The moment is here! Everything you’ve experienced in the past nine months has led you to this place and time and you will be meeting your baby very soon. This might be a three hour process for you (lucky lucky) or a 48 hour process (I kid you not). There is really no way to know what the labor and delivery journey will be like ahead of time, but there are a few things to keep in mind that might help you during those hours. These tips helped me get through a 43 hour delivery, so I pass them on with confidence and a little bit of reverence.
1) This is a marathon
I read this somewhere during my pregnancy and it saved me. It helped me put in perspective how long the process can be (but it isn’t for everyone!) and how physically tiring it is as well. I think part of this training comes during your pregnancy, but there are also a few things you can do in the days before your due date or in the very early stages of labor. Have your bag ready to go with the things you may need to run the race. Stay hydrated and drink a lot of water. Depending on your situation, you may not be able to drink water once you get to the hospital (if you have an epidural, you get only ice chips). I personally couldn’t eat or drink for over 24 hours, so I’m really thankful that I stay hydrated normally and my body had some reserves. I also recommend doing gentle stretches and keeping yourself mobile in the last few weeks by doing short walks (if cleared by your doctor). Visualize a healthy and happy baby and a smooth labor and delivery, like athletes visualize themselves crossing the finish line. You have been in training for nine months, and this is the big day! Get excited, center yourself and maybe give someone a high five while you are at it.
Just breathe. A lot. I think my Pilates training and my yoga practice really helped me know how to control my breath and use it to my advantage. During each contraction, all I could do was focus on my breath. Everything else faded away, and it was the only thing I felt I had a little control over. I took long, deep breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth. Whenever I would hold my breath or clench my teeth or breathe really fast and shallow, my husband would help coach me back to those long, deep breaths. It helped me personally to count in my head while I was taking breaths. It put my focus on something other than the pain, and I knew if my breath only lasted one count it was too short. Your body responds to your breath, and if you are breathing long and slow and relaxed, you can help relax your cervix and pelvis and surrounding muscles. If you breathe really fast and shallow, your body goes into a fight or flight response, and everything clenches. You do NOT want everything to clench in this situation! You can find the strategy that works for you, but remember – long and slow breaths as much as you can.
3) Ride the Wave
Contractions are your friends. They are the road to your baby. You can’t fight them. This is hard – oh so hard. They hurt and your body wants to fight them and contract and tighten up into a little ball and just make them go away. As much as you can, you need to try and relax and accept the contractions instead of pushing against them. I’m telling you this now because someone will tell you the same thing in the delivery room, and you may want to cry or punch them for telling you to “relax” in the middle of a contraction. If you can accept it now and start to really know it as truth, it will be easier when the time comes. Just realize that every wave of contractions gets you closer to your baby. You are a little boat on the ocean trying to get to shore. The tide will carry you there, but you have to crest over each wave as it comes. If you ride them instead of rowing against them, you will get there sooner.
4) Have a plan, and then let it go
I’m sure your doctors and/or birth coaches have talked to you about the importance of having a “plan”. If not, there are some great general questionnaires on the internet that will help guide you through some questions so you can develop a plan that’s right for you. This includes your feelings on getting an epidural, who you want in the delivery room with you, whether you want to labor with a gym ball or in the tub, and if you want your baby on your chest for skin to skin contact immediately after birth (yes you do!!). You will want to sift through the information and your own feelings to come up with a general idea of what your perfect labor and delivery would look like. It’s much easier to make these decisions BEFORE the pain begins, and it will give you a little ownership and feeling of control over what is to come. You can also chose people to be around you who support your choices. I chose a hospital that is very mom and baby oriented and could help me with my birth plan. I labored, delivered and then slept in the same room. There was a bed for daddy and our baby slept in the room with us. We had immediate skin to skin contact and had privacy with our new baby for a while after birth. There was a tub I could labor in and room to walk around. If you have some specific needs or feelings about your experience, I suggest choosing a doctor and hospital that caters to that.
You will then need to completely let that plan go. Give it to the universe or your own personal higher power and trust that whatever happens is right and best for you and your baby. I didn’t plan on laboring for 43 hours, or pushing for 4 hours, or needing a vacuum to help pull my daughter out. I didn’t plan on having an epidural, and sure didn’t plan on it NOT working once I had to have it. My friends didn’t plan on a water breaking 7 weeks early in the grocery store parking lot. Or being told 3 weeks early “your blood pressure is too high – you are being induced TODAY”. Or “your husband just boarded a plane and can’t answer his phone or get to the hospital”. Or “you’ve been in labor for 20 hours but we now need to do a C-section because the baby is in distress”. Or you might just find that the pain is more than you can handle and so you ask for an epidural when you didn’t plan on it. And you know what? It’s all ok!! Your ONLY goal during this whole process is a healthy baby and a healthy mama. That’s it. This is your birth story and it’s amazing and special and sacred no matter what is written on the pages. I don’t know of a single woman who’s birth plan turned out exactly how they pictured it, and I don’t know many mamas who would change what happened. They own it. They love it. It’s theirs and theirs alone. So have a plan and general idea of what you would like during this process, and then be willing to accept something else if it presents itself. Focus on that moment when your baby is on your chest, and then do what you need to get there.