Active labour entailed more than an ‘urge’ to push – it was something that happened as my body took over. Contractions became less painful but more intense, and I found myself grunting through them in a primal fashion (a surprise for me, as I never thought I’d be the vocal type during labour!).
I leaned over the head of the bed, resting on my knees, but each contraction forced me down until I was pretty well sitting on the bed, legs wide, arms still clinging to the top of the bed. The midwife, Karen, used a handheld doppler to monitor the baby’s heartbeat after each contraction. Because of the way I was positioned, she struggled to reach under to get the heartbeat. She asked me to flip around, onto my back, so she had better access and could get a better look.
Of course I did as requested. I was in no position at that point to argue, or discuss my birth preferences. Sean later disclosed that although he wanted to speak up about it, he figured that since I had agreed so readily I must have wanted to be on my back. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. Through the pain and the sheer force of the contractions, I remember wondering why she was making me go into that position when I had specifically written it into my birth plan that I would like to try more upright positions.
From there it was just like a scene from One Born Every Minute. Karen grabbed one leg, Sean grabbed the other, and pushed them up; I was directed to wrap my hands around my thighs and pull with each contraction.
“Chin onto your chest, and push down into your bottom!”
Sean says he never saw anything, and I honestly couldn’t tell you if I pooped. It felt exactly like pushing out a really big poo. With a bit of coaching from the midwife, I soon got the hang of it: as a contraction started, I would ‘catch’ it like catching a good wave. If I pushed down hard enough, cheeks puffed and lips tight, blowing out hard and using the extra pressure for leverage, my body would suddenly respond. The muscles would engage and a noise like an angry rhinoceros would come screeching out. Sean was watching the business end, and quickly figured out what was going on.
“Can you see the head yet?”
Feeling the baby moving down, I asked this several times – can you see her yet? Nearly, said Karen. Nearly, said Sean. It seemed a lifetime that they were telling me “nearly”! I don’t remember the pain, I remember the effort from this time. The exhausting, draining effort of using every last ounce of strength to push. Then something incredible happened.
“I can see her head – she’s got hair!”
My efforts ramped up – now I was getting desperate and determined. We were near the finish line and I was on my second wind. Again, though, this time seemed to drag out forever. I could feel my baby moving further and further down, but what I couldn’t see was that for each contraction she would inch down – then pull back a little. Sean watched the painstaking progress while I wondered how on earth it could take so long, how she had not already slooped right out.
Then it was announced that were approaching an hour of pushing. I was on the clock. As we hit the hour mark, Karen was obliged to hook me up to a CTG monitor. She was still writing down the heart rate after each contraction, much to my consternation – several times she was slow to get back for the next wave, and push my leg up. It wasn’t until both legs were pushed right up that the pushing became truly effective.
The contractions were coming thick and fast, and my husband and my midwife were cheering me on, “keep it going, keep it going!!” I knew she was coming. I was so exhausted that I was falling asleep in those thirty-second gaps between contractions, but when they came, I dug deep and somehow drew out the strength to keep going. I needed her out! And then she was crowning, and we hit the most intense part of the birthing experience.