Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Help Me Out - How Would YOU Describe Labor?


One of the challenges I have when meeting with doula clients, specifically first time parents, is helping them understand what labor will be like.  Sometimes that's good because each person experiences it differently and there's really no way to understand it until you've experienced it.  But sometimes it's not because I want them to know how prepared they have to be without turning it into something to fear.  And while I know that there are many sensations, descriptions, and experiences that tend to be more common that I try to share, the only experience I have to directly pull from is my own.  Part of me doesn't want to give too much information since it is so unique to each person and I want clients experiencing their labor rather than waiting for the "right" sensations and feelings but inevitably at every meeting with a first time couple, they want help understanding what it will be like.

So how would YOU describe labor?

If you were talking with a first time mom and she asked you what it feels like, what would you say?  What words were helpful or harmful to you before birth?  If you had a hospital birth, how did you know when it was time to go?  How would you describe the sensations to someone planning a natural birth?  Or any birth?  Was it what you expected?  What is something that you wish someone had told you beforehand? 

Talk to me!

Just in case you wanted to see a picture of me in labor :)




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31 comments:

  1. I usually describe it as not as bad as I thought it would be! With my first I was in tears every time I thought about going through the labor, and God is good! I figured out I was in labor about 1 hour before delivery and transition and birth last a whole 10 minutes (yeah, God is REAL good)

    My only advice for new moms: don't tense up. really hard to do, but makes a whole bunch of difference.

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    1. Oh, wow! That is fast! The dads I see are almost always worried about something like that and I tell them that it's usually never like that :)

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    2. My two experiences I labor were something like this too. The second one half as long as the first. Trusting in and letting your body do what it was built to do are my advice, an that it's like a difficult bowel movement to the extreme, but it ends and you get to MEET someone! And yes my midwives trained my husband to be ready to do what he might have to do if they didn't get here in time! Thankfully, they did

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  2. I would tell new moms that most of the time by the time it gets really hard and painful (transition) it is almost over. I wish someone had told me that before. That it's not like the movies and that the actual birth part and pushing part isn't necessarily as hard and painful as you see on TV. And, that when you see your baby, you forget about all the pain and hard part.

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    1. Oh, yes. I try hard to help them understand that it's usually never like what they see on TV. You know, without any warning water breaks, followed by screaming and immediately pushing baby out!

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  3. For me, I was shocked at how hard the pushing stage was, and how much I struggled with that. I'd read so many stories of women saying that when it was time to push, they were relieved and glad to be finally pushing. But for me, it was so much harder than riding out the contractions. As far as the actual sensation of labor (contractions), to me each contraction felt like my body was actually *becoming* a vice -- this incredible tightening sensation. I'm convinced that the thing that got me through labor w/o an epidural was being in the tub. That, and staying home for as long as possible before heading to the hospital.

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    1. That's interesting! I appreciate this perspective and visual a lot, thank you! I remember after having one of my babies feeling like it was if my insides were wrung out like washcloth!

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  4. With my first, I remember being shocked when I showed up at the hospital and was already at a 6. I thought labor was supposed to be a lot more painful but the contractions (during that labor, for me) were more of a strong tightening, not much cervical pain. I remember thinking I had menstrual cramps that hurt more. Once my water broke and I hit transition that was when the sharper cervical pain started, but by then it was almost over. Try to just focus on the contraction you're on and not look ahead to how many you have to go because that is when it gets overwhelming. I thought the tub helped me a lot too, and I always felt better during the pushing stage. Also, don't tie the pain with your dilatation. Like I said, with my first I was somewhat comfortable at a 6 but with my daughter I remember coming in quickly and they told me I was at a 6 and I know I had to be in transition at that point. I remember thinking "no way, I'm not going to survive another 4 cm, that has to be wrong". She was born very quickly after that, so when the pain feels overwhelming you're almost done.

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    1. One other thing, I wish someone had explained more of the recovery process. Like wearing the really huge pads, and hemorrhoid care, and the squirt bottles and care of stitches (if you need them). How much the cramping pains can REALLY hurt, especially during breastfeeding. How that's all normal. I kind of felt blindsided by that side of things. I guess they don't want to scare the pregnant moms before labor but it would have been really nice to know about things like that so you know what to expect.

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    2. I agree -- the aftermath of three hours of pushing, stitches, hemorrhoids, etc. completely surprised both me and my husband. I could hardly walk to the bathroom unassisted. I wouldn't want to scare anyone, but I felt wholly unprepared for this.

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    3. Oh, yes. I do have a follow-up, meeting but I think I could give more detail before the baby is born and make sure they know what to expect, what is normal, and what to have on hand. I remember being surprised by the fact that I looked six or seven months pregnant right after which is obviously normal and makes sense but I had just never thought about it before! Thank you!

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  5. For my first, I had no idea how painful labor really was. Everyone I knew had always gotten the epidural, and I had already made up my mind I wasn't doing that. So when labor got pretty intense, I kept thinking okay it's time now. The nurses would tell me, "no, you're only at 8 cm!" What!!??" The intense part of labor usually only lasts 2 to 3 hours at most for me, so I probably shouldn't even complain. I also didn't realized how much you bleed afterwards and how painful it is for the uterus to contract after having the baby. For me, the uterus contracting makes it hard to breastfeed for that first week. I do breastfeed, but it's not enjoyable at all with the hurtful contracting uterus. Other than that, being a part of bringing new life into the world and having a new precious baby is worth all the pain!

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    1. Ah, the after cramps. With each baby they get harder. That initial few moments when they're nursing is brutal. Ibuprofen is my friend then. And wine :)

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  6. My best advice from my doula before my 1st was born: You will likely hit a wall where you feel like you can't do it anymore, plan or figure out ahead of time, the best you can, as to how you will cope with that both mentally and physically. Really that it is not abnormal to feel like you can't continue at a certain point in an unmedicated birth but that that usually means you are close or in transition. Also for me I would say that birth is 80% surrender to what is happening to your body. Just let it all happen and don't struggle against it. It is hard work and parts of it could certainly be described as painful but it is nothing to be feared.

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    1. I like your doula :) The idea of planning ahead of time how you will handle it is really helpful when in the moment it's so hard to think straight. And yes. The wall. Definitely.

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  7. I think just what you said is perfect! First time parents are easy to scare. You might tell them, yes it hurts there is no denying that. But it wanes in and out. God slowly let things build up and then he gives you a moment of peace, so you can breathe in and start again. The best part is the pain is quickly forgotten. Within a second the pain is gone and all there is is the beautiful shinning face of your baby and you will never ever for a tiny second think it wasn't worth it. Actually, you would be willing to go through 10 times worse just to see your child look at you for the first time.

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    1. Thank you! I like the idea of considering it a moment of peace.

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  8. At this point (after three unmedicated births) my husband has told me that he knows when I'm in transition because that's when I hit my wall and start crying and claiming I can't do it anymore! I would echo the same sentiments I've seen from others here -- trust your body, and know that when the pain is at its worst it's nearly over. I also sat in the tub for a while this last time and that was glorious, and I made a big effort to keep my face and jaw relaxed during each contraction (a piece of advice from Ina May) and breathed/hummed my way through them. I was very proud of getting all the way to the actual pushing part without yelling, and I think it really helped. I've never had a doula, but I had a nurse this last time who was so great she could've been a doula, and a very calm midwife who pretty much only showed up to "catch" the baby (an apt term in this case!). What they both did that was great was stay very calm and nonchalant while still being sympathetic to my pain, very encouraging, and very open to whatever I wanted to do.

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    1. It's amazing how much just simply relaxing the other parts of your body can help! I'm constantly on the look out for that during a birth. Especially the jaw and face.

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  9. I'd would say, "There is a reason why women all share their birth stories, giving birth is equal to hiking the Himalayas, frankly we're awesome!" and I work mentally alot like KK shares, working with the contractions, visualizing them as the ocean, riding through the contractions/waves, in and out. and yes work with, surrender to your body. The mind is very powerful, when you allow fear to take over it makes it so much harder, when you surrender and work with, so much better mentally.

    Having birthed 11 babies though I wouldn't say you forget it all, once you've had a few babies you remember it all! but... as these are first time mamas you don't need to say that to them yet. If you had a mum having her 4th or so you could reassure her that is normal to remember though. but that's a whole nother story (or another post;)

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    1. I had that same experience with my last birth. I DID remember the pain and it was very very hard to get over that. But you're right, I don't tell that to first or second time moms because what good would it do?

      I do use the wave image and even give them a handout about using that image because I find it very powerful as well! Thanks, Erin.

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  10. I like the wave imagery - also the opening flower and gathering curtain imagery from HypnoBirthing. Do you know those? They were so helpful to me during contractions! Honestly, there were three moments in labor when I thought I couldn't do it - once when active labor was really getting underway, once in transition (for which I was in the car, I got to the hospital at 10 cm!) and once when pushing. But they pass quickly. And if you can surrender and let your body do it's thing, you're rewarded with the most incredible relaxation between contractions - at least I was!

    Honestly, my first thought after my daughter was born was, "That was it?!" After the all the horror stories I'd heard, it really wasn't bad! I think one of the things I was most afraid of was losing my mind somehow. That didn't happen. Throughout the whole experience, even the tougher bits, I felt very self-possessed - even when I was "letting my animal do it" like Ina May says!

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    1. Yes, I talk to clients about how visual imagery can be helpful. I especially like the flower one (I used that with some of my births and it really really helped!) I'm not familiar with the curtain one. I must've forgotten it because I read the book years ago.

      I'm so glad you're labor was a happy surprise!

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    2. Mary, now I'm thinking back - maybe it's not actually a curtain? I think it's the blue ribbons imagery, but I somehow morphed that (during labor) into a big stage curtain being gathered up. I think I even visualized tiny elf-people running up and down the curtain, gathering it... I don't know, whatever it was, it seems super crazy now, but it did work!

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    3. Hahaha! I hope you don't mind that I'm dying at your elf-people!!! Think I should share that one with clients? Can you imagine me saying something like that to someone in the middle of labor? "Relax...Just picture the elf-people on your stomach..." Haha...I honestly think I may have to use that as a teaching reference, though, because it is GREAT and shows how you totally do go to a different mental place while in labor! ;)

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  11. I was going to write my thoughts, then I saw that everything I thought of saying, were exactly what all the other comments said! After my sixth natural birth, I would say being at peace-being OUT of fear-trusting myself and my body fully-staying OUT of panic mode (do it yourself hypno birthing helped so much-imagery, relaxation techniques, quiet, dark, no voices) was the key for me. When I look back at some of my births, (with midwives), I feel like I had too much interference-maybe because I have posterior babies-but this last time, I told THEM what I was going to do-which was lay on my back, with my eyes closed, and not moving an inch. Before it was so much-"try this position", "get on the ball", "try the shower". I needed to go IN, to concentrate, to be still, to let my body do the work. I love what Kelsey wrote about surrendering. AND it's so important to know beforehand the process of labor-I could make my mind work along with my body and picture what my body was doing, which allowed me to set aside the pain as almost an external aspect that didn't reach the fear mechanism in my brain.
    I don't know if that makes sense. And I sure wish it didn't take me till my sixth to figure it all out! :)

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    1. It makes sense, thank you! I try to read clients as best I can to see if they're doing an awesome job going in like that and I try not to break that. I think those labors tend to be the most peaceful! Did you have a doula with you ever? What do you think a doula could have helped while you were "going in"? Guarding the space and environment?

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  12. When I was a kid, I had allergy shots—twice a week, once a week, every two weeks, every three weeks for about seven years. Any time you get a shot, it really helps to relax all over, especially the part of your body that is about to hurt. If you relax well enough, and if the person giving the shot is good, and if it's the right kind of shot, you won't even feel it. I even slouch when I get a shot in my arm. All that lack of muscle activity helps.

    I found that my experience in getting allergy shots worked really well to help me through labor with no medication. When I felt a contraction coming, I'd relax every single part of my body, and it'd be manageable pain. If I didn't relax enough, it'd get really awful. And there were some parts that were pretty awful anyway. But I dislike taking drugs if I don't have to, and fortunately I didn't have to. Unfortunately, my daughter did not have this same experience. But now that she knows how her own body works, she's fine with getting an epidural.

    My mother used to say that labor is aptly named, that it's really hard work. And some of the noises that one makes are like the noises one makes while moving a really heavy piece of furniture, for example.

    Hope that helps!

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    1. That's really neat that your childhood experiences helped you with birth! I try to help clients use their little pains leading up to birth as a way to "practice" how they will react when in labor so I appreciate that a lot. And yes, labor is definitely work!

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  13. I usually just tell people it is best to practice consciously relaxing your body as much as possible. Pray and trust that your body knows what to do. I don't tell them much else b/c, like you said, it is different for every woman and every woman has a completely different pain tolerance. We have our second homebirth, fourth natural birth coming up and every time it was different, but I always tell myself to: "Relax." If I slip into a little bit of panic - like starting to get stressed or thinking I can't do it, then I have my husband or midwives remind me to calm down and when I do, then I am better able to relax and open my body for baby to come out. =)

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    1. Definitely. It's so helpful to know what exactly relaxes each individual client because that makes such a difference for laboring! And I love bringing prayer into it. It takes it to a whole different level.

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