The week before I gave birth to our beautiful daughter, Bess, I read an article in a baby magazine entitled, ‘I Had an Orgasm During Labour’. Needless to say this had sealed the deal; my childbirth was going to be easy; orgasmically easy. I had been doing pregnancy yoga every week since I was 16 weeks pregnant, I was fit and healthy. I had watched at least 96,000 episodes of One Born Every Minute. I had done a lot of reading on birthing and breastfeeding, I felt so uber confident that this would be, not a walk in the park, but certainly something within the realms of challenge and control. Perhaps, I would even have an orgasm myself during labour?
This was my first birth, and I had planned to go to the Barkantine Birth Centre. I had read so much about their excellent levels of care and respect, and the experienced midwives who would be there to assist you. The tour had been wonderful; a huge king size bed for you AND your husband, private birthing pool, private bathroom. No medical interventions, or pain relief except gas and air. I was delighted that I passed all the ‘criteria’ to give birth there (essentially, a risk free pregnancy), and at 39 weeks and four days, we had the bags packed and were ready to go. By that I mean we had packed nappies, baby grows, car seat, towels, knickers, and not forgetting my favourite film, ‘Jurassic Park’; you know, for those times when we are bored and, need something to do- during labour. Just like on One Born Every Minute.
On the afternoon before the birth, a wet and warm spring morning, I visited Stepney Farm with two of my school friends. I am still convinced this is what got my labour going; there were so many super cute baby animals there, my oxytocin was going wild!
When I got home at 4pm, my waters broke, and we went to the Barkantine to show them my waters and to check there was no meconium in them. All was fine, and at this point, I was having no contractions at all. So we set off back home where my mum and my husband ordered a pizza and I did some yoga and bouncing on my birthing ball for a couple of hours. At 7.30pm, I decided to have a bath, when I had my first contraction. Oh hell, it certainly wasn’t orgasmic. It was like someone had shoved a knife in my back. I panicked and thrashed about in the bath for about 15 minutes, whilst I contracted every 3 or 4 minutes. After that first contraction, the surges came thick, fast and strong, and my mum suggested we went back to the Barkantine. We arrived at 9.30pm, and I was told I was 2cm dilated. There was only one room left, so we had only two options – to stay or to go home. As the contractions were coming so quickly and strongly, we decided to stay.
I have to admit, I did not handle the experience well at first. The utter surprise of having these intense feelings so fast and frequent, and ONLY in my lower back was extremely shocking, and I couldn’t get comfortable anywhere. I wouldn’t let anyone touch me. I didn’t want gas and air. I couldn’t get my brain together to work the TENS machine. I couldn’t lay down, I didn’t want to squat or kneel, I just wanted to be left alone. I did a lot of walking and swaying. Where were these moments of solitude? Of boredom? Of texting my friends: ‘I’m doing it! I’m dilating!’? Where was the orgasm? And why weren’t we watching Jurassic Park yet?!! Well, I did none of these things. It turns out One Born Every Minute and baby magazines are WRONG.
At about 11pm I got in the pool, and I remember the sheer relief of how the water felt on my back. I finally found my zen, my inner peace. The lights were low, all was quiet. I leaned over the pool, and allowed the contractions to come, and breathed through them. I remember entering another state of consciousness. It was beautiful.
My husband held my hand the whole time. I could barely look him in the eye, but I always knew he was there. By 12am I was fully dilated, and amazingly my midwife knew this without even checking me.
Suddenly, I felt as if someone had winded me, and I couldn’t breathe. I gasped for breath, and the midwives told me to get out of the pool. After a brief panic, everything turned out to be fine; in retrospect, we think the baby was turning and must have kicked my diaphragm or something. I was confirmed as fully dilated at 12am, but I was struggling, still shocked by the intensity and frequency of the contractions in my back. I think by this point, I was in a sort of delirium. I remember saying ‘I can’t do this’ lots of times. I tried some deep squatting with my midwife, I did some walking around. At one point, I remember catching my midwife’s eye, and I think she wondered if I wanted to be transferred to hospital.
At 1pm, I still had no urge to push, so my midwife suggested I try pushing anyway. I was ready to get this baby out, so I sat in the birthing chair, my husband behind me, curled around me, and my mum on brow-mopping-and-lucozade duty. Between contractions in those brief moments of respite, my mum gave me fluids and soothed my sweating brow. During contractions, I think I nearly broke my husband’s hand. He was strong and positive, only ever encouraging me and telling me he loved me. I remember a lot of encouragement and support. We were a real team, all of us together.
But, no joy with baby coming. Until my midwife placed her fingers on a certain point on my vagina, and bingo! I pushed onto her fingers and baby’s head started to emerge… oh, the cheering! I got onto all fours and very slowly but surely, our little girl emerged. After 3 hours of pushing, she was born at 4am. On her way out, I remember my mum shouting, ‘she’s got really dark hair!’ (a shock to all of us who thought she might be ginger!).
I remember just before the final push, looking my husband in the eye, and telling him I loved him; a moment I will never forget. I knew it would all be over seconds later and we would be holding our baby; the anticipation was overwhelming. And then, the final push, releasing her into the world, and I have never in my life felt so relieved and joyous.
I turned around, and my mum lifted the baby and brought her onto my chest. I am so proud of my mum for all she did for me during my labour; and I think she will always be thrilled that she was the first one to see my baby’s face. She confided in me after the birth that she had hidden behind the curtain at one point to help stay strong for me, and have a little private cry during the very hardest part of my labour. She and my husband were an incredible duo on the day; Without them there, I no doubt would never have been able to give birth in the way that I did.
Bess was a beautiful angel, with lots and lots of dark hair, and a sweet, sweet little cry. My husband cut the cord, then cuddled behind me whilst Bess snuggled and nestled around my chest and breasts until I delivered the placenta soon after, unassisted. I had suffered a second degree tear which turned out to be quite awkward and it caused me quite a lot of grief in the months afterwards. I therefore needed stitches; but as soon as they were complete (the only time I screamed during my whole birth experience!), I placed Bess on my chest and she latched immediately onto my breast.
My first birth was incredible, shocking, crushing, beautiful and powerful, all at the same time. After giving birth to Bess, I have never in my life felt so proud of myself, and never felt more like a super-hero. I am now pregnant with my second child, and hope to have a home birth. Bess is going to be there as her sibling pops out into the world, and I am so excited.
Karis White is a mother and part time music teacher; also a song writer, singer, poet. and writer. She lives in East Ham, London with her husband, Andy, and daughter, Bess, born in May 2014. Karis is currently expecting their second child, due in August 2018.