After one contraction during my first pregnancy, I would wash a dish. Then, I’d lean over the kitchen table and let it drip dry as the next contraction hit. Once that contraction died down I’d dry it all the way and put it away before the next contraction.
I got into a nice rhythm that became less and less efficient as the contractions escalated in intensity. I finally gave up when I had to pause before the final rinse and set the half-cleaned dish on the counter while I curled up in a fetal position on the floor to work through the next wave. I was convinced I was still hours away from heading to the hospital, as this was my first labor and everyone said my first labor would last a long time (and I was only a few hours in at this point).
Thankfully, my husband was able to read the situation, and insisted we call the doctor as I grumpily told him that he was wrong and to please leave me alone, while I rocked back and forth on the floor with a new intense contraction every few minutes. We got to the hospital with just enough time to get set up in a room and labor for a few minutes in a tub before it was time to push.
Since that time I have experienced two more labors and deliveries, and have found some tips and best practices that help me work through the unique challenge of childbirth. A couple points about my experiences, first: I have had three low-risk pregnancies and births, and all of my labors have been under 10 hours (thank you, Jesus!).
Darkness and my own space
I have discovered how much I love laboring at home for as long as possible. I crave being in my own space where I can be surrounded by things and people I know and have chosen.
Laboring in the darkness that becomes light of the early morning hours is my favorite. During those golden hours, I have done dishes, prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, made breakfast, and slept a few minutes at a time in between contractions. It is also in these moments before things get too intense that I am able to offer my labor for others.
Before I go into labor I ask friends and family what prayer intentions they have, what things are weighing heavily on their hearts at that time. I write down those intentions on index cards, and then read them and offer the pain of each contraction for a different intention during early labor. As labor progresses and I get to a point where I can’t focus on reading or even visualize someone to pray for, I ask my husband to read the intentions out loud for me. This gives some purpose to the pain, and helps me to keep persevering.
I have also found that holding onto those index cards and keeping them by my bed postpartum gives me a great way to give meaning to all of the random postpartum pain and discomfort I experience.
Contraction timer app
I have used the same basic contraction timer app each time, and it is invaluable. Not only does timing the contraction give you something to do while contracting, it records the data for you so you can look back on something objective when you are confused and hazy because of the pain (me, every time).
With my first labor, I was convinced it wasn’t time to go to the hospital yet, when it actually was. With my second labor, I wanted to go right away to the birth center, but my body wasn’t quite there yet. With my third, I didn’t think I was actually in labor up until I was pushing because of a false labor experience a week before. In all of those cases, having the objective data of the timer app got me to the right place at the right time.
It is so helpful to hear “You are doing a great job!” while I’m in labor. Am I actually doing a great job? Maybe, maybe not. But hearing those words is so encouraging, whether it’s from a midwife, a nurse, a doctor, my husband, or an older child. Those affirmations give me a boost to get through the next waves.
Skipping a birth playlist
Some people love having a wonderfully crafted birth playlist to help them relax. That is not me. Give me the beautiful sound of silence or running water (and as previously mentioned, copious affirmation!) and I will be much calmer and happier than I would be with music.
Scrambled eggs and a birth apple
I have found that a protein boost of scrambled eggs while in labor helps me at least mentally believe I’m in better shape for the work ahead. And having an apple ready to eat after giving birth is clutch—its portability, that little bit of sweet and hydration, along with the crunch—all make it the perfect snack to tide me over until I can get my hands on some kind of mega protein.
Birth plans are different for every woman – and they should be. I share these practices that have helped me with the hope that they may help or inspire any woman preparing for labor and delivery.