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Lessons in Parenting
Dealing with the Pain
Published on October 31, 2011 by guest author: J LeBlanc
When I met each of the three midwives in the practice where I went for prenatal appointments, they asked me the same question. I told them that I wanted to have a natural childbirth and they smiled back indulgently and asked, “Are you sure?” I could tell they had heard this before in prenatal appointments and then heard something very different in the midst of labor pains. Yes, I told them, I was sure. “Because if you’re really sure we’ll help you hold to it, but only if you’re sure.” I nodded again. Even then I had to tell them (on a scale of one to ten) how committed I was, and they encouraged me to have a code word with my husband, just in case, to let him know the difference between a fleeting moment of weakness and a real change of heart. I think we selected one, but I don’t remember what it was.

I had been fortunate in my life to have had little experience with pain. I was very committed to the idea of having a natural childbirth, but how could I really know how I would feel during labor till I knew what it felt like? One of the midwives recommended holding an ice cube in my hand for a minute to practice dealing with sustained discomfort. My husband’s idea of pain training was a little more extreme.

A former Division I cross country runner, he was well acquainted with the “become one with the pain” philosophy. One night, after a long day on my feet at work, I told him I wanted to soak my swollen ankles in some icy water. “Are you sure?” he asked. I nodded. It was a hot day anyway. He prepared a plastic dish tub jostling with water and ice cubes and set it at my feet. I dipped one toe in and recoiled. “Come on!” he said, setting an example by plunging his own feet in the water and holding them there for a minute or two. I put both feet in this time, but the longest I managed was a few seconds. He shook his head. “You need to work up to it.” But I gave up on the idea. After all, I wouldn’t be feeling labor pains in my feet - why punish them? I did other things to prepare myself: prenatal yoga, squats, focused breathing. I packed calming music and aromatherapy oils for the hospital. But during labor, I didn’t use any of these.

A water birth was in my birth plan, which was important since the hospital where I would be giving birth had only one water birth tub and priority was given to those who specifically asked for it in advance. However, as the pregnant women I knew began to deliver, I heard one story then another about plans to have a water birth gone awry. One woman got in the tub and began to hyperventilate. Another found that the water relaxed her to the point that her contractions decreased. I thought it would be nice to have the option, but half expected not to use it.

The night my water broke, the pain didn’t start right away. As I lay in bed trying to heed the sage advice of my midwife to get sleep while I could, I felt the pains slowly increase, like the tide moving up the shore. When I began to get really uncomfortable, I got up and drew a bath. My belly wasn’t totally immersed when I was on my back, so I turned first to one side, then the other. The pain withdrew a little and became more subdued, like turning down the volume on a radio: audible, but quieter.

Unfortunately, I got too warm and started feeling a little light-headed. I knew I had to get out of the tub, but I also knew that as soon as I did, the pain was going to get much worse. And it did. We called the midwife for the third time, after an excruciatingly long session of timing contractions (“Just one more time,” my husband would say, “to make sure.”) Like everyone else whose story I’d heard, there was that one thing about my labor that didn’t quite happen in textbook fashion: for me it was the length of my contractions. Rather than starting out widely spaced, they were less than five minutes apart, but also less than one minute in duration. Earlier, the midwife had told me they would probably lengthen in duration and space out a little. They did the former, but not the latter.

I was propped on an elaborate configuration of pillows and had my husband call the midwife this time. Probably assuming we were the typical over-reactive first-time parents, she asked him if I could talk through my contractions. This was the wrong thing to ask a man who routinely likes to speculate aloud on what one could do if one absolutely had to (“If you had to eat raw seal blubber to stay alive, you’d choke it down.”) He squinted over at me and said, “Well, I think she could talk…” I cut him off with a sharp shake of my head. This was not a question of survival in the arctic wilderness, but a way of asking if it was time for us to go to the hospital. “Okay, I guess not,” he told her, sounding a little disappointed, as if he’d hoped I’d be tougher.

When I got up to (I thought) help my husband pack the car for the hospital, my education in pain began in earnest. Every move made it worse. When we got to the hospital, it took a good ten minutes to complete the short walk to the birthing center because I kept having to stop and lean against the wall, waiting for the pain to subside. It probably took fifteen minutes for the nurse to get the heart monitor attached around my waist. She kept waiting for a break between contractions, but I seemed to be experiencing one continuous contraction. I would have told her that it was pointless to wait, but I couldn’t. I had expected to be screaming and yelling or at least moaning, based on the countless birth videos I’d watched at pregnancy group and birthing class, but instead I was stoically silent: my complaints didn’t make it outside my head because I couldn’t spare the energy to voice them.

When the midwife finally arrived and examined me, I was already dilated nine centimeters, and was relieved that the end was in sight. She recommended that I try getting in the shower and sitting on a large exercise ball. The problem with this plan, aside from the fact that it was winter and the water was only warming roughly half my body while the other half was shivering, was the sitting. I wanted nothing to do with sitting. “I want the tub,” I said between chattering teeth. “The Jacuzzi tub or the water birth tub,” the midwife asked. “Water birth,” I gasped, thinking to myself that whatever tub I got into I was not going to be getting out of without a baby in my arms. The thought of transferring myself from room to tub to room again made me shudder, after the paroxysm of pain brought on by just getting to my room from the entrance.
As soon as I entered the room with the water birth tub, I felt a little better. The walls were painted a calming ocean blue, and a floor lamp in the corner cast a soothing light, unlike the florescent overhead lights in the delivery room. I got into the tub and my husband followed, sitting on a built-in ledge behind me. The pain was definitely getting worse, but my contractions finally seemed to have a space between them, and during that space I felt a relaxation like that after a long day’s work, melting into the bed and falling asleep.
I was happy to keep going on in this way, trying to forget about the impending pain of the next contraction during these breaks, but my midwife wanted to move things along. She asked me to try squatting in the tub, but that required too much effort to hold myself up, so I turned to face my husband on my hands and knees. The pain got much worse, an inescapable increasing pressure that made me glad for the buoyancy of the water. I gripped the sides of the tub, thinking, I know I said I wanted two children……. “You’re so quiet- don’t be afraid to make some noise,” the midwife encouraged me. I wanted to laugh and tell her that I was not being shy or timid, but saving my strength. I think she got the picture after I began pushing.
I didn’t really want to push (even though so many people had told me that I would, that it would be a relief to), but I did find that a good blood-curdling shriek with each push was oddly satisfying. I gripped my husband’s swim trunks and screamed thinking: surely the head is out now? Finally the midwife told me she could see the head. See it, that’s all? But a few excruciating pushes more and my husband flipped me over and the midwife placed my slippery little boy on my chest. He looked at me inquisitively and I hugged him close and forgot immediately about the pain. Which is, I suppose, what makes the continuation of the species possible.
J LeBlanc is a former high school teacher who resides in Lebanon, N.H. She is currently taking a break from teaching to stay home with her 8-month-old son.
Previous Posts by this Author: Joining the Club
Never Say Never
User Comments
Tatiana Zarnowski | November 01, 2011 21:53

Wow. What a riveting account of your labor! I love the part about your husband pontificating about what someone 'could' do if one wanted. Hilarious.

J LeBlanc | November 04, 2011 14:18

Thanks! All in all I was lucky to have had such a short labor.

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