Pushing is such a strange and special part of the whole labour experience.
All of a sudden, things are not happening to you, you are not just coping with the contractions, breathing, counting, swaying, moaning, or whatever works. Whatever zone or rhythm you managed to find (or not), you now have to shift gears.
Both of my births were very, very quick, what is termed precipitous labour. The first was less than three hours of active labour, the second was less than an hour (note that fast does not mean easy). So I did not have a lot of time to get used to the first stage of labour before I found myself pushing and I could feel my babies pushing my hips apart and moving out of me.
Because precipitous births are so rare (around 2% of first-time births), I feel strange about sharing my birth experience - and in this case, my pushing experience - as examples that anyone should be able to learn from. But, I have learned so much.
So, I thought I would just share a few memories and reflections on pushing out my oldest son.
(I spent all of my youngest son's birth trying not to push, hoping that a midwife would get there in time. She did, just in time for my last contraction. But that is a birth story for another day.)
My Monster was born (four years ago!) at home, in a planned, midwife-assisted home birth.
While pregnant, I had definitely devoted much more of my attention to preparing mentally for the first stage of labour, basically focussing on how I would cope with pain.
The only pushing-related advice I got before going into labour (from my midwife-centred birth prep class) was to push when I was ready, to push during contractions and rest in between, and that proper pushing felt exactly like trying to poo.
My midwives heard that I was ready to push before I was even aware that I was already pushing. I made a grunting, bearing-down kind of sound during a contraction, and they commented that it sounded like I wanted to push, and that I could go ahead.
I was on my back, because I had just had my first, and only, exam to see how dilated I was (already 9cm when the midwives arrived at my house). Having read and heard so much about not birthing on your back, I asked the midwives if I should change positions.
I honestly did not feel like I wanted to be in one position or another. What I wanted, was for the whole labour thing to be over, please.
But my midwives said that I was pushing very well, and that if I was comfortable (ha!), I could stay in that position, pull my knees to my chest, and keep going.
One of them had already explained her ideas about labour positions to me during one of my regular pre-natal visits. She believed that there were many positions to labour in, and that all women and all births were different. She encouraged moving around as much as was desired and helpful during labour, but she did not rule out lying on your back as an acceptable position if it was comfortable.
Once I was actually pushing, their advice was so helpful, and their encouragement was so...encouraging.
- They told me to keep my voice (actually, shrieks) low, to send all that energy down to my pelvic floor, to use it to push. I learned that my voice is energy. This gave me so much strength, and was invaluable in my second birth, when no midwife was present until the very end.
- They reminded me to breathe - before I pushed and afterward, between contractions.
- They told me exactly what was happening, what they could see and what they could feel, at every push. At one point I was invited to touch my baby's squishy, slimy head as he was crowning.
- They involved my partner in perfect ways, supporting his support of me, and inviting him to watch and touch as the baby crowned.
- They gooped olive oil onto me and applied pressure to my perineum just so, and I pushed my Monster out of me with no more than a tiny little scratch. (Having observed this, too, proved to be incredibly useful in my second birth, when we were on our own as the baby crowned and thought we would possibly have to deliver the baby ourselves!)
When I was pushing, really pushing, I felt powerful. When I realized that I was in charge of pushing, and when I felt my contractions as guides to how often and for how long I should push, I started to reel in my mounting panic and to harness my energy.
I passed from the chaotic intensity of the first stage of labour, during which I felt little control, to a state of concrete doing. I was pushing, and it was productive. (This is what I most wish someone had prepared me for before I went into labour.)
It took another push or two as my new approach started to click and I incorporated my midwives' advice, and then it was really happening, I could feel how close I was. Soon my baby's head was out. I really wanted it all to be over, and somehow my mind and my body both worked together with every ounce of effort I had in me to push those shoulders and the rest of the baby out.
That last push was so full of intent, I don't know how else to describe it. But it is a pretty wonderful thing that babies are born precisely at that moment, a moment of agency and strength, and not during what, for me, was a panicky and extreeeemely painful first stage of contractions and dilation.
After less than half an hour of pushing, my baby was crying madly on my chest, enveloped by his shocked mama and his awestruck papa.
Several days later, when I was starting to heal but was still feeling quite intense pain, we realized that I had broken my tailbone during labour, though I am not sure exactly when (which goes to show how much general pain I was feeling, to not notice a little thing like a broken tailbone).
At one point in my pregnancy, we had discussed that this was a possibility; I had broken my tailbone as a child, making it more likely that I would break it again during childbirth. Luckily, I forgot about this detail during labour and did not focus on this terrifying possibility. Unfortunately, my midwives, too, forgot about it, or they would have advised against birthing on my back.
In retrospect, birthing on my side would have been ideal.
Squatting, or any other position in which gravity helps to 'push' the baby out, would not have been a good idea, given the speed with which my Monster came into the world of his (and my) own accord. But given my previous tailbone problems, side-lying would have given the baby the most room to avoid bumping into any of my bones, without speeding things along unnecessarily.
Unsurprisingly, I did not birth on my back again. And, possibly as a result - or not - I did not break my tailbone again.
I learned many other things from my birth experience. Unfortunately, telling my next midwife that she had to come RIGHT AWAY was not one of them.
But, what I am happy to still carry with me - physically, mentally and emotionally - and to be able to call upon when necessary, is a strength that lies in the knowledge that my body and I can do the most extraordinary things.