My fear of childbirth started three and a half years ago, when we decided to try for a baby but ended up having to go through four IVF treatments to get there (a separate post about this can be found here). During these years I’ve listened to thousands of podcasts with birth stories and read everything you can to prepare for this moment. When I tried to break down what the phobia really was based on, I realized that I was not afraid of the pain itself (I had a great deal of respect for it tough, because I had no idea how I would handle it) but the part of the birth process that frightened me most was the tearing part. With that insight, I did everything in my power to prepare myself. I bought a special perineal balloon (Epi-No) with which I stretched my pereneum every other day since week 30, I was also advised by my doctor to get a special lubricant (Dianatal Gel) that the midwife could use during childbirth, both of these are said to reduce the risk for tearing. Since I understood that epidural increases the likelihood of tearing, I decided to take a hypnobirthing course which is said to help deal with the pain. Because we were giving birth in a private hospital in Moscow, I also had the fantastic opportunity to have an individual midwife who would be with me during the whole process.
Coming home from a girls dinner on due date November 15, I was just ready to go to bed. Everyone had told me that I would be overdue for at least one week since this is my first pregnancy and a boy (very scientific) so I was totally into this and nothing else. When I laid down in bed, I felt that the baby’s head suddenly was very low. I emptied the bladder for the fourth time before bed (those who know, know) but couldn’t relax with the pressure down there.
The first contraction starts. I was convinced that it was just another pregnancy related symptom. It felt exactly like period pain, but less intense. When this did not end and I also felt that there was some kind of pattern in how these contractions behaved, I started to time them with an app. They lasted for about 45 seconds with breaks of 2-3 minutes, not a lot of breaks in other words. I put on a hypnobirthing meditation and imagined that I was one of those strong natural-birth women who gives birth at home in her bath tub with her three older kids in the bloody water.
03.00 – 07.00
I tried to fall asleep but because I was extremely aware that things had apparently begun, I decided to wake my husband and deprive him of his night’s sleep as well. We watched a couple of episodes on Netflix after which I felt like trying out the bathtub. We lit some candles, put on some cozy music and I started putting together my Blessingway necklace of little talismans that my friends had brought with them during my two Blessingways. While I was in the water I basically felt no pain so we just had a good time going through each piece of jewelry while I told the story behind every piece and what it symbolized.
Making a necklace out of all the talismans from my bessingways in the bathtub
07.00 – 09.00
At seven o’clock I thought it was time to inform the doctor that today was probably the today. I explained that the pain was not intense but that there was not a lot of breaks in between the contractions, the doc said I should come in to the hospital for a check. We took our stuff, ordered a taxi and went to the hospital. The taxi driver didn’t notice that I was in labor, nor the staff who received us at the hospital so I had to convince them that I would actually give birth soon. They examined me and told me that I was 3 cm dilated, that the head was extremely low and that there was no water between the head, the amniotic sack and the cervix, which meant I had to stay in the hospital.
The mandatory selfie on the way to the hospital. Having a sugar lollipop
to prepare for the big event
09.00 – 10.00
Now that the pain started to grow stronger, I had to go through the classic Russian bureaucratic process for checking in at the hospital. I signed maybe 50 different documents, filled in my personal data in five places and then I had to put a signature on each sheet in each document to make sure you fully agree with what I just signed but didn’t read. Then I was sent into a special room for lavement. This is apparently a standard procedure in Russia, they don’t want a lot of poop in the way. They also explained that this was a good thing to do because my husband would participate in the birthing process, apparently Russian men do not handle poop very well (and rarely attend their partner’s childbirths)
10.00 – 12.00
I was supposed to meet with the individual midwife on November 17th, but we met for the first time there and then. Fortunately, she gave a secure, knowledgeable and sympathetic impression, which became a relief. She was already informed on what I feared the most, so she assured me they would do everything in their power to avoid this.
Still happy before the real thing
They broke my waters and the contractions began to become even more intense. The midwife put the first tube of Dianatal Gel and just as I had wished I was offered a room with a big bathtub that I immediately dived into. I put on my noise canceling headphones, got a back massage and disappeared into myself while listening to spiritual house music at the highest volume. It worked out quite well so I stayed in the bathtub for maybe two hours. Everything felt so surreal. Partly because I hadn’t slept but mostly because all of this time that I had prepared for this moment. Mentally, I’ve had like five hundred births as I’ve imagined different scenarios of what my birthing experience would look like, but now I was suddenly there for real and my brain had difficulty grasping that this was actually it. I was amazed at how calm and harmonious I felt while I laid there and relaxed into the music. Just as I suspected, I was not frightened of the pain, but I had great respect for it and listened to my body’s reaction after every contraction.
12.00 – 15.00
Every now and then the midwife and the doctor came in to check on us and soon they began talking about epidural. Since I wanted to at least try for a medication free birth, I told them that I still wanted to take the contractions on my own for a while. My word was respected, but I thought I heard the word “epidural” at the peak of each contraction which killed my hypnobirthing bubble a little. After a while it was time to get out of the bathtub to check the heart beat and examine the dilation. Now the contractions were really intense and outside the bathtub they were even worse. Mentally, I thought I could still handle the contractions quite well, but now I couldn’t laugh and joke around while having one. The doctor had difficulty examining me as everything was very tense down there of all the pain, something that apparently could happen to people with lots of muscles (thanks, figure skating). Turned out I was 4 cm dilated, which made me quite frustrated. It had been six hours since the last examination and some intense development of the contractions, but only one cm dilation. The doctor explained that the contractions were very intense, but that the tension slowed down the progress and that if things would develop like this there wouldn’t be much fuel left for the pushing stage. I visualized an exponential curve of the intensity of the pain I was in now vs centimeters and realized that I would not make it through six more centimeters. And then the doc said something crucial – that if I would be this tense during the pushing phase things would definitely tear down there. “Davajte epiduralku!” (get me the epidural) I cried and in just a few minutes I got the magic elixir dripping into my spine.
15.00 – 18.00
I was told to go to rest and catch up with my lost sleep, but this was not a easy task for a neurotic woman with sleep problems in her normal life. I laid there and tried to meditate but failed. On the right side of the bed I could hear the baby’s heartbeat and my own pulse on my left, only this fact gave me a palpitation that I later tried to control. I thought that if my pulse went up, the baby’s heartbeat also went up, which got my pulse up even more, etc. I guessed this was only happening in my head and therefore I didn’t share this information with anyone. At 17:00 and two hours after the epidural I was examined again which showed that I was 10 cm dilated and ready for the pushing. Apparently I really needed to relax down there, laboring 12 hours without epidural resulted in a 3 cm, while in 2 hours with epidural I dilated to 6 cm. I was instructed to eat a powerbar while various people came in and started preparing for the child’s arrival.
Laying and obsessing over heart beats. I used a medical mouth mask as a sleeping mask, but clearly it did’t help
The panic spread within me. Now the end was near which usually is a positive thing in this situation, but for me it meant the crucial tearing moment was close. I explained to the staff that I was eventually having a panic attack and wondered if there was anything they could give me to calm down. The midwife proudly came in with the hospital’s signature cocktail made out of valerian root, which they brew themselves, she explained. I drank it all like a shot and hoped it would start working in the near future. The last tube of Dianatal Gel was applied together with a mixture of oils and other messy things, and I received a perineal massage that I didn’t feel because I was completely numbed (that it’s called “massage” is btw quite misleading).
18.00 – 18.21
Now the valerian root had kicked in and took the edge of the anxiety. My husband was instructed to stand behind me and help holding my back up when it was time to push. The super flexible bed turned into a chair and it was tipped down to let the gravity help with the pushing. I got instructions with mental pictures on how to push, from blowing out the lights on a cake to push out constipated poo and went down to business. There was a glass plate above my head on the ceiling on which all of my lady bits were reflected, not very patient-friendly, I thought and made sure to keep my eyes closed during the whole pushing stage. I knew that the pushing stage would take about one hour (and with epidural I knew it could be longer than that) so I was quite surprised when suddenly in between two pushes I heard my husband say “OMG, he’s coming!”. I open my eyes and there he was, our perfect baby boy all pink, fresh and super cute! I didn’t get it, there I was laying with closed eyes and didn’t even push and he just came out all by himself. They put him on my belly where I could take a closer look at him and I just fell in love immediately while he was looking at me with his bright eyes. I guess all parents say this, but he was the cutest newborn baby ever!
18.21 – 19.00
The baby was taken to the pediatrician’s table, meanwhile, I received instructions on how to push out the placenta. I pushed just like before, assuming something came out, but suddenly the atmosphere in the room changed, more staff came in and the doctor explained that half of the placenta remained in the uterus and that she had to go in there with her hand to take it out manually. That didn’t sound very pleasant, I thought and felt a bit nauseous. They added more anesthesia, prepared for surgery and in the meantime, the doctor examined me for possible tears. “Without a single scratch!” the doctor exclaimed. Lord, I thought, this was exactly what I had wished for! Not a single scratch, “It’s a total victory!” I said, throwing my fist above my head. With these good news, she pushed her arm into me and began to pull away pieces of the placenta which felt somewhere under my ribs.
I couldn’t have had a better birth experience, I laid there thinking while an arm was scratching around inside of me. The cutest baby in the world AND no tears, that’s unbelievable! Three years of preparation had finally ended. Everything went well with the removal of the remnants of the placenta and soon after I finally got to hold our little angel in my arms, wrapped as a little package in a classic Russian way. He began to suck my boob straight away and our little new-born family was left alone for an hour while we marveled over everything that had happened.