A pain-free natural birth, is it possible? YES!
When I think of my first labour I can full-heartedly say that I had a really good birth experience: a labour that lasted 7 hours from the first sign of the imminent big event to a baby girl being born without the need of any pain relief. I do not think this was pure luck, instead I relate this to always having been active during the pregnancy (I walked for half an hour a few times a week, right up to the day of labour), to having had trust in myself and in my body that I could give birth and to the Maelor hospital for providing a perfect environment that suited my needs (particularly being able to be in 'active' labour positions all the time). Could this get any better when I would ever give birth to another baby? Well, I'm the mother of two now and my second labour was indeed even better!
Again I am convinced this was not just another bit of luck, but I fully contribute it to the time and the effort I have taken to prepare myself for labour. For me the key conditions in this preparation were exercise during pregnancy, creating a comfortable birthing environment and trust in myself, the same as for my first labour, but much more thorough this time!
The activity regime that I could manage while being a full-time mum of a 1-year old was twofold: walking everywhere with her (from playgroup to library and from shop to playground) and yoga three times a week during her nap. I bought myself a brilliant DVD called 'Pregnancy Health Yoga with Tara Lee' and even though many times I felt almost too tired to start, I never regretted it afterwards as I felt re-energized and got rid of many minor 'pregnancy'-aches.
Regarding the birthing environment, I always had in my mind that it really does not matter where it happens. We just need a few things: my body, my baby and preferably my husband and a midwife. That does not mean though that I was not weighing my options if I would have the choice! I developed the preference for having a home birth, partly because I dreaded sitting in a car while having contractions, but mainly because I did not want to be away too long from my daughter.
After reading about it online, including cases where people had to fight to get a homebirth booked, I informed my midwife and rather than having to push for my case, I found myself warmly supported! They delivered a homebirth kit at 38 weeks and even offered a birthing pool. I had in fact already borrowed a birthing pool from a friend, which I preferred to use as I could inflate it in advance so that during labour we only had to think about getting it filled with water. At home I had 2 downstairs rooms slightly adjusted to make them possible delivery rooms; the study became the birth pool room, whereas a sofa bed was added to the living room. I made sure both rooms had soft-lighting, a cd-player in case I wanted music, plenty of shower curtains in case carpets would need protection and comfortable seating for midwives and husband. Like that the rooms felt right to me: cosy and comfortable for everyone!
The most essential task in my 'birth preparation package' was, however, to develop a genuine and deep trust in myself and in my body that I could give birth naturally. I read 'Ina May's Guide to Childbirth' by Ina May Gaskin and did that give me new insights! As my antenatal checks were ok, I became 100% convinced that if my body knows how to grow a baby inside me, my body surely knows how to safely get the baby out. The book made me realise, that for labour to be as good as it can get, I would have to eliminate fear and embrace relaxation. So I further read 'Hypnobirthing: The Mongan Method' by Marie Mongan and listened regularly to some pregnancy&labour preparation meditation CD's. I could not be more ready!
So how did the birth go? In hindsight it started on a Sunday evening at 9.15pm, after spending an extremely joyful afternoon with friends. We came home at 7.30pm and I went upstairs to do my 70-minute yoga routine. I then rang an overseas friend who I had not spoken to for a long time and we had so much to tell that it was a very animated phone call. While I was taking to her I felt some contractions developing and I thought: 'About time to have some Braxton Hicks', as I would be 39 weeks the next day and so far had not had many of them. However, when I hung up at around 10pm, I had the feeling that they were a little too regular and following each other a little too quickly! I asked my husband to time them and they were exactly 3-minutes apart.
My daughter was 20 months at the time and for some reason still up, so I quickly put a TENS machine on me and went to bed with her to get her to sleep. My contractions were not painful in any way, so I talked to her and sang soft songs, but she knew there was something big happening and kept saying: 'mama, mama, mammmaaa' in a tiny unhappy voice and did not go to sleep! While daddy took over at 11pm, I went downstairs and really wanted to make 'my' rooms cosy. I put on the soft lights, prepared some tea, pulled out the sofa bed, all in a very relaxed but somehow excited manner. Not much later though I had to stop during a contraction to do breathing exercises and I decided to lie down on the sofa bed and listen to relaxing music. I had practised a special breathing technique for this stage of labour (learned from the hypnobirthing book) and they REALLY did make my contractions pain-free (I did not use the technique for 2 contractions and those two were painful!).
We rang the hospital at 11.30pm and we were told that it was time for me to come to the Maelor hospital. With a bit of apprehension I told them that I was booked in for a home birth and as soon as they told me that was fine and midwives were available for that, the last bit of anxiety slid away and I was truly relaxed. My husband went off to fill the birthing pool, and though I thought at first I would not like being on my own, it was actually fine as contractions were every 2-minutes by then and they kept my mind engaged enough!
The midwife arrived just after midnight and it was not long after that that the contractions started to become more intense and I thought it time to get into the pool. On the way there my waters broke like a pinched balloon of water. The pool felt relieving and warm, and because of the buoyancy the best thing for me was that I could sit upright on my knees for the next 1 1/2 hour (on the floor my knees would have hurt after only 10 minutes!). I think I felt it when the baby started its journey through the birth canal and I automatically adjusted my breathing and changed position. Without pushing I breathed the baby down during contractions (another technique from the hypnobirthing book), while softly singing in between contractions (as advocated in Ina May's book).
I was so in myself with the whole process that I had not communicated that the baby was getting close and I clearly remember my husband's surprised face when he saw the baby's head crowning! As crowning was not painful, but nevertheless unpleasant, I did push in the end, causing a tear, but also the relieving moment of the head being out. Another contraction later (01:56 by then), our baby was born and put immediately on my chest. My husband and I happened to look between baby's legs at the same time and we both discovered for ourselves, but simultaneously that it was a little boy!
After a few minutes I helped him towards the breast and, as newborns just know what to do, he latched beautifully! He then went skin-to skin with daddy, while the placenta was being delivered and I had some stitches. He did not like it though, so he came back to mummy's skin and stayed there for many hours! Big sister had been a perfect sleeping beauty upstairs and woke up at 8am in the morning.
Before this labour, I never imagined that a pain-free labour would be possible and it is only because I have experienced it that I believe it! I fully admit my labour had its uncomfortable moments (getting stitches being one of them), but I was told afterwards that I smiled during the actual birth! I have to dedicate this perfect birth, not just to my body, my baby boy, my husband, my daughter and the midwives, but also very much to my dear friend who lent me the books, the meditation CDs, the TENS machine and the birthing pool and for paving the path for a water birth at home.
Waterbirth at home
Hypnotherapy for childbirth
Home Birth Stories
Home Birth Reference Page