In defence of long labours.

Words by Ray

 

There’s something about long labours that makes them a bit of a birth trump card. There’s often a lot of one-up-man-ship about the whole thing. 

“How long was your labour”

“oh 48 hours”

“oh really….mine was 60”

or

“How was the birth?” 

“Oh man, the labour was 48 hours” 

“you poor thing!”

No other details are given, but just that knowledge of the length is enough to convey how AWFUL the birth was. I should say quickly that I have been that lady telling her birth story. My first birth was about 48 hours and 30 minutes. I spent A LOT of my second pregnancy planning and scheming in various ways to make sure that did not happen again. And I got my wish. I did not have another 48 hour labour. This time it was 72 hours. And guess what. it was totally ok. no really, let me explain.

It was long (clearly) but the amazing gift of a long labour is that you are given time to really navigate it and if you can get yourself in the right head space, you can truly appreciate and maybe even marvel at the journey. With my first birth I was unknowingly unprepared for that journey in many ways. However as overwhelmed as I was by those early surges, I really felt like labouring for a whole day at home gave me time to figure it out, to get to grips with my positions, my tens machine and what did and didn’t work for us. With my second birth, even though much more prepared and armed with the tools of hypnobirthing I had been seduced by the age old tale that “all second births are quicker”, it was very much an emotional journey in which I was so grateful for the support of our amazing Doula Lucy and her encouraging words and suggestions (even if one of them did involve me doing what was essentially a head stand while in the throes of labour! See here for what I’m talking about, it totally did the trick). I also relied heavily on all that I had learned from hypnobirthing, One of the most useful things it taught me was that I wasn't doing anything wrong. This slow, enduring labour was just what my body was doing, maybe what it will always do when giving birth. There was nothing to fear or correct i just had to follow it's lead.

 

When I’m teaching couples about what to do when labour begins I often talk about creating a magical, oxytocin filled bubble. A 'hypno-bubble' if you will. No matter where you're planning on giving birth it's pretty universally agreed that you should stay home for as long as you can, so hunker down, snuggle up. Put on some TV that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. In my first labour we watched both seasons of Spaced and the entirety of the Inbetweeners. So turn some comedy on, or perhaps a period drama or listen to some music, whatever floats your boat. Then just go with it, maybe go for a walk, light your candles, get some nice smells going, eat and drink some delicious, slow energy releasing food and ride those waves

I also remind my mums not to do what I did with both labours. 

Don’t watch the clock. 

Dad you feel free to download one of the many, many available apps and subtly time the surges . It can certainly be useful to know where you’re at. But mums I implore you don’t do it. it’s certainly not helpful to compare the length of each surge with the last - instead let one surge lead to the rest and leave your neocortex (the thinking part of your brain) well alone. By not checking the clock you will remove a large element of expectation. Labours can vary so much from 45 minutes to 72 hours and far beyond. the only real indicator of how much time we have left is our behaviour. Yes you can have a vaginal examination but that will only tell you how dilated you are at that very moment. With my second birth it took around 70 hours for me to get to 4cms and then just an hour and a half later I gave birth.  

Which leads me to my last point, the amazing thing about a long labour is it can give that amazing cervix of yours a nice long time to get ready, or in the words of my midwife to get ‘beautifully stretchy and effaced’. In hypnobirthing we often refer to the first stage of labour as the 'up' stage, as the muscles of your uterus are drawing up ready to push the baby down, all the while your cervix is softening from being hard like the cartilage of your nose to as soft as your earlobes. A lovely, long, relaxed and calm labour can pave the way for your baby to enter the world gently and somewhat easily. You may have navigated a marathon but ladies, I implore you don’t judge your labour simply by its length. Your body know what is needs to do to navigate the birth of your child. Let it do it's thing. You’ve got this.

If you had a long labour last time, or you're worried about how you'd cope if you had one then you could do a lot worse than to get a long to our Introduction to Hypnobirthing Workshop at the end of this month. We'll have a lot more to say about all sorts then!