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Reflections on birth experiences. 'Things I wish I had known.'

Updated: Feb 26

This blog post is based on a conversation I had with Andreea, the co-owner of BLOOM Concept Store in Stavanger. One of Andreea’s missions is to normalize what has long been considered taboo about the female body: menstruation, menopause, (in)fertility, pregnancy, postpartum experiences and more. One of the ways she achieves this mission is by openly talking about her own experiences. Andreea had two very different experiences of giving birth and postnatal recovery. She wishes to share what she learned from these experiences, as there are things, she would have liked to know before her first birth experience. She hopes other women will benefit from her reflections.

First birth experience

Looking back on it, Andreea realizes that she knew very little about what she could expect during childbirth. ‘I was regularly practicing yoga, so I was familiar with calm and deep breathing techniques, and I also knew some positions that can help to open the pelvic area. I felt this knowledge would help me during birth.'

The thought of having an epidural during birth was not appealing to her, for the main reason that she was afraid of receiving a needle so close to her spine. She thought it would be best to avoid that altogether. The other thing she knew about epidurals was that it is possible to get a relatively low dose, that allows you to move around while labouring.

Once labour started (around 23:00), Andreea was soon overwhelmed by its intensity. At the starting phase, contractions came at irregular intervals, but they were already very intense. Her partner and mum were there to support her, but breathing was difficult and Andreea couldn’t really find anything that would help her come into a flow. After two hours they went to the hospital. It was late and although there was initially a bit of doubt whether her labour was established enough to be admitted to the hospital, she was not sent home but given a room at the fødeloft. This is the midwifery led unit in the hospital where non medicalized births commonly take place. However, there was no midwife appointed yet that would stay with them full time. If they needed help, they had to call by pushing a button.

Andreea remembers how soon there was insufficient time between contractions for her to catch her breath. She was holding on to the bathtub in the room, trying to cope with the contractions, that only got stronger. (She was sitting outside of the tub, not in.) It completely took her breath away. ‘I felt I couldn’t do this anymore and said to my partner that I wanted an epidural. He looked me in the eyes, and asked me if I was sure. Yes, I was sure!’ They called the midwife, and Andreea has good memories of the experienced midwife that came when they called. The midwife assured Andreea that she would arrange for the epidural. Andreea made sure she would get the ‘walking epidural’, the low dose that would allow her to move around.

The midwife explained to her that the epidural meant she needed to move to another floor in the hospital and talked about the risks. But Andreea only remembers that the midwife told her about the risks of the injection, and in hindsight, she had no idea what the impact of the epidural could be on the birthing process, especially in its later phases.

While Andreea was waiting for the anesthetist to apply the epidural, she was offered gas and air as a pain relief, but she found it unpleasant to use and didn’t feel it did much for her. 'It felt nauseating.'

It was about 6:00 when Andreea got the epidural, and it brought what she was hoping for: pain relief. She could no longer feel the pain from the contractions, or the contractions themselves, and was again able to move around. At some point, her water was mechanically broken (= artificial rupture of the amniotic sac), and some time passed without many sensations in her lower body. It was around 13:00 that Andreea was told that it was time to start the birth. This was something the doctor had to tell her, because Andreea had no connection with what was happening in her body. She didn’t feel the contractions and certainly didn’t feel an urge to push.

She remembers there was a doctor in training that was guiding her through this phase of emerging her baby through the birth canal and that she found it very difficult to follow her cues. ‘The epidural had totally taken away my instincts and connection with my body, and because it didn’t come naturally to speak Norwegian, I also had some miscommunication going on with the doctor. She told me many times to hold, but I was not sure whether that meant I should continue or rather stop pushing. At one later point, I realized that perhaps she meant something different than what I thought.’ Thinking back on it, Andreea feels she had been pushing exactly when she was told not to push and vice versa. 'I was laying on my back, and I remember someone suggested that I should maybe try another position, but I had no idea why, and said no to that. I thought I was comfortable just the way I was. I was numb, yet my head was in a strange fog.’

After 45 minutes of pushing, her boy was born, and Andreea was able to enjoy making a first connection with him outside of the womb and had him on her chest for a good hour of two.

When she talks about birthing her placenta, it is as if this is something that she didn’t do herself, but something that was done to her. She describes how the doctor or midwife was pushing on her belly repeatedly until it came out.

When the doctors checked her right after birth, it was discovered that she had experienced significant internal tearing which needed to be fixed in the operating room. She was well taken care of, but the damage unfortunately took its toll on her post-natal period. For at least the first three months, sitting and walking were painful and uncomfortable, and this was a major setback. It was a hard recovery.

Andreea also tells how she vividly remembers that she got so worried when she touched her labia one of the first days after birth. She had not imagined that these could be so swollen, and she thought there was something absolutely wrong and asked a midwife to check her. ‘Fortunately, I had a very understanding midwife that reassured me that this was totally normal, but I would have certainly preferred to know in advance that you can swell so much, so I would have saved myself from that shock.’ And also good to know: after some days, the swelling goes away again!

Second birth experience

The circumstances of Andreea’s second birth were completely different. For a work-related research stay, she was in the US for a longer period of time. She had to plan on giving birth there. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was not allowed to bring anybody with her inside the hospital. For that reason, she decided she would try to stay at home with her partner and their first child for as long as she could.

Again, labour was intense, but because she was expecting this, she was mentally better prepared for it. When I ask her what she did this time to better cope with the pain, she isn’t sure what to answer. But then she tells me that she was hitting the side of the bathroom sink and grunting noisily as a pain-coping mechanism. ‘I just let it all come out.’ The next day, her hands were hurting, but in that moment, it felt good and freeing to trust her instincts.

And she did manage to stay at home for most of the labour, because when her husband and son dropped her off at the hospital and the personnel were taking her in, she was ready to birth her baby. He was born 15 minutes later! This time, she was aware of the disadvantages of laying on her back during birth. When she arrived in the birthing room, she instinctively went on all fours. It was an amazing experience, and she was surprised about how well she could feel what she/her body needed to do. ‘This time, without an epidural, I could just follow my instincts and connect with my body to give birth to my baby. My body and mind were communicating very well.’ She remembers how the midwife was impressed and cheered that she knew so well what she was doing and that she had full control. And this time around, she didn’t tear and only superficial stitching was needed. What a difference this meant for her recovery after birth! She remembers cheerfully that she was able to tuck her foot under her immediately after having delivered her baby. This would have been unfathomable the first time around.

Looking back on it; The things I wish I had known

‘This second experience helped me understand what vaginal birth should naturally feel like and how my body and mind can work together throughout that final stretch. The epidural stripped me of my instincts. If I had known this in advance, perhaps I would have tried harder to hold on and manage the labour pains first time around. Perhaps it could have prevented some of the tearing with my first baby.’

Some considerations from me as birth educator

I think it is important to mention that Andreea’s story is the experience of one individual. It is never advisable to make decisions for your own birth, for example on the use of an epidural, based on someone else's experience. This story is not shared with the intention to warn against the use of an epidural!

What can be taken away from this story though, is that is important to make informed decisions during birth. Women almost never regret decisions they made during birth, if they felt they were given all information they needed, even if the outcome is not their dream scenario. On the other hand, women often regret decisions taken during birth, if they were poorly informed or feel they did not have all information that was relevant to them.

Even if the medical personnel provide complete information to you, when a decision during labour needs to be taken, it is virtually impossible to absorb and understand that information while you are full in it. For this reason, I advise you to inform yourself of the different likely scenarios in advance. It really helps to know the different pain relief methods that are available and understand the advantages and disadvantages. Understanding how these might affect your body, your mind, and your overall experience. Attending a Birth Preparation Course of NatalWisdom can help you prepare for the birth of your baby, as it provides you with clear information in advance of the birth and helps you to form realistic expectations.

Want more shared experiences? Click here to read the blog post that was written in cooperation with Evelina, to other co-owner of BLOOM. With her I talked about preparing for the time after birth.


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