The best birth ever

Since giving birth to my second child, I've been asked by many people "Was it a good birth?"

Let me tell you friends, it wasn't just good. It was the best. Here's why:

On 19 April 2019, while most of you were sleeping off your chocolate comas, I was experiencing the best, worst Good Friday of my entire life.

Contractions started at 9:00pm that night and progressed quickly, so quickly in fact that by midnight I was 8cms deep into having my second child. By 8cms deep I mean 8cms dilated A.K.A 8cms of feeling like I was birthing one of those 1kg jumbo sized Easter eggs you still see on clearance two months after Easter.

If you've gone through a natural birth, you might relate. By 8cms, the contraction pain is so unbelievable that you struggle to see through or past it. The pressure between your legs is so intense that you kind of convince yourself you're about to birth a baby elephant or something much huger than a human sized baby, and the laughing gas they supply you to help you 'cope' with the pain does absolutely nothing. Seriously, were they pumping air into that thing? I FELT NOTHING. I did, however, appreciate the mouthpiece to the gas. It gave me something hard to bite down on (better than my husband's arm, right?)

Sorry, sorry, I'm getting a little off topic. I'm supposed to be talking about how this was the best birth ever, not about how it was the most painful thing ever.

Yeah no, it was great. So great in fact, that just after midnight, I distinctly remember taking my mind of the burning ring of fire in between my legs and thinking about something the teacher said in antenatal class (back in some other life, before children):

"When you transition, at some point your mind switches off and your body just takes over."

I had never experienced this with my first birth because I had an induction and epidural, so there I was, thinking this time would be different, waiting for my mind to switch off…

"Come on body, take over. I don't want to be here anymore! Tap out. Switch off. SWITCH. THE. HECK. OFF."

It didn't switch off.

But honestly, it was the best birth ever. You'd hardly even know that I basically kept my eyes shut from 10:00pm on because I wanted to pretend it wasn't actually happening to me. Good strategy, right?

At some point, after getting to the big 10 centimeters and after doing a few tiresome pushes, my midwife told me I was about to do my last big push with my next contraction.

And suddenly, it all stopped. I felt the pain disappear. I felt my husband stroking my forehead. I heard Stevie Nicks playing in the background. I rested. I stayed very still for about five minutes. I looked around at my midwife, mum and husband who looked back at me with anticipation. "You suckers,” I thought, “guess what, I'm not having another contraction."

Perhaps I was transitioning after all, but at the time I genuinely thought my strategy had worked and I'd gotten out of pushing this baby out. If I laid still enough, stayed quiet enough and kept my eyes shut for long enough, it would all just disappear.

Aaaand Jia was born fifteen minutes later.

And. It. Bloody. Hurt.

But I did it and I did it al'naturale. And honestly, you'd never know that I'd screamed down the phone "I WANT AN EPIDURAAAAL" to my midwife an hour and half earlier. I had always planned to give birth naturally at Birthcare five minutes up the road, but in that moment I changed all my plans and wanted to do the 20 minute drive to the hospital instead, just so I could have some decent pain relief. Truth.

Part of the problem was that I kept convincing myself that the labour wasn't progressing as quickly as it actually was. I thought I'd get to Birthcare and they'd tell me I was only 4cm dilated and to go back home. Because my birth with Ashton took 48 hours from start to finish, I assumed something similar this time around but wow, I was wrong. I'm so thankful that I didn't try to make it to Middlemore, I probably would've had the kid in the car!

When I tell people I didn't go down the epidural route, some call me crazy and some call me brave. The truth is I wasn't being crazy or brave at all. The only reason I didn't end up with a needle in my back was because things happened too fast for me to do so. Truth.

I know what you're thinking, yadda yadda. What made it the best birth ever?

Well, having had one 48 hour labour with a medical induction, an epidural and a very near trip to the operating theater, I can now confidently say that having a three hour labour with no pain relief or medical intervention is.. well... just as bad.

Sure, this time was less traumatic, I was less tired AND I recovered much faster, but it was no way my idea of a fun night out, nor was it instinctual or magical, nor did I feel like I was in control of those contractions. To put it plainly: It felt like my body was eating itself and pooping out its organs simultaneously. I'm sorry for the mental picture that paints, but I'm just keeping it real.

What I'm trying to say is: Birth is hard. Whether it's with every medical complication possible or none at all. Whether it's a quick-fire tear-a-roo or a long, tiring marathon. Whether she's out the front door or through the sun roof.

It's incredibly unfair when people declare that a two hour sneeze-em-out home birth is better than booking in for surgery months in advance. It's unfair when people call a woman crazy for wanting a drug-free or stay-at-home birth too. These people make it seem like somewhere out there is "the perfect birth" and the harsh reality is that there is not. There is no birth trump card just like there is no easy way out. None of it is fun. None of it is a light sneeze for 99.9% of us. It all hurts. But its all BIRTH.

And to me, that's why my birth was the best. It was the best birth ever because at the end of it all I was able to hold a precious little life.

We might get caught up in the hows and whats and whens of each ladies' birth story, but at the end of the day what matters is that they walked (or waddled, very slowly and painfully) away with a living child. God knows many women do not have that privilege. For some women, their birth story involves not only pain, but grief and loss as well. Some would give anything, or everything that birth brings just to have the chance to be a mother. My heart hurts just thinking about it.

So, next time you go to ask a mother the question "did you have a great birth?" Or "did the birth go well?", know that the answer is almost certainly "Well if you call certain pain, physical and emotional scarring great, then yeah sure!"  (I'm joking but I'm also very much not.)

Consider asking a different question, one that actually answers what you need to know: "Was it worth it?"

Honestly, some mums might also hesitate to say "yes" even then. For some, the early weeks are hard too. But at some point, that mother you're asking, behind her red-rimmed, tired eyes and vomit-ridden dressing gown, will most likely glance at that gorgeous wee babe and the answer will almost certainly always be "yes".

That's where the magic is. That's where the beauty is. Yes, its worth it, looking down at your new child, knowing you'd give up your comfort, your body, yourself all over again to have them in your arms.

It doesn't get better than that.

Post-script: I know this little write-up doesn’t answer ALL the most-frequently-asked birth story questions. So here’s a bullet list to answer:

  • Jia Micah Chen was born 12:31am on Saturday 20 April, 2019 at the Botany Maternity wards.

  • He was born at 39 weeks by my incredible midwife, with my husband and mother in the room with me.

  • Jia is pronounced like Jy-ah (Rhymes with fire). This name is based on the Chinese words for ‘home’ and ‘family’.

  • I spent all of Friday 19 April doing EVERYTHING I possibly could to bring on this labour.

  • Contractions started at 9:00pm and Jia was born three and a half hours later.

  • I had one contraction in the car and it was THE. WORST. THING. EVER.

  • We spent the night (well, morning) in the delivery suite and then were lucky to go home that day.

  • We were able to put Ashton to bed that night (on the 19 April) and my dad babysat him that night while I went into labour. Ashton woke up, had breakfast with his grandparents and then met his brother shortly after.

Rachel Chen