Its only 8 weeks since my last birth, but I've already forgotten what labor feels like! I love "labor amnesia!" That amazing hormone cocktail that is released after birth is strong stuff!
A lot of my mom-friends love their epidurals and are deathly afraid of natural birth. My goal today is to show you there's nothing to be afraid of. It's not *that* bad! I loved my natural birth!
(disclaimer: these descriptions are what I felt. All labors are a little bit different and not every woman is the same)
I'll try to remember and accurately describe what birth felt like to me:
Natural Labor Contractions: an intense pressure. I wouldn't even call it "pain" because there is nothing sharp about it- just intense pressure. It is uncomfortable, but the sensations have purpose and there is nothing to fear and they won't harm your body. They come in waves, starting gradually and building in intensity until they peak and then lose intensity again. It started at the top of my uterus and then spread downward until it covered my entire abdomen (I've heard most women say that it started at the bottom and worked its way up, though). For me, my contractions started 2-3 minutes apart with a 1 minute break in between. They continued in that pattern the entire labor, only increasing in intensity for several hours, and then it was very repetitive and predictable. I knew exactly what to expect and feel with each new contraction and could practice and perfect the right coping technique for me. A few hours into it, and I had mastered the contractions. I had back labor for the first half, and that just felt like a strong back ache with some shooting sensations down my hips and legs (very uncomfortable, but again, it was predictable and thus, manageable). I still felt the majority of the contractions in the front over my entire abdomen.
Rupture of membranes: my water broke spontaneously with my first labor. It literally felt and sounded like a "POP!" like when you pop bubble wrap. My water was broken by my midwife (amniotomy) with my second labor and I didn't feel anything (it just felt like a normal vaginal exam) until the warm water started rushing out.
Pushing: AMAZING! I loved pushing. It was incredible. The discomfort from my contractions subsided when I pushed. It was so powerful. It felt so "right". There was no way I couldn't push at that point! My body just took over. Be prepared to make some interesting "primal" noises!
Crowning: BURNING! That is all I can say. This was the only point in my labor that it actually "hurt." The good news is: it's over with very quickly! Even if the baby is born slowly, after only a few minutes of crowing, your vaginal tissue stretches and the burning subsides. Do some prenatal perineal massage ahead of time and you'll get a glimpse of what it will feel like.
Birth: All the pain vanishes. It's crazy. As soon as the baby is out, your perineum is just kind of numb. And the euphoria of birth takes over. Your body literally produces its own anesthesia!
Third Stage: pushing the placenta out was a piece of cake. It just felt like a big clot coming out. Everything is still so open and stretched and kind of numb from the birth. I barely even noticed it.
Suturing: My midwife gave me a shot of local before suturing my tiny 1st degree tear. The shot wasn't that big of a deal- I was too busy fawning over my baby!
Afterbirth contractions: These are the contractions you get after the baby is born to shrink the uterus back down and close off blood vessels. They usually get stronger with each baby. These were just as strong and intense as labor contractions and I would get them on and off for the first two days. Be prepared to relax and breathe through them! In a way, they were actually worse than labor contractions because I didn't know when they were coming and they weren't predictable.
I used a self-hypnosis program called Hypnobabies which REALLY helped me cope and relax through labor. I highy recommend Hypnobabies for all moms who want a natural birth. I will discuss the program in a future post. Hypnobabies helped me to alleviate my fears about natural birth and the self-hypnosis techniques that it teaches helped me to experience the contractions as only pressure and not pain. Pretty awesome!