction was opening the way for my baby to come. All the while, I continued to breathe deeply and calmly while maintaining the complete physical relaxation I had been practicing for this moment.
Before long I heard sounds that let me know the women I had called had arrived. It wasn’t a moment too soon, as I had just realized I was having the urge to push! I had one thought: get into the bathroom and prepare for this baby to come! As I passed the door to my kids’ bedroom, I saw that our friend was there putting on her medical scrubs. She and my husband quickly joined me in the bathroom, where I was trying to figure out if it was really okay for me to start pushing. She verified that I was fully dilated, and two contractions later, my fourth son was in my arms! It had only been three hours since I had awaken and realized that I was in true labor.
Only a woman who has experienced the throes of labor and delivery followed by the birth of a healthy baby can fully understand the overwhelming mixture of relief and elation I felt at that moment. There is nothing like it in all the world. And having a newborn to cuddle and nurse is one of the sweetest of all pleasures.
As I reflected on that morning during the following days, I realized something astonishing. Although the physical sensations of labor had been intense and all-consuming, I honestly could not recall having experienced any pain. I knew that women who use the visualization technique I had turned to in my husband’s absense sometimes report having painless labors, but I never thought that I would be one of them.
I’m used to talking about labor without using the word pain, because I don’t want to contribute to the already deeply entrenched misconception that labor is nothing but hours of torture. Sadly, many women are misinformed and ill-equipped as they approach childbirth, and the fear they feel about the process translates into physical tension that causes much higher pain levels than what a relaxed woman would experience. I don’t want to contribute to this misinformation and fear, so I always portray labor in a positive light, and I usually choose euphemisms for the word pain, especially when I’m talking with women who have not yet had children. However, I would be lying if I said that labor doesn’t hurt at all.
I believe that childbirth is a beautiful experience, and a mother who is knowledgable and prepared can manage and minimize the pain, but in my experience there had always been varying levels of discomfort—of actual pain. Until this time. It still amazes me when I think about it. If God blesses my husband and me with more biological children, I don’t think I will try to recreate another painless labor, because I don’t want to be distracted by pressure to achieve that ideal. I will simply focus on relaxing with the calm confidence of a woman who knows that she is control of her response to the sensations of labor. However, it’s incredibly empowering to know that the Creator equipped us women with the ability not only to bear children, but also to manage the pain of their birth so effectively that it actually disappears.
Note: If you are interested in natural pain management during labor, I highly recommend Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon. Clicking on the title will take you to the book’s listing on Amazon. This is not an affiliate link. I will receive no compensation if you choose to purchase the book; I’m just trying to be helpful. If you live in the United States, Canada, and a few other countries, it’s also possible to find Bradley Method classes to attend.