In just hours...
Expect your first labour to be about 12-14 hours, but labour is unpredictable, as Nicky Lister finds out. 

While living in the UK, I found myself ten days overdue. The baby had been fully engaged for almost a month. I was really waddling. At 5.20am in the morning I felt a ‘pop’ and a slight warm gush. I  figured it wasn’t real labour, so I cleaned up and got back into bed. As I closed my eyes, I felt a much bigger gush. I woke my husband, Gregg, and told him that we were in labour, but said we should both go back to sleep.

Then at 6.40am the  first contraction hit me. I gripped onto Gregg’s arm: ‘We need to call our doula now.’ The second contraction hit ten minutes later, and the third five minutes after that. Gregg and I were both pretty calm, although the contractions were coming hard and fast. I went from the latent phase into active labour in half an hour, with contractions that felt like my insides were being scraped out with an ice-cream scoop.

I was on all fours on the landing when our amazingly calm doula arrived. They had to help me down the stairs: the contractions were coming every three to four stairs at that point. The car journey to the hospital was excruciating, every bump made me contract.

We got to the hospital at about 7.30am and went straight to the midwife-led birth unit. The midwife there examined me and found meconium, so protocol means I was moved to the labour unit where a gynae would be working. I was on all fours again when I vomited: a normal part of transition phase. I was 5cm dilated. For the next couple of hours I was left alone with Gregg and the doula to labour.

I sat on the loo: this was this most comfortable position, which also opened my pelvis out, with my head propped on a pillow on the towel rail. I just wanted to be alone in the dark and not be touched. As the contractions hit their highest intensity they felt like one continuous contraction, so I asked for gas and air. I popped the valve I sucked so hard, but it did not ease the intensity at all, it just made me woozy, like I had downed a glass of champagne too fast. Suddenly I felt an incredible pressure in my backside, like I needed to pass a stool. The midwife told me that I now needed to come out.

I leant against the bed: I was fully dilated and was ready to push. I pushed for over an hour, standing and squatting and I remember thinking, ‘How much longer is this going to go on? I am so, so tired.’ Then the head was crowning, I got onto the bed and pushed with everything I had to get our son out. I was exhausted.

As Joe’s head and body were delivered I was overwhelmed with relief. The surge of endorphins flooded me and I felt like I was flying. It is so hard to describe this feeling: the absolute joy, mixed with relief and exhaustion. Joseph was born after only six hours of labour and pushing.

Joe was placed on my chest and started to suckle straight away. I was so absorbed in my new baby that I did not take in what the gynae was telling me: I had third degree tears and needed surgery. Gregg took Joe, skin-to-skin, and I went to theatre, and spent two and a half hours being stiched.”

Now halve that

“When we moved back to South Africa from the UK, I was already four months pregnant. My second pregnancy went by in a whirl of new jobs and house renovations. I had heard that second labours are usually half the length of the first, so I was teased mercilessly about needing to camp outside the hospital to be there in time.

At 38 weeks we moved into our new home, I went on maternity leave and finally started to unpack our belongings and settle in. We had our 39 week check booked for 8.30am and I had planned a long relaxing day.

I had long ago begun to waddle and the baby had been fully engaged for a couple of weeks, but as Joe came so late, I thought I had at least another week to go. At the appointment, my doctor told me I was already 3cm dilated and that my membranes were bulging, then he announced: ‘This baby will be here by lunchtime’.

I responded, ‘But I have a pedicure booked for this afternoon!’ He laughed, ‘Well, this baby will be here well before that, so you could probably still make it to your pedi!’

Gregg and I were stunned. It felt surreal, there was not even a twinge of a contraction yet. We went home to get the bags – my doctor only let me go home because we live  five minutes from the hospital. At home I started to dilly dally: it still did not feel like I was in labour, even though the doctor’s receptionist warned us that our doctor was never wrong. Then at 9.30am, the first contraction hit me: we needed to get back to the hospital.

In the car, I was suddenly overwhelmed by emotions and began to cry. We had moved countries, bought and renovated a house and started new, pressurised jobs. Gregg wanted to talk about getting an epidural as our doctor had advised, as it would take the intense urge to push away, so that he could control the delivery better and so avoid a repeat of the third degree tears from Joe’s birth.

I snapped at him, ‘I am trying to get my head around the fact that this baby is coming now, and I do understand the risks, just let me get my head right.’ At the hospital I was given an internal exam– I was 5cm already and the contractions were still manageable. My waters were ruptured, which released a  flood of prostaglandins and the contractions were instantly more intense, so much more painful than I remember from Joe.

I stood, leaning up against the bed for most of the labour, only getting onto the bed to be monitored (which they did a lot– in the UK they pretty much ignore you). Gregg rubbed my back, and I eventually asked for the epidural but insisted that it was to be a low dose one as I still wanted to feel and be able to push properly. The epidural was administered just in time, I was already between 7 and 8cm dilated, any further and it would have been too late to have one.

After three tries and through intense contractions my doctor was able to give me a half-dose. It took 20 minutes to work, but when it did: wow.

I was lying down on my back to make sure the epidural spread evenly, with a catheter, IV in my arm and I was as happy as Larry. Then I felt a deep pressure in my backside and the urge to push, and I realised that the baby’s head was coming. I called our midwife, who panicked, telling me not to push while she fetched my gynae.

He arrived, suited up and placed his hand on my stomach to feel exactly what was happening. He clearly explained everything I needed to do: when to push, how to push and when to stop. I pulled my knees upwards, leant forward and only pushed down with each contraction, it was beautifully controlled. I felt my baby’s head coming out. Then my doctor told me to deliver my baby, so I reached down and pulled her out and straight onto my chest.

She latched immediately, while her cord was still pulsing. It was an indescribable feeling: she was still a part of me, but here she was on my chest. Stephanie was born at 1.17pm, only three and a bit hours after my first twinge.

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