In another life, I taught Bradley Method natural childbirth classes for over a decade. That’s a lot of babies! I learned more than anyone who doesn’t aim to be an obstetrician would ever care to know about pregnancy, labor, and birth itself, including tricks for coaxing a stubborn placenta.
I always get a good chuckle and an eye roll when I watch a pregnant woman in the movies announce that her water has broken, grab her swollen abdomen, and induce panic around her as if the baby will fall out in the next three minutes.
The process of labor is long. (My apologies to my readers who are moms. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know much better than I do.) The average labor is 15 hours in duration. Many can safely go 24 hours or more, as the mother’s body and the soon-to-be-newborn work together to achieve a birth without arbitrary time management procedures.
There are three stages of labor, with an additional period that seems like it should be a stage unto itself.
In first stage the woman begins having contractions. The bag of muscles that is her uterus is shortening. As they flex and shorten, the opening of the uterus know as the cervix is flattened and pulled open. I always imagine this as pulling a thick sweater on over ones head.
In second stage, the cervix is as open as needed to allow the baby’s head (hopefully: I won’t go into breech births here) and body to pass through, and the muscles of the uterus change to a more expulsive type. This is commonly referred to as pushing stage, lasting from the time the cervix is open enough to allow the baby out to the actual appearance of the little miracle.
Third stage is the delivery of the placenta, which is usually accomplished in half an hour or less. A retained placenta is no beuno, and creates a potentially serious bleeding problem for the new mom. So, don’t forget the placenta!
These are neat and tidy stages. First stage is from the onset of contractions to the full dilation of the cervix. Second set is from dilation to birth. Third stage is the placenta.
I’ve attended over a hundred natural births. I’ve been present as a coach, husband, father, mid-wife (for my own seven children), photographer, videographer, or general support person. In every birth there is one stage not listed here that every woman in labor goes through. It’s known as Transition.
It is that stage when the uterus is working its hardest. The contractions last longer, sometimes over two minutes from the start to the peak, and they are much more frequent, sometimes stringing together with very little rest from one to the next.
There is a universal emotional signpost. Self-Doubt. No, really. It is the, ”I cannot do this! I’m dying! Make it stop! Something’s wrong!” kind. It’s severe. It’s real. It’s uncontrollable. It is also temporary. Thus the name given to this period. Transition.
It marks the time that the mom goes from doing her best to relax and allow her body to work for her and her baby, to the time when she gets to bear down and be an active participant. But in all the births I’ve been to, I’ve never been to one during which the mom didn’t feel like it was impossible for her to finish the task. Most felt like they had to give up their claim to their own lives in order to bring a new one into the world. And I mean, they really felt that struggle!
In that period, the best thing I could do as a coach, a husband, support person was to offer genuine admiration and encouragement. In Bradley, it’s known as a PEP talk. The coach offers Praise, Encouragement, and Progress. Like this:
”You are doing it!” ”You’ve already been through so many contractions!” ”You are phenomenal!” ”Just one at a time!” ”You’re amazing!”
And I meant all those things. Seriously. I’m typing this misty-eyed with tears rolling down my cheeks in admiration and thanksgiving for the selflessness of mothers everywhere! Talk about heroes!
As a man, I’ll never really know what it is like from that side of it, but I do know what it’s like to have the woman you’ve shared this entire experience with from the time you found out you were expecting through all the changes in her body, and her mood, and trying to make sure she had everything she needed to be healthy and safe, and listening to your baby’s heart beat and watching it try to wrestle its way out of her womb.
You remember all those things. You bring that with you to the birth with such a sense of responsibility and of hope. And she’s saying she’s going to die, and she cannot go on, and it’s not working, and she has to stop.
And you’re her best thing in the world to try to help her over that last hurdle to see the baby be born, and for both the people you love more than you love your own life be safe and okay.
So, you tell her, ”You’ve got this!” ”I’m right here!” ”I’m SO PROUD of you!” ”Okay, just breathe.” ”We’re almost there!”
And folks, that’s where we are with this god-damned Coronavirus! We’re almost there. We have a little more work to do is all. We’ve been through so much! Some of us have given everything. Not one of us has given nothing. We can do this! Now is not the time to give up, or give in. And now is not the time to pretend that the birth is complete. It’s not quite over yet, but we’ve got this! Soon, very soon we can all push together into a new kind of post-Covid world and it will feel like a miracle.